The biometric handgun used by James Bond in Skyfall.
Yesterday in San Francisco, a group of leading Silicon Valley tech investors announced a partnership with the families of Sandy Hook victims that will seek to raise $15 million in seed funding for 15 to 20 start-up companies dedicated to preventing gun violence. "A year from now we will be able to point to the Googles, the Facebooks, and the Twitters of gun safety," said Ron Conway, a billionaire angel investor who made big early bets on those companies. "This is a huge area for genuine innovation."
With several Newtown families standing by, the tech investors announced the partnership, the Sandy Hook Promise Innovation Initiative, on the three-month anniversary of the massacre. "In the instance of our shooting, it was the mother's guns that were used," said Nicole Hockley, whose first-grader was killed. "Had she had biometrics on the gun, or a different sort of safe technology protecting the guns, then he would not have had access to them in the first place."
A member of a powerful DC-based coalition of education and labor groups says Microsoft tricked him and others into opening the door to the Immigration Innovation Act, a federal bill that would promote the offshore outsourcing of American jobs.
"It was a classic bait and switch," says the source, a member of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Education Coalition, an umbrella organization of some 500 corporate, labor, and education groups that was cofounded by Microsoft. The source, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardizing his relationships with allies on Capitol Hill, described Microsoft's approach to the bill as "lobbying malpractice."
Though Microsoft did nothing illegal, it appears to have run afoul of its would-be allies by making the bill a vehicle for for significantly looser immigration restrictions—thereby putting its own interests ahead of those of the education and labor groups it had seduced by promising something more palatable.
For more than a decade, Microsoft has supplemented its American-born workforce with foreigners who come to the US on temporary H-1B work visas. The federal government offers just 65,000 H-1B visas each year, however, and in prosperous years the cap quickly maxes out. In September, the software giant claimed it couldn't fill some 6,000 domestic jobs due to a shortage of qualified Americans and a lack of available visas.
When you get down to it, the debate over the sequester—the automatic budget cuts that kicked in on Friday—is really about the future of the middle class. Democrats want to close tax loopholes for the wealthy to preserve education and social programs for the rest of us. Republicans call this socialism, and flatly refuse to consider any option other than cutting bigger holes in the social safety net.
As these opposing views come to a head, a new video based on Mother Jones' well-known income inequality charts has been making the rounds. Even if you've already seen the originals, it may put Washington's latest squabbles in a different light:
UPDATE, Thursday, February 28 (Brett Brownell): Following the video's viral spread this week, Mother Jones reached out to its mysterious creator, YouTube user "Politizane." "Z," as he signed his messages, told us that he is a freelance filmmaker "living and working in a red state (Texas)" who is staying anonymous in order avoid losing clients or jobs due to "a vague political affiliation."
At first he saved the original "Ariely chart" to his phone, and from time to time would "try to wrap [his] head around it." The chart, created by Mother Jones and based on polling data by Dan Ariely and Michael L. Norton, showed Americans' mistaken expectations of wealth distribution. Eventually Z decided to visualize the disparity in his own way by tinkering with After Effects software over a period of a few days. He also says he vetted the math/curve-fitting among some "geeky friends."
"Wealth Inequality in America" is his only politically minded video so far. "These issues are simply things I think (and perhaps angst) about in my spare time," Z says."The really incredible thing for me is the simple fact that people are now talking about these issues…So it's pretty neat to open some eyes and get people thinking."
This week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged Congress to issue more H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers. The US needs "an immigration system that brings the best, brightest, and hardest workers to our shores," he said. His words echoed an editorial published last year by Bloomberg News headlined "Help The US Economy With Visas for the Best and Brightest."
Unfortunately, the phrase "best and brightest" has a slippery history. It's best known as the ironic title of journalist David Halberstam's book about the architects of the Vietnam war. And it applies in a similarly upside-down way to foreign tech workers, who, according to a study released yesterday by the Economic Policy Institute, demonstrate no more talent in important areas than similarly educated Americans, and in some cases may be less qualified.
On Tuesday, US Attorney General Eric Holder told America to expect a decision "soon" on how he'll respond to the recent legalization of pot by Colorado and Washington state. To which the rest of the country has basically said, "Whatever, dude." The same day, legislative committees in New Mexico and Hawaii approved bills to decriminalize marijuana possession and Oregon lawmakers introduced a legalization bill. Yesterday, Rhode Island legislators held a hearing on a bill to—surprise!—legalize and tax marijuana.
In California, where Holder's Justice Department has spent months trying to shut down respected medical-pot dispensaries, a Field Poll (PDF) released yesterday showed that 67 percent of state voters oppose the move. A 54 to 43 percent majority now backs fully legalizing the sale of cannabis and regulating and taxing it like alcohol.