Mass. Transport Bill Passes House; Progressives and Michigan Fans Upset

Late Monday night, the Louisville Cardinals beat the Michigan Wolverines to win the NCAA Championship. My Twitter feed was filled with commiserating Michigan fans, except for my friend Charlie Ticotsky. Ticotsky, who is the Government Affairs Specialist for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, was following a different double-digit score on April 8, the vote count in the Massachusetts State House in favor of the Transportation Bill.

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Buenos Aires: Solidarity after the Flood

I chose to “report” (curate? curaport?) on the floods in Buenos Aires last week and their aftermath. One thread that emerged for me on sifting through the vast amount of commentary, images, crisis management, and communications was a thread of solidarity. Many people participated in communicating places to help others, expressions of emotional support and commented on how amazingly the whole country had come together. This was in combination with a strong critique of the local, provincial and federal government’s efforts to support those affected. There were (and are still) failures to get power and water restored, lack of response measures, and disputes over the number of dead (53 or 54 depending on whose count you believe).

I wanted the story to highlight the people’s efforts of solidarity and used the video at the beginning of the story to frame the lack of government response. I adopted the Global Voices style of quoting and then translating media for an English-speaking audience. This “story” feels like it could have gone on indefinitely as I could have kept clicking on different feeds and information related to the floods and curating quotes and images. So at some point I had to stop not because of “completeness” but because of time limitations. I wonder if this is often the case for reporters culling from social media? How do you get through all the data???

Here’s the link:


Homicide Watch DC and Reporting from Analytics

Folks, here’s more on how Homicide Watch DC used search analytics as a reporting tool:

Online Investigative journalism: more on reporting through analytics: what we did, including the search terms that led us to identify a homicide victim.

Why Reporting from Analytics Works:

Reporting from analytics works because it brings crime reporting back to its investigative roots. It’s shoe leather reporting, happening online. But it works because it’s even more than that.

As the scope of crime reporting has diminished, so too, has the scope of voices included in the reporting. Which is why it’s worth remembering that reporting from analytics is really nothing more than listening to how people are talking about the beat. When I look at my analytics I learn the words people are using to discuss homicides. I learn what information they have, and what information they’re looking for. I learn what the gaps are between what I know, what the police know, and what my audience knows.

Posted in All

Computer Money Going Up (or the rise of the value of Bitcoin)

Note: This is an attempt to explain computer money (Bitcoin) going up using the ten hundred most used words (like in up-goer five).

These days, a lot of people are talking about computer money. Computer money is money with no group in the middle controlling it. Instead, everyone uses their computer to track each time someone uses computer money. This table tracking the use of computer money makes it possible to give others computer money and stops people from lying about how much computer money they have.

People can send computer money to others or get computer money themselves. You do not need to know who the other person is to send computer money. When computer money is used, the person getting the money tells the person giving them computer money a number to send it to. This number can be a different number every time so no one knows who gets the computer money. The person giving away the computer money uses another number they do not tell anyone to show the computer money is real and has not been changed. The computers of the other people using computer money then check to be sure the money is real and add the use of computer money to their tables.

More computer money is made when computers get hard problems right. A computer somewhere in the world finds the answer to one of these hard problems about every ten minutes. Many strong computers work on these problems, so it is hard to get computer money this way. The person who owns the computer that gets the problem right also gets the computer money. The number of computer money given for finding the answer to a problem goes down over time.

Computer money can be used to buy other types of money. For the past few weeks, the number of other types of money one piece of computer money can buy has been going up a lot. This makes some people worried that the pieces of other types of money one piece of computer money can buy will drop very low soon.

Why are the pieces of other types of money one piece of computer money can buy going up so much? There are a few possible reasons. More places are starting to accept computer money. Money is only money if it can be used to buy things. The more things money can buy, the more it can be used. Since more places accept computer money, more people are interested in using computer money.

As more people started using computer money, one state started to make people who use their computers to make computer money or help others use computer money tell them how they use the computer money. This is to stop people from hiding that they get money from places not allowed by the state.

At the same time, a different state needed to give another a lot of money. This state had to take money from the people who live there to pay the money back to the places they got it from. People in other states were worried about the same thing happening to them. This made computer money, which does not need a state in the middle controlling it, look good.

All of this caused computer money to get more attention. As computer money got more attention, more people started accepting it. One person even tried to offer his house for computer money. This attention, in turn, made computer money easier to use. When computer money is easier to use, the pieces of other types of money one piece of computer money can buy goes up. Now, all of the computer money can be used to buy more than ten hundred ten hundred ten hundred pieces of some other types of money.

Is it Burma or Myanmar?

If you were sitting in social studies, government or geography class in the United States in the1990s, you were likely one of those that raised their eyebrows when you heard that the United States was re-establishing ties with “Burma.” If you weren’t confused then, you may have been when you heard that the US was also considering re-establishing ties with “Myanmar.” You brushed it off, thinking, “We must be figuring out how to stave off the effects of climate change on a couple island countries in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”


Unlike the fate of most obscure island countries in the Pacific Ocean, Burma and Myanmar remained in the news and continue today to make financial and political headlines. When President Obama visited Burma and Myanmar on November 2012, you may have realized that Burma and Myanmar are one in the same – that’s right – one country, and that the obscure island is in fact the second largest country in Southeast Asia with a population of 60 million.


So what’s up with the two names?


The British, during their time as colonial overlords, referred to Burma and to its principal city Rangoon. Early independence fighters did not see any problem with this, nor for several decades did the army generals who took power in 1962.


But, after widespread pro-democracy protests in 1988, things changed and Burma became Myanmar, or, more specifically, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar; Rangoon became Yangon.


Some countries recognized the change. Others, such as the US and the UK, did not. As both names are used in the country – Burma is more popular, Myanmar is more literary – the decision was rooted more in a desire to show disapproval for the noxious regime.

As Burma continues its grand entry to the world stage, more analysis emerges regarding the tension between an inherited military heritage and a reformist agenda. The below panels depict the major issues and actors at play in Burma today. At the top of each panel are images commonly seen in Western media. Below each are Harn Lay’s political cartoons skewering Burma’s infamous military regime. Working from the safety of neighboring Thailand, Harn Lay’s cartoons were regularly published by Burmese media organizations in-exile, like The Irrawaddy and Mizzima, but until recently, would never have been allowed in Burma itself. They provide a much-needed pause from the enthusiasm for Burma’s reformist agenda and prospects.

Okay, so Myanmar and Burma are actually one country, and it is actually located south of China and west of Thailand. But why is everyone from Hillary Clinton to Google to China to the Human Rights watch clamoring to get to and talk about Burma?


The new dawn in Myanmar has caught even its most avid followers by surprise. Formerly a British colony, it played a major role in World War II before a military junta took over in 1962. Ever since 1988, the U.S. had imposed sanctions on Myanmar, in response to the country’s military junta cracking down on peaceful protests then, killing thousands. The crippling foreign policy against Myanmar plunged the country into decades of isolation from the world economy. China has filled this vacuum left by western powers and has been Myanmar’s chief benefactor in recent decades. In turn, it had unlimited access to the country’s natural resources. With Western economic sanctions in place since the 1990s, China’s had virtually free rein in Myanmar.

The United States reinstated diplomatic relationships as the Myanmar’s government introduced democratic reforms, allowed the formation of trade unions, released political prisoners, and eased restrictions on access to information. Analysts say that China is watching how the Myanmar-US relationship unfolds intensely. China has been unrivaled in its access to Myanmar’s natural resources, and has been able to exploit this condition to its fullest advantage. The degree of exploitation may now be in jeopardy. In addition, it underscores the political-military rivalry among competing core powers – the US and China.[1] Myanmar, in this context, is shaping up to be a battlefield for the distribution of power and competitive advantage among the two countries.


Why do Coke, Google, Samsung, and billions of investment dollars care?

Burma is what many call the “last frontier” in Asia. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reported that from global multinationals to one-man entrepreneurs, businesses were abuzz over what may be one of the world’s last great business frontiers. A New York Times report states that business leaders cannot adequately describe the magnitude of the Myanmar opportunity. The population is larger than South Korea and South Africa, and almost triple that of Australia. That population needs factories to churn out products, power to keep those factories running, and exploration technology to find natural resources for that power. In a recent visit to the country, Coca-Cola chief executive Muhtar Kent presented Myanmar President Thein Sein with photos of Coke’s operations there from the 1920s and 1930s, just before Coke last pulled out, and made a case for letting the soft drink behemoth enter the country once again .


Clearly, the rhetoric regarding Myanmar’s grand entry into the world stage is largely related to its economic promise – its untapped natural resources, disconnected cities.


This all sounds exciting. What’s the catch?


While a nascent democracy tries to take hold, ethnic and anti-Muslim unrest threatens to further expand the military’s role. Burma is being faced with two tests to its democracy.

First, Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, but about 5 percent of its 60 million people are Muslims. There are large communities in Yangon, Mandalay and towns across Myanmar’s heartland, which are dominated by the majority Burmans, who are Buddhists. In June, deadly sectarian violence erupted in Arakan State between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims, a long-persecuted minority of approximately 800,000 to one million people. HRW criticized Burma’s government of failing to protect ethnic Rohingya Muslims during the violence. “State security forces initially failed to protect either community, resulting in some 135,000 displaced, and then increasingly targeted Rohingya in killings, beatings, and mass arrests, while obstructing humanitarian access to Rohingya areas,” HRW stated.


Second, the ethnic Kachins that live along the Burma-China border are facing heavy offensive attacks from the Burmese army since a 17-year ceasefire dissolved in June 2011. Since December the government has employed helicopter gunships, jets and heavy artillery bombardment, in Kachin State, leading to civilian deaths.

HRW estimate around 90,000 civilians remain displaced, and say that the government continues to deny humanitarian aid to the displaced Kachin civilians in KIA territory.




[1] J. Kentor “Economic Development and the World Division of Labor” P.11

Cyprus Divided

It has often been said that Cyprus never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

After three weeks of coverage of the economic crisis in Cyprus, a temporary financial resolution has been reached and the focus is slowly shifting back to the reunification of Cyprus.

It is important to first understand how the small Mediterranean republic became so fractured. It is a combination of territorial struggles and failed reconciliation efforts that makes each new campaign for reconciliation so much more painful.

Cyprus’s identity consists mostly of Greek influences and a Turkish influence due to its geographic proximity.  A former British colony, Cyprus has been an independent republic since 1960. However, turmoil between the two largest groups in Cyprus had bubbled long before the final cry for independence. During its extensive British occupation, it is believed that the British encouraged the separation of the Turkish and Greek communities to strengthen its own hold on the republic.

Today, Cyprus stands in a position it is unfortunately too familiar with — it is forced with the idea of reunification due to a major political or financial trigger. Cypriot problems can be split up into two major problems: one of diplomacy and unification, and another of debt and financial crisis that plagues the republic as a whole.

It is uncertain whether reconciliation will follow in this time of crisis and need. As was once wearily observed by David Hannay, a retired UK diplomat who came to specialise in the issue, no one ever lost money betting against successful negotiations in Cyprus. One can only learn from the triggers and consequences of past crises and see if there is anything new to be learned from the most recent financial meltdown.

Explainer: Font Size and Aviation Regulation

What looks like a disagreement over font size has roots that run deep in the discourse of civil liberties, industry regulation, and the importance of commercial aviation to the American economy.

On April 1, the Supreme Court declined Spirit Airlines’s appeal, ending years of legal battle between the discount airline and America’s Department of Transportation about how prominently airlines must disclose the total price of a ticket [3]. Since 1984, the Department of Transportation has required airlines to advertise the “entire price” of tickets, including the taxes. Airlines previously could have advertised ticket prices and taxes separately, but according to the new rules, the tax component cannot be listed “in the same or larger size as the total price.” The US Court of Appeals says that this prevents airlines from confusing customers about total cost [1].

This represents a victory for those who want to protect the traveler from deceptive advertising. Not unlike other discount airlines, Spirit has built its business around advertising $9 fares and then charging additional fees for checked and carry-on bags, advance seat assignments, and a “passenger usage fee” of up to $17 each way for tickets booked online. Spirit is not required to include the online booking fee in advertised prices. For reasons like this, the government has been imposing a growing number of fines. In 2011, the Transportation Department assessed 21 penalties for fare advertising regulations with total fines more than $1 million, compared to $379,000 in 2001. Those fined include Spirit, LAN Airlines, South African Airways, Orbitz, Virgin Atlantic, Thai Airways, JetBlue, and Air Canada [6].

Precedent against the Spirit Airlines was heavy. As UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh explains, “The Supreme Court has said in the context of commercial advertising [that] the government has a very broad right to mandate speech that is reasonably aimed at preventing people from being misled” [6]. And thus, Spirit was not even able to convince four justices they should among the 75 cases annually (out of about 8,000 petitions received) be allowed to make their arguments to the Supreme Court [1].

But why, then, did Spirit think this fight was worth the legal fees? Several airline trade groups and the American Society of Travel Agents raised concerns about the new regulation, saying that they violate the First Amendment [6]. Airlines also stand to gain ground in the regulation battle. Spirit’s attorneys write, “Such a government effort to micromanage how speakers communicate the burdens of taxation would raise serious First Amendment concerns in any industry, but they are doubly problematic in an industry Congress specifically chose to deregulate” [1].

The back story is an ongoing discussion between airline executives and the government about increasing regulation. The question of restructuring aviation taxes and fees has been the subject of ongoing debate, especially as declining fares are causing tax revenues to drop [7]. In 2011, President Obama suggested implementing a $100 “take off” tax and also increasing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) per-passenger security fee on top of the typical 20% tax percentage on a ticket [2]. Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America, responded, “We’re one of the most heavily taxed industries in the country. There are other places to go” [4].

Indeed, the airline industry is not only heavily taxed but also struggling. According to the National Airline Policy says that in an industry that has already lost $55 billion and 150,000 due to recession and rising fuel prices between 2000 and 2010. And they make some good points, stating that the commercial aviation industry creates more than $1 trillion per year in economic activity, helps drive nearly 10 million American jobs and 5 cents of every dollar of US GDP. They post a policy wish list that includes reduced taxes, reformed regulations, investment in modernizing air traffic, protection against competition from foreign carriers, and more stable energy prices [5]. The latest rules obviously do not go towards achieving any of these goals.

Spirit’s rejected appeal may represent a victory for those who wish to protect consumers from price confusion, but it is a loss for civil libertarians and airlines, who want the government to engage with them by investing rather than taxing. Looking at all sides of the story, it becomes less clear whether this decision is good for customers in the long run.

[1] Doyle, Michael. Supreme Court won’t hear Spirit Airlines’ appeal of ad price policy. The Miami Herald, April 1, 2013.

[2] Erb, Killy Phillips. Obama’s Plan for Higher Airline Taxes Sees Not So Friendly Skies Ahead. Forbes, September 28, 2011.

[3] Gulliver Business Travel Blog. Problems in the Spirit World. The Economist, April 2, 2013.

[4] Jansen, Bart. Airlines oppose higher taxes to fix federal budget. USA Today, December 5, 2012.

[5] National Airline Policy. America Needs a National Airline Policy: Five Policy Priorities. Viewed April 2, 2013.

[6] Stellin, Susan. Airfares with Less Fine Print. New York Times Business Day, December 26, 2011.

[7] Yamanaka, S., J. Karlsson, and A. Odoni. (2006). Aviation infrastructure taxes and fees in the United States and the European Union. Airlines, Airports, and Airspace: Economic and Infrastructure Analysis (Transportation Research Record No. 1951), 44-51.