Oct 30, 2014

Obama, Not Bibi, Created U.S.-Israel Crisis | Jonathan S. Tobin

Since Barack Obama became president, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has been a reliable indicator of administration opinion about foreign-policy issues. Like some other journalists who can be counted on to support the president, he has been the recipient of some juicy leaks, especially when the White House wants to trash Israel’s government. But Goldberg and his “senior administration sources” reached a new low today when he published a piece in which those anonymous figures labeled Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu a “chickenshit” and a “coward.” The remarks are clearly not so much a warning to the Israelis to stop complaining about the U.S. push for appeasement of a nuclear Iran and the administration’s clueless approach to the conflict with the Palestinians. Rather the story is, as Goldberg rightly characterizes it, a genuine crisis in the relationship. That much is plain but where Goldberg and the talkative administration members are wrong is their belief that this is all Netanyahu’s fault. Their attacks on him are not only plainly false but are motivated by a desire to find an excuse that will be used to justify a drastic turn in U.S. foreign policy against Israel.
The administration critique of Netanyahu as a coward stems from its disgust with his failure to make peace with the Palestinians as well as their impatience with his criticisms of their zeal for a deal with Iran even if it means allowing the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power. But this is about more than policy. The prickly Netanyahu is well known to be a tough guy to like personally even if you are one of his allies. But President Obama and his foreign-policy team aren’t just annoyed by the prime minister. They’ve come to view him as public enemy No. 1, using language about him and giving assessments of his policies that are far harsher than they have ever used against even avowed enemies of the United States, let alone one of its closest allies.
So rather than merely chide him for caution they call him a coward and taunt him for being reluctant to make war on Hamas and even to launch a strike on Iran. They don’t merely castigate him as a small-time politician without vision; they accuse him of putting his political survival above the interests of his nation.
It’s quite an indictment but once you get beyond the personal dislike of the individual on the part of the president, Secretary of State Kerry, and any other “senior officials” that speak without attribution on the subject of Israel’s prime minister, all you have is a thin veil of invective covering up six years of Obama administration failures in the Middle East that have the region more dangerous for both Israel and the United States. For all of his personal failings, it is not Netanyahu—a man who actually served as a combat soldier under fire in his country’s most elite commando unit—who is a coward or a small-minded failure. It is Obama and Kerry who have fecklessly sabotaged a special relationship, an act whose consequences have already led to disaster and bloodshed and may yet bring worse in their final two years of power.
It was, after all, Obama (and in the last two years, Kerry) who has spent his time in office picking pointless fights with Israel over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. They were pointless not because there aren’t genuine disagreements between the two countries on the ideal terms for peace. But rather because the Palestinians have never, despite the administration’s best efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their favor, seized the chance for peace. No matter how much Obama praises Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and slights Netanyahu, the former has never been willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. They also chose to launch a peace process in spite of the fact that the Palestinians remain divided between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas-ruled Gaza, a situation that makes it impossible for the PA to make peace even if it wanted to do so. The result of their heedless push for negotiations that were bound to fail was another round of violence this summer and the possibility of another terrorist intifada in the West Bank.
On Iran, it has not been Netanyahu’s bluffing about a strike that is the problem but Obama’s policies. Despite good rhetoric about stopping Tehran’s push for a nuke, the president has pursued a policy of appeasement that caused it to discard its significant military and economic leverage and accept a weak interim deal that began the process of unraveling the international sanctions that represented the best chance for a solution without the use of force.
Even faithful Obama supporter Goldberg understands that it would be madness for Israel to withdraw from more territory and replicate the Gaza terror experiment in the West Bank. He also worries that the administration is making a “weak” Iran deal even though he may be the only person on the planet who actually thinks Obama would use force to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.
So why is the administration so angry with Netanyahu? It can’t be because Netanyahu is preventing peace with the Palestinians. After the failure of Kerry’s fool’s errand negotiations and the Hamas missile war on Israel, not even Obama can think peace is at hand. Nor does he really think Netanyahu can stop him from appeasing Iran if Tehran is willing to sign even a weak deal.
The real reason to target Netanyahu is that it is easier to scapegoat the Israelis than to own up to the administration’s mistakes. Rather than usher in a new era of good feelings with the Arab world in keeping with his 2009 Cairo speech, Obama has been the author of policies that have left an already messy Middle East far more dangerous. Rather than ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his decision to withdraw U.S. troops and to dither over the crisis in Syria led to more conflict and the rise of ISIS. Instead of ending the Iranian nuclear threat, Obama is on the road to enabling it. And rather than manage an Israeli-Palestinian standoff that no serious person thought was on the verge of resolution, Obama made things worse with his and Kerry’s hubristic initiatives and constant bickering with Israel.
Despite the administration’s insults, it is not Netanyahu who is weak. He has shown great courage and good judgment in defending his country’s interests even as Obama has encouraged the Palestinians to believe they can hold out for even more unrealistic terms while denying Israel the ammunition it needed to fight Hamas terrorists. While we don’t know whether, as Goldberg believes, it is too late for Israel to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, it is Obama that Iran considers weak as it plays U.S. negotiators for suckers in the firm belief that the U.S. is a paper tiger that is not to be feared any longer.
If there is a crisis, it is one that was created by Obama’s failures and inability to grasp that his ideological prejudices were out of touch with Middle East realities.
The next two years may well see, as Goldberg ominously predicts, even more actions by the administration to downgrade the alliance with Israel. But the blame for this will belong to a president who has never been comfortable with Israel and who has, at every conceivable opportunity, sought conflict with it even though doing so did not advance U.S. interests or the cause of peace. No insult directed at Netanyahu, no matter how crude or pointless, can cover up the president’s record of failure.

8 big trends in big data analytics | Computerworld

Bill Loconzolo, vice president of data engineering at Intuit, jumped into a data lake with both feet. Dean Abbott, chief data scientist at Smarter Remarketer, made a beeline for the cloud. The leading edge of big data and analytics, which includes data lakes for holding vast stores of data in its native format and, of course, cloud computing, is a moving target, both say. And while the technology options are far from mature, waiting simply isn’t an option.
“The reality is that the tools are still emerging, and the promise of the [Hadoop] platform is not at the level it needs to be for business to rely on it,” says Loconzolo. But the disciplines of big data and analytics are evolving so quickly that businesses need to wade in or risk being left behind. “In the past, emerging technologies might have taken years to mature,” he says. “Now people iterate and drive solutions in a matter of months — or weeks.” So what are the top emerging technologies and trends that should be on your watch list — or in your test lab? Computerworld asked IT leaders, consultants and industry analysts to weigh in. Here’s their list.

1. Big data analytics in the cloud

Hadoop, a framework and set of tools for processing very large data sets, was originally designed to work on clusters of physical machines. That has changed. “Now an increasing number of technologies are available for processing data in the cloud,” says Brian Hopkins, an analyst at Forrester Research. Examples include Amazon’s Redshift hosted BI data warehouse, Google’s BigQuery data analytics service, IBM’s Bluemix cloud platform and Amazon’s Kinesis data processing service. “The future state of big data will be a hybrid of on-premises and cloud,” he says.
Smarter Remarketer, a provider of SaaS-based retail analytics, segmentation and marketing services, recently moved from an in-house Hadoop andMongoDB database infrastructure to the Amazon Redshift, a cloud-based data warehouse. The Indianapolis-based company collects online and brick-and-mortar retail sales and customer demographic data, as well as real-time behavioral data and then analyzes that information to help retailers create targeted messaging to elicit a desired response on the part of shoppers, in some cases in real time.
Redshift was more cost-effective for Smart Remarketer’s data needs, Abbott says, especially since it has extensive reporting capabilities for structured data. And as a hosted offering, it’s both scalable and relatively easy to use. “It’s cheaper to expand on virtual machines than buy physical machines to manage ourselves,” he says.
For its part, Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit has moved cautiously toward cloud analytics because it needs a secure, stable and auditable environment. For now, the financial software company is keeping everything within its private Intuit Analytics Cloud. “We’re partnering with Amazon and Cloudera on how to have a public-private, highly available and secure analytic cloud that can span both worlds, but no one has solved this yet,” says Loconzolo. However, a move to the cloud is inevitable for a company like Intuit that sells products that run in the cloud. “It will get to a point where it will be cost-prohibitive to move all of that data to a private cloud,” he says.

2. Hadoop: The new enterprise data operating system

Distributed analytic frameworks, such as MapReduce, are evolving into distributed resource managers that are gradually turning Hadoop into a general-purpose data operating system, says Hopkins. With these systems, he says, “you can perform many different data manipulations and analytics operations by plugging them into Hadoop as the distributed file storage system.”
What does this mean for the enterprise? As SQL, MapReduce, in-memory, stream processing, graph analytics and other types of workloads are able to run on Hadoop with adequate performance, more businesses will use Hadoop as an enterprise data hub. “The ability to run many different kinds of [queries and data operations] against data in Hadoop will make it a low-cost, general-purpose place to put data that you want to be able to analyze,” Hopkins says.
Intuit is already building on its Hadoop foundation. “Our strategy is to leverage the Hadoop Distributed File System, which works closely with MapReduce and Hadoop, as a long-term strategy to enable all types of interactions with people and products,” says Loconzolo.

3. Big data lakes

Traditional database theory dictates that you design the data set before entering any data. A data lake, also called an enterprise data lake or enterprise data hub, turns that model on its head, says Chris Curran, principal and chief technologist in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ U.S. advisory practice. “It says we’ll take these data sources and dump them all into a big Hadoop repository, and we won’t try to design a data model beforehand,” he says. Instead, it provides tools for people to analyze the data, along with a high-level definition of what data exists in the lake. “People build the views into the data as they go along. It’s a very incremental, organic model for building a large-scale database,” Curran says. On the downside, the people who use it must be highly skilled.
Chris Curran, principal and chief technologist, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ U.S. advisory practice
"People build the views into the data as they go along. It’s a very incremental, organic model for building a large-scale database," says PwC's Chris Curran.
As part of its Intuit Analytics Cloud, Intuit has a data lake that includes clickstream user data and enterprise and third-party data, says Loconzolo, but the focus is on “democratizing” the tools surrounding it to enable business people to use it effectively. Loconzolo says one of his concerns with building a data lake in Hadoop is that the platform isn’t really enterprise-ready. “We want the capabilities that traditional enterprise databases have had for decades — monitoring access control, encryption, securing the data and tracing the lineage of data from source to destination,” he says.

4. More predictive analytics

With big data, analysts have not only more data to work with, but also the processing power to handle large numbers of records with many attributes, Hopkins says. Traditional machine learning uses statistical analysis based on a sample of a total data set. “You now have the ability to do very large numbers of records and very large numbers of attributes per record” and that increases predictability, he says.
The combination of big data and compute power also lets analysts explore new behavioral data throughout the day, such as websites visited or location. Hopkins calls that “sparse data,” because to find something of interest you must wade through a lot of data that doesn’t matter. “Trying to use traditional machine-learning algorithms against this type of data was computationally impossible. Now we can bring cheap computational power to the problem,” he says. “You formulate problems completely differently when speed and memory cease being critical issues,” Abbott says. “Now you can find which variables are best analytically by thrusting huge computing resources at the problem. It really is a game changer.”
“To enable real-time analysis and predictive modeling out of the same Hadoop core, that’s where the interest is for us,” says Loconzolo. The problem has been speed, with Hadoop taking up to 20 times longer to get questions answered than did more established technologies. So Intuit is testing Apache Spark, a large-scale data processing engine, and its associated SQL query tool,Spark SQL. “Spark has this fast interactive query as well as graph services and streaming capabilities. It is keeping the data within Hadoop, but giving enough performance to close the gap for us,” Loconzolo says.

5. SQL on Hadoop: Faster, better

If you’re a smart coder and mathematician, you can drop data in and do an analysis on anything in Hadoop. That’s the promise — and the problem, says Mark Beyer, an analyst at Gartner. “I need someone to put it into a format and language structure that I’m familiar with,” he says. That’s where SQL for Hadoop products come in, although any familiar language could work, says Beyer. Tools that support SQL-like querying let business users who already understand SQL apply similar techniques to that data. SQL on Hadoop “opens the door to Hadoop in the enterprise,” Hopkins says, because businesses don’t need to make an investment in high-end data scientists and business analysts who can write scripts using Java, JavaScript and Python — something Hadoop users have traditionally needed to do.
These tools are nothing new. Apache Hive has offered a structured a structured, SQL-like query language for Hadoop for some time. But commercial alternatives from Cloudera, Pivotal Software, IBM and other vendors not only offer much higher performance, but also are getting faster all the time. That makes the technology a good fit for “iterative analytics,” where an analyst asks one question, receives an answer, and then asks another one. That type of work has traditionally required building a data warehouse. SQL on Hadoop isn’t going to replace data warehouses, at least not anytime soon, says Hopkins, “but it does offer alternatives to more costly software and appliances for certain types of analytics.”

6. More, better NoSQL

Alternatives to traditional SQL-based relational databases, called NoSQL (short for “Not Only SQL”) databases, are rapidly gaining popularity as tools for use in specific kinds of analytic applications, and that momentum will continue to grow, says Curran. He estimates that there are 15 to 20 open-source NoSQL databases out there, each with its own specialization. For example, a NoSQL product with graph database capability, such as ArangoDB, offers a faster, more direct way to analyze the network of relationships between customers or salespeople than does a relational database.
Open-source SQL databases “have been around for a while, but they’re picking up steam because of the kinds of analyses people need,” Curran says. One PwC client in an emerging market has placed sensors on store shelving to monitor what products are there, how long customers handle them and how long shoppers stand in front of particular shelves. “These sensors are spewing off streams of data that will grow exponentially,” Curran says. “A NoSQL key-value pair database is the place to go for this because it’s special-purpose, high-performance and lightweight.”

7. Deep learning

Deep learning, a set of machine-learning techniques based on neural networking, is still evolving but shows great potential for solving business problems, says Hopkins. “Deep learning . . . enables computers to recognize items of interest in large quantities of unstructured and binary data, and to deduce relationships without needing specific models or programming instructions,” he says.
In one example, a deep learning algorithm that examined data from Wikipedia learned on its own that California and Texas are both states in the U.S. “It doesn’t have to be modeled to understand the concept of a state and country, and that’s a big difference between older machine learning and emerging deep learning methods,” Hopkins says.
“Big data will do things with lots of diverse and unstructured text using advanced analytic techniques like deep learning to help in ways that we only now are beginning to understand,” Hopkins says. For example, it could be used to recognize many different kinds of data, such as the shapes, colors and objects in a video — or even the presence of a cat within images, as a neural network built by Google famously did in 2012. “This notion of cognitive engagement, advanced analytics and the things it implies . . . are an important future trend,” Hopkins says.

8. In-memory analytics

The use of in-memory databases to speed up analytic processing is increasingly popular and highly beneficial in the right setting, says Beyer. In fact, many businesses are already leveraging hybrid transaction/analytical processing (HTAP) — allowing transactions and analytic processing to reside in the same in-memory database.
But there’s a lot of hype around HTAP, and businesses have been overusing it, Beyer says. For systems where the user needs to see the same data in the same way many times during the day — and there’s no significant change in the data — in-memory is a waste of money.
And while you can perform analytics faster with HTAP, all of the transactions must reside within the same database. The problem, says Beyer, is that most analytics efforts today are about putting transactions from many different systems together. “Just putting it all on one database goes back to this disproven belief that if you want to use HTAP for all of your analytics, it requires all of your transactions to be in one place,” he says. “You still have to integrate diverse data.”
Moreover, bringing in an in-memory database means there’s another product to manage, secure, and figure out how to integrate and scale.
For Intuit, the use of Spark has taken away some of the urge to embrace in-memory databases. “If we can solve 70% of our use cases with Spark infrastructure and an in-memory system could solve 100%, we’ll go with the 70% in our analytic cloud,” Loconzolo says. “So we will prototype, see if it’s ready and pause on in-memory systems internally right now.”

Staying one step ahead

With so many emerging trends around big data and analytics, IT organizations need to create conditions that will allow analysts and data scientists to experiment. “You need a way to evaluate, prototype and eventually integrate some of these technologies into the business,” says Curran.
“IT managers and implementers cannot use lack of maturity as an excuse to halt experimentation,” says Beyer. Initially, only a few people — the most skilled analysts and data scientists — need to experiment. Then those advanced users and IT should jointly determine when to deliver new resources to the rest of the organization. And IT shouldn’t necessarily rein in analysts who want to move ahead full-throttle. Rather, Beyer says, IT needs to work with analysts to “put a variable-speed throttle on these new high-powered tools.”

Oct 29, 2014

Life under Obama sucks. And these numbers prove it - Telegraph

America is so over Obama. In 2008, the media and a majority of the voters were head-over-heels in love with the man who told them that “yes, we can” overcome war and recession.
By 2012, the amour had cooled but they were willing to give four more years to the guy who was – if nothing else – way hotter than Mitt Romney.
But now it’s 2014 and the passion is totally gone. Obama is the withholding boyfriend who knows that he’s probably on the way out and is just sending the odd friendly text message from the golf course. If this relationship-breakdown metaphor seems a little strained consider this:Barack Obama is close to having played more rounds of golf since 2009 than Tiger Woods.
America would happily kick him to the curb, but he can’t run again in 2016 – so these midterm elections are the chance to send a message of complaint.
The Republicans won’t get a landslide (for reasons I’ll touch upon later), but if they do perform well then it’s worth noting that voters aren’t just being petty and spiteful to the President and his party. They have sound reasons to be angry about the Democrat record.
It’s true that unemployment has fallen to its lowest point since Obama took office, but that’s actually coincided with a collapse in his approval ratings: joblessness has dipped below 6 per cent, but 53 per cent of Americans think Obama is doing a bad job with the economy.
The reason? Quality of life is poor. Starting at the very bottom, poverty levels point to stagnation. In January 2009 the poverty rate stood at 14.3 per cent. It rose to around 15 per cent and then fell back down in 2013 to 14.5 per cent (but the actual number of those in poverty remained the same from 2012). Things are worse for black Americans, whose poverty rate has risen in that same period from 25.8 per cent to 27.2 per cent.
Not everyone’s doing badly, of course. The richest 10 per cent are the only group – the only group! – who saw their median income rise from 2010-2013. As the Washington Times points out, that’s the same period in which Barack Robin Hood Obama won re-election painting the GOP as corporate vampires. The richest people have seen their share of taxes decline quite dramatically under this “socialist” president – while, interestingly, the share of federal income tax paid by the middle class has, according to the IRS, slightly risen.
Now, it’s true that the Obama administration deserves plaudits for extending tax relief to middle-class Americans. But that’s been shaped by political and economic reality. Politically, his natural instinct for raising taxes – such as the significant charges that Obamacare will levy – has been curtailed by dealing with a Republican Congress: in fact, since 2009 one think tanks says that he has proposed no less than 442 tax increases. Economically, any assistance that has been passed onto the voters is a reflection of the parlous state of their personal finances. According to the Federal Reserve, middle-class incomes stagnated from 2010-2013 while incomes at the bottom end of the scale continued to fall. Yet its latest finances survey discovered a fascinating anomaly: mean income is up while median income is down. The explanation is that while most Americans’ financial performance remains weak, the very rich are doing splendidly. The scale of inequality of appalling: “The wealth share of the top 3 percent climbed from 44.8 percent in 1989 to 51.8 percent in 2007 and 54.4 percent in 2013. … The share of wealth held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33.2 percent in 1989 to 24.7 percent in 2013.”
Finally, even the much praised unemployment rates can be misleading. While the number seeking work might be falling, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve found some. In January 2009, the labour force participation rate was 65.7 per cent; today it is 62.7 per cent. In other words, a lot of Americans have simply withdrawn from the labour market.
In short, the middle class has good reasons to be frustrated with Obamanomics – especially given that the President has so often claimed to be on the side of the little man but has largely operated to the benefit of the super rich. In fact, I wouldn’t blame Mitt Romney if he secretly cast a ballot for Obama in 2012. Add to that the administration’s quixotic handling of the Ebola crisis or its vacillating Middle East policy and you get the sense of a regime that has largely given up. Not that it was particularly “engaged” in the beginning. Barack Obama was elected in 2008 less on the back of a programme than a personality. He embodied rather than articulated change. As such, his election did mark a revolution in American race relations but it did not represent a serious effort at governmental reform. With the notable – and controversial – exceptions of Obamacare and gay marriage (the latter led entirely by the courts and not the administration), liberals should be asking themselves what Obama has ever done for them. Conservatives will be asking what he’s done to the economy, having over-regulated and over-spent to little obvious advantage. I’m not so sure we can call the Obama administration liberal rather than just chaotic and vain.
All of which ought to mean that the Republicans triumph handsomely next week. But rarely has a Democrat so benefited from the weakness of his opposition. The Republican establishment looks tired, the Tea Party has gone quiet because the GOP is playing it safe. The energy of 2010, which gave the Republicans control of the House, has gone. Mediocrity abounds, while the President hunkers down in that golf course bunker.