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It’s Amazon’s Swamp Now

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There’s a new scandal quietly unfolding in Washington. It’s far bigger than Housing Secretary Ben Carson buying a $31,000 dinette set for his office, or former EPA chief Scott Pruitt deploying an aide to hunt for a deal on a used mattress. It involves the world’s richest man, President Trump’s favorite general, and a $10 billion defense contract. And it may be a sign of how tech giants and Silicon Valley tycoons will dominate Washington for generations to come.

The controversy involves a plan to move all of the Defense Department’s data—classified and unclassified—on to the cloud. The information is currently strewn across some 400 centers, and the Pentagon’s top brass believes that consolidating it into one cloud-based system, the way the CIA did in 2013, will make it more secure and accessible. That’s why, on July 26, the Defense Department issued a request for proposals called JEDI, short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. Whoever winds up landing the winner-take-all contract will be awarded $10 billion—instantly becoming one of America’s biggest federal contractors.

But when JEDI was issued, on the day Congress recessed for the summer, the deal appeared to be rigged in favor of a single provider: Amazon. According to insiders familiar with the 1,375-page request for proposal, the language contains a host of technical stipulations that only Amazon can meet, making it hard for other leading cloud-services providers to win—or even apply for—the contract. One provision, for instance, stipulates that bidders must already generate more than $2 billion a year in commercial cloud revenues—a “bigger is better” requirement that rules out all but a few of Amazon’s rivals.

What’s more, the process of crafting JEDI bears all the hallmarks of the swamp that Trump has vowed to drain. Though there has long been talk about the Defense Department joining the cloud, the current call for bids was put together only after Defense Secretary James Mattis hired a D.C. lobbyist who had previously consulted for Amazon. The lobbyist, Sally Donnelly, served as a top advisor to Mattis while the details of JEDI were being hammered out. During her tenure, Mattis flew to Seattle to tour Amazon’s headquarters and meet with Jeff Bezos. Then, as the cloud-computing contract was being finalized, Donnelly’s former lobbying firm, SBD Advisors, was bought by an investment fund with ties to Amazon’s cloud-computing unit.

Congressional insiders who have reviewed the process question whether Donnelly violated a federal law that bars executive-branch employees from participating in government decisions that affect their personal interests. “We recently became aware of serious and possible criminal violations related to the Amazon cloud DOD contract process,” says a high-ranking congressional staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We are concerned about the implications of the appearance of conflicts of interest and impropriety related to how Pentagon personnel with close ties to Amazon may have influenced multi-billion-dollar cloud contracts.”

Donnelly, through her lawyer, denies any wrongdoing. “Ms. Donnelly sold her entire stake in SBD Advisors before setting foot in the Pentagon,” the lawyer said. “From that moment forward, she has had absolutely no financial or other interest in SBD Advisors or its clients.”

But whether or not any legal or ethical boundaries were crossed, Amazon’s high-ranking connections in the Pentagon underscore how Jeff Bezos continues to wield influence in Washington, even as the president himself rails against the online goliath. It also raises a larger question: How do you drain a swamp when the alligators are bigger than ever? “When you have that kind of access during a $10 billion procurement, that compromises the integrity of the procurement,” says John Weiler, an industry expert who runs a trade group that includes many leading IT firms. “Amazon was basically able to write the playbook.”

The details of the JEDI contract provide a window into how new players like Amazon are faring in the notoriously insular world of defense contracting. Donnelly, the lobbyist at the center of the controversy, is a former reporter for Time who set up her own lobbying shop a half mile from the White House in 2012. Stacked with former high-ranking officials from the NSA and the Pentagon, SBD Advisors boasted that it helped clients “navigate the political and media environment in the national security space” and “maximize opportunities.” Among Donnelly’s clients was Amazon Web Services, the online giant’s cloud-computing unit.

During her time at SBD, Donnelly grew close to General Mattis. When Mattis was nominated by President Trump to lead the Pentagon, she was brought on to run his Senate confirmation process. The day after he was sworn in, Donnelly went to work for him as a special advisor.

Donnelly enjoyed direct access to Mattis, and the cloud community knew it. “It was a well known thing that if you needed something you would give it to Sally, and Sally would give it to the defense secretary,” says an insider who worked closely with Donnelly. As one of the secretary’s top advisors, Donnelly vetted his schedule and arranged his meetings. And among the most signficant meetings that took place under her watch was a visit to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle on August 10, 2017. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos personally tweeted a photo of himself hosting #SecDef Mattis.

Amazon insists that Bezos and Mattis did not discuss the cloud bid during the visit. But the defense secretary reportedly returned from the visit convinced that the Pentagon needed to turn its data over to a commercial cloud provider. A month after Mattis met with Bezos, on September 13, 2017, the Pentagon put out a memo citing the defense secretary’s visit to Seattle, which it hailed as an “epicenter of innovation.” The memo then called for a cloud bid that would cover all of the Pentagon’s data for its 2.3 million employees and service members. Amazon, it appeared, was suddenly in prime position to land a $10 billion defense contract.

Much of the language of JEDI, in fact, seems specifically tailored for Jeff Bezos. “Everybody immediately knew that it was for Amazon,” says a rival bidder who asked not to be named. To even make a bid, a provider must maintain a distance of at least 150 miles between its data centers, a prerequisite that only Amazon can currently meet. JEDI also asks for “32 GB of RAM”—the precise specification of Amazon’s services. (Microsoft, by contrast, offers only 28 GB, and Google provides 30 GB.) In places, JEDI echoes Amazon’s own language: It calls for a “ruggedized” storage system, the same word Amazon uses to tout its Snowball Edge product.

The Defense Department says that neither Mattis nor Donnelly were involved in shaping JEDI. But congressional insiders plan to take a closer look at how and when Donnelly benefited from the sale of her lobbying firm. According to her financial disclosure forms, she sold her stake in SBD Advisors for $1.17 million two days before she went to work for Mattis. But she continued to receive payments while she was working at the Pentagon, at a time when Amazon remained a client of the firm. And in March, two weeks after Donnelly left the Pentagon, SBD was bought by C5 Capital, a private equity firm with direct ties to Amazon.

On its website, C5 trumpets that it is working with Amazon Web Services to “meet the growth opportunity being created by the geographic expansion of AWS.” In 2016, C5 and AWS partnered in Bahrain-based fund that backed cloud startups in Africa and the Middle East. “We’ve been partnering with C5 around the world for a long time,” Teresa Carlson, Amazon’s vice president for worldwide public sector, said at a joint event in Washington in May 2017.

Leading Amazon rivals like Google, Microsoft, and IBM are up in arms about the way JEDI was crafted to benefit Amazon. “Everybody in the industry was quite surprised,” says one rival bidder who asked not to be identified. On August 7, Oracle filed an official protest with the Government Accountability Office, arguing that JEDI violates federal procurement laws. In addition, some cybersecurity experts warn that allowing a single company to manage the Pentagon’s data will make it vulnerable to cyberattacks and reduce innovation.

Amazon and others says that it makes sense not to spread the data around. “If you don’t have good experience and a workforce that understands cloud, it’s going to be really hard to try to absorb multiple clouds and create multiple architectures,” Carlson told the Washington Post. And the company’s widely perceived edge in the JEDI process underscores that bigger is still considered better when it comes to defense contracts. Amazon Web Services generated $17.5 billion last year—nearly 10 percent of the online giant’s total revenues. “Amazon was an early mover in this market,” says William Schneider, a defense analyst with the Hudson Institute. “It’s a dominant player, and they are the initial providers of cloud services in the intelligence community.”

In a larger sense, the JEDI contract represents the growing clout that technology companies are wielding in Washington—and how they are increasingly wiring the swamp for their own benefit. Amazon has spent $67 million on lobbying since 2000—including more this year than Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo combined. Its Washington office employs more than 100 lobbyists, including 68 so-called “revolvers”—officials who have moved from government employment to the private sector. The company also employs many former officials with insider connections, including Scott Renda, who worked for the Office of Management and Budget’s cloud computing division, and Anne Rung, who served as the government’s chief acquisition officer.

If you think the JEDI contract is big, consider this: Last year, working for Bezos, Rung helped pass the so-called Amazon amendment, a provision buried in a defense authorization bill that will establish Amazon as the go-to portal for every online purchase the government makes—some $53 billion every year. President Trump may enjoy firing off incendiary tweets attacking Amazon. But Bezos is quietly finding new ways to bolster his empire with billions in federal tax dollars. And the Pentagon, it appears, is helping him do it.


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fxer
1 hour ago
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Bend, Oregon
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ruinedchildhood: viktor-loves-yuu: blueelectricangels: thefing...

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ruinedchildhood:

viktor-loves-yuu:

blueelectricangels:

thefingerfuckingfemalefury:

ragedorito:

thefingerfuckingfemalefury:

floating-head:

I made ramen today

FREE THE EGGS FROM THE FLAVOUR CUBE

“BECAUSE YOU OVERCOOKED THEM WHILE TYPING THIS”

I actually went “Awwwwwwww” at “Fear not soft noodles”

i have many questions but the most pressing of which is why is what looks like a mass effect pistol part of the traditional toppings

are you saying a gun is not a traditional ramen topping?

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hannahdraper
2 hours ago
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Washington, DC
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If you're driving along & think to yourself that you should throw your cigarette butt out your window look up. See how the sky looks weird? It's from fires. Some of which were started by someone throwing a cigarette butt out the window. Don't do it. pic.twitter.com/nyagllkmp6

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If you're driving along & think to yourself that you should throw your cigarette butt out your window look up. See how the sky looks weird? It's from fires. Some of which were started by someone throwing a cigarette butt out the window. Don't do it. pic.twitter.com/nyagllkmp6


Posted by vicpdcanada on Monday, August 13th, 2018 9:59pm


97 likes, 54 retweets
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dreadhead
2 hours ago
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Vancouver Island, Canada
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1 public comment
JimB
7 minutes ago
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Even if its wet, don't do it - the filter includes lots of plastic so it never bio degrades.

Photos: 15 Years Since the 2003 Northeast Blackout (30 photos)

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On August 14, 2003, a series of faults caused by tree branches touching power lines in Ohio, which were then complicated by human error, software issues, and equipment failures, led to the most widespread blackout in North American history. More than 50 million people across eight northeastern U.S. states and parts of Canada were left without power for at least 24 hours, and many of them were in the dark for weeks. In New York City, thousands of commuters were stranded when the power cut out late on a Thursday afternoon. Memories of the 9/11 attacks only two years earlier were fresh in people’s minds as scenes of thousands of people evacuating Manhattan on foot were replayed.

People walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City on August 14, 2003, after a blackout hit the city. (Peter Morgan / Reuters)
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dreadhead
2 hours ago
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These photos have aged more than I would have expected. I guess I am getting old.
Vancouver Island, Canada
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Dense Canadian Smoke Veil Moves Southward over Washington State

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There are many Canadian imports we value, such as maple syrup and wood products, but one we would rather do without:  smoke from major wildfires in British Columbia.  And a major push southward of Canadian smoke is occurring as I write this. 

The smoke was obvious in the MODIS satellite image around noon, with low clouds beneath the smoke, west of the Cascade crest.


Most of these clouds subsequently burned off, with lots of smoke still aloft (see picture for the GOES satellite around 4 PM)


The smoke was quite dense but was mainly aloft, leaving air quality decent near the surface.   But the sky is very hazy and the sun has that weakened yellow/red look to it.    For example, the latest image from the Seattle PanoCam shows the smoke clearly.


And those hiking at Sunrise on Mt. Rainier did not see blue skies.


Yesterday in contrast had very, very clear skies.  What happened?

The passage of an upper level low and trough. 

Prior to the low passage, there was lots of Canadian smoke aloft, since southerly flow precedes the upper level low (see my previous blog).  As the low passed yesterday, the winds aloft first were first southwesterly/westerly, bringing in clean air from off the Pacific). But as the low passed by, the winds became northerly aloft which moved smoke from fires in BC southward (see upper level, 500 hPa, about 18,000 ft, map at 5 AM Sunday, winds are shown by the wind barbs)


And the upper level map for tomorrow morning (11 AM Monday) shows that the northerly flow is not over.

As many of you know by now, I am a great enthusiast for the wonderful experimental HRRR-SMOKE model run by NOAA ESRL.  Here is the vertical total of smoke amount for 2 PM Sunday from HRRR-Smoke.  Red is very smoky.  You can see lots of smoke moving southward into NW Washington, with cleaner air over northern Oregon.  The California smoke wa heading to the east and then northeast, missing us.


 By 9 AM Monday, substantial smoke is over all of WA state and CA smoke is moving northward again into Oregon.


And by late Monday evening, the two smoke sources combine, producing substantial haze over the entire Northwest.


And now the bad news: the winds over the Cascades will become easterly tomorrow and eastern WA smoke will push westward over the Cascades, with smoke pushing down to the surface (see surface smoke forecast for tomorrow at 7PM).  Our decent air quality may be over---so if you are vulnerable, take the appropriate precautions.


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dreadhead
3 hours ago
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Are there tariffs on smoke?
Vancouver Island, Canada
fxer
2 hours ago
Build The Smokewall
JimB
6 minutes ago
I clicked share to ask that very question! Beaten ;}
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Wedding Memories

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Follow @lamebook on instagram for more content!

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dreadhead
3 hours ago
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Vancouver Island, Canada
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Group FaceTime Pulled from Initial iOS 12 Release

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Apple has removed Group FaceTime chat from the latest iOS 12 developer beta. The feature, which was debuted at WWDC and described as being able to handle up to 32 simultaneous users will come later this fall according to Apple’s beta release notes:

Group FaceTime has been removed from the initial release of iOS 12 and will ship in a future software update later this fall.

This delay isn’t the first time that a feature announced at WWDC has been moved to a later point release of a major iOS update. Last year, AirPlay 2, Messages in iCloud, and Apple Pay Cash all missed the initial release of iOS 11.

I’m not surprised Group FaceTime needs more time. I haven’t used it extensively, but in a late July test with four participants, it was clear that it had a long way to go before it was ready for release.


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sirshannon
3 hours ago
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Dooooomed.
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