GovTechGuy writes "A number of lawmakers are using the death of Internet activist Aaron Swartz to speak out against the Justice Department's handling of the case, and application of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The controversy surrounding the Swartz case could finally give activists the momentum they need to halt the steady increase in penalties for even minor computer crimes."
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holy_calamity writes "MIT Technology Review reports that efforts by U.S. government agencies and defense contractors to develop malware to attack enemies is driving a black market in zero-day vulnerabilities. Experts warn that could make the internet less secure for everyone, since malicious code is typically left behind on targeted systems and often shows up on untargeted ones, providing opportunities for reverse engineering. '"On the one hand the government is freaking out about cyber-security, and on the other the U.S. is participating in a global market in vulnerabilities and pushing up the prices," says Soghoian, who says he has spoken with people involved in the trade and that prices range from the thousands to the hundreds of thousands. Even civilian law-enforcement agencies pay for zero-days, Soghoian says, in order to sneak spy software onto suspects’ computers or mobile phones.'"
New submitter sbulut77 writes with a follow up to accusations Ron Paul is using the UN to gain control of ronpaul.com. "Lew Rockwell explains the RonPaul.com issue. There is so much misinformation on this topic, his blog is very welcome. His blog entry is pretty short and well-written please read the blog post directly." From the article: "Ron is not calling on the UN. ICANN has four approved arbitration organizations. Because the RP.com guys registered Ron's name in Australia, the international arbitration option must be used. Yes, it is associated with the UN. Too bad, but one must play the cards one is dealt. The UN itself is not involved, though note — whatever else is wrong with it — the UN is not a State."
dstates writes with news from NASA about the state of available water in the Middle East. From the NASA article: "'GRACE data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India,' said Jay Famiglietti, principal investigator of the study and a hydrologist and professor at UC Irvine. 'The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws.'" dstates adds: "Water is a huge global security issue. To understand the middle east, you need to understand that the Golan Heights provides a significant amount of the water used in Israel. Focusing on conflicts and politics means that huge volumes of valuable water are being wasted in the Middle East, and this will only exacerbate future conflicts. Water is a serious issue between India and China. And then there is Africa. U.S. food exports are in effect exporting irrigation water drawn from the Ogallala aquifer. Fracking trades water for energy, and lack of water limits fracking in many parts of th world. Think about it."
astroengine writes "President Barack Obama called for 'meaningful progress' on tackling climate change in his State of the Union speech in Washington, DC on Tuesday night. While acknowledging that 'no single event makes a trend,' the President noted that the United States had been buffeted by extreme weather events that in many cases encapsulated the predictions of climate scientists. 'But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods — all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it's too late,' Obama added." Other significant statements from Obama's speech: 34,000 troops coming back from Afghanistan over the next year; new gun regulations "deserve a vote"; rewards for schools that focus on STEM education; increases in tech research; a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9.00/hr and tie it to inflation; and a proposal to use oil and gas revenues to fund a move away from oil and gas,
First time accepted submitter WolfeCanada writes "North Korea apparently conducted a widely anticipated nuclear test Tuesday, strongly indicated by an 'explosion-like' earthquake that monitoring agencies around the globe said appeared to be unnatural." North Korea has confirmed the test, according to the Washington Post, in an article that touches on its political context. Among other things, the Post notes that this "is the first under new North Korean leader Kim Jong Eun and the clearest sign that the third-generation leader, like his father and grandfather, prefers to confront the United States and its allies rather than make peace with them." Adds reader eldavojohn "KCNA news claims that the test was safe and cited the threat of the U.S. for conducting the test, saying 'The test was carried out as part of practical measure of counteraction to defend the country's security and sovereignty in the face of the ferocious hostile act of the U.S. which wantonly violated the DPRK's legitimate right to launch satellite for peaceful purposes.' RT is posting a feed of the many condemnations from governments and organizations."
First time accepted submitter thoughtfulbloke writes "Ron Paul has gone to the United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization to seize control of the RonPaul.com domain from the fans that built it up, rather than purchase it. From the article: 'The proprietors of RonPaul.com say they reached out to the retired politicain and offered him RonPaul.org as a free gift, but if he "insisted" on owning RonPaul.com then they would sell it to him. There was a catch, though. It would be part of a "liberty package" with the site's 170,000 person mailing list for... wait for it... $250,000. They think the price is totally worth it: '"
theodp writes "In an open letter on TechCrunch, Vivek Wadhwa calls on Congressman Luis Gutierrez to lift his 'hold on Silicon Valley' and stop tying immigration reform for highly-skilled STEM immigrants to the plight of undocumented immigrants. So, why should the STEM set get first dibs? 'The issues of high-skilled and undocumented immigrants are both equally important,' says Wadhwa, but 'the difference is that the skilled workers have mobility and are in great demand all over the world. They are getting frustrated and are leaving in droves.' Commenting on Gutierrez's voting record, Wadhwa adds, 'I would have voted for visas for 50,000 smart foreign students graduating with STEM degrees from U.S. universities over bringing in 55,000 randomly selected high-school graduates from abroad. The STEM graduates would have created jobs and boosted our economy. The lottery winners will come to the U.S. with high hopes, but will face certain unemployment and misery because of our weak economy.' So, should Gutierrez cede to Wadhwa's techies-before-Latinos proposal, or would this be an example of the paradox of virtuous meritocracy undermining equality of opportunity?"
New submitter rHBa sends this article about another high-profile email account breach: "The apparent hack of several e-mail accounts has exposed personal photos and sensitive correspondence from members of the Bush family, including both former U.S. presidents. The posted photos and e-mails contain a watermark with the hacker's online alias, 'Guccifer.' ... Included in the hacked material is a confidential October 2012 list of home addresses, cell phone numbers, and e-mails for dozens of Bush family members, including both former presidents, their siblings, and their children. ... Correspondence obtained by the hacker indicates that at least six separate e-mail accounts have been compromised, including the AOL account of Dorothy Bush Koch, daughter of George H.W. Bush and sister of George W. Bush. Other breached accounts belong to Willard Heminway, 79, an old friend of the 41st president who lives in Greenwich, Connecticut; CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz, a longtime Bush family friend; former first lady Barbara Bush’s brother; and George H.W. Bush’s sister-in-law. "
Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton is still thinking about prediction markets, and giving away money. He writes: "In an article last December I described a problem with prediction markets, where even markets with cap on betting limits could be manipulated by a single trader willing to spend a lot of money to distort the marketplace odds. So I offered a $100 cash prize to be split between readers who collectively came up with the best solution to the problem. Here's an idea that I think would work." Read on for the rest.
An anonymous reader writes "According to an Al-Jazeera report, 'Charlottesville, Virginia is the first city in the United States to pass an anti-drone resolution. The writing of the resolution coincides with a leaked memo outlining the legal case for drone strikes on U.S. citizens and a Federal Aviation Administration plan to allow the deployment of some 30,000 domestic drones.' The finalized resolution is fairly weak, but it's a start. There is also some anti-drone legislation in the Oregon state Senate, and it has much bigger teeth. It defines public airspace as anything above your shoelaces, and the wording for 'drone' is broad enough to include RC helicopters and the like."
cathyreisenwitz writes "For over a year now journalists, civil liberties advocates, and members of Congress have been asking the Obama administration to release internal memoranda from the Office of Legal Counsel justifying Obama's targeted killing program. While the White House continues to deny that such memos exist, NBC is reporting that it has acquired the next best thing: A secretish 16-page white paper from the Department of Justice that was provided to select members of the Senate last June." Spencer Ackerman at Wired says the leaked rules "[trump] traditional Constitutional protections American citizens enjoy from being killed by their government without due process" by redefining the concept of "imminence."
lcam writes "A Richard Stallman opinion piece appears at Reuters addressing the 'Too big to fail' view that has recently caused large corporations to be bailed out by taxpayer dollars. His solution is elegant: 'We tax a company’s gross income, with a tax rate that increases as the company gets bigger. Companies would be able to reduce their tax rates by splitting themselves up.' However, it could use some refining. For example, his measure would create a required minimum 'Return on Investment' scale that corporations need to follow to be viable, and these types of metrics are very industry specific. Another issue is that many large corporations stay in business because they don't take unnecessary risk. Companies like Intel, Lockheed, Walmart are very large and have a very low chance of failure, yet Stallman would have them split up as a result of the excessive risks that banks and insurance companies were seen to have taken. It also has the potential to cause problems with the global market; some multinationals may find it better to simply 'move out' to a country that doesn't compromise their business models. How can this idea be made better?"
An anonymous reader writes "Iran has unveiled a new home-made combat aircraft, which officials say can evade radar. The single-seat Qaher F313 (Dominant F313) is the latest design produced by Iran's military since it launched the Azarakhsh (Lightning), in 2007. President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said it had 'almost all the positive features' of the world's most sophisticated jets.Footage from state TV showed the jet in flight, but not its take-off or landing."
New submitter Matt Slaybaugh writes "John Foley at InformationWeek has an editorial saying that the missing piece in the new gun control legislation is adequate data management. 'President Obama introduced 23 executive orders on Jan. 16 aimed at reducing gun violence through a combination of tougher regulation and enforcement, research, training, education and attention to mental healthcare. Several of the proposed actions involve better information sharing, including requiring federal agencies to make relevant data available to the FBI's background check system and easing legal barriers that prevent states from contributing data to that system.' But concrete plans are needed now to improve the current poor system of data collection and sharing. Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel's Digital Government Strategy, introduced in May, 'defines an IT architecture and processes for sharing digitized content securely, using Web APIs and with attention to protecting privacy. ... Unfortunately, on top of the data quality issues identified by the White House, and the FBI's and ATF's outdated IT systems, there's a lack of transparency about the systems used to enforce federal gun-control laws.'"
Rick Zeman writes "According to a headline article in the New York Times, they admit to being hacked by the Chinese, and covers the efforts of Mandiant to investigate, and then to eradicate their custom Advanced Persistent Threats (APT). This was alleged to be in reaction to an article which details the sleazy business dealings of the family of Wen Jiabao, China's newest Prime Minister. China's Ministry of National Defense said in denial, 'Chinese laws prohibit any action including hacking that damages Internet security.'" Update: 01/31 15:00 GMT by T : The Times used Symanetic's suite of malware protection software; Symantec has issued a statement that could be taken as slightly snippy about its role in (not) preventing the spyware from taking hold.
The Washington Post has announced a prototype news application called "Truth Teller", that displays “TRUE" or “FALSE” in real time next to video of politicians as they speak. The Knight Foundation-funded program automatically transcribes speeches and checks the statements against a database of facts. From the article: "For now, the early beta prototype has to be manually hand-fed some facts, and thus only works on topics it has been specifically designed to recognize. Since Congress has yet to pass a budget, and financial discussions are prone to widespread lies and misstatements, Truth Teller is being piloted on the issue of tax policy."
An anonymous reader writes "'Right now, there are brilliant students from all over the world sitting in classrooms at our top universities,' President Obama explained to the nation Tuesday in his pitch for immigration reform. 'They are earning degrees in the fields of the future, like engineering and computer science...We are giving them the skills to figure that out, but then we are going to turn around and tell them to start the business and create those jobs in China, or India, or Mexico, or someplace else. That is not how you grow new industries in America. That is how you give new industries to our competitors. That is why we need comprehensive immigration reform." If the President truly fears that international students will use skills learned at U.S. colleges and universities to the detriment of the United States if they return home (isn't a rising tide supposed to lift all boats?) — an argument NYC Mayor Bloomberg advanced in 2011 ('we are investing millions of dollars [actually billions] to educate these students at our leading universities, and then giving the economic dividends back to our competitors – for free') — then wouldn't another option be not providing them with the skills in the first place?"
As reported by news.com.au, Julian Assange has seen leaked copies of the script of an upcoming film depicting WikiLeaks, and blasts it as inaccurate propaganda. He says, among other things, "They tried to frame Iran as having an active nuclear weapons program. Then they try to frame WikiLeaks as the reason why that's not known to the public now." Says the article: "Assange declined to say where he got the script, although he hinted that he had been supplied with several copies of it over time. He also declined to say whether the script would be posted to the WikiLeaks website, saying only that "we are examining options closely.'"
As reported by Reuters, The New York Times, and Fox News, among others, North Korea's nuclear saber-rattling has reached a new peak. North Korean officials have made clear their intent to conduct a third nuclear test (earlier tests were in 2006 and 2009), as well as further rocket launches specifically designed to demonstrate missile reach extending to the U.S. From Reuters' story: "North Korea is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States, although its December launch showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles), potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea. 'We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States,' North Korea's National Defence Commission said, according to state news agency KCNA."
An anonymous reader writes "Yesterday in a post at the White House website, the U.S. government announced that June 1-2 would be the National Day of Civic Hacking. 'Civic Hacking Day is an opportunity for software developers, technologists, and entrepreneurs to unleash their can-do American spirit by collaboratively harnessing publicly-released data and code to create innovative solutions for problems that affect Americans.' It will be a joint project with Random Hacks of Kindness, Code for America. Activities are being planned in many cities across the country, and you can also sign up to host your own event. It's nice to see the government use the word 'hacking' in a positive way, since most uses of the term these days involve malicious activity."
An anonymous reader writes "There's a battle brewing amongst Obama's election team. The political folks want to keep the get out the vote code closed source so republicans never get access to it, but the programmers want it open sourced so it can be improved upon. 'In this sense, the decision to mothball the tech would be a violation of the developers’ ethical principles. But the argument is about more than whether putting the tech back in the hands of the public is the right thing to do. "The biggest issue we saw with all of the commercial election software we used was that it’s only updated every four years," says Ryan. It was these outdated options that convinced team Obama to build all the campaign tech in-house. If the code OFA built was put on ice at the DNC until 2016, it would become effectively worthless. "None of that will be useful in four years, technology moves too fast," said Ryan. "But if our work was open and people were forking it and improving it all the time, then it keeps up with changes as we go."'"
judgecorp writes "The European Commission has proposals for data privacy (including the 'right to be forgotten') and the U.S. government is opposing them. Now U.S. activists have arrived in Brussels to lobby against their government's opposition to the European measures. The move comes following reports of 'extreme' lobbying by U.S. authorities against the European proposals." Although the "right to be forgotten" raises some free speech issues, it doesn't seem like a bad idea in principle.
First time accepted submitter norpy writes "The Australian branch of the pirate party has today announced that their registration as a political party has been successful. According to the announcement the party will now turn its attention to selection of candidates and development of policies for the upcoming federal election. 'Organising and validating a membership database to then submit to the AEC for the purposes of registration is a daunting task. Fortunately, we had a team of volunteers who were prepared to spend many weekends ensuring that the list we sent to the AEC was entirely valid, and I thank them for their effort,' said Brendan Molloy, Secretary of Pirate Party Australia."
Eric Schmidt attracted headlines when he visited North Korea, but until now he has said little about the trip. Today he broke his silence with a Google+ post. He says in part: "As the world becomes increasingly connected, the North Korean decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world and their economic growth. It will make it harder for them to catch up economically. We made that alternative very, very clear. Once the internet starts in any country, citizens in that country can certainly build on top of it, but the government has to do one thing: open up the Internet first. They have to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government of North Korea has not yet done. It is their choice now, and in my view, it’s time for them to start, or they will remain behind." His daughter had some interesting things to say as well, "The best description we could come up with: it's like The Truman Show, at country scale."
An anonymous reader writes "The Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (TÜBITAK) has put a stop to the publication and sale of all books in its archives that support the theory of evolution, daily Radikal has reported. The books have long been listed as “out of stock” on TÜBTAK's website, but their further publication is now slated to be stopped permanently. Titles by Richard Dawkins, Alan Moorehead, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Levontin and James Watson are all included in the list of books that will no longer be available to Turkish readers. In early 2009, a huge uproar occurred when the cover story of a publication by TÜBITAK was pulled, reportedly because it focused on Darwin’s theory of evolution."
McGruber writes "The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has ended a contract with Rapiscan, a unit of OSI Systems Inc., manufacturer of about half of all of the controversial full-body scanners used on air passengers. TSA officials claim that Rapiscan failed to deliver software that would protect the privacy of passengers, but the contract termination happened immediately after the TSA finally got around to studying the health effects of the scanners, and Congress had a hearing on TSA's 'Scanner Shuffle'."
First time accepted submitter singinho writes "In times of political turmoil, operators are caught in the middle, between the wishes of the regime and the communications needs of the public. Orange exec Marc Rennard explains how he is forced to risk the lives of his employees." Companies operating with the blessing of any particular regime end up in some interesting predicaments; trying to keep communications open in a place like Mali (one of the places Rennard oversees) must make for some exciting work days for the guys in the field.
Lasrick writes "Physicist Lawrence Krauss has a great piece in the NY Times today about the lack of influence scientists wield on global security issues, to the world's detriment. He writes, 'To our great peril, the scientific community has had little success in recent years influencing policy on global security. Perhaps this is because the best scientists today are not directly responsible for the very weapons that threaten our safety, and are therefore no longer the high priests of destruction, to be consulted as oracles as they were after World War II. The problems scientists confront today are actually much harder than they were at the dawn of the nuclear age, and their successes more heartily earned. This is why it is so distressing that even Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s most famous living scientist, gets more attention for his views on space aliens than his views on nuclear weapons. Scientists' voices are crucial in the debates over the global challenges of climate change, nuclear proliferation and the potential creation of new and deadly pathogens. But unlike in the past, their voices aren't being heard.'"
New submitter mallyn points out that the state of New York has become the first state to pass a new gun control law since the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary last month. "Called the New York Safe Act, the law includes a tougher assault weapons ban that broadens the definition of what constitutes an assault weapon, and limits the capacity of magazines to seven bullets, down from 10. The law also requires background checks of ammunition and gun buyers, even in private sales, imposes tougher penalties for illegal gun use, a one-state check on all firearms purchases, and programs to cut gun violence in high-crime neighborhoods. ... New York's law also aims to keep guns out of the hands of those will mental illness. The law gives judges the power to require those who pose a threat to themselves or others get outpatient care. The law also requires that when a mental health professional determines a gun owner is likely to do harm, the risk must be reported and the gun removed by law enforcement." Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is expected to propose a new federal assault weapons ban later today.
New submitter sHr0oMaN writes with news that Diane Franklin, a Republican member of Missouri's state House of Representatives, has proposed a sales tax on violent video games. The proposal, HB0157I, is one of many responses to the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The proceeds from the tax would go toward mental health programs and law enforcement in the hopes that future shootings can be prevented. The total amount taxed would be small — 1% — and would be applied to video games rated Teen, Mature, or Adult-only by the ESRB. Of course, many games earn the "Teen" rating without having violence in them, like Guitar Hero. The Entertainment Software Association responded to Rep. Franklin's bill with a statement: "Taxing First Amendment protected speech based on its content is not only wrong, but will end up costing Missouri taxpayers."
Lasrick writes "The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announces whether their Doomsday Clock has been moved with this open letter to President Obama, outlining progress on a number of fronts, but also detailing what still needs to be done to avoid various threats to humanity." From the article: "2012 was a year in which the problems of the world pressed forward, but too many of its citizens stood back. In the U.S. elections the focus was "the economy, stupid," with barely a word about the severe long-term trends that threaten the population's well-being to a far greater extent: climate change, the continuing menace of nuclear oblivion, and the vulnerabilities of the world's energy sources."
New submitter jespada writes "BBC News reports the Vietnamese Communist Party is approaching its internet image in a more sophisticated manner by hiring shill bloggers to argue its case. From the article: 'Hanoi Propaganda and Education Department head Ho Quang Loi said that the authorities had hired hundreds of so-called "internet polemists" in the fight against "online hostile forces." While the exact number of these activists is unknown, Mr Loi revealed that his organisation is running at least 400 online accounts and 20 microblogs. Regular visitors on popular social media networks in Vietnam such as Facebook have long noticed the existence of a number of pro-regime bloggers, who frequently post comments and articles supportive of the Communist Party. The bloggers also take part in online discussions, where they fiercely attack anybody who they see as critical of the regime.'"
cervesaebraciator writes "Tim Lee over at Ars Technica recently interviewed Derek Khanna, a former staffer for the Republican Study Committee. As reported on Slashdot, Khanna wrote a brief suggesting the current copyright law might not constitute free market thinking. He was rewarded for his efforts with permanent time off of work. Khanna continues to speak out about the need for copyright reform as well as its potential as a winning electoral issue and, according to Lee, he's actually beginning to receive some positive attention for his efforts. 'I encourage Hill staffers to bring forth new ideas. Don't be discouraged by the potential consequences,' Khanna told Ars. 'You work for the American people. It's your job, your obligation to be challenging existing paradigms and put forward novel solutions to existing problems.' Would that more in both major parties thought like this."
Nerval's Lobster writes "A presidential campaign is many things to many people: a reason to hope in the future, a wellspring of jokes and debate fodder, an annoyance to tune out, a chance to participate in the civic process. But for a couple dozen software engineers and developers involved over the past two years in President Obama's re-election effort, a campaign was something entirely different: a billion-dollar tech startup with an eighteen-month lifespan and a mandate to ship code under extreme pressure. Speaking to a New York City audience, some of Obama for America's leading tech people—those involved in the all-important Dashboard and Narwhal projects, as well as fundraising and DevOps—characterized the experience as 'insane,' filled with unending problems and the knowledge that, at the end of the whole process, nearly everything they worked on would likely end up tossed away. This is the story of what happened, and how technologies on a massive scale can make or break campaigns."
inode_buddha writes "After completing its bailout rescue and paying back the money with interest, AIG is considering suing the US Government for doing so. The reasons why? Among other things, the 14% interest rate paid to the government. 'The lawsuit does not argue that government help was not needed. It contends that the onerous nature of the rescue — the taking of what became a 92 percent stake in the company, the deal's high interest rates and the funneling of billions to the insurer's Wall Street clients — deprived shareholders of tens of billions of dollars and violated the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for "public use, without just compensation." The former CEO and current major shareholder said: "The government has been saying, 'We're your friend, we owned and controlled you and we let you go.' But A.I.G. doesn't owe loyalty to the government," a person close to Mr. Greenberg said. "It owes loyalty to its shareholders."' The lawyer representing him is none other than David Boies of SCO fame."
arclightfire writes "Endgame:Syria billed itself as the first game to cover on ongoing war in a mashup of interactivity and journalism. However it seems like Apple is not happy with this idea, as PocketTactics reports; 'Apple's app guidelines have once again tripped up the release of a strategy game rooted in a real-world conflict. Auroch Digital's Endgame Syria has been rejected by Apple's approvals team for violating guidelines section 15.3, "solely target[ing] a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation, or any other real entity." If section 15.3 sounds familiar, it's because it was the clause invoked when Cupertino said no to Pacific Fleet back in September – the game ran afoul of the guidelines for including Japanese flags in a WWII naval sim.'"
New submitter Fnordulicious writes "Although Canada's anti-spam legislation is already in place, the rules to implement it have been under development for more than a year. This weekend the proposed rules from the Department of Industry were published in the Canada Gazette. Kady O'Malley reports on the CBC Inside Politics Blog that Canadian ISPs will not be allowed to secretly monitor activity except in the case that the activity is illegal and represents an 'imminent risk to the security of its network.' In addition, consent would be required for monitoring of legal activities 'that are merely unauthorized or suspicious.'"
Dainsanefh writes with news that the new Congress isn't wasting any time getting back to work. From the article: "Lawmakers are still positioning themselves for a debt ceiling fight in a few months, but one Republican congressman wants to snuff out a particular idea immediately: the U.S. Treasury minting $1 trillion platinum coins to avert a debt ceiling showdown. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has introduced a bill to specifically ban President Barack Obama from minting the coins. The trillion-dollar coin has been previously discussed on Slashdot:"
Rambo Tribble writes "Reuters reports that Los Almos National Laboratory has removed switches produced by Chinese firm H3C, which once had ties to Huawei. This appears to be a step taken to placate a nervous Congress, rather in response to any detected security issues. From the article: 'Switches are used to manage data traffic on computer networks. The exact number of Chinese-made switches installed at Los Alamos, how or when they were acquired, and whether they were placed in sensitive systems or pose any security risks, remains unclear. The laboratory - where the first atomic bomb was designed - is responsible for maintaining America's arsenal of nuclear weapons. A spokesman for the Los Alamos lab referred inquiries to the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, which declined to comment.'"
fsterman writes "Without any prompting from the U.S. Metric Association, a We The People petition to standardize the U.S. on the metric system has received 13,000 signatures in six days. That's half the number needed for an official response from the White House. It looks like ending the U.S.'s anti-metric alliance with Liberia and Burma (the only other countries NOT on the metric system) might rank up there with building a death star."
paysonwelch points out John McAfee's latest blog post, which "details the complex spy network that he used to tap information from the highest echelons of the Belizean government. He might consider a new career as a movie producer — this blog post is enthralling. Here is an excerpt: 'I purchased 75 cheap laptop computers and, with trusted help, intalled invisible keystroke logging software on all of them — the kind that calls home (to me) and disgorges the text files. I began giving these away as presents to select people — government employees, police officers, Cabinet Minister's assistants, girlfriends of powerful men, boyfriends of powerful women.'"
Freddybear writes "Former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas, who opposed genetically modified food in the 1990s, said recently, at the Oxford Farming Conference: 'I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment. As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely. So I guess you'll be wondering — what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.' To vilify GMOs is to be as anti-science as climate-change deniers, he says. To feed a growing world population (with an exploding middle class demanding more and better-quality food), we must take advantage of all the technology available to us, including GMOs. To insist on 'natural' agriculture and livestock is to doom people to starvation, and there’s no logical reason to prefer the old ways, either. Moreover, the reason why big companies dominate the industry is that anti-GMO activists and policymakers have made it too difficult for small startups to enter the field."
Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton writes this week with his explanation of how an improved algorithm on the White House's petition-creation site could do away with Death Star petitions and even improve on the existing serious ones. Read on below for his modest proposal on that front.
cathyreisenwitz writes "The 2012 bankruptcy of Rhode Island-based video-game developer 38 Studios isn't just a sad tale of a start-up tech company falling victim to the vagaries of a rough economy. It is a completely predictable story of crony capitalism, featuring star-struck legislators and the hubris of a larger-than-life athlete completely unprepared to compete in business." Reason makes no bones about its view of this kind of public-private "partnership."
EagleHasLanded writes "The U.S. Metric Association has been advocating for metrication since 1916 – without much success. In the mid-1970s, the U.S. government passed the Metric Conversion Act, but now it seems the time for complete conversion has come and gone. Or could U.S. educators and health & safety advocates put this issue back on Congress' radar screen?"
New submitter Jetra wrote with word that the House of Representatives failed to vote on the "fiscal cliff" deal before midnight, technically sending the U.S. over the fiscal cliff. The White House and Senate, however, reached an agreement at the last minute to allow for some tax increases, and a House vote approving it is expected in the next day or two: "The agreement came together after negotiators cleared two final hurdles involving the estate tax and automatic spending cuts set to hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies later this week. Republicans gave ground on the spending cuts, known as the sequester, by agreeing to a two-month delay paid for in part with fresh tax revenue, a condition they had resisted. White House officials yielded to GOP wishes on how to handle estate taxes, aides said." The battle over required spending cuts has predictably been delayed for another day, making the deal far from complete.
On Saturday, Pakistan briefly lifted the months-old ban on YouTube, spurred by the widely distributed U.S.-made video presented as a trailer for a film titled "Innocence of Muslims" and decried in many places around the world as blasphemous toward Islam. "After months of criticism of the ban, the government decided to allow Pakistanis to have access to YouTube again, saying steps had been taken to ensure that offensive content would not be visible. But those efforts apparently failed, and the authorities quickly backtracked," writes the New York Times. "Quickly" is right: access to YouTube was apparently open for just three minutes, which seems about right; it shouldn't take longer than that to discover things on the site to which adherents of any particular religion might take umbrage. What's surprising is that this took lifting the censorship on a wide scale, rather than just taking a smaller peek through tunneling software.
Lasrick writes "Alex Knapp has an excellent article pointing out that NOAA satellites enabled NOAA to predict the 'left hook' of Hurricane Sandy into the Eastern Seaboard, which in turn enabled local governments to prepare. Those satellites are at risk and there will be a gap of about a year between 2017 and 2018, when the old ones fail and the new ones are scheduled to launch. There's no alternative to getting that data, and the so-called 'fiscal cliff' will drive an 8% cut to NOAA's satellite program, so that those replacement satellites may go up even later than 2018."
i_want_you_to_throw_ writes "Details of Jaron Lanier's crusade against Web 2.0 continue in an article at Smithsonian Magazine. The article expands upon Lanier's criticism of Web 2.0. It's an interesting read, with Lanier suggesting we are outsourcing ourselves into insignificant advertising-fodder and making an audacious connection between techno-utopianism, the rise of the machines and the Great Recession. From the article: 'As far back as the turn of the century, he singled out one standout aspect of the new web culture—the acceptance, the welcoming of anonymous commenters on websites—as a danger to political discourse and the polity itself. At the time, this objection seemed a bit extreme. But he saw anonymity as a poison seed. The way it didn’t hide, but, in fact, brandished the ugliness of human nature beneath the anonymous screen-name masks. An enabling and foreshadowing of mob rule, not a growth of democracy, but an accretion of tribalism. ... 'This is the thing that continues to scare me. You see in history the capacity of people to congeal—like social lasers of cruelty. That capacity is constant. ... We have economic fear combined with everybody joined together on these instant twitchy social networks which are designed to create mass action. What does it sound like to you? It sounds to me like the prequel to potential social catastrophe. I’d rather take the risk of being wrong than not be talking about that.'"