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The Courts

Supreme Court OKs Stop and Search Based On Anonymous 911 Tips 40

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the someone-said-you-were-a-sinner dept.
An anonymous reader writes "On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police officers are legally allowed to stop and search vehicles based solely on anonymous 911 tips. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority opinion, reasoned that 'a 911 call has some features that allow for identifying and tracking callers' as well as for recording their calls, both of which he believed gave anonymous callers enough reliability for police officers to act on their tips with reasonable suspicion against the people being reported.

The specific case before them involved an anonymous woman who called 911 to report a driver who forced her off the road. She gave the driver's license plate number and the make and model of his car as well as the location of the incident in question. Police officers later found him, pulled him over, smelled marijuana, and searched his car. They found 30 pounds of weed and subsequently arrested the driver. The driver later challenged the constitutionality of the arrest, claiming that a tip from an anonymous source was unreliable and therefore failed to meet the criteria of reasonable suspicion, which would have justified the stop and search. Five of the nine justices disagreed with him."
The ruling itself (PDF).
Education

Supreme Court Upholds Michigan's Ban On Affirmative Action In College Admissions 105

Posted by Soulskill
from the sensitive-subjects dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: "The Supreme Court, by a vote of 6 — 2, has upheld a Michigan law banning the use of racial criteria in college admissions, finding that a lower court did not have the authority to set aside the measure approved in a 2006 referendum supported by 58% of voters. 'This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it,' wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. 'Michigan voters used the initiative system to bypass public officials who were deemed not responsive to the concerns of a majority of the voters with respect to a policy of granting race-based preferences that raises difficult and delicate issues.' Kennedy's core opinion in the Michigan case seems to exalt referenda as a kind of direct democracy that the courts should be particularly reluctant to disturb. This might be a problem for same-sex marriage opponents if a future Supreme Court challenge involves a state law or constitutional amendment enacted by voters.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor reacted sharply in disagreeing with the decision in a 58 page dissent. 'For members of historically marginalized groups, which rely on the federal courts to protect their constitutional rights, the decision can hardly bolster hope for a vision of democracy (PDF) that preserves for all the right to participate meaningfully and equally in self-government.' The decision was the latest step in a legal and political battle over whether state colleges can use race and gender as a factor in choosing what students to admit. Michigan has said minority enrollment at its flagship university, the University of Michigan, has not gone down since the measure was passed. Civil rights groups dispute those figures and say other states have seen fewer African-American and Hispanic students attending highly competitive schools, especially in graduate level fields like law, medicine, and science."
United States

The US Public's Erratic Acceptance of Science 365

Posted by Soulskill
from the pi-is-exactly-3 dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The U.S. general population is often the butt of jokes with regard to their understanding of science. A survey by the Associated Press now shows just how arbitrary and erratic the public's dissent can be. 'The good news is that more than 80 percent of those surveyed are strongly confident that smoking causes cancer; only four percent doubt it. Roughly 70 percent accepted that we have a genome and that mental illness is seated in the brain; about 20 percent were uncertain on these subjects, and the doubters were few. But things go downhill from there. Only about half of the people accepted that vaccines are safe and effective, with 15 percent doubting. And that's one of the controversial topics where the public did well. As for humanity's role in climate change, 33 percent accepted, 28 percent were unsure, and 37 percent fell in the doubter category. For a 4.5-billion-year-old Earth and a 13.8-billion-year-old Big Bang, acceptance was below 30 percent. Fully half of the public doubted the Big Bang (PDF).'"
United States

Administration Ordered To Divulge Legal Basis For Killing Americans With Drones 300

Posted by samzenpus
from the reason-time dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In a claim brought by The New York Times and the ACLU, the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the administration must disclose the legal basis for targeting Americans with drones. From the article: 'Government officials from Obama on down have publicly commented on the program, but they claimed the Office of Legal Counsel's memo outlining the legal rationale about it was a national security secret. The appeals court, however, said on Monday that officials' comments about overseas drone attacks means the government has waived its secrecy argument. "After senior Government officials have assured the public that targeted killings are 'lawful' and that OLC advice 'establishes the legal boundaries within which we can operate,'" the appeals court said, "waiver of secrecy and privilege as to the legal analysis in the Memorandum has occurred" (PDF).'"
Government

Obama Delays Decision On Keystone Pipeline Yet Again 199

Posted by timothy
from the you-can't-divorce-politics-from-government dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "The Christian Science Monitor reports that once again, the Obama administration has pushed back a final decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline possibly delaying the final determination until after the November midterm elections. In announcing the delay, the State Department cited a Nebraska Supreme Court case that could affect the route of the pipeline that may not be decided until next year, as well as additional time needed to review 2.5 million public comments on the project. Both supporters and opponents of the pipeline criticized the delay as a political ploy. Democratic incumbents from oil-rich states have urged President Obama to approve the pipeline but approving the pipeline before the election could staunch the flow of money from liberal donors and fund-raisers who oppose the project. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell said in a statement that "at a time of high unemployment in the Obama economy, it's a shame that the administration has delayed the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline for years." Activists say its construction could devastate the environment, but several State Department reviews have concluded that the pipeline would be safe and was unlikely to significantly increase the rate of carbon pollution in the atmosphere. Even if the pipeline was canceled, it said, the oil sands crude was likely to be extracted and brought to market by other means, such as rail, and then processed and burned."
Government

Preventative Treatment For Heartbleed On Healthcare.gov 80

Posted by timothy
from the welcome-to-centralized-medicine-dot-gov dept.
As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, "People who have accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the confounding Heartbleed Internet security flaw." Take note, though; the article goes on to immediately point out this does not mean that the HealthCare.gov site has been compromised: "Senior administration officials said there is no indication that the HealthCare.gov site has been compromised and the action is being taken out of an abundance of caution. The government's Heartbleed review is ongoing, the officials said, and users of other websites may also be told to change their passwords in the coming days, including those with accounts on the popular WhiteHouse.gov petitions page." Also at The Verge
Government

Declassified Papers Hint US Uranium May Have Ended Up In Israeli Arms 154

Posted by timothy
from the long-long-ago dept.
Lasrick (2629253) writes "Victor Gilinsky and Roger J. Mattson update their story on the NUMEC affair to take into account the recent release of hundreds of classified documents that shed additional light on the story. In the 1960s, the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) was found to be missing about a 100 pounds of bomb-grade uranium. Based on available evidence, Gilinsky and Mattson are convinced that the material ended up in Israel nuclear bombs. The newly release documents add more to the story, and Gilinsky and Mattson are calling on President Obama to declassify the remainder of the file."
United States

Americans Uncomfortable With Possibility of Ubiquitous Drones, Designer Babies 155

Posted by Soulskill
from the can-you-design-the-babies-to-also-be-drones dept.
alphadogg writes: "Americans are optimistic about scientific inventions on the horizon, though are cautious about future uses of DNA, robots, drones and always-on implants, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey on future technology (PDF). Asked about the likelihood of certain advances 50 years from now, survey respondents were most sure that lab-grown custom organs for transplant will happen (81%). Only 19% expect humans will be able to control the weather by then. When asked how they felt about possible near-term advances, 65% thought robot caregivers for the elderly is a bad idea, 63% didn't want to see personal drones in U.S. airspace, and 66% thought parents altering the DNA of prospective children was a bad idea."
Bug

Bug Bounties Don't Help If Bugs Never Run Out 235

Posted by Soulskill
from the trying-to-bail-the-ocean dept.
Bennett Haselton writes: "I was an early advocate of companies offering cash prizes to researchers who found security holes in their products, so that the vulnerabilities can be fixed before the bad guys exploited them. I still believe that prize programs can make a product safer under certain conditions. But I had naively overlooked that under an alternate set of assumptions, you might find that not only do cash prizes not make the product any safer, but that nothing makes the product any safer — you might as well not bother fixing certain security holes at all, whether they were found through a prize program or not." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.
Government

In Mississippi, Gov't Text Messages Are Officially Public Records 33

Posted by timothy
from the scum-floats-for-a-reason dept.
New submitter Chris Elkins (3620071) writes "Text messages [by public officials about government business] are now officially considered public records. An investigative reporter fought for access to what he believed were public records. He took his fight to the state and won. Mississippi open government and transparency advocates view this unanimous commission opinion as precedent-setting for all government bodies and public officials in the state."
United States

FBI Drone Deployment Timeline 33

Posted by samzenpus
from the when-and-where dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The FBI insists that it uses drone technology to conduct surveillance in 'very limited circumstances.' What those particular circumstances are remain a mystery, particularly since the Bureau refuses to identify instances where agents deployed unmanned aerial vehicles, even as far back as 2006. In a letter to Senator Ron Paul last July, the FBI indicated that it had used drones a total of ten times since late 2006—eight criminal cases and two national security cases—and had authorized drone deployments in three additional cases, but did not actually fly them. The sole specific case where the FBI is willing to confirm using a drone was in February 2013, as surveillance support for a child kidnapping case in Alabama. New documents obtained by MuckRock as part of the Drone Census flesh out the timeline of FBI drone deployments in detail that was previously unavailable. While heavily redacted—censors deemed even basic facts that were already public about the Alabama case to be too sensitive for release, apparently—these flight orders, after action reviews and mission reports contain new details of FBI drone flights."
United States

Retired SCOTUS Justice Wants To 'Fix' the Second Amendment 1608

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the invest-in-crossbows dept.
CanHasDIY (1672858) writes "In his yet-to-be-released book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, John Paul Stevens, who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court for 35 years, believes he has the key to stopping the seeming recent spate of mass killings — amend the Constitution to exclude private citizens from armament ownership. Specifically, he recommends adding 5 words to the 2nd Amendment, so that it would read as follows: 'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.'

What I find interesting is how Stevens maintains that the Amendment only protects armament ownership for those actively serving in a state or federal military unit, in spite of the fact that the Amendment specifically names 'the People' as a benefactor (just like the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth) and of course, ignoring the traditional definition of the term militia. I'm personally curious about his other 5 suggested changes, but I guess we'll have to wait until the end of April to find out."
United States

Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy 810

Posted by Soulskill
from the cats-and-dogs-governing-together dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers from Princeton University and Northwestern University have concluded, after extensive analysis of 1,779 policy issues, that the U.S. is in fact an oligarchy and not a democracy. What this means is that, although 'Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance,' 'majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.' Their study (PDF), to be published in Perspectives on Politics, found that 'When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.'"
Power

Lack of US Cybersecurity Across the Electric Grid 95

Posted by Soulskill
from the asking-for-trouble dept.
Lasrick writes: "Meghan McGuinness of the Bipartisan Policy Center writes about the Electric Grid Cybersecurity Initiative, a collaborative effort between the center's Energy and Homeland Security Projects. She points out that over half the attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure sectors last year were on the energy sector. Cyber attacks could come from a variety of sources, and 'a large-scale cyber attack or combined cyber and physical attack could lead to enormous costs, potentially triggering sustained power outages over large portions of the electric grid and prolonged disruptions in communications, food and water supplies, and health care delivery.' ECGI is recommending the creation of a new, industry-supported model that would create incentives for the continual improvement and adaptation needed to respond effectively to rapidly evolving cyber threats. The vulnerability of the grid has been much discussed this last week; McGuinness's recommendations are a good place to start."
Government

Intuit, Maker of Turbotax, Lobbies Against Simplified Tax Filings 420

Posted by timothy
from the rent-seeking-right-on-the-surface dept.
McGruber (1417641) writes "Return-free filing might allow tens of millions of Americans to file their taxes for free and in minutes. Under proposals authored by several federal lawmakers, it would be voluntary, using information the government already receives from banks and employers and that taxpayers could adjust. The concept has been endorsed by Presidents Obama and Reagan and is already a reality in some parts of Europe. Sounds great, except to Intuit, maker of Turbotax: last year, Intuit spent more than $2.6 million on lobbying, some of it to lobby on four bills related to the issue, federal lobbying records show."
Government

Slashdot Asks: How Do You Pay Your Taxes? 386

Posted by timothy
from the what-you're-billed-and-what-you-owe-aren't-identical dept.
April 15, 2014 isn't just a full moon: it's Tax Day in the U.S. That means most American adults have already submitted a tax return, or an extension request, to the IRS and -- except for a few lucky states -- to their state governments as well. I filed my (very simple) tax return online. After scanning the free options, since I live in a state -- Texas -- that does not collect personal income tax, I chose Tax Act's free services. That meant enduring a series of annoying upgrade plugs throughout the process, but I could live with that; I have no reason to think it was better or worse than TurboTax or any of the other e-Filing companies, but I liked Tax Act’s interface, and it seemed less skeevy in all those upgrade plugs than the others I glanced at. The actual process took an hour and 19 minutes once I sat down with the papers I needed. My financial life is pretty simple, though: I didn't buy or sell a house, didn't buy or sell stocks outside of a retirement account mutual fund, and didn't move from one state to another. How do you do your taxes? Do you have an argument for one or another of the online services, or any cautionary tales? Do you prefer to send in forms on paper? Do you hire an accountant? (And for readers outside the U.S., it's always interesting to hear how taxes work in other countries, too. Are there elements of the U.S. system you'd prefer, or that you're glad you don't need to deal with?)
Medicine

U.S. Biomedical Research 'Unsustainable' Prominent Researchers Warn 135

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the phd-researcher-deathmatch dept.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "The U.S. biomedical science system 'is on an unsustainable path' and needs major reform, four prominent researchers say. Researchers should 'confront the dangers at hand,' the authors write, and 'rethink' how academic research is funded, staffed, and organized. Among other issues, the team suggests that the system may be producing too many new researchers and forcing them to compete for a stagnating pool of funding."
The Almighty Buck

IRS Can Now Seize Your Tax Refund To Pay a Relative's Debt 630

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the dead-...-beat-relatives? dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Just in time for the April 15 IRS filing deadline comes news from the Washington Post that hundreds of thousands of taxpayers expecting refunds are instead getting letters informing them of tax debts they never knew about: often a debt incurred by their parents. The government is confiscating their checks, sometimes over debts 20—30 years old. For example, when Mary Grice was 4 (in 1960), her father died ... 'Until the kids turned 18, her mother received survivor benefits from Social Security ... Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family in 1977. ... Four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. ... "It was a shock," says Grice, 58. "What incenses me is the way they went about this. They gave me no notice, they can't prove that I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus."' The Treasury Department has intercepted ... $75 million from debts delinquent for more than 10 years according to the department's debt management service. 'The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.'"
Google

Mr. Schmidt Goes To Washington: A Look Inside Google's Lobbying Behemoth 128

Posted by samzenpus
from the mr.-president-we-seem-to-be-alone dept.
barlevg (2111272) writes "In May 2012, in the midst of an FTC investigation into Google's search practices, the law school at George Mason University in Northern Virginia hosted a conference attended by congressmen, regulators and staffers. The topic: competition, search and social media. What none of the attendees of the conference knew was that Google was pulling many of the strings behind the event, even going so far as to suggest invited speakers. This event, as documented in The Washington Post is just a snapshot of the operations of one of the largest and highest spending lobbying entities in DC, a far cry from the one-man shop it started out as nine years ago, from a company "disdainful" of Washington's "pay-to-play" culture."
United States

Bill Would End US Govt's Sale of Already-Available Technical Papers To Itself 32

Posted by timothy
from the what-and-forgo-the-multiplier-effect? dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Members of the Senate have proposed a bill that would prohibit the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) from selling to other U.S. federal agencies technical papers that are already freely available. NTIS is under the Department of Commerce. The bill is probably a result of a 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) which points out that 'Of the reports added to NTIS's repository during fiscal years 1990 through 2011, GAO estimates that approximately 74 percent were readily available from other public sources.' Ars Technica notes that the term 'public sources' refers to 'either the issuing organization's website, the federal Internet portal, or another online resource.'"

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. -- John Kenneth Galbraith

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