Democrats

Democrats Propose New Competition Laws That Would 'Break Up Big Companies If They're Hurting Consumers' (arstechnica.com) 176

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Senate and House Democratic leaders today proposed new antitrust laws that could prevent many of the biggest mergers and break up monopolies in broadband and other industries. "Right now our antitrust laws are designed to allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care," US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote in a New York Times opinion piece. "We are going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they're hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition." The "Better Deal" unveiled by Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was described in several documents that can be found in an Axios story. The plan for "cracking down on corporate monopolies" lists five industries that Democrats say are in particular need of change, specifically airlines, cable and telecom, the beer industry, food, and eyeglasses. The Democrats' plan for lowering the cost of prescription drugs is detailed in a separate document. The Democrats didn't single out any internet providers that they want broken up, but they did say they want to stop AT&T's proposed $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner: "Consolidation in the telecommunications is not just between cable or phone providers; increasingly, large firms are trying to buy up content providers. Currently, AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner. If AT&T succeeds in this deal, it will have more power to restrict the content access of its 135 million wireless and 25.5 million pay-TV subscribers. This will only enable the resulting behemoths to promote their own programming, unfairly discriminate against other distributors and their ability to offer highly desired content, and further restrict small businesses from successfully competing in the market."
Government

Sean Spicer Resigns as White House Press Secretary After Objecting To Scaramucci Hire (cnbc.com) 540

CNBC reports: White House press secretary Sean Spicer abruptly resigned Friday after opposing President Donald Trump's appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. The president asked Spicer to stay in his role, but Spicer said appointing Scaramucci was a major mistake, The New York Times, citing a person with direct knowledge of the conversation. NBC News confirmed the resignation with two people familiar with the matter. Spicer tweeted later that he will continue to serve through August. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus was said to have advocated naming Spicer as press secretary. The two worked at the Republican National Committee before joining the administration. Following Spicer's resignation, Priebus said he supports Scaramucci "100 percent," according to news reports.
United States

US Ends Controversial Laptop Ban On Flights From Middle East (theguardian.com) 79

The United States has ended a four-month ban on passengers carrying laptops onboard US-bound flights from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa, bringing to an end one of the controversial travel restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump's administration. From a report: Riyadh's King Khalid international airport was the last of 10 airports to be exempted from the ban, the US department of homeland security (DHS) confirmed in a tweet late on Wednesday local time. Middle East carriers have blamed Trump's travel restrictions, which include banning citizens of some Muslim-majority countries from visiting the United States, for a downturn in demand on US routes. In March, the United States banned large electronics in cabins on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa over concerns that explosives could be concealed in the devices taken onboard aircraft. The ban has been lifted on the nine airlines affected -- Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Royal Jordanian , Kuwait Airways, EgyptAir and Royal Air Maroc -- which are the only carriers to fly direct to the US from the region. A ban on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, -- remains in place, though has been limited after several US court hearings challenged the restrictions.
Government

US House Panel Approves Broad Proposal On Self-Driving Cars (reuters.com) 191

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A U.S. House panel on Wednesday approved a sweeping proposal by voice vote to allow automakers to deploy up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards and bar states from imposing driverless car rules. Representative Robert Latta, a Republican who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee overseeing consumer protection, said he would continue to consider changes before the full committee votes on the measure, expected next week. The full U.S. House of Representatives will not take up the bill until it reconvenes in September after the summer recess. The measure, which would be the first significant federal legislation aimed at speeding self-driving cars to market, would require automakers to submit safety assessment reports to U.S. regulators, but would not require pre-market approval of advanced vehicle technologies. Automakers would have to show self-driving cars "function as intended and contain fail safe features" to get exemptions from safety standards but the Transportation Department could not "condition deployment or testing of highly automated vehicles on review of safety assessment certifications," the draft measure unveiled late Monday said.
Transportation

Oregon Passes First Statewide Bicycle Tax In Nation (washingtontimes.com) 700

turkeydance writes: In Oregon, a state known for its avid bicycling culture, the state legislature's approval of the first bike tax in the nation has fallen flat with riders. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is expected to sign the sweeping $5.3 billion transportation package, which includes a $15 excise tax on the sale of bicycles costing more than $200 with a wheel diameter of at least 26 inches. Even though the funding has been earmarked for improvements that will benefit cyclists, the tax has managed to irk both anti-tax Republicans and environmentally conscious bikers. The bike tax is aimed at raising $1.2 million per year in order to improve and expand paths and trails for bicyclists and pedestrians. Supporters point out that Oregon has no sales tax, which means buyers won't be dinged twice for their new wheels.
Communications

FCC Refuses To Release Text of More Than 40,000 Net Neutrality Complaints (arstechnica.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission has denied a request to extend the deadline for filing public comments on its plan to overturn net neutrality rules, and the FCC is refusing to release the text of more than 40,000 net neutrality complaints that it has received since June 2015. The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request in May of this year for tens of thousands of net neutrality complaints that Internet users filed against their ISPs. The NHMC argues that the details of these complaints are crucial for analyzing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to overturn net neutrality rules. The coalition also asked the FCC to extend the initial comment deadline until 60 days after the commission fully complies with the FoIA request. A deadline extension would have given people more time to file public comments on the plan to eliminate net neutrality rules. Instead, the FCC yesterday denied the motion for an extension and said that it will only provide the text for a fraction of the complaints, because providing them all would be too burdensome.
Security

Should We Ignore the South Carolina Election Hacking Story? (securityledger.com) 138

chicksdaddy provides five (or more) "good" reasons why we should ignore the South Carolina election hacking story that was reported yesterday. According to yesterday's reports, South Carolina's voter-registration system was hit with nearly 150,000 hack attempts on election day. Slashdot reader chicksdaddy writes from an opinion piece via The Security Ledger: What should we make of the latest reports from WSJ, The Hill, etc. that South Carolina's election systems were bombarded with 150,000 hacking attempts? Not much, argues Security Ledger in a news analysis that argues there are lots of good reasons to ignore this story, if not the very real problem of election hacking. The stories were based on this report from The South Carolina Election Commission. The key phrase in that report is "attempts to penetrate," Security Ledger notes. Information security professionals would refer to that by more mundane terms like "port scans" or probes. These are kind of the "dog bites man" stories of the cyber beat -- common (here's one from 2012 US News & World Report) but ill informed. "The kinds of undifferentiated scans that the report is talking about are the internet equivalent of people driving slowly past your house." While some of those 150,000 attempts may well be attempts to hack South Carolina's elections systems, many are undifferentiated, while some may be legitimate, if misdirected. Whatever the case, they're background noise on the internet and hardly unique to South Carolina's voter registration systems. They're certainly not evidence of sophisticated, nation-state efforts to crack the U.S. election system by Russia, China or anyone else, Security Ledger argues. "The problem with lumping all these 'hacking attempts' in the same breath as you talk about sophisticated and targeted attacks on the Clinton Campaign, the DCCC, and successful penetration of some state election boards is that it dramatically distorts the nature and scope of the threat to the U.S. election system which -- again -- is very real." The election story is one "that demands thoughtful and pointed reporting that can explore (and explode) efforts by foreign actors to subvert the U.S. vote and thus its democracy," the piece goes on to argue. "That's especially true in an environment in which regulators and elected officials seem strangely incurious about such incidents and disinclined to investigate them."
Australia

Crypto-Bashing Prime Minister Argues The Laws Of Mathematics Don't Apply In Australia (independent.co.uk) 328

An anonymous reader quotes the Independent:Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the laws of mathematics come second to the law of the land in a row over privacy and encryption... When challenged by a technology journalist over whether it was possible to tackle the problem of criminals using encryption -- given that platform providers claim they are currently unable to break into the messages even if required to do so by law -- the Prime Minister raised eyebrows as he made his reply. "Well the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia," he said... "The important thing is to recognise the challenge and call on the companies for assistance. I am sure they know morally they should... They have to face up to their responsibility."
Facebook has already issued a statement saying that they "appreciate the important work law enforcement does, and we understand the need to carry out investigations. That's why we already have a protocol in place to respond to any requests we can.

"At the same time, weakening encrypted systems for them would mean weakening it for everyone."
Government

Y Combinator Announces Funding For UBI-Supporting Political Candidates (latimes.com) 194

Most people "feel like they have great potential that is being wasted," argues Y Combinator president Sam Altman -- a Stanford dropout whose company's investments are now worth $65 billion, including Airbnb, Reddit, and Dropbox. Now an anonymous reader quote the Los Angeles Times: A wealthy young Silicon Valley venture capitalist hopes to recruit statewide and congressional candidates and launch an affordable-housing ballot measure in 2018 because he says California's leaders are failing to address flaws in the state's governance that are killing opportunities for future generations. Sam Altman, 32, will roll out an effort to enlist candidates around a shared set of policy priorities -- including tackling how automation is going to affect the economy and the cost of housing in California -- and is willing to put his own money behind the effort. "I think we have a fundamental breakdown of the American social contract and it's desperately important that we fix it," he said. "Even if we had a very well-functioning government, it would be a challenge, and our current government functions so badly it is an extra challenge..."

Altman lays out 10 principles including lowering the cost of housing, creating single-payer healthcare, increasing clean energy use, improving education, reforming taxes and rebuilding infrastructure. He has few specific policy edicts, and floats proposals that will generate controversy, such as creating a universal basic income for all Americans in an effort to equalize opportunity, public funding for the media and increasing taxes on property that is owned by foreigners, is unoccupied or has been "flipped" by investors seeking a quick return on an investment.

Altman argues that he wants to "ensure that everyone benefits from the coming changes," and specifically highlights the idea of a Universal Basic Income. Altman writes that "If it turns out to be a good policy, I could imagine passing a law that puts it into effect when the GDP per capita doubles. This could help cushion the transition to a post-automation world."
Businesses

Are America's Non-Compete Laws Too Strict? (nrtoday.com) 167

Slashdot reader cdreimer shared an article from the New York Times: Idaho achieved a notable distinction last year: It became one of the hardest places in America for someone to quit a job for a better one. The state did this by making it easier for companies to enforce noncompete agreements, which prevent employees from leaving their company for a competitor... The result was a bill that shifted the burden from companies to employees, who must now prove they have "no ability to adversely affect the employer's legitimate business interests." The bar for that is so high that Brian Kane, an assistant chief deputy in the Idaho attorney general's office, wrote that this would be "difficult if not impossible" for an employee to do...

For the most part, states have been moving toward making it easier for people to switch teams... The most extreme end of the spectrum is California, which prohibits noncompete agreements entirely. Economists say this was a crucial factor behind Silicon Valley's rise, because it made it easier for people to start and staff new businesses. But as states like Utah and Massachusetts have tried to move closer to this approach, legislators have run into mature companies trying to hold onto their best employees... A recent survey showed that one in five American workers is bound by a noncompete clause. They cover workers up and down the economic spectrum, from executives to hairdressers.

Two economists tell the newspaper that since 2000, U.S. workers have changed their jobs less and less, which is sometimes blamed on strict employment contracts as well as the occupational licensing laws which affect a third of America's workforce. The Times reports that noncompete clauses ultimately end up keeping workers' salaries lower, "because most people get raises when they switch jobs."
Education

In America, Most Republicans Think Colleges Are Bad for the Country (chronicle.com) 987

An anonymous reader quotes the Chronicle of Higher Education: A majority of Republicans and right-leaning independents think higher education has a negative effect on the country, according to a new study released by the Pew Research Center on Monday. The same study has found a consistent increase in distrust of colleges and universities since 2010, when negative perceptions among Republicans was measured at 32 percent. That number now stands at 58 percent. By comparison, 72 percent of Democrats or left-leaning Independents in the study said colleges and universities have a positive impact on the United States... In the Pew Research Center's study, distrust of colleges was strongest in the highest income bracket and the oldest age group, with approval levels of just 31 percent among respondents whose family income exceeds $75,000 a year and 27 percent among those older than 65.
Government

US Government Crackdown Threatens Kaspersky's American Dream (reuters.com) 139

Eugene Kaspersky, the CEO of the Russian cybersecurity software firm that bears his name, had a big American dream. From a report: He wanted his company to go beyond selling anti-virus software to consumers and small businesses and become a major vendor to the U.S. government -- one of the world's biggest buyers of cybersecurity tools. Kaspersky set up a U.S. subsidiary, KGSS, in Arlington, Virginia that would be focused on winning that business. He sponsored flashy conferences with high-profile speakers --including Michael Flynn, who was briefly President Donald Trump's national security adviser -- sought to join U.S. trade groups and even underwrote programming on National Public Radio. All of this was done to burnish Kaspersky's image and help it become an accepted vendor for the U.S. government despite its Russian roots, according to people familiar with the strategy. But Eugene Kaspersky was never able to overcome lingering suspicions among U.S. intelligence officials that he and his company were, or could become, pawns of Russia's spy agencies. Kaspersky "has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts," the company said. Kaspersky's American ambitions were further eroded by the sharp deterioration in U.S.-Russia relations following Russia's invasion of Crimea in 2014, and later when U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had hacked the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
United States

Afghan Girls Robotics Team Allowed To Enter U.S. For Competition (reuters.com) 50

An anonymous reader writes: A team of Afghan girls are on their way to compete in an academic robotics competition in the United States after American officials agreed to allow them to enter the country despite initially denying them visas. The reversal reportedly came at the request of U.S. President Donald Trump, Reuters reported.
Government

Congress Seeks To Outlaw Cyber Intel Sharing With Russia (onthewire.io) 179

Trailrunner7 shares a report from On the Wire: A group of House Democrats has introduced a bill that would formalize a policy of the United States not sharing cyber intelligence with Russia. The proposed law is a direct response to comments President Donald Trump made earlier this week after he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the meeting, Trump said on Twitter that he and Putin had discussed forming an "impenetrable Cyber Security unit" to prevent future attacks, including election hacking. The idea was roundly criticized by security and foreign policy experts and within a few hours Trump walked it back, saying it was just an idea and couldn't actually happen. But some legislators are not taking the idea of information sharing with Russia as a hypothetical. On Wednesday, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) introduced the No Cyber Cooperation With Russia Act to ensure that the U.S. doesn't hand over any cybersecurity intelligence on attacks or vulnerabilities to Moscow. Recent attacks such as the NotPetya malware outbreak have been linked to Russia, as have the various attacks surrounding the 2016 presidential election. "When the Russians get their hands on cyber intelligence, they exploit it -- as they did last month with the NotPetya malware attack targeting Ukraine and the West. It is a sad state of affairs when Congress needs to prohibit this type of information sharing with an adversary, but since we apparently do, I am proud to introduce the No Cyber Cooperation with Russia Act with my friends Brendan Boyle and Ruben Gallego. I urge my colleagues across the aisle to join us in sending a clear message that Congress will not stand for this proposal to undermine U.S. national security," Lieu said in a statement.

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