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Trailrunner7 writes "In a letter sent to President Obama and members of Congress, former members and staff of the Church Committee on Intelligence said that the revelations of the NSA activities have caused 'a crisis of public confidence' and encouraged the formation of a new committee to undertake 'significant and public reexamination of intelligence community practices.' In the letter sent Monday to Obama and Congress, several former advisers to and members of the Church committee, including the former chief counsel, said that the current situation involving the NSA bears striking resemblances to the one in 1975 and that the scope of what the NSA is doing today is orders of magnitude larger than what was happening nearly 40 years ago.
'The need for another thorough, independent, and public congressional investigation of intelligence activity practices that affect the rights of Americans is apparent. There is a crisis of public confidence. Misleading statements by agency officials to Congress, the courts, and the public have undermined public trust in the intelligence community and in the capacity for the branches of government to provide meaningful oversight,' the letter says."
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from The Examiner: "The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) confirmed March 16 the arrest of a group of Russians in the Zaporizhzhia (Zaporozhye) region of Ukraine. The men were armed with firearms, explosives and unspecified 'special technical means'. This follows the March 14 arrest ... of several Russians dressed black uniforms with no insignia, armed with AKS-74 assault rifles and in possession of numerous ID cards under various names. One of which was an ID card of Military Intelligence Directorate of the Russian armed forces; commonly known as 'Spetsnaz'. ... Spetsnaz commandos operating in eastern Ukraine would have the missions encompassing general ground reconnaissance of Ukrainian army units ... missions they may perform preparatory to a Russian invasion would be planting explosives at key communications choke points to hinder movement of Ukrainian forces; seizing control of roads, rail heads, bridges and ports for use by arriving Russian combat troops; and possibly capturing or assassinating Ukrainian generals or politicians in key positions ... Spetsnaz also infiltrate themselves into local populations ... Once in place they begin 'stirring the pot' of ethnic and political strife with the goal of creating violent clashes usually involving firearms and destabilizing local authority." The submitter adds links to more at Forbes, The Daily Beast, and The New Republic.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Comcast's top lobbyist, David Cohen, is known to be a savvy political operator, having pushed through the No. 1 U.S. cable operator's landmark acquisition of media giant NBC Universal in 2011. But Alina Selyukh And Liana B. Baker write at Reuters that although Comcast ranks among the top-ten corporate influencers in Washington, having spent $18.8 million on lobbying last year, Cohen may have met his match in Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler. Wheeler headed the cable trade group from 1979 to 1984 and ran the wireless industry association from 1992 to 2004. Since taking over the FCC last November, however, Wheeler has not shied away from stances that have roiled past allies. Wheeler publicly expressed skepticism about a potential merger between wireless carriers Sprint and T-Mobile in one of his most attention-grabbing moves last February.
'You can't kid a kidder. Having been a lobbyist, he knows all their tricks,' says Blair Levin. Comcast will formally request an FCC review of the $45.2 billion Time Warner Cable deal later in March. Opponents say the combined company will have too much power over what Americans can watch on television and do online. As FCC chairman, Wheeler has publicly and repeatedly stated his 'unabashed' support for competition. Wheeler has also hired a heavyweight consumer advocate, Gigi Sohn, as a senior adviser. Colleagues of Wheeler, a published historian, also highlight his subject expertise. 'He knows these issues like the back of his hand,' says one FCC official who works with Wheeler. 'He knows how the business runs. He knows these people, he knows what they think and what policies they want.'"
schwit1 writes with this excerpt from the Washington Post: "U.S. officials announced plans Friday to relinquish federal government control over the administration of the Internet, a move likely to please international critics but alarm some business leaders and others who rely on smooth functioning of the Web.
Pressure to let go of the final vestiges of U.S. authority over the system of Web addresses and domain names that organize the Internet has been building for more than a decade and was supercharged by the backlash to revelations about National Security Agency surveillance last year." Reader Midnight_Falcon points out this press release on the move from Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
theodp writes "'I want to explain why Common Core is among the most important education ideas in years,' wrote Bill Gates in a USA Today op-ed last month that challenged the "dangerous misconceptions" of those who oppose the initiative (pretty confident for a guy who conceded there wasn't much to show for his earlier $5B education reform effort!). 'The Gates Foundation helped fund this process,' acknowledged Gates in quite an understatement of his influence. Receiving $6.5M in Gates Grants was Student Achievement Partners, whose founder David Coleman was dubbed the 'Architect of the Common Core.' So it's not too surprising that at last week's SXSWedu, Coleman — now President and CEO of The College Board (no stranger to Gates money itself) — announced a dramatic overhaul of the SAT that includes a new emphasis on evidence-based reading and writing and evidence analysis, which the AJC's Maureen Downey calls 'reflective of the approach of the Common Core State Standards.'" (Read more, below.)
sandbagger writes "The director of the U.S. government office that monitors scientific misconduct in biomedical research has resigned after 2 years out of frustration with the 'remarkably dysfunctional' federal bureaucracy. Officials at the Office of Scientific Integrity spent 'exorbitant amounts of time' in meetings and generating data and reports to make their divisions look productive, David Wright writes. He huge amount of time he spent trying to get things done made much of his time at ORI 'the very worst job I have ever had.'"
dcblogs writes that the Obama Administration is urging tech entrepreneurs "to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and said having the coverage will give them the 'freedom and security' to start their own businesses. 'There is strong evidence that when affordable healthcare isn't exclusively tied to employment, in more instances people choose to start their own companies,' wrote White House CTO Todd Park in a post to launch its #GeeksGetCovered campaign. Bruce Bachenheimer, a professor of management at Pace University and director of its Entrepreneurship Lab, said the effort is part of a broader appeal by the White House to get younger and healthier people to sign-up for Obamacare, and is in the same vein as President Obama's recent appearance on Between Two Ferns." Removing the tax structures that make companies by default intermediaries in the provision of health insurance, and allowing more interstate (and international) competition in health finance options would help on that front, too, aside from who's actually footing the insurance bill.
SternisheFan writes with this news from the Washington Post: "In an extraordinary public accusation, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee declared on Tuesday that the CIA interfered with and then tried to intimidate a congressional investigation into the agency's possible use of torture in terror probes during the Bush administration. The CIA clandestinely removed documents and searched a computer network set up for lawmakers, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a long and biting speech on the Senate floor. In an escalating dispute with an agency she has long supported, she said the CIA may well have violated criminal laws and the U.S. Constitution."
An anonymous reader writes "Canada and South Korea announced agreement on a comprehensive trade agreement earlier today. Michael Geist reports that the intellectual property chapter is significant for what it does not include. Unlike many other trade deals — particularly those involving the U.S., European Union, and Australia — the Canada-South Korea deal is content to leave domestic intellectual property rules largely untouched. Instead, the approach is to reaffirm the importance of intellectual property and ensure that both countries meet their international obligations, but not to use trade agreements as a backdoor mechanism to increase IP protections. That means no copyright term extension, no three-strikes and you're out rules, and increase to pharma patents."
First time accepted submitter superboj writes "Everyone wants a piece of Egypt's most famous pharaoh, including the media, the Muslim Brotherhood and even the Mormon church. But while scientists have been trying to excavate his DNA and prove who he was — Egypt's turbulent politics have been making progress hard. Will experts be able to make a major discovery? And what happens if they do?"
Freetronics is Australia's answer to a lot of electronic tinkerers' needs, selling items like Arduino compatible boards, cables, and specialized tools. Founder Jonathan Oxer is a (serious) electronics hobbyist himself; he talked with Slashdot last year about making ArduSats, which were then launched to the International Space Station. Now, Oxer has written an excellent guide for hobbyists who might get the chance to travel to Shenzhen, where so many of the world's electronic bits and bobs are made. As travel writing goes, it's fascinating for the sheer novelty of the place. If you actually have the chance to go, some of the advice here might save you money and time. For those of you who have been to Shenzhen, what else should visitors know?
elphie007 writes "An investigation by The Australian Financial Review has discovered how from 2002 to 2013, Apple has shifted approximately $AU8.9 billion of revenue generated in Australia to Ireland, via Singapore. The article states that last year alone, Apple Australia paid only $AU88.5 million in tax, or 0.044% of estimated potential tax liabilities. What's more, the Australian Tax Office has agreed that this arrangement is acceptable under Australian law."
alphadogg writes "A second federal bill that proposes 'kill-switch' technology be made mandatory in smartphones as a means to reduce theft of the devices was introduced Monday. The kill switch would allow consumers to remotely wipe and disable a stolen smartphone and is considered by proponents to be a key tool in combating the increasing number of smartphone robberies. The Smartphone Theft Prevention Act was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 4065 by Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat, as a companion to a Senate bill that was introduced Feb. 13. The two follow a similar law proposed by officials in California last month."
theodp writes "The LA Times reports that Google will fund free bus passes for low- and middle-income kids in a move to quiet the controversy surrounding tech-driven gentrification in San Francisco. In a statement, Google said, 'San Francisco residents are rightly frustrated that we don't pay more to use city bus stops. So we'll continue to work with the city on these fees, and in the meantime will fund MUNI passes for low income students [an existing program] for the next two years.' SF Mayor Ed Lee said, 'I want to thank Google for this enormous gift to the SFMTA, and I look forward to continuing to work with this great San Francisco employer towards improving our City for everyone.' But not all were impressed. 'It's a last-minute PR move on their part, and they're trying to use youth unfairly to create a better brand image in the city,' said Erin McElroy of the SF Anti-Eviction Mapping Project."
Now that Russia has sent troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, international politics are tense and frantic. An anonymous reader notes an article from Joshua Keating at Slate, which points out that some of the diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks illustrate how this situation is not at all unexpected. Quoting a cable from October, 2009: "... pro-Russian forces in Crimea, acting with funding and direction from Moscow, have systematically attempted to increase communal tensions in Crimea in the two years since the Orange Revolution. They have done so by cynically fanning ethnic Russian chauvinism towards Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, through manipulation of issues like the status of the Russian language, NATO, and an alleged Tatar threat to 'Slavs,' in a deliberate effort to destabilize Crimea, weaken Ukraine, and prevent Ukraine's movement west into institutions like NATO and the EU." The article points out another cable from a few days later, which was titled, "Ukraine-Russia: Is Military Conflict No Longer Unthinkable?"
00_NOP writes "The political battle over Scotland's independence ballot — to take place in September this year — has now moved on to how the BBC project the UK on their national weather forecast. The BBC use a projection based on the view of Britain from geostationary weather satellites and so there is naturally some foreshortening at the northern end of Britain (Scotland, in other words). But nationalist campaigners say this means Scottish viewers are constantly being shown a distorted image of their country which makes it look smaller and hence (in their view) less able to support independence. In response others have suggested that the nationalists are truly 'flat earthers.'"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Joseph Stromberg writes in Smithsonian Magazine that while the practice of solitary confinement is being discontinued in most countries, it's become increasingly routine within the American prison system. It is estimated that between 80,000 and 81,000 prisoners are in some form of solitary confinement nationwide. Once employed largely as a short-term punishment, it's now regularly used as way of disciplining prisoners indefinitely, isolating them during ongoing investigations, coercing them into cooperating with interrogations and even separating them from perceived threats within the prison population at their request.
Most prisoners in solitary confinement spend at least 23 hours per day restricted to cells of 80 square feet, not much larger than a king-size bed, devoid of stimuli (some are allowed in a yard or indoor area for an hour or less daily), and are denied physical contact on visits from friends and family ... A majority of those surveyed experienced symptoms such as dizziness, heart palpitations, chronic depression, while 41 percent reported hallucinations, and 27 percent had suicidal thoughts...
But the real problem is that solitary confinement is ineffective as a rehabilitation technique and indelibly harmful to the mental health of those detained achieving the opposite of the supposed goal of rehabilitating them for re-entry into society. Rick Raemisch, the new director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, voluntarily spent twenty hours in solitary confinement in one of his prisons and wrote an op-ed about his experience in The New York Times. 'If we can't eliminate solitary confinement, at least we can strive to greatly reduce its use,' wrote Raemisch."
An anonymous reader writes "Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, has called for for heavily regulation of Bitcoin. Reached for comment, his staff confirmed Manchin is seeking a 'ban' that would apply to any cryptocurrency that's both anonymous and unregulated."
cold fjord writes with news that the Supreme Court has expanded the ability of police officers to search a home without needing a warrant, quoting the LA Times: "Police officers may enter and search a home without a warrant as long as one occupant consents, even if another resident has previously objected, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday ... The 6-3 ruling ... gives authorities more leeway to search homes without obtaining a warrant, even when there is no emergency. The majority ... said police need not take the time to get a magistrate's approval before entering a home in such cases. But dissenters ... warned that the decision would erode protections against warrantless home searches." In this case, one person objected to the search and was arrested followed by the police returning and receiving the consent of the remaining occupant.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "According to NBC, Apple has confirmed that it urged Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto a bill that would allow business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to deny service to gays and lesbians. Last November Tim Cook announced that Apple was building a sapphire glass plant in Mesa, AZ, that would bring 2,000 new jobs to the state. 'Apple is indisputably one of the world's most innovative companies and I'm thrilled to welcome them to Arizona,' said Gov. Brewer at the time. 'Apple will have an incredibly positive economic impact for Arizona and its decision to locate here speaks volumes about the friendly, pro-business climate we have been creating these past four years.' According to Philip Elmer-DeWitt, it sounds like Tim Cook may be having second thoughts about how 'friendly' and 'pro-business' the climate in Arizona really is."
Rambo Tribble writes "Reuters reports Google has initiated lobbying efforts to stymie attempts by some states to enact distracted driver laws aimed at wearable technologies, such as Google Glass. 'Google's main point to legislators is that regulation would be premature because Google Glass is not yet widely available, the state elected officials say. Illinois state Senator Ira Silverstein, a Chicago Democrat who introduced a Google Glass restriction bill in December, responded that it was clear the merchandise was heading for the broader public.' Given the toll on our highways shown to arise from distracted drivers, is this responsible corporate behavior to protect their product, or an unethical endangering of lives?"
Slashgear reports that many state-run internet links in Venezuela have been shut down by that country's government, as censorship efforts there step up along with widespread turmoil, partly in the form of widespread anti-government protests. The article begins: "Don’t expect one whole heck of a lot of tweets coming out of Venezuela in the immediate future as President Nicolas Maduro’s government has shut down the internet and select TV channels. Having shut down Twitter access for the area this past week, Venezuela’s state-run ISP CANTV has been cut in areas such as San Cristobal. This area is a regional capital in the west of the country and CANTV controls the vast majority of internet connectivity in the area. The Electronic Frontier Foundation made note that Venezuelans working with several different ISPs lost all connectivity on Thursday of this past week. Users lost connectivity to the major content delivery network Edgecast and the IP address which provides access to Twitter’s image hosting service while another block stopped Venezuelan access to the text-based site Pastebin."
Lasrick writes "Dawn Stover looks at the incredibly successful Megatons to Megawatts program, which turned dismantled Russian nuclear warheads into lower-grade uranium fuel that can be used to produce electricity. The 1993 agreement between the U.S. and Russia not only eliminated 500 tons of weapons-grade uranium, but generated nearly 10% of U.S. electricity consumption. The Megatons to Megawatts program ended in December, but Stover points out that the U.S. has plenty of surplus nuclear weapons that could keep the program going, without the added risk of shipping it over such huge distances. A domestic Megatons to Megawatts, if you will. This would be very cost effective and have the added benefit of keeping USEC, the only American company in the uranium enrichment field, in business."
bostonidealist writes "The White House has officially responded to a We The People petition created on January 15, 2014, which urged the President to 'direct the FCC to classify ISPs as "common carriers"' after the D.C. U.S. Court of Appeals 'struck down the Federal Communications Commission's open internet rules.' The White House statement says, 'absent net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries,' but notes, 'The FCC is an independent agency. Chairman Wheeler has publicly pledged to use the full authority granted by Congress to maintain a robust, free and open Internet — a principle that this White House vigorously supports.'"
An anonymous reader writes with this news from The Telegraph: "North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, has been warned that he could face prosecution for crimes against humanity after a United Nations inquiry accused him of some of the worst human rights abuses since the Second World War. In some of the harshest criticism ever unleashed by the international community against the Pyongyang regime, a UN panel branded it 'a shock to the conscience of humanity.' Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge who has spent nearly a year taking testimony from victims of the regime, said much of it reminded him of atrocities perpetrated by Nazi Germany and Pol Pot's Cambodia. Yesterday his team published a 374-page report detailing allegations of murder, torture, rape, abductions, enslavement, and starvation, describing North Korea as a dictatorship 'that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.' In a bid to put pressure on Kim Jong-un, 31, Mr Kirby has taken the unusual step of writing to the North Korean leader to warn him that both he and hundreds of his henchmen could one day face prosecution." More at the BBC, including a cache of the report.
An anonymous reader writes "President Obama will ask Congress for a $1 billion 'Climate Resilience Fund' in his proposed budget next month. From the article: 'Obama is expected to release his proposed 2015 budget in early March. The prospects for the climate fund are uncertain in a Republican-controlled House. But Obama, who made preparation for climate change one of the major themes of the climate action plan he released in June, will continue to press for the need to adapt, according to the White House.'"
First time accepted submitter Saúl González D. writes "After two days of massive protests, the Venezuelan government has finally taken to censoring Twitter. Users of Venezuela's largest ISP CANTV, which is owned by the government, are reporting that either Twitter-embedded images will not load or that Twitter will fail to load at all. I am a user myself and can confirm that only Twitter is affected and that switching to the Tor browser solves the issue. As news of the protests are not televised, for most Venezuelans Twitter and Facebook are their only means of obtaining real-time information.
Despite a progressive worsening of civil and human rights, governments of the world have shied away from directly labeling Maduro a dictator or demanding the OAS' Democratic Charter be activated. Will open censorship be the tipping point?"
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from The Verge: "The South Korean government has decided to route sensitive data away from networks operated by Huawei, amid longstanding fears from the U.S. that the Chinese company's infrastructure could be used to spy on communications. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the U.S. had been urging its South Korean allies to route government communications away from Huawei networks, claiming that the infrastructure could be used to spy on communications with American military bases there. As a result, Huawei equipment will not be used at any American military base in South Korea. The Obama administration denies playing a role in the decision, and South Korean officials have not commented. The Journal reports that the White House made a point of keeping the talks private because it didn't want to be seen as meddling in its ally's business affairs."
diegocg writes "Germany has outlined the details of the new 800km (497mi) high voltage power link that will transport renewable power from the north to the industrial south. It is part of the Energiewende plan to replace nuclear power and most other non-renewable energy sources with renewable sources in the next decades. However, the power link is facing a problem: popular resistance from affected neighborhoods."
lpress writes "In the mid 1990s, there was debate within the Cuban government about the Internet. A combination of pressure from the U.S. trade embargo, the financial crisis brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union and fear of free expression led to a decision to limit Internet access. This has left Cuba with sparse, antiquated domestic infrastructure today. Could the government improve the situation if they decided to do so? They don't have sufficient funds to build out modern infrastructure and foreign investment through privatization of telecommunication would be difficult to obtain. Furthermore, that strategy has not benefited the people in other developing nations. A decentralized strategy using a large number of satellite links could quickly bootstrap the Cuban Internet. Decentralized funding and control of infrastructure has been an effective transitional strategy in other cases, for example, with the NSFNET in the U.S. or the Grameen Phone ladies in Bangladesh. This proposal would face political roadblocks in both the US and Cuba; however, change is being considered in the U.S. and the Castro government has been experimenting with small business and they have begun allowing communication agents to sell telephone and Internet time. It might just work — as saying goes "Be realistic. Demand the impossible.""
RoccamOccam writes Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is filing a class action lawsuit against President Obama and other members of his administration over the National Security Agency's collection of phone metadata, a practice he believes violates the Fourth Amendment. In a YouTube video released Tuesday, Paul compared the government surveillance to the warrantless searches practiced by the British military prior to American independence."
cartechboy writes "Man the automotive dealer associations don't like Tesla. Remember that time the Ohio dealers attempted to block Tesla from selling its electric cars in in the Buckeye State. Now, it's happening again. The car dealers are once again pushing legislation that would keep Tesla from selling cars in Ohio. Senate Bill 260 would prohibit the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles from issuing car-dealer licenses to auto manufacturers. Since Tesla owns and operates its own network of 'dealerships' (aka galleries), this would make it so the automaker couldn't acquire a car-dealer license. Section 11 of the bill lists 'a manufacturer... applying for license to sell or lease new motor vehicles at retail' as one of the types of organization ineligible for a dealership license. On top of all this, the language isn't on the Senate floor as a standalone bill. No, it's inserted as an amendment to Senate Bill 137 which is an unrelated bill requiring Ohio drivers to move to the left while passing roadside maintenance vehicles. Is this yet another slimy tactic to try and undercut the new kid on the block?"
Toe, The writes "The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee approved new science standards for students except for one clause: the one that involves the use of the phrase 'natural selection.' Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, argued against teaching natural selection as fact, when he believes there are other theories students deserve to learn. Fair argued South Carolina's students are learning the philosophy of natural selection but teachers are not calling it such. He said the best way for students to learn is for the schools to teach the controversy. Hopefully they're going to teach the controversy of gravity and valence bonds too. After all, they're just theories."
Nerval's Lobster writes "President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign relied on a sophisticated data-analytics platform that allowed organizers and volunteers to precisely target potential donors and voters. The centerpiece of that effort was Project Narwhal, which brought voter information—steadily accumulated since Obama's 2008 campaign—onto a single platform accessible to a growing number of campaign-related apps. The GOP has only a few short years to prepare for the next Presidential election cycle, and the party is scrambling to build an analytics system capable of competing against whatever the Democrats deploy onto the field of battle. To that end, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has launched Para Bellum Labs, modeled after a startup, to produce digital platforms for election analytics and voter engagement. Is this a genuine attempt to infuse the GOP's infrastructure with data science, or merely an attempt to show that the organization hasn't fallen behind the Democratic Party when it comes to analytics? Certainly the "Welcome to Para Bellum Labs" video posted by the RNC gives the impression of a huge office staffed with data scientists and programmers. However, the creation of a muscular digital ecosystem hinges on far more than building a couple of apps. Whatever the GOP rolls out, it'll face a tough opponent in the Democratic opposition, which will almost certainly emulate the robust IT infrastructure that the Obama campaign instituted in 2012 (not to mention Obama's massive voter and donor datasets). From that perspective, Para Bellum Labs might face the toughest job in politics."
This site's "Your Rights Online" section, sadly, has never suffered for material. The revelations we've seen over the last year-and-change, though, of widespread spying on U.S. citizens, government spying in the E.U. on international conferences, the UK's use of malware against citizens, and the use of modern technology to oppress government protesters in the middle east and elsewhere shows how persistent it is. It's been a banner year on that front, and the banner says "You are being spied on, online and off." A broad coalition of organizations is calling today "The Day We Fight Back" against the growing culture of heads-they-win, tails-you-lose surveillance, but all involved know this is not a one-day struggle. (Read more, below.)
theodp writes "You wouldn't select Linus Torvalds to be the public face for the 'Year of Basketball.' So, why tap someone who doesn't code to be the face of 'The Year of Code'? Slate's Lily Hay Newman reports on the UK's Year of Code initiative to promote interest in programming and train teachers, which launched last week with a Director who freely admits that she doesn't know how to code. "I'm going to put my cards on the table," Lottie Dexter told Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman on national TV. I've committed this year to learning to code...so over this year I'm going to see exactly what I can achieve. So who knows, I might be the next Zuckerberg." "You can always dream," quipped the curmudgeonly Paxman, who was also unimpressed with Dexter's argument that the national initiative could teach people to make virtual birthday cards, an example straight out of Mark Zuckerberg's Hour of Code playbook (coming soon to the UK). Back in the States, YouTube chief and Hour of Code headliner Susan Wojcicki — one of many non-coder Code.org spokespersons — can be seen on YouTube fumbling for words to answer a little girl's straightforward question, "What is one way you apply Computer Science to your job at Google?". While it's understandable that companies and tech leaders probably couldn't make CS education "an issue like climate change" (for better or worse) without embracing politicians and celebrities, it'd be nice if they'd at least showcase a few more real-life coders in their campaigns."
fsterman writes "What do you get when you cross physical one-way-functions, a distributed and secure datastore, with physical Bitcoins? A viable alternative currency for micro-nations and dictatorships with hyper-inflation." Whatever your thoughts on bitcoin, it's interesting to think about the infrastructure and production cost of the tokens we use as money more generally.
theodp writes "Among the billionaires who helped Bill Gates pave the way for charter schools in WA was Walmart heiress Alice Walton. The Walton Family Foundation spent a whopping $158+ million in 2012 on what it calls 'systemic K-12 education reform,' which included $60,920,186 to 'shape public policy' and $652,209 on 'research and evaluation.' Confirming the LA Times' speculation about its influence, the Walton Foundation issued a press release Wednesday boasting it's the largest private funder of charter school 'startups,' adding that it has supported the opening of 1 in 4 charter schools in the U.S. since 1997 through its 1,500 'investments.' But as some charter school kids have learned the hard way, what the rich man giveth, he can also taketh away. For the time being, though, it looks like America's going to continue to depend on the tax-free kindness of wealthy strangers to educate its kids. For example, while it was nice to see the value of Shop Class recognized, the White House on Monday called on businesses, foundations and philanthropists to fund proposed 'Maker Spaces' in schools and libraries. Hey, when the U.S. Secretary of Education turns to corporate sponsors and auctions to fund his Mother's afterschool program for kids of low-income families in the President's hometown, don't look for things to change anytime soon."
First time accepted submitter AdamnSelene writes "Forbes reports on a National Republican Congressional Committee sanctioned campaign worthy of the NSA: fake candidate websites that use identical or similar pictures and color schemes to solicit donations to defeat the Democratic candidate. The Tampa Bay Times reports that the NRCC initially refused to refund the contribution from a Tampa Bay doctor who caught onto the scam, and he had to contact his credit card company to challenge the charges. The National Journal reports that the NRCC-sponsored effort may run afoul of Federal Election Commission regulations, though it expects that the bipartisan FEC will be toothless when it comes to enforcement. However, I have to wonder whether this is finally a good enough reason to use the DMCA and file take-down notices against the faux websites. Perhaps the candidates could solve this themselves, and get a judgement for copyright infringement so absurdly large that it puts the NRCC out of business?" Some sites along these lines might be dirtier than the ones here illustrated, which seem to fit pretty well into the broad world of snarky and cutting political ads; Dr. Ray Bellamy, the Tampa Bay donor mentioned above, intended to give money to candidate Alex Sink, but evidently didn't notice this line in bold print, just above the "Donate" button: "Make a contribution today to help defeat Alex Sink and candidates like her." Note that, as the Tampa Bay Times' article mentions, this kind of site isn't limited to Republicans, either.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Fox News reports that Republican lawmakers in the House are pushing legislation that would prohibit the EPA from proposing new regulations based on science that is not transparent or not reproducible. The bill introduced by Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., would bar the agency from proposing or finalizing rules without first disclosing all "scientific and technical information" relied on to support its proposed action. "Public policy should come from public data, not based on the whims of far-left environmental groups," says Schweikert. "For far too long, the EPA has approved regulations that have placed a crippling financial burden on economic growth in this country with no public evidence to justify their actions." The bill, dubbed the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 (HR 4012), would prohibit the EPA's administrator from proposing or finalizing any rules unless he or she also discloses "all scientific and technical information" relied on by the agency in the regulations' development including all data, materials and computer models. According to Schweikert's press release a 2013 poll from the Institute of Energy Research found that 90 percent of Americans agree that studies and data used to make federal government decisions should be made public. "Provisions in the bill are consistent with the White House's scientific integrity policy, the President's Executive Order 13563, data access provisions of major scientific journals, the Bipartisan Policy Center and the recommendations of the Obama administration's top science advisors.""
First time accepted submitter maratumba writes to explain a bill in Turkey that extends what are already hefty Internet curbs in place under a controversial 2007 law that Earned Turkey equal ranking with China as the world's biggest web censor according to a Google Transparency report published in December. The text notably permits a government agency, the Telecommunications Communications Presidency (TIB), to block Access to websites without court authorization if they are deemed to violate privacy or with content Seen as 'insulting.' Erdogan, Turkey's all-powerful leader since 2003, is openly suspicious of the Internet, branding Twitter a 'menace' for being Utilized in organisation of mass nationwide protests in June in which six people died and thousands were injured."
Nerval's Lobster writes "The author of the Patriot Act has warned that the legal justification for the NSA's wholesale domestic surveillance program will disappear next summer if the White House doesn't restrict the way the NSA uses its power. Section 215 of the Patriot Act will expire during the summer of 2015 and will not be renewed unless the White House changes the shocking scale of the surveillance programs for which the National Security Administration uses the authorization, according to James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), an original author of the Patriot Act and its two reauthorizations, stated Washington insider-news source The Hill. 'Unless Section 215 gets fixed, you, Mr. Cole, and the intelligence community will get absolutely nothing, because I am confident there are not the votes in this Congress to reauthorize it,' Sensenbrenner warned Deputy Attorney General James Cole during the Feb. 4 hearing. Provisions of Section 215, which allows the NSA to collect metadata about phone calls made within the U.S., give the government a 'very useful tool' to track connections among Americans that might be relevant to counterterrorism investigations, Cole told the House Judiciary Committee. The scale of the surveillance and lengths to which the NSA has pushed its limits was a "shock" according to Sensenbrenner, who also wrote the USA Freedom Act, a bill to restrict the scope of both Section 215 and the NSA programs, which has attracted 130 co-sponsors. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has sponsored a similar bill in the Senate."
New submitter litehacksaur111 writes "Lawmakers are introducing the Open Internet Preservation Act (PDF) which aims to restore net neutrality rules enforced by the FCC before being struck down by the DC appeals court. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) said, 'The Internet is an engine of economic growth because it has always been an open platform for competition and innovation. Our bill very simply ensures that consumers can continue to access the content and applications of their choosing online.' Unfortunately, it looks unlikely the bill will make it through Congress. 'Republicans are almost entirely united in opposition to the Internet rules, meaning the bill is unlikely to ever receive a vote in the GOP-controlled House.'"
Master Moose writes with an excerpt from stuff.co.nz indicating that New Zealand's government "wants to override privacy laws to supply the U.S. Government with private details about Americans living in New Zealand. As part of a global tax-dodging crackdown, the U.S. is forcing banks and other financial institutions to hand over the private financial details of U.S. 'persons' and companies based overseas. From July this year, Kiwi banks and insurers will be required to provide U.S. tax authorities with American customers' contact details, bank account numbers and transaction history. The move comes amid continuing criticism of New Zealand's participation in Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement talks, aimed at securing a wider-reaching free trade deal with the U.S. and other countries. Critics say the secretive talks could restrict New Zealand's ability to make its own laws on everything from the environment to employment."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Phillip Swarts reports in the Washington Times that NASA is completing a $350 million rocket-engine testing tower at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi that it doesn't want and will never use. 'Because the Constellation Program was canceled in 2010, the A-3's unique testing capabilities will not be needed and the stand will be mothballed upon completion (PDF),, said NASA's inspector general. The A-3 testing tower will stand 300 feet and be able to withstand 1 million pounds of thrust (PDF). The massive steel structure is designed to test how rocket engines operate at altitudes of up to 100,000 feet by creating a vacuum within the testing chamber to simulate the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Although NASA does not expect to use the tower after construction, it's compelled by legislation from Sen. Roger F. Wicker (R-MS), who says the testing tower will help maintain the research center's place at the forefront of U.S. space exploration. 'Stennis Space Center is the nation's premier rocket engine testing facility,' says Wicker. 'It is a magnet for public and private research investment because of infrastructure projects like the A-3 test stand. In 2010, I authored an amendment to require the completion of that particular project, ensuring the Stennis facility is prepared for ever-changing technologies and demands.' Others disagree, calling the project the 'Tower of Pork' and noting that the unused structure will cost taxpayers $840,000 a year to maintain. 'Current federal spending trends are not sustainable, and if NASA can make a relatively painless contribution to deficit reduction by shutting down an unwanted program, why not let it happen?' says Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union. 'It's not rocket science, at least fiscally.'"
Jason Edward Harrington has seen some of the same frustrations, misgivings, and objections that have crossed the mind of probably every commercial airline traveler who's flown over the last decade in the U.S. One difference: Harrington got to see them from the perspective of a TSA agent. His description of the realities of the job (including learning the rote responses that agents are instructed to reassure the public with) is wince-worthy and compelling. A sample makes it clear why the TSA has such famously low morale, even among Federal agencies: "I hated it from the beginning. It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretense that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots—the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying." It only gets worse from there.
SmartAboutThings writes "Edward Snowden has a chance of getting the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, as two Norwegian members of the Parliament have nominated him — Baard Vegard Solhjell (a former environment minister) and Snorre Valen. So, the fact that members of the Norwegian Parliament have proposed him for the Nobel Peace Prize could improve his chance of winning. After all, if Obama got this prize, why wouldn't Snowden get it?"
An anonymous reader writes "Coursera is an online website that offers free courses from many of the world's top universities. Now, all students from Syria, Sudan, Iran and Cuba will no longer be able to access Coursera. The official blog provides more info regarding the ban: 'Until now the interpretation of export control regulations as they relate to MOOCs has been unclear and Coursera has been operating under the interpretation that MOOCs would not be restricted. We recently received information that has led to the understanding that the services offered on Coursera are not in compliance with the law as it stands ... United States export control regulations prohibit U.S. businesses, such as MOOC providers like Coursera, from offering services to users in sanctioned countries, including Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Under the law, certain aspects of Coursera's course offerings are considered services and are therefore subject to restrictions in sanctioned countries, with the exception of Syria.'"
Trailrunner7 writes "A group of six Congressmen have asked President Barack Obama to remove James Clapper as director of national intelligence as a result of his misstatements to Congress about the NSA's dragnet data-collection programs. The group, led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said that Clapper's role as DNI 'is incompatible with the goal of restoring trust in our security programs.' Clapper is the former head of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and has been DNI since 2010. In their letter to Obama, the group of Congressmen calling for his ouster said that he lied to Congress and should no longer be in office. 'The continued role of James Clapper as Director of National Intelligence is incompatible with the goal of restoring trust in our security programs and ensuring the highest level of transparency. Director Clapper continues to hold his position despite lying to Congress, under oath, about the existence of bulk data collection programs in March 2013. Asking Director Clapper, and other federal intelligence officials who misrepresented programs to Congress and the courts, to report to you on needed reforms and the future role of government surveillance is not a credible solution,' the letter from Issa, Ted Poe, Paul Broun, Doug Collins, Walter Jones and Alan Grayson says." "Misstatement," of course, being the favorite euphemism for "lie."
Maow writes "Edward Snowden has been interviewed by a German TV network and stated that the NSA is involved in industrial espionage, which is outside the range of national security. He claims that Siemens is a prime example of a target for the data collection. I doubt this would surprise AirBus or other companies, but it shall remain to be seen what measures global industries take (if any) to prevent their internal secrets from falling into NSA's — and presumably American competitors' — hands." AirBus is a good example of a company that has experienced spying from both sides.