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sciencehabit writes The U.S. Senate's simmering debate over climate science has come to a full boil today, as lawmakers prepare to vote on measures offered by Democrats that affirm that climate change is real—with one also noting that global warming is not "a hoax." In an effort to highlight their differences with some Republicans on climate policy, several Democrats have filed largely symbolic amendments to a bill that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. They are designed to put senators on the record on whether climate change is real and human-caused.
661 comments | 5 days ago
mdsolar sends this quote from the NY Times:
In President Obama's latest move using executive authority to tackle climate change, administration officials will announce plans this week to impose new regulations on the oil and gas industry's emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, according to a person familiar with Mr. Obama's plans. The administration's goal is to cut methane emissions from oil and gas production by up to 45 percent by 2025 from the levels recorded in 2012.
The Environmental Protection Agency will issue the proposed regulations this summer, and final regulations by 2016, according to the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the administration had asked the person not to speak about the plan. The White House declined to comment on the effort. Methane, which leaks from oil and gas wells, accounts for just 9 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas pollution — but it is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so even small amounts of it can have a big impact on global warming.
202 comments | about two weeks ago
An anonymous reader writes: President Obama is rolling out a new plan to boost the speed of internet connections throughout the U.S. For one, he'll be asking the FCC for assistance in neutralizing state laws (PDF) that prevent cities from building municipal broadband services. "At speeds of 4 Mbps or less, 75 percent of consumers have a choice between two or more fixed providers, and 15 percent can select among three or more ISPs. However, in the market for Internet service that can deliver 25 Mbps downstream—the speed increasingly recognized as a baseline to get the full benefits of Internet access—three out of four Americans do not have a choice between providers." The state laws laws restrict competition and give the major ISPs no incentive to invest and innovate.
Obama will also be directing other federal agencies to increase the amount of money they grant and loan to ISP-related projects. "Any effort by the FCC to preempt anti-muni-broadband laws will likely focus on a controversial part of the FCC's congressional charter known as "Section 706." That part of the law recognizes the FCC's authority to stimulate broadband deployment, which supporters of preemption argue the tactic would promote. If Section 706 sounds familiar, that's because it's also the legal tool some say should be used to promote net neutrality, or the principle that broadband companies shouldn't speed up or slow down some Web sites over others."
417 comments | about two weeks ago
An anonymous reader writes with news about a White House proposal that would provide 2 years of free community college for good students."President Barack Obama announced a proposal Thursday to provide two years of free community college tuition to American students who maintain good grades. 'Put simply, what I'd like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for everyone who's willing to work for it,' Obama said in a video filmed Wednesday aboard Air Force One and posted to Facebook. He made the announcement as part of his pre-State of the Union tour and will formally lay out the proposal Friday in a speech in Tennessee. The White House estimated it would save the average community college student $3,800 annually and said it could benefit nine million if fully realized."
703 comments | about three weeks ago
jfruh writes In the opening days of the new U.S. Congress, a bill has been introduced in both the House and Senate enforcing Net neutrality, making it illegal for ISPs to accept payment to prioritize some traffic packets over others. But the sponsors are all Democrats, and with Republicans now in charge of both house of Congress, the chances of it passing seem slim.
216 comments | about three weeks ago
cartechboy writes The common assumption among Tesla fans seems to be that state auto-dealer lobbyists are working with Republican legislators to enact laws banning direct sales of Tesla's electric cars to retail buyers. Is it true? The New York Times published an article with some data points that assesses the supposition. While the article mainly focuses on the conflict between Uber and the Republican party, some quotes could be easily applied to Tesla. For instance, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus said, "It should be consumers, not government bureaucrats or legislators, that deicde what companies get our business." The author of the article, Josh Barro, wrote that 22 states permit direct sales of automobiles by Tesla to retail buyers, and of those the majority--14 of them-- voted for President Obama. He suggested that Democratic California, Illinois, and New York "have freer markets in auto retailing than Texas," which is presently Republican. When looking at a five-year-old article by Nate Silver that looked at political donations by car dealers, fully 88 percent of those donations went to Republican candidates, and just 12 percent to Democrats. That possibly suggests a propensity among Republican state legislators to support the interests for car dealers over those of electric-car buyers. Is the small bit of evidence enough to make a case? Good background on the current system of dealership sinecure can be found in this short 2009 Competition Advocacy Paper from the U.S. Department of Justice, which delves into the history and effects of the dealers-only system which still prevails.
141 comments | about a month ago
schwit1 (797399) writes Attorney General Eric Holder has decided against forcing a reporter for the New York Times to reveal the identity of a confidential source, according to a senior Justice Department official. The reporter, James Risen, has been battling for years to stop prosecutors from forcing him to name his source for a book that revealed a CIA effort to sabotage Iran's nuclear weapons program. The government wanted Risen's testimony in the trial of a former CIA official, Jeffrey Sterling, accused of leaking classified information.
55 comments | about a month and a half ago
HughPickens.com writes Gerrymandering is the practice of establishing a political advantage for a particular party by manipulating district boundaries to concentrate all your opponents' votes in a few districts while keeping your party's supporters as a majority in the remaining districts. For example, in North Carolina in 2012 Republicans ended up winning nine out of 13 congressional seats even though more North Carolinians voted for Democrats than Republicans statewide. Now Jessica Jones reports that researchers at Duke are studying the mathematical explanation for the discrepancy. Mathematicians Jonathan Mattingly and Christy Vaughn created a series of district maps using the same vote totals from 2012, but with different borders. Their work was governed by two principles of redistricting: a federal rule requires each district have roughly the same population and a state rule requires congressional districts to be compact. Using those principles as a guide, they created a mathematical algorithm to randomly redraw the boundaries of the state's 13 congressional districts. "We just used the actual vote counts from 2012 and just retabulated them under the different districtings," says Vaughn. "If someone voted for a particular candidate in the 2012 election and one of our redrawn maps assigned where they live to a new congressional district, we assumed that they would still vote for the same political party."
The results were startling. After re-running the election 100 times with a randomly drawn nonpartisan map each time, the average simulated election result was 7 or 8 U.S. House seats for the Democrats and 5 or 6 for Republicans. The maximum number of Republican seats that emerged from any of the simulations was eight. The actual outcome of the election — four Democratic representatives and nine Republicans – did not occur in any of the simulations. "If we really want our elections to reflect the will of the people, then I think we have to put in safeguards to protect our democracy so redistrictings don't end up so biased that they essentially fix the elections before they get started," says Mattingly. But North Carolina State Senator Bob Rucho is unimpressed. "I'm saying these maps aren't gerrymandered," says Rucho. "It was a matter of what the candidates actually was able to tell the voters and if the voters agreed with them. Why would you call that uncompetitive?"
413 comments | about 2 months ago
Ichijo writes: A new study (abstract) from Duke University tested whether the desirability of a solution affects beliefs in the existence of the associated problem. Researchers found that 'yes, people will deny the problem when they don't like the solution. Quoting: "Participants in the experiment, including both self-identified Republicans and Democrats, read a statement asserting that global temperatures will rise 3.2 degrees in the 21st century. They were then asked to evaluate a proposed policy solution to address the warming. When the policy solution emphasized a tax on carbon emissions or some other form of government regulation, which is generally opposed by Republican ideology, only 22 percent of Republicans said they believed the temperatures would rise at least as much as indicated by the scientific statement they read.
But when the proposed policy solution emphasized the free market, such as with innovative green technology, 55 percent of Republicans agreed with the scientific statement. The researchers found liberal-leaning individuals exhibited a similar aversion to solutions they viewed as politically undesirable in an experiment involving violent home break-ins. When the proposed solution called for looser versus tighter gun-control laws, those with more liberal gun-control ideologies were more likely to downplay the frequency of violent home break-ins."
282 comments | about 3 months ago
theodp (442580) writes "Six years in the making, Facebook's get-out-the-vote tool — a high-profile button that proclaims "I'm Voting" or "I'm a Voter" — will on Tuesday give many of the social network's more than 150 million American users a gentle but effective nudge to vote. "If past research is any guide," writes Micah L. Sifry in Mother Jones, "up to a few million more people will head to the polls partly because their Facebook friends encouraged them. Yet the process by which Facebook has developed this tool — what the firm calls the 'voter megaphone' — has not been very transparent, raising questions about its use and Facebook's ability to influence elections. Moreover, while Facebook has been developing and promoting this tool, it has also been quietly conducting experiments on how the company's actions can affect the voting behavior of its users." Sifry adds, "There may be another reason for Facebook's lack of transparency regarding its voting promotion experiments: politics. Facebook officials likely do not want Republicans on Capitol Hill to realize that their voter megaphone isn't a neutral get-out-the-vote mechanism. It's not that Facebook uses this tool to remind only users who identify themselves as Democrats to vote — though the company certainly has the technical means to do so. But the Facebook user base tilts Democratic." So, it's probably worth mentioning again that Facebook caught flack last summer for deliberately experimenting on users' emotions without their consent. And just last June, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's FWD.us PAC put out a call for "pissed off Data Scientists" to data mine critical legislative districts and "growth hack" ways to motivate "registered voters who are registered Republicans who we think are likely to support immigration reform.""
165 comments | about 3 months ago
An anonymous reader writes I received some interesting mail this week from the House Majority PAC. First, a "voter report card" postcard telling me my voting record was "excellent" (I'm a good citizen!), but also letting me know that they "plan to update this report card after the election to see whether you voted". OK, so one of the Democratic Party's super PACs want me to vote, but it seems to be something of an attempt at intimidation. Today, I received a letter in which they really put the pressure on. Here are some excerpts: "Who you vote for is secret. But whether or not you vote is public record. Our organization monitors turnout in your neighborhood, and we are disappointed that many of your neighbors do not always exercise their right to vote." So why contact me instead of them? Voting is a civic duty, but it isn't illegal to abstain. That's my neighbors' business, not mine. It's one way of expressing dissatisfaction, isn't it? And if there are no candidates you wish to vote for, then why should you vote for someone you don't want? But Big Brother PAC has other ideas: "We will be reviewing the Camden County [NJ] official voting records after the upcoming election to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014. If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not." The letter is signed "Joe Fox Election day Coordinator". So what happens if I don't vote? Well, at least I got a scare this Halloween. Are PACs using similar tactics in other states?
468 comments | about 3 months ago
schwit1 sends word that California governor Jerry Brown has vetoed legislation that would have required warrants for surveillance using unmanned drones. In his veto message (PDF), Brown said, "This bill prohibits law enforcement from using a drone without obtaining a search warrant, except in limited circumstances. There are undoubtedly circumstances where a warrant is appropriate. The bill's exceptions, however, appear to be too narrow and could impose requirements beyond what is required by either the 4th Amendment or the privacy provisions in the California Constitution."
The article notes that 10 other states already require a warrant for routine surveillance with a drone (Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin). Further, Brown's claims about the bill's exceptions are overstated — according to Slate, "California's drone bill is not draconian. It includes exceptions for emergency situations, search-and-rescue efforts, traffic first responders, and inspection of wildfires. It allows other public agencies to use drones for other purposes — just not law enforcement."
115 comments | about 4 months ago
An anonymous reader writes with this report from The Verge linking to and excerpting from a newly released report created for a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, including portions of eight "damning emails" that offer an unflattering look at the rollout of the Obamacare website. The Government Office of Accountability released a report earlier this week detailing the security flaws in the site, but a report from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released yesterday is even more damning. Titled, "Behind the Curtain of the HealthCare.gov Rollout," the report fingers the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversaw the development of the site, and its parent Department of Health and Human Services. "Officials at CMS and HHS refused to admit to the public that the website was not on track to launch without significant functionality problems and substantial security risks," the report says. "There is also evidence that the Administration, to this day, is continuing its efforts to shield ongoing problems with the website from public view." Writes the submitter: "The evidence includes emails that show Obamacare officials more interested in keeping their problems from leaking to the press than working to fix them. This is both both a coverup and incompetence."
392 comments | about 4 months ago
alphatel writes: Wikipedia has blocked anonymous edits from a congressional IP address for 10 days because of "disruptive" behavior. These otherwise anonymous edits were brought to light recently by @Congressedits, a bot that automatically tweets Wikipedia changes that come from Congressional IP addresses. The biography of former U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld was edited to say that he was an "alien lizard who eats Mexican babies." Mediaite's Wikipedia page was modified to label the site as a "sexist transphobic" publication.
165 comments | about 6 months ago
Lasrick writes: Mark Cooper with one of the best explanations of some of the most pressing details on the new EPA rule change: 'The claims and counterclaims about EPA's proposed carbon pollution standards have filled the air: It will boost nuclear. It will expand renewables. It promotes energy efficiency. It will kill coal. It changes everything. It accomplishes almost nothing.' Cooper notes that although it's clear that coal is the big loser in the rule change, the rule itself doesn't really pick winners in terms of offering sweet deals for any particular technology; however, it seems that nuclear is also a loser in this formulation, because 'Assuming that states generally adhere to the prime directive of public utility resource acquisition—choosing the lowest-cost approach—the proposed rule will not alter the dismal prospects of nuclear power...' Nuclear power does seem to be struggling with economic burdens and a reluctance from taxpayers to pay continuing subsides in areas such as storage and cleanup. It seems that nuclear is another loser in the new EPA rule change.
268 comments | about 7 months ago
phrackthat writes with an update to Friday's news that the IRS cannot locate two years worth of email from Lois Lerner, a central figure in the controversy surrounding the IRS's apparent targeting of Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny. Now, the IRS says there are another six workers for whom the agency cannot locate emails. As with Lerner, they attribute the unrecoverable emails to computer crashes. Among them was Nikole Flax, who was chief of staff to Lerner’s boss, then-deputy commissioner Steven Miller. Miller later became acting IRS commissioner, but was forced to resign last year after the agency acknowledged that agents had improperly scrutinized tea party and other conservative groups when they applied for tax-exempt status. Documents have shown some liberal groups were also flagged. ... Lerner’s computer crashed in the summer of 2011, depriving investigators of many of her prior emails. Flax’s computer crashed in December 2011, Camp and Boustany said. The IRS said Friday that technicians went to great lengths trying to recover data from Lerner’s computer in 2011. In emails provided by the IRS, technicians said they sent the computer to a forensic lab run by the agency’s criminal investigations unit. But to no avail.
465 comments | about 7 months ago
An anonymous reader writes: A proposal from Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate would require the FCC to stop ISPs from creating "internet fast lanes." Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said, "Americans are speaking loud and clear. They want an Internet that is a platform for free expression and innovation, where the best ideas and services can reach consumers based on merit rather than based on a financial relationship with a broadband provider." Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) added, "A free and open Internet is essential for consumers. Our country cannot afford 'pay-for-play' schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets." Unfortunately, this is only half a solution — the bill doesn't actually add to the FCC's authority. It only requires them to use the authority they currently have, which is questionable at best.
190 comments | about 7 months ago
As reported by the Associated Press, via US News & World Report, the IRS says that it cannot locate much of the email sent by a former IRS official over a two-year period. "The IRS told Congress Friday it cannot locate many of Lois Lerner's emails prior to 2011 because her computer crashed during the summer of that year. Lerner headed the IRS division that processed applications for tax-exempt status. The IRS acknowledged last year that agents had improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups." Three congressional committees are investigating the agency because of the allegations of politically motivated mishandling of those applications, as is the Justice Department and the IRS's own inspector general. As the story says, "Congressional investigators have shown that IRS officials in Washington were closely involved in the handling of tea party applications, many of which languished for more than a year without action. But so far, they have not publicly produced evidence that anyone outside the agency directed the targeting or even knew about it." CBS News has a slightly different version, also based on the AP's reporting.
372 comments | about 7 months ago
Daniel Ellsberg, no slouch himself in bringing to public awareness documents that reveal uncomfortable facts about government operations, says that "Edward Snowden is the greatest patriot whistleblower of our time." Ellsberg says, in an editorial at The Guardian pointed out by reader ABEND (15913), that Snowden cannot receive a fair trial without reform of the Espionage Act. According to Ellsberg, "Snowden would come back home to a jail cell – and not just an ordinary cell-block but isolation in solitary confinement, not just for months like Chelsea Manning but for the rest of his sentence, and probably the rest of his life. His legal adviser, Ben Wizner, told me that he estimates Snowden's chance of being allowed out on bail as zero. (I was out on bond, speaking against the Vietnam war, the whole 23 months I was under indictment). More importantly, the current state of whistleblowing prosecutions under the Espionage Act makes a truly fair trial wholly unavailable to an American who has exposed classified wrongdoing. Legal scholars have strongly argued that the US supreme court – which has never yet addressed the constitutionality of applying the Espionage Act to leaks to the American public – should find the use of it overbroad and unconstitutional in the absence of a public interest defense. The Espionage Act, as applied to whistleblowers, violates the First Amendment, is what they're saying. As I know from my own case, even Snowden's own testimony on the stand would be gagged by government objections and the (arguably unconstitutional) nature of his charges. That was my own experience in court, as the first American to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act – or any other statute – for giving information to the American people." Ellsberg rejects the distinction made by John Kerry in praising Ellsberg's own whistleblowing as patriotic, but Snowden's as cowardly and traitorous.
519 comments | about 8 months ago
First time accepted submitter VT-802-Software (3663479) writes "A bipartisan proposal to curb patent trolls was shelved by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Wednesday. 'Supporters of the compromise accuse trial lawyers, universities, pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies for foiling the plan at the eleventh hour. As late as Tuesday, the University of Vermont and a biotech coalition each sent letters to Leahy opposing the legislation. "We believe the measures in the legislation go far beyond what is necessary or desirable to combat abusive patent litigation, and would do serious damage to the patent system," reads one of the letters. "Many of the provisions would have the effect of treating every patent holder as a patent troll."'"
157 comments | about 8 months ago