Tag: politics

Trump to sign directive ordering NASA to return to the Moon

President Trump's administration hasn't been shy about wanting to put people back on the Moon, and now it's taking action to make sure that happens. In a statement, the White House said the President would sign Space Policy Directive 1, which orders NASA to lead an "innovative space exploration program" that sends astronauts to the Moon and, "eventually," Mars. Details of what the policy entails aren't available at this point, but the signing will take place at 3PM Eastern. The date isn't an accident -- it's the 45th anniversary of the landing for the last crewed Moon mission, Apollo 17.

Vice President Pence shed some light on the motivations in October. The symbolism of returning to the Moon is a factor, of course, but Pence also saw it as a way to "build the foundation" for trips to Mars "and beyond." Both the presidential transition team and NASA's director nominee Jim Bridenstine have floated the possibility of mining the Moon, but there's no immediate indication that this will be part of the directive.

Whether or not the strategy is a good one is up in the air. Some support Pence's approach, arguing that the US needs more recent experience with human exploration than the Apollo missions before it travels all the way to Mars. It could also help create a lunar station that simplifies Mars voyages. However, there are concerns that the insistence on a moonshot won't help much, and may only serve to delay a visit to Mars at a significant expense to the public. And of course, there's the question of this being used to justify a shift away from the climate science that the current administration hates so much. Whatever the reasons, the debate is largely moot -- the US is going to try for more astronauts on the Moon.

Source: Reuters


Trump to sign directive ordering NASA to return to the Moon

President Trump's administration hasn't been shy about wanting to put people back on the Moon, and now it's taking action to make sure that happens. In a statement, the White House said the President would sign Space Policy Directive 1, which orders NASA to lead an "innovative space exploration program" that sends astronauts to the Moon and, "eventually," Mars. Details of what the policy entails aren't available at this point, but the signing will take place at 3PM Eastern. The date isn't an accident -- it's the 45th anniversary of the landing for the last crewed Moon mission, Apollo 17.

Vice President Pence shed some light on the motivations in October. The symbolism of returning to the Moon is a factor, of course, but Pence also saw it as a way to "build the foundation" for trips to Mars "and beyond." Both the presidential transition team and NASA's director nominee Jim Bridenstine have floated the possibility of mining the Moon, but there's no immediate indication that this will be part of the directive.

Whether or not the strategy is a good one is up in the air. Some support Pence's approach, arguing that the US needs more recent experience with human exploration than the Apollo missions before it travels all the way to Mars. It could also help create a lunar station that simplifies Mars voyages. However, there are concerns that the insistence on a moonshot won't help much, and may only serve to delay a visit to Mars at a significant expense to the public. And of course, there's the question of this being used to justify a shift away from the climate science that the current administration hates so much. Whatever the reasons, the debate is largely moot -- the US is going to try for more astronauts on the Moon.

Source: Reuters


Uber to settle second lawsuit from India rape victim

Uber's determination to address its past scandals remains in effect. The ridesharing firm has agreed to settle the second lawsuit from the Indian rape victim who accused the company of improperly obtaining her medical records. While the company isn't commenting on the settlement or its terms, a court filing revealed that the two sides will formally reach a deal in June. The suit represented a particularly dark chapter for Uber, as it underscored the outfit's Kalanick-era tendency to fight legal challenges that few other companies would resist.

The lawsuit argued that Uber obtained the records because it privately doubted the woman's claims. While Uber executives publicly supported the victim, they reportedly theorized in secret that she had conspired with Uber's Indian rival Ola to undermine their business. In other words, they were apparently willing to violate the accuser's privacy in hopes of discrediting her.

This isn't to say that Uber has refused to settle cases in the past. It settled the victim's original lawsuit in 2015, and settled multiple American sexual assault cases in 2016. However, this is still somewhat reflective of the strategy under new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Uber wants to make amends for past abuses and improve its reputation, both to keep customers and to reassure investors who want to know that Uber's unscrupulous days are in the past.

Source: Reuters


FCC Chairman Ajit Pai ‘jokes’ about being a Verizon shill

Many have accused FCC Chairman Ajit Pai of being a telecom shill between his background as a former Verizon lawyer and his determination to ignore all public input (not to mention complaints about comment bots) as he kills net neutrality. And apparently, his attempts at joking about it are only reinforcing those views. Gizmodo has obtained video of Pai trying to roast himself at the Federal Communications Bar Assocation's annual event, including a pre-recorded skit where an actual Verizon executive (senior VP Kathy Grillo) talks about wanting to "brainwash and groom a Verizon puppet" to become the FCC chairman, with Pai responding that it sounds like an "awesome" idea.

Aside from the jokes falling flat, there are all kinds of problems with the routine. To start, FCC officials shouldn't be joking about being shills. Whether or not they have industry backgrounds (like former Chairman Tom Wheeler), they're supposed to take corruption allegations seriously instead of turning them into comedy sketches. The humor fails in part because there's a painful degree of truth to it -- it wouldn't have come up if Pai weren't pursuing the exact deregulation policies that major telecoms want. And crucially, telecom executives shouldn't ever be involved. If anything, Grillo's inclusion in the skit supports accusations that Pai is on the take, since he's clearly cozy enough with Verizon to recruit one of its VPs for a gag.

For that matter, why would a Verizon executive agree to appear in a skit that makes light of corruption, especially knowing that the video might become public and damage the company's reputation? It's safe to say this is unusual even for a telecom that hasn't been shy about voicing its political stances and omitting views it doesn't like. The company appears unfazed about the connection, however, and even seems to endorse it. When asked for comment, Chief Communications Officer Jim Gerace joked that "we never knew Kathy was so funny."

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that Pai will face any repercussions in the near future. He was recently chosen to serve a second term, and his closeness to the companies he's supposed to regulate is par for the course at the moment. This just backs notions that Pai is comfortable flaunting his industry ties, and that he won't be shy about it going forward.

Source: Gizmodo


Destroying net neutrality will hurt artists and small businesses the most

The internet as we know it could change come December 14th. FCC chairman and former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai is expected to undo net neutrality, and with it the Title 2 regulations that prevent the likes of Comcast and Verizon from giving certain websites and services priority over others and moving their data faster. The worry is that repealing net neutrality will create an uneven playing field. For you and me, it could mean paying Verizon extra to access Netflix. But, for artists, small business owners and musicians, it could lead to their work being disadvantaged, silenced or hidden behind a paywall.

That type of barricade may stifle creativity and drive more cultural homogeneity. FM radio isn't a viable way to discover new music anymore because many stations have set playlists dictated by a few corporate overlords like iHeartRadio and Townsquare Media. Which is why the internet it is such a powerful tool for discovery. All someone needs is a cell phone and a YouTube account to get their name out there — not years of touring or approval from a panel of celebrity judges on America's Got Talent. It's that type of freedom many critics fear will vanish with Title 2.

"How hasn't [an open internet] benefited me would be a more fitting question," Martin Smith, a DJ and digital marketer told me. "Without an open internet, the music industry wouldn't be where it is today."

Smith runs the digital marketing firm Overflow, whose client list includes Coca Cola, T-Mobile and Universal Music Group. He realizes that many of the marketing tools he uses began life as dorm room projects that were then uploaded to the internet -- like Facebook and Twitter. "If the major media behemoths of the time could have paid the right people to restrict those platforms from getting where they are, they surely would have."

2016 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience - Day 1

Mayer Hawthorne

For Andrew "Mayer Hawthorne" Cohen, it's clear: "I wouldn't have a career without net neutrality," he said. "Reversing net neutrality gives already dominant mega-corporations like Apple, Ticketmaster, Live Nation, Clear Channel even more power to snuff out the little guy."

Cohen is from Ann Arbor, Michigan a city known for being a college town with a gigantic football stadium -- not launching recording careers. Had it not been for Soundcloud and Twitter, the chances of him making a living as a musician were slim. In 2005, Hawthorne moved to Los Angeles and started recording for legendary hip-hop label Stones Throw Records. "Those start-ups introduced my independent music to new listeners around the world and circumvented the keymasters/traditional modes of discovery like terrestrial radio."

Frustrated by a lack of attention for heavy metal in Michigan, Jen Lorenski launched MoshPitNation, an online network that connects Michigan metalheads with the music they love. Lorenski also works as a digital marketer and is one of the driving forces behind TaxFormGals, a women-owned small business that, as the name suggests, supplies other small businesses with necessary tax forms, among other services. "The openness of the internet has been crucial for small businesses like mine," she said. "If the costs of being online become too steep, I could see a point where other small businesses scale back their investment" and cause her to lose money.

For Rob Sheridan, an open internet launched a career he never thought possible. But before he served as Nine Inch Nails' art director, he was "tragically, indirectly" responsible for what could be the internet's first meme: the dancing baby. You know, the creepy CGI infant that busted a groove across the screen on Ally McBeal. Sheridan discovered the image file back when he was scouring bulletin boards and Usenet groups as a teenager.

"I just found this file of a CGI baby dancing to music, and it had no context," he recalled. "It was just creepy as fuck." After putting it on his personal homepage, he'd started getting a lot of messages about it. So, he gave the animation its own website on a server owned by his locally owned dial-up ISP in Seattle. The rest is history. "Before I know it, I'm getting contacted by USA Today to interview me about it because the baby had just been on Ally McBeal," he said. "It's kind of my fault."

Beyond working on websites starring disturbing infants, Sheridan had a fansite dedicated to NIN. Someone from the industrial band's camp stumbled upon it, reached out and by the end of his first year of art school at Pratt, Sheridan was designing NIN's website. "[Net neutrality] changed my entire career," he said. "I don't know where I'd be because I didn't even finish college."

What's worrisome about the upcoming deregulation is that no one really knows what will happen in its wake. When the government deregulated the airline industry in the '70s, the result was dramatically lower fares but also delayed flights and overbooked planes. In 2017, the list of companies that favor deregulation are almost exclusively ISPs, which makes sense since they stand to make more money.

Net neutrality is about fostering fair competition. A kid in Iowa has the same access to upload her latest mixtape to SoundCloud as an established artist, and the small business down the block doesn't have to worry about paying extra for the same level of service as a global conglomerate.

The FCC recently issued a "myth vs fact" press release stating that deregulation will be a boon for small businesses and startups. "They will continue to flourish with more opportunities to innovate once those regulations are repealed," it said. "Companies like Google, Facebook, Netflix and Twitter all started and experienced tremendous growth under the previous light-touch rules."

USA-INTERNET/NEUTRALITY

Lorenski disagreed. She said if ISPs started giving preference to huge conglomerations, like TaxFormGals' direct competitor QuickBooks, she might need to change her business model.

"Anyone trying to spew some bullshit that this would benefit small businesses in anyway is completely up their own ass," Sheridan admonished. "Imagine if Target was able to pay Comcast money to have their website load 10 times faster than people who hadn't paid it."

While you might not think of places like Reddit or Etsy as small businesses, they play host to countless creators and makers. Any change to how people access either site would cause serious ripple effects to the people who earn a living selling their stuff online.

You can't overstate how many small businesses and creators have benefited from net neutrality. And in turn, how much culture has benefited from them.


Google and ProPublica help journalists cover local elections

ProPublica and Google's News Lab are teaming up to help journalists, especially at the local level, report on all things related to elections. The Election Databot, which launched during the 2016 general election, will now offer up data on every race from the Alabama senate race through to the 2018 midterms. The portal for each event will broadcast a firehose of relevant news stories, search trends for the candidates and even broadcast FEC spending data.

The idea is that by providing local journalists with key, verified data at their fingertips, they will be able to better cover each election. For instance, the portal will have access to deleted tweets -- archived by Politwoops -- and material from each candidate's social media profile more widely. In an era where trust in the media is falling, and the media is becoming more partisan with each passing day, such solid data may be a small, but useful, step in restoring everyone's faith in the system.

Source: Election Databot, ProPublica, Google


Uber loses another operating licence in the UK

Uber's UK troubles continue to mount. The company's operating licence has been suspended in Sheffield following what it calls "an administrative error." In early October, Uber told the council that its licence would need to be updated because the person named on the document was leaving the company. The council refused, however, and said it would need to submit a new licence application. "The legislation does not allow for the transfer of an operator's licence," a council spokesperson said. Uber went along and filed for a new permit on October 16th, which is still being processed.

In the meantime, the council has suspended Uber's licence because it "failed to respond to requests, made by our licensing team, about the management of Uber." The decision was made last Friday (November 29th) and comes into effect on December 18th. Uber says it didn't receive any of these requests, however, because the council sent their letters to an incorrect address. "We hope this administrative error can be quickly resolved so we can continue serving tens of thousands of riders and drivers in Sheffield," an Uber spokesperson said. Sheffield City Council is standing firm, though, while its licensing department assesses the new application.

Uber can appeal the suspension if its new licence is denied. During the appeal process, it would be able to continue operating in the city.

The suspension follows a similar ruling by Transport for London (TfL) in September. The regulator said it was due to "a lack of corporate responsibility" in key areas including "greyball" and how it reports serious criminal offences. Uber has appealed the decision and a first hearing is expected to take place on December 11th. At the same time, Uber is fighting a legal battle over the classification of its drivers, which critics say should be entitled to additional benefits. It's also challenging a decision that would force private hire drivers in London to take extensive English tests.

Oh, and a number of high-profile executives are leaving the company. All told, there's plenty to keep Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi busy.

Via: Bloomberg

Source: Sheffield City Council


A fifth of startup founders think sexism reports are ‘overblown’

Despite the pervasive issue of sexism and harassment in Silicon Valley gaining prominence in recent times, it seems the industry still has a long way to go in acknowledging the problem. A survey by venture firm First Round Capital polled 800 startup founders and found that 19 percent of respondents (that's nearly a fifth) believe sexual harassment in tech has been "overblown" by the media, while 40 percent say the issue is "more significant than the media is reporting". Meanwhile, 53 percent say they, or someone they know, has personally experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

Only 17 percent of those polled identified as women, so it's no surprise that the majority of them believe the issue can be rectified by bringing more female venture capitalists into the industry. Men, on the other hand, claim the answer is sensitivity training and, curiously, more media coverage. Clearly, then, these figures aren't telling the whole story, which could explain why, when asked how long they believe it will take for the tech workforce to become representative of the general population in terms of race and gender, a third said more than 20 years. Depressingly, several complained that the question didn't include an option for "never".

Via: Wired

Source: First Round Capital


White House lets NSA’s warrantless surveillance continue until April

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's Section 702, which authorizes the NSA's warrantless data gathering, is supposed to expire on New Year's Eve. Don't tell that to the White House, though. Lawyers for the executive branch have determined that FISA Section 702 surveillance can legally continue until April 26th, 2018. The rationale comes down to a technicality. As the FISA Amendments Act says orders issued under 702 can continue for a year, and the last year-long certification was issued on April 26th, 2017... well, you do the math.

If the argument holds up, it'll please officials worried that surveillance will either have to stop or continue on dubious legal grounds. That's entirely possible when Congress is currently focused on pushing through its tax plan, and might not significantly advance House or Senate bills renewing Section 702 until the new year. An extension could give them months to prepare for the possibility that the program might wind down, which would push them to conduct more targeted espionage.

Whether or not that's a sincere concern is another matter. Senator Ron Wyden explained to the New York Times that security agencies have a habit of waiting "until the last minute" to object to an expiry, knowing that they can raise the specter of national security threats to get what they want. A technical extension might give room for a proper debate, but it could also lead to further stalling. It's no secret that intelligence officials want to make Section 702 permanent -- it wouldn't be surprising if officials went quiet until the spring.

Source: New York Times


The Internet Association asks FCC to delay its net neutrality vote

The Internet Association, whose members include Amazon, Netflix and Uber, sent a letter to the FCC today requesting that the commission either delay its upcoming vote on the proposal to remove net neutrality protections or vote against it, Reuters reports. "This draft order ignores the wishes of tens of millions of Americans who, like us, have voiced their support for the 2015 Open Internet Order," Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman said in the letter. "IA and its members will continue our fight to preserve the 2015 Order and its strong, enforceable net neutrality protections."

The FCC's vote is currently scheduled to take place on December 14th and as that date has gotten closer, a number of groups have requested the FCC consider a delay. More than two dozen senators asked for a delay earlier this week based on numerous reports of fake comments being posted during the proposal's public comment period. The city of New York and 40 advocacy groups including Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Digital Democracy also sent the FCC a letter asking for a delay. And yesterday, a group of Representatives sent the Government Accountability Office a letter asking it to investigate the reports of fraudulent commentary on the proposal.

However, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said on Monday that the vote will go forward on December 14th as planned and in a statement sent to Ars Technica, his office said that those that oppose the proposal "are becoming more desperate by the day."

Via: Reuters

Source: Internet Association