TechCrunch launches Crunchgov to craft and pass better tech laws

Greg from TechCrunch sez,

TechCrunch has launched a beta version of a new technology policy platform, Crunchgov. Crunchgov (beta) is designed to source the most thoughtful people and ideas for the purpose of crafting smarter tech policy. The tech industry is great at getting headlines for things like SOPA but haven't been successful at passing laws--this leaves them vulnerable to the status quo on education, immigration, IP and a hot of other issues.

So, we designed two tools, which are both first for a media organization as far as I know. One is a a report card - each House of Representatives member (and soon Senators) are rated on how their voting record aligns to the consensus interests of the technology industry. To gage what consensus issues are, we surveyed the top tech lobbies, which collectively represent most of industry. Where they all agreed on a bill, we put it into our report.

We ended up with 3 bills: The Fairness in High Skilled Immigrants Act, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), The JOBS Act (crowdfunding for startups).

We also identified 10 congressmen, who were given As or Fs, based on whether they were well-known champions or threats. This will help citizens keep track of the most thoughtful people, and be warned when known threats try to co-opt important issues, such as when SOPA author Lamar Smith introduced a partisan immigration law destined to fail.

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A report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports

This year's IgNobel Prizes were a characteristically great bunch, but as a writer, I'm particularly excited to see that the organizers awarded a prize in literature this year. The prize went to the US Government Accountability Office, for Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies, or as the IgNobels put it:

The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.

The feds didn't send anyone to accept.

Winners of the IgNobel Prize (via As It Happens) Read the rest

US charges citizen with $6,500 fine for visiting Cuba

Zachary Sanders, 38, traveled to Cuba as an unauthorized tourist 14 years ago. He was 23, and had been teaching English in Mexico. He decided to travel to Cuba for a couple of weeks in 1998. "I wanted to learn about how a socialist country worked in practice," Sanders says. "I had no illusions. ... I'm not like some diehard supporter of the (Cuban) government or anything like that." The U.S. Treasury Department penalized him for not having filled out the proper forms, and a long-running legal battle ensued. Today, Sanders reached a settlement with the government: he must pay $6,500 for his mistake. Read the rest

State Dept. snubs blog of Foreign Service spouse in breast cancer treatment for using n-word: "nipple."

My pal Anthony Citrano points to this outrageous story, and says: "The State Department says their staff should blog about 'individual stories', but this bullshit about your new nipple is just too much."

The tl;dr: Jennifer Dinoia, who is married to a foreign service agent, maintained a family blog that was promoted on the State Department website. She wote about her experience in treatment for breast cancer. All was fine with the blog, and its inclusion in the State Dept.'s official blogroll, until she wrote a post detailing nipple construction after mastectomy.

From Ms. DiNoia's blog post, after she realized her story was no longer welcome:

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Appropriations Committee ignores Congress's mandate to webcast hearings

Nicko from the Sunlight Foundation sez, "Despite significant strides towards improving public access to legislative proceedings, nearly a quarter of House hearings cannot be watched online despite recently instituted House rules -- with the Appropriations Committee as the biggest offender, with 70 percent of its hearings unavailable on the Internet. The Appropriations Committee is at the heart of today's debate about the budget and is responsible for writing the chamber's spending bills."

The Sunlight Foundation tracked 200 House hearings over 20 days to determine whether they were webcast live, plus 407 hearings from January 17 to April 2 to determine whether video from the proceedings were archived online. Twenty-five percent (49 of 200) of the hearings were not live-streamed, and 22 percent (91 of 407) were not archived on committee websites...

With 70 percent of its hearings offline, the Appropriations Committee's practice appears to diverge from the House's requirement of publishing video online to "the maximum extent practicable." Nearly all other committees manage to put their proceedings online. Appropriators have a large hearing room that has cameras pre-installed. Were the committee to choose to meet in the Capitol building, it could request coverage from the House Recording Studio or meet in one of the new hearing rooms in the Capitol Visitor's Center.

Committees Make Leap to Online Video, but Approps Doesn’t Get the Picture Read the rest

1942 Donald Duck cartoon funded by the US Treasury exhorts you file your tax-return

Here's a great 19412 Donald Duck toon funded by the Treasury, explaining to war-torn America why they need to all file their taxes to defeat tyranny.

Help Donald Duck File His 1941 Federal Tax Return Read the rest

UK tories embroiled in Cornish Pasty row

UK chancellor George Osborne was confronted on his government's decision to charge value-added tax (VAT) on hot take-away food like pasties. Labour MP John Mann asked Osborne when he'd last had a pasty from Gregg's, a chain of bakeries. Osborne couldn't recall. But PM David Cameron was ready for the question when it next arose at a press conference, stating "I think the last one I bought was from the West Cornwall Pasty Company. I seem to remember I was in Leeds station at the time and the choice was whether to have one of their small ones or one of their large ones. I have got a feeling I opted for the large one, and very good it was too."

The West Cornwall Pasty Company outlet at Leeds station has been gone for two years; there was another pasty baker there, the Cornish Bakehouse, but it closed last week. Patrick Wintour and Martin Wainwright explain in the Guardian:

Despite U-turns on most things this week, Downing Street stuck to its line and insisted that the prime minister had eaten a pasty at Leeds station, but the date was unclear, and possibly the purveyors had not been West Cornwall Pasty Company.

This was just as well, since Gavin Williams, the ungrateful boss of David Cameron's favourite pasty-makers, was not interested in Cameron's endorsement of his product. He wanted "clarity and leadership" from the prime minister.

But clarity is a rare commodity in this area, since it seems a pasty can avoid VAT if it is served cold at the counter and then warmed elsewhere in the shop.

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TSA gets Bruce Schneier booted from House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing

Bruce Schneier was invited to testify about the TSA to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, but at the last minute he was disinvited, after the TSA objected to having him in the room.

On Friday, at the request of the TSA, I was removed from the witness list. The excuse was that I am involved in a lawsuit against the TSA, trying to get them to suspend their full-body scanner program. But it's pretty clear that the TSA is afraid of public testimony on the topic, and especially of being challenged in front of Congress. They want to control the story, and it's easier for them to do that if I'm not sitting next to them pointing out all the holes in their position. Unfortunately, the committee went along with them. (They tried to pull the same thing last year and it failed -- video at the 10:50 mark.)

The committee said it would try to invite me back for another hearing, but with my busy schedule, I don't know if I will be able to make it. And it would be far less effective for me to testify without forcing the TSA to respond to my points.

Congressional Testimony on the TSA (Thanks, Bruce!) Read the rest

TOM THE DANCING BUG: "Hello! You've Been Targeted For a Drone Assassination!" Helpful Info From Your U.S. Government

Please always be visiting the TOM THE DANCING BUG WEBSITE, and when you are not, please always be following RUBEN BOLLING on TWITTER. Read the rest

TSA: we still trust body-scanners, though "for obvious reasons" we can't say why

Yesterday, I wrote about Jon Corbett's video, in which he demonstrates a method that appears to make it easy to smuggle metal objects (including weapons) through a TSA full-body scanner. The TSA has responded by saying that they still trust the machines, but they won't say why, "for obvious security reasons."

As Wired's David Kravets points out, Corbett is only the most recent critic to take a skeptical look at the efficacy of the expensive, invasive machinery. Other critics include the Government Accountability Office ("the devices might be ineffective") and the Journal of Transportation Security ("terrorists might fool the Rapiscan machines by taping explosive devices to their stomachs").

Corbett responded to the TSA's we-can't-tell-you-or-we'd-have-to-kill-you rebuttal with "You don't believe it? Try it."

“These machines are safe,” Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview.

In a blog post, the government’s response was that, “For obvious security reasons, we can’t discuss our technology’s detection capability in detail, however TSA conducts extensive testing of all screening technologies in the laboratory and at airports prior to rolling them out to the entire field.”

TSA Pooh-Poohs Video Purporting to Defeat Airport Body Scanners Read the rest

Data viz: whom did the UK government invite to emergency talks about the health reform bills?

Dr Ben "Bad Science" Goldacre sez, "I did a really sophisticated and complex data visualisation. I think you might enjoy it. There's definitely a pattern in there, I just need to decide what statistical tests will best extract the signal from the noise."

Who is, and is not, invited to Cameron's emergency NHSbill summit? A data visualisation. Read the rest

Newspaper claims Vikileaks Twitter account traced back to House of Commons

The @Vikileaks30 account on Twitter has been publishing embarrassing personal information about Canada's Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is pushing for a domestic spying law that would require ISPs to gather and retain your personal information and turn it over to police without a warrant. The Vikileaks account kicked off with excerpts from the affidavits from Toews's very ugly divorce, including his ex-wife's allegations about his abuse of his official government expense accounts. The account created a nationwide stir over the domestic spying proposal, and has caused a rare (and possibly strategic*) climbdown from the majority Conservative government.

Now The Ottawa Citizen newspaper has tricked the person behind the anonymous account into visiting a website that it controls, and have traced back the IP address used in the trap to the House of Commons, suggesting that Toews's nemesis works for the federal government. The Citizen claims that the IP address has also been used to "frequently" edit Wikipedia "[give] them what appears to be a pro-NDP bias" (the New Democratic Party is the left-leaning opposition party in Parliament).

While it's impossible to say who is actually the using the address without a full-scale investigation undertaken by the House of Commons, a trace of the IP address shows it is also used by an employee of the House to post comments on a website for fans of the musician Paul Simon.

When reached by phone, the employee said that while he frequents the Paul Simon website he has nothing to do with the Vikileaks30 Twitter account.

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Canadian MP demands trick photography to disguise rampant Friday absenteeism in Parliament

A Canadian Conservative MP has asked for an end to medium-wide camera shots in the broadcasts of Parliament on Friday afternoons. Fridays are when many MPs travel to their home ridings (districts) and Parliament empties out. The medium-wide shots used by Parliamentary broadcasts reveals a largely empty House of Commons. Worried about how bad this looked, Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski chaired a committee to revise the broadcast rules, and asked the CIO's office to end medium-wide shots, because it reflected badly on Parliament. The CIO turned him down.

Tom Lukiwski said he has heard concerns from colleagues that the empty seats picked up on camera make politicians look bad. "That kind of concerns a lot of members that it frankly doesn't look good for Parliament," he said. Friday is usually a light day in the House, as many MPs vacate Ottawa to return to their constituencies. A House of Commons committee reviewing the broadcasting rules this week heard from Parliament's chief informa-tion officer, who said wide-angle shots have been permitted since 1992 to provide some context for viewers at home. "You are on camera," Louis Bard told the committee. "If I have to focus on the chair and the member behind is sleeping, there's not much I can do."

Conservative MP worried empty seats make the House of Commons look bad (via As It Happens) Read the rest

Blackberry abandoned by US gov's main procurement agency

Bye-bye, Blackberry: "The U.S. federal government's main procurement agency is issuing iPhones and Android-based devices to some of its 17,000 workers." (Reuters) Read the rest

Porn in parliament ends ministers' careers

Conservative legislators in India resigned Wednesday after being caught enjoying mobile phone smut during a session of parliament.

Karnata state's Minister for Cooperation Laxman Savadi and Womens' and Childrens' Development Minister C.C. Patil were broadcast on TV sharing the porn clip, according to Reuters' Nila Bhalla. A third minister, the owner of the phone, also quit.

"We live in a country where there already is this social mindset that women are disposable commodities and are seen as transferable properties," Renuka Chowdhary, a former federal minister for women's development and a member of the Congress Party. "It really is troubling that the people who are in positions of power and have the responsibility to change things actually have the same mindset and are busy watching porn."

India ministers quit after caught watching porn in parliament [Reuters] Read the rest

Polish MPs wear Guy Fawkes masks to protest ACTA

The streets of Poland have erupted in protest on the eve of the country's signing onto ACTA, the secretive copyright treaty that is being rammed through many European Parliaments this year. Members of Parliament showed up for work wearing Anon-style Guy Fawkes masks to show their disapproval.

After the signing, protesters rallied in the Polish cities of Poznan and Lublin to express their anger over the treaty. Lawmakers for the left-wing Palikot's Movement wore masks in parliament to show their dissatisfaction, while the largest opposition party — the right-wing Law and Justice party — called for a referendum on the matter.

Poland signs copyright treaty that drew protests (via JWZ)

(Image: downsized thumbnail snipped from a photo by Alik Keplicz/AP) Read the rest

Open medical knowledge saves lives: Oppose H.R. 3699

Here's a terrific article by Gilles Frydman at advocating for opposition to H.R. 3699, aka The Research Works Act (RWA). The bill before Congress would seriously impede "the ability of patients and caregivers, researchers, physicians and healthcare professionals to access and use critical health-related information in a timely manner." (@timoreilly via @epatientdave) Read the rest

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