Greenhouse: browser plugin that automatically annotates politicians' names with their funders

Greenhouse is a browser plugin created by Nicholas Rubin, a 16-year-old programmer. It seeks out the names of elected US officials on any web-page you load in your browser and adds a pop-up link to their names listing the major donors to their campaigns. It uses 2012 election-cycle data drawn from Opensecrets's repository.

I've long suggested something like this as a way of improving political coverage. Indeed, you could imagine it going both ways -- any time the name of a company or individual who had made some big campaign contributions shows up in a webpage, you get a list of their political beneficiaries. Ideally, this would be an open framework to which data from any political race could be added.

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Public opinion of Congress reaches a new low

A new Gallup poll on Americans' attitudes towards their institutions finds the nation in a massive crisis of confidence, with low levels of confidence in many institutions. Congress's public perception continues to fall, reaching an all-time low of 7%.

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Boy, 9, creates library in his front yard. City, stupid, shuts it down.

KMBC-TV, Kansas.


KMBC-TV, Kansas.

In Kansas, 9-year-old Spencer Collins has been told by authorities that he must stop sharing books with his neighbors, and close the little free library--honestly, it's just a bookshelf--in his yard. Its slogan was "take a book, leave a book," but city government is mostly about the taking.

Collins loves reading. He doesn't just dive into a book -- he swims through its pages.

"It's kind of like I'm in a whole other world and I like that," he said. "I like adventure stories because I'm in the adventure and it's fun."

When he tried to share his love for books, it started a surprisingly frustrating adventure.

"When we got home from vacation, there was a letter from the city of Leawood saying that it was in code violation and it needed to be down by the 19th or we would receive a citation," said Spencer's mother, Sarah Collins.

Leawood said the little house is an accessory structure. The city bans buildings that aren't attached to someone's home.

The family moved the little library to the garage, but Spencer Collins said he plans to take the issue up with City Hall.

"I would tell them why it's good for the community and why they should drop the law," he said. "I just want to talk to them about how good it is."

"Bookcase considered illegal accessory building" [KMBC-TV, HT: @lizohanesian]

As many as 75 federal scientists may have been exposed to anthrax

Anthrax bacteria. (Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)


Anthrax bacteria. (Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Up to 75 scientists who work at a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention biosecurity lab in Atlanta may have been exposed to anthrax, because researchers there did not follow procedures for inactivating the deadly and highly contagious bacteria.

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Every congresscritter now has an email address, thanks to Sunlight and EFF


Many congresscritters don't have public email addresses -- instead, they have hard-to-locate webforms that slow down activist email campaigns and make it harder for constituents to get in touch. EFF and the Sunlight Foundation has fixed this, giving every member of Congress her or his own email address -- an address that you can send to that will be automatically forwarded through the appropriate webform.

Sunlight has some spam-checking to stop this from being abused, and gathers some of the other information the forms collect so that they can be fully populated by the scripts. Once you're setup in the system, you can email "myreps@opencongress.org" and your message will automatically be forwarded on to you senators and house reps.

88% of Congressional staffers say that their bosses' decisions are affected by constituent email. The data and scripts are up on Github for you to build on.

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John Oliver to FCC Chairman: prove you aren't a dingo!

When John Oliver smote the FCC over its pro-cable-company-fuckery policy, he compared hiring Tom Wheeler away from his job as top cable lobbyist to run the FCC to hiring a dingo to babysit your kids. Wheeler responded by assuring the American public that he was not a dingo (because metaphor). In his latest segment on the matter, Oliver challenged Wheeler to prove it.

Econobollocks: three ways that economic figures are misused in politics


Financial Times economist Tim Harford writes about how "three sensible propositions from economics have somehow been crumpled into a mess of public relations and politics" -- how the misleading precision of economic forecasts can be used to paper over purely political decisions, making them seem to be objectively true:

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Tim Wu runs for New York State Lieutenant Governor, promising to clamp down on big business


Tim Wu, the Columbia law professor who coined the term "Net Neutrality," is running for Lieutenant Governor of New York State on a leftist, reform platform that starts with blocking the Comcast/Time-Warner merger. Wu wrote The Master Switch, a brilliant 2010 novel on the history of networks and competition in America, and his paper Copyright's Communications Policy is a classic.

I've known Tim for more than 30 years; we went to the same small alternative elementary school in Toronto together. I rate him as one of the best thinkers and activists on these issues around and wish him the best of luck. If I were a New York voter, he'd have my vote.

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Oligopolistic America: anti-competitive, unequal, and deliberate


A brilliant, enraging op-ed in the Washington Post from analysts from the New America Foundation and the American Antitrust Institute shows how the Reagan-era policy of encouraging monopolistic corporate behavior has made America unequal and uncompetitive, creating a horror Gilded Age where the Congressional consensus is that laws cannot possibly put a check on bad corporate actors.

It's another look at the problems set out in Matt Taibbi's brilliant book The Divide, tracing the policies that created both the private prison industry and banks so big that even the most depraved criminality can't be punished lest the bank tremble and collapse on wider society.

Particularly galling and illuminating is a quote from a Goldman Sachs report that advises investors to seek out "oligopolistic market structure[s]" where there's "lower competitive intensity, greater stickiness and pricing power with customers due to reduced choice" as the ideal way to maximize your return on capital.

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Podcast: News from the future for Wired UK

Here's a reading (MP3) of a short story I wrote for the July, 2014 issue of Wired UK in the form of a news dispatch from the year 2024 -- specifically, a parliamentary sketch from a raucous Prime Minister's Question Time where a desperate issue of computer security rears its head:

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How Hayek bred a race of elite monsters

Though he's been dead for more than 20 years, Friedrich Hayek is the darling of the free market, practically a saint. But as Bill Black explains, Hayek's predictions -- used to justify and glorify unlimited enrichment of the ruling class -- never came true, and the states that followed his prescriptions most closely ended up the barbaric situation that he warned about in re-distributive democracies.

As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, as the proportion of GDP that goes to "guard labor" in our militarized police forces and our bulging private prisons, as the most corrupt captains of industry grow richer while the rest of us are faced with an old age in poverty -- and a working life dominated by caring for our own sick and elderly relations -- it's worth reviewing Hayek's record, and the greedy, selfish, corrupt world it produced.

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Dada vs Hitler: the anti-Nazi collages of John Heartfield


In the runup to WWII (and during it) Dadaist photographer John Heartfield and his collaborator George Grosz produced a startling series of anti-Nazi collages that echo through to today's practice of political shooping. An informative Metafilter post by Adamvasco has lots more links.

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House Republican leader defeated by Tea Party challenger

LORDSOFTHEMANOR

USA Today: "The demise of the Tea Party has been greatly exaggerated."

How Heinlein went from socialist to right-wing libertarian


A review in the New Republic of volume two of the authorized biography of Robert A Heinlein takes the biographer, William H Patterson, to task for his uncritical approach to Heinlein's famously all-over-the-place politics. But there is enough (uncritical) details in the book that the reviewer feels able to parse out Heinlein's swing from socialist to right-wing libertarian (here's my review of part one).

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Dystopia Tracker: science fiction fears that have come to pass

Dystopia Tracker collects the "predictions"* of science fictional dystopias and examines the ways in which they've come true. You can add your own, or suggest ways in which they've come to pass.

*Science fiction doesn't really predict anything except the present. Even sf writers who think they're predicting the future are (like all of us) so mired in the technological fears and hopes of the day that their work ends up telling you more about that than any future.

Dystopia Tracker