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Government

US Federal Budget Proposal Cuts Science Funding (washingtonpost.com) 647

hey! writes: The U.S. Office of Management and Budget has released a budget "blueprint" which outlines substantial cuts in both basic research and applied technology funding. The proposal includes a whopping 18% reduction in National Institutes of Health medical research. NIH does get a new $500 million fund to track emerging infectious agents like Zika in the U.S., but loses its funding to monitor those agents overseas. The Department of Energy's research programs also get an 18% cut in research, potentially affecting basic physics research, high energy physics, fusion research, and supercomputing. Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) gets the ax, as does the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, which enabled Tesla to manufacture its Model S sedan. EPA loses all climate research funding, and about half the research funding targeted at human health impacts of pollution. The Energy Star program is eliminated; Superfund funding is drastically reduced. The Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes cleanup programs are also eliminated, as is all screening of pesticides for endocrine disruption. In the Department of Commerce, Sea Grant is eliminated, along with all coastal zone research funding. Existing weather satellites GOES and JPSS continue funding, but JPSS-3 and -4 appear to be getting the ax. Support for transfer of federally funded research and technology to small and mid-sized manufacturers is eliminated. NASA gets a slight trim, and a new focus on deep space exploration paid for by an elimination of Earth Science programs. You can read more about this "blueprint" in Nature, Science, and the Washington Post, which broke the story. The Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and Agriculture Department took the hardest hits, while the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Veterans Affairs have seen their budgets grow.
Government

New Bill Would Allow Employers To Demand Genetic Testing From Workers (businessinsider.com) 397

capedgirardeau quotes a report from Business Insider: A little-noticed bill moving through the U.S. Congress would allow companies to require employees to undergo genetic testing or risk paying a penalty of thousands of dollars, and would let employers see that genetic and other health information. Giving employers such power is now prohibited by U.S. law, including the 2008 genetic privacy and nondiscrimination law known as GINA. The new bill gets around that landmark law by stating explicitly that GINA and other protections do not apply when genetic tests are part of a "workplace wellness" program. The bill, HR 1313, was approved by a House committee on Wednesday, with all 22 Republicans supporting it and all 17 Democrats opposed. The 2008 genetic law prohibits a group health plan -- the kind employers have -- from asking, let alone requiring, someone to undergo a genetic test. It also prohibits that specifically for "underwriting purposes," which is where wellness programs come in. "Underwriting purposes" includes basing insurance deductibles, rebates, rewards, or other financial incentives on completing a health risk assessment or health screenings. In addition, any genetic information can be provided to the employer only in a de-identified, aggregated form, rather than in a way that reveals which individual has which genetic profile. There is a big exception, however: As long as employers make providing genetic information "voluntary," they can ask employees for it. Under the House bill, none of the protections for health and genetic information provided by GINA or the disabilities law would apply to workplace wellness programs as long as they complied with the ACA's very limited requirements for the programs. As a result, employers could demand that employees undergo genetic testing and health screenings.
Communications

Trump Renominates Ajit Pai For Five More Years at the FCC (theverge.com) 57

According to Axios, Bloomberg, and several other publications, President Trump has nominated FCC chairman Ajit Pai for a second five-year term at the commission. "Pai's current term ended last June, though he's been able to stick around through the end of the year even without reconfirmation," reports The Verge. From the report: The nomination comes just days after Pai sat down with the president for a meeting, during which they're said to have "reconnected" but without actually discussing anything the commission is actively considering. Pai will need confirmation from the Senate for the nomination to be approved. He was first nominated in 2012 to fill the slot of a commissioner. With approval, he'll be able to stick around through at least the entirety of Trump's current term. The question now is when Trump will nominate people to fill the two slots still vacant at the commission. The FCC remains short staffed, with only three out of five seated leaders, which somewhat limits how quickly Pai is able to get through his agenda.
Privacy

White House Supports Renewal of Spy Law Without Reforms (reuters.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: The Trump administration does not want to reform an internet surveillance law to address privacy concerns, a White House official told Reuters on Wednesday, saying it is needed to protect national security. The announcement could put President Donald Trump on a collision course with Congress, where some Republicans and Democrats have advocated curtailing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, parts of which are due to expire at the end of the year. The FISA law has been criticized by privacy and civil liberties advocates as allowing broad, intrusive spying. It gained renewed attention following the 2013 disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the agency carried out widespread monitoring of emails and other electronic communications. Portions of the law, including a provision known as Section 702, will expire on Dec. 31 unless Congress reauthorizes them. Section 702 enables two internet surveillance programs called Prism and Upstream, classified details of which were revealed by Snowden. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have said reforms to Section 702 are needed, in part to ensure the privacy protections on Americans are not violated. The U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee met Wednesday to discuss possible changes to the law.
AT&T

FCC Chairman Says His Agency Won't Review AT&T's Time Warner Purchase (engadget.com) 104

Today, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai confirmed that his agency would not review AT&T's Time Warner purchase, clearing the way for the Justice Department to likely approve the deal. Engadget reports: Last month, AT&T revealed how it might structure its deal to acquire Time Warner without having to go through FCC review. The communications giant noted that it "anticipated that Time Warner will not need to transfer any of its FCC licenses ... after the closing of the transaction." That means that the FCC wouldn't need to review the transaction. "That is the regulatory hook for FCC review," Pai said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "My understanding is that the deal won't be presented to the commission." The WSJ notes that this would leave the Justice Department as the only governmental agency reviewing the potential deal. Time Warner has said that it has "dozens" of FCC licenses, but the company believes those won't need to be transferred to AT&T as part of the merger, thus keeping the FCC out of the deal. The report notes that the deal still might not go through even if the FCC won't review the transaction. There's a lot of opposition to it from consumer advocacy groups, and President Donald Trump has said he opposes the deal.
Communications

FCC Votes To Lift Net Neutrality Transparency Rules For Smaller Internet Providers (theverge.com) 115

The Federal Communications Commission today voted to lift transparency requirements for smaller internet providers. According to The Verge, "Internet providers with fewer than 250,000 subscribers will not be required to disclose information on network performance, fees, and data caps, thanks to this rule change. The commission had initially exempted internet providers with fewer than 100,000 subscribers with the intention of revisiting the issue later to determine whether a higher or lower figure was appropriate." From the report: The rule passed in a 2-1 vote, with Republicans saying the reporting requirements unfairly burdened smaller ISPs with additional work. Only Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn opposed. Clyburn argued that the disclosures were an important consumer protection that was far from overbearing on businesses, particularly ones this large. Clyburn also argued that the rule would allow larger internet providers to avoid disclosing information by simply breaking their service areas up into different subsidiaries. Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly voted in favor of the change, saying he actually would have preferred the subscriber exemption to be even higher. And commission chairman Ajit Pai said the rules were necessary to protect "mom and pop internet service providers" from "burdensome requirements [...] that impose serious and unnecessary costs."
Encryption

Republicans Are Reportedly Using a Self-Destructing Message App To Avoid Leaks (theverge.com) 326

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Trump administration members and other Republicans are using the encrypted, self-destructing messaging app Confide to keep conversations private in the wake of hacks and leaks, according to Jonathan Swan and David McCabe at Axios. Axios writes that "numerous senior GOP operatives and several members of the Trump administration" have downloaded Confide, which automatically wipes messages after they're read. One operative told Axios that the app "provides some cover" for people in the party. He ties it to last year's hack of the Democratic National Committee, which led to huge and damaging information dumps of DNC emails leading up to the 2016 election. But besides outright hacks, the source also said he liked the fact that Confide makes it difficult to screenshot messages, because only a few words are shown at a time. That suggests that it's useful not just for reducing paper trails, but for stopping insiders from preserving individual messages -- especially given the steady flow of leaks that have come out since Trump took office. As Axios notes, official White House business is subject to preservation rules, although we don't know much about who's allegedly using Confide and what they're doing with it, so it's not clear whether this might run afoul of those laws. It's also difficult to say how much this is a specifically Republican phenomenon, and how much is a general move toward encryption.
Communications

Hackers Take Over Unsecured Radio Transmitters, Play Anti-Trump Song (arstechnica.com) 99

Ars Technica is reporting that "a certain model of Low Power FM radio transmitter with known vulnerabilities has been targeted in a new wave of radio-station hacks this week." Hackers have taken advantage of an exploit that was known all the way back in April 2016 to take over terrestrial radio stations and broadcast the YG and Nipsey Hussle song "Fuck Donald Trump." From the report: News of the song's unexpected playback on radio stations began emerging shortly after Trump's inauguration on January 20, and the hack has continued to affect LPFM stations -- a type of smaller-radius radio station that began to roll out after the FCC approved the designation in 2000. Over a dozen stations experienced confirmed hacks in recent weeks, with more unconfirmed reports trickling in across the nation. Thus far, the stations' commonality isn't the states of operation or music formats; it's the transmitter. Specifically, hackers have targeted products in the Barix Exstreamer line, which can decode many audio file formats and send them along for LPFM transmission. As Barix told its products' owners in 2016, Exstreamer devices openly connected to the Internet are incredibly vulnerable to having their remote login passwords discovered and systems compromised. The company recommends using full, 24-character passwords and placing any live Internet connections behind firewalls or VPNs. Reports have yet to connect any dots on why the exploit has apparently focused on the YG and Nipsey Hussle song -- though it is fairly popular, having recently finished in the Top 15 of the Village Voice's 2016 Pazz and Jop music critics' poll. Plus, the uncensored lyrics and topical nature are certainly more likely to catch people's attention, especially when played on stations with formats like oldies, classic rock, and Tejano.
Power

Two-Thirds of Americans Give Priority To Developing Alternative Energy Over Fossil Fuels (pewresearch.org) 333

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Pew Research Center: A new Pew Research Center survey finds that 65% of Americans give priority to developing alternative energy sources, compared with 27% who would emphasize expanded production of fossil fuel sources. Support for concentrating on alternative energy is up slightly since December 2014. At that time, 60% said developing alternative energy sources was the more important priority. There continue to be wide political differences on energy priorities. While a 2016 Pew Research Center survey found large majorities of Democrats and Republicans supported expanding both wind and solar energy, the new survey shows that Democrats remain far more likely than Republicans to stress that developing alternative energy should take priority over developing fossil fuel sources. About eight-in-ten (81%) Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party favor developing alternative sources instead of expanding production from fossil fuel sources. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are closely divided: 45% say the more important priority should be developing alternative sources, while 44% say expanding production of oil, coal and natural gas should be given more priority. There also are differences in public priorities about energy by age. Americans under the age of 50 are especially likely to support alternative energy sources over expanding fossil fuels. About seven-in-ten (73%) of those ages 18 to 49 say developing alternative sources of energy should be the more important priority, while 22% say expanding production of fossil fuels should be the more important priority. Older adults are more divided in their views, though they also give more priority to alternatives. Among those 50 and older, 55% say alternative energy development is more important, while 34% say it's more important to expand production of fossil fuel energy sources.
Power

New Wyoming Bill Penalizes Utilities Using Renewable Energy (csmonitor.com) 502

An anonymous reader quotes a Christian Science Monitor report on "a bill that would essentially ban large-scale renewable energy" in Wyoming. The new Wyoming bill would forbid utilities from using solar or wind sources for their electricity by 2019, according to Inside Climate News... The bill would require utilities to use "eligible resources" to meet 95 percent of Wyoming's electricity needs in 2018, and all of its electricity needs in 2019. Those "eligible resources" are defined solely as coal, hydroelectric, natural gas, nuclear, oil, and individual net metering... Utility-scale wind and solar farms are not included in the bill's list of "eligible resources," making it illegal for Wyoming utilities to use them in any way if the legislation passes. The bill calls for a fine of $10 per megawatt-hour of electricity from a renewable source to be slapped on Wyoming utilities that provide power from unapproved sources to in-state customers.
The bill also prohibits utilities from raising rates to cover the cost of those penalties, though utilities wouldn't be penalized if they exported that energy to other states. But one local activist described it as 'talking-point' legislation, and even the bill's sponsor gives it only a 50% chance of passing.
Democrats

Donald Trump Is Sworn In As the 45th US President (reuters.com) 1560

Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, succeeding Barack Obama and taking control of a divided country in a transition of power that he has declared will lead to "America First" policies at home and abroad. Reuters reports: As scattered protests erupted elsewhere in Washington, Trump raised his right hand and put his left on a Bible used by Abraham Lincoln and repeated a 35-word oath of office from the U.S. Constitution, with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.
Government

Republicans Propose Bill To Impose Fines For Live-Streaming From House Floor (digitaltrends.com) 157

Likely in response to the 25-hour sit-in staged by Democrats earlier in 2016, protesting the lack of gun reform, House Speaker Paul Ryan has proposed new fines and ethics violations for House members that take photo and video from the floor of the chamber. Digital Trends reports: According to Bloomberg, the first violation will net violators a $500 fine, which will be deducted from member's paychecks. Second and subsequent violations will carry a steeper fine of $2,500 per incident. Not only that, any other incidents that may disrupt decorum could be sent to the House Committee on Ethics, potentially leading to sanctions. "These changes will help ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people's work," a spokeswoman for Ryan said in a statement. Taking photo or video had already been prohibited on the floor, but was never enforced. But after the sit-in, led by John Lewis (D-Ga.), Ryan called a recess, effectively ending the C-SPAN broadcast. That is when Democrats used their phones and took to social media. "The imposition of a fine could potentially violate both the First Amendment, as well as, the Speech and Debate clause, which creates extensive protections for speech by legislators," Chip Gibbons, who serves as the policy and legislative counsel for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation, told Digital Trends in an email. According to Gibbons, courts have already found that under certain circumstances, recording footage does fall under speech. "Given the public interest -- and inherently political nature of the act -- it seems likely that videos, photography, and live streaming from the House floor would also be found to be speech, and protected by the First Amendment," Gibbons said.
Republicans

Electoral College Elects Donald Trump As President (nbcnews.com) 1069

mi writes: The drama is over, Donald J. Trump passed the 270 electoral votes necessary to become President. A few electors dissented, resulting in their prompt dismissal and replacement per their state's laws. Ironically, more dissenters turned on Clinton than on Trump... The sky may not be falling yet, but the Earth is already in peril.
Google

Online Pranksters Mock Trump's $149 Christmas Ornament, Rename Trump Tower on Google Maps (yahoo.com) 524

An anonymous reader quotes a Digital Trends story about a suspicious malfunction on Google Maps: At some point yesterday, Donald Trump's Fifth Avenue home was given a rather unceremonious rechristening, and a search for "Trump Tower" revealed a pin for "Dump Tower" instead. It was rather tricky to find for some, and required zooming in on the building itself at just the right angle (which is perhaps how the culprit got away with the stunt in the first place). At a separate angle, someone else (or perhaps the same person) transliterated the skyscraper's name in Russian Cyrillic, perhaps meant to be a jab at Trump's alleged ties to President Vladimir Putin and company... While the team [at Google Maps] managed to put out this first fire, another quickly arose to take its place (as is often the case on the internet), and later in the day on Saturday, Trump International Hotel and Tower in Columbus Circle was renamed Dump International Hotel and Tower. Meanwhile, another anonymous reader writes: Earlier this week Donald Trump emailed his supporters selling a $149 collectible "Make America Great Again" Christmas ornament finished with 14k gold, to raise money for both his campaign and the Republican party. But Yahoo News reports that it's now getting some suspicious negative (and politically-charged) reviews on its page on Amazon. ("One Star. "It tried to put my nativity figures into an internment camp.") And another reviewer even wrote a satirical story about how their family decided on the ornament for the tree. "During our family meeting we overwhelmingly chose the other ornament but somehow we still ended up with this one. We're not sure what happened."
Government

Will Trump Protect America's IT Workers From H-1B Visa Abuses? (cio.com.au) 400

Monday president-elect Donald Trump sent "the strongest signal yet that the H-1B visa program is going get real scrutiny once he takes office," according to CIO. Slashdot reader OverTheGeicoE summarizes their report: President-elect Donald Trump released a video message outlining his policy plans for his first 100 days in office. At 1 minute, 56 seconds into the message, he states that he will direct the Department of Labor to investigate "all abuses of the visa programs that undercut the American worker." During his presidential campaign, Trump was critical of the H-1B visa program that has been widely criticized for displacing U.S. high-technology workers. "Companies are importing low-wage workers on H-1B visas to take jobs from young college-trained Americans," said Trump at an Ohio rally. At other rallies, Trump invited former IT workers from Disney who had been forced to train their H-1B replacements to speak.
"What he didn't say was that he was going to close the door to skilled immigrants," one tech entrepreneur told CNN Money -- although Trump's selection for attorney general has called the shortage of qualified American tech workers "a hoax".
Government

Lawrence Lessig Calls For The Electoral College to Choose Clinton Over Trump (washingtonpost.com) 1430

Lawrence Lessig's new op-ed in the Washington Post argues against the idea "that the person who lost the popular vote this year must nonetheless become our president." (Paywalled version here, free version here.) Lessig points out that the electoral college results have already been ignored twice in U.S. history -- in 1824 and 1876. The Constitution says nothing about "winner take all." It says nothing to suggest that electors' freedom should be constrained in any way...They were to be citizens exercising judgment, not cogs turning a wheel.
Complaining that the electoral college weights the votes in Wyoming roughly four times as heavily as the votes in Michigan, Lessig argues that the popular vote should be respected, and that the authors of the U.S. Constitution "left the electors free to choose. They should exercise that choice by leaving the election as the people decided it: in Clinton's favor."

Meanwhile, Politico is reporting that six electors, "mostly former Bernie Sanders supporters who hail from Washington state and Colorado," are already urging electors pledged to Clinton and Trump to instead coalesce around "a consensus pick like Mitt Romney or John Kasich." And the ethics lawyers for both President Obama and President Bush both told one liberal site "that if Trump continues to retain ownership over his sprawling business interests by the time the electors meet on December 19, they should reject Trump." Finally, from the original submission:
Even Donald Trump has called the Electoral College a "total sham." Is it time for the Electoral College to reflect the popular vote?
Earth

Trump Admits 'Some Connectivity' Between Climate Change and Human Activity (cnn.com) 559

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: President-elect Donald Trump conceded Tuesday there is "some connectivity" between human activity and climate change and wavered on whether he would pull the United States out of international accords aimed at combating the phenomenon, which scientists overwhelmingly agree is caused by human activity. The statements could mark a softening in Trump's position on U.S. involvement in efforts to fight climate change, although he did not commit to specific action in any direction. During the campaign, he vowed to "cancel" the U.S.'s participation in the Paris climate agreement, stop all U.S. payments to UN programs aimed at fighting climate change and continued to cast serious doubt on the role man-made carbon dioxide emissions played in the planet's warming and associated impacts. "I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much," Trump said Tuesday in a meeting with New York Times reporters, columnists and editors. He has previously called climate change a "hoax" invented by the Chinese. Asked if he would withdraw the U.S. from international climate change agreements, Trump said he is "looking at it very closely," according to Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Mike Grynbaum, who were live-tweeting the meeting. He added that he has "an open mind to it," despite explicitly promising to withdraw from at least one climate accord on the campaign trail. The President-elect on the campaign trail repeatedly vowed to slash environmental protection regulations burdening U.S. businesses and said that beyond the consequences to the planet, he is particularly mindful of the economic impact of combating climate change. He said he is considering "how much it will cost our companies" and the effect on American competitiveness in the global market, according to a tweet from Grynbaum.
Privacy

President Obama Says He Can't Pardon Snowden (arstechnica.com) 534

Joe Mullin, writing for Ars Technica:A campaign to pardon NSA leaker Edward Snowden, launched in combination with a fawning Oliver Stone film about him, hasn't made any headway. The request spurred the entire membership of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, 13 Republicans and nine Democrats, to send a letter to President Barack Obama urging against a pardon. "He is a criminal," they stated flatly. Obama weighed in on the matter on Friday. During his European tour, he was interviewed by Der Spiegel -- the largest newspaper in Germany, a country where Snowden is particularly popular. After discussing a wide range of issues, he was asked: Are you going to pardon Edward Snowden? Obama replied: "I can't pardon somebody who hasn't gone before a court and presented themselves, so that's not something that I would comment on at this point." He continued: I think that Mr. Snowden raised some legitimate concerns. How he did it was something that did not follow the procedures and practices of our intelligence community. If everybody took the approach that I make my own decisions about these issues, then it would be very hard to have an organized government or any kind of national security system. At the point at which Mr. Snowden wants to present himself before the legal authorities and make his arguments or have his lawyers make his arguments, then I think those issues come into play. Until that time, what I've tried to suggest -- both to the American people, but also to the world -- is that we do have to balance this issue of privacy and security.
Government

FCC Abides By GOP Request To Stop What It's Doing, Deletes Everything From Meeting Agenda (arstechnica.com) 119

One day after republicans from the house and senate sent letters to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, urging him to avoid passing regulations before Donald Trump's inauguration as president, Wheeler appears to have complied with the request. The FCC today "announced the deletion of all items that were originally scheduled to be presented and voted on at tomorrow's meeting." Ars Technica reports: Before the change, the agenda included votes on price caps for "special access" business data services; Universal Service funding to expand mobile broadband networks; wireless roaming obligations; and requirements for audio description of TV programming for blind and visually impaired people. The only item not deleted from tomorrow's meeting is part of the "consent agenda," which means it is routine and wasn't going to be presented individually. Of the major items, the business data services proposal had received the most attention. These are dedicated wireline circuits provided by traditional phone companies like AT&T and Verizon; the services supply bandwidth for cellular data networks, indirectly affecting the price consumers pay for wireless service. The business data services are also used by banks and retailers to connect ATM machines and credit card readers, by government and corporate users to connect branch offices and data centers, and to support public safety operations and health care facilities. The now-deleted agenda item would have phased in price cap decreases of 11 percent over three years to account for "over a decade of efficiency gains" since the last price cap adjustment.
China

China Tells Trump Climate Change Isn't a Hoax it Invented (bloomberg.com) 302

China couldn't have invented global warming as a hoax to harm U.S. competitiveness because it was Donald Trump's Republican predecessors who started climate negotiations in the 1980s, China's Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said, according to a Bloomberg report. From the article:U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush supported the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in initiating global warming talks even before China knew that negotiations to cut pollution were starting, Liu told reporters at United Nations talks on Wednesday in Marrakech, Morocco. Ministers and government officials from almost 200 countries gathered in Marrakech this week are awaiting a decision by President-elect Trump on whether he'll pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change. The tycoon tweeted in 2012 that the concept of global warming "was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." China's envoy rejected that view. "If you look at the history of climate change negotiations, actually it was initiated by the IPCC with the support of the Republicans during the Reagan and senior Bush administration during the late 1980s," Liu told reporters during an hour-long briefing.

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