Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category

Arkansas House passes unconstitutional bill putting creationism in schools

April 16th, 2021
Image of a large, neoclassical building.

Enlarge / The Arkansas state capitol. (credit: Daniel Schwen)

Last week, the Arkansas state House of Representatives passed a bill that would amend state education law to allow teachers in public schools to teach creationism as "a theory of how the earth came to exist." As it stands, the act promotes blatantly unconstitutional behavior as made clear by a precedent set in a 1982 case involving the Arkansas Board of Education. Despite that, the bill passed 72-21, and it already has a sponsor in the state Senate.

The body of the bill is mercifully short, consisting of two sentence-long amendments to the existing Arkansas code:

A teacher of a kindergarten through grade twelve (K-12) science class at a public school or open-enrollment public charter school may teach creationism as a theory of how the earth came to exist.

This section is permissive and does not require a teacher to teach creationism as a theory of the earth came to exist.

But those two sentences are enough to land teachers and their local school system in a world of trouble, in that the permission given runs afoul of a lot of legal precedent. In a key case that involved Arkansas itself, McLean V. Arkansas Board of Education, a group of plaintiffs banded together to challenge a state law that mandated the teaching of "creation science" in public schools. The judge in that case correctly recognized that creation science was actually religious in nature, and it therefore violated the constitution's prohibition against the establishment of state religion.

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Posted in Creationism, evolution, Government, law, Policy, science, science education | Comments (0)

Dogecoin has risen 400 percent in the last week because why not

April 16th, 2021
Dogecoin has risen 400 percent in the last week because why not

Enlarge (credit: peng song / Getty)

Dogecoin, a blockchain-based digital currency named for a meme about an excitable canine, has seen its price rise by a factor of five over the last week. The price spike has made it one of the world's 10 most valuable cryptocurrencies, with a market capitalization of $45 billion.

Understanding the value of cryptocurrencies is never easy, and it's especially hard for Dogecoin, which was created as a joke. Dogecoin isn't known for any particular technology innovations and doesn't seem to have many practical applications.

What Dogecoin does have going for it, however, is memorable branding and an enthusiastic community of fans. And in 2021, that counts for a lot. In recent months, we've seen shares of GameStop soar to levels that are hard to justify based on the performance of GameStop's actual business. People bought GameStop because it was fun and they thought the price might go up. So too for Dogecoin.

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Posted in Dogecoin, Elon Musk, lol, Policy | Comments (0)

Congressmen ask Biden admin to keep chip design software away from China

April 16th, 2021
Congressmen ask Biden admin to keep chip design software away from China

Enlarge (credit: China News Service | Getty Images)

Don’t let American companies sell semiconductor design software to Chinese firms, two members of Congress are asking the Department of Commerce. 

Sen. Tom Cotton (R- Ark.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) yesterday requested that electronic design automation (EDA) tools be designated as “foundational technologies” by the Department of Commerce. The label would require companies to obtain export licenses if they want to sell EDA tools to Chinese companies. The congressmen also requested in their letter to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo that any fab worldwide that uses American tools be prevented from selling 14 nm or better chips to Chinese companies.

The current leading edge in semiconductors is the 5 nm node, and currently, only Samsung and Taiwanese semiconductor company TSMC are producing chips commercially at that node. Restricting Chinese companies to 16 nm or larger could possibly keep them four generations off the leading edge. 

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Posted in china, chip design, Export controls, Policy, semiconductors | Comments (0)

US government strikes back at Kremlin for SolarWinds hack campaign

April 15th, 2021
US government strikes back at Kremlin for SolarWinds hack campaign

Enlarge (credit: Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images)

US officials on Thursday formally blamed Russia for backing one of the worst espionage hacks in recent US history and imposed sanctions designed to mete out punishments for that and other recent actions.

In a joint advisory, the National Security Agency, FBI, and Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency said that Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, abbreviated as the SVR, carried out the supply-chain attack on customers of the network management software from Austin, Texas-based SolarWinds.

The operation infected SolarWinds’ software build and distribution system and used it to push backdoored updates to about 18,000 customers. The hackers then sent follow-up payloads to about 10 US federal agencies and about 100 private organizations. Besides the SolarWinds supply-chain attack, the hackers also used password guessing and other techniques to breach networks.

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Posted in Biz & IT, hacking, Policy, russia, sanctions, SolarWinds, Tech, Treasury Department | Comments (0)

Striking Charter workers build ISP where “profits are returned to users”

April 15th, 2021
An antenna on a rooftop in the Bronx, with a view of the city during daytime.

Enlarge / Rooftop antenna at Immaculate Conception School in the Bronx. (credit: People's Choice Communications)

Charter Communications employees who have been on strike since 2017 are building an Internet service provider in New York City called "People's Choice."

"People's Choice Communications is an employee-owned social enterprise launched by members of IBEW Local #3 to bridge the digital divide and help our neighbors get connected to the Internet during the COVID-19 pandemic," the ISP's website says. "We are the workers who built a large part of New York City's Internet infrastructure in the first place. We built out [Charter] Spectrum's cable system, until in 2017, the company pushed us out on strike by taking away our healthcare, retirement, and other benefits. It's now the longest strike in US history."

So far, People's Choice says it has completed rooftop antenna installations at two schools in the Bronx and installed "hardline connections to wireless access points connecting 121 units" at housing for survivors of domestic violence who have disabilities.

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Posted in broadband, Charter, Policy, spectrum | Comments (0)

Bezos says Amazon should “do a better job for our employees” after union vote

April 15th, 2021
A man in a suit gestures during a presentation.

Enlarge (credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos used his final letter to Amazon shareholders to focus on employee well-being and the company’s significant carbon footprint.

Bezos’ new emphasis on employee well-being comes on the heels of a contentious unionization vote at one of its warehouses in Bessemer, Alabama. Though Amazon won, with 1,798 employees voting against unionizing out of 3,041 total ballots cast, participation was low, with just over half of eligible voters participating. Labor organizers have made it clear that even if unionization votes continue to go against them, they’ll keep pressuring Amazon through other means.

That strategy may be working. Bezos dedicates a significant portion of his letter to both the unionization vote and to employee well-being. Whereas Bezos wrote a single paragraph about a tuition reimbursement program three years ago, he wrote nearly 1,200 words about pay rates, employee satisfaction, and workplace safety this year.

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Posted in amazon, climate change, Jeff Bezos, Policy, unionization | Comments (0)

AT&T/Verizon workers’ union urges states to regulate ISPs as utilities

April 14th, 2021
A US map with lines representing broadband networks.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | jangeltun)

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) union is lobbying state governments to regulate Internet service providers as utilities.

The CWA, which represents more than 150,000 workers at AT&T and over 30,000 at Verizon, announced on Monday a "multi-state effort to pass state legislation that would establish public utility commission oversight of broadband in public safety, network resiliency and consumer protection."

"Legislation has already been introduced in California, Colorado and New York, and CWA is in active conversations with policymakers in state houses across the country about its model bill, the Broadband Resiliency, Public Safety and Quality Act," the union said. In addition to broadband regulation, the model bill calls for regulation of the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) home phone services offered by cable companies and other ISPs, which have replaced the old copper-wire landlines for many consumers.

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Posted in AT&T, broadband, CWA, Policy, verizon | Comments (0)

Hawley’s antitrust bill focuses on market cap, ignoring consumers

April 14th, 2021
Hawley’s antitrust bill focuses on market cap, ignoring consumers

Enlarge (credit: Drew Angerer | Getty Images)

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) proposed a new bill on Monday aimed at blocking mergers and acquisitions for companies with market caps of over $100 billion.

The bill introduced by Hawley, a frequent critic of Big Tech, is strikingly brief at just eight pages long. It would amend the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act—three antitrust laws enacted around the turn of the 20th century.

“It is a radical, populist transformation to antitrust,” said John O. McGinnis, a professor of constitutional law at Northwestern University.

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Posted in Antitrust law, big tech, Josh Hawley, Policy | Comments (0)

Victory for municipal broadband as Wash. state lawmakers end restrictions

April 13th, 2021
The front of the Washington state Capitol building seen during daytime.

Enlarge / State Capitol building in Olympia, Washington. (credit: Getty Images | traveler1116)

The Washington state legislature has voted to end limits on municipal broadband, and the bill lifting those restrictions now awaits the signature of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee. The state Senate passed the bill Sunday in a 27-22 vote, and the state House passed it on February 23 by a vote of 60-37.

"This bill reverses decades of bad policy—Washington was one of only 18 states with a STATE LAW prohibiting some local governments from offering broadband directly to the public," Democratic Rep. Drew Hansen, the bill's lead sponsor, wrote on Twitter. "Long overdue. Thanks to the BIPARTISAN group of Senators who stood up for public broadband today!!"

The Senate vote went mostly along party lines, but one Republican (Brad Hawkins) voted yea and three Democrats (Steve Hobbs, Mark Mullet, and Lisa Wellman) voted nay.

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Posted in municipal broadband, Policy, Washington | Comments (0)

Facebook users can now petition oversight board to remove content

April 13th, 2021
Facebook users can now petition oversight board to remove content

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Facebook is allowing its oversight board to rule on moderation decisions relating to content that remains on its Facebook and Instagram platforms. Previously, the only rulings the board could issue were to restore content that moderators had removed.

The Facebook Oversight Board was established last year in response to concerns that the social media company wielded too much unchecked power over what content appeared on its site. Current board members include several law professors, executives from think tanks and nongovernmental organizations, a former US federal circuit judge, and the former prime minister of Denmark. The board is managed by an independent organization that the company seeded with $130 million.

To appeal a post, a person must have an active Facebook account and must have exhausted the company’s appeals process. At that point, the user can take their petition to the oversight board.

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Posted in Policy | Comments (0)