This may be a coincidence, but according to MapLight, Senators who voted last week for the bill allowing states to directly collect taxes on sales via the Internet, AKA The Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, received 40 times as much campaign donation money (yes, that's four-oh, not just four) from businesses in favor of the bill as those who voted against it received from businesses that were against Internet sales taxes. Was this bribery? Of course not! We're not some piddly fifth-world country. But it's a prime example of how money influences politics here in the good old USA, and it's far from the only one we've seen lately. In this video, MapLight Program Director Jay Costa shares a bunch more with us, along with tips on how to spot this sort of thing and some steps we voters can take to fight against both direct and indirect influence-buying. Note that all this is totally non-partisan; the politicians with the most influence -- whether local, state or federal -- get most of the available special interest money no matter what other agenda(s) they may have. And for those who want to learn more about who is spending their dollars to influence your representatives, Jay also suggests a look at these two money-in-politics resources: FollowTheMoney.org and OpenSecrets.org.
New submitter phrackthat writes with news that California State Senator Leland Yee (D-S.F.) says he wants regulations to track who owns and uses 3-D printers. Yee's comments come in response to the recent news of Defense Distributed's successful test-firing of a 3-D printed gun. "He's concerned that just about anyone with access to those cutting-edge printers can arm themselves. 'Terrorists can make these guns and do some horrible things to an individual and then walk away scott-free, and that is something that is really dangerous,' said Yee. He said while this new technology is impressive, it must be regulated when it comes to making guns. He says background checks, requiring serial numbers and even registering them could be part of new legislation that he says will protect the public. Yee added, 'This particular gun has no trace whatsoever.'"
An anonymous reader writes "A recurring theme in comments on Slashdot since the 9/11 attacks has been concern about the use of government power to monitor or suppress political activity unassociated with terrorism but rather based on ideology. It has just been revealed that the IRS has in fact done that. From the story: "The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election . . . Organizations were singled out because they included the words 'tea party' or 'patriot' in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said. 'That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That's not how we go about selecting cases for further review,' Lerner said . . . 'The IRS would like to apologize for that,' she added. . . . Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. . . . she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice. Tea Party groups were livid on Friday. ... In all, about 300 groups were singled out for additional review. . . Tea Party groups weren't buying the idea that the decision to target them was solely the responsibility of low-level IRS workers. ... During the conference call it was stated that no disciplinary action had been taken by those who engaged in this activity. President Obama has previously joked about using the IRS to target people." So it's not how they choose cases for review (except when it is), and was not motivated by political bias (except that it was). Also at National Review, with more bite.
schwit1 quotes The Washington Post: "The Senate aimed to help traditional retailers and financially strapped state and local governments Monday by passing a bill that would widely subject online shopping — for many a largely tax-free frontier — to state sales taxes. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 69 to 27, getting support from Republicans and Democrats alike." schwit1 adds "Unfortunately online businesses could be in for a rude awakening when it comes to the law's interpretation." Passage in the House is not certain, and companies like eBay are lobbying to raise the minimum sales required to collect state sales tax to $10 million instead of $1 million per year.
coondoggie writes "The term sequestration has certainly become a four-letter word for many across the country — and now you can count business and regular traveling public among those hating its impact. The Federal Aviation Administration today issued a blunt statement on the impact of sequestration on the nation's air traffic control system, which this week begain furloughing about 10% of air traffic controllers for two days or so per month. It reads as follows: 'As a result of employee furloughs due to sequestration, the FAA is implementing traffic management initiatives at airports and facilities around the country. Travelers can expect to see a wide range of delays that will change throughout the day depending on staffing and weather-related issues. ... Yesterday more than 1,200 delays in the system were attributable to staffing reductions resulting from the furlough.'" U.S. Democrats and Republicans spent the day using the FAA's statement as political fodder rather than working on resolving sequestration.
GovTechGuy writes "The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed legislation on Wednesday once again affirming the current management structure of the Web. In doing so, the lawmakers made one thing clear: the only government that should have its hands on the underpinnings of the Internet is the U.S. ' It affirms the importance of an Internet free from censorship and government control and codifies the existing management structure of the Internet. ... Notably, however, lawmakers dropped from the legislation the phrase “free from government control,” which had threatened to derail the April 11 markup by the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. ... [Democrats argued] it could undermine the U.S. government’s ability to enforce existing — or future — laws online.'"
Hugh Pickens writes writes "After the Watergate scandal taught Richard Nixon the consequences of recording White House conversations, none of his successors has dared to do it. But Nixon wasn't the first. He got the idea from his predecessor Lyndon Johnson, who felt there was an obligation to allow historians to eventually eavesdrop on his presidency. Now David Taylor reports on BBC that the latest set of declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson's telephone calls show that by the time of the Presidential election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence that Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks — or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had 'blood on his hands'. It begins in the summer of 1968. Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war that he knew would derail his campaign. Nixon therefore set up a clandestine back-channel to the South Vietnamese involving Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser. In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris. This was exactly what Nixon feared. Chennault was dispatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal. Meanwhile the FBI had bugged the ambassador's phone and transcripts of Chennault's calls were sent to the White House. Johnson was told by Defense Secretary Clark Clifford that the interference was illegal and threatened the chance for peace. The president gave Humphrey enough information to sink his opponent but by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been told he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency so Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway. In the end Nixon won by less than 1% of the popular vote, escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, and finally settled for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968."
An anonymous reader writes "The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to make the Pentagon disclose whether military drones are being used in U.S. airspace to spy on U.S. citizens. This follows Rand Paul's filibuster on the floor of the Senate in which he demanded answers from the Obama administration as to whether drone strikes on U.S. soil were a possibility. (Senator Paul received an amusingly brief response (PDF) to his 13-hour question.) From the article: 'A requirement buried in a lengthy appropriations bill calls on newly confirmed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to disclose to Congress what "policies and procedures" are in place "governing the use" of military drones or other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) domestically. The report is due no later than 90 days after the bill is signed into law. The vote on the bill, which was overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, comes as concerns about domestic use of drones have spiked. ...The House's language stops short of requiring Hagel to disclose whether he or his predecessor have taken the step of approving the targeting of any U.S. citizens for surveillance.'"
First time accepted submitter Daniel_Stuckey writes "Bam! For anyone that's paid a speck of attention to the tedium of political redistricting, which happens while a state grows unevenly, (and must dynamically respond to density, electorate disparity, natural resources and ridgelines, etc.), this is straight out of some psychedelic dream. For Democrats, it could be straight out of a nightmare. That's because Freeman's map necessitates 50 equally populous United States. His methods for creating the map are explained thusly: 'The algorithm was seeded with the fifty largest cities. After that, manual changes took into account compact shapes, equal populations, metro areas divided by state lines, and drainage basins. In certain areas, divisions are based on census tract lines... The suggested names of the new states are taken mainly from geographical features.'"
An anonymous reader writes "There's a battle brewing amongst Obama's election team. The political folks want to keep the get out the vote code closed source so republicans never get access to it, but the programmers want it open sourced so it can be improved upon. 'In this sense, the decision to mothball the tech would be a violation of the developers’ ethical principles. But the argument is about more than whether putting the tech back in the hands of the public is the right thing to do. "The biggest issue we saw with all of the commercial election software we used was that it’s only updated every four years," says Ryan. It was these outdated options that convinced team Obama to build all the campaign tech in-house. If the code OFA built was put on ice at the DNC until 2016, it would become effectively worthless. "None of that will be useful in four years, technology moves too fast," said Ryan. "But if our work was open and people were forking it and improving it all the time, then it keeps up with changes as we go."'"
New submitter Likes Microsoft writes "Yesterday, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) introduced a Net Neutrality bill aimed at ISPs using data caps soley for profiteering purposes, rather than the 'traffic management' purpose they often claim. The text of the bill is available at Wyden's Senate page. It would require ISPs to be certified by the FCC before implementing data caps. It says, in part, 'The [FCC] shall evaluate a data cap proposed by an Internet service provider to determine whether the data cap functions to reasonably limit network congestion in a manner that does not unnecessarily discourage use of the Internet.' In a statement, Wyden said, 'Americans are increasingly tethered to the Internet and connecting more devices to it, but they don’t really have the tools to effectively manage data consumption across their networks. Data caps create challenges for consumers and run the risk of undermining innovation in the digital economy if they are imposed bluntly and not designed to truly manage network congestion.'"
Fox News, NBC, and CNN have called the U.S. election for incumbent Barack Obama. Of the so-called 'battleground states,' Obama carried Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire, which, along with all of the solidly Democrat-leaning states, was enough to push him beyond the 270 required for victory. You can check this chart to see the full list of states that have currently been called, and by which news networks. The NY Times has an excellent interactive map showing all election results updated in real time, as does CNN. It's currently projected that the Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives, and the Democrats will retain control of the Senate.
Tonight marks the third and final U.S. Presidential debate in the lead-up to the election on November 6th. It starts at 9PM ET (6PM PT, 0100 UTC), and it's taking place at Lynn University in Florida. The topic this time around is foreign policy, including discussions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and Iran, America's role in the world, "The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism," and China's rise as a superpower. You can livestream it from the usual suspects: (C-SPAN, ABC, PBS, CNN). Politifact has posted an article fact-checking statements the candidates have made about foreign policy. Both they and Factcheck.org will be using Twitter to verify statements in real time. This presidential debate again excludes the smaller U.S. political parties. If you're interested in hearing other voices, you'll be able to see candidates from the Libertarian, Green, Constitution, and Justice parties in a debate tomorrow with Larry King moderating. As before, we're doing a separate post for the debate in the hopes that political talk won't clutter other stories tonight. Tell us what you think as the debate unfolds. For live conversation, remember: context helps. And, as reader Ryanator2209 keeps pointing out, you can entertain yourself by playing Logical Fallacy Bingo while you watch.
The second U.S. Presidential debate kicks off in about a half-hour (9PM ET, 6PM PT, 0100 UTC) from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Incumbent Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney will take questions from an audience of allegedly undecided voters. A live stream of the event will be available from a number of sources (C-SPAN, CNN, ABC, and PBS), and it will be broadcast nationally on the major networks. The flash-less and television-less can use rtmpdump to catch the debate from C-SPAN. It won't preempt the more important telecasts, like playoff baseball. Candidates from smaller parties again went uninvited (e.g. Gary Johnson from the Libertarians, Jill Stein from the Greens, Virgil Goode from the Constitution Party, and Rocky Anderson from the Justice Party). In fact, Jill Stein was arrested for attempting to enter without credentials (her side of the story). Assuming she's out of jail by Thursday, she and Gary Johnson will be participating in an online debate hosted by IVN.us. While tonight's debate is in progress, Politifact will be fact-checking the candidates in real-time (while CNN has demonstrated their journalistic capabilities with a debate drinking game). Feel free to weigh in with your commentary on the debate below — it would be helpful to provide timestamps or other context when referring to particular statements. As before, we're posting this here in a vain attempt to keep the political discussion out of other story threads tonight. If either of the candidates spontaneously concedes the election or catches fire, we'll do our best to update you.
NeutronCowboy writes with news that a majority of top staff members from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission have become convinced that Google "illegally used its dominance of the search market to hurt its rivals." The FTC is now drafting a memo that recommends the U.S. government begin an antitrust case against Google. "The agency’s central focus is whether Google manipulates search results to favor its own products, and makes it harder for competitors and their products to appear prominently on a results page. ... The memo is still being edited and changes could be made, but these are mostly fine-tuning and will not alter the broad conclusions reached after an inquiry that began more than a year ago, said these people, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. ... The FTC staff memo does not mean that the government will sue Google for antitrust violations. Next, the vote of three of the five FTC commissioners would be required. And each step is a further prod for Google to make concessions to reach a settlement before going to court. Last month, Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, said a final decision on whether to sue Google would be made before the end of this year.
An anonymous reader writes "Our politicians, and their henchmen, at their finest! In an apparent error, the Democratic National Convention's primary backdrop for its salute to veterans, by a 4-star admiral, featured a composite warship backdrop, in parade review, as a sign of U.S. strength and force projection; unfortunately, all of the naval ships in the image were Russian warships."
A federal investigation has been launched after hackers claimed to have stolen Mitt Romney’s tax returns. The hackers have given Romney until September 28th to pay $1 million in bitcoins or they say they will release the returns. From the article: "The claim was made in a post on the Pastebin site on Sunday that alleged that Romney's federal tax returns were taken from the offices of PriceWaterhouse Coopers in Frankin, Tenn., on August 25 by someone who snuck into the building and made copies of the document. The message author threatened to release the files publicly on September 28 and said copies of the files had been given to Democratic and Republican leaders in that county. Democrats have made Romney's refusal to release his tax returns a key point in their criticism that he is not in touch with working class voters."
RocketAcademy writes "Until recently, space policy has been a non-partisan issue. Even when politicians disagreed on space-policy issues, that disagreement rarely aligned with party lines. That has changed in the last few years. Now, one organization is throwing fuel on the political fire. The Space Frontier Foundation has called Republicans the Party of Big Government Space. SFF is upset about the GOP platform, which lacks specifics about space policy. According to the SFF, the GOP 'has nothing but hackneyed praise for NASA, and doesn't even mention the increasing role of the private sector.' The Obama campaign quickly echoed the statement. But NASA Watch points out that the Democratic platform is even less specific than the GOP's. Others express concerns that partisanship harms space policy."
The Obama Administration announced today it has finalized new fuel efficiency standards that will require new cars and light-duty trucks to have an average efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. This adds to the requirement that 2016's new cars must average 35.5 miles per gallon. "The final standards were developed by DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and EPA following extensive engagement with automakers, the United Auto Workers, consumer groups, environmental and energy experts, states, and the public. Last year, 13 major automakers, which together account for more than 90 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States, announced their support for the new standards." According to the administration, the standards will reduce dependence on foreign oil, save money at the pump, protect the environment, and everything else that sounds good in an election year.