United States

US Ends Controversial Laptop Ban On Flights From Middle East (theguardian.com) 7

The United States has ended a four-month ban on passengers carrying laptops onboard US-bound flights from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa, bringing to an end one of the controversial travel restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump's administration. From a report: Riyadh's King Khalid international airport was the last of 10 airports to be exempted from the ban, the US department of homeland security (DHS) confirmed in a tweet late on Wednesday local time. Middle East carriers have blamed Trump's travel restrictions, which include banning citizens of some Muslim-majority countries from visiting the United States, for a downturn in demand on US routes. In March, the United States banned large electronics in cabins on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa over concerns that explosives could be concealed in the devices taken onboard aircraft. The ban has been lifted on the nine airlines affected -- Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Royal Jordanian , Kuwait Airways, EgyptAir and Royal Air Maroc -- which are the only carriers to fly direct to the US from the region. A ban on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, -- remains in place, though has been limited after several US court hearings challenged the restrictions.
Government

US House Panel Approves Broad Proposal On Self-Driving Cars (reuters.com) 55

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A U.S. House panel on Wednesday approved a sweeping proposal by voice vote to allow automakers to deploy up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards and bar states from imposing driverless car rules. Representative Robert Latta, a Republican who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee overseeing consumer protection, said he would continue to consider changes before the full committee votes on the measure, expected next week. The full U.S. House of Representatives will not take up the bill until it reconvenes in September after the summer recess. The measure, which would be the first significant federal legislation aimed at speeding self-driving cars to market, would require automakers to submit safety assessment reports to U.S. regulators, but would not require pre-market approval of advanced vehicle technologies. Automakers would have to show self-driving cars "function as intended and contain fail safe features" to get exemptions from safety standards but the Transportation Department could not "condition deployment or testing of highly automated vehicles on review of safety assessment certifications," the draft measure unveiled late Monday said.
The Military

Navy Unveils First Active Laser Weapon In Persian Gulf (cnn.com) 265

schwit1 shares a report from CNN: In the sometimes hostile waters of the Persian Gulf looms the U.S. Navy's first -- in fact, the world's first -- active laser weapon. The LaWS, an acronym for Laser Weapons System, is not science fiction. It is not experimental. It is deployed on board the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship, ready to be fired at targets today and every day by Capt. Christopher Wells and his crew. It costs "about a dollar a shot" to fire, said Lt. Cale Hughes, laser weapons system officer. LaWS begins with an advantage no other weapon ever invented comes even close to matching. It moves, by definition, at the speed of light. For comparison, that is 50,000 times the speed of an incoming ICBM. For the test, the USS Ponce crew launched the target -- a drone aircraft, a weapon in increasing use by Iran, North Korea, China, Russia and other adversaries. In an instant, the drone's wing lit up, heated to a temperature of thousands of degrees, lethally damaging the aircraft and sending it hurtling down to the sea. "It operates in an invisible part of the electromagnetic spectrum so you don't see the beam, it doesn't make any sound, it's completely silent and it's incredibly effective at what it does," said Hughes.
Businesses

Microsoft's Wilsonville Jobs Are Going To China, Underscoring Travails of Domestic Tech Manufacturing (oregonlive.com) 137

An anonymous reader tips us a story: Just two years ago, Microsoft cast its Wilsonville factory as the harbinger of a new era in American technology manufacturing. The tech giant stamped, "Manufactured in Portland, OR, USA" on each Surface Hub it made there. It invited The New York Times and Fast Company magazine to tour the plant in 2015, then hired more than 100 people to make the enormous, $22,000 touch-screen computer. But last week Microsoft summoned its Wilsonville employees to an early-morning meeting and announced it will close the factory and lay off 124 employees -- nearly everyone at the site -- plus dozens of contract workers. Panos Panay, the vice president in charge of the Surface product group, traveled from corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington, to tell the staff that Microsoft was moving production to the same place it makes all other Surface products. Though workers present say he didn't disclose the location, Microsoft has previously said it makes its other Surface computers in China. The company hasn't explained, in public or to its Wilsonville employees, why it gave up on domestic manufacturing so quickly and didn't respond to repeated inquiries for comment. But the only thing surprising about Microsoft's decision is that it tried to make its computers in the U.S. in the first place.
Medicine

The Myth of Drug Expiration Dates (propublica.org) 307

schwit1 shares a report from ProPublica: Hospitals and pharmacies are required to toss expired drugs, no matter how expensive or vital. Meanwhile the FDA has long known that many remain safe and potent for years longer. The box of prescription drugs had been forgotten in a back closet of a retail pharmacy for so long that some of the pills predated the 1969 moon landing. Most were 30 to 40 years past their expiration dates -- possibly toxic, probably worthless. But to Lee Cantrell, who helps run the California Poison Control System, the cache was an opportunity to answer an enduring question about the actual shelf life of drugs: Could these drugs from the bell-bottom era still be potent?

Gerona and Cantrell, a pharmacist and toxicologist, knew that the term "expiration date" was a misnomer. The dates on drug labels are simply the point up to which the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical companies guarantee their effectiveness, typically at two or three years. But the dates don't necessarily mean they're ineffective immediately after they "expire" -- just that there's no incentive for drugmakers to study whether they could still be usable.

Tests on the decades-old drugs including antihistamines, pain relievers and stimulants. All the drugs tested were in their original sealed containers. The findings surprised both researchers: A dozen of the 14 compounds were still as potent as they were when they were manufactured, some at almost 100 percent of their labeled concentrations. Experts say the United States might be squandering a quarter of the money spent on health care. That's an estimated $765 billion a year.

Transportation

Oregon Passes First Statewide Bicycle Tax In Nation (washingtontimes.com) 637

turkeydance writes: In Oregon, a state known for its avid bicycling culture, the state legislature's approval of the first bike tax in the nation has fallen flat with riders. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is expected to sign the sweeping $5.3 billion transportation package, which includes a $15 excise tax on the sale of bicycles costing more than $200 with a wheel diameter of at least 26 inches. Even though the funding has been earmarked for improvements that will benefit cyclists, the tax has managed to irk both anti-tax Republicans and environmentally conscious bikers. The bike tax is aimed at raising $1.2 million per year in order to improve and expand paths and trails for bicyclists and pedestrians. Supporters point out that Oregon has no sales tax, which means buyers won't be dinged twice for their new wheels.
Communications

FCC Refuses To Release Text of More Than 40,000 Net Neutrality Complaints (arstechnica.com) 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission has denied a request to extend the deadline for filing public comments on its plan to overturn net neutrality rules, and the FCC is refusing to release the text of more than 40,000 net neutrality complaints that it has received since June 2015. The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request in May of this year for tens of thousands of net neutrality complaints that Internet users filed against their ISPs. The NHMC argues that the details of these complaints are crucial for analyzing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to overturn net neutrality rules. The coalition also asked the FCC to extend the initial comment deadline until 60 days after the commission fully complies with the FoIA request. A deadline extension would have given people more time to file public comments on the plan to eliminate net neutrality rules. Instead, the FCC yesterday denied the motion for an extension and said that it will only provide the text for a fraction of the complaints, because providing them all would be too burdensome.
Government

US Increases Number of H-2B Visas By 15,000 (arstechnica.com) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: President Donald Trump has said he's going to set more limits on the H-1B visa program, which allows tens of thousands of technology workers into the U.S. each year. But yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security moved to expand another type of visa, the H-2B, which allows lower-skilled workers in on a seasonal basis. The Department of Homeland Security said yesterday it is going to allow an additional 15,000 workers to come in under the H-2B visa category, which is typically used by U.S. businesses in industries like tourism, construction, and seafood processing. The program normally allows for 66,000 visas, split between the two halves of the year. That means the DHS increase, announced yesterday, represents an increase of more than 40 percent for the second half of 2017. Businesses can begin applying for the additional visas right away, as long as they attest under penalty of perjury that their business will "suffer irreparable harm" if it can't employ additional H-2B workers in 2017. The expansion is a temporary one, and it only applies to the current year.
The Courts

California Lawsuit Wants To Weaken Noncompetes (axios.com) 120

An anonymous reader shares a report: California already prohibits companies from enforcing noncompetes within the state, but a Bay Area life sciences company is asking a state court to go even further. Veeva Systems is suing three of its East Coast-based competitors and asking a California Superior Court judge to declare that it has the right to hire employees who have signed such agreements. Veeva also wants a court to limit the use of non-disparagement and confidentiality agreements. "Non-compete agreements are bad," the company said in its suit. "These agreements limit employment opportunities. They suppress wages. They keep employees trapped in jobs they do not want, and they keep employees from fairly competing with their former employers. These agreements restrict fair and robust competition for employees."
Privacy

Facial Recognition Could Be Coming To Police Body Cameras (defenseone.com) 176

schwit1 quotes a report from Defense One: Even if the cop who pulls you over doesn't recognize you, the body camera on his chest eventually just might. Device-maker Motorola will work with artificial intelligence software startup Neurala to build "real-time learning for a person of interest search" on products such as the Si500 body camera for police, the firm announced Monday. Italian-born neuroscientist and Neurala founder Massimiliano Versace has created patent-pending image recognition and machine learning technology. It's similar to other machine learning methods but far more scalable, so a device carried by that cop on his shoulder can learn to recognize shapes and -- potentially faces -- as quickly and reliably as a much larger and more powerful computer. It works by mimicking the mammalian brain, rather than the way computers have worked traditionally.

Versace's research was funded, in part, by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA under a program called SyNAPSE. In a 2010 paper for IEEE Spectrum, he describes the breakthrough. Basically, a tiny constellation of processors do the work of different parts of the brain -- which is sometimes called neuromorphic computation -- or "computation that can be divided up between hardware that processes like the body of a neuron and hardware that processes the way dendrites and axons do." Versace's research shows that AIs can learn in that environment using a lot less code.

Security

US To Create the Independent US Cyber Command, Split Off From NSA (pbs.org) 99

An anonymous reader quotes a report from PBS: After months of delay, the Trump administration is finalizing plans to revamp the nation's military command for defensive and offensive cyber operations in hopes of intensifying America's ability to wage cyberwar against the Islamic State group and other foes, according to U.S. officials. Under the plans, U.S. Cyber Command would eventually be split off from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency. The goal, they said, is to give U.S. Cyber Command more autonomy, freeing it from any constraints that stem from working alongside the NSA, which is responsible for monitoring and collecting telephone, internet and other intelligence data from around the world -- a responsibility that can sometimes clash with military operations against enemy forces. Making cyber an independent military command will put the fight in digital space on the same footing as more traditional realms of battle on land, in the air, at sea and in space. The move reflects the escalating threat of cyberattacks and intrusions from other nation states, terrorist groups and hackers, and comes as the U.S. faces ever-widening fears about Russian hacking following Moscow's efforts to meddle in the 2016 American election.
Businesses

Here's Elon Musk's Plan To Power the US on Solar Energy (inverse.com) 498

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from Musk's keynote speech: Tesla CEO Elon Musk -- whose company makes electric cars and has a new solar roof panel division -- reminded more than 30 state governors at the National Governors Association meeting this weekend exactly how much real-estate is needed to make sure America can run totally on solar energy. "If you wanted to power the entire United States with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States," Musk said during his keynote conversation on Saturday at the event in Rhode Island. "The batteries you need to store the energy, so you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square-mile." It's "a little square on the U.S. map, and then there's a little pixel inside there, and that's the size of the battery park that you need to support that. Real tiny."
Microsoft

US Appeals Court Upholds Nondisclosure Rules For Surveillance Orders (reuters.com) 53

An anonymous reader shares a report: A U.S. federal appeals court on Monday upheld nondisclosure rules that allow the FBI to secretly issue surveillance orders for customer data to communications firms, a ruling that dealt a blow to privacy advocates. A unanimous three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sided with a lower court ruling in finding that rules permitting the FBI to send national security letters under gag orders are appropriate and do not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution's free speech protections. Content distribution firm CloudFlare and phone network operator CREDO Mobile had sued the government in order to notify customers of five national security letters received between 2011 and 2013.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

American ISPS Are Now Fighting State Broadband Privacy Proposals (eff.org) 74

The EFF complains that "the very companies who spent millions of dollars lobbying in D.C. to repeal our federal broadband privacy rights are now fighting state attempts to protect consumers because they supposedly prefer a federal rule." The EFF urges Californians to phone their state senator ahead of a crucial back-to-back committee hearings on Tuesday. An anonymous reader writes: "Congress stole your online privacy. Let's seize it back," begins an email that the EFF is sending to California supporters. It warns that "Big Telecom has massive amounts of money to spend on an army of lobbyists. But if Internet users from across California unite with one voice, we can defeat their misinformation campaign... Don't let the big ISPs coopt our privacy."

The EFF's site points out that more than 83% of Americans support the privacy regulations which were repealed in March by the U.S. Congress, according to a new poll released last week. That's even more than the 77% of Americans who support keeping current net neutrality protections in place, according to the same poll. The EFF now hopes that California's newly-proposed legislation could become a model for privacy-protecting laws in other states. And back in Silicon Valley, the San Jose Mercury News writes that California "has an obligation to take a lead in establishing the basic privacy rights of consumers using the Internet. Beyond being the right thing to do for the whole country, building trust in tech products is an essential long-term business strategy for the industry that was born in this region."

The EFF has also compiled an interesting list of past instances where ISPs have already tried to exploit the personal information of their customers for profit.
Earth

The Aurora Borealis May Be Visible Tonight In The Northern US (cnn.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes CNN:A geomagnetic storm could bring a spectacular show to skies across the northern United States on Sunday night. The Aurora Borealis phenomenon -- also known as the Northern Lights -- may be visible "as low as New York to Wisconsin to Washington State," according to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center... NOAA said the best viewing times to catch the light show, clouds permitting, will be between 11 p.m. ET Sunday and 2 a.m. Monday, and again between 2 a.m. ET to 5 a.m.
Government

Y Combinator Announces Funding For UBI-Supporting Political Candidates (latimes.com) 194

Most people "feel like they have great potential that is being wasted," argues Y Combinator president Sam Altman -- a Stanford dropout whose company's investments are now worth $65 billion, including Airbnb, Reddit, and Dropbox. Now an anonymous reader quote the Los Angeles Times: A wealthy young Silicon Valley venture capitalist hopes to recruit statewide and congressional candidates and launch an affordable-housing ballot measure in 2018 because he says California's leaders are failing to address flaws in the state's governance that are killing opportunities for future generations. Sam Altman, 32, will roll out an effort to enlist candidates around a shared set of policy priorities -- including tackling how automation is going to affect the economy and the cost of housing in California -- and is willing to put his own money behind the effort. "I think we have a fundamental breakdown of the American social contract and it's desperately important that we fix it," he said. "Even if we had a very well-functioning government, it would be a challenge, and our current government functions so badly it is an extra challenge..."

Altman lays out 10 principles including lowering the cost of housing, creating single-payer healthcare, increasing clean energy use, improving education, reforming taxes and rebuilding infrastructure. He has few specific policy edicts, and floats proposals that will generate controversy, such as creating a universal basic income for all Americans in an effort to equalize opportunity, public funding for the media and increasing taxes on property that is owned by foreigners, is unoccupied or has been "flipped" by investors seeking a quick return on an investment.

Altman argues that he wants to "ensure that everyone benefits from the coming changes," and specifically highlights the idea of a Universal Basic Income. Altman writes that "If it turns out to be a good policy, I could imagine passing a law that puts it into effect when the GDP per capita doubles. This could help cushion the transition to a post-automation world."
Transportation

Is Homeland Security's Face-Scanning At Airports An Unreasonable Search? (technologyreview.com) 144

schwit1 shares an article from MIT's Technology Review: Facial-recognition systems may indeed speed up the boarding process, as the airlines rolling them out promise. But the real reason they are cropping up in U.S. airports is that the government wants to keep better track of who is leaving the country, by scanning travelers' faces and verifying those scans against photos it already has on file... The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has partnered with airlines including JetBlue and Delta to introduce such recognition systems at New York's JFK International Airport, Washington's Dulles International, and airports in Atlanta, Boston, and Houston, among others. It plans to add more this summer...

As facial-recognition technology has improved significantly in recent years, it has attracted the interest of governments and law enforcement agencies. That's led to debates over whether certain uses of the technology violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches... Harrison Rudolph, a law fellow at Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology, and others are raising alarms because as part of the process, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is also scanning the faces of U.S. citizens... They say Congress has never expressly authorized the collection of facial scans from U.S. citizens at the border routinely and without suspicion.

"We aren't entirely sure what the government is doing with the images," the article adds, though it notes that the Department of Homeland Security is saying that it deletes all data pertaining to the images after two weeks. But Slashdot reader schwit1 is still worried about the possibility of an irretrievable loss of privacy, writing that "If the DHS database gets hacked, it's hard to get a new face."
United States

White House Releases Sensitive Personal Info From Voters Concerned About Privacy (vox.com) 322

Huge_UID shares an article from Vox: The White House just responded to concerns it would release voters' sensitive personal information by releasing a bunch of voters' sensitive personal information. Last month, the White House's "election integrity" commission sent out requests to every state asking for all voters' names, party IDs, addresses, and even the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, among other information. The White House then said this information would be made available to the public. A lot of people did not like the idea, fearing that their personal information could be made public. So some sent emails to the White House, demanding that it rescind the request. This week, the White House decided to make those emails from concerned citizens public through the commission's new website... It didn't censor any of the personal information -- such as names, email addresses, actual addresses, and phone numbers -- included in those emails.
Some of the emails also included the commenter's place of employment -- though at least one commenter helpfully informed the White House that their voter info was available at Goatse. But the voting comission is now also facing new lawsuits from the ACLU, Public Citizen, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, McClatchy reported on Monday, noting that "Trump's voting commission has told states to hold off on sharing the data until after a judge's ruling in a lawsuit."
Businesses

WSJ Op-Ed: The Post Office Is Delivering Amazon's Packages Below Cost (zerohedge.com) 185

schwit1 shares a pay-walled op-ed from the Wall Street Journal (also excerpted at the URL below): The U.S. Postal Service delivers the company's boxes well below its own costs. Like an accelerant added to a fire, this subsidy is speeding up the collapse of traditional retailers in the U.S. and providing an unfair advantage for Amazon... First-class mail effectively subsidizes the national network, and the packages get a free ride. An April analysis from Citigroup estimates that if costs were fairly allocated, on average parcels would cost $1.46 more to deliver...

My analysis of available data suggests that around two-thirds of Amazon's domestic deliveries are made by the Postal Service. It's as if Amazon gets a subsidized space on every mail truck... Congress should demand the enforcement of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, and the Postal Service needs to stop picking winners and losers in the retail world. The federal government has had its thumb on the competitive scale for far too long.

Education

In America, Most Republicans Think Colleges Are Bad for the Country (chronicle.com) 984

An anonymous reader quotes the Chronicle of Higher Education: A majority of Republicans and right-leaning independents think higher education has a negative effect on the country, according to a new study released by the Pew Research Center on Monday. The same study has found a consistent increase in distrust of colleges and universities since 2010, when negative perceptions among Republicans was measured at 32 percent. That number now stands at 58 percent. By comparison, 72 percent of Democrats or left-leaning Independents in the study said colleges and universities have a positive impact on the United States... In the Pew Research Center's study, distrust of colleges was strongest in the highest income bracket and the oldest age group, with approval levels of just 31 percent among respondents whose family income exceeds $75,000 a year and 27 percent among those older than 65.

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