mdsolar sends this quote from an article about the politics of solar energy: "Clean energy technology has always been an easy punching bag for conservatives. Propelled by growing strain of global warming denial within their party, Republicans in Congress have proposed to slash funding for renewable energy programs in half this year, and mocked the idea of a green economy as “groovy” liberal propaganda. Their argument, as laid out by House Republicans and libertarian organs like the Cato Institute and Reason magazine, is that the federal government shouldn't 'pick winners and losers' in the energy markets or gamble taxpayer dollars on renewable-energy loans to companies like Solyndra, the Silicon Valley solar panel manufacturer that went bankrupt in 2011 after receiving $535 million in federal loan guarantees. The assumption has always been that, without heavy government subsidies, renewable energy sources like solar and wind power would never be able to compete with fossil fuels. But something funny has happened to renewables that major power companies and their Republican allies didn't see coming. Over the past two years, the solar industry has skyrocketed, with one new solar unit installed every four minutes in the US, according to the renewable energy research group Greentech Media. The price of photovoltaic panels has fallen 62 percent since January 2011. Once considered a boutique energy source, solar power has become a cost-competitive alternative for many consumers, costing an average $143 per megawatt-hour, down from $236 in the beginning of 2011. Backed by powerful conservative groups, public utilities in several states are now pushing to curb the solar industry, and asking regulators to raise fees and impose new restrictions on solar customers. And as more people turn to rooftop solar as a way to reduce energy costs—90,000 businesses and homeowners installed panels last year, up 46 percent from 2011—the issue is pitting pro-utilities Republicans against this fledgling movement of libertarian-minded activists who see independent power generation as an individual right. In other words, the fight over solar power is raging within the GOP itself."
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ananyo writes "Key members of the U.S. House of Representatives are seeking to require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to justify every grant it awards as being in the 'national interest.' The proposal, included in a draft bill from the Republican-led House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and obtained by Nature, would force the NSF to document how its basic science grants benefit the country. The requirement is similar to one in a discussion draft circulated in April by committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). At the time, scientists raised concerns that 'national interest' was defined far too narrowly. The current draft bill provides a more expansive definition that includes six goals: economic competitiveness, health and welfare, scientific literacy, partnerships between academia and industry, promotion of scientific progress, and national defense. But many believe that predicting the broader impacts of basic research is tantamount to gazing into a crystal ball. 'All scientists know it's nonsense,' says John Bruer, president of James S. McDonnell Foundation and former co-chair of an NSF task force that examined requiring scientists to state the 'broader impacts' of their work in grant applications."
An anonymous reader writes "Richard Schiffman writes in The Guardian that the Republican-led shutdown of the U.S. government caused significant damage to many scientific programs. For example: shortly before the shutdown started, over a hundred scientists had gathered to perform critical equipment tests on the James Webb Space Telescope — Hubble's successor — and that work was unable to continue without the government around. 'Not only did this delay cost the program an estimated $1M a day, but, given NASA's tight schedule, some tests may never get done now.' It doesn't stop there: 'This is only one of untold thousands of projects that were mothballed when Congress's failure to approve a budget defunded the US government at the start of the month. Federal websites were taken offline, scientists couldn't receive emails, attend meetings, or interact with their colleagues. Crucial environmental, food safety and climate monitoring programs were either suspended, or substantially scaled back.' Schiffman provides a few more examples, including one project that's losing a year's worth of work and equipment that will end up buried under snow in Antarctica. But it goes beyond even the basic funding issues; in many cases, scientific work is simply too intertwined with the government to continue without it. Andrew Rosenberg, the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' center for science and democracy, said, 'It is all so interconnected now. Federal researchers collect data that is utilized by researchers in academia, by people working in industry, at state and local levels, so when you ask how dependent are we on the federal government in terms of science, it's a bit like asking: do you need your left leg?'"
PolygamousRanchKid writes "Targeting the soaring cost of higher education, President Barack Obama on Thursday unveiled a broad new government rating system for colleges that would judge schools on their affordability and perhaps be used to allocate federal financial aid. But the proposed overhaul faced immediate skepticism from college leaders who worry the rankings could cost their institutions millions of dollars, as well as from congressional Republicans wary of deepening the government's role in higher education. The new rating system does not require congressional approval, and the White House is aiming to have it set up before the 2015 school year. But Obama does need support from Congress in order to use the ratings as a basis for parceling out federal financial aid. In addition to tuition, schools will also be rated on average student loan debt, graduation rates and the average earnings of graduates. Under Obama's proposal, students attending highly rated schools could receive larger grants and more affordable loans."
dcblogs writes "The self-described nerds of President Obama's presidential campaign last year are back using big data analytics, this time to help Newark Mayor Cory Booker achieve a landside primary win Tuesday in the New Jersey Democratic primary for a vacant U.S. Senate seat. The data scientists from Obama and Romney campaigns recently formed their own consulting businesses within months of each other. The chief data scientist for Romney's campaign, Alex Lundry, co-founded Deep Root Analytics. He gives credit to the Obama campaign's data effort in 2012. But since last year's election, "what you are seeing is a flurry of activity on the right to make sure that we not only catch them, but surpass them," Lundry said. Meanwhile, the co-founder of BlueLabs, Chris Wegrzyn, a senior member of Obama's 2012 campaign analytics department, says last year was turning point for big data analytics in elections. "Usually the nerds in the back room don't warrant a great deal of attention, especially in politics," said Wegrzyn, "but the world is changing.""
GovTechGuy writes "Things don't look good for Google, Microsoft and other companies hoping to experiment with super WiFi and other technologies in unused TV channels or 'White spaces'. Both House Republicans and Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller are prodding the FCC to sell as much spectrum as possible at next year's incentive auction, which may not leave much for those hoping to advance the next generation of WiFi technology."
HonorPoncaCityDotCom writes "Alex Altman reports at Time Magazine that Google recently hosted a fundraiser for Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, one of the Senate's most conservative Republicans and a staunch opponent of EPA regulations. Inhofe authored a treatise called 'The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,' thinks the Bible disproves global warming, and once denounced the 'arrogance' of scientists who suggest that 'we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate.' What prompted Google to host a fund raiser where attendees shelled out up to $2,500 for lunch with Inhofe? A data center that Google operates in Pryor, Oklahoma. 'Google runs a significant operation that provides around 100 jobs,' says Rusty Appleton, Inhofe's campaign manager. 'The Senator had an opportunity to tour the facilities in May of last year, and is committed to ensuring that Oklahoma remains a great place to do business.' A Google spokesperson says the company regularly hosts fundraisers for candidates of all stripes, even when Google disagrees with some of their policies — as it does with Inhofe on climate change. This explanation didn't wash with the activists outside Google's D.C. headquarters near K Street. "
cold fjord writes "From the Examiner: '...the second-largest employer in America is Kelly Services, a temporary work provider. ... part-time jobs are at an all-time high, with 28 million Americans now working part-time. ... There are now a record number of Americans with temporary jobs. Approximately 2.7 million, in fact. And the trend has been growing. ... Temp jobs made up about 10 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession, but now make up a tenth of the jobs in the United States. In fact, nearly one-fifth of all jobs gained since the recession ended have been temporary.' The NYT has a chart detailing the problem."
An anonymous reader writes "AT&T is ready to follow in its rivals' footsteps and begin selling the private usage data it collects from its subscribers' phones to advertisers. The data in question is anonymized, according to AT&T, but it includes very sensitive information such as customers' locations, Web browsing history, mobile app usage and more. Privacy is something of a hot button issue right now, so it is likely that a number of AT&T subscribers would prefer to not have their private data sold to advertisers. Luckily, there is a fast and easy way to opt out of AT&T's 'External Marketing and Analytics Reporting' program."
Today President Obama gave a speech outlining the administration's plan to take on climate change. (Video of the speech available on YouTube, and the White House published an infographic as well.) Most significantly, Obama's plan would have the EPA set limits on carbon pollution from all U.S. power plants, a goal already meeting resistance from Republicans. The plan also sets the goal of funding enough solar- and wind-based energy projects on public lands to power over 6 million homes by 2020. By 2030, it aims to use efficiency standards to reduce carbon pollution by 3 billion metric tons. Obama called for new efforts to deal with extreme weather like Hurricane Sandy. He also pointed out the difficulty in getting emerging industrial economies to be environmentally conscious. To that end, the plan calls for the end of U.S. support for financing coal power plants in foreign countries, unless those plants use carbon capture and sequestration technologies. The speech addressed the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry up to 800,000 gallons of oil per day from Canada into the U.S. Obama indicated that approval for the pipeline would be tied to emissions goals.
MarkWhittington writes "Politico reports in a June 18, 2013 story that House Republicans have added a Mars base to its demands for a lunar base in the draft 2013 NASA Authorization bill. Both the Bush-era Constellation program and President Obama space plan envisioned eventual human expeditions to Mars. But if Politico is correct, the new bill will be the first time an official piece of legislation will call for permanent habitation of the Red Planet. The actual legislative language states, 'The [NASA] Administrator shall establish a program to develop a sustained human presence on the Moon and the surface of Mars.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Ron Paul lost his two cybersquatting complaints against RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org. In the case of RonPaul.org, Paul was been found guilty of 'reverse domain name hijacking'. A reverse domain name hijacking finding means that the arbitration panel believes the case was filed in bad faith, resulting in the abuse of the administrative process. The panel ruled this way since Paul filed the case after the owner of RonPaul.org had already offered to give him the domain for free. The panel also ruled against Paul for the RonPaul.com domain name."
An anonymous reader writes "A meta-study published yesterday looked at over 12,000 peer-reviewed papers on climate science that appeared in journals between 1991 and 2011. The papers were evaluated and categorized by how they implicitly or explicitly endorsed humans as a contributing cause of global warming. The meta-study found that an overwhelming 97.1% of the papers that took a stance endorsed human-cause global warming. They also asked the 1,200 of the scientists involved in the research to self-evaluate their own studies, with nearly identical results. In the interest of transparency, the meta-study results were published in an open access journal, and the researchers set up a website so that anybody can check their results. From the article: '... a memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republicans, "Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate." This campaign has been successful. A 2012 poll from U.S. Pew Research Center found less than half of Americans thought scientists agreed humans were causing global warming. The media has assisted in this public misconception, with most climate stories "balanced" with a "skeptic" perspective. However, this results in making the 2–3% seem like 50%. In trying to achieve "balance," the media has actually created a very unbalanced perception of reality. As a result, people believe scientists are still split about what's causing global warming, and therefore there is not nearly enough public support or motivation to solve the problem.'"
An anonymous reader writes "John McCain, Republican Senator for Arizona and former U.S. presidential candidate, is drafting a new bill that would pressure TV providers to allow customers to select and pay for only the channels they want to watch. The bill will also 'bar TV networks from bundling their broadcast stations with cable channels they own during negotiations with the cable companies, according to industry sources. So for example, the Disney Company, which owns both ABC and ESPN, could not force a cable provider to pay for ESPN in order to carry ABC.' Perhaps most importantly, the bill could 'end the sports blackout rule, which prohibits cable companies from carrying a sports event if the game is blacked out on local broadcast television stations.' This would hamstring the ludicrous practice of blacking out TV broadcasts in order to drive fans to buy actual tickets to a game. The cable and satellite TV industry is expected to push back very strongly against the bill."
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.
A year ago today, we noted that Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky called for the abolition of the Transportation Security Administration. It's now nearly 12 years since the hijacked-plane terror attacks of 2001; the TSA was created barely two months later, and has been (with various rules, procedures, and equipment, all of it controversial for reasons of privacy, safety, and efficacy) a major presence ever since at American commercial airports. "The American people shouldn't be subjected to harassment, groping, and other public humiliation simply to board an airplane," wrote Paul last year, and in June of 2012, he followed up by introducing two bills on the topic; the first calling for a "bill of rights" for air travelers, the other for privatizing airport screening practices. Neither bill went far. Should they have? Libertarian-leaning Paul did not succeed in knocking back the TSA, never mind privatizing its functions (currently funded at nearly $8 billion annually), though some of the things called for in his bill of rights are manifest now at least in muted form. (Very young passengers, as well as elderly passengers, face less stringent security requirements, for instance, and TSA has ended its prohibition of certain items aboard planes.) Whether you're from the U.S. or not, what practical changes would you like to see implemented? What shouldn't be on the bill of rights for airplane passengers?
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.
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."
Lasrick writes "Kingston Reif of the Nukes of Hazard blog writes about nuclear arms reductions are back in the news, thanks to President Obama's State of the Union address and now also a Gallup poll that shows 56% of Americans support U.S.-Russian reductions. From the Article: 'A recent report by the Center for Public Integrity revealed that senior Obama administration officials believe the United States can reduce its arsenal of deployed strategic warheads to between 1,000 and 1,100 without harming national security. Those numbers would put the total below levels called for by New START...' Congressional Republicans of course are against those cuts; Reif lays out why the cuts would make the U.S. and the world safer." Do we even need a thousand nuclear warheads?
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.'"