Why Congress Needs to Revive Its Tech Support Team – CLIVE THOMPSON BUSINESS 07.15.1807:00 AM


Congress is finally turning its attention to Silicon Valley. And it’s not hard to understand why: Technology impinges upon every part of our civic sphere. We’ve got police using AI to determine which neighborhoods to patrol, Facebook filtering the news, and automation eroding the job market. Smart policy could help society adapt.

But to tackle these issues, congressfolk will first have to understand them. It’s cringe-inducing to have senators like Orrin Hatch seem unaware that Facebook makes money from ads. Our legislators need help. They need a gang of smart, informed nerds in their corner.

Which means it’s time to reboot the Office of Technology Assessment.

You’ve likely never heard of it, but the OTA truly rocked. It was Capitol Hill’s original brain trust on tech. Congress established the office in 1972, the year of Pong, when it realized the application of technology was becoming “extensive, pervasive, and critical.” The OTA was staffed with several hundred nonpartisan propellerheads who studied emerging science and tech. Every year they’d write numerous clear, detailed reports—What happens if Detroit gets hit with an atom bomb? What’ll be the impact of automation?—and they were on call to help any congressperson.

It worked admirably. Its reports helped save money and lives: The OTA found that expanding Medicaid to all pregnant women in poverty would lower the cost of treatment for low-birth-weight babies by as much as $30,000 per birth. It pointed out the huge upsides of paying for rural broadband and of preparing for climate change. With a budget of only $20 million a year, the little agency had an outsize impact.

Alas, the OTA was doomed by the very clarity of its insight. It concluded that Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense wouldn’t work—which annoyed some Republicans. In 1995, when Newt Gingrich embarked on his mission of reducing government spending, the low-profile agency got the chop, at precisely the wrong time: Congress defunded its tech adviser just as life was about to be utterly transfigured by the internet, mobile phones, social networking, and AI. Nice work, guys!

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TENNESSEE PLANS TO kill Billy Ray Irick next month by lethal injection. If the execution goes through on August 9, a few weeks before his 60th birthday, he will be the seventh person put to death in the state since 2000, the year executions returned to Tennessee. On death row at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, a short drive from downtown Nashville, Irick has faced at least three previous execution dates, most recently in the fall of 2014. But there is an urgency this time, his longtime attorney, Gene Shiles, says. “This one feels much more ominous.”

Irick was convicted in 1986 of raping and murdering a 7-year-old girl named Paula Dyer in Knoxville. He was arrested and confessed soon after the crime. Irick had stayed with the child’s family for two years prior to the murder, according to court filings; defense attorneys “attempted to create reasonable doubt about the identity of the perpetrator” during the guilt phase of the trial, yet called “no witnesses.”

Like so many who end up on death row, Irick’s background was fraught. In the Nashville Scene earlier this year, Steven Hale described Irick’s harrowing upbringing — as a child, he said his mother tied him with a rope and beat him — along with compelling evidence that he suffered from severe mental illness. Irick “was just 6 years old the first time someone raised questions about his mental health,” Hale writes. “His school’s principal referred him to the Knoxville Mental Health Center, requesting a mental evaluation to determine, according to court documents, ‘whether Billy’s extreme behavioral problems and unmanageability in school were the result of emotional problems or whether Billy suffered from some form of ‘organic brain damage.’” A psychologist said that he seemed to “fear his own impulses.” At 13, after spending time in a home for troubled children, Irick had a series of disturbing outbursts during a visit home, where he bashed a TV with an axe and “used a razor to cut up the pajamas that his younger sister was wearing as she slept.”


‘On Top Of The World’: France Wins World Cup – Merrit Kennedy July 15, 201812:54 PM ET

France players lift the World Cup trophy after their victory in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia in Moscow on Sunday.
Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

France players lift the World Cup trophy after their victory in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia in Moscow on Sunday.

Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

France is the champion of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final, besting Croatia by 4 goals to 2.

France entered the tournament as a favorite, powered by stars such as Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, while Croatia was seen as a longshot for victory.

“We are world champions and France are going to be on top of the world for next four years,” French coach Didier Deschamps said after the game. He called the tournament a “beautiful celebration of football.”

The win has caused celebrations to erupt all over France, with jubilant fans waving French fans and cheering. Here’s the moment France won the game, captured by FRANCE 24:

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Don’t mention the trade war: What China doesn’t want people to know in its dispute with the U.S. Zack Stanton 07/15/2018 03:03 PM EDT

A man looking at falling stock prices is pictured. |Getty Images
Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

This story is being published by POLITICO as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It originally appeared on scmp.com on July 15, 2018.

China’s censors are scrambling to control the narrative about the trade war with the U.S. by giving the media a list of do‘s and don’ts when reporting on the topic, sources have said.

Four separate sources working for Chinese media, who were briefed on these internal instructions, told the South China Morning Post that they were told not to “over-report” the trade war with US and be extremely careful about linking the trade war to stock market falls, the depreciation of the yuan or economic weakness to avoid spreading panic.

“When you report a fall in the stock market index or a weakening in the yuan’s exchange rate, you can’t use ‘trade war’ in your headline,” one source with an official Chinese media outlet, who declined to be named, said.

A separate source said China’s control of public discourse about the trade war, an issue too big to be ignored completely, has gone beyond a white-or-black approach and aims to be more subtle.

“Different media organizations were granted different levels of leeway in covering the trade war,” the source said.

State media outlets with a higher political ranking are allowed to publish news and editorials about the trade war, while local media and internet news portals are often told to republish what state media have already published and not to overplay the issue.

For instance, publishing an instant translation of what President Donald Trump has posted on Twitter — a site that is banned in China — may be seen as an offense, the source said.

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These New Air Sensors Could Revolutionize Air Pollution Regulation – Jason Plautz Jul. 15, 2018 6:00 AM

“Having the ability to know what’s in your air, it gives people peace of mind.”

Stringer/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

This story was originally published by CityLab and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Until she moved to Fresno, California in 2003, Janet DietzKamei had never experienced asthma. But after just a few years in a city notorious for its filthy air—the American Lung Association lists it in the five worst US cities for air quality—DietzKamei found herself in the emergency room struggling to breathe.

She soon started staying inside on days when the air was thick with smog from nearby industry or traffic, and would check the local air-quality alerts every morning. But even that wasn’t enough—sometimes on days deemed safe by the air-quality index, she’d find herself gasping for breath.

If it’s bad, she said, “I just can’t breathe outside. Nothing is absorbed; I simply can’t breathe the air.”

Now 73, DietzKamei is coming off the first winter in years when she didn’t get sick at all. It’s all, she said, because of a $250 air sensor she put in her backyard, which sends her up-to-the-minute readings of pollution just outside her house, a more personalized and specific reading than she could get from the state’s stationary monitors miles away.

DietzKamei’s monitor, made by PurpleAir, is part of a network across California’s San Joaquin Valley, run in part by the Central California Environmental Justice Network. By putting monitors in backyards and around schools, the group is hoping to see what the area’s biomass plants and the dozens of trucks that rumble through are pumping into the lungs of disadvantaged residents.

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Sweden Now Defines Rape As Sex Without Consent (HBO) – VICE News Published on Jul 15, 2018

Sweden just became the 10th European country to define rape as sex without consent. The previous legislation required proof that the victim had been subjected to physical violence or threats or was in a vulnerable state. But after years of pressure, Sweden’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of changing the law, and the new text, ratified July 1, says that sex must be voluntary. If it’s not, then it’s prima facie illegal. Momentum for the change dates back to 2013, when four women joined together in outrage after a Swedish court acquitted three men of raping a 15-year-old girl with a wine bottle, a case they saw as evidence of failure with the justice system. They named their group Fatta — or “Get it” — and grew into a nonprofit organization that promotes messages about consent and gender norms through urban culture. For Fatta, the law change was only a first victory, chairperson Elin Sundin told VICE News. “We need to go from a rape culture to a consent-based culture… what we really need is a change in male behavior and in the toxic masculinity,” she said. Anne Ramberg, who heads the Swedish Bar Association, has no problem with the goal of changing attitudes around sex, but she says the new rape law leaves everything up to interpretation and gives victims false hope. “I’m convinced the courts will have huge problems with this,” Ramberg said. “You extend the criminalized area, and in doing so, people easily get the idea that we will receive more convictions and we firmly believe that will not be the case,” she added. Ramberg isn’t the only one who sees problems with the new law. At a training for Swedish prosecutors and police officers, many of the participants had questions about how to implement it.