Originally Published: 11/22/2014
“It also has a built-in camera - with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide ‘gesture control’ for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine.”
Facial recognition not scary enough for you? Keep going. “More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a ‘voice recognition’ feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: ‘Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.’ Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV. You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening.”
Does anyone else remember the telescreen from the book 1984 by George Orwell?
Freedom Act: The U.S.A. Freedom Act, proposed last year by Senator Patrick Leahy (D, VT) to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) “ongoing daily collection of practically all U.S. phone data,” failed to get through the Senate. It was filibustered by Republicans and couldn’t get 60 votes. (Guardian)
Detekt: Human rights groups have joined with technology groups to create a tool “that will allow activists and journalists to find out if their electronic devices are being monitored without their knowledge.” Amnesty International is concerned that governments are increasingly using “dangerous and sophisticated technology” to read activists’ and journalists’ private emails and remotely turn on their computers’ cameras or microphones to “secretly record their activities.” Amnesty International, a member of the Coalition Against Unlawful Surveillance Reports, joined with British charity Privacy International, German civil rights group Digitale Gesellschaft, and the U.S. digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation to develop Detekt. It was designed by German-based security researcher Claudio Guarnieri. The software will be free and open-source. (Guardian)
G20: At the start of the G20 conference, while putting together their agenda, the EU and the U.S. joined forces to put climate change front and center. They had to fight with Australia, who didn’t want to discuss it. (Reuters)
California: The annual autumn migration of Chinook salmon “has been delayed by warmer water temperatures and slow-flowing streams in parts of California as the state’s 3-year drought drags on.” (Guardian)
Idaho: The Bureau of Land Management has issued a permit allowing a competition called the “Predator Derby.” The Derby includes lots of prey: coyotes, weasels, skunks, jackrabbits, raccoons, European starlings, and the Grey Wolf. The permit allows for 3-day competition annually for the next 5 years in the town of Salmon, Idaho and allows “up to 500 hunters to compete on 3 million acres of land for 3 days beginning in January 2015.” Oh, and kids as young as 10 can join the killfest. (Guardian)
Montana: U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that Montana’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. (Christian Science Monitor)
New York: New York City announced that it will reconfigure all the “decrepit” pay phones into WiFi hot spots starting in 2015. (Think Progress)
Texas: Remember Denton banned fracking in the last election? (TWW, Fracking, 11/8/14) Well, the chair of the Railroad Commission for Texas, which is the state agency that regulates oil and gas, has said that she will continue to give permits to companies “that seek to drill in Denton.” Christi Craddick (R) said: “It’s my job to give permits, not Denton’s. . . We’re going to continue permitting up there because that’s my job.” (Dallas Morning News)
CEO Pay & Taxes: According to a study by the Center for Effective Government and the Institute for Policy Studies, 7 of the U.S.’s 30 largest corporations paid more to their CEOs than they did in taxes last year. “The biggest gap between executive pay and taxes was at Citigroup. Michael Corbat, Citigroup’s CEO, had a compensation package that totaled $17.6 million. At the same time, Citigroup qualified for a $260 million tax refund from the IRS, thanks to a special waiver that enabled it to capture the full tax benefits of buying unprofitable businesses.” And the gap is getting worse. Since the 2 groups published their first report in 2010, “the average compensation of the CEOs they singled out has climbed from $16.7 million to almost $32 million. Meanwhile, corporate profits zoom higher, while the effective tax rate, in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP, languishes near historic lows.” (Guardian)
DoD: Congress has been cutting budgets for food stamps, education, and everything for poor and middle-class people so, where’s that money going? To the military, of course. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) did an analysis of the Defense budget since 2000 and found that it has increased 31%. The largest growth was for personnel, which increased by 46%. This includes hiring Blackwater and other mercenaries. “The costs for operation and maintenance (O&M) increased by 34%, and the costs for acquisition increased by 25%. About two-thirds of the $117 billion real increase in the budget went for the following activities: procurement; O&M costs for the Defense Health Program; research, development, test, and evaluation; the basic allowance for housing; fuel; and basic pay for active-duty military personnel.”
Walmart: We’ve been through this before. Walmart pays its employees so little that we taxpayers have to subsidize their payroll with foods stamps, Medicaid, etc. (TWW, Corporate Subsidies, 11/23/13) But Walmart is America’s top-earning corporation. In 2013 its revenues were $473 billion, yet it only declared $16 billion in profits. How is it doing this? Well, it has parked $21.4 billion in untaxed profits offshore and is currently lobbying to cut U.S. corporate tax rates. According to Americans for Tax Fairness, “Walmart’s offshore profits have doubled in recent years at the same time that its offshore investments flattened, suggesting that the company is piling up cash overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes on the earnings. Walmart is working to reduce corporate tax rates and eliminate all taxation of foreign profits.”
Immigration: President Obama announced his plan for protecting certain undocumented people from deportation. About 4.3 million people, including 4 million parents of legal residents, will be protected from deportation. Only those with no criminal records need apply and, if approved, they can work legally. “They must pass background checks and pay taxes, but they will receive Social Security cards.” An additional 1 million will get protection through changes in the immigration enforcement system. But he’s ending the program called Secure Communities, “which advocates had long criticized as a dragnet that swept up many unauthorized immigrants arrested on minor offenses like traffic violations. Local police will no longer be asked routinely to detain immigrants without papers.” (NY Times) The plan includes an expansion of the existing program for ‘Dreamers,’ young immigrants who came to the United States as children. “There will no longer be a limit on the age of the people who qualify.” However, there will be no protection for farm workers, nor for the Dreamers’ parents. “None for the 5 million immigrants over all who will be given new legal protections will get government subsidies for health care under the Affordable Care Act.” (NY Times) For a real good detail of the plan, see Vox. Now, remember, these are executive actions based on the president’s ability to set “rules.” He can’t circumnavigate the laws. Therefore, the next president can roll everything back. Of course, many conservatives are screaming that the president doesn’t have the power to do this. Yes, he does, and the Supreme Court said so. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress did an analysis of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Arizona v. United States. (TWW, SB 1070, 6/30/12) Millhiser noted that the majority opinion in that case, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined in by Chief Justice John Roberts, included language “highlighting the ‘broad discretion’ the executive branch enjoys in matters relating to immigration.” Millhiser adds: “The Supreme Court’s opinion in Arizona also suggests that the executive branch’s discretion in matters of deportation may be exercised on an individual basis, or it may be used to protect entire classes of individuals such as ‘[u]nauthorized workers trying to support their families’ or immigrants who originate from countries torn apart by internal conflict.” It’s a good analysis.
Student Debt: Steer clear of schools on the eastern seaboard. This is where you find the largest student debt. Reports from the College Board, the Institute for College Access & Success, and data from the Department of Education show the average student debt and defaults by state in 2013. 6 of the 10 states with the highest debt loads are in the Northeast. New Hampshire topped the list, with graduates leaving school with an average $32,795, about 11% higher than the national average of $28,400, probably because the state is home to a large number of private schools. Delaware runs a close second, with an average debt of $32,571, followed by Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and South Carolina - all above the national average. (Debt.com) By the way, if you’re looking for a good party school, Debt.com also has several lists compiled by various sources.
9/11: Here’s something interesting. Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the 9/11 hijackers now serving a prison term, said that a Saudi royal family member has been financing terrorism, including the 9/11 attacks. He didn’t name the Saudi prince but said that he paid for the flying lessons for him and the other 19 hijackers and also provided financial assistance to Osama bin Laden and was involved “in a plot to shoot down the U.S. Air Force plane carrying former U.S. President Bill Clinton.” (Press TV)
Fracking: The U.S. Forest Service has reversed its original plan and has decided to allow fracking in the 1.1 million-acre George Washington National Forest in Virginia, over protests from Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and, naturally, environmental groups. (Guardian)
Keystone XL: Senate Democrats blocked a vote on the pipeline. It went down 59 to 41. (Washington Post) They only needed 1 more vote to get past the filibuster, so come January they’ll be able to pass it. The Rosebud Sioux nation called the House bill an “act of war.” President Cyril Scott said: “We are a sovereign nation and we are not being treated as such. We will close our reservation borders to Keystone XL. Authorizing Keystone XL is an act of war against our people.” (The Hill)
Minimum Wage: Want to know where we stand in the world? Australia leads with a minimum wage of $16.88. Worst is Sierra Leone at 3¢ an hour. The U.S. lags behind Australia, France, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, and Japan. (Washington Post)
Mergers & Acquisitions: Haliburton is going to buy Baker Hughes, another oil services industry, for $35 billion. That’s where all the money that they’re hoarding is going: buying companies to create behemoths too big to fail. (Reuters) And Botox maker Allergan has been acquired by Actavis for $66 billion. (NY Times) Mergers and acquisitions are soaring because “corporate executives are ambitious and debt is cheap.” On Monday alone, mergers were made worth $100 billion, “rivaling those during the dot.com bubble and the private equity upsurge just before the financial crisis.” About $1.5 trillion in “deals targeting American companies” have gone through this year, “the most since 2000.” (NY Times)