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Hi folks. I’m moving to a self-hosted site this week. Being on wordpress.com these past 10 years has been wonderful but it’s time to provide more content to my followers.
Current followers won’t receive email notifications of my new posts, unless you also subscribe to my new self-hosted site.This subscription service should be available within a week or so of moving to my new site punzhupuzzles.com
I invite all my followers and readers to come visit my updated site in the coming months. Thanks to all my readers and followers for making these past 10 years fun to post and a pleasure to meet you. Ted.
Two weeks after leaving her position as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. National Security Agency in 2014, Lori Stroud was in the Middle East working as a hacker for an Arab monarchy.
She had joined Project Raven, a clandestine team that included more than a dozen former U.S. intelligence operatives recruited to help the United Arab Emirates engage in surveillance of other governments, militants and human rights activists critical of the monarchy.
Stroud and her team, working from a converted mansion in Abu Dhabi known internally as “the Villa,” would use methods learnt from a decade in the U.S intelligence community to help the UAE hack into the phones and computers of its enemies.
Stroud had been recruited by a Maryland cybersecurity contractor to help the Emiratis launch hacking operations, and for three years, she thrived in the job. But in 2016, the Emiratis moved Project Raven to a UAE cybersecurity firm named DarkMatter. Before long, Stroud and other Americans involved in the effort say they saw the mission cross a red line: targeting fellow Americans for surveillance.
“I am working for a foreign intelligence agency who is targeting U.S. persons,” she told Reuters. “I am officially the bad kind of spy.”
The story of Project Raven reveals how former U.S. government hackers have employed state-of-the-art cyber-espionage tools on behalf of a foreign intelligence service that spies on human rights activists, journalists and political rivals.
The operatives utilized an arsenal of cyber tools, including a cutting-edge espionage platform known as Karma, in which Raven operatives say they hacked into the iPhones of hundreds of activists, political leaders and suspected terrorists. Details of the Karma hack were described in a separate Reuters article today.
An NSA spokesman declined to comment on Raven. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment. A spokeswoman for UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment. The UAE’s Embassy in Washington and a spokesman for its National Media Council did not respond to requests for comment.
The Raven story also provides new insight into the role former American cyberspies play in foreign hacking operations. Within the U.S. intelligence community, leaving to work as an operative for another country is seen by some as a betrayal. “There’s a moral obligation if you’re a former intelligence officer from becoming effectively a mercenary for a foreign government,” said Bob Anderson, who served as executive assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation until 2015.
While this activity raises ethical dilemmas, U.S. national security lawyers say the laws guiding what American intelligence contractors can do abroad are murky. Though it’s illegal to share classified information, there is no specific law that bars contractors from sharing more general spycraft knowhow, such as how to bait a target with a virus-laden email.
The rules, however, are clear on hacking U.S. networks or stealing the communications of Americans. “It would be very illegal,” said Rhea Siers, former NSA deputy assistant director for policy.
Read the complete article on Reuters here.
Walgreens is exploring new tech that turns your purchases, your movements, even your gaze, into data.
Walgreens is piloting a new line of “smart coolers”—fridges equipped with cameras that scan shoppers’ faces and make inferences on their age and gender. On January 14, the company announced its first trial at a store in Chicago in January, and plans to equip stores in New York and San Francisco with the tech.
Demographic information is key to retail shopping. Retailers want to know what people are buying, segmenting shoppers by gender, age, and income (to name a few characteristics) and then targeting them precisely. To that end, these smart coolers are a marvel.
If, for example, Pepsi launched an ad campaign targeting young women, it could use smart-cooler data to see if its campaign was working. These machines can draw all kinds of useful inferences: Maybe young men buy more Sprite if it’s displayed next to Mountain Dew. Maybe older women buy more ice cream on Thursday nights than any other day of the week. The tech also has “iris tracking” capabilities, meaning the company can collect data on which displayed items are the most looked at.
Crucially, the “Cooler Screens” system does not use facial recognition. Shoppers aren’t identified when the fridge cameras scan their face. Instead, the cameras analyze faces to make inferences about shoppers’ age and gender. First, the camera takes their picture, which an AI system will measure and analyze, say, the width of someone’s eyes, the distance between their lips and nose, and other micro measurements. From there, the system can estimate if the person who opened the door is, say, a woman in her early 20s or a male in his late 50s. It’s analysis, not recognition.
The distinction between the two is very important. In Illinois, facial recognition in public is outlawed under BIPA, the Biometric Privacy Act. For two years, Google and Facebook fought class-actions suits filed under the law, after plaintiffs claimed the companies obtained their facial data without their consent. Home-security cams with facial-recognition abilities, such as Nest or Amazon’s Ring, also have those features disabled in the state; even Google’s viral “art selfie” app is banned. The suit against Facebook was dismissed in January, but privacy advocates champion BIPA as a would-be template for a world where facial recognition is federally regulated.
Walgreens’s camera system makes note only of what shoppers picked up and basic information on their age and gender. Last year, a Canadian mall used cameras to track shoppers and make inferences about which demographics prefer which stores. Shoppers’ identities weren’t collected or stored, but the mall ended the pilot after widespread backlash.
The smart cooler is just one of dozens of tracking technologies emerging in retail. At Amazon Go stores, for example—which do not have cashiers or self-checkout stations—sensors make note of shoppers’ purchases and charge them to their Amazon account; the resulting data are part of the feedback loop the company uses to target ads at customers, making it more money.
Originally published on The Atlantic here.
The Economist Magazine published this article on how to tax the rich. Good reading.
DURING HIS lesser-known run for president, which began in 1999, Donald Trump proposed levying a wealth tax on Americans with more than $10m. He may soon find himself campaigning on the other side of the issue. That is because Democrats are lining up to find ways to tax the rich. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who wants Mr Trump’s job, has called for an annual levy of 2% on wealth above $50m and of 3% on wealth above $1bn. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent new left-wing congresswoman, has floated a top tax rate of 70% on the highest incomes.
In one way these proposals are a relief. Left-wing Democrats have plenty of ideas for new spending—Medicare for all, free college tuition, the “Green New Deal”—that would need funding. Mainly because America is ageing, but also boosted by Mr Trump’s unfunded tax cuts, the debt-to-GDP ratio is already expected to nearly double over the next 30 years. If a future Democratic administration creates new spending programmes while maintaining existing ones, higher taxes will be necessary.
If revenues are to rise, there are good grounds to look first to the rich. Mr Trump’s tax cuts are just the latest change to have made life at the top more splendorous. Between 1990 and 2015 the real income of the top 1% of households, after taxes and transfers, nearly doubled. Over the same period middle incomes grew by only about a third—and most of that was thanks to government intervention. Globalisation, technological change and ebbing competition have all helped the rich prosper in recent decades. Techno-prophets fear that inequality could soon worsen further, as algorithms replace workers en masse. Whether or not they are right, the disproportionate gains the rich have already enjoyed could justify raising new revenues from them.
Unfortunately, the proposed new schemes are poorly designed. Ms Warren’s takes aim at wealth inequality, which has also risen dramatically. It is legitimate to tax wealth. But Ms Warren’s levy would be crude, distorting and hard to enforce. A business owner making nominal annual returns of around 5% would see much of that wiped out, before accounting for existing taxes on capital. That prospect would squash investment and enterprise. Meanwhile, bureaucrats would repeatedly find themselves having to value billionaires’ art collections and other illiquid assets. Eight rich countries have scrapped their wealth taxes since 1990, often amid concerns about their economic and administrative costs. In 2017 only four levied them.
There are better ways to raise taxes on capital. One is to increase inheritance tax, an inequality-buster that, though also too easily avoided, is relatively gentle on investment and work incentives when levied at modest rates. Another is to target economic rents and windfalls that inflate investment returns. Higher property taxes can efficiently capture some of the astronomical gains that landowners near successful cities have enjoyed. It is also possible to raise taxes on corporations that enjoy abnormally high profits without severely inhibiting growth. The trick is to shield investment spending by letting companies deduct it from their taxable profit immediately, rather than as their assets depreciate. (Mr Trump’s reform accomplished this, but only partially and temporarily.)
What about income tax? Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s boosters point out that a 70% levy is close to the rate that is said to maximise revenue in one notable economic study. In truth the study is notable because it is an outlier—one that ignores the benefits of entrepreneurial innovation or of workers improving their skills. France’s short-lived 75% top tax rate, which was scrapped at the end of 2014, raised less money than was hoped. America’s top rate of federal income tax is 37%; higher is clearly feasible, but it would be wise to keep change incremental.
Although there is scope to raise taxes on the rich, they cannot pay for everything, if only because the rich are relatively scarce. One estimate puts extra annual revenue from Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s idea, which applies only to incomes above $10m, at perhaps $12bn, or 0.3% of the tax take. Ms Warren’s proposal would raise $210bn a year, her backers say—but they assume, implausibly, limited avoidance and no economic damage. Ultimately, the price of ambitious spending programmes will be tax increases that are also far-reaching. The crucial point about a strategy for taxing the rich is to realise that it has limits.
I urge every reader interested in economics and world affairs to subscribe to The Economist magazine to access professional and thorough news reporting.
I love this beer commercial. Watch right to end.
They had spent years on the staff of Donald Trump’s golf club, winning employee-of-the-month awards and receiving glowing letters of recommendation.
Some were trusted enough to hold the keys to Eric Trump’s weekend home. They were experienced enough to know that, when Donald Trump ordered chicken wings, they were to serve him two orders on one plate.
But on Jan. 18, about a dozen employees at Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, N.Y., were summoned, one by one, to talk with a human resources executive from Trump headquarters.
“I started to cry,” said Gabriel Sedano, a former maintenance worker from Mexico who was among those fired. He had worked at the club since 2005. “I told them they needed to consider us. I had worked almost 15 years for them in this club, and I’d given the best of myself to this job.”
“I’d never done anything wrong, only work and work,” he added. “They said they didn’t have any comments to make.”
During the meetings, they were fired because they are undocumented immigrants, according to interviews with the workers and their attorney. The fired workers are from Latin America.
The sudden firings — which were previously unreported — follow last year’s revelations of undocumented labor at a Trump club in New Jersey, where employees were subsequently dismissed. The firings show Trump’s business was relying on undocumented workers even as the president demanded a border wall to keep out such immigrants.
Trump’s demand for border wall funding led to the government shutdown that ended Friday after nearly 35 days.
In Westchester County, workers were told Trump’s company had just audited their immigration documents — the same ones they had submitted years earlier — and found them to be fake.
“Unfortunately, this means the club must end its employment relationship with you today,” the Trump executive said, according to a recording that one worker made of her firing.
Eric Trump did not respond to specific questions about how many undocumented workers had been fired at other Trump properties and whether the company had, in the past, made similar audits of its employees’ immigration paperwork. He also did not answer whether executives had previously been aware that they employed undocumented workers.
The firings highlight a stark tension between Trump’s public stance on immigration and the private conduct of Trump’s business.
In public, Trump has argued that undocumented immigrants have harmed American workers by driving down wages. That was part of why Trump demanded a border wall and contemplated declaring a national emergency to get it.
But, in Westchester County, Trump seems to have benefited from the same dynamic he denounces. His undocumented workers said they provided Trump with cheap labor. In return, they got steady work and few questions.
“They said absolutely nothing. They never said, ‘Your Social Security number is bad’ or ‘Something is wrong,’ ” said Margarita Cruz, a housekeeping employee from Mexico who was fired after eight years at the club. “Nothing. Nothing. Until right now.”
To document the firings at the golf club, The Washington Post spoke with 16 current and former workers at the club — which sits among ritzy homes in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., 27 miles north of Manhattan. Post reporters met with former employees for hours of interviews in a cramped apartment in Ossining, N.Y., a hardscrabble town next door, whose chief landmark is the Sing Sing state prison.
Among those workers, six said they had been fired on Jan. 18. They and their attorney confirmed the other terminations.
Another worker said he was still employed at the club at the time of the purge despite the fact that his papers were fake. His reprieve did not last long, however. His attorney later said he was fired that night.
The workers brought pay stubs and employee awards and uniforms to back up their claims. They said they were going public because they felt discarded: After working so long for Trump’s company, they said they were fired with no warning and no severance.
Read the complete article here.