B12 Solipsism

Spreading confusion over the internet since 1994

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Corporate news from all over

Talking Points Memo and Intelligent Tracking Prevention

without comments

Prevent Cross-Site Tracking

I’ve been fascinated by the discussion about Apple’s new anti-3rd party cookie moves, especially in Mac OS X High Sierra and in iOS 11. The digital advertising companies are freaking out of course, but I don’t have much sympathy for their position.

 

The biggest advertising organizations say Apple will “sabotage” the current economic model of the internet with plans to integrate cookie-blocking technology into the new version of Safari.

 

Six trade groups—the Interactive Advertising Bureau, American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, the 4A’s and two others—say they’re “deeply concerned” with Apple’s plans to release a version of the internet browser that overrides and replaces user cookie preferences with a set of Apple-controlled standards. The feature, which is called “Intelligent Tracking Prevention,” limits how advertisers and websites can track users across the internet by putting in place a 24-hour limit on ad retargeting.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Every Major Advertising Group Is Blasting Apple for Blocking Cookies in the Safari Browser – Adweek.)

Apple Coffee Thermos

Apple answered:

Apple responded to that criticism this afternoon by fully explaining what they are doing for the consumer and standing up for themselves.

“Apple believes that people have a right to privacy – Safari was the first browser to block third party cookies by default and Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a more advanced method for protecting user privacy,” Apple said in a statement provided to The Loop.

“Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the Internet. The new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature detects and eliminates cookies and other data used for this cross-site tracking, which means it helps keep a person’s browsing private. The feature does not block ads or interfere with legitimate tracking on the sites that people actually click on and visit. Cookies for sites that you interact with function as designed, and ads placed by web publishers will appear normally,” the company said.

 

(click here to continue reading Apple responds to ad group’s criticism of Safari cookie blocking.)

Apple Logos

Josh Marshall, the publisher of the long-time political blog, Talking Points Memo, has some thoughts about Intelligent Tracking Prevention, and thinks, in general, it will be good for sites like his. 

Here’s where it gets especially interesting to any publisher. We rely on tracking in as much as tracking is now pervasive on the ads running on basically every website, including TPM. But really tracking has been a disaster for publishers, especially premium publishers.

Here’s why.

I’ll use TPM as an example. But it’s only for the purposes of illustration. The same applies to countless other publications, particularly quality publications as opposed to content farms. TPM has an affluent, highly educated, generally progressive audience. They also tend to be political influencers. Our readers also have a strong brand affinity with TPM. Our core audience visits day after day. All of those attributes make our audience very desirable for many advertisers. So great, even though we’re small, advertisers want access to that kind of audience. So we can command good rates.

Tracking has shifted that equation dramatically. (And again, TPM is just here as illustration. This is an industry-wide phenomenon.) Let’s say we take the whole core TPM audience, this set number of people. They have these attributes I mentioned above. Tracking now allows the ad tech industry to follow those people around the web and advertise to them where they choose. So an advertiser can identify “TPM Readers” and then advertise to them at other sites that aren’t TPM. Or they can find a group that has the attributes that I describe above and track them around the web regardless of which site they’re on. You don’t have any reason to care about that. But we care about it a lot because it basically takes from us any market power we have. Tracking means almost all publishers are being disintermediated in this way. This is one big reason the platforms and the data vendors are scarfing up all the new revenue.

So in many ways, disruptions in tracking are good for publishers. Actually basically in all ways it’s good. In this way, we have a vaguely common interest with Apple since we see our business future as tied to paid services, memberships, etc. Apple does too. In practice, the little players have the least ability and resources to protect themselves during periods of market chaos. But in theory at least, if Apple’s self-interest led it to disrupt the cookie architecture and wreak havoc in Google’s business model, that would likely be good for publishers.

(click here to continue reading What’s Apple Up To? – Talking Points Memo.)

A visit to TPM.com this morning brought up sixteen 3rd-party cookies as reported by Ghostery. Cookies from Amazon, Google, Facebook, as well as sites I’d never heard of, like Adsnative, Krux Digital, RevContent and others. /shrug…

Written by Seth Anderson

October 22nd, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Advertising,Apple,Business

Tagged with ,

Angry GOP donors threaten to close their wallets, go home

without comments

Spare Change
Got Any Spare Change? 

The GOP donor class is about to take their balls home, and allow not the GOP play with them any more. Hmmm.

From reliably Republican-leaning POLITICO, but still…

Republicans are confronting a growing revolt from their top donors, who are cutting off the party in protest over its inability to get anything done.

The backlash is threatening to deprive Republicans of resources just as they’re gearing up for the 2018 midterms. Party officials are so alarmed that North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, who oversees fundraising for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told his colleagues at a recent conference meeting that donations had fallen off a cliff after the Obamacare flop. The committee’s haul plummeted to just $2 million in July and August, less than half of what it raised in June.

“When you’re in a business and you tell your stakeholders you’re going to build a building or something, you have to follow through,” said Houston-based energy executive Dan Eberhart. “I can’t borrow money to build a building and then not follow through, which is what these guys are doing.” He said he’s spoken to four Republican senators over the past month to express his displeasure, mostly over the party’s failure to repeal Obamacare.

Behind the scenes, the GOP has begun to try to smooth things over with its most important givers. On Monday, Trump met with the party’s most prominent donor, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has privately expressed frustration that the president hasn’t moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And in the wake of an establishment-backed candidate’s loss in Alabama, a top McConnell political lieutenant, Steven Law, held a series of frank discussions with key benefactors.

Some of the donors are giving lawmakers an earful. Bruce Rastetter, an Iowa agribusiness mogul who has funded a long list of Republican elected officials, said he had informed his state’s two GOP senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, that he would not donate to Republican senators “unless they pass new legislation or get new leadership.”

One seasoned GOP fundraiser forwarded along a curt email from a sought-after donor. “The GOP leaders should know, no movement on remaining agenda: tax reform, infrastructure, deregulation, etc. means no funding from supporters like me,” it read. “No meetings, calls, contributions until we see progress.”

The resentment over the state of the party has infiltrated Republican fundraising capitals like Dallas.

“I think major donors are tired of writing checks to a do-nothing Congress,” said Roy Bailey, an influential, Dallas-based GOP bundler.

To others, though, the disappointment over having so little to show for their investments is profound.

Michael Salzhauer, a New York real estate investor, said he had begun informing lawmakers that he’s done giving until they address health care and taxes.

(click here to continue reading Angry GOP donors close their wallets – POLITICO.)

As a political outsider who follows politics like some people follow sports, I do agree the ROI on political donation is horrible, especially recently. You donate millions, and what do you get? Paul Ryan’s undying love, but unless you are the NRA, you can’t be happy with the Do Nothing Congress. And just because someone is wealthy, does not mean they are automatically smart – I bet many of the GOP donor class are reading Breitbart and watching Fox News just as much as the Orange Dotard. Hence they want to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, or repeal the ACA, Medicaid, and Medicare or whatever it is that conservatives really want to accomplish, other than destroying the country.

But the GOP donor class isn’t going to donate to the other party, and come election time, I’d hazard a guess the checks will start flowing again…

Written by Seth Anderson

October 5th, 2017 at 10:23 am

Posted in Business,politics

Tagged with ,

The Houston Stadium Grift

without comments

Fire hydrant Flood on Randolph

Speaking of corporate welfare and taxpayer money, professional sports owners are worse than college sports organizations, if that is even possible. We’ve long fulminated at this infuriating trend of billionaire team owners stealing tax dollars from cities, usually with a wink-and-nod from the local politicians.

Dave Zirin of The Nation notes that the City of Houston shoveled money to Lamar Alexander, money that could be spent on more practical matters, like cleaning up after a flood, or purchasing homes in flood plains and reverting them back to flood plains…

Taxpayer-subsidized stadiums have long become a substitute for anything resembling urban policy in the 21st century. And now as roads, bridges, and humanitarian shelters decay, they stand exposed as neoliberal Trojan horses that take public dollars and magically transform them into private profit for billionaire sports owners. They are a scam, a con, and, not surprisingly, a grifter like Osteen has long had his hand in this honey pot.

[Money-changer-in-the-temple Joel] Osteen’s church was once a hoops hallowed ground called The Summit, home of the Houston Rockets and the site of the magic made by Hakeem Olajuwon and his 1994 and 1995 teams that won back-to-back NBA titles. In 1995, flush with this success, Rockets owner Les Alexander demanded a new sports arena from the city. These negotiations eventually resulted in the Toyota Center, which opened in 2003, even though the city voted down this plan in a 1999 referendum. In the end, the people of Houston paid $182 million of the $235 million in construction costs. Toyota paid $100 million in naming rights, all of which went to Les Alexander.

That was just the beginning. Texas taxpayers have continuously paid for upgrades in the subsequent years. In 2013, the public even paid for a new $8 million scoreboard to help prepare Houston for the NBA All-Star Game. (Imagine what that $8 million could be used for right now.)

I spoke to Neal DeMause who runs the stadium news site Field of Schemes. He said, “In a sane world, the city of Houston would still own The Summit, rather than have replaced it at public expense so the Rockets owner could have a shinier plaything, and could make its own decisions about how to use it in emergencies. I suppose it’s a small silver lining that the scads of redundant sports facilities littering the landscape make for a surplus of good disaster shelters now—though if cities would spend billions of dollars a year on flood proofing and reducing carbon emissions instead of subsidizing sports venues, they’d probably get better bang for their buck.”

The Rockets-Osteen connection is tragically just a microcosm in Houston of what tax-funded stadium priorities have produced. The Houston Texans were handed $289 million of public financing for their stadium, with minimal debate. They even took $50 million in public funding just for 2017 Super Bowl renovations. That money went into “installing Wi-Fi in the stadium and upgrad[ing] the club and suite areas of the building.”

As for Les Alexander, he just announced that he was selling the Rockets for a staggering $2 billion. Alexander bought the team in 1993 for $85 million. There is no way Alexander would be able to command that asking price without the public subsidies and new arenas underwritten by the city of Houston.

(click here to continue reading The Houston Stadium Grift Comes Home to Roost | The Nation.)

Vinyl Bird - Townes Van Zandt - Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, TX
Vinyl Bird – Townes Van Zandt – Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, TX

I am of the opinion that billionaire sports team owners should be embarrassed to ask for handouts from municipalities, and should be able to pay for their own damn stadiums. Or else, sell their team to the city, like the Green Bay Packers.

Hoop Dream
Hoop Dream

Oh, and what about sports stadiums automatically being used as shelters, as was once proposed

Written by Seth Anderson

September 2nd, 2017 at 9:01 am

Another College Sports Boondoggle

without comments

The Twelfth Player in Every Football Game
The Twelfth Player in Every Football Game

In addition to the elimination of property tax exemptions for rich nonprofits that we’ve mentioned previously, here’s another piece of tax reform I support – the repeal of the tax payer subsidy to college sports…

Eric Zorn writes:

College sports is a big-time business, tickets are in high demand at major universities and charging what the market will bear is the American way. In fact, judging by the secondary market on StubHub, where single seats to the Ohio State game are going for more than $2,000, tickets to Michigan football games are still vastly underpriced.

What I don’t understand, however, is the law that allows ticket buyers to write off 80 percent of their “preferred seating donation” as a charitable contribution for federal tax purposes.

That’s right. High rollers in the swankiest suites can subtract $4,500 from their taxable income, a benefit worth up to $1,782 off their tax bill, as though they had given that money to a soup kitchen or hurricane relief.

Put another way, for each such privileged fan, the federal government effectively provides a $1,782 ticket subsidy.

And, in the mid-1980s, when these preferred-seating donation scams first arose, the Internal Revenue Service issued a common-sense ruling that a mandatory donation linked to the purchase of seasons tickets was a quid pro quo and so not deductible for tax purposes.

Legislators representing schools in the powerful Southeastern Conference “went crazy,” said University of Illinois emeritus law professor John D. Colombo, a specialist in tax laws governing charitable organizations. And in 1988, Congress added subsection 170(l) to the IRS code that specifically allowed for an 80 percent deduction on donations to “institutions of higher education” that granted “the right to purchase tickets for seating at an athletic event.”

In 2015, the Obama administration asked Congress to repeal subsection 170(l), claiming it will drain at least $2.5 billion from public coffers over the next decade. Duke University law professor Richard Schmalbeck estimated the 10-year tax receipts loss at $20 billion.

Congress ignored the suggestion.

(click here to continue reading If Congress can’t eliminate the college football ‘charity’ scam, what hope is there for a tax overhaul? – Chicago Tribune.)

Ain’t that a bitch? Our tax dollars hard at work, inflating college coaches salaries, fancy high-tech training facilities, inflating player salaries, oh, wait, the colleges don’t even pay their athletes a stipend, the players work for basically, “exposure”.  Hmmm, maybe there are deeper issues that need to be solved with Division 1 teams. 

Oklahoma vs Texas
Oklahoma vs Texas

Written by Seth Anderson

September 2nd, 2017 at 7:58 am

Federal Savings Bank and Paul Manafort

with one comment

The Federal Savings Bank
The Federal Savings Bank – FSB

There is a small brick building on the corner of Fulton and Elizabeth; on the third floor is the Federal Savings Bank. Unless you follow the news closely, you’ve probably never heard of this bank – it doesn’t advertise that I know of, nor does it maintain a high profile.

Federal Savings was born out of Generations Bank, a Kansas thrift bought by Calk and his brother John Calk in 2011. That bank, which had about $40 million in assets, was undercapitalized, facing regulatory restrictions and posting losses for five straight years, according to a 2012 story in ABA Banking Journal, an American Bankers Association publication.

Now headquartered on Chicago’s Near West Side, successor institution Federal Savings in 2012 said it was getting $18 million in tax breaks over 10 years from the state through the Economic Development for a Growing Economy, or EDGE, program as well as up to $4 million in training money from the city of Chicago.

The bank had 842 full-time workers as of the end of March. Steve Calk has said about 10 percent of the bank’s employees are veterans like him.

Federal Savings has three branches or loan production offices in Illinois: at its headquarters and in Lake Forest and Naperville, according to its website.

(click here to continue reading Report: Prosecutors demand records on Chicago bank’s loans to Paul Manafort – Chicago Tribune.)

Does that seem like a lot of employees for such a small bank? I wonder what they all do, and where they all fit? Who knows, I’m not a banking expert. Maybe many employees work remotely, or in Lubyanka Square?

Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank

Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank

Federal Savings Bank (FSB, not to be confused with the Russian FSB which is the successor organization to the KGB) is1 tight with the Donald Trump 2016 campaign, and with Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Tight enough that this small bank loaned 1/4 of its assets to Manafort to cover the payments on two of Manafort’s properties, despite his seemingly shaky credit (one property was in foreclosure after a loan default, the other property was not yet in foreclosure, but was also in default).

The Wall Street Journal reports:

New York prosecutors have demanded records relating to up to $16 million in loans that a bank run by a former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump made to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena by the Manhattan district attorney’s office to the Federal Savings Bank, a small Chicago bank run by Steve Calk, sought information on loans the bank issued in November and January to Mr. Manafort and his wife, the person said. The loans were secured by two properties in New York and a condominium in Virginia, real-estate records show.

The Wall Street Journal reported in May that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had begun examining real-estate transactions by Mr. Manafort, who has spent and borrowed tens of millions of dollars in connection with property across the U.S. over the past decade. Investigators at both offices are examining the transactions for indications of money-laundering and fraud, people familiar with the matters have said.

The Journal reported that at the time of the loans from Federal Savings Bank, Mr. Manafort was at risk of losing a Brooklyn, N.Y., townhouse and his family’s investments in California properties being developed by his son-in-law, real-estate and court records show.

Mr. Calk was a member of Mr. Trump’s economic advisory panel who overlapped with Mr. Manafort on the Trump campaign. Messrs. Manafort and Calk knew each other before the campaign, a person familiar with the relationship has said.

The bank’s loans to Mr. Manafort equaled almost 24% of the bank’s reported $67 million of equity capital, according to a federal report. Around the time they were issued, Mr. Calk had expressed interest in becoming Mr. Trump’s Army Secretary.

(click here to continue reading New York Seeks Bank Records of Former Trump Associate Paul Manafort – WSJ.)

I walked over to this bank a few weeks ago, and it is sort of strange, at least to me. FSB is an odd kind of bank, only on the third floor of 300 N. Elizabeth, with a building security employee that won’t let you go up unless you are a member of the bank, plus they won’t allow photography in the lobby. Reading through FSB’s Yelp reviews, they seem a little sketchy, sending out loan application letters to veterans almost to the degree of spam and many other complaints of incompetence and worse. Of course, Yelp reviews aren’t the most reliable, but still, this bank has a lot of unhappy (civilian) clients.

For instance:

Horrible experience. They send letters every week to advertise being part of the VA IRRRL program. If you look, you’ll notice the phone number is different in every letter. So, you can’t trace if there’s been any complaints about the number. The representative got very defensive when he couldn’t answer why the number is different and after I asked to speak with a manager, he said he’d take me off the mailing list and hung up on me. After I tried calling back with no answer, I received a call from someone who apologized, and though he was very nice and informative, I still believe this company is very deceptive. The first guy told me they are VA owned and operated when I asked if they are from the VA. He then said its because 95% of their loans are to veterans. THAT DOES NOT MAKE THEM VA OWNED! I just learned they used to operate under the name Chicago Bancorp and they have a lawsuit against them from 2014, and the owners’ names are the same as now.

(click here to continue reading The Federal Savings Bank – 27 Reviews – Banks & Credit Unions – 300 N Elizabeth St, West Loop, Chicago, IL – Phone Number – Services – Yelp.)

Makes one wonder how FSB is making a profit, suddenly, after years of not making profits. Maybe there are other sources of income besides veterans and tax dollars from the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago?

The property in Brooklyn seems to be in distress:

Reference to home values in the area suggests that the outstanding principal on the loan secured by the townhouse at 377 Union Street may exceed the market value of the property. Reports suggest that the property has been empty for the last 4 years and is currently in disrepair (link). The mortgage secured by the Bridgehampton property indicates that the borrower was required to deposit $630,000 as additional collateral.  The mortgage secured by 377 Union Street indicates that the borrower was required to deposit $2.5 million as additional collateral.

(click here to continue reading 377 Union | Paul Manafort | Who is Steve Calk, and What Does He Have to Gain From Helping Paul Manafort?.)

Caviar Russian
Caviar Russian

One final weird thought: the modus operandi for Russian money laundering schemes frequently use real estate as the anchor. What better way to wash one’s dirty money than paying more than a property is worth? The seller is happy, and now the money is in the banking system. Especially if the purchaser is an LLC company, with limited public information available as to the source of the money.

A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates. The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.

(click here to continue reading Mueller Seeks to Talk to Intelligence Officials, Hinting at Inquiry of Trump – The New York Times.)

From USA Today we read:

Since President Trump won the Republican nomination, the majority of his companies’ real estate sales are to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers’ identities, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Over the last 12 months, about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before.

USA TODAY journalists have spent six months cataloging every condo, penthouse or other property that Trump and his companies own – and tracking the buyers behind every transaction. The investigation found Trump’s companies owned more than 430 individual properties worth well over $250 million.

Since Election Day, Trump’s businesses have sold 28 of those U.S. properties for $33 million. The sales include luxury condos and penthouses in Las Vegas and New York and oceanfront lots near Los Angeles. The value of his companies’ inventory of available real estate remains above a quarter-billion dollars.

Profits from sales of those properties flow through a trust run by Trump’s sons. The president is the sole beneficiary of the trust and can withdraw cash any time.

(click here to continue reading Trump property buyers make clear shift to secretive shell companies.)

and from Bloomberg:

But the Justice Department inquiry led by Mueller now has added flavors. The Post noted that the investigation also includes “suspicious financial activity” involving “Russian operatives.” The New York Times was more specific in its account, saying that Mueller is looking at whether Trump associates laundered financial payoffs from Russian officials by channeling them through offshore accounts.

In that context, a troubling history of Trump’s dealings with Russians exists outside of Russia: in a dormant real-estate development firm, the Bayrock Group, which once operated just two floors beneath the president’s own office in Trump Tower.

One of Bayrock’s principals was a career criminal named Felix Sater who had ties to Russian and American organized crime groups. Before linking up with the company and with Trump, he had worked as a mob informant for the U.S. government, fled to Moscow to avoid criminal charges while boasting of his KGB and Kremlin contacts there, and had gone to prison for slashing apart another man’s face with a broken cocktail glass.

In a series of interviews and a lawsuit, a former Bayrock insider, Jody Kriss, claims that he eventually departed from the firm because he became convinced that Bayrock was actually a front for money laundering.

Kriss has sued Bayrock, alleging that in addition to laundering money, the Bayrock team also skimmed cash from the operation, dodged taxes and cheated him out of millions of dollars.

(click here to continue reading Trump, Russia, and Those Shadowy Sater Deals at Bayrock – Bloomberg.)

which makes this real estate transaction, a few blocks away2 from FSB’s West Loop HQ so eye-catching:

The record purchase price for a West Loop condo is set to more than quadruple, with a buyer agreeing to pay more than $5 million for a not-yet-built penthouse on Washington Street.

The asking price is about $5.6 million for the home, which is under contract. The listing agents declined to provide any details on the buyer, whom they referred to only as “he.”

Construction is scheduled to start next month, with the building ready for occupancy by summer 2018.

The penthouse prices astonished Baird & Warner agent Nicholas Colagiovanni, who sold the previous record-setter, a 2,400-square-foot loft at 1000 W. Washington, which closed this week at $1.2 million. It’s one of four condos sold in the neighborhood that have sold for $1 million or more so far this year.

(click here to continue reading West Loop contract under contract at over $5 million – Residential News – Crain’s Chicago Business.)

So a condo, in a building not even under construction yet, is worth 4 times more than the previously record holder for most expensive, one on the same block? One wonders what sort of business the purchaser is in. Do they speak Russian? Hmm.

If I was an investigator working for Robert Mueller, I’d take a closer look at this, and similar property transactions.

Footnotes:
  1. or was []
  2. a ten minute walk, 15 via Google Maps []

Written by Seth Anderson

July 21st, 2017 at 1:53 pm

ADM to close Fulton Market wheat mill

without comments

Industrial Devolution
Industrial Devolution.

Surprised that this took so long, actually…

Archer Daniels Midland is planning to close a 120-year-old Chicago wheat mill and move operations to a new facility it is building in rural Mendota, Ill.

The Chicago-based food processing giant on Friday announced construction of the new flour mill, which is slated to open in mid-2019. The high-capacity facility will be adjacent to ADM’s existing Mendota grain facility, about 90 miles west of Chicago in LaSalle County.

The current plant on West Carroll Avenue in the trendy Fulton Market district, will continue to churn out flour until the new facility is fully operational, the company said Friday.

The Chicago plant was built in 1897 by B.A. Eckhart Milling, which operated it for decades. ADM purchased it from Dixie Portland Flour Mills in 1990 for about $14 million, according to Cook County records. Located in the once-gritty meatpacking district on the Near West Side, the plant is now something of an anachronism amid the trendy restaurants, bars and office buildings that have sprung up in recent years.

The 250,000-square-foot industrial facility sits on a 2-acre site, according to CoStar Group.

(click here to continue reading ADM to close Fulton Market wheat mill for new LaSalle County plant – Chicago Tribune.)

That could turn into a monster new development if current real estate trends continue

Reliable, ADM In afternoon light
Reliable, ADM In afternoon light

Ogden Avenue - 1923
Ogden Avenue – 1923

I Doubt That Is True
I Doubt That Is True

Majestic Corn Silo- Kodak Ultra Color 100UC
Majestic Corn Silo- Kodak Ultra Color 100UC

ADM butt-crack
ADM butt-crack

Storing Corn - Agfa Scala 200
Storing Wheat – Agfa Scala 200

Written by Seth Anderson

June 3rd, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Business

Tagged with , , , ,

A Sean Hannity Conspiracy Theory Finally Went Too Far

without comments

Don't Forget to Suffer In Brooding Silence
Don’t Forget to Suffer In Brooding Silence.

We live in a new world, a world where advertisers don’t want to be associated with toxic scum like Sean Hannity. Finally!

Sean Hannity has been peddling his Roger Ailes-inspired schtick for a long, long time. Fear, hatred, anger, and related emotions are the currency Hannity and his ilk traffic in. But these days, there is a precedent for consumers to directly contact the advertisers for these shows, and pressure the corporations to withdraw their support. Sometimes the corporation is enlightened enough to act on their own.

Cars.com, Casper, and several other companies pulled advertising from Sean Hannity’s Fox News program Wednesday as the host continued to push a conspiracy theory about Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer who was killed in Washington, DC, last year.

For days, Hannity has been peddling a theory that Rich’s killing was ordered by the Clintons in retaliation for leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Police have said his death was the result of a robbery gone wrong.

“Cars.com’s media buy strategies are designed to reach as many consumers as possible across a wide spectrum of media channels,” a Cars.com spokesperson said in a statement to BuzzFeed News when asked about Hannity’s focus on the conspiracy.

“The fact that we advertise on a particular program doesn’t mean that we agree or disagree, or support or oppose, the content. We don’t have the ability to influence content at the time we make our advertising purchase. In this case, we’ve been watching closely and have recently made the decision to pull our advertising from Hannity,” the company added.

After learning its commercials ran on Hannity’s show, Crowne Plaza Hotels said it terminated its relationship with its third-party ad-buying agency.

“We do not advertise on Fox News, Hannity or any political commentary show. We have a specific do not advertise list for this type of programming. Unfortunately, our expectation to adhere to this list was not met by a third-party agency. Since we learned of the airings, we addressed the issue immediately and terminated our relationship with the agency. We have no plans to advertise on Fox News for the foreseeable future,” the company explained.

Ring, a video doorbell company, and Peloton, a cycling studio, announced that they had directed their media agencies to stop advertising on the show.

Mattress companies Casper and Leesa Sleep also said Wednesday that they had pulled ad buys from the show. Casper said it was “reassigning the allocation.”

The decisions came after Rich’s brother sent a letter to Hannity’s executive producer pleading for the show to stop spreading rumors about Rich’s death. On Tuesday, Fox News retracted a story tying Rich to Wikileaks and wrote in a statement, “The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require from all our reporting.”

(click here to continue reading Sean Hannity’s Seth Rich Obsession Just Cost Him Several Advertisers.)

Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic
Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic

Corporations want to sell their goods and services, not support hate speech. Thus in the last few years there have been several instances of advertisers fleeing toxicity: Sandra Fluke vs. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Breitbart, Bill O’Reilly, and probably other incedents too. The right wing tried these tactics on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show, but without much success, so far.

Media Matters added:

Fox News’ two decades of peddling bigotry, misogyny, and extremism are finally coming home to roost. After former president and CEO Roger Ailes was forced out last year, Fox News parted ways with Bill O’Reilly and co-president Bill Shine last month after their central roles inside the network’s workplace culture of sexual harassment and racial discrimination were put in the spotlight and advertisers started to flee.

At Media Matters, we know Fox News. We’ve spent more than 10 years watching the network profit from a dangerous mix of hate, lies, and propaganda. Ad buyers may think that because Fox dropped O’Reilly and some of the old guard executives who enabled him, it’s safe to get back in the water there. But we know that the network’s new prime-time lineup — featuring the likes of Sean Hannity, Eric Bolling, and darling of the “alt-right” Tucker Carlson — is just as bad. They’re committed to the same “culture war” racism and misogyny that made Fox culture toxic in the first place — and as a federal investigation into shady practices at Fox ramps up, there are no indications yet that this network is any less risky for advertisers than it was before.

The bottom line is this: When companies knowingly advertise alongside hate, they incentivize and enable more hate, and they put their reputations on the line. Like our ads say, “It’s one crisis after another with Fox. Don’t forget: Hate, misogyny, and racism are bad for business.” Advertisers beware.

(click here to continue reading Media Matters Launches “Know What You’re Sponsoring” Ad Campaign Targeting Buyers At Upfronts.)

Hannity had been one of the main purveyors of a widely discredited theory that DNC staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed near his home in Northwest Washington last year because he had supplied DNC emails to WikiLeaks. District police say Rich died in a botched robbery. His parents have pleaded with news outlets to stop speculating about his death.

Facing a wave of criticism over its reporting, Fox News retracted an article on Tuesday that said Rich made contact with WikiLeaks before he was shot.

At first Hannity refused to follow suit, telling listeners on his radio show, “All you in the liberal media, I am not Fox.com or Foxnews.com; I retracted nothing.” On his Fox News show Tuesday evening he said he would back off the story “for now,” but he continued to post cryptic tweets about Rich’s death.

The left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters published a list of Hannity’s sponsors on Tuesday — a move many interpreted as a call to boycott his show.

Hannity responded in a series of tweets saying “liberal fascists” were trying to bring him down.

(click here to continue reading Sean Hannity loses advertisers amid uproar over slain DNC staffer conspiracy theories – The Washington Post.)

This Man Was Talked To Death
This Man Was Talked To Death

Even some at Fox question why Hannity is allowed free reign…

Fox News staffers have told CNNMoney that they are frustrated and embarrassed by Hannity’s peddling of the conspiracy. “It is disappointing because it drags the rest of us down,” one senior Fox News employee said earlier this week. Several staffers have also questioned why Fox News leadership continued to allow Hannity to spread an unproven theory on the network.

The most common theory circulating among staff is that Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, doesn’t want to run the risk of losing Hannity by upsetting him. Fox News has already lost its two biggest prime time stars — Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly — in the span of just five months. Losing Hannity would be a crushing blow to the network, these sources said.

(click here to continue reading Sean Hannity’s conspiracy theory puts pressure on Fox – May. 24, 2017.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Seth Anderson

May 25th, 2017 at 9:01 am

Posted in Advertising,Business,politics

Tagged with ,

Google now data mining credit card data

without comments

Cougle Comission - Fulton Market
Cougle Comission – Fulton Market

Inevitable, and yet still creepy

Google has begun using billions of credit-card transaction records to prove that its online ads are prompting people to make purchases – even when they happen offline in brick-and-mortar stores, the company said Tuesday.

The advance allows Google to determine how many sales have been generated by digital ad campaigns, a goal that industry insiders have long described as “the holy grail” of online advertising. But the announcement also renewed long-standing privacy complaints about how the company uses personal information.

To power its multibillion-dollar advertising juggernaut, Google already analyzes users’ Web browsing, search history and geographic locations, using data from popular Google-owned apps like YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps and the Google Play store. All that information is tied to the real identities of users when they log into Google’s services.

The new credit-card data enables the tech giant to connect these digital trails to real-world purchase records in a far more extensive way than was possible before. But in doing so, Google is yet again treading in territory that consumers may consider too intimate and potentially sensitive. Privacy advocates said few people understand that their purchases are being analyzed in this way and could feel uneasy, despite assurances from Google that it has taken steps to protect the personal information of its users.

(click here to continue reading Google now knows when its users go to the store and buy stuff – The Washington Post.)

Of course it buys happiness
Of course it buys happiness

especially since all this data is vulnerable to hackers

Paul Stephens, of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer advocacy group based in San Diego, said only a few pieces of data can allow a marketer to identify an individual, and he expressed skepticism that Google’s system for guarding the identities of users will stand up to the efforts of hackers, who in the past have successfully stripped away privacy protections created by other companies after data breaches.

“What we have learned is that it’s extremely difficult to anonymize data,” he said. “If you care about your privacy, you definitely need to be concerned.”

Such data providers have been the targets of cybercriminals in the past. In 2015, a hack of data broker Experian exposed the personal information of 15 million people.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 24th, 2017 at 10:05 am

Posted in Advertising,Business

Tagged with ,

Illinois Senate approves Right to Know online privacy bill

without comments

Eye see u Willis
Eye see u 

Hmm, good news, though I expect Governor Rauner to veto it, for reasons…

The state Senate on Thursday approved the groundbreaking Right to Know Act, a measure that would require online companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon to disclose to consumers what data about them has been collected and shared with third parties.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park, now heads to the Illinois House after passing on a 31-21 vote.

“I think this is a step forward for Illinois in terms of data privacy,” Hastings said Friday. “It gives people the right to know what information (internet companies are) selling to a third party.”

Illinois is taking center stage in the national debate over internet privacy legislation, which is shifting from the federal to state level. Congress voted in March to undo the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband privacy rules, which were adopted last fall under the Obama administration and set to go into effect this year.

President Donald Trump on April 3 signed the measure that repealed the broadband privacy rules.

The FCC protections would have required internet service providers, such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, to disclose what personal information they collect and share and would have required consent from consumers before sharing more sensitive information.

Privacy advocates believe Illinois and other states must step up to fill the void left by the shift in federal policy.

The Right to Know Act would require the operator of a commercial website or online service to make available “certain specified information” that has been disclosed to a third party and to provide an email address or toll-free telephone number for customers to request that information.

Major internet companies have been pushing back against the Illinois initiative, ramping up lobbying efforts as the privacy legislation advanced through the Senate, Hastings said. Online trade associations, including CompTIA, the Internet Association and NetChoice, also met with Hastings to voice opposition to the measure.

The Senate bill will head to committee in the House before it can be brought to a vote. A House committee approved a similar measure last month.

(click here to continue reading Illinois Senate approves Right to Know online privacy bill – Chicago Tribune.)

No Repercussions For You Yet
No Repercussions For You Yet

Of course the technology companies who have been profiting handsomely by selling our information are opposed to this bill, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea for consumers. I want, at minimum, to be able to share in the profits, and even better, a way to opt out entirely. Ha. Just for grins, read the text of the IL Senate bill to see what kinds of information being sold.

For instance:

(a) real name, alias, nickname, and user name.

(b) Address information, including, but not limited to, postal or e-mail.

(c) Telephone number.

(d) Account name.

(e) Social security number or other government-issued identification number, including, but not limited to, social security number, driver’s license number, identification card number, and passport number.

(f) Birthdate or age.

(g) Physical characteristic information, including, but not limited to, height and weight.

(h) Sexual information, including, but not limited to, sexual orientation, sex, gender status, gender identity, and gender expression.

(i) Race or ethnicity.

(j) Religious affiliation or activity.

(k) Political affiliation or activity.

(l) Professional or employment-related information.

(m) Educational information.

(n) Medical information, including, but not limited to, medical conditions or drugs, therapies, mental health, or medical products or equipment used.

(o) Financial information, including, but not limited to, credit, debit, or account numbers, account balances, payment history, or information related to assets, liabilities, or general creditworthiness.

(p) Commercial information, including, but not limited to, records of property, products or services provided, obtained, or considered, or other purchasing or consumer histories or tendencies.

(q) Location information.

(r) Internet or mobile activity information, including, but not limited to, Internet protocol addresses or information concerning the access or use of any Internet or mobile-based site or service.

(s) Content, including text, photographs, audio or video recordings, or other material generated by or provided by the customer.

Are you ok with Acxiom, Experian and other similar corporations collecting, collating, selling and re-selling this information about you? I’m not.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 6th, 2017 at 9:01 am

Posted in Business,government

Tagged with ,

AT&T ready to cancel landline phone service

without comments

at&t light
at&t

The wiring is in the wall. Err, you know what I meant…

With traditional landline service dwindling to less than 10 percent of Illinois households in its territory, AT&T is pushing legislation in Springfield that, pending Federal Communications Commission approval, would allow it to unplug the aging voice-only network and focus on the wireless and internet-based phone offerings that have supplanted it.

…If it passes, the Illinois telecommunications modernization bill would take effect July 1, giving AT&T the right to cancel the old landline service with 60 days’ notice. Existing customers would have the opportunity to appeal the decision to state regulators.

While AT&T ultimately needs approval from the FCC to abandon a long-standing obligation to maintain its “plain old telephone service,” it has passed similar legislation in 19 of the 21 states where it is the legacy telephone carrier, with California the only other holdout.

AT&T is hoping to have all of the states on board before moving forward at the FCC, La Schiazza said.

A previous measure didn’t get to a vote in Illinois two years ago, but the current version made it through a state Senate committee in March, and La Schiazza is optimistic that with ongoing changes in consumer phone use, sentiment has shifted toward passage.

(click here to continue reading AT&T ready to hang up on traditional landline phone service in Illinois – Chicago Tribune.)

Calumet 5-6969
Calumet 5-6969

POTS lines are more reliable, and at least in my experience, have better audio quality than cellular services. I am also genuinely curious as to how AT&T plans to handle this aspect:

While more than 70 percent of 911 calls come from wireless phones, according to the FCC, they present challenges for emergency personnel to pinpoint location.

Some medical monitoring devices and home alarm systems only work on traditional landlines. AT&T said it will certify that “reliable replacement options” are available before retiring the old network.

Julie Vahling, associate state director of AARP Illinois, said seniors shouldn’t be forced to switch until alternative phone services prove as reliable as traditional landlines.

“I think AT&T’s goal is to put everybody on a wireless service,” Vahling said. “I don’t care if it is 140 years old, (traditional landline service) is the most reliable form of communication that we have right now.”

My building has 2 AT&T landlines connected to the elevator (one is a backup) for emergency calls to the fire department, plus a landline connection to our building’s fire panel. I suppose we’ll have to upgrade this equipment at some time in the future, I wonder how many downtown buildings will have to do so as well? 

Last Of A Dying Breed
Last Of A Dying Breed

Written by Seth Anderson

May 5th, 2017 at 10:51 am

Posted in Business

Tagged with ,

Trump Inadvertently Cripples U.S. Coal Exports

without comments

Everything If You Want Things

Everything If You Want Things

The Cheeto-in-Chief’s shoot from the hip governing style has struck again, this time screwing his big time buddies, the US coal industry. I giggled.

On Monday, at the urging of the U.S. timber industry, Trump imposed tariffs of up to 24 percent on imports of Canadian softwood lumber. The issue of Canadian lumber imports has been vexed for years, but this latest hardball from Trump—especially at a time when he is threatening to pull the United States out of NAFTA—hit a nerve with Canada. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to stand up for Canada’s lumber industry, warning, “You cannot thicken this border without hurting people on both sides of it.”

Today, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark dropped a bombshell tweet, saying, “It’s time to ban thermal coal from BC ports.” In a letter to Trudeau, she wrote:

For many years, a high volume of U.S. thermal coal has been shipped through BC on its way to Asia. It’s not good for the environment, but friends and trading partners cooperate. So we haven’t pressed the issue with the federal government that regulates the port.

Clearly, the United States is taking a different approach. So, I am writing you today to ban the shipment of thermal coal from BC ports.

Clark goes on to note the success of the Beyond Coal movement in shutting down coal terminals on the U.S. Pacific Coast:

As you may know, over the past five years, every proposed coal export facility on the West Coast of the United States has been rejected or withdrawn, typically as a result of ecological or environmental concerns. . . . Oregon, Washington, and California have all made significant commitments to eliminate the use of coal as a source of electricity for their citizens. In fact, in August 2016, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed Bill 1279 that banned the provision of any state transportation funding for new coal export terminals.

Due to the lack of U.S. terminals, Clark says, U.S. exports through Canada have been increasing. Last year, she says, 6.2 million tons of U.S. thermal coal moved through the Port of Vancouver, and the number was expected to increase in the future.

(click here to continue reading D’oh! Donald Trump Inadvertently Cripples U.S. Coal Exports | Sierra Club.)

Maybe If You Slowed Down
Maybe If You Slowed Down

a little background about the lumber dispute which led to the imposition of tariffs: doesn’t seem like it is that clear of a “win”.

The average American’s stake in all of this — or the average Canadian’s, for that matter — is considerably less clear than the Trump administration’s rhetoric would imply.

As a lumber producer, Canada enjoys a basic advantage over the United States: a timber inventory that’s 13 times greater, per capita, according to Daowei Zhang, a professor of forest economics and policy at Auburn University who has made a career of his own studying this never-ending kerfuffle. Canada’s resource endowment, plus exchange rates and many other economic factors, helps explain the rise of Canadian softwood-lumber imports from a mere 7 percent of the U.S. market during the Korean War to 30 percent or so in recent years.

U.S. producers emphasize the fact that Canada’s forests are government-owned, whereas most U.S. timber stands are on private land. Provincial agencies set the price loggers must pay — delightfully known as the “stumpage fee” — for cutting down pines and other conifers, a.k.a., “soft” wood. U.S. producers say that this results in below-market stumpage fees for Canadian loggers — or, as the U.S. industry contends, a subsidy.

A 2105 Congressional Research Service report called evidence on this point “widespread, but inconclusive.” The U.S. side has not fared well in international arbitration. Even so, Canada has agreed to a series of temporary market-sharing agreements, the most recent of which expired in the waning days of the Obama administration, thus freeing the Trump team to take its new position, whether in earnest or as posturing ahead of a NAFTA renegotiation remains to be seen.

The best thing for the public, in both countries, would be to use market mechanisms to allocate timber resources to the maximum extent feasible, then allow free cross-border trade in lumber as in (almost) everything else. May the most efficient producer win!

Certainly, limiting imports of Canadian lumber, whether through tariffs or by negotiated agreement, will make U.S. housing more expensive, since Canada supplied roughly 31 percent of the U.S. market for softwood lumber in 2016 and softwood lumber accounts for about 7 percent of the construction cost of a home, according to the Washington-based National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

The NAHB, another D.C. lobby that the softwood-lumber dispute periodically activates, estimates that the jobs that Trump’s latest move saves in American saw mills would be offset elsewhere, resulting in a net loss of 8,241 U.S. jobs, $498.3 million in wages and salaries, and $350.2 million in taxes and other government revenue.

No doubt the housing lobby is a dubious proxy for the public, given its own dependence on government market manipulation and subsidies. Yet, in this case, the NAHB study illustrates a valid point: The Trump administration is not proposing to protect America from Canada; it’s proposing to protect certain American special interests from certain Canadian special interests.

(click here to continue reading Trump has set out to protect lumber workers. Instead, he’s helping lobbyists. – The Washington Post.)

So Trump purses his lip, imposes a tariff on Canadian lumber to show how “tough” he is against those meanie Canadians, and ends up screwing his coal producing buddies. Doh! Coal is a dirty, dying business, and shouldn’t be propped up in any circumstance.

Oh, and since I had to look it up: thermal coal is coal used for power generation, as opposed to metallurgical coal used mostly for steel production.

Written by Seth Anderson

April 27th, 2017 at 9:02 am

Posted in Business,environment,politics

Tagged with ,

Smart TVs Just as George Orwell Envisioned

without comments

You Are Being Film
You Are Being Film. 

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been immersed in dystopian novels. George Orwell would mutter I told you so about these latest Smart TV revelations if he was still around.

Careful what you say around your TV. It may be listening. And blabbing. A single sentence buried in a dense “privacy policy” for Samsung’s Internet-connected SmartTV advises users that its nifty voice command feature might capture more than just your request to play the latest episode of Downton Abbey. “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,” the policy reads.

Samsung’s privacy policy notes that in addition to voice commands being transmitted, information about your device, “including device identifiers,” may also be beamed over the Internet to the third-party service, “or to the extent necessary to provide Voice Recognition features to you.”
McSherry called that bit of qualifying language “worrisome.”

“Samsung may just be giving itself some wiggle room as the service evolves, but that language could be interpreted pretty broadly,” she said.

(click here to continue reading Your Samsung SmartTV Is Spying on You, Basically – The Daily Beast.)

Samsung eventually admitted the 3rd party:

Samsung has confirmed that its “smart TV” sets are listening to customers’ every word, and the company is warning customers not to speak about personal information while near the TV sets.

The company revealed that the voice activation feature on its smart TVs will capture all nearby conversations. The TV sets can share the information, including sensitive data, with Samsung as well as third-party services.

Samsung has updated its policy and named the third party in question, Nuance Communications, Inc.

(click here to continue reading Samsung warns customers not to discuss personal information in front of smart TVs.)

Lonely Zenith
Lonely Zenith

Hmm, sounds familiar. Remember this from a few weeks ago:

Consumers have bought more than 11 million internet-connected Vizio televisions since 2010. But according to a complaint filed by the FTC and the New Jersey Attorney General, consumers didn’t know that while they were watching their TVs, Vizio was watching them. The lawsuit challenges the company’s tracking practices and offers insights into how established consumer protection principles apply to smart technology.

Starting in 2014, Vizio made TVs that automatically tracked what consumers were watching and transmitted that data back to its servers. Vizio even retrofitted older models by installing its tracking software remotely. All of this, the FTC and AG allege, was done without clearly telling consumers or getting their consent.

What did Vizio know about what was going on in the privacy of consumers’ homes? On a second-by-second basis, Vizio collected a selection of pixels on the screen that it matched to a database of TV, movie, and commercial content. What’s more, Vizio identified viewing data from cable or broadband service providers, set-top boxes, streaming devices, DVD players, and over-the-air broadcasts. Add it all up and Vizio captured as many as 100 billion data points each day from millions of TVs.

Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. And let’s be clear: We’re not talking about summary information about national viewing trends. According to the complaint, Vizio got personal. The company provided consumers’ IP addresses to data aggregators, who then matched the address with an individual consumer or household. Vizio’s contracts with third parties prohibited the re-identification of consumers and households by name, but allowed a host of other personal details – for example, sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education, and home ownership.  And Vizio permitted these companies to track and target its consumers across devices.

(click here to continue reading What Vizio was doing behind the TV screen | Federal Trade Commission.)

Continuous Video Recording in Progress
Continuous Video Recording in Progress

You didn’t realize that your habits were worth so much money to the corporate surveillance world did you? Too bad the data mining industry doesn’t share in any of the profits they’ve harvested from your habits and propensities.

Plus the whole listening to you every second might not always be in your own best interests:

Upon further investigation, however, police began suspecting foul play: Broken knobs and bottles, as well as blood spots around the tub, suggested there had been a struggle. A few days later, the Arkansas chief medical examiner ruled Collins’s death a homicide — and police obtained a search warrant for Bates’s home.

Inside, detectives discovered a bevy of “smart home” devices, including a Nest thermostat, a Honeywell alarm system, a wireless weather monitoring system and an Amazon Echo. Police seized the Echo and served a warrant to Amazon, noting in the affidavit there was “reason to believe that Amazon.com is in possession of records related to a homicide investigation being conducted by the Bentonville Police Department.”

That warrant threw a wrinkle into what might have been a traditional murder investigation, as first reported by the Information, a news site that covers the technology industry.

While police have long seized computers, cellphones and other electronics to investigate crimes, this case has raised fresh questions about privacy issues regarding devices like the Amazon Echo or the Google Home, voice-activated personal command centers that are constantly “listening.” Namely, is there a difference in the reasonable expectation of privacy one should have when dealing with a device that is “always on” in one’s own home?

The Echo is equipped with seven microphones and responds to a “wake word,” most commonly “Alexa.” When it detects the wake word, it begins streaming audio to the cloud, including a fraction of a second of audio before the wake word, according to the Amazon website.

A recording and transcription of the audio is logged and stored in the Amazon Alexa app and must be manually deleted later. For instance, if you asked your Echo, “Alexa, what is the weather right now?” you could later go back to the app to find out exactly what time that question was asked.

(click here to continue reading Can Alexa help solve a murder? Police think so — but Amazon won’t give up her data. – The Washington Post.)

Luckily, my “dumb” tv still chugs along…

 

Update: the Samsung story is from 2015, the Amazon and the Vizio stories are more recent. Main point still stands however…

Written by Seth Anderson

February 16th, 2017 at 9:54 am

IL Supreme Court Weighs Whether Hospitals Can Avoid Property Tax

without comments

Sun Setting On A Sacred Cow
Sun Setting On A Sacred Cow

Personally, I don’t think hospitals should be exempt from property tax. What exactly is the standard here, that if a corporation “does good” they don’t have to pay their fair share of tax? Who defines what the good is? Who monitors it? 

Lisa Schencker reports:

Illinois not-for-profit hospitals currently are exempt from having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes so long as the value of their charitable services is equal to or greater than their estimated tax liabilities.

But some municipalities argue that many not-for-profit hospitals are more like businesses, making handsome profits. They say hospitals should have to contribute their fair share of taxes to their communities, like any other business. A 2009 report by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability said 47 Chicago-area not-for-profit hospitals had property tax exemptions worth a total of $279 million.

About 156 of Illinois’ more than 200 hospitals are not-for-profit.

In the case before the state Supreme Court, the city of Urbana and others argue that Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana should not be exempt from paying property taxes. They say the 2012 state law allowing hospitals to be exempt if they provide charity equal in value to their property tax liabilities is unconstitutional. The state constitution only allows such exemptions if the property in question is used exclusively for charitable purposes, they say.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said after oral arguments Thursday that regardless of what the court decides — or doesn’t decide — the issue is one the legislature should weigh.

The hospital association might work with lawmakers to craft a new law if the court strikes the current one down. Association President and CEO A.J. Wilhelmi has said the group will “assess all options” once a ruling is made.

“Why should the most profitable companies in the state be shifting their burden onto every other business and homeowner?” Prussing asked.

Last year, a study published in the journal Health Affairs named Carle the 10th most profitable hospital in the country when it came to patient care services, with $163.5 million in profits in fiscal year 2013.

 

(click here to continue reading Illinois Supreme Court weighs whether hospitals must pay property taxes – Chicago Tribune.)

There Are Some Things To Talk About
There Are Some Things To Talk About

I don’t believe that churches should be exempt either, unless they can scientifically prove that god exists. Are medical cannabis dispensaries tax exempt? Planned Parenthood clinics? Is Feeding America’s offices on Wacker Drive tax free? What about ACLU headquarters? Union halls? Bars and taverns? Wrigley Field? Seriously, where does it end? Our society would be much better off and more equitable if corporations didn’t get so many freebies from taxpayers. I’ve always liked the idea of a “mandatory minimum” for corporations above a certain size – the idea that Boeing and Archer Daniels Midland and all the rest can’t evade taxes by exploiting shell corporations and loopholes.

Written by Seth Anderson

January 16th, 2017 at 10:12 am

Whale Oil, Horse & Buggies Will Never Again Be The Driver of US Economy

without comments

Tourist Trolley Ketchikan

Coal mining, lumber, whale oil extraction: none of these industries are going to be resurrected to save the working classes of the United States, those eras are over, and are not returning. No amount of new regulation or removal of existing regulation is ever going to bring those jobs back.

Sadly for all of us, many Trump voters expect him to be able to magically recommission steel plants, to make coal a cost efficient means to create energy, and so on.

To see where things get more tangled, head into the damp woods of the Cascade Range in central Oregon, and the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, where a long economic decline began in the late 1980s as international trade shifted timber markets to places like Canada, and automated mills eliminated tens of thousands of jobs. Those computer-run mills are not going away even if more logs start arriving.

“We really don’t have a clear and easy path to go back to the good old days when natural resource extraction was driving our economy,” said Sean Stevens, the executive director of Oregon Wild, a conservation group. “It is not as easy as just logging more,” he said.

But the hopes, and the fears, about how that system might now change are boundless.

“My big hope is that people would be able to go back to work in San Juan County and these rural areas,” said Phil Lyman, a county commissioner in southern Utah, where antigovernment feelings run as deep as the slot canyons. “You just feel like everything has been stifled with regulations.”

Robot, living in the future
Robot, living in the future

Republicans in Congress have proposed bills weakening federal laws that protect wilderness, water quality, endangered species or that allow presidents to unilaterally name new national monuments. Some conservatives hope Mr. Trump will support their efforts to hand federal land over to states, which could sell it off or speed up drilling approvals.

Uranium mines around the Grand Canyon. Oil drilling rigs studding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. New coal and timber leases in the national forests. States divvying up millions of acres of federal land to dispose of as they wish.

To environmental groups, it would be a nightmare. To miners, loggers, ranchers and conservative politicians in resource-dependent areas, it would be about time. Either way, Donald J. Trump’s election presages huge potential change on America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands, from the deep seas east of Maine to the volcanic coasts of Hawaii.

(click here to continue reading Battle Lines Over Trump’s Lands Policy Stretch Across 640 Million Acres – The New York Times.)

This Tree Is Older Than You

This Tree Is Older Than You

and on that topic from D Watkins:

A common theme that’s being tossed around is that Trump’s election was the white working class’ chance way to say “F**k you!” to the political elites who forgot about them, sucked up their factory jobs and left them out to dry. I take issue with this for a number of reasons.

The first and most obvious reason is this: How do you buck a system ruled by elites by electing a billionaire who was born rich, employed the Mexicans he blamed for taking jobs away and could never possibly understand someone else’s struggle? Next, I don’t fully understand the term “hard-working whites.” I come from the blackest community in one of the blackest cities, and I don’t know how not to have 10 jobs. Everybody I know has 10 jobs, even the infants. Black people, Asians and Mexicans alike work their asses off, so why is the “hard-working white” class even a voting bloc?

What’s sad is that these angry, hard-working white people don’t understand that they saw more economic gains under President Obama than they did under George W. Bush. Unemployment went down across the board except among African-Americans — the rate actually doubled for us — so those folks should be praising Obama, not championing Trump or subscribing to all this alt-right B.S.

Then there’s the myth of returning factory jobs. It’s not a real thing! And trust me, I used to subscribe to the same ideas, all caught up in the nostalgia of the old dudes from my neighborhood. My friend Al’s grandpa used to park his Cadillac on Ashland Avenue, hop out and roll up on us nine-year-olds like, “Finish high school, get a job at Bethlehem Steel and your future is set!” He’d spin his Kangol around backwards, pull out a fistful of dollars, give us each a couple and continue, “I made so much money at the steel factory, my lady ain’t worked a day in her life! I bought a house that I paid off and that shiny car right there! Yes sir, life is good!”

Those jobs were long gone by the time we came of age, at Bethlehem Steel and almost every place like it across the country. They weren’t taken by Mexicans or sent overseas — industries changed, new products were made and robots were invented that could do the job of 10 men and work all night without complaining. Those beautiful factory positions for uneducated hard-working whites (or anybody else) aren’t coming back, and I don’t care what Trump says. What’s even weirder is that we have created a generation of people complaining about jobs that they have never had and will not see in their lifetime — and again, for what?

(click here to continue reading Dear hard-working white people: Congratulations, you played yourself – Salon.com.)

Satanic Gift
Satanic Gift

Written by Seth Anderson

November 22nd, 2016 at 11:05 am

Posted in Business,environment

Tagged with , , ,

Donald Trump’s Far-Flung Holdings Raise Potential for Conflicts of Interest

without comments

Memorial to the Great War and a poser
Memorial to the Great War and a poser

More details on Trump’s walking conflicts of interest from the failing NYT:

The Trump International operates out of the Old Post Office Building, which is owned by the federal government. That means Mr. Trump will be appointing the head of the General Services Administration, which manages the property, while his children will be running a hotel that has tens of millions of dollars in ties with the agency.

He also will oversee the National Labor Relations Board while it decides union disputes involving any of his hotels. A week before the election, the board ruled against Mr. Trump’s hotel in a case in Las Vegas.

The layers of potential conflicts he faces are in many ways as complex as his far-flung business empire, adding a heightened degree of difficulty for Mr. Trump — one of the wealthiest men to ever occupy the White House — in separating his official duties from his private business affairs.

Further complicating matters are Mr. Trump’s decision to name his children to his transition team, and what is likely to be their informal advisory role in his administration. His daughter Ivanka Trump joined an official transition meeting on Thursday, the day before Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was removed from his post leading the effort.

Mr. Trump has said he will eliminate ethical concerns by turning the management of his company over to his children, an arrangement he has referred to as a blind trust. But ethics lawyers — both Republicans and Democrats — say it is far from blind because he would have knowledge of the assets in the trust and be in contact with the people running it, unlike a conventional blind trust controlled entirely by an independent party.

“To say that his children running his businesses is the equivalent of a blind trust — there is simply no credibility in that claim,” said Matthew T. Sanderson, a Washington lawyer and Republican who has worked on the presidential campaigns of John McCain, Rand Paul and Rick Perry. “Yes, the American public elected him knowing he has these assets, but unless he deals with this properly there will just be a steady trickle of these conflict-of-interest stories, and it could be a drag on his presidency.”

Perhaps most troubling for Mr. Trump, several ethics lawyers said, is a relatively obscure provision of the Constitution, called the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits any government official from taking payments or gifts from a foreign government, or even from sharing in profits in a company that has financial ties to a foreign government.

 Mr. Trump has had business deals with foreign governments or individuals with apparent ties to foreign governments, including multimillion-dollar real estate arrangements in Azerbaijan and Uruguay. His children have frequently traveled abroad to promote the Trump brand, making trips to Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Scotland. Closer to home, the Bank of China is a tenant in Trump Tower and is a lender for another building in Midtown Manhattan where Mr. Trump has a significant partnership interest.

(click here to continue reading Donald Trump’s Far-Flung Holdings Raise Potential for Conflicts of Interest – The New York Times.)

Perplexed By the Light Of Your Moon
Perplexed By the Light Of Your Moon

plus there is this minor detail that the Trumpsters will have to ignore or overturn:

As president, Mr. Trump will be exempt from a federal ethics rule that prohibits government employees and members of Congress from taking actions that could benefit their financial interests.

But the president still must comply with a law that requires annual financial disclosures of his assets. The first will not be due until May 2018, although President Obama filed one voluntarily during his first year in office.

Experts said that even if Mr. Trump was exempt from some federal ethics rules, the public will expect him to not use his office to benefit his personal finances.

(click here to continue reading Donald Trump’s Far-Flung Holdings Raise Potential for Conflicts of Interest – The New York Times.)

Of course, we must remember that Ms. Clinton used a private email server.

Written by Seth Anderson

November 14th, 2016 at 9:18 pm