Economy & business
0 Comments

New York Report: Trump Tax Proposal Would Mostly Benefit Wealthy

Nearly all of New York City’s millionaires would receive big tax cuts under President Donald Trump’s proposed tax overhaul, while more than one-third of moderate- and middle-income families would face increases, according to a government report issued Thursday.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer said Trump’s overall plan, as proposed during the Republican president’s campaign, would give more than $5 billion of tax cuts to city dwellers. But almost two-thirds of that would go to those earning more than $500,000. That group bears just over one-half of the total tax burden.

“We already have astounding wealth gaps across the city and across the country,” Stringer said at a news conference. “The Trump tax code, if implemented, would only exacerbate it.”

The lower taxes for wealthier residents would be achieved through lower marginal tax rates on ordinary and capital gains income and the elimination of the alternative minimum tax (AMT) — a federal income tax that’s required in addition to baseline income tax for certain individuals or entities for which exemptions allow lower payments of standard income tax.

Last week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump’s objective was a tax cut for the middle class, not the top 1 percent. He said he was aiming for passage of a comprehensive tax overhaul by the time Congress takes its August recess.

Six-figure tax cut

Stringer’s office analyzed tax returns of 365,000 New York City households. It found that 92 percent of the city’s millionaires would receive, on average, a tax cut of at least $113,000.

Nearly half of single parents who make $25,000 to $50,000 would experience a tax increase, it said.

The tax cuts, which would reduce federal revenue by more than $2 trillion over 10 years, are driving proposed budget cuts that would leave the city, home to 60,000 homeless people, with a weakened social safety net, Stringer said.

“I find it incredible that this guy, who comes from New York City, who has major investments here, can’t see what his proposal will do to his hometown,” he said. “And then when you scratch the surface, you realize that part of his agenda and who benefits from it is Donald Trump himself.”

Based on the limited information available from Trump’s now-public 2005 federal tax return, his proposal to eliminate the AMT would have benefited him by $31 million that year. In contrast, under his tax plan, a single mother raising two children on less than $50,000 a year would face a tax increase of $464.

0
Silicon Valley & Technology
0 Comments

White House Defends Plan to Eliminate Obama-era Internet Privacy Rules

The White House on Thursday defended a bill recently passed by Congress to repeal Obama-era internet privacy protections, saying the move was meant to create a fair playing field for telecommunication companies.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer, during a Thursday news briefing, reiterated President Donald Trump’s support for the plan to repeal a rule forbidding internet service providers from collecting personal data on users.

Spicer said the Obama administration’s rules reclassified internet service providers as common carriers, similar to hotels and other retail stores, treating them unfairly compared with edge providers, like Google and Facebook.

Repealing the rules, he said, will “allow service providers to be treated fairly and consumer protection and privacy concerns to be reviewed on a level playing field.”

Critics of the repeal bill say it could put the internet browsing histories of private citizens up for sale to the highest bidder.

“Apparently [House Republicans] see no problem with cable and phone companies snooping on your private medical and financial information, your religious activities or your sex life,” said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of net neutrality group Free Press Action Fund. “They voted to take away the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Americans just so a few giant companies could pad their already considerable profits.”

Win for telecoms

Repealing the rules, which were instituted just prior to last year’s presidential election by the Federal Communications Commission but hadn’t yet taken effect, could be seen as a win for major telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T, which can use the consumer data to target digital ads more effectively.

The companies have said the privacy rules put them at a disadvantage compared with websites like Facebook and Google, which aren’t normally regulated by the FCC and weren’t affected by the rules.

Spicer called the rules “federal overreach” instituted by “bureaucrats in Washington to take the interests of one group of companies over the interests of others, picking winners and losers.”

“[Trump] will continue to fight Washington red tape that stifles American innovation, job creation and economic growth,” Spicer said.

0
Silicon Valley & Technology
0 Comments

Long Now Foundation Thinks 10,000 Years Ahead

In a cave in a mountain in western Texas, the Long Now Foundation is building a clock – a big clock, 150 meters tall. The clock will tick only once each year, go bong once a century, and once a millennium, it will send out a cuckoo. Its creators plan for it to last at least 10,000 years.

But they’re not doing it just to build a better clock.

“The goal of the Long Now Foundation,” explains its Executive Director Alexander Rose, “is fundamentally to foster long term responsibility and to think about the future in much deeper terms.”

He calls the enormous, slow-ticking timepiece an icon of long-term thinking, one of many projects Long Now has launched on that scale.

“There’s certain problems such as climate change, or education or things like that that can only be solved if you’re thinking on a multi-generational or even longer time frame,” he said.

 

Ferrets and mammoths

One of those long-term projects is an effort to save the black-footed ferret. This endangered, New World weasel is vulnerable to the old-world disease known as plague.

The Long Now’s Revive and Restore project is exploring how to genetically modify the ferret’s DNA to resist plague.

Rose says that Revive and Restore is also looking for ways to bring back the woolly mammoth. 

“We’re sitting on the cusp of one of the very first times in human history where we can do that. That project has been pulling together different scientists as well as ecologists to figure out not only what species we could do but what we should do to help the environment.”

Disappearing languages are another Long Now priority. This century, thousands of rare human languages may disappear. The Long Now is partnering with linguists and native speakers to preserve these languages on line. The foundation also has created language “decoder rings.” Each of these palm-sized disks, made from long-lasting nickel, holds miniaturized language pages for over 1,000 languages.

University of Colorado archives director Heather Ryan has assisted what’s called the Rosetta Project. She says the Rosetta Disks are a great thought experiment for long-term thinking. And if we ever lose our on-line experts, she says, they may also be practical.

“Looking 10,000 years into the future, somebody could come across and . . . pick up the fact that there’s information etched on here. We can then find clues to all the languages of human civilization over time,” Ryan said.

In the here and now

To foster long-term responsibility, the Long Now Foundation sponsors talks and podcasts with visionaries, such as Dr. Larry Brilliant. The physician and epidemiologist is a former hippie and current philanthropist, who helped the World Health Organization eradicate smallpox.

Audience members say hearing these long-term thinkers gets them thinking about their future. One teenage boy announces, “Eventually, I want to make a difference in the world.” A man in the crowd observes, “We have to have a long-term view in order to have a long term life.”

 

As for pessimists who wonder, what’s the point of thinking 10,000 years ahead, when the world might not survive another 10 months, another member of the audience answers with a laugh, “Makes you wonder, but you’ve always got to keep your eye on the future or else you’ll be stuck. And you can’t get anything done if you’re stuck.”

By helping people care, dream and do, the Long Now Foundation plans to make the world a better place for a long time to come.

0
Arts & Entertainment
0 Comments

G7 Culture Ministers Discuss Threat of Cultural Trafficking

During their first-ever formal meeting, culture ministers representing Group of Seven industrialized nations on Thursday decried the looting and trafficking of cultural treasures by terror groups while experts acknowledged that objects believed looted by extremists are starting to surface in the marketplace.

The topic was on the table both during technical sessions by experts and law enforcement and during the afternoon meeting of G-7 cultural ministers and top officials. The gathering in Florence came a week after the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution co-authored by Italy and France warning that the destruction of cultural treasures may constitute war crimes.

 

Now, the discussion is turning not just to the destruction of cultural treasures, as seen in Syria and Afghanistan, but also to their trafficking as a source of funding to support the activities of extremist groups.

Heritage sites included

U.S. Ambassador Bruce Wharton, acting undersecretary for public diplomacy, told reporters that the ministers discussed the grave risk posed by “looting and trafficking at the hands of terrorist organizations and criminal networks.”

He cited the pillaging of heritage sites in Timbuktu in Mali, Palmyra in Syria  and the Mosul museum in Iraq, which experts are just beginning to assess after 2 years being under control of Islamic State group extremists.

“Looting, trafficking and the illicit sale of cultural heritage objects have helped ISIS-Daesh finance its operations, along with trafficking in drugs, weapons and people,” Wharton said.

 

German Minister of State Maria Boehmer said “terrorism feeds on illegal trafficking of cultural treasures” and applauded moves by the International Criminal Court to make “the targeted destruction of cultural property a war crime.”

“’The barbaric destruction by terrorist groups is targeting people’s identity,” she said.

Details are few

 

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Assistant Director Ray Villanueva said developments in identifying artifacts looted by extremists “are very fresh … happening as we speak.” Villanueva said providing details, including of the countries of origin of looted objects, could compromise the ongoing investigations.

 

“However, I can tell you in general that [through the] internet [and] art dealers we are seeing artifacts coming up from different places,” Villanueva said, adding that the public, museums and art dealers were key to providing law enforcement with information.

 

Milan lawyer Manlio Frigo, who represents museums and art dealers, acknowledged that not all the trafficking in war zones was at the hands of extremists. Refugees crossing the border from Syria have been seen with plastic bags containing artifacts, Frigo said.

Looting for profit

Director-General Irina Bokova of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said there is plenty of evidence that extremists are looting for profit.

 

A group of partners that includes Interpol and the world customs organization are  creating a common database and sharing information in a bid to recover the treasures, Bokova said.

 

“Every single day something happens somewhere that testifies to the fact that it is a systematic, I would say, looting of sites to engage with the illicit trafficking,” she said.

0
Silicon Valley & Technology
0 Comments

Twitter Eases 140-character Limit in Replies

Twitter has found more creative ways to ease its 140-character limit without officially raising it.

 

Now, the company says that when you reply to someone – or to a group – usernames will no longer count toward those 140 characters. This will be especially helpful with group conversations, where replying to two, three or more users at a time could be especially difficult with the character constraints.

 

When users reply, the names of the people they are replying to will be on top of the text of the actual tweet, rather than a part of it.

 

Last year, Twitter said it would stop counting photos, videos, quote tweets, polls and GIF animations toward the character limit. Twitter also said it would stop counting usernames, but the change did not go into effect until now.

 

Twitter, which has been struggling to attract new users, has been trying to appeal to both proponents and opponents by sticking to the current limit while allowing more freedom to express thoughts, or rants, through images and other media.

 

Twitter’s character limit was created so that tweets could fit into a single text message, back in the heyday of SMS messaging. But now, most people use Twitter through its mobile app. There isn’t the same technical constraint, just a desire on Twitter’s part to stay true to its roots.

 

Of course, there are ways to get around the limit , such as sending out multi-part tweets, or taking screenshots of text typed elsewhere.

0
Silicon Valley & Technology
0 Comments

The Long Now Thinks Very Far Ahead

In the U.S., people often measure “success” as fifteen minutes of fame, or a blockbuster financial quarter. This focus on short term results doesn’t always build the skills needed to solve long-term problems, such as reducing disease outbreaks or maintaining species diversity. Concerns about the nation’s short attention span have prompted some visionaries to create a playfully serious way to think ahead. From San Francisco, Shelley Schlender reports about the Long Now Foundation.

0
Silicon Valley & Technology
0 Comments

Vote to Repeal US Broadband Privacy Rules Sparks Interest in VPNs

The vote by the U.S. Congress to repeal rules that limit how internet service providers can use customer data has generated renewed interest in an old internet technology: virtual private networks, or VPNs.

VPNs cloak a customer’s web-surfing history by making an encrypted connection to a private server, which then searches the Web on the customer’s behalf without revealing the destination addresses. VPNs are often used to connect to a secure business network, or in countries such as China and

Turkey to bypass government restrictions on Web surfing.

Privacy-conscious techies are now talking of using VPNs as a matter of course to guard against broadband providers collecting data about which internet sites and services they are using.

“Time to start using a VPN at home,” Vijaya Gadde, general counsel of Twitter Inc, said in a tweet on Tuesday that was retweeted by Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey.

Gadde was not immediately available for comment. Twitter said she was commenting in her personal capacity and not on behalf of the company.

The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives voted 215-205 on Tuesday to repeal rules adopted last year by the Federal Communications Commission under then-President Barack Obama to require broadband providers to obtain consumer consent before using their data for advertising or marketing.

The U.S. Senate, also controlled by Republicans, voted 50-48 last week to reverse the rules. The White House said President Donald Trump supported the repeal measure.

Supporters of the repeal said the FCC unfairly required internet service providers like AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc to do more to protect customers’ privacy than websites like Alphabet Inc’s

Google or Facebook Inc.

Critics said the repeal would weaken consumers’ privacy protections.

VPN advantages, drawbacks

Protected data includes a customer’s web-browsing history, which in turn can be used to discover other types of information, including health and financial data.

Some smaller broadband providers are now seizing on privacy as a competitive advantage. Sonic, a California-based broadband provider, offers a free VPN service to its customers so they can connect to its network when they are not home. That ensures that when Sonic users log on to wi-fi at a coffee shop or hotel, for example, their data is not collected by that establishment’s

broadband provider.

“We see VPN as being important for our customers when they’re not on our network. They can take it with them on the road,” CEO Dane Jasper said.

In many areas of the country, there is no option to choose an independent broadband provider and consumers will have to pay for a VPN service to shield their browsing habits.

Private Internet Access, a VPN provider, took a visible stand against the repeal measure when it bought a full-page ad in the New York Times on Sunday. But the company, which boasts about a million subscribers, potentially stands to benefit from the legislation, acknowledged marketing director Caleb Chen.

VPNs have drawbacks. They funnel all user traffic through one point, so they are an attractive target for hackers and spies. The biggest obstacle to their routine use as a privacy safeguard is that they can be too much of a hassle to set up for many customers. They also cost money.

“The further along toward being a computer scientist you have to be to use a VPN, the smaller a portion of the population we’re talking about that can use it,” said Ernesto Falcon, a legislative counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which opposed the bill.

0
Economy & business
0 Comments

Montana Tribe Sues Trump Administration Over Coal Decision

A Native American tribe in Montana filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration Wednesday, challenging its decision to lift a moratorium on coal leases on public land without first consulting with tribal leaders.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe, located in southern Montana, said the administration lifted the moratorium without hearing the tribe’s concerns about the impact the coal-leasing program has on the tribe, its members and lands.

Earlier this month, the tribe sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who signed the order lifting the moratorium Tuesday, asking to meet with him to discuss the issue. Zinke did not respond to the letter.

“It is alarming and unacceptable for the United States, which has a solemn obligation as the Northern Cheyenne’s trustee, to sign up for many decades of harmful coal mining near and around our homeland without first consulting with our Nation,” Tribal Chairman Jace Killsback said.

Although coal leasing can resume on federal lands, Killsback said the tribe, which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Great Falls, Montana, will bear the brunt of the impact.

“The Northern Cheyenne rarely shares in the economic benefits to the region generated by coal industry and other energy development projects,” he said.

Approximately 426 million tons of federal coal are located near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation at the Decker and Spring Creek mines in Montana, the tribe said.

Neighboring tribe, the Crow, rely on coal production to support their local economy and have called for the relaxation of coal regulations for years.

In a press call Wednesday, Zinke said the new executive orders are a boon for the Crow people, who rely on coal as their predominant industry.

“A war on coal is a war on the Crow people,” he said. He did not respond to a query about the Northern Cheyenne lawsuit.

In a separate lawsuit filed Wednesday by environmental group Earthjustice, a coalition of conservation groups challenged the administration’s moratorium decision, arguing that it imperils public health for the benefit of coal companies.

“No one voted to pollute our public lands, air or drinking water in the last election, yet the Trump administration is doing the bidding of powerful polluters as nearly its first order of business,” Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine said in a statement.

0