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CIA Plane Lands at Wellington Airport Ahead of Five Eyes Meeting 

Chloe Winters reports: Secret agents from one of the most powerful spy agencies in the world may have just touched down in the capital.

What looks to be just another private jet parked at Wellington Airport may in fact be carrying a plane-load of spies who are said to be in the country for a secret meeting in Queenstown.

The tail number – five small, black digits on the back of the plane – reveals the private jet belongs to none other than the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, also known as the CIA.

SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

The aircraft’s arrival ties in with a top-secret meeting of the Five Eyes nations in Queenstown.

The plane, with the registration number 10030, was spotted at Wellington Airport on Saturday morning, NewsHub reports. Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Chilling Effect’ of Mass Surveillance Is Silencing Dissent Online, Study Says 

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A new study shows people may be censoring themselves without realizing it.

Nafeez Ahmed reports: Thanks largely to whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, most Americans now realize that the intelligence community monitors and archives all sorts of online behaviors of both foreign nationals and US citizens.

But did you know that the very fact that you know this could have subliminally censored-hand-overstopped you from speaking out online on issues you care about?

“What this research shows is that in the presence of surveillance, our country’s most vulnerable voices are unwilling to express their beliefs online.”

Now research suggests that widespread awareness of such mass surveillance could undermine democracy by making citizens fearful of voicing dissenting opinions in public.

paper published last week in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the flagship peer-reviewed journal of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), found that “the government’s online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion.”

The NSA’s “ability to surreptitiously monitor the online activities of US citizens may make online opinion climates especially chilly” and “can contribute to the silencing of minority views that provide the bedrock of democratic discourse,” the researcher found.

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The paper is based on responses to an online questionnaire from a random sample of 255 people, selected to mimic basic demographic distributions across the US population.

[Read the full story here, at Motherboard]

Participants were asked to answer questions relating to media use, political attitudes, and personality traits. Different subsets of the sample were exposed to different messaging on US government surveillance to test their responses to the same fictional Facebook post about the US decision to continue airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

They were then asked about their willingness to express their opinions about this publicly—including how they would respond on Facebook to the post; how strongly they personally supported or opposed continued airstrikes; their perceptions of the views of other Americans; and whether they supported or opposed online surveillance. Read the rest of this entry »


Tony Stark, Global Taxation Advocate: Elon Musk Just Demanded a Carbon Tax in Paris

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Matthew DeBord reports: Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave a speech in Paris on Wednesday at the Sorbonne, and he called in no uncertain terms for a carbon tax.

“Musk isn’t a newcomer to the idea of a carbon tax. He’s been calling for one for years. But the evolution of his businesses and the advent of Tesla Energy, his power-storage undertaking, appear to have sharpened his pitch.”

“We have to fix the unpriced externality,” he told the audience, shifting into the wonky quasi-academic mode that he actually appears to enjoy indulging in, when he isn’t running two companies and serving as the Chairman of a third, Solar City.

[Also see – Elon Musk says the refugee crisis is ‘just a glimpse of what’s to come if we ignore climate change‘]

[Musk has never just been about building cars, or going to Mars, or applying solar power more widely]

His entire speech hinged on this simple observation: that the addition of carbon to the atmosphere is effectively a worldwide subsidy that’s contributing to global warming and preventing humanity from freeing itself from the fossil fuel era.

Musk in Paris Slide

[Read the full story here, at Business Insider]

Musk called this a “hidden carbon subsidy of $5.3 trillion per year,” citing the IMF. In response to questions after his speech, he said that a good outcome of the current UN Climate Summit (COP21) taking place in France would be that governments “put their foot down” and use a revenue neutral, gradually applied carbon tax to accelerate the shift from an economy driven by fossil fuels to one driven by sustainable energy.

Musk in Paris

ScreenshotThe “untaxed negative externality” is the right to put carbon into the atmosphere for free.

Musk is convinced that the current fossil fuel era will end — it’s just a question of when. In his analysis, the transition will occur simply because we’ll run out of carbon-based stuff that we can dig out of the ground and burn. But the existing carbon subsidy, in his estimation, is slowing down progress. Read the rest of this entry »


Full Scale Non-Stop Global Panic Update: Obama’s Cyber Meltdown Keeps Getting Worse

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When the Administration disclosed the OPM hack in early June, they said Chinese hackers had stolen the personal information of up to four million current and former federal employees. The suspicion was that this was another case of hackers (presumably sanctioned by China’s government) stealing data to use in identity theft and financial fraud. Which is bad enough.

Yet in recent days Obama officials have quietly acknowledged to Congress that the hack was far bigger, and far more devastating. It appears OPM was subject to two breaches of its system in mid-to-late 2014, and the hackers appear to have made off with millions of security-clearance background check files.

These include reports on Americans who work for, did work for, or attempted to work for the panic_300Administration, the military and intelligence agencies. They even include Congressional staffers who left government—since their files are also sent to OPM.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

This means the Chinese now possess sensitive information on everyone from current cabinet officials to U.S. spies. Background checks are specifically done to report personal histories that might put federal employees at risk for blackmail. The Chinese now hold a blackmail instruction manual for millions of targets.

These background checks are also a treasure trove of names, containing sensitive information on an applicant’s spouse, children, extended family, friends, neighbors, employers, landlords. Each of those people is also now a target, and in ways they may not contemplate. In many instances the files contain reports on applicants compiled by federal investigators, and thus may contain information that the applicant isn’t aware of.

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Of particular concern are federal contractors and subcontractors, who rarely get the same security training as federal employees, and in some scenarios don’t even know for what agency they are working. These employees are particularly ripe targets for highly sophisticated phishing emails that attempt to elicit sensitive corporate or government information. Read the rest of this entry »


Protesters Stage Anti-Robot Rally at SXSW

“I say robot, you say no-bot!”

Jon Swartz reports: The chant reverberated through the air near the entrance to the SXSW tech and entertainment festival here.

About two dozen protesters, led by a computer engineer, echoed that sentiment in their movement against artificial intelligence.

“Machines have already taken over. If you drive a car, much of what it does is technology-driven.”

— Ben Medlock, co-founder of mobile-communications company SwiftKey

“This is is about morality in computing,” said Adam Mason, 23, who organized the protest.

Signs at the scene reflected the mood. “Stop the Robots.” “Humans are the future.”

The mini-rally drew a crowd of gawkers, drawn by the sight of a rare protest here.

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The dangers of more developed artificial intelligence, which is still in its early stages, has created some debate in the scientific community. Tesla founder Elon Musk donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute because of his fears.

Stephen Hawking and others have added to the proverbial wave of AI paranoia with dire predictions of its risk to humanity.

“I am amazed at the movement. I has changed life in ways as dramatic as the Industrial Revolution.”

— Stephen Wolfram, a British computer scientist, entrepreneur and former physicist known for his contributions to theoretical physics

The topic is an undercurrent in Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, a documentary about the fabled Apple co-founder. The paradoxical dynamic between people and tech products is a “double-edged sword,” said its Academy Award-winning director, Alex Gibney. “There are so many benefits — and yet we can descend into our smartphone.”

As non-plussed witnesses wandered by, another chant went up. “A-I, say goodbye.”

Several of the students were from the University of Texas, which is known for a strong engineering program. But they are deeply concerned about the implications of a society where technology runs too deep. Read the rest of this entry »


Anti-GMO Activist’s Stunning Reversal

While Golden Rice was developed over ten years at the miniscule total cost of $2.6 million, in an extraordinary public-private partnership using funds donated by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Swiss Federation, the National Science Foundation, and the European Union, Greenpeace International alone annually spends about $270 million annually, and upwards of $7 million each year specifically dedicated to burying Golden Rice and any other food or crop developed using biotechnology.

While Golden Rice was developed over ten years at the miniscule total cost of $2.6 million, in an extraordinary public-private partnership using funds donated by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Swiss Federation, the National Science Foundation, and the European Union, Greenpeace International alone annually spends about $270 million annually, and upwards of $7 million each year specifically dedicated to burying Golden Rice and any other food or crop developed using biotechnology.annually, and upwards of $7 million each year specifically dedicated to burying Golden Rice and any other food or crop developed using biotechnology.

Julie Gunlock writes:

Mark Lynas gets right to the point:

“I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.”

Lynas uttered that stunningly frank apology last week during a lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference.  It’s a big deal. A big reversal.

Here’s why.

Golden Rice grain being held by Dr Parminder Virk in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants.

Golden Rice grain being held by Dr Parminder Virk in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants.

Mark Lynas, a journalist and environmental activists, is one of the founders of the anti-GMO movement. As Slate reports, as recently as 2008, Lynas blamed corporate greed for threatening world health. In fact, the anti-GMO hysteria we see today (which was on full display on the Women for Food Freedom Facebook page when my Policy Focus on GM food was published) can, to some degree, be blamed on the writing and political activisim of Mark Lynas.

Editor’s note: In a typical example of anti-GMO alarmism, revealing breathtaking scientific ignorance, one punditfromanotherplanet reader complains about possible food allergies, “gastrointestinal problems” (in the first world, of course) and actually boasts about promoting what he believes is a more beneficial approach to global hunger: giving half a box of boutique, “community supported” produce to local food banks (as if this addresses global starvation risks for millions of people who are the victims of ignorant, pro-death anti-GMO activists:

“I would say number of people that we know are affected by GMOs? Very unclear. ‘Food allergies’ and gastrointestinal problems in the US are hugely on the rise. Inserting a gene for a pesticide into a plant that we eat is very very different from selecting the best tomato or crossing two plants. Making seeds that grow plants that cannot reproduce risks endangering our food supply. I have been buying a community supported agriculture box from a local farmer for the last 10 years: five different farms, in fact. This year I will buy the large box and give half to the food bank. I have time this year too for a garden and I will grow some food.

Then, drkottaway adds this little masterpiece of unintended comedy, drawing a comparison between the alleged risks of GMO crops, and the health hazards of smoking tobacco.

“…shoot, look at how long it took to prove that smoking harmed people and how hard the companies fought that and how they hid information. I can afford to avoid GMOs and help another hungry person avoid GMOs.”

True, and here in the reality-based community, we can make an honest, realistic effort to help alleviate life-threatening micronutrient deficiencies in developing countries, and join the global fight to shut down VAD. What is VAD? Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is responsible for 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness and up to 2 million deaths each year. Giving food to food banks is laudable, of course. But let’s not pretend it’s a substitute for serious intervention in preventable deaths. Shoot, I wouldn’t want to be among the pro-death alarmists who participate in promoting ignorance, hunger, starvation, and blindness, would you?

It is therefore remarkable that he has made this reversal. And he’s not being shy about it.  I encourage anyone interested in this subject to read his whole speech, but here’s just a sample of how he discovered many of his assumptions about GMOs were wrong:

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Journalist and political activist Mark Lynas

I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow.

Read the rest of this entry »


Our Fear of Artificial Intelligence

Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty

Are We Smart Enough to Control Artificial Intelligence? 

A true AI might ruin the world—but that assumes it’s possible at all

Paul Ford writes: Years ago I had coffee with a friend who ran a startup. He had just turned 40. His father was ill, his back was sore, and he found himself overwhelmed by life. “Don’t laugh at me,” he said, “but I was counting on the singularity.”

“The question ‘Can a machine think?’ has shadowed computer science from its beginnings.”

My friend worked in technology; he’d seen the changes that faster microprocessors and networks had wrought. It wasn’t that much of a step for him to believe that before he was beset by middle age, the intelligence of machines would exceed that of humans—a moment that futurists call the singularity. A benevolent superintelligence might analyze the human genetic code at great speed and unlock the secret to eternal youth. At the very least, it might know how to fix your back.

turing-robot-hand

But what if it wasn’t so benevolent? Nick Bostrom, a philosopher who directs the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, describes the following scenario in his book Superintelligence, which has prompted a great deal of debate about the future of artificial intelligence. Imagine a machine that we might call a “paper-clip maximizer”—that is, a machine programmed to make as many paper clips as possible. Now imagine that this machine somehow became incredibly intelligent. Given its goals, it might then decide to create new, more efficient paper-clip-manufacturing machines—until, King Midas style, it had converted essentially everything to paper clips.

Agility: rapid advances in technology, including machine vision, tactile sensors and autonomous navigation, make today’s robots, such as this model from DLR, increasingly useful

Agility: rapid advances in technology, including machine vision, tactile sensors and autonomous navigation, make today’s robots, such as this model from DLR, increasingly useful

No worries, you might say: you could just program it to make exactly a million paper clips and halt. But what if it makes the paper clips and then decides to check its work? Has it counted correctly? It needs to become smarter to be sure. The superintelligent machine manufactures some as-yet-uninvented raw-computing material (call it “computronium”) and uses that to check each doubt. But each new doubt yields further digital doubts, and so on, until the entire earth is converted to computronium. Except for the million paper clips.

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
BY NICK BOSTROM
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2014

Bostrom does not believe that the paper-clip maximizer will come to be, exactly; it’s a thought experiment, one designed to show how even careful system design can fail to restrain extreme machine intelligence. But he does believe that superintelligence could emerge, and while it could be great, he thinks it could also decide it doesn’t need humans around. Or do any number of other things that destroy the world. The title of chapter 8 is: “Is the default outcome doom?”

“Alan Turing proposed in 1950 that a machine could be taught like a child; John McCarthy, inventor of the programming language LISP, coined the term ‘artificial intelligence’ in 1955.”

If this sounds absurd to you, you’re not alone. Critics such as the robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks say that people who fear a runaway AI misunderstand what computers are doing when we say they’re thinking or getting smart. From this perspective, the putative superintelligence Bostrom describes is far in the future and perhaps impossible.

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Yet a lot of smart, thoughtful people agree with Bostrom and are worried now. Why?

The question “Can a machine think?” has shadowed computer science from its beginnings. Alan Turing proposed in 1950 that a machine could be taught like a child; John McCarthy, inventor of the programming language LISP, coined the term “artificial intelligence” in 1955. As AI researchers in the 1960s and 1970s began to use computers to recognize images, translate between languages, and understand instructions in normal language and not just code, the idea that computers would eventually develop the ability to speak and think—and thus to do evil—bubbled into mainstream culture. Even beyond the oft-referenced HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1970 movie Colossus: The Forbin Project featured a large blinking mainframe computer that brings the world to the brink of nuclear destruction; a similar theme was explored 13 years later in War Games. The androids of 1973’s Westworld went crazy and started killing.

“Extreme AI predictions are ‘comparable to seeing more efficient internal combustion engines… and jumping to the conclusion that the warp drives are just around the corner,’ Rodney Brooks writes.”

When AI research fell far short of its lofty goals, funding dried up to a trickle, beginning long “AI winters.” Even so, the torch of the intelligent machine was carried forth in the 1980s and ’90s by sci-fi authors like Vernor Vinge, who popularized the concept of the singularity; researchers like the roboticist Hans Moravec, an expert in computer vision; and the engineer/entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil, author of the 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines. Whereas Turing had posited a humanlike intelligence, Vinge, Moravec, and Kurzweil were thinking bigger: when a computer became capable of independently devising ways to achieve goals, it would very likely be capable of introspection—and thus able to modify its software and make itself more intelligent. In short order, such a computer would be able to design its own hardware.

As Kurzweil described it, this would begin a beautiful new era. Read the rest of this entry »


David W. Buchanan: No, the Robots Are Not Going to Rise Up and Kill You

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David W. Buchanan is a researcher at IBM, where he is a member of the team that made the Watson “Jeopardy!” system.

David W. Buchanan writes: We have seen astonishing progress in artificial intelligence, and technology companies are pouring money into AI research. In 2011, the IBM system Watson competed on “Jeopardy!,” beating the best human playersSiri and Cortana have taken charge of our smartphones. As I write this, a vacuum called Roomba is cleaning my house on its own, using what the box calls “robot intelligence.” It is easy to feel like the world is on the verge of being taken over by computers, and the news media have indulged such fears with frequent coverage of the supposed dangers of AI.

But as a researcher who works on modern, industrial AI, let me offer a personal perspective to explain why I’m not afraid.

Thunder-Robots

Science fiction is partly responsible for these fears. A common trope works as follows: Step 1: Humans create AI to perform some unpleasant or difficult task. Step 2: The AI becomes conscious. Step 3: The AI decides to kill us all. As science fiction, such stories can be great fun. As science fact, the narrative is suspect, especially around Step 2, which assumes that by synthesizing intelligence, we will somehow automatically, or accidentally, create consciousness. I call this the consciousness fallacy. It seems plausible at first, but the evidence doesn’t support it. And if it is false, it means we should look at AI very differently.

Intelligence is the ability to analyze the world and reason about it in a way that enables more effective action. Our scientific understanding of intelligence is relatively advanced. There is still an enormous amount of work to do before we can create comprehensive, human-caliber intelligence. But our understanding is viable in the sense that there are real businesses that make money by creating AI.

Coming online: some 95,000 new professional service robots, worth some $17.1bn, are set to be installed for professional use between 2013 and 2015

Coming online: some 95,000 new professional service robots, worth some $17.1bn, are set to be installed for professional use between 2013 and 2015

Consciousness is a much different story, perhaps because there is less money in it. Consciousness is also a harder problem: While most of us would agree that we know consciousness when we see it, scientists can’t really agree on a rigorous definition, let alone a research program that would uncover its basic mechanisms. Read the rest of this entry »


Gun Range Poison Scare Story Conveniently Appears 2 Weeks Before Election Featuring Billionaire-Funded Gun Control Initiative I-594

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“Drafted under the guise of preventing crime and funded almost solely by elitist billionaires with a proud background of stifling the Second Amendment, I-594 is an 18-page document that does nothing but impose heavy legal burdens on law-abiding gun owners and serious penalties for violations.  These anti-gun billionaires believe that they can buy your rights out from under you, and I-594 is their attempt at doing so.  I-594 will do nothing to make the people of Washington any safer, but will instead create bureaucratic hurdles that could turn law-abiding gun owners into criminals simply for exercising their constitutional rights….” (read more)

THE WASHINGTON COUNCIL OF POLICE & SHERIFFS OPPOSES INITIATIVE 594

The Washington Council of Police & Sheriffs, the state’s oldest and largest law enforcement organization opposes Initiative 594. WACOPS represents more than 4500 active duty police and sheriffs deputies. Click here to read WACOPS position paper on Initiative 594 (read more)

 The National Rifle Association (NRA) has released a one-minute digital video as part of it’s online campaign to defeat Washington State Ballot Initiative 594. The video, titled  I-594 Will Not Make Washington Safer, features Seattle resident Anette Wachter, “The 30 Cal Gal” blogger and U.S. Long Range Rifle Team member.

In the video, Wachter explains, “I-594 wastes scarce law enforcement resources on something that will not make Washington safer.  And it will turn many law-abiding citizens into criminals for simply exercising their constitutional rights.”

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 Myths vs. Facts

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HOW MICHAEL BLOOMBERG IS TWISTING THE GUN CONTROL DEBATE IN THE EVERGREEN STATE WASHING-CON

BY DAVE KOPEL

One way scam artists make money is by peddling mislabeled goods. The label on the can says “Wild Alaskan Salmon,” but what’s really inside is codfish from a filthy breeding pen in China, plus some food coloring.

Selling mislabeled goods is illegal, but there’s nothing illegal about mislabeled laws. Michael Bloomberg knows that difference, and he is exploiting it.

[Also see I-594 UNENFORCEABLE by Scott Brennan]

Right now in the state of Washington, Bloomberg is pushing a November ballot measure that is promoted as being about background checks for private sales. But it is really a law to criminalize most gun owners, including those who never sell guns. If passed, the deceptive Bloomberg ban for Washington state is then going to become the national model, to gradually be imposed on gun owners nationwide.

Bloomberg plans to run a similar ballot measure in Oregon in 2015 and in a dozen or more states in 2016. One of them is Nevada, where the 2016 campaign is already in progress. Bloomberg’s Nevada operation calls itself “Nevadans for Background Checks” and is operated by Melissa Warren, the managing partner at the Faiss Foley Warren Public Relations & Government Affairs lobbying firm.

Bloomberg and his minions claim they are just promoting background checks on private sales. But as usual, they are lying.

One way to tell that Bloomberg is selling a mislabeled law is to read the actual proposal. In this case, it is 18 pages long. It would only take a couple of pages to require background checks on private sales of firearms, if that were all the law did.

Instead, the law is a comprehensive scheme to criminalize the normal use of firearms, thus turning most gun owners into criminals, from whom firearms can be confiscated. Read the rest of this entry »


Behind Closed Doors: White House Meets with Big Business Lobbyists Crafting Executive Actions to Increase Guest-Worker Visas

White-House-w-Fence

“Beto Cardenas, who represents big-business interests… ‘was encouraged to hear that nothing was off the table’.”

For Breitbart, Tony Lee reporting: After White House officials reportedly met with big-business groups, President Barack Obama is considering executive actions that will give them more guest-worker visas in the high-tech and low-skilled sectors.Kirsanow-quote

“America does not have a shortage of high-tech workers. Even mainstream media outlets like CBS News concluded that the notion of such a shortage ‘is largely a myth’.”

This may come on top of Obama’s potential grants of amnesty and work permits to millions of illegal immigrants in the country. While outside groups are urging Obama to “go big,” Senate Democrats have expressed some concerns of late, as poll numbers have shown that executive amnesty may cost them control of the Senate. The White House is reportedly reaching out to big-business groups on guest-worker visas so they can give Obama air cover on his potential executive amnesty.

“Cisco recently slashed another 6,000 jobs after pushing for amnesty legislation.”

According to a Politico report, senior White House aides earlier this month met with “more than a dozen business groups and company officials to discuss potential immigration policy changes they could make.” According to the outlet, “Oracle, Cisco, Fwd.US, Microsoft, Accenture, Compete America, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce” were represented at the meeting. Read the rest of this entry »


Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Says It Will No Longer Fund Abortion

Bill Gates, Melinda Gates

For Breitbart.com, Dr. Susan Berry writes: Melinda Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has announced that her international family planning foundation will no longer fund abortion because she believes abortion and family planning have become “conflated.”

“…like everyone, I struggle with the issue, but I’ve decided not to engage on it publicly—and the Gates Foundation has decided not to fund abortion.”

— Melinda Gates

Gates, wife of the Microsoft founder and a self-professed Catholic, said in a statement on the foundation’s website, titled Impatient Optimists, that she grew concerned about the intertwining of family planning and abortion recently when she was interviewed in Toronto. Though reporters asked her about the Gates Foundation’s newborn and child health initiatives, she said, “every journalist also focused on Canada’s policy on abortion.”

“Let me tell you why this worries me,” she said.

“Around the world there is a deep, broad, and powerful consensus: We should provide all women the information and tools to time and space their pregnancies in a safe and healthy way that works for them,” Gates explained. “This approach is simple, it works, and it saves lives.”

She continued:

The question of abortion should be dealt with separately. But in the United States and around the world the emotional and personal debate about abortion is threatening to get in the way of the lifesaving consensus regarding basic family planning. Read the rest of this entry »


New Obama Promise: If You Like Your Life, You Can Keep It

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Ann Coulter writes:  Liberals are winning wild praise for their candor in admitting problems with Obamacare. It shows you the level of honesty people have come to expect of our liberal friends. Now, liberals are applauded for not lying through their teeth about something.

“It’s not that Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism; it’s that he wants to  end it.”

What are they supposed to say? This Obamacare website is fantastic! And really, haven’t you already read all the magazines in your current doctor’s office anyway? 

The New York Times has described Obama’s repeated claim that you could keep your insurance plan and keep your doctor under Obamacare as a mere slip of the tongue: “Mr. Obama clearly misspoke when he said that.”

“…Obamacare punishes you for having a healthy lifestyle. The Obamacare tax is a massively regressive poll tax on the middle-aged and the middle class.”

Misspoke? How exactly does one misspeak, word for word, dozens of times, over and over again?

That wasn’t misspeaking — it was a deliberate, necessary lie. Even Democrats couldn’t have voted for Obamacare if Americans had known the truth. It was absolutely vital for Obama to lie about people being able to keep their insurance and their doctors.

Of course, it was difficult for voters to know the truth because every time Republicans would try to tell them, the White House and the media would rush in and call the critics liars.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Philanthropic Spectacle: When giving is more about show than results

philanthropyGuy Sorman writes: Bill Gates is putting out a call to inventors,” the CNN story began last March, “but he’s not looking for software or the latest high-tech gadget. This time he’s in search of a better condom.” Incongruous as the story seemed, the former Microsoft titan had joined the struggle against sexually transmitted diseases. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was offering a $100,000 start-up grant to anyone who could design a condom that didn’t interfere with sexual pleasure. Rachel Zimmerman, host of public radio’s CommonHealth, called the Gates Foundation’s initiative “truly inspired.” But was it? After all, the latex industry has pursued the same goal for decades and devoted many millions of dollars to the effort. What’s the point of a philanthropist trying to do what the market is already doing?

Call this philanthropy for show, a kind of celebrity giving designed for a mediatized age, based on grand gestures, big dollars, and heartwarming proclamations—but too little concern with actual results, which often prove paltry, redundant (as with the condom initiative), or even destructive. The American media often revel in controversy, so one might expect that the gap between expansive promises and disappointing outcomes would prompt intense journalistic interest. But for the most part, would-be statesmen-humanitarians—such as Bill Clinton, Gates, and Al Gore, along with entertainment- world benefactors like Oprah Winfrey and academic superstars like Columbia development economist Jeffrey Sachs, have gotten a free pass for their good philanthropic intentions. They and their cohorts deserve closer scrutiny.

Oprah Winfrey is an icon of twenty-first-century American popular culture, a prominent supporter of Barack Obama, and the richest black woman in the world, with an estimated wealth of $2.8 billion, according to Forbes. She can serve as an early exemplar of the philanthropist for show: the celebrity savior.

Read the rest of this entry »


CHILL BILL: Microsoft investors lobby to freeze out chairman Gates

Microsoft founder Bill Gates speaks during the Millennium Development Goals event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, at the U.N. Headquarters in New York September 25, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

Bill Gates speaks during the Millennium Development Goals event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
 Reuters/Brendan McDermid

NEW YORK/SEATTLE (Reuters) – Nadia Damouni and Bill Rigby report: Three of the top 20 investors in Microsoft Corp are lobbying the board to press for Bill Gates to step down as chairman of the software company he co-founded 38 years ago, according to people familiar with matter.

While Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has been under pressure for years to improve the company’s performance and share price, this appears to be the first time that major shareholders are taking aim at Gates, who remains one of the most respected and influential figures in technology.

A representative for Microsoft declined to comment on Tuesday.

There is no indication that Microsoft’s board would heed the wishes of the three investors, who collectively hold more than 5 percent of the company’s stock, according to the sources. They requested the identity of the investors be kept anonymous because the discussions were private. Read the rest of this entry »


The Gold-Plated Ambulance

The necessity of innovation and the social value of gazillionaires.

Kevin D. Williamson observes: A few years ago, a friend of mine was mortally ill with little prospect of treatment for his condition. He learned that there was a newly developed experimental surgery that might be of help, but there were only a few doctors anywhere in the world performing it. But he was a man of considerable financial resources, so he tracked down the physician who had invented the procedure, negotiated terms, and flew him several thousand miles for the treatment. How much expense this entailed I do not know, but I assume it was somewhere between sobering and staggering.

Very wealthy people can do things like that — that is the definition of being very wealthy. The economist Tyler Cowen was denounced for his “sociopathic callousness” for arguing that realistic health-care reform means accepting the fact that “sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor.” Laura Clawson, who hails from the shallow end of the dime-deep intellectual pool at Daily Kos, spoke for the conventional liberal worldview in maintaining that this line of thinking is “monstrous. In the direct sense that you have to be a monster to think it, never mind publicly advocating it as policy. His equation of health care with ‘all sorts of other goods’ that the wealthy have and the poor don’t is a moral and ethical failing, not a logical one — he’s simply suggesting that the right to have treatment for asthma or diabetes is a moral equivalent with the right to have a gold-plated Rolls-Royce.”

But as in the example of my friend, sometimes health care is the equivalent of a gold-plated Rolls-Royce. The most generous national health-care program we can imagine is not going to have the resources to provide each and every one of the 314 million citizens of these United States with the same kind of health care that Bill Gates can access. There are financial limits, and there are physical limits as well: only so many doctors, so many hospital beds, so many doses, so many transplantable organs. Which is to say, sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor, and sometimes middle-class people will die because they are not millionaires, and sometimes millionaires will die because they are not billionaires. And if we can set aside the gold plating, the Rolls-Royce analogy turns out to be more apt than Ms. Clawson might imagine: The cost of a kidney transplant is about the same as that of the least expensive Rolls-Royce, starting at a bit over $250,000. An interesting aspect of our health-care economy is that kidney transplants are available to many people who are not in the market for a bespoke luxury sedan.

But we owe a little something to the Rolls-Royce crowd. Read the rest of this entry »


Revolving Door: As Ballmer Exits, Microsoft Inks Deal That May Lead To Ballmer Board Seat

Today Microsoft announced that it has reached a “cooperation agreement” with ValueAct Capital, an investment company that had been a thorn in its side. It was said that ValueAct wanted a seat on Microsoft’s board.

Instead, Microsoft and ValueAct have come to a different agreement, in which the president of ValueAct – Mason Morfit – and Microsoft directors will meet to talk over issues relating to the company. Morfit will also be given a chance at joining the board, after the company’s annual shareholder meeting.

Read the rest of this entry »


Ballmers Departure From Microsoft Comes 10 Years Too Late

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

Steve Ballmer is stepping down as the CEO of Microsoft, and Wall Street is rather pleased.

On Friday, Ballmer announced that, after 33 years with the company that defined software in the 1980s and ’90s, he will retire sometime within the next 12 months. As of noon Eastern, Microsoft’s stock price had climbed nearly 6 percent. The money men have spoken, and for once, they’re making sense.

In some ways, it’s sad to see Big Steve go. He had a wonderful way of filling a room — with his bellowing voice, his endless stream of hyperbole, his sometimes awkward physicality, and, yes, with just the size of his frame. And for those of us who lived through the PC revolution, Ballmer — employee Number 30 at Microsoft — is the company’s one remaining link to the days when it so swiftly took hold of the tech universe.

But during Ballmer’s decade at Microsoft’s helm — he took the reins from founder Bill Gates in 2000 — the company dug itself a hole that it will be lucky to crawl from in the decade to come.

Read the rest of this entry »


Bye-bye, Ballmer. Investors cheer as Microsoft CEO unveils retirement plan

As Carol Burnett sang: “I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. 
Seems we just got started and before you know it
, comes the time we have to say, ‘So long.'”

Financial Post | Business

[np_storybar title=”Markets: By the numbers” link=””]
Japan’s Nikkei
13,660.55 +295.38 +2.21%

China’s Shanghai
2,057.46 -9.67 -0.47%

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng
21,863.51 -31.89 -0.15%

S&P/ASX 200
5,123.40 +47.70 +0.94%
[/np_storybar]

Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer, who has struggled to adapt to an era of declining personal-computer sales,will retire after more than a decade leading the world’s largest software maker. Ballmer, 57, plans to step down within the next 12 months, Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft said today in a statement. Microsoft’s lead independent director, John Thompson, will lead the search for his successor, heading a committee that will also include Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Microsoft shares rose 5.75% to US$34.25 by 11:30 a.m. in New York. The stock had gained 21% this year before today. Ballmer, who took over the CEO role from Gates in 2000, has been working to bolster Microsoft’s performance in areas like mobile computing as consumers…

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