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Posts Tagged ‘Amazon’

Data on your spending habits could be a gold mine for banks

Posted by M. C. on December 2, 2019

Banks know many of our deepest, darkest secrets — that series of bills paid at a cancer clinic, for instance, or that big strip-club tab that you thought stayed in Vegas. A bank might suspect someone’s adulterous affair long before the betrayed partner would.

Only if you let them and are dumb enough to pay a strip club bill or pay your liquor store bill or buy your ammo or … with plastic.

https://www.fox5ny.com/news/data-on-your-spending-habits-could-be-a-gold-mine-for-banks

There’s a powerful new player watching what you buy so it can tailor product offerings for you: the bank behind your credit or debit card.

For years, Google and Facebook have been showing ads based on your online behavior. Retailers from Amazon to Walgreens also regularly suction up your transaction history to steer future spending and hold your loyalty.

Now banks, too, want to turn data they already have on your spending habits into extra revenue by identifying likely customers for retailers. Banks are increasingly aware that they could be sitting on a gold mine of information that can be used to predict — or sway — where you spend. Historically, such data has been used mostly for fraud protection.

Suppose you were to treat yourself to lunch on Cyber Monday, the busiest online shopping day of the year. If you order ahead at Chipotle — paying, of course, with your credit card — you might soon find your bank dangling 10% off lunch at Little Caesars. The bank would earn fees from the pizza joint, both for showing the offer and processing the payment.

Wells Fargo began customizing retail offers for individual customers on Nov. 21, joining Chase, Bank of America, PNC, SunTrust and a slew of smaller banks.

Unlike Google or Facebook, which try to infer what you’re interested in buying based on your searches, web visits or likes, “banks have the secret weapon in that they actually know what we spend money on,” said Silvio Tavares of the trade group CardLinx Association, whose members help broker purchase-related offers. “It’s a better predictor of what we’re going to spend on.”

While banks say they’re moving cautiously and being mindful of privacy concerns, it’s not clear that consumers are fully aware of what their banks are up to.

Banks know many of our deepest, darkest secrets — that series of bills paid at a cancer clinic, for instance, or that big strip-club tab that you thought stayed in Vegas. A bank might suspect someone’s adulterous affair long before the betrayed partner would.

“Ten years ago, your bank was like your psychiatrist or your minister — your bank kept secrets,” said Ed Mierzwinski, a consumer advocate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Now, he says, “they think they are the same as a department store or an online merchant.”…

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With new ecosystems, is the future bright for banking?

 

 

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DHS’s Terrifying New Database, HART – The Organic Prepper

Posted by M. C. on October 7, 2019

Incidentally, the cloud hosting for HART is being done by none other than Amazon – you know, the ones with surveillance devices like the Ring doorbell and the Alexa home assistant and the Nest home security system. Does anyone see a pattern here?

https://www.theorganicprepper.com/database-dhs-hart/

by Daisy Luther

These days, you can’t really go anywhere without encountering cameras.  Going into a store? Chances are there are security cameras. Getting money at an ATM? More cameras. Driving through the streets of a city? More cameras still. Your neighbors may have those doorbells from Amazon that are surveilling the entire neighborhood.

And many of these cameras are tied into facial recognition databases, or the footage can be quite easily compared there if “authorities” are looking for somebody.

But as it turns out, it isn’t just facial recognition we have to worry about.

DHS has a new recognition system called HART.

Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology system is the alarming new identity system being put in place by the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS is retiring its old system that was based on facial recognition. It’s being replaced with HART, a cloud-based system that holds information about the identities of hundreds of millions of people.

The new cloud-based platform, called the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology System, or HART, is expected to bring more processing power, new analytics capabilities and increased accuracy to the department’s biometrics operations. It will also allow the agency to look beyond the three types of biometric data it uses today—face, iris and fingerprint—to identify people through a variety of other characteristics, like palm prints, scars, tattoos, physical markings and even their voices. (source)

Incidentally, the cloud hosting for HART is being done by none other than Amazon – you know, the ones with surveillance devices like the Ring doorbell and the Alexa home assistant and the Nest home security system. Does anyone see a pattern here?

Also note that Amazon Web Services also hosts data for the CIA, the DoD, and NASA.

More about HART

As HART becomes more established, that old saying “you can run but you can’t hide” is going to seem ever more true. The DHS is delighted at how much further the new system can take them into surveilling Americans.

And by freeing the agency from the limitations of its legacy system, HART could also let officials grow the network of external partners with whom they share biometric data and analytics capabilities, according to Patrick Nemeth, director of identity operations within Homeland Security’s Office of Biometric Identity Management.

“When we get to HART, we will be better, faster, stronger,” Nemeth said in an interview with Nextgov. “We’ll be relieved of a lot of the capacity issues that we have now … and then going forward from there we’ll be able to add [capabilities].” (source)

The DHS wants to break free of the limitations of the old system with their new and “improved” system. HART will use multiple pieces of biometric data to increase identification accuracy.

Today, when an official runs a person’s face, fingerprint or iris scans through IDENT’s massive database, the system doesn’t return a single result. Rather, it assembles a list of dozens of potential candidates with different levels of confidence, which a human analyst must then look through to make a final match. The system can only handle one modality at a time, so if agent is hypothetically trying to identify someone using two different datapoints, they need to assess two lists of candidates to find a single match. This isn’t a problem if the system identifies the same person as the most likely match for both fingerprint and face, for example, but because biometric identification is still an imperfect science, the results are rarely so clear cut.

However, the HART platform can include multiple datapoints in a single query, meaning it will rank potential matches based on all the information that’s available. That will not only make it easier for agents to analyze potential matches, but it will also help the agency overcome data quality issues that often plague biometric scans, Nemeth said. If the face image is pristine but the fingerprint is fuzzy, for example, the system will give the higher-quality datapoint more weight.

“We’re very hopeful that it will provide better identification surety than we can provide with any single modality today,” Nemeth said. And palm prints, scars, tattoos and other modalities are added in the years ahead, the system will be able to integrate those into its matching process. (source)

HART will also use DNA.

Remember a while back when we reported that DNA sites were teaming up with facial recognition software? Well, HART will take that unholy alliance even further.

The phase-two solicitation also lists DNA-matching as a potential application of the HART system. While the department doesn’t currently analyze DNA, officials on Wednesday announced they would start adding DNA collected from hundreds of thousands of detained migrants to the FBI’s criminal database. During the interview, Nemeth said the agency is still working through the legal implications of storing and sharing such sensitive data. It’s also unclear whether DNA information would be housed in the HART system or a separate database, he said. (source)

Nifty.

The DHS is operating without any type of regulation.

Currently, there’s no regulation or oversight of government agencies collecting and using this kind of data. Civil liberty activists and some lawmakers are alarmed by this, citing concerns about privacy and discrimination. This hasn’t slowed down the DHS one iota, however.

Critics have taken particular issue with the government’s tangled web of information sharing agreements, which allow data to spread far beyond the borders of the agency that collected it. The Homeland Security Department currently shares its biometric data and capabilities with numerous groups, including but not limited to the Justice, Defense and State departments.

In the years ahead, HART promises to strengthen those partnerships and allow others to flourish, according to Nemeth. While today the department limits other agencies’ access to IDENT to ensure they don’t consume too much of its limited computing power, HART will do away with those constraints. (source)

Mana Azarmi, the policy counsel for the Freedom, Security and Technology Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology is one of those people voicing concern.

A person might give information to a single agency thinking it would be used for one specific purpose, but depending on how that information is shared, they could potentially find themselves subjected to unforeseen negative consequences, Azarmi said in a conversation with Nextgov.

“The government gets a lot of leeway to share information,” she said. “In this age of incredible data collection, I think we need to rethink some of the rules that are in place and some of the practices that we’ve allowed to flourish post-9/11. We may have overcorrected.” (source)

You think?

Many people voluntarily provide biometric data.

Many folks provide biometric data without giving it a second thought. They cheerfully swab a cheek and send it into sites like Ancestry.com, providing not only their DNA, but matches to many relatives who never gave permission for their DNA to be in a database.

Then there are cell phones. If you have a newer phone, it’s entirely possible that it has asked you to set up fingerprint login, facial recognition, and even voice recognition. It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to believe that those samples are shared with folks beyond the device in your hand. Add to this that your device is tracking you every place you go through a wide variety of seemingly innocuous apps, and you start to get the picture.

You can’t opt-out.

Back in 2013, I wrote an article called The Great American Dragnet.  At that time, facial recognition was something that sounded like science fiction or some kind of joke. Our drivers’ licenses were the first foray into creating a database but even in 2013, it far exceeded that.

Another, even larger, database exists. The US State Department has a database with 230 million searchable images.  Anyone with a passport or an immigration visa may find themselves an unwilling participant in this database.   Here’s the breakdown of who has a photo database:

  • The State Department has about 15 million photos of passport or visa holders
  • The FBI has about15 million photos of people who have been arrested or convicted of crimes
  • The Department of Defense has about 6 million photos, mainly of Iraqis and Afghans
  • Various police agencies and states have at least 210 million driver’s license photos

This invasion of privacy is just another facet of the surveillance state, and should be no surprise considering the information Edward Snowden just shared about the over-reaching tentacles of the NSA into all of our communications. We are filing our identities with the government and they can identify us at will, without any requirement for probable cause. (source)

Some people don’t even seem to mind that their identities have been tagged and filed by the US government. And even those of us who do mind have no option. If you wish to drive a car or travel outside of the country or have any kind of government ID, like it or not, you’re in the database. Six years ago, I wrote:

The authorities that use this technology claim that the purpose of it is to make us safer, by helping to prevent identity fraud and to identify criminals.  However, what freedom are we giving up for this “safety” cloaked in benevolence? We are giving up the freedom of having the most elemental form of privacy – that of being able to go about our daily business without being watched and identified.  And once you’re identified, this connects to all sorts of other personal information that has been compiled: your address, your driving and criminal records, and potentially, whatever else that has been neatly filed away at your friendly neighborhood fusion center.

Think about it:  You’re walking the dog and you fail to scoop the poop – if there’s a surveillance camera in the area, it would be a simple matter, given the technology, for you to be identified. If you are attending a protest that might be considered “anti-government”, don’t expect to be anonymous.  A photo of the crowd could easily result in the identification of most of the participants.

Are you purchasing ammo, preparedness items, or books about a controversial topic?  Paying cash won’t buy you much in the way of privacy – your purchase will most likely be captured on the CCTV camera at the checkout stand, making you easily identifiable to anyone who might wish to track these kinds of things.  What if a person with access to this technology uses it for personal, less than ethical reasons, like stalking an attractive women he saw on the street?  The potential for abuse is mind-boggling.

If you can’t leave your house without being identified, do you have any real freedom left, or are you just a resident in a very large cage? (source)

When I wrote that, it still seemed far-fetched but remotely possible, even to me. This was before we were really aware of anything like the social credit program in China or how crazy the censorship was going to become or how social media would change the very fabric of our society.

Now, it’s here and it looks like there’s no stopping it.

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DHS Issues RFI for Cloud-Based Biometric Processing System ...

 

 

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100 Years Ago Today, This Was The World’s Most Disruptive Technology – The Burning Platform

Posted by M. C. on September 9, 2019

https://www.theburningplatform.com/2019/09/08/100-years-ago-today-this-was-the-worlds-most-disruptive-technology/

Submitted by Nick Colas of DataTrek Research

Most Disruptive Technology

Submitted by Nick Colas of DataTrek Research

The history of US consumerism starts with the Sears Roebuck mail order catalog. Yes, the very same Sears that is struggling to emerge from bankruptcy today. But 125 years ago the company was every bit the disruptive innovator. A brief summary of how that happened:

  • Mail order became viable in the late 1800s because of the expansion of the US rail system, post office regulations that allowed for catalog mailers at 1 cent/pound, and Rural Free Delivery.
  • The first Sears catalog was published in 1894 with the slogan “The Cheapest Supply House on Earth”.
  • Its target audience was rural America, which in 1900 was 60% of the US population. This was a deeply underserved community, often with just a thinly stocked general store to supply all their needs.
  • The 1903 catalog added the commitment of “Your money back if you are not satisfied”, reassuring customers that buying a product sight-unseen was a viable way to shop.

We recently bought a 1920 Sears catalog from an eBay seller. Printed in late 1919, it is a fascinating snapshot of American life 100 years ago. And, at 1,493 pages, it is a remarkably wide-angle view of that image.

In studying this early bible of the American consumer, three points struck us as particularly salient when comparing 1920 to 2019:

#1: The comparison to Amazon.

  • Our catalog was published 25 years after Sears began its mail order business; Amazon is 25 years old today.
  • The scope of the Sears offering in 1920 was every bit as vast as Amazon’s is today. The company offered everything from men’s/women’s/children’s clothing to furniture, appliances, jewelry, home entertainment, toys, and even entire houses and farm buildings.
  • Sear’s merchandising method was exactly the same as what you see on Amazon’s website. Every item for sale had a picture, description, and price. The catalog is organized by the type of product offered for sale, something akin to “If you like this item, you might also like this…”
  • One key difference: Sears offered credit on expensive items. If, for example, you wanted to buy a “New Freedom” coal/wood stove, you could pay $86.50 ($1,100 today) or make a first payment of $10 and then $7.50/month thereafter until you had paid $95.50. That’s a 7.1% annualized interest rate, in case you were wondering. Amazon, of course, takes credit cards.

Conclusion: Sears was actually a more ambitious business model than Amazon when it started. On day one, it was already selling a wide array of products – not just books. In terms of consumer offerings, Amazon now is right where Sears was in 1920. Yes, there are more SKUs on the website, but in terms of what people needed in 1920 the Sears catalog is remarkably complete.

#2: Early stage technology.

  • The new technologies in 1920 were electric-powered appliances and phonograph players. Radio was still some years off – the only items in the 1920 catalog were Morse code transceivers.
  • A 110-volt vacuum cleaner retailed for $57.50 – $68.00 ($740 – $870 today). For reference, a top-rated vacuum on Amazon goes for $70 today.
  • A hand-crank record player went for $30 (basic tabletop) to $225 (solid wood standup), or $385 – $2,900 today. A Bluetooth speaker today goes for about $20.
  • A basic bicycle sold for $53, or $680 in today’s dollars.

Our takeaway: the big difference between 1920s technology and today is how quickly prices come down as demand rises. Part of that is related to infrastructure; for example, in 1920 only 35% of American homes had electricity but by 1929 68% were wired for power. That, plus the disruption created by World War II, explains why vacuum cleaners remained expensive and adoption rates remained below 50% until the late 1940s. The rest, of course, is globalization, both in terms of supply and demand.

#3: A big idea can go a long way.

  • Our 1920 catalog is a relatively early manifestation of a business that continued to prosper and grow for another +50 years. In 1974, at the height of its powers, Sears built the tallest building in the world in Chicago to house its home office.
  • The company started opening retail stores in the 1920s, predominantly in urban areas to augment its rural business, and eventually had thousands of retail locations. It built its own brands like Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances and DieHard automotive batteries.
  • In 1931 Sears created Allstate Insurance and by 1934 it had agents in every store. In 1981 it added broker Dean Witter and real estate company Coldwell Banker. In 1985 it created the Discover credit card. It was even an early Internet adopter, developing the Prodigy system with IBM.

The lesson here: even if Sears is now a tiny shadow of its former self, it pays to remember this company had an almost 100 year run of success. It survived and prospered through 2 world wars and the Great Depression, living long enough to benefit from the post World War II boom. All from one big idea: a mail order catalog.

The corrupt establishment will do anything to suppress sites like the Burning Platform from revealing the truth. The corporate media does this by demonetizing sites like mine by blackballing the site from advertising revenue. If you get value from this site, please keep it running with a donation. [Jim Quinn – PO Box 1520 Kulpsville, PA 19443] or Paypal.
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Trump Administration Considering Social Credit Score System to Determine Who Can Buy a Gun

Posted by M. C. on September 4, 2019

Only the start.

Apple, Google, Facebook will

Determine whether you can: Buy a gun, ammunition, vote, have a media site, get that job, own a car-home-boat, have children, buy alcohol, join an organization…

Based on: whether own a gun, whether you vote and who for, what media sites you frequent, your job, your vehicle, if you buy alcohol,the organizations you belong to …

https://www.infowars.com/trump-administration-considering-social-credit-score-system-to-determine-who-can-buy-a-gun/

You didn’t care about media spying because you had nothing to hide.

Would partner with Big Tech to use spy data from Amazon, Google and Apple.

The Trump administration is considering launching a social credit score-style system in coordination with Big Tech that would use spy data collected from Amazon, Google and Apple devices to determine whether or not an individual can own a gun.

“The proposal is part of an initiative to create a Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA), which would be located inside the Health and Human Services Department,” reports the Daily Caller. “The new agency would have a separate budget and the president would be responsible for appointing its director.”

HARPA would employ “breakthrough technologies with high specificity and sensitivity for early diagnosis of neuropsychiatric violence,” including Apple Watches, Amazon Echo and Google Home.

In other words, data collected from devices that spy on private conversations and closely monitor user behavior would be used to strip Americans of their fundamental rights.

“Though the proposal is starting as a voluntary data collection scheme allegedly aimed at finding warning signs of mental illness, we all know so-called “voluntary” government programs often become mandatory at the drop of a hat,” comments Chris Menahan.

According to the Washington Post, Trump has reacted “very positively” to the idea….

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deep state media

It’s Always About Control

 

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Top tech investor claims smart assistants are being used to SPY on users by Google, Apple and Amazon | Daily Mail Online

Posted by M. C. on September 3, 2019

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7417033/Top-tech-investor-claims-smart-assistants-used-SPY-users-Google-Apple-Amazon.html

By Ralph R. Ortega For Dailymail.com

  • John Borthwick expects regulators will give more control of privacy to users
  • He warns popular smart speakers are more than listening for audible responses 
  • Tech companies collect information when ‘people passively act on the device’

Tech investor John Borthwick believes the convenience of today’s smart assistants from Amazon, Google and Apple comes at a price far higher than the cost paid for the devices.

‘From a consumer standpoint, user standpoint, is that these, these devices are being used for what’s — it’s hard to call it anything but surveillance,’ Borthwick says, warning that government regulation may be the only safeguard to user privacy.

Borthwick, a venture capitalist who started out in the technology industry with a web content studio that was bought by AOL, and who later headed tech strategy for Time Warner, tells Yahoo that he expects regulators will hand over more control of privacy to device users.

As it stands now, he warns tech companies that manufacture and sell popular smart speakers, like Amazon’s Echo, Google Assistant and Apple’s HomePod, are having much more than they’re audible responses recorded.

‘They’ve gone to those devices and they’ve said, ‘Give us data when people passively act upon the device.’ So in other words, I walk over to that light switch,’ Borthwick said. ‘I turn it off, turn it on, it’s now giving data back to the smart speaker.’

Tech companies provide an activation, or ‘wake’ command with most devices.

Amazon’s Echo, for example, will not respond until it hears a user say ‘Alexa,’ followed by a command. A similar protocol is followed with Google Assistant, and when an Apple product user requires help from Siri.

Borthwick, however, points out how the speakers are connected with other products, where surveillance is less obvious.

‘These smart speakers– I was particularly sort of disturbed by– it sounds very wonky, but the– the smart speakers are driven by an implication,’ he tells Yahoo…

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Angry Birds, tracking device? - Salon.com

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Brazil’s Insane War Against Trees – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on August 28, 2019

Recycling all wood is the first step. Banning open-air camp fires is another sensible step. Those who make a living by killing trees and animals must be advised to find other work at a time when labor is short.

Aside of Eric that is new to me.

https://www.lewrockwell.com/2019/08/eric-margolis/brazils-insane-war-against-trees/

By

Cut down the trees. Kill the wild animals. Burn the bush. Pollute the rivers. Pave over the grass. Raise more beef, pigs and poultry in cages.

That’s the credo of the new right. Hatred of Nature is an integral part of its politics. President Donald Trump is the high priest of such environmental vandalism. In his narrow land-developer mind, Nature is a left-wing liberal conspiracy.

Trump’s Brazilian wannabe, President Jair Bolsonaro, is now doing his mentor one better: he encouraged Brazilian farmers, loggers and miners, all key Bolsonaro constituencies, to accelerate their destruction of the Amazon rain forest, which provides 20% of the Earth’s oxygen.

The farmers, miners and loggers responded to his call by burning the irreplaceable forest, the world’s largest, at a rate over 80% higher than last year. Rarely has the world seen a more horrifying example of humans destroying the small planet on which they live.

Bolsonaro and his fellow Brazilian vandals say they lack the means to stop this incendiary epidemic. Nonsense. The Brazilian president is a former army officer. He must deploy the entire Brazilian Army to protect his nation’s most important resource, the Amazon. Neighboring Bolivia, Columbia and Paraguay should join in. Here is a perfect example for the UN Security Council to take action by declaring the 75,000 man-made fires a threat to all humanity and threaten to sanction Brazil’s exports if its does not take decisive action.

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron put it right at the current G7 meeting at Biarritz, ‘our house is on fire.’ France, Spain and Portugal all have their very serious dry season fires, but they send small armies to combat them. Climate change is playing a major role in sparking the raging fires. Unlike Bolsonaro, the European nations don’t absurdly claim the fires were begun by NGO’s (non-governmental environmental organizations).

Brazil’s army numbers 222,700 men, backed by reserves of 1,980,000. Mobilize them. Bolsonaro has been eager to send special paramilitary militia groups into slums in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Send them to the Amazon, which has three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people….

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Amazon Rainforest Preservation Law: A Work in Progress ...

 

 

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Why shouldn’t Brazilians burn down trees? – spiked

Posted by M. C. on August 24, 2019

NASA has attempted to counter the hysteria. Its data suggests that, while the number of fires might be larger than in the past few years, ‘overall fire activity’ in the Amazon is ‘slightly below average this year’. How striking that the people who wave around NASA reports when making their case that mankind has had a terrible impact on the planet are ignoring NASA’s reports that there is less fire in the Amazon this year in comparison with the past 15 years.

Anti-capitaism, anti-people. Look to the Club of Rome.

How about realistic alternatives for Brazilian economic growth? Factories instead of farms?

https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/08/23/why-shouldnt-brazilians-burn-down-trees/

Brendan O’Neill

The Western hysteria over the rainforest fires is riddled with colonial arrogance.

Every now and then the environmentalist mask slips. And we get a glimpse of the elitist and authoritarian movement that lurks beneath the hippyish green facade. The hysteria over the rainforest fires in Brazil is one of those moments. As well-off, privileged Westerners rage against Brazil for having the temerity to use its resources as it sees fit, and as they even flirt with the idea of sending outside forces to take charge of the Amazon, we can see the borderline imperialist mindset that motors so much green thinking. In the space of a few days, greens have gone from saying ‘We care about the planet!’ to ‘How dare these spics defy our diktats?’. And it is a truly clarifying moment.

You don’t have to be a fan of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, and spiked certainly isn’t, to feel deeply uncomfortable with the Western outrage over his policy on the rainforest. Observers claim the Amazon is experiencing its highest number of fires since records began. That those records only began in 2013 should give the Western hysterics pause for thought – this isn’t the historically unprecedented End of Days event they claim it is. There are always fires in the Amazon, some started by nature, others by human beings logging or clearing land for farming. Some of the current fires were started by people who need wood or land – how dare they! – while others are just part of the natural cycle.

More tellingly, NASA has attempted to counter the hysteria. Its data suggests that, while the number of fires might be larger than in the past few years, ‘overall fire activity’ in the Amazon is ‘slightly below average this year’. How striking that the people who wave around NASA reports when making their case that mankind has had a terrible impact on the planet are ignoring NASA’s reports that there is less fire in the Amazon this year in comparison with the past 15 years.

The Brazil-bashers will not be convinced by reason. To them, the fact that there have been 74,000 fires in the Amazon between January and August is proof that human beings – well, stupid Brazilians – are plunging the planet into a fiery doom that will make Revelations look like a fairy story in comparison. The earth is ‘being killed’, greens wail. ‘Our house is burning. Literally’, says French president Emmanuel Macron, committing the grammar crime of saying ‘literally’ when he surely means ‘virtually’. Unless the Elysée Palace really is on fire?

Leonardo DiCaprio says ‘if the Amazon goes, we the humans will go’. So Brazil is killing us all. Bolsonaro, by giving a green light to development in the rainforest, is holding a gun to mankind’s head, apparently. No wonder Macron has suggested holding an international conference on how to save the rainforest, while some greens have said we need to intervene. Westerners going overseas to rescue natural resources from the ignorant natives? Yes, that went so well in the past…

 

This expresses one of the key ideas in the environmentalist movement – that the developing world cannot possibly industrialise and modernise as much as the West has, because if it does the planet will die. Hence eco-Westerners’ fury with ‘filthy’ China, their loathing of Modi’s promises of modernity in India, and now their rage against Bolsonaro for elevating economic development over natural conservation. They cannot believe these idiot foreigners are defying green ideology and seeking the kind of progress we Westerners already enjoy.

Indeed, the current fuming over Bolsonaro and the rainforest fires has been a long time coming. When he spoke at Davos in January, one headline summed up the response: ‘Bolsonaro alarms climate activists with pro-business speech.’ Environmentalists were horrified, the Guardian reported, that Bolsonaro ‘stressed that protecting his country’s unique ecosystem has to be consistent with growing the economy’. That is, Bolsonaro had the gall to suggest that the eco-sanctification of the entire rainforest ran counter to Brazil’s own need to develop – via agriculture, logging, urban expansion, and so on – and therefore a better balance would have to be struck between protecting ecosystems and achieving economic growth…

For years, green-leaning NGOs have been swarming Latin America and using their clout to demonise and even try to reverse economic development. And Latin Americans rightly experience this as an assault on their sovereignty and aspirations. As early as 1972, UNESCO and WWF were writing to the Brazilian president, Emílio Garrastazu Médici, and warning him to halt economic activities in the rainforest. In the 1980s, there was an intensification of efforts by NGOs and outside forces to keep the rainforest as sacred ground that Brazilians shouldn’t interfere with. French president Francois Mitterrand even suggested Brazil should accept relative sovereignty, where a significant part of its territory – the rainforest areas – would be subject to international oversight. As one account describes it, many in Brazil came to see NGOs and others as ‘collaborating with foreign powers against Brazilian economic interests’. And it wasn’t only Brazil. Ecuador and Peru have both expelled foreign-funded NGOs over their agitation against development in forest areas and other natural areas…

Brazil is either a sovereign nation or it isn’t. If it is a sovereign nation, then it has every right to pursue economic growth as it sees fit. The rainforest belongs to Brazilians. A Brazilian approach that boosts economic development while keeping a close eye on the natural environment sounds like a good one. But it horrifies Western greens who are allergic to any kind of meaningful economic development.

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Banks Will Soon Be Obsolete | The Nestmann Group

Posted by M. C. on June 26, 2019

Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple haven’t exactly done a great job of protecting user data. But traditional banks aren’t doing much better – a recent study from security consultancy Positive Technologies revealed that more than half of banks with an online presence allow fraudulent transactions and theft of funds.

There will be nothing crypto about your spending habits. The government and the ankle grabbing digital banks will make sure of that.

https://www.nestmann.com/banks-will-soon-be-obsolete

By Mark Nestmann

Last week, social networking giant Facebook announced that it plans to create what it calls an “alternative financial system” based on a cryptocurrency called the Libra. The crypto will be backed by a basket of currencies to keep its value stable.

Pundits immediately pronounced that the Libra could represent the beginning of the end for traditional banking. But while Facebook’s plunge into this space is the most ambitious effort by a Fortune 500 company to profit from the crypto market, the company hasn’t exactly done a stellar job of protecting user data. That makes me skeptical of its ability to safeguard your money.

Last October, Facebook announced that hackers had compromised more than 30 million accounts by taking advantage of vulnerabilities that have now been patched. A month later, researchers uncovered a vulnerability in Facebook Messenger that hackers could use to reveal the identity of the people with whom you exchanged messages. And who can forget the seemingly innocent quizzes that were used to gain access to 50 million Facebook accounts in an effort to affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election?

It’s one thing to load photos of your cat doing stupid tricks onto your Facebook account. It’s quite another to trust the company with your money. Although Facebook says that Libra’s governance model will ensure “separation between social and financial data,” I suspect Libra will appeal mainly to people who don’t have bank accounts and have no practical way to open them. Facebook cited a figure of 1.7 billion adults in this category, with nearly half of them living in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Still, the launch of the Libra is a proverbial shot across the bow for the banking industry. And it couldn’t come too soon.

Our global financial system is built on the flawed foundation of a poorly understood concept called fractional reserve banking…

The biggest risk of fractional reserve banking is, of course, the “bank run.” If a bank lends out too much of the funds on reserve and everyone wants their money at once, the bank won’t be able to pay everyone. Deposit insurance schemes evolved in the 20th century to shield bank customers from this possibility. As a result, bank customers in most countries treat their deposits, including those that are uninsured, as if they’re 100% backed by actual reserves.

Then came the 2013 Cyprus financial crisis and the collapse of the country’s banking system. In exchange for a €10 billion bailout from the European Central Bank, Cyprus agreed to force uninsured depositors to submit to a “bail-in.” Instead of getting their money back, depositors holding uninsured accounts that exceeded €100,000 received stock in the failed bank. Uninsured depositors at the worst-capitalized bank that failed lost all their money.

Bank regulators around the world quickly took notice, and by the end of 2014, decided to extend the bail-in model worldwide. Deposits in banks that are “too big to fail” will be “promptly recapitalized” with their “unsecured debt.” This avoids the taxpayer-funded bailouts that proved so politically unpopular during the 2008–2009 financial crisis.

And the largest chunk of unsecured debt is your bank deposits. Insolvent banks will recapitalize themselves by converting your deposits into stock…

Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple haven’t exactly done a great job of protecting user data. But traditional banks aren’t doing much better – a recent study from security consultancy Positive Technologies revealed that more than half of banks with an online presence allow fraudulent transactions and theft of funds. But security is likely to gradually improve, and the tech giants will provide much-needed competition for what was for many years an effective payments monopoly by fractional reserve banks.

I look forward to the day when the fractional reserve banking system takes its last breath.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Antitrust Crusade – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on June 19, 2019

https://www.lewrockwell.com/2019/06/dom-armentano/elizabeth-warrens-antitrust-crusade/

By

Elizabeth Warren has made antitrust a major public policy issue in her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. She has argued that several high-tech companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook are just too big and that they should be broken up by the Justice Department in a major antitrust initiative.

Let’s be clear. Using antitrust regulation to break up large companies is an economic and civil liberties nightmare. Those who advocate such policies always fall victim to what Friedrich Hayek termed the “fatal conceit; that is, the assumption that regulators (and the courts) somehow know better than market participants how goods and services should be produced and sold…

Elizabeth Warren has maintained that Amazon, Facebook, and Google are just too big; but too big for whom? She must know that simply being “too big” is not a violation of antitrust law. Indeed, the traditional mission of antitrust is to protect consumers from the high prices and anti-competitive practices established through “conspiracy” or through the exercise of “monopoly power” in some relevant market. Yet Facebook, Amazon and Google do not charge high prices; indeed, they do not charge ANY explicit price at all but secure the bulk of their revenue through advertising. And even if some of their economic or privacy practices are determined to be questionable at some point, that alone would hardly justify any legal divestiture.

The fact remains that all of these companies are successful because consumers freely and repeatedly use their services. They all compete in legally open markets where other firms are free to raise capital and offer alternatives. Disgruntled consumers that choose not to use the free services of Amazon or Google can easily mouse click to other search engines (Bing in the case of Google) and several other online retailers in the case of Amazon. And, of course, no one is forced to participate in the Facebook universe at all (your author does not) and opting out (if you are in) is always possible. So from a strict price and choice perspective, it would be difficult to make a convincing argument that divestiture is justified or would produce the results intended…

Antitrust has a very checkered past and those who advocate its use would do well to study its history more closely. After all, there is almost no economic problem, real or imagined, that cannot be made worse by inappropriate government regulation. Antitrust is no exception.

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Amazon Hits Back Against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Posted by M. C. on June 18, 2019

https://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2019/06/amazon-hits-back-against-alexandria.html?m=1

by Robert Wenzell

During an interview on ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday, the socialist congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez charged that Amazon was paying its workers “starvation wages.”

“I spend less time thinking about [Amazon CEO and founder] Jeff Bezos and more time thinking about Amazon warehouse workers,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I think about the outcomes I want for those folks. Whether Jeff Bezos is a billionaire or not is less of my concern than if your average Amazon worker is making a living wage, if they have guaranteed health care and if they can send their kids to college tuition-free.”

“And if that’s the case,” she added, “and Jeff Bezos is still a billionaire — that’s one thing. But if his being a billionaire is predicated on paying people starvation wages and stripping them of their ability to access health care, and also if his ability to be a billionaire is predicated on the fact that his workers take food stamps so I’m paying for him to be a billionaire… I think it’s certainly a part of the equation when you have a very large workforce and you underpay every single person.”

In other words, AOC continues her hate of capitalism and promotion of the Marxist theme of the exploitation of workers, even though present-day workers in the capitalist United States have a standard of living that is among the highest in the history of man.

Amazon responded with a weak statement:

These allegations are absurd. Amazon associates receive industry-leading pay starting at $15 an hour — in fact, hourly associates at our Staten Island facility earn between $17.30 and $23 an hour, plus benefits which include comprehensive medical, dental and vision insurance. On top of these benefits, Amazon pre-pays 95% of continuing education tuition costs through its Career Choice program for associates who want to pursue in-demand careers.

The company should have added:

What we pay workers is extremely competitive in every region where we employ workers, otherwise, workers wouldn’t work for us.

It is simply the height of illogic for AOC to promote the idea that the 657,000 employees of Amazon are not aware of what their alternatives are and it is an insult for AOC to promote the idea that the marginal revenue product of American workers is so low that they are “starving.” This type of perspective is nothing but capitalist hate fueled by a fundamental lack of understanding of basic economics and how an economy functions. If she really wanted to help low-level workers she should call for the immediate end of income taxes and payroll taxes for amnyone earning under $51, 999 per year. Those taxes are coercion enforced by the gun, something we would never practice at Amazon.

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