It’s been noted before that the culture inside California tech companies is highly supportive of marijuana use, with on-the-job drug testing extremely rare

Google Quietly Giving Aid To Marijuana Activists

20130630-094700.jpgFile photo of a man smoking a marijuana joint. Silicon Valley tech giants are quietly helping out a Michigan medical cannabis advocacy with in-kind grants. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

Cancer patients who Google the words “chemotherapy nausea” today get a host of advertisements for treatment, including pills, skin patches and folk remedies used to prevent vomiting. Next month, however, the same search will turn up an ad for something a bit more controversial: medical marijuana.

The change comes courtesy of the charitable unit of Google, which last week gifted a Michigan medical marijuana advocacy group $120,000 worth of its services. As part of the grant, the group, Michigan Compassion, will be able to promote medical marijuana use through Google’s popular AdWords platform — the plain-text advertisements that pop up to the right side of any given search result.

Michigan Compassion does not sell marijuana but connects patients and growers, and it says the ads will appear alongside searches likely to be made by chemotherapy patients.

“The goal is to link the negative effects of chemotherapy and the positive effects of cannabis,” Amish Parikh, vice-president of Michigan Compassion, told The Huffington Post.

The ads’ value is small in the scheme of Google’s AdWords program, which brings in over $40 billion per year in revenue, but they represent a change for the Mountain View, Calif. firm, which has a strict policy against hosting ads for marijuana-related searches.

Google’s new generosity toward marijuana advocates fits neatly in Silicon Valley, however, where tech companies and their employees have been quietly contributing to cannabis activism, an area attorney involved in the marijuana legalization movement told The Huffington Post.

“They’re not the ones coming to the city council meetings to protest, but they quietly send in their donations,” attorney Lauren Vazquez said. “And they’re definitely consuming the cannabis,” she added.

A spokeswoman for Google declined to comment on whether the grant made to Michigan Compassion meant the company was taking an advocacy position in favor of medical marijuana. AdWords has a policy against allowing advertisements for drugs and drug paraphernalia, but is allowing the Michigan Compassion ads since the organization does not directly supply such products. Google does not allow advertisers to link their ads to searches with words like “cannabis” and “marijuana.”

The spokeswoman said the ads would not appear in web searches done by those using a “family safe” filter, and text would show up only in states where medical marijuana is legal. (While legal for medical use in 19 states and the District of Columbia, possessing marijuana for any purpose remains a federal crime.)

It’s been noted before that the culture inside California tech companies is highly supportive of marijuana use, with on-the-job drug testing extremely rare. According to a Businessweek article on the topic earlier this year, the city of San Jose, where many industry workers live, has more than 100 pot clinics, and it’s considered normal for programmers to soothe the stress of long days hunched over a computer with a visit to one of those retailers.

“I think Silicon Valley is very supportive,” said Michigan Compassion’s Parikh. “There’s a lot of testing the waters, though.”

LinkedIn, the professional social networking company also based in Mountain View, is providing Michigan Compassion with free services to help reach potential donors and board members, according to Parikh.

An email requesting comment from LinkedIn was not returned.

Michigan Compassion has also received donated equipment and software from other tech companies channeled through San Francisco-based TechSoup Global. And Vertical Response, an email marketing firm also based in San Francisco, provided the group with several thousand dollars’ worth of free marketing technology.

A spokeswoman for Vertical Response, Connie Sung Moyle, said Michigan Compassion was not given a grant specifically due to the nature of its work but as a result of its non-profit status. Moyle said Vertical Response has provided in-kind donations to some 2,600 charities since 2005. “We don’t really discriminate either way as long as what they’re doing is above the law,” she said.

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If Walmart really wants to improve its public image, says Derrick Plummer, a spokesman for the organization Making Change at Walmart, it could start with a simple step, one that’s admittedly more expensive than a few million bucks on an ad campaign: pay workers more. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union claims that the company’s workers make less than $9 an hour, on average—a number Lundberg won’t confirm—and that half of the company’s workers bring home less than $22,400 a year, putting them below the federal poverty line.

Walmart’s Goodwill Tour: We Love Our Workers and America, Too

Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg would have you believe that the $3 million ad campaign that has been popping up on Hulu and elsewhere lately has nothing to do with last November’s Black Friday protests against the company’s treatment of workers, allegations of bribery in Mexico to circumvent zoning laws, or controversy over factory conditions in places like Bangladesh.

A still from Walmart’s “The Real Walmart” campaign. (Walmart, via YouTube)

Just a coincidence, then, that the world’s largest retailer is launching a public-relations blitz centered around “The Real Walmart,” which on the surface seems like a direct rebuttal to the company’s critics, who accuse the company of blighting the communities its stores occupy and mistreating its workers. The only explicit reference to haters is a nod to “a website that makes fun of people who shop with us,” to which the company replies that the people who shop at Walmart are America, that’s who. Beyond that, though, Lundberg says, the campaign isn’t a response to anything in particular.

“We look at it as just a natural extension of telling the Walmart story,” Lundberg said. “The more people understand Walmart, the more they trust us.”

If the campaign is a coincidence, it’s well-timed. Walmart continues to struggle to shake its image (among some consumers) as a Big Corporate Bad Guy, and The Real Walmart’s ads seem squarely aimed at helping you view that big yellow smiley face in a whole new light.

Thought the company treated workers poorly? The Real Walmart offers pay “at or above” the industry average, plus benefits, maternity and paternity leave, and a 401(k) plan.

Walmart wrecks communities? “Walmart only succeeds when the communities thrive,” says The Real Walmart. “Across the United States, we have opened 86 new stores in underserved communities bringing hundreds of new jobs.”

Walmart loves veterans. Beginning on Memorial Day, the company started making good on a promise to hire any dishonorably discharged veteran in America—2,000 to date.

Look, even Bill Clinton likes us!

“Walmart has deployed more photovoltaics on their buildings than any other company in America,” Clinton said last September on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. “They are the No. 1 solar company in America now. And they also run some of their buildings with wind energy. And they also have cut their packaging …”

But if the ads do an effective job of putting a different shine on the company that has for some become a symbol of American excess and corporate greed, what they don’t do is make any promises, or announce any real change, notes Zev Eigen, a law professor at the Northwestern University School of Law who specializes in labor issues. It’s all lipstick-on-a-pig stuff, as far as he’s concerned.

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Across America, temporary work has become a mainstay of the economy, leading to the proliferation of what researchers have begun to call “temp towns.” They are often dense Latino neighborhoods teeming with temp agencies. Or they are cities where it has become nearly impossible even for whites and African-Americans with vocational training to find factory and warehouse work without first being directed to a temp firm.

The Expendables: How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants Are Getting Crushed
by Michael Grabell
ProPublica, June 27, 2013, 8 a.m.

It’s 4:18 a.m. and the strip mall is deserted. But tucked in back, next to a closed-down video store, an employment agency is already filling up. Rosa Ramirez walks in, as she has done nearly every morning for the past six months. She signs in and sits down in one of the 100 or so blue plastic chairs that fill the office. Over the next three hours, dispatchers will bark out the names of who will work today. Rosa waits, wondering if she will make her rent.

In cities all across the country, workers stand on street corners, line up in alleys or wait in a neon-lit beauty salon for rickety vans to whisk them off to warehouses miles away. Some vans are so packed that to get to work, people must squat on milk crates, sit on the laps of passengers they do not know or sometimes lie on the floor, the other workers’ feet on top of them.

This is not Mexico. It is not Guatemala or Honduras. This is Chicago, New Jersey, Boston.

The people here are not day laborers looking for an odd job from a passing contractor. They are regular employees of temp agencies working in the supply chain of many of America’s largest companies – Walmart, Macy’s, Nike, Frito-Lay. They make our frozen pizzas, sort the recycling from our trash, cut our vegetables and clean our imported fish. They unload clothing and toys made overseas and pack them to fill our store shelves. They are as important to the global economy as shipping containers and Asian garment workers.

Many get by on minimum wage, renting rooms in rundown houses, eating dinners of beans and potatoes, and surviving on food banks and taxpayer-funded health care. They almost never get benefits and have little opportunity for advancement.

Read the rest of this provactive fact filled article by clicking this link

11 Really Dumb Things You Do With Your Email…for which the NSA thanks you!-ByBK

As political battle lines are drawn over the case of Edward Snowden and the NSA‘s sophisticated program of electronic surveillance, it’s easy to forget our simplest and most common vulnerability to spying eyes: email.

Just in the past few months, databases at LivingSocial and Evernote were hacked, exposing roughly 100 million email addresses to identity thieves. Facebook allegedly exposed 6 million users’ emails to unauthorized users, a “glitch” the company admitted was not detected for a year. All this comes on the heels of mega-breaches like the one at Epsilon, which provides marketing services for more than 2,500 financial and lifestyle companies. Epsilon admitted hackers stole “only” 2 percent of its customer data. But since its databases may contain upwards of 250 million email addresses, that means “only” 5 million people were placed at risk.

So what’s the big deal, you may ask? Email has grown up. It’s no longer a convenient secondary conduit for saying hello to friends. It’s plugged directly into our lives. Messages sitting in our email accounts can expose not just our address and contact numbers, but also our bank and brokerage account numbers, credit card information, online financial transaction receipts and confirmation of forgotten or changed passwords in all of our other accounts. That’s why email is now the single most common vector of attack for fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission. It’s ubiquitous. It’s laden with valuable data. And scammers know their chances of getting caught are slim to none.

Bottom line: The best way to stay safe is to aggressively protect yourself. No one else can guard your email better than you. Here are the top 11 things you can do right now to reduce your risk of getting your email either hacked or scammed.

1. Checking your email on an unsafe network.

A computer in an Internet café, library or any other business may be loaded with malware to steal your passwords. Public WiFi systems are vulnerable too, even at places like coffee shops, airports, hotels and conference centers that require passwords, since any ID thief can afford a $3 cup of coffee and get the same password.

What to do: Unless the computer and network you’re using belongs to you or your employer, don’t sign into email. (While your employer’s network may give you more security, it may not assure your privacy, as many employers reserve the right to review email on their computers and network.)

2. Staying signed in.

Signing into email every time you pick up your phone can be a real pain in the butt. Deal with it. By staying constantly signed in, a hacker can gain immediate access to the most important information of your life.

What to do: Signing out is inconvenient. Do it anyway.

3. Repeating your email login name and password.

Just this year, hackers cracked databases containing the passwords of up to 50 million LivingSocial users, and another 50 million users of Evernote. If the password to your checking, credit card, social media or any other account ends in, or any other email address, those thieves possess an important piece of your identity puzzle. Since many people mistakenly use the same password or User ID for multiple accounts, identity thieves know the skeleton key that may fit many doors.

What to do: Never use your email address and corresponding password for any other accounts. Beyond that, don’t use passwords based on things like your birthday, your kid’s name or your street. The more random, the better.

4. Not deleting old emails properly.

Many people never delete old messages in their inbox, or delete their caches of trashed and sent emails (though most email systems purge deleted email after 30 days). Those messages may contain addresses, account usernames and passwords, contact information for all your friends, financial data and a host of other sensitive information.

What to do: Delete sent, trashed and old messages. Delete email with any sensitive information (like your tax paperwork, health insurance applications, etc.) immediately after sending it.

5. Falling for a “guaranteed” loan or credit card offer.

If an email promises a loan or credit card worth a guaranteed amount of money at a low interest rate, it’s a scam. Nobody will give you credit without first checking your credit report.

What to do: In credit as in life, there are no guarantees. Don’t click on links in these messages, and delete them posthaste.

6. Clicking on ambiguous emails from “friends.”

Since hackers have raided our email contact lists, even messages from our best friends could be vectors of attack. Hackers often pose as friends stuck penniless in Europe or Asia and in need of an immediate wire transfer, or friends imploring us to “Check out this funny video!” with links stuffed with spam or laden with malware. Sometimes the tipoff is an email from a “long-lost friend,” or a close buddy using a very old account. Some of these emails come with no text at all… just a link.

What to do: Read emails from enemies closely, and emails from friends even more closely. If you receive a suspicious email from a friend, don’t click on any links or download any files. Delete the email, and call your friend. If it turns out the email was legit, he or she can resend it.

7. “Verifying” personal information via email.

It could be your bank or credit card company asking to verify your account information. Or it could be from UPS or FedEx trying to “confirm” your address for a missed delivery. It could even be from the IRS claiming you owe them, or they owe you, money. None of these institutions send personalized emails, and none ask you to “verify” personal information by email.

What to do: If an institution handles important things like money or packages, it doesn’t use email to communicate, and certainly not to confirm personal information. Delete the suspicious email, and call the business or institution in question to inquire about the matter at hand.

8. Talking to strangers about money.

Many scams involve sending money to people we’ve never met. There’s the “Wall Street insider” with the hot investment tip, the foreign company that needs you to cash a check or process transactions, the marketing company asking you to be a secret shopper or offering an irresistible work-at-home or franchising opportunity, the email chain letter inviting you to “get in early” on a pyramid scheme, the Irish Lottery, even the lawyer of a deposed politician trying to get his money out of the country (this age-old ruse is actually growing more sophisticated, with better-written emails and virulent malware). Every one of them is a scam.

What to do: If someone you’ve never met offers you money, run… that is, delete!

9. Getting tricked into thinking you’ve been hacked.

You may receive an email that says “Thank you for your recent order!” Except — you never ordered anything. In a panic, you open the email and click the button that says “Cancel Order.” Congratulations, you just became an ID theft target.

What to do: Think twice before clicking any button, link or attachment in an email. Even if it’s from a business you know, or one from which you have ordered something. If you need to cancel, call the company and cancel, or do so on their website.

10. Donating to fake charities.

After Hurricane Sandy and the giant tornado in Oklahoma, fraudsters sent emails requesting donations for relief efforts. The money went instead to scammers all over the world.

What to do: Only donate to established, well-known aid groups, and do so on their website or over the phone. Don’t navigate to these sites from emails, and don’t call the phone number in the email. Look those up.

11. Clicking on too-good-to-be-true travel deals.

Many of us receive legitimate emails alerting us to cheap flights, hotels and cruises. But when the offers seem just unbelievably low, and they come from companies and email addresses you don’t know, don’t get sucked into the waterspout.

What to do: What’s that old line about something seeming too good to be true? If some new travel site is running a special deal, rather than click a link in an email, search for the deal on the Web. Find out if anyone has reported it as a scam. If it checks out, then you can dip your toe in.

There’s no silver bullet here (even if you do all of these things). If you are on the wrong database at the wrong moment and the wrong person gains access, you may still have your personal information stolen. That said, the better you can minimize your exposure and operate cautiously, the longer you can hold off the Cyber Barbarians at the Gates. 



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At the beginning of the year I told a friend that somehow this feels like the 60’s…and I added I think 2013 will be a bumpy ride-ByBK

The march of protest

A wave of anger is sweeping the cities of the world. Politicians beware

A FAMILIAR face appeared in many of the protests taking place in scores of cities on three continents this week: a Guy Fawkes mask with a roguish smile and a pencil-thin moustache. The mask belongs to “V”, a character in a graphic novel from the 1980s who became the symbol for a group of computer hackers called Anonymous. His contempt for government resonates with people all over the world.

The protests have many different origins. In Brazil people rose up against bus fares, in Turkey against a building project. Indonesians have rejected higher fuel prices, Bulgarians the government’s cronyism. In the euro zone they march against austerity, and the Arab spring has become a perma-protest against pretty much everything. Each angry demonstration is angry in its own way.

Yet just as in 1848, 1968 and 1989, when people also found a collective voice, the demonstrators have much in common. Over the past few weeks, in one country after another, protesters have risen up with bewildering speed. They have been more active in democracies than dictatorships. They tend to be ordinary, middle-class people, not lobbies with lists of demands. Their mix of revelry and rage condemns the corruption, inefficiency and arrogance of the folk in charge.

Nobody can know how 2013 will change the world—if at all. In 1989 the Soviet empire teetered and fell. But Marx’s belief that 1848 was the first wave of a proletarian revolution was confounded by decades of flourishing capitalism and 1968, which felt so pleasurably radical at the time, did more to change sex than politics. Even now, though, the inchoate significance of 2013 is discernible. And for politicians who want to peddle the same old stuff, the news is not good.

Online and into the streets

The rhythm of protests has been accelerated by technology. V’s face turns up in both São Paulo and Istanbul because protest is organised through social networks, which spread information, encourage imitation and make causes fashionable (see article). Everyone with a smartphone spreads stories, though not always reliable ones. When the police set fire to the encampment in Gezi Park in Istanbul on May 31st, the event appeared instantly on Twitter. After Turks took to the streets to express their outrage, the flames were fanned by stories that protesters had died because of the police’s brutal treatment. Even though those first stories turned out to be wrong, it had already become the popular thing to demonstrate.

Protests are no longer organised by unions or other lobbies, as they once were. Some are initiated by small groups of purposeful people—like those who stood against the fare increases in São Paulo—but news gets about so fast that the organising core tends to get swamped. Spontaneity gives the protests an intoxicating sense of possibility. But, inevitably, the absence of organisation also blurs the agenda. Brazil’s fare protest became a condemnation of everything from corruption to public services (see article). In Bulgaria the government gave in to the crowd’s demand to ditch the newly appointed head of state security. But by then the crowd had stopped listening.

This ready supply of broad, fair-weather activism may vanish as fast as it appeared. That was the fate of the Occupy protesters, who pitched camp in Western cities in 2011. This time, however, the protests are fed by deep discontent. Egypt is suffering from the disastrous failure of government at every level. Protest there has become a substitute for opposition. In Europe the fight is over how to shrink the state. Each time the cuts reach a new target—most recently, Greece’s national broadcaster—they trigger another protest. Sometimes, as in the riots of young immigrants in Sweden’s suburbs in May and of British youths in 2011, entire groups feel excluded from the prosperity around them. Sweden has the highest ratio of youth unemployment to general unemployment in the OECD. Too many young Britons suffer from poor education and have prospects to match. In the emerging economies rapid real growth has led people to expect continuing improvements in their standard of living. This prosperity has paid for services and, in an unequal society like Brazil, narrowed the gap between rich and poor. But it is under threat. In Brazil GDP growth slowed from 7.5% in 2010 to only 0.9% last year. In Indonesia, where GDP is still below $5,000 a head, ordinary families will keenly feel the loss of fuel subsidies.

More potent still in the emerging world are the political expectations of a rapidly growing middle class (see article). At the end of last year young educated Indians took to the streets of several cities after the gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student, to protest at the lack of protection that the state affords women. Even bigger protests had swept the country in 2011, as the middle class rose up against the corruption that infests almost every encounter with government officials. In Turkey the number of students graduating from university has increased by 8% a year since 1995. The young middle class this has created chafes against the religious conservatism of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who wants large families and controls on alcohol. The 40m Brazilians who clambered out of poverty in the past eight years are able for the first time to scrutinise the society that their taxes finance. They want decent public services, and get overpriced sports stadiums instead.

Trouble in Brussels and Beijing

How will this year of protest unfold? One dark conclusion is that democracy has become harder: allocating resources between competing interest groups is tougher if millions can turn out on the streets in days. That implies that the euro zone’s summer will surely get hotter. The continent’s politicians have got off lightly so far (the biggest demonstrations in Paris, for instance, were when “Frigide Barjot” led French Catholics in a bid to stop gay marriage). Yet social instability is twice as common when public spending falls by at least 5% of GDP as when it is growing. At some point European leaders must curb the chronic overspending on social welfare and grapple with the euro’s institutional weakness—and unrest will follow.

Happily, democracies are good at adapting. When politicians accept that the people expect better—and that votes lie in satisfying them—things can change. India’s anti-corruption protests did not lead to immediate change, but they raised graft up the national agenda, with the promise of gradual reform (see article). To her credit, Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, wants a national debate on renewing politics. This will be neither easy nor quick. But protest could yet improve democracy in emerging countries—and even eventually the EU.

Democrats may envy the ability of dictators to shut down demonstrations. China has succeeded in preventing its many local protests from cohering into a national movement. Saudi Arabia has bribed its dissidents to be quiet; Russia has bullied them with the threats of fines and prison. But in the long run, the autocrats may pay a higher price. Using force to drive people off the streets can weaken governments fatally, as Sultan Erdogan may yet find (see article); and as the Arab governments discovered two years ago, dictatorships lack the institutions through which to channel protesters’ anger. As they watch democracies struggle in 2013, the leaders in Beijing, Moscow and Riyadh should be feeling uncomfortable.

From the print edition: Leaders

My mouth fell open when I read the first few paragraphs of this article….then I read the rest and closed my mouth -ByBK

What if We’re Looking at Inequality the Wrong Way?

Thomas B. Edsall

Tom Edsall on politics inside and outside of Washington.

 Richard V. Burkhauser, a professor of public policy at Cornell and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is fast becoming a champion of the right, challenging the conventional wisdom about income inequality.

The last time Burkhauser appeared in this column, he had provided ammunition for conservatives to dispute liberal orthodoxy on the issue of growing inequality (along with co-authors Jeff Larrimoreand Kosali Simon).

That ammunition was contained in a 2011 paper, “A ‘Second Opinion’ on the Economic Health of the American Middle Class,” which lent support to the conservative cause.

By defining income as “post-tax, post-transfer, size-adjusted household income including the ex-ante value of in-kind health insurance benefits,” Burkhauser and his co-authors achieved two things: a diminished degree of inequality and, perhaps more important, a conclusion that the condition of the poor and middle class was improving.

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