A Smartphone That Tries To Slip You Off The Grid – by AARTI SHAHANI February 28, 2014 3:30 AM

The Blackphone, an Android software-based mobile encrypts texts, voice calls and video chats.

The Blackphone, an Android software-based mobile encrypts texts, voice calls and video chats.

Albert Gea/Reuters/Landov

Mike Janke used to be a Navy SEAL sniper. These days he’s taking on the government and corporate America. He’s the founder of Blackphone, an Android-based smartphone with privacy as its main selling point.

It’s not NSA-proof — in that everything is hackable if you try hard enough. But Janke says it’s taking on the entire mobile economy that lets law enforcement and companies in way too easily.

Take apps that look free but mine your data to earn big dollars. Facebook tries to get your contacts, Google Maps tries to get your geolocation, Pandora gets your music preferences. Blackphone has a default setting: no — unless you proactively choose yes.

Blackphone also rebels against smartphone norms. Say you want to spend Sunday afternoon lost in a coffee shop or a clothing store. You might think you’re off the grid, but your phone, using Wi-Fi, is talking to beacons “finding out where you’ve been, making offerings to you,” Janke says. “What Blackphone does, it’ll automatically stop that beacon activity, shut off any Wi-Fi pinging to protect you from those type of stalking things.”

In addition to hiding identity, Blackphone stores user data in a secure vault in Switzerland — kind of like those no-questions-asked Swiss bank accounts. It sounds like the digital equivalent of wearing sunglasses and a trench coat everywhere. So I ask the obvious follow-up question: Is it mostly for criminals?

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Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh steps on some toes as he remakes downtown Vegas – By John M. Glionna February 27, 2014, 6:26 p.m.

Neon signs brighten Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS — He’s a painfully private entrepreneur with very public dreams for this city’s decaying downtown core.

Around Sin City, giddy officials are heralding online shoe retailer Tony Hsieh as a visionary, the latest in a line of moneyed Las Vegas dreamers such as billionaire Howard Hughes and casino mogul Steve Wynn.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman says Hsieh is offering people a chance to open their dream businesses, and “that can’t be bad.” Former Mayor Oscar Goodman’s description of the city’s confidence in Hsieh harks back to the mayor’s days as a mob lawyer: Anyone who doubts Hsieh’s sincerity, he said at a public meeting, should have his legs broken.

Using $350 million of his own money, Hsieh has embarked on a development project that city officials hope will transform the blighted neighborhood just east of the Fremont Street casinos into a Silicon Valley in the desert.

Hsieh, the 40-year-old founder and chief executive of Zappos.com, envisions a bustling retail and technology hub spanning 20 square blocks where residents walk to restaurants, bars and gyms in a live-work community with the feel-good fraternity of a “Cheers” episode.

Hsieh calls downtown — a world away from the Strip and home to many of the city’s poorest residents — a “blank slate” that could come to resemble the bustling neighborhoods of clubs and galleries seen in Austin, Texas.

Inspired by the creative campuses at Google and Facebook, Hsieh is moving about 2,000 of his own employees to a new headquarters in Las Vegas’ former City Hall, an area that until now has been home to down-market casinos, neighborhood cocktail lounges and auto repair shops.

The Downtown Project, Hsieh’s development arm, has purchased dozens of properties for Hsieh’s vision of blurring the lines between work and play. The new, upscale Container Park, opened last year, features an art gallery, a beauty salon and boutiques selling fine wine and e-cigarettes. In front sits a curious piece of art: a towering statue of a praying mantis.

But while city officials have welcomed the development plan — a “watershed moment,” Oscar Goodman called it when the Zappos transfer was initially approved in 2010 — residents who have long embraced the down-to-earth vibe of East Fremont worry about the march of big-money development into one of Las Vegas’ last authentic neighborhoods.

Leading the resistance has been longtime downtown resident Lou Filardo, who has written letters, called City Council members and rallied neighbors to argue that redevelopment should not come at the expense of residents in the city’s poorest ZIP Code, where half the households rely on supplemental assistance and thewelfare rate is three times the state average.

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The fabulous life of your US legislator – by Naureen Khan February 27, 2014 12:30PM ET

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Match your U.S. lawmaker with the corresponding charges on his or her fundraising expense account, and one can get a textured glimpse of exactly what it takes these days to charm donors.

For example, which congressman spent $91,000 in 2013 for a getaway at Dorado Beach Club, a luxury resort in Puerto Rico known for its championship golf courses and plantation-style residences?

That would be Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, who has lamented the widening income gap that separates rich and poor and has been a forceful advocate for a minimum wage hike.

Which lawmaker appears to have an insatiable taste for red meat, having dropped $54,000 at BLT Steakhouse in Washington last year and another $5,000 at Bobby Van’s, a favorite haunt of D.C. lobbyists?

That’s House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. If that wasn’t enough to put his political contributors in a giving mood, his PAC, Every Republican Is Crucial, spent $2,300 on “golf fees” and “golf items” through 2013, in addition to the $26,000 the organization expended on a single fundraiser at the luxury golf resort Creighton Farms in northern Virginia.

Since the GOP’s loss in the 2012 presidential election, Cantor has been at the forefront of the party’s efforts to rehabilitate its image, visiting a number of inner-city schools and touting the conservative approach to combating poverty.

Last one: Which senator spent about $8,000 on private car services, $15,000 on a reception at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan and thousands more on caterers from Pasadena to Nantucket to London?

That would be Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who focuses most of her legislative work on measures to improve the lives of women and families. Shelley Rubin, one of the owners of the Rubin Art Museum, then donated $5,000 right back to Gillibrand’s political action committee, Off the Sidelines, later the same year.

Al Jazeera America combed through the year-end Federal Election Commission filings of some of the most active PACs, looking for the more creative ways lawmakers choose to spend money to make money.

None of the disbursements detailed above were made directly by the lawmaker’s offices or official campaign apparatuses, but rather by their affiliated PACs. Cantor and Hoyer, along with dozens of other lawmakers, run leadership PACs — operations intended to leverage their star power in order to raise money on behalf of their colleagues.

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Texas files notice of appeal in marriage equality case – KATIE MCDONOUGH – THURSDAY, FEB 27, 2014 9:13 PM UTC

Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott wasted no time appealing Wednesday’s equal marriage ruling

Texas files notice of appeal in marriage equality case

Following in the footsteps of Republican lawmakers in Utah and Oklahoma, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General (and Republican gubernatorial candidate) Greg Abbott have filed a notice of appeal against a Wednesday court ruling declaring the state’s ban on marriage equality unconstitutional.

As reported by the San Antonio Express-News, Perry and Abbott are named as defendants in the appeal asking for a preliminary injunction against the ruling.

Perry announced his intent to appeal immediately following the Wednesday ruling. “Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our Constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens,” he said in a statement. “The 10th Amendment guarantees Texas voters the freedom to make these decisions, and this is yet another attempt to achieve via the courts what couldn’t be achieved at the ballot box. We will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state.”

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia declared Texas’ ban on equal marriage and the state’s refusal to recognize the unions of gay couples married in other states to be unconstitutional. In his ruling, Garcia argued that both bans violate the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment.

More to come as the story develops.

The vice president doesn’t understand what Democrats are so worried about in 2014. – By David Catanese Feb. 27, 2014

Biden Gives Democrats a Plan to Scratch the 6-Year Itch

Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks during the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting at the Capital Hilton on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

Vice President Joe Biden can’t recall another time in the last 40 years when the majority of Americans agreed with his Democratic Party on every major issue.

Nonetheless, he said Democrats remain too timid, defensive and reactive about their positions heading into a challenging midterm election year. In a speech at the winter Democratic National Committee meeting Thursday, he essentially told state party leaders to stiffen their spines.

[READ: Democrats Can’t Run From Obamacare, Even if They Never Voted for It]

“What are we worried about?” Biden asked an assembling of state party chairs inside the Capital Hilton in downtown Washington, D.C. “If we run on what we believe, if we run on our value set, which happens to be totally consistent with where the American people think we should be on the substantive set of issues, we will win. We will win.”

Biden’s comments come as the Democratic Party is strategizing on how to navigate the politically perilous sixth year of Barack Obama’s presidency, a time when, historically, the party out of power makes electoral gains. The highest priority for Democrats is holding on to the Senate, where the party is fending off challenges in six states Obama lost twice.

In recent weeks, Democratic incumbents in red states like Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska have made explicit breaks with Obama and some of his policies – a demonstration of the president’s unpopularity in their states.

But Biden suggested that approach has its drawbacks in a year when the Democratic base needs extra incentive to turn out. He lamented that members of his party are overly worried about the avalanche of outside money facing them, rather than embracing a proactive posture to combat GOP attacks.

“Let’s not get too hung up here on the idea about the super PAC,” he said. “What we’re worried about is the Koch brothers and their friends bringing in millions and millions and millions of dollars. I’m still one of these guys who believes money can’t buy an election when you’re selling a bad set of goods.”

Biden advised Democratic candidates should always demand that their opponents articulate what they’re for, turning what often becomes a referendum on the president’s policies into a stark comparative choice.

“What they’re for, they don’t want to talk about,” he said. “We are too shy, we are not talking about it enough, in my opinion.”

The minimum wage, equal pay for women, background checks on gun owners, marriage equality and immigration reform are all issues backed by a majority of Americans, Biden contested. Though the Affordable Care Act’s popularity has taken a measurable hit in many key states, the vice president stressed it was still more popular than a repeal of the law.

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Why Apple Could Win Big With Tesla’s Giant New Battery Factory – BY MARCUS W OHLSEN 02.28.14 6:30 AM

Photo: Jim Merithew/WIRED

Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Photo: Jim Merithew/WIRED

The first Tesla I ever saw was stripped down to the chassis, a bare-metal incarnation of the company’s flagship electric Roadster on display at an event in Silicon Valley. Without the need for an internal combustion engine, the two-seater’s petite frame was dominated by a huge battery. My first thought: “This looks like a giant cell phone on wheels.”

As it turns out, I was more right than I realized.

This week, years after that first sighting, Tesla announced plans for what it calls the “Gigafactory,” a 10-million-square-foot plant for making car batteries. The company hopes that the sheer scale of the operation, combined with the inventiveness of its engineers, will bring battery prices down far enough to finally bring its electric cars into the mainstream.

But it’s not just the prospect of a gasoline-free future that has sparked such excitement about the Gigafactory. The same basic lithium-ion tech that fuels Tesla’s cars also runs most of today’s other mobile gadgets, large and small. If Tesla really produces batteries at the scale it’s promising, cars could become just one part of what the company does. One day, Tesla could be a company that powers just about everything, from the phone in your pocket to the electrical grid itself.

Earlier this month, as rumors swirled that Apple might want to buy Tesla, San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tesla CEO Elon Musk had indeed met with the iPhone maker. Musk later confirmed that Tesla and Apple had talked, but he wouldn’t say what about.

Now that Tesla has announced the Gigafactory, Gartner auto industry analyst Thilo Koslowski thinks it would make more sense for Tesla to talk with Apple about something other than an acquisition. “Depending on the capacity of the factory and who the other investors will be, Tesla could start selling its batteries for other products besides cars,” Koslowski tells WIRED. “This could actually mean Tesla might build batteries for Apple.”

Better Batteries for Less Money

To begin erecting its factory, Tesla said it would seek $1.6 billion in debt financing— money that Apple itself could easily supply from its massive cash reserves. In fact, the world’s biggest company could easily put up the money for the entire Gigafactory, which Tesla estimates will ultimately cost between $4 billion and $5 billion. Though industry analysts say the global manufacturing capacity for consumer electronics batteries is already considerable, the economies of scale that Tesla is promising could give Apple access to a whole different level of efficiency, sophistication, and control.

Unlike many parts of the consumer electronics industry, battery-making factories are, in general, highly automated, which means that labor doesn’t factor significantly into production costs. As anyone who has seen Tesla’s car-making robots in action can attest, factory automation is something the company does really, really well. Deep involvement in the project from the start — say, as an investor — could give Apple exactly the kind of intimate involvement with a key supplier that it relishes. This sort of control defines its approach to products. For consumers, that could mean Apple getting better batteries for its devices for less money, just like Tesla wants to do for its cars.

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Colorado’s Federal Supermax Prison Is Force-Feeding Inmates on Hunger – Strike Steven Hsieh on February 27, 2014 – 10:26 AM ET

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Eight to nine inmates held at a US supermax prison in Colorado are on hunger strike and being forcibly fed, reports the watchdog organization Solitary Watch.

The ADX prison in Florence, Colorado, where inmates are held in solitary confinement for 22 to 24 hours per day. (Reuters/Rick Wilking)

The striking prisoners are serving sentences at the Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado, the highest-security prison run by the federal government on US soil. At ADX, more than 400 inmates spend twenty-two to twenty-four hours a day locked alone in concrete “boxcar” cells without access to a window. A former warden once called the facility “a cleaner version of hell.”

The strike is reportedly taking place in a special ADX wing called H-Unit, which houses prisoners accused of terrorism, many of whom are under “special administrative measures” to restrict communication with the outside world. H-Unit has a history with hunger strikes and forcibly feeding prisoners. 60 Minutesreported in 2007 that there had been at least 900 instances of force-feedings at H-Unit since 2001.

The UN human rights office has deemed indefinite solitary confinement and nasal force-feeding, as practiced at US prisons, torture under international law.

Pardiss Kebriaei, an attorney who represents clients at ADX and Guantánamo Bay,wrote for The Nation last month about how ADX’s practice of solitary confiment compares with torture at the military detainment center in Cuba. Kebriaei represents Fahad Hashmi, an ADX inmate who was convicted in 2010 of supplying socks and ponchos for Al Qaeda and loaning a cell phone to a co-conspirator. She writes of his prison conditions:

For over 2,100 days, he has been alone in a space he can touch both sides of simultaneously. He has not touched another human being since 2007. While he has been at ADX for nearly three years, he has no sense of his surroundings, because all he can see of the natural world is a patch of sky through steel mesh from an outdoor “recreation” cage two to three times a week, if that. He has not set foot on anything other than concrete in over six years. The image of Fahad’s torture is not that of a person being led around an interrogation room on a dog leash, or held in a stress position with heavy-metal music blasting. It is a person sitting still in a small cell, slowly deteriorating in a modern prison on the outskirts of a small Colorado town.

A court testimony from Mahmud Aboudhalima, an H-Unit inmate convicted of conspiring in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (a charge he denies), offers another look into life at ADX. Here’s a snippet, via Solitary Watch:

Since September 11, 2001, through today, I have been in administrative detention and faced brutal and systematic mental, spiritual, and psychological cruelty. I never believed that such an unusual punishment would be extended up until today, where I have lived in a prison cell for the last ten years that is the size of a closet. I am fed like a zoo animal through a slot in the door, and manacled and chained at the hands, waist, and legs when I leave the cell.

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News of the hunger strike Tuesday came as a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing to reassess the use of solitary confinement for juvenile, pregnant and mentally ill prisoners. The session was chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who called the the practice a “human rights issue we can’t ignore.”

US lawmakers heard testimony from prison officials and former inmates, includingOrange is the New Black author Piper Kerman and Damon Thibodeux, who spent fifteen years in solitary confinement before being exonerated for rape and murder in 2012.

Read Next: New York becomes the largest state to ban solitary confinement for inmates under 18.


What’s gone wrong with democracy – February 2014

Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century. Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it?

Protestors in Kiev, February 2014

Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century. Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it?

THE protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy.

It is easy to understand why. Democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal.

Yet these days the exhilaration generated by events like those in Kiev is mixed with anxiety, for a troubling pattern has repeated itself in capital after capital. The people mass in the main square. Regime-sanctioned thugs try to fight back but lose their nerve in the face of popular intransigence and global news coverage. The world applauds the collapse of the regime and offers to help build a democracy. But turfing out an autocrat turns out to be much easier than setting up a viable democratic government. The new regime stumbles, the economy flounders and the country finds itself in a state at least as bad as it was before. This is what happened in much of the Arab spring, and also in Ukraine’s Orange revolution a decade ago. In 2004 Mr Yanukovych was ousted from office by vast street protests, only to be re-elected to the presidency (with the help of huge amounts of Russian money) in 2010, after the opposition politicians who replaced him turned out to be just as hopeless.

Democracy is going through a difficult time. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes. Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.

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Thirteen percent of U.S. adults say they don’t use the Internet – BY MARK BERMAN February 27 at 4:35 pm

The Pew Research Center released a new report today examining the Internet, because the World Wide Web turns 25 next month and reports are how the Pew Research Center celebrates birthdays.

This new report examines how Americans feel about the Internet’s impact on their lives (90 percent of Internet users say the Internet has been a good thing for them), if it would be harder to give up the Internet or television (television won in 2006, but the Internet now has a commanding lead) and how the Internet impacts social relationships (it has made them stronger, most people say).

And, though it may seem like the Internet is basically nothing but trolls and hoaxes, only a quarter of people say they have been “treated unkindly” or attacked online. A big majority — 70 percent — say they have been treated kindly or generously online.

One particular thing jumped out at me. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who use the Internet has skyrocketed (as you would expect). That number nearly doubled between 2000 and 2014. Still, even though the Internet seems ubiquitous, it’s still not a part of life for more than one in 10 adults in the United States:

(Image via the Pew Research Center. Source: Pew surveys, 1995-2014.)
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