Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Last Call For Climate Of Fear

Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker is doing his part to fight climate change by eliminating what he believes to be the main source of the problem:  the words "climate change" on Wisconsin state websites.

Throughout his time as governor of Wisconsin, Walker has taken a series of actions to “reduce the role of science in environmental policymaking and to silence discussion of controversial subjects, including climate change, by state employees,” according to the Scientific American.

Political writer James Rowen reported on Monday that the Walker administration had advanced their war on science by scrubbing information about climate change from a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website that was dedicated to explaining how the agency would deal with a warming planet.

The DNR page titled “climatechange.html” originally acknowledged that “[h]uman activities that increase heat–trapping (‘green house’) gases are the main cause [of global warming.] Earth´s average temperature has increased 1.4 °F since 1850 and the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.”

In all, 13 mentions of “climate” where stripped from the page along with all references to global warming. The word “climate” now appears only in the title of a footnote link at the bottom of the page.

“In short, the guts of this page are now gone, or sanitized,” Rowan observed. “This is Orwellian and propagandistic.”

If we just pretend that climate change was never a problem, it will go away, right?

Alexa, Can I Get A Witness?

This holiday was a huge success for Amazon, especially for its in-home audio assistant device, the Amazon Echo.

Amazon.com Inc. said it had its best holiday season yet, having shipped more than 1 billion items through its Prime and Fulfillment services, and receiving a record number of orders for its own Alexa devices.

Sales for Echo speakers based on Alexa’s voice-recognition software were nine times more than the 2015 holiday season, Amazon said in a statement Tuesday. The Seattle-based company had trouble keeping them in stock despite “ramped-up production,” said Jeff Wilke, chief executive officer worldwide consumer.

Gauging demand for a product is difficult. Retailers risk losing money by overstocking or missing sales and disappointing shoppers by not having enough items available. Amazon actually sold out of its Echo speakers in mid-December. The Echo shortage shows voice-activated assistants are resonating with shoppers. Consumers can use voice commands on the gadget to order pizza, check homework, play music, among other tasks.

“Echo and Echo Dot were the best-selling products across Amazon this year, and we’re thrilled that millions of new customers will be introduced to Alexa as a result,” Wilke said.

But here's the dark side of Alexa: putting a device in your home whose job it is to listen to you speak and then recognize and use that data means you should have zero expectations of privacy around it.

This was bound to happen eventually, the question now becomes what privacy standards will be imposed as law tries desperately to catch up to technology. Police in Arkansas want to know what an Amazon Echo device may have overheard in a murder case, and suddenly that hot new Christmas gift you got this year is looking rather Orwellian.

Amazon's Echo devices and its virtual assistant are meant to help find answers by listening for your voice commands. However, police in Arkansas want to know if one of the gadgets overheard something that can help with a murder case. According to The Information, authorities in Bentonville issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over any audio or records from an Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates. Bates is set to go to trial for first-degree murder for the death of Victor Collins next year.

Amazon declined to give police any of the information that the Echo logged on its servers, but it did hand over Bates' account details and purchases. Police say they were able to pull data off of the speaker, but it's unclear what info they were able to access. Due to the so-called always on nature of the connected device, the authorities are after any audio the speaker may have picked up that night. Sure, the Echo is activated by certain words, but it's not uncommon for the IoT gadget to be alerted to listen by accident.

Police say Bates had several other smart home devices, including a water meter. That piece of tech shows that 140 gallons of water were used between 1AM and 3AM the night Collins was found dead in Bates' hot tub. Investigators allege the water was used to wash away evidence of what happened off of the patio. The examination of the water meter and the request for stored Echo information raises a bigger question about privacy. At a time when we have any number of devices tracking and automating our habits at home, should that information be used against us in criminal cases?

Bates' attorney argues that it shouldn't. "You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us," defense attorney Kimberly Weber said. Of course, there's also the question of how reliable information is from smart home devices. Accuracy can be an issue for any number of IoT gadgets. However, an audio recording would seemingly be a solid piece of evidence, if released.

Smart devices used in criminal investigations are just further data points to be gathered by investigators, law enforcement argues.  The larger question is if the data you generate in your home through internet-connected devices your data at all.  To whom does it ultimately belong to?  Corporate America? Your employer? The state?

What I do know is that the answer to that question is increasingly "not you", the consumer. And more and more the data generated by these devices is going to be used against you by people whose interests may not match your own.

Israeli Having A Hard Time With This, Con't

If you're wondering why Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is in such a bad mood lately and lashing out at the rest of the world, maybe it's because he's about to get hit with a massive scandal investigation for bribery and fraud.

A months-long inquiry into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s affairs took a new twist on Monday, with police reportedly convinced that they will be able to open a full-blown criminal investigation against him in the next few days.

Police recently received new documents as part of a secret inquiry that began almost nine months ago, Channel 2 reported. Based on thpse files police have already turned to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit requesting that he allow them to open a full criminal investigation. The report stated that among the suspected offenses are bribe-taking and aggravated fraud.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said that “it’s all nonsense,” Haaretz reported. “Since Netanyahu’s victory in the last elections and even before, hostile elements have used heroic efforts to attempt to bring about [Netanyahu’s] downfall, with false accusations against him and his family. This [latest attempt] is absolutely false. There was nothing and there will be nothing.”

In June, it was reported that Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich gave his go-ahead on the secret investigation by special police unit Lahav 433, but that he had demanded full cooperation on secrecy and that no details be leaked to the media.

Mandelblit also reportedly instructed employees in the state prosecutor’s office to look into allegations that Netanyahu accepted 1 million euros (about $1.1 million) from accused French fraudster Arnaud Mimran in 2009.

In May, Israel’s state comptroller issued a critical report on Netanyahu’s foreign trips, some of which were taken with his wife and children, from 2003 to 2005, when he was finance minister.

Earlier this month, in an apparently unrelated case, there were calls for the prime minister to be investigated for his role in a Defense Ministry deal to purchase submarines from a German company partly owned by the Iranian government.

Well now, this certainly explains why Netanyahu is trying to rally the Israeli people to his side by acting like last week's UN Security Council resolution was an act of war by Obama.  Not only is he trying to get the support of Israelis but the support of the Jewish diaspora as well because he knows what's coming, and he knows just how much trouble he's in.

Of course, I'm thinking Obama knew as well.

This is going to get good.

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