Tag Archives: Fight

U.S. Supreme Court weighs South Dakota e-commerce sale tax fight
April 17, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday will consider whether to let states force out-of-state online retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases in a fight potentially worth billions of dollars pitting South Dakota against e-commerce businesses.

FILE PHOTO: The South Dakota state capitol building is seen in Pierre, South Dakota, U.S., February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Lawrence Hurley/File Photo

South Dakota is asking the nine justices to overturn a 1992 Supreme Court precedent that states cannot require retailers to collect state sales taxes unless the businesses have a “physical presence” in the state.

The state, appealing a lower court decision that favored Wayfair Inc, Overstock.com Inc and Newegg Inc, is being supported by President Donald Trump’s administration.

A ruling favoring South Dakota could eventually lead to online customers paying more for many purchases.

Such a ruling could help small brick-and-mortar retailers compete with online rivals while delivering up to $ 18 billion into the coffers of the affected states, according to a 2017 federal report. The justices are due to decide the case by the end of June.

South Dakota depends more than most states on sales taxes because it is one of nine that do not have a state income tax. South Dakota projects its revenue losses because of online sales that do not collect state taxes at around $ 50 million annually, while its opponents in the case estimate it as less than half that figure.

FILE PHOTO: A view of the U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, DC, U.S., October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

The justices will hear the case against a backdrop of Trump’s harsh criticism of Amazon.com Inc, the dominant player in online retail, on the issue of taxes and other matters. Trump has assailed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, a newspaper that the Republican president also has disparaged.

Amazon, which is not involved in the Supreme Court case, collects sales taxes on direct purchases on its site but does not collect taxes for items sold on its platform by third-party venders, amounting to about half of total sales.

South Dakota is supported by industry groups representing major retailers that have brick-and-mortar stores, and therefore already collect state sales taxes. The National Retail Federation, which supports the state, has a membership that includes Walmart Inc and Target Corp, as well as Amazon.

E-commerce companies supporting Wayfair, Overstock and Newegg include two that provide online platforms for individuals to sell online: eBay Inc and Etsy Inc.

The 2016 South Dakota law requires out-of-state online retailers to collect sales tax if they clear $ 100,000 in sales or 200 separate transactions. The state sued a group of online retailers to force them to collect the state sales taxes, with the aim of overturning the 1992 precedent.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham

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U.S. government seeks end to Supreme Court privacy fight with Microsoft
April 1, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

The U.S. government’s Supreme Court battle with Microsoft Corp over whether technology companies can be forced to hand over data stored overseas could be nearing its end, after federal prosecutors asked that the case be dismissed.

FILE PHOTO: The Microsoft logo is shown on the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

President Donald Trump on March 22 signed a provision into law making it clear that U.S. judges can issue warrants for such data, while giving companies an avenue to object if the request conflicts with foreign law.

“This case is now moot,” the U.S. Department of Justice said, citing the newly passed legislation, in a 16-page court filing on Friday that requested the dismissal.

The Supreme Court on Feb. 27 heard arguments in the case, which had been one of the most closely watched of the high court’s current term. Some justices urged Congress to pass a law to resolve the matter.

FILE PHOTO: Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith (R) makes a statement to the news media with his lawyer Josh Rosenkranz outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Microsoft and the Justice Department had been locked in a dispute over how U.S. prosecutors seek access to data held on overseas computer servers owned by American companies. The case involved Microsoft’s challenge to a domestic warrant issued by a U.S. judge for emails stored on a Microsoft server in Dublin relating to a drug-trafficking investigation.

The bipartisan new law, known as the Cloud Act, was supported by Microsoft, other major technology companies and the Trump administration. But civil liberties groups opposed it, saying it lacked sufficient privacy protections.

Microsoft, which has 100 data centers in 40 countries, was the first American company to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held outside the United States. The Microsoft customer whose emails were sought told the company he was based in Ireland when he signed up for his account.

A representative for Microsoft did not immediately return requests for comment on the Justice Department’s filing.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis

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As the Southern California Fires Rage, a Boeing 747 Joins the Fight
December 12, 2017 12:38 am|Comments (0)

The largest and most destructive fire burning in California continues to grow, consuming dry brush as it races not just through but across the canyons north of Los Angeles. Strong winds and dry conditions mean flames can leap large distances, prompting thousands to evacuate their homes. The Thomas Fire has now spread from Ventura County into Santa Barbara County, burning up 230,000 acres—an area larger than New York City and Boston combined. The out of control blaze is on track to become one of the largest in California history.

So firefighters are using the largest tools they have to tackle it, including one that’s more than 200 feet long, and does its work from just 200 feet above the ground.

“We avoid flying through smoke at all costs, but you can smell the fire 200 miles out, even at 20,000 feet,” says Marcos Valdez, one of the pilots of the Global Supertanker, a Boeing 747 modified to fight the fiercest of fires. The jumbo jet can drop 19,200 gallons of fire retardant liquid per trip, nearly double the capacity of the next largest air tanker, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Fully stocked, the plane weighs in at 660,000 pounds, comfortably under its 870,000-pound max takeoff weight.

Step inside (which you can do in the interactive 3-D model below) and you’ll see that the upper floor looks pretty normal, with the cockpit and a few seats. Head down the stairs to the main floor, though, and you’ll see the key changes its owner, Global Supertanker LLC, made when it converted the Japan Airlines passenger plane to a firefighter in 2016: In what looks like the interior of a submarine, you’ll find eight cylindrical white tanks in two rows.

Holding the fire suppressant liquid in separate tanks means the 747, aka The Spirit of John Muir, can make up to eight segmented drops on multiple small fires, or put down a solid two miles of fire line, to try to protect property or contain a fire. The liquid drops through a big hose, through a series of manhole-cover-sized circular nozzles under the plane, near the back. (If you use the “Dollhouse” view on the 3-D model, you can see some of that detail on the very lower deck.)

The plane is based in Colorado Springs, but its owner contracts it out to fire agencies in need. This week it’s flying out of Sacramento, in the northern part of the state. That’s because it can carry so much flame retardant that picking it up in Southern California wouldn’t leave enough for the smaller aerial firefighters. Plus, with a 600-mph cruise speed, it can reach the perimeter of the Thomas fire in just 38 minutes.

The 747 and other fixed wing aircraft sat out the early days of the fight against these fires, because high wind speeds would have blown their liquid retardant unpredictably off course. Though the pink stuff won’t damage people or property (good news for this guy), pilots make an effort to avoid dumping it on firefighters on the ground. The 747 can actually lay such a long line of retardant that it can be used to draw a line to safety for people trapped in a “burn-over” situation, where flames threaten to engulf them.

When the Supertanker reaches a fire, it doesn’t just drop down and fire away. The whole operation is a carefully orchestrated affair. Valdez, the pilot, starts by flying at 1,000 feet up, watching a “show me” flight by a lead plane, usually a Rockwell OV-10 Bronco or Beechcraft King Air. That has likely been in the air for hours, and directs each tanker aircraft exactly where to make its drops, pointing out hazards like power lines or tall rocks over the radio. “They’re using signals like ‘Start at this tree that’s split,’ ‘Fly on the right flank of the fire,’ and ‘I want to you stop at this rock that looks like a bear,’” Valdez says.

Then Valdez pushes the yoke forward until he and his crew are flying 200 to 300 feet above the ground—in a jet whose wingspan is just over 200 feet. Valdez plays down the terror, comparing it to driving next to a concrete barrier down the center of a highway. You know it’s there, and that one wrong move could kill you, but you just keep your heading and your cool.

The whole drop is over in 10 minutes, and then it’s time to head back to Sacramento, making for a two-hour roundtrip. On Friday, the Supertanker performed three drops on the Thomas fire—each gratefully received by the firefighters trying to stop the flames reaching more property, and people.


Fire Storm

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Uber heads to court in fight for London survival
December 11, 2017 12:36 am|Comments (0)

LONDON (Reuters) – Uber [UBER.UL] will defend its right to operate in London in a court hearing on Monday after the app was deemed unfit to run a taxi service and stripped of its license in its most important European market.

FILE PHOTO: A photo illustration shows the Uber app on a mobile telephone, as it is held up for a posed photograph, in London, Britain November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

Regulator Transport for London (TfL) shocked the Silicon Valley firm by rejecting its license renewal bid in September, citing its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.

Uber’s 40,000 drivers, representing around one in three of all private hire vehicles on the British capital’s roads, can continue to take passengers until the appeals process is exhausted, which could take years.

The legal battle pitches one of the world’s richest cities against a tech giant known for its forays into new markets around the world that have prompted bans, restrictions and protests, including by drivers of London’s famous black cabs.

Uber’s lawyers will begin their appeal at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday, in what is expected to be a largely administrative hearing designed to set a date for a fuller hearing next year.

Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi has apologized to Londoners and met TfL Commissioner Mike Brown in October for what both sides described as constructive talks.

Brown told Reuters in November that “there are some discussions going on to make sure they are compliant.”

Months of legal wrangling are likely unless the Silicon Valley app, valued at around $ 70 billion with investors including Goldman Sachs (GS.N), can come to a new arrangement with the regulator.

“We continue having constructive discussions with Transport for London in order to resolve this,” an Uber spokesman said ahead of the hearing. “As our new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said, we are determined to make things right.”

Losing its London license was just one of many blows to Uber this year as a stream of executives left amid controversies involving allegations of sexual harassment and issues surrounding data privacy and business practices.

In Britain, Uber is looking to appoint a new boss after Jo Bertram announced her departure less than two weeks after London’s decision.

It also faces potential problems in the northern English city of Sheffield where its license has been suspended and in Brighton, southern England, where local officials extended the firm’s license for only six months to give them more time to consider the outcome of the dispute in London.

Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Keith Weir

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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The YouTube Celebrity Taking the H-1B Visa Fight Public
November 22, 2017 12:04 pm|Comments (0)

When he uploaded his first YouTube video, there was no way Kumar could have expected that he’d become a public face of H-1B visas: an advocate—and a whistleblower—for a way of life he can barely tolerate.

On his channel, Kumar Exclusive, Kumar serves as an everyman narrator of the experience of recipients of the coveted H-1B skilled worker visa, which allows foreign workers to fill technical jobs in America. His dispatches offer both user-friendly how-tos (how to find a job, how to avoid scams, how to win at an American-style interview) and warnings (tales of abusive bosses, short-term contracts, employees faking resumes to win visas, and companies that use lies to tempt foreign workers to the West). On YouTube, he’s amassed a small group following, whose members regularly watch his dispatches to gain practical advice for securing their spots as technical workers abroad.

Kumar’s first video was an afterthought—something he made on his lunch break. He’d left the low-slung office building where he worked processing data, sat in his car, and filmed with his cell phone on the dashboard. Quickly, he learned two things: There was an audience for his videos; he loved making them. It was also a distraction from his life on said visa, where he spends his time circling the country in search of short-term jobs that pay crap wages. His wife doesn’t like his hobby; she worries it’ll hurt his visa renewal. His friends have pointed out the people that threaten him, regularly, in the comments section.

None of this has stopped Kumar from filming thousands of videos. After all, he tells me, what else is he supposed to do?

“I don’t sleep, Alexis,” he says.

In a way, Kumar’s life is one big, messy juxtaposition. Our interview is yet another example of this. He’s eager to talk to me about the crappiest parts of the H-1B visa. Then again, our calls are frequently interrupted, because Kumar is looking for his next gig and needs to pick up call waiting in case it’s a recruiter.

By the time he got his H-1B visa, Kumar had been trying to enter the program for almost a decade. H-1B visas—which are granted each year to just 85,000 recipients, who hail predominantly from India and China—are tough to get; demand far outweighs supply. Though his bachelor’s degree was in literature, Kumar went back to school to earn a technical degree that would make him eligible for the program. Back in India, he’d been laid off from his government job when he received the news: His visa application had been approved.

The visa was tied to a job in New Jersey. The company would sponsor him and pay him a starting salary of $ 55,000 a year. In the summer of 2008, Kumar’s employer sent a plane ticket and he boarded a flight to Newark, leaving his wife and young son with his mother-in-law.

It felt like a fresh beginning. But quickly, he realized, he’d been unaware of the fine print. That job in New Jersey wasn’t quite a job—it was a project that would last for an uncertain amount of time. On paper, H-1Bs are tied to a specific company, making changing jobs or advancement difficult. (That’s one of the reasons the more flexible Optional Practical Training visa, or OPT, has become more popular.) But in practice, H-1B recipients are responsible for ensuring their continued employment, with jobs that could end at any moment.

Reading Kumar’s resume from his time in the United States, it would seem like he was working as a spy, or running from the law. In the 10 years he’s lived in America, he’s held jobs in over a dozen different cities. In 2010 alone he worked in North Carolina, Montana, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. (The project in Massachusetts lasted just 36 hours.) Eventually, he developed a system: He’d roll into town and stay in a motel while he looked for a more permanent place to live.

Kumar’s first job lasted just a few months. He picked up another project, this time in Maryland. He stayed in a motel for a week while he looked for housing, eventually decamping to the home of an Indian acquaintance, where he paid $ 700 a month for a room in the basement. When that job ended, he found another in Pennsylvania. He found himself criss-crossing through a strange country, whose small towns were proving trying.

The next year, he returned to India for surgery. But his visa required that he return to America within a few weeks, before he’d fully recovered. He was on bed rest, staying with a friend in Michigan, when he picked up his next contract—this time in North Carolina. He packed up his van and drove. Kumar was lonely; he was in pain. He cried for most of the trip.

By 2011, he’d saved up enough money for his wife and sons to join him. (That’s right: He now had two sons; his second son was born during the years he was working abroad.) Eventually, Kumar settled on the environs of Rochester, which is when he started commuting. He was hesitant to uproot his family for his erratic schedule, so he found himself driving wherever he got a project.

On Sunday evenings he’d drive 375-miles to a small Rhode Island city from Rochester. During the week he’d stay in a motel, and then dart off on Friday evenings for the trip back home. Another commute, this time to Ohio, was grueling enough that he thought about uprooting his family. But his manager was elusive on how long the job would last. His family stayed put.

Kumar says that the videos were a natural progression from his daily life. Despite his problems, Indian acquaintances often asked him for dispatches on his life in America. Once he started filming the videos, Kumar found that he had lots to say. His earliest videos are filled with practical advice. In one, titled “[sic] How to Get First Job,” he gives basic advice. (“Your resume is not your autobiography, if you put everything in the resume then what do you speak of in the interview?”) In another, called “Work Culture in America,” Kumar advises on how to get along with colleagues who might be annoyed by being around a foreigner. Over the years, his videos have become more controversial. He warns prospective visa recipients on what to avoid: fake job postings, lawyers who run away with H-1B money, and vendors who try to convince immigrants that fees should come out of their own pocket. He considers himself, in many ways, a truth teller.

Over the course of more than a thousand videos, Kumar’s production quality has improved a bit. Instead of speaking from memory, he now types up his points and reviews them off of a sheet of paper. He still films in his car or office, while pointing the camera at himself, selfie-style. Sometimes he films videos solely intended to delight. Last month, a Kumar video titled “[sic] The Beauty of America in fall season, NY,” showed a lake surrounded by trees with brilliant orange and red leaves.

In his YouTube bio, Kumar writes that the “highest ambition for any Indian” is coming to America, learning from the West, and returning back to India to change the system. And, as Kumar is the first to point out, without the H-1B program, he never would’ve gotten the chance to come. But that experience has been grueling. His kids, however, are thriving in American school. He’s not like other Indian parents, he tells me. He doesn’t force his kids to study; he doesn’t care if they become doctors. His oldest son, who is in seventh grade, likes basketball and dreams of going pro. He thinks adjusting to life back in India would be hard for them.

At one point, when his wife’s visa expired, Kumar suggested that she fake her resume and apply for an H-1B. Unlike her husband, she decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.

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Using AI To Fight Cyberthreats
July 27, 2016 12:45 pm|Comments (0)

SparkCognition, working with Carnegie Mellon and IBM’s Watson, aims to provide cyber-security researchers with better threat data using predictive models powered by machine learning.


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Amazon Cloud, Analytics Help Researchers Fight Famine
December 27, 2015 2:30 am|Comments (0)

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Researchers in the US and China explore rice genomes with AWS analytics tools to develop drought and disease resistant crops.
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When Smart Cities Fight Mother Nature
November 20, 2015 3:40 am|Comments (0)

Anyone who has ever spent the night huddled on a rooftop surrounded by rising flood waters knows it’s terrifying. Alejandro Zelada, a survivor of massive floods in Buenos Aires in 2013, describes the experience. “It was like a wave, a tsunami, and all the furniture started to float”, said Zelada. “We only lost our belongings, but others lost their lives.”


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Following Google’s lead, telecoms and users can join in the fight against robocalls
September 29, 2015 8:45 pm|Comments (0)

robocalls

For the first time, Google joined the legal fight last week against robocalls.

It filed suit against a search engine optimization firm in California for robocalls that promised better results from its search engine. It also set up a new Web page for reporting robocall scams.

But even mighty Google can only do but so much to counter the epidemic of robocalls. Carriers can and should do more to combat them, according to Jan Volzke, vp of reputation services for identity management firm Whitepages.

From VentureBeat

Location, location, location — Not using geolocation to reach your mobile customers? Your competitors are. Find out what you’re missing.

We’re at “at a point where we have no trust in a phone call,” he told me in a recent conversation.

In case you’re one of the six people in the U.S. who haven’t encountered such “extremely urgent” robocalls, here’s one Googlized version that also touts Bing and Yahoo. (Although it’s of the same ilk, it’s not clear if this robocall is from the company Google is suing.)

But things could change. In early summer, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) strengthened carriers’ hand in combatting robocalls.

In a big breakthrough this past June, the FCC gave the carriers the green light to block unwanted calls. The carriers had asked the federal agency to decide if they could legally offer call-blocking, given their common carrier status and other issues. Under common carrier, all traffic needs to be handled in the same manner.

Yes, the agency said. You, the carriers, can block calls.

The FCC also gave consumers additional latitude in how they grant consent and in their ability to block calls. They said consent could be withdrawn at any time, consent is automatically removed if a landline or cell number gets assigned to someone else, and text messages count as robocalls.

Previously, Volzke pointed out, it was difficult to undo consent once you gave it, and “now all robocallers must allow you to get out of it.”

If there is any doubt you have opted out, the FCC clarified that later in the summer — the burden is on the robocalling business to show the user has opted in or that there is an existing business relationship.

Carriers now “need to get serious” about the fight, Volzke said.

As one example of their weak response, he said that carriers offer “these services for a ridiculous $ 4.99 a month to block up to ten [robocalling phone numbers], and then you have to renew it every 30 days.”

He’s not alone in his frustration. The attorneys-general of dozens of states have written to the carriers to take care of this.

But robocalls have not been declining since the FCC’s decision in June. In fact, Volzke said, the amount of mobile spam and robocalls that Whitepages blocks monthly is up about 40 percent since then.

He pointed to several remaining structural issues, such as the fact that unwanted calls can involve multiple carriers and the solution would best be industry-wide. And right now carriers can only block calls as the result of each subscriber’s request — that is, it’s still onesies.

So robocalling — even, probably, robocalling that drops Google’s name — is not going away anytime soon.

As we await the ultimate battle, Volzke offers a few tips:

  • The number one thing that affects the robocalls you get is the amount of consent you’ve given. In most cases, your phone number is the key to granting consent. So, treat your phone number with a level of confidentiality just below that of your Social Security number. He noted with amazement that people list their primary phone number on Facebook and Craigslist, where it can be scooped by a spider.
  • “Get a second phone number” for public postings, he advised, and be careful when you give your number to people or sites you don’t know. “No one reads all the fine print,” Volzke pointed out.
  • If you’re already on robocallers’ list, he suggests getting an app to filter the calls by originating phone number — assuming we’re talking about your smartphone and not your landline. (Not coincidentally, Whitepages offers a robocall- and robotext-blocking app for Android and iOS devices.)
  • Next step up is call blocking for a specific phone number, although the bad guys may well change their number after a while.
  • If that still doesn’t help, and you’re still getting multiple robocalls, Volzke said that getting a new phone number is “sometimes the only option.” That is, until the carriers get their act in gear.

By the way, Whitepages is an identity data company, not the phone book. They are involved in robocall issues because a) phone numbers are a key identifier, and b) they recently bought robocall blocker NumberCop.

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