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If you ever wonder what’s fueling America’s staggering inequality, ponder Facebook’s acquisition of the mobile messaging company WhatsApp .
According to news reports today, Facebook has agreed to buy WhatsApp for $19 billion.
That’s the highest price paid for a startup in history. It’s $3 billion more than Facebook raised when it was first listed, and more than twice what Microsoft paid for Skype.
(To be precise, $12 billion of the $19 billion will be in the form of shares in Facebook, $4 billion will be in cash, and $3 billion in restricted stock to WhatsApp staff, which will vest in four years.)
Given that gargantuan amount, you might think Whatsapp is a big company. You’d be wrong. It has 55 employees, including its two young founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton.
Whatsapp’s value doesn’t come from making anything. It doesn’t need a large organization to distribute its services or implement its strategy.
It value comes instead from two other things that require only a handful of people. First is its technology — a simple but powerful app that allows users to send and receive text, image, audio and video messages through the Internet.
The second is its network effect: The more people use it, the more other people want and need to use it in order to be connected. To that extent, it’s like Facebook — driven by connectivity.
Whatsapp’s worldwide usage has more than doubled in the past nine months, to 450 million people — and it’s growing by around a million users every day. On December 31, 2013, it handled 54 billion messages (making its service more popular than Twitter, now valued at about $30 billion.)
How does it make money? The first year of usage is free. After that, customers pay a small fee. At the scale it’s already achieved, even a small fee generates big bucks. And if it gets into advertising it could reach more eyeballs than any other medium in history. It already has a database that could be mined in ways that reveal huge amounts of information about a significant percentage of the world’s population.
The winners here are truly big winners. WhatsApp’s fifty-five employees are now enormously rich. Its two founders are now billionaires. And the partners of the venture capital firm that financed it have also reaped a fortune.
And the rest of us? We’re winners in the sense that we have an even more efficient way to connect with each other.
But we’re not getting more jobs.
In the emerging economy, there’s no longer any correlation between the size of a customer base and the number of employees necessary to serve them. In fact, the combination of digital technologies with huge network effects is pushing the ratio of employees to customers to new lows (WhatsApp’s 55 employees are all its 450 million customers need).
Meanwhile, the ranks of postal workers, call-center operators, telephone installers, the people who lay and service miles of cable, and the millions of other communication workers, are dwindling — just as retail workers are succumbing to Amazon, office clerks and secretaries to Microsoft, and librarians and encyclopedia editors to Google.
Productivity keeps growing, as do corporate profits. But jobs and wages are not growing. Unless we figure out how to bring all of them back into line – or spread the gains more widely – our economy cannot generate enough demand to sustain itself, and our society cannot maintain enough cohesion to keep us together.
TSA’s ‘Administrative Record’ admits ineffective security theater
Oct. 17, 2013
The TSA has quietly admitted there is no actual “threat-addressing” basis for employing nude body scanners or invasive pat down procedures at airports, a notion many travelers who are weary of the federal agency’s borderline sexual molestation have long suspected but were hard-pressed to prove.
The TSA understands body scanners and pat downs are ineffective at addressing a threat for which they admit “there is no evidence.”
The evidence was found in sealed court documents, available through the PACER.gov website, regarding engineer and blogger Jon Corbett’s ongoing litigation over the constitutionality of the agency’s loathsome security practices.
In a redacted version of the appellant’s brief, filed by Corbett on October 7 with the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, several portions of the Summary of Facts section were blacked out, raising questions as to the nature of the censored information.
But in a sealed version of the same documents obtained through PACER.gov (and available here), the redacted sections appear with incriminating clarity.
Through Redactions, TSA Admits Terror Threats are Slim to Nonexistent
“For example, the TSA analyzed hijackings in 2007 and found 7 hijacking incidents across the globe, but none of them involved actual explosive devices,” Corbett explains in the brief, adding that the last attempt to bring an explosive onboard an airplane through a U.S. airport occurred 35 years ago.
Another redacted section highlights the government’s concession that, “due to hardened cockpit doors and the willingness of passengers to challenge hijackers,” it would be difficult to have a repeat of 9/11.
“The government also credits updated pre-flight security for that difficulty assessment,” the brief states, “but the assessment was written before the en masse deployment of body scanners and before the update to the pat down procedure. Further, the government admits that there have been no attempted domestic hijackings of any kind in the 12 years since 9/11.”
The TSA also had the following section completely censored:
This begs the question, then, of what evidence the government possesses to rationalize that we should be so afraid of non-metallic explosives being brought aboard flights departing from the U.S. that we must sacrifice our civil liberties. The answer: there is none. “As of mid-2011, terrorist threat groups present in the Homeland are not known to be actively plotting against civil aviation targets or airports; instead, their focus is on fundraising, recruiting, and propagandizing.”
In the brief’s Summary of Argument, another redacted portion concerns the TSA’s understanding that body scanners and pat downs are ineffective at addressing a threat for which they admit “there is no evidence.”
By redacting certain parts of the brief, the TSA also inadvertently admits “it is aware of no one who is currently plotting a terror attack against our aviation system using explosives (non-metallic or otherwise),” and that, in addition to a cabin of empowered passengers who would make short work of a hijacker, the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, which arms pilots with firearms, makes targeting an airplane “to be the definition of insanity.”
Get the TSA Out of Our Pants
The 28-year-old entrepreneur arrived at his conclusions after admittedly “pawing through several thousand pages of the TSA’s ‘administrative record,’” which he says the TSA uses as the “alleged rationale behind why they must photograph us naked and literally put their hands in our pants to search us.”
The information contained within the redacted portions support what Infowars and others have long suspected: that the sprawling agency – which is in the process of extending beyond the airport and onto highways, train stations and public buses – was never meant to thwart terrorists, but was instead set up to purposely obstruct, annoy, harass and train the American public.
In other words, the court documents go a long way in proving the TSA is pure contrived security theater custom-made solely to indoctrinate Americans, through prisoner training, into blindly accepting obedience to authority as a normal way of life, not to mention a huge waste of about $7.91 billion in taxpayer money a year.
Last year, he made headlines when he demonstrated how to thwart TSA body scanners simply by sewing an object onto clothing.
Corbett had also previously filed a lawsuit challenging the TSA after he was detained for an hour at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. He also regularly adds updates regarding his ongoing litigation on his activist blog TSA Out Of Our Pants!.
Updates to Jon’s case can be found on PACER.gov, case #12-15893.
Below are both the redacted and sealed versions of the Appellant’s brief in the case of Jonathan Corbett v. Transportation Security Administration.
This article was posted: Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 1:24 pm
The Saudi Arabian government has threatened to ban the use of instant messaging applications because of failure to control them, Saudi media reveal. It comes a month after the minister for media and culture confirmed censorship of Twitter.
“The Communications and Information Technology Commission has requested companies operating the applications to meet the regulatory requirements to avoid their suspension in the kingdom,” sources told Saudi news site Sabq.
“The commission is now coordinating with the application operators on the issue,” they said.
Companies were given one week to deal with the situation and decide upon the required technical measures.
The sources stressed that the procedure was “in accordance with regulatory procedures,” denying claims that attributed the decision to commercial motivations.
Messaging applications such as Skype, WhatsApp and Viber are at risk of being banned, Al Arabiya reported.
It’s the latest move by the ultra-conservative Gulf Kingdom, whose government recently admitted censorship of Twitter.
Just last month, Saudi Arabian Minister for Media and Culture Abdel Aziz Khoga called on citizens to “raise their awareness” and contribute to the censorship taken up by the ministry.
“People have to take care of what they are writing on Twitter,” the minister said.
“It’s getting harder to observe around three million people subscribing to the social network in the kingdom,” he added.
The government’s censorship of the social media application led to the December arrest of Turki al-Hamad, a liberal Saudi writer accused of “insulting Islam” on his Twitter account.
Hamad was arrested on the orders of Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef Bin Abdel Aziz, who was tipped off by a religious organization.
In 2010, Saudi Arabia banned the use of Blackberry phones to send and receive messages, citing concerns that the communications were encrypted and could not be monitored, therefore hindering the country’s efforts to fight terrorism and crime.
After the attacks of 9/11, it was only natural that our government would put in place new policies to help prevent future terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, thanks to the Bush Administration and its "fear everything" doctrine, we went nuts. As a result, what we have today is a system that is badly broken, that does very little to actually protect the lives of Americans, and that is in need of some serious reconsideration.
Since 9/11, the focus has been on airport security, or the lack thereof. Because airport security had been privatized and airport screeners were about the same caliber and pay as Burger King workers, the Bush Administration established the TSA in November of 2001. According to the agency's website, the mission of the TSA is to, "protect the nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce."
But there's always been a dynamic tension between freedom and security, as Ben Franklin identified after the Constitutional Convention. And when security is overdone, it can sometimes end up somewhere between an oppressive institution and a clown show.
That's where 3-year-old Lucy Forck comes in.
Earlier this month, TSA officials at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in St.Louis, Missouri detained 3-year-old Lucy, on her way to a family vacation in Disney World.
The agents threatened the frightened little girl with an invasive pat-down. Little Lucy is confined to a wheelchair, and her mother took cell phone video of the entire traumatic experience, and put it up online for the world to see. In the video, you can clearly see a scared Lucy, and hear her mother questioning why such invasive security techniques need to be performed on a wheelchair-bound toddler.
But Lucy's story is just one of many tragic and unnecessary acts in America's modern security theater.
In October of 2012, Michelle Dunaj, a terminally-ill cancer patient, was on her way to visit friends and family in Hawaii, for what would likely be her last time seeing them. When Dunaj arrived at Seattle's Sea-Tac Airport, TSA agents forced her to lift up her shirt in public, so that they could check underneath her bandages. Dunaj had asked for privacy, but the agents wouldn't allow it. The whole situation started after a TSA agent had seen tubing connected to Dunaj's torso, a result of her medical condition. Dunaj was eventually allowed to proceed, only after being hurt and humiliated.
Earlier in 2012, TSA agents at Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida pulled 18-month-old baby girl Riyanna off of a flight, because her name was on the federal government's no-fly list. Her family believes they were being profiled due to their Middle Eastern name, and because Riyanna's mother was dressed in a traditional hijab.
Rewind two years, and America's security theater rears its ugly head yet again. Three-year-old Rocco Dubiel was traveling with his family, and was in a wheelchair with a broken leg. As his family passed through the security checkpoint, Rocco was detained by TSA agents, and swabbed for explosive residue. Again the incident was posted to the web, and again the TSA was forced to issue an apology.
All of these incidents took place at our nation's airports. But that's not our only mass transit system. And, at least so far – thankfully – there are no pat-downs or public shamings in our nation's other transit systems. That's because, ever since the Bush
Administration created the TSA, all security focus has been placed on the skies, and not on the ground.
Is that because they just haven't gotten around to busses, trains, and cars? Or because the whole thing is more theatre than reality.
Back in the 1970s, after numerous aircraft hijackings to Cuba, legislation was introduced in Congress to require airlines to harden their cockpit doors. El Al, the Israeli airline, had been doing that since they started flying. Virtually all the European airlines had hardened cockpit doors. But the US airlines didn't want to pay the one-time cost – which would have been around $100,000 per plane. It would have cut their quarterly profits. So they lobbied Congress hard, and the legislation died.
If United and American Airlines had had hardened cockpit doors, 9/11 never would have happened. It's part of why it hasn't happened ever in Israel. And, in the ultimate example of locking the barn door after the horse is out, those doors are hardened today.
But we behave like they're not, and like we're all terrified. And this security theatre, like the military-industrial-complex it's become a part of, just keeps growing and growing without ever being questioned. From Chertof Porno X-Ray machines to groping kids in wheelchairs to humiliating cancer patients.
This nation used to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, but since Bush and Cheney, we've become the land of the frightened and the home of the sheep. It's time we changed that. It's time for sensible security in the United States that protects the lives, and, frankly, even more importantly, the rights, of all Americans.
A traveler undergoes a full body scan performed by Transportation Security Administration agents as she and others pass through the security checkpoint at the Denver International Airport on November 22, 2010 in Denver, Colorado.(AFP Photo / John Moore)
The TSA is retiring 250 of their high-tech “backscatter” screening machines in the coming weeks, easing both healthcare and privacy woes from frequent travelers that don’t trust the devices. Are they really going away for good though?
Backscatter makers Rapiscan and the Transportation Security Administration announced the ending of a partnership just last month, and by June 1 the TSA will have removed the space-age body screeners from around 200 airports across the country. In a recent interview with Federal Times, though, TSA spokesperson David Castelveter says that the roughly $40 million worth of machinery could be moved elsewhere to provide airport-style security outside of departure terminals.
“We are working with other government agencies to find homes for them,” Castelveter tells reporter Andy Medici. “There is an interest clearly by DoD and the State Department to use them — and other agencies as well.”
According to Medici, those machines may soon be coming to federal buildings to be used in routine, day-to-day security screenings for both visitors and employees.
Last February, lawmakers in Washington responded to opponents of the machines by demanding that the TSA only implement devices that produce "generic passenger images,” a maneuver they hoped would bring change substantial enough to alleviate the privacy concerns from travelers made uncomfortable by the X-ray-like machines that have earned them the moniker “pornoscanners.” With a deadline looming and Congress’ challenge left unanswered, though, the TSA confirmed last month that their $5 million contract with Rapiscan would be coming to a close and the company’s Secure 1000SP Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) systems and Automated Target Recognition (ATR) software would be shelved.
“It became clear to TSA they would be unable to meet our timeline,” Karen Shelton Waters, an assistant administer for acquisitions at the agency, told Bloomberg at the time. “As a result of that, we terminated the contract for the convenience of the government.”
Now just weeks after that announcement, Medici’s report suggests that Americans won’t be saying goodbye to the backscatters anytime soon. Although the TSA has removed at least 76 of the machines from airports already and intends on having the other 174 gone by the June 1 deadline, Castelveter wants them elsewhere.
“Hopefully we will be able to deploy them within other government agencies,” he says.
In the January 17 press release from Rapiscan that announces the end of their backscatter deal with the TSA, the company hints at what could be to come regarding other deals.
“As the Secure 1000SP has been operated by TSA as an effective imaging system, TSA plans to deploy these systems, with Rapiscan’s assistance, to U.S. government agencies that already rely on the Secure 1000 product line or can enhance their security programs with the Secure 1000SP,” the presser reads.
Late last year in November, Rapiscan announced on its website that it had been awarded a $15 million contract from an unnamed, “critical US government agency” in order to provide people and baggage scanning technology. Although that write-up declined to name the entity that will work with Rapiscan or what kind of technology will be implemented, it does little to calm the fears of those who worried that invasive airport pat-downs were just the beginning of a bigger trend — a problematic one where Americans are forced to sacrifice privacy for protection.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) made a statement last month condemning the use of the devices and insisted “The American public must be assured that these machines will not be used in any other public federal facility.” Bob Burns of the TSA Blog says the units will be “stored until they can be redeployed to other mission priorities within the government.”
Rand Paul (Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images / AFP)
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is continuing his fight against the government-controlled TSA and has introduced bills to privatize the agency and establish a passenger bill of rights.
This is the senator’s second attempt at overhauling the Transportation Security Administration; the Kentucky Republican introduced two similar bills in mid-2012 that didn’t make it through the Commerce Committee last year and received little support.
But Paul remains determined to overhaul airport security and reduce the TSA’s power, which he believes is commonly used to violate airline passengers’ privacy by committing offenses like inappropriately "groping toddlers". By privatizing the TSA and establishing passenger rights, the senator believes he can improve the airport security process, he said in an interview with Politico.
One of the two bills would require that airports hire private companies of their own choosing to conduct security screenings. The TSA already had a program that would give select airports this option, but recently abandoned it and returned full power of airport security to its own employees, thereby eliminating the competition.
TSA has repeatedly come under scrutiny for inappropriate pat-downs, stealing from passengers, inappropriate use of nude body scanners, discrimination, and arresting passengers without valid reasons. Paul has himself had a conflict with TSA agents at a Nashville airport in early 2012. After resisting a pat-down, he missed his speech at the March for Life rally and has worked towards an airport security overhaul ever since.
The senator’s second bill would create a passenger bill of rights that would provide travelers with a number of protections from procedures like invasive searches. Select passengers would have the option to opt out of pat-downs and screening procedures would be expedited. Every passenger would also receive a copy of the bill of rights.
Paul said his new bills are similar to the ones that failed in 2012, but that he believes “there is some bipartisan support for reforming the TSA.”
“The American people shouldn’t be subjected to harassment, groping and other public humiliation simply to board an airplane,” he wrote in a press release in early 2012. “It’s time to END the TSA and get the government’s hands back to only stealing our wallets instead of groping toddlers and grandmothers.”
The Transportation Security Administration will remove all X-ray body scanners from airports, Bloomberg News reports. The reason: Software couldn't be developed by a congressionally mandated deadline to automatically detect suspicious items on the body. Instead, TSA officers viewed images of passengers' naked bodies to see if they were carrying weapons or other contraband, a process that privacy advocates have dubbed a "virtual strip search."
Privacy had not been the only concern dogging the scanners. A ProPublica investigation found that the TSA had glossed over the small cancer risk posed by even the low doses of radiation emitted by X-ray scanners. The stories also showed that the United States was almost alone in the world in X-raying passengers and that the Food and Drug Administration had gone against its own advisory panel, which recommended the agency set a federal safety standard for security X-rays. In addition, ProPublica reported that, outside airports, other security agencies are exposing people to radiation in more settings and in increasing doses.
In October, the TSA parked many of its 250 X-ray scanners in a Texas warehouse after it removed them from most of the biggest U.S. airports, including Los Angeles, Chicago O'Hare, New York's John F. Kennedy, Boston Logan, Charlotte Douglas and Orlando. Back then, the TSA said it made the change to speed up checkpoints at busier airports. Because human officers have to view images, the X-ray scanners are slower than the automated millimeter wave machines.
In November, the TSA sent the maker of the scanners, Rapiscan Systems, a "show cause letter," which is typically issued when the government is considering terminating a contract. Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican head of the House transportation security subcommittee, cited an allegation that Rapiscan had falsified a software test, which the company denies.
X-ray scanners could still come back. The TSA is considering an X-ray machine made by another company under a contract for the next generation of body scanners.
The last X-ray scanners in use in Europe were removed from Manchester Airport in the United Kingdom in September. Israel, which is influential in the security world, has installed an X-ray body scanner for testing at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
A TSA agent waits for passengers to use the TSA PreCheck lane being implemented by the Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport.(AFP Photo / Joe Raedle)
The US Transport and Security Administration (TSA) will remove all 174 of OSI Systems Inc. (OSIS)’s Rapiscan body scanners from airports, following serious concerns over their inability to protect the privacy of passengers.
The $5 million contract Rapiscan had with the TSA will come to an end, leading to the removal of the invasive machines from all US airports. The contract has been terminated as a result of the company’s inability to meet TSA requirements that their machines develop software to produce less invasive images of passengers.
The need for a speedy adjustment intensified in November 2012, when Wired reported that Rapiscan may have been manipulating the results of tests on integrated privacy software that they were supposed to have been implementing. In a letter quoted by Bloomberg, Rep Mike Rogers (R-AL) claimed that Rapiscan “may have attempted to defraud the government by knowingly manipulating an operational test.”
As a result of the outcry that followed these accusations about the then-current software, the TSA ordered the manufacturer to adjust the machines so that an avatar of a miscellaneous body was displayed in place of the individual being searched.
Rapiscan indicated that they would not be able to meet the TSA’s demands until 2014. TSA Assistant Administrator Karen Shelton Waters said that it “became clear to TSA they would be unable to meet our timeline.”
As early as August 2010, the TSA had required that software be developed to make body scans of airline passengers less revealing, after the administration was criticized for essentially stripping their travellers naked. However, their airport scanners have continued to be a source of controversy – in 2012, a Texas woman was sent through a scanner three times, and told she was ‘cute,’
The TSA has been using two companies to conduct the searches, outsourcing to both Rapiscan and L-3 Communications Holdings to produce the machines. While the Rapiscan machines have been utilizing weak X-rays to create what appears to be a naked image of the subject, the machines of L-3 Communications Holdings use radio waves to depict concealed objects on an avatar image on a screen, and will continue to be used by the TSA.
The Rapiscan machines will be replaced by 60 units supplied by L-3.