Category: capitalism crimes

Walmart Plans To Record Conversations Of Employees And Customers

Walmart wants to listen to its workers and shoppers more. A lot more.

America’s largest retailer has patented surveillance technology that could essentially spy on cashiers and customers by collecting audio data in stores. The proposal raises questions about how recordings of conversations would be used and whether the practice would even be legal in some Walmart stores.

“This is a very bad idea,” Sam Lester, consumer privacy counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., told CBS News. “If they do decide to implement this technology, the first thing we would want and expect is to know which privacy expectations are in place.”

Walmart’s patent filing says the “sound sensors” would focus on minute details of the shopping and checkout experience, such as the beeps of item scanners and the rustling of bags, and they could also pick up conversations of workers and customers. It’s unclear so far how that chatter could be used.

“We’ve made it perfectly clear in the patent that all sounds will be picked up, including voice,” Walmart’s director of corporate communications Ragan Dickens told CBS News. “But we’ve also made clear the intent” of the technology, Dickens added.

According to the patent filed Tuesday, the sensors would be “distributed through at least a portion of a shopping facility” and collect data that will create a “performance metric” for Walmart workers. For example, the sensors would pick up on how many items are scanned, how many bags are used, how long shoppers wait in line and how employees greet customers.

“A need exists for ways to capture the sounds resulting from people in the shopping facility and determine performance of employees based on those sounds,” says the patent filing for the program, called “Listening to the Frontend.”

The audio would help cut costs and improve the shopping experience, while also monitoring “if employees are performing their jobs efficiently and correctly,” according to the filing.

Dickens said the audio would be reviewed mostly by computers and that the program will not be “analyzing the words” it picks up. The filing, however, mentions the possibility that a performance metric might be “based on the content of the conversation,” such as determining whether workers followed a “specific greeting” or “script.”

The criteria for evaluating employee recordings is unclear, as are several major details about the proposal, such as how long the recordings would be kept on file and whether outside parties could access them.

The system may also be illegal in some states that have two-party consent laws, which outlaw recording audio of people without their consent. Walmart operates in all 50 states and 12 states have versions of those laws.

“Shoppers aren’t going to expect their conversations will be recorded,” Lester said, adding that such recordings would raise “a ton of concerns” about privacy.

Dickens said there had not been discussions yet about how the sensors would work in different states, and added, “I can assure you if the concept became a reality, we would comply with state and local laws.”

He said Walmart employees would be notified about the sensors before they are installed, if the company decides to move forward with implementing the system outlined in the patent.

“We file patents frequently but that doesn’t mean the patents will actually be implemented,” the Arkansas-based company said in a statement. “We’re always thinking about new concepts and ways that will help us further enhance how we serve customers.”

Details about the potential cost of the system were not available, and Walmart noted that this is only a concept for now.

Some Walmart workers have previously pushed back on the company’s surveillance and efforts to regulate employee behavior. When union-backed employees rallied for higher wages and more consistent schedules, Walmart started monitoring employees and activists, contacted the FBI and hired an intelligence-gathering service from the defense company Lockheed Martin, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in 2015.

Seattle begins fencing off highways from the homeless

Transportation departments are spending at least $1.1 million this year on fences to keep homeless people separated from Seattle highways.

It’s a one-off project, but the state expects to install more barriers in future years, as specific crises appear.

“It’s a statewide issue,” said Travis Phelps, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). “We’re going to be collaborating with cities and other jurisdictions, to make sure that folks who are experiencing homelessness and other issues are not camping underneath highways and other spots, and putting themselves at risk.”

Seattle is blocking off nearly two miles in Sodo under its Spokane Street Viaduct, site of two deaths and two serious RV fires this year.

Fencing crews have cordoned off nearly all the space below, from the Duwamish River to First Avenue South. The extra-strength fence stands 10-foot-4, with small mesh that’s hard for climbers to grab. A supplemental shipment of thin blades was discreetly cinched along the top, resembling common bird spikes that repel crows and gulls.

Light weight, temporary chain-link fence is also surrounding other medians of lower Spokane Street, all the way to I-5. Commuters have begun parking again inside that fence, a use the city supports.

New fences downtown near James Street are meant to deter people from walking across I-5 entrance and exit lanes.

Additional fencing will be installed under I-5 at the Columbian Way exit, near an area known as The Jungle, where WSDOT’s sand and vehicles will be stored out of the rain.

Like other West Coast cities, Seattle declared a homelessness emergency two years ago, but has yet to show progress.

An estimated 11,600 people across King County are homeless. Taxpayers and donors this year are spending $196 million for shelters, permanent housing and other services.

Seattle’s fences are funded through a quarterly City Council budget amendment, for $570,000. This money was shifted from the general fund, so other transportation projects aren’t reduced to pay for fencing, said Mafara Hobson, Seattle Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

WSDOT is spending $527,000 approved by state lawmakers. Its program is less drastic than a three-mile, $1 million razor-wire fence along Beacon Hill that was once considered by the 2016 Legislature.

Trump administration suggests hunting elephants will save them from extinction 

The Trump administration said it will allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport, contending that encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill them will aid the vulnerable species.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said in a written notice issued Thursday that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies will raise money for conservation programs. A licensed two-week African elephant hunt can cost more than $50,000 per person, not including airfare, according to advertised rates.

In the Friday notice, FWS said it had determined that Zimbabwe’s conservation efforts for elephants are sufficient to protect the population and that hunting fees benefit conservation, both necessary factors in allowing trophy imports.

“The Service is able to make a determination that the killing of trophy animals in Zimbabwe, on or after January 21, 2016, and on or before December 31, 2018, will enhance the survival of the African elephant,” the agency wrote.

“With the information currently available, applications to import trophies hunted during this time period will be considered to have met this requirement unless we issue a new finding based on available information.”
The Trump administration also lifted the Obama administration’s ban on African elephant trophies from Zambia. But officials are not obligated to publish a Federal Register notice on that.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied Thursday that the policies had been made final.

“There hasn’t been an announcement that’s been finalized on this front,” she told reporters. “Until that’s done, I wouldn’t consider anything final.”

But Interior Department spokesman Russell Newell, whose agency includes FWS, confirmed Friday that both the Zimbabwe and Zambia elephant decisions are now final.

African elephants are considered both by FWS and by international conservation officials to be threatened species.

“By lifting the import ban on elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia the Trump Administration underscored, once again, the importance of sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting to the survival and enhancement of game species in this country and worldwide,” Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s advocacy arm, said in a statement.

German newspaper prints names of 33,293 refugees who died trying to get to Europe

A German newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel, has  listed names of 33,293 people it says died while trying to immigrate to Europe between 1993 and May of this year. The piece includes 46 pages of victims’ names, ages and countries of origin, as well as causes and dates of death. 

One entry is a 15-year-old boy who drowned on 15 November 2016 when a rubber dinghy he was on with 23 others sank while trying to travel from Libya to Europe.

Another tells of Iraqi migrant Talat Abdulhamid, 36, who froze to death on 6 January after walking for 48 hours through the mountains on the Turkish-Bulgarian border.

Mamadou Konate, 33, from Mali did manage to make it to Italy — but  died earlier this year in a blaze that consumed a ramshackle camp in San Severo.

The newspaper said it wanted to document “the asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants who died since 1993 as a consequence of the restrictive policies of Europe on the continent’s outer borders or inside Europe”. 

The majority of the people on the newspaper’s list drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

Last year was the deadliest for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean, with at least 5,079 dying or going missing during their journey, according to the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

“While overall numbers of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean by the eastern route were reduced significantly in 2016 by the EU-Turkey deal, death rates have increased to 2.1 per 100 in 2017, relative to 1.2 in 2016,” the IOM said in a September report.

“Part of this rise is due to the greater proportion of migrants now taking the most dangerous route – that across the central Mediterranean – such that 1 in 49 migrants now died on this route in 2016.” According to a spokesperson for the IOM. 

Some of the immigrants who succeeded in reaching Europe later died in violent attacks or killed themselves in custody while waiting to be deported back to their home countries.

A 17-year-old Somali boy died when neo-Nazis in the eastern German town of Schmoellnhe forced him to jump off a tower on Oct 21, 2016. A 30-year-old man from Uganda committed suicide in an immigrant detention center on the coast of southern England while awaiting deportation. 

“We want to honor them” Der Tagesspiegel wrote. “And at the same time we want to show that every line tells a story…and that the list keeps getting longer, day by day.”

Nashville general hospital will eliminate inpatient care

Nashville’s mayor Megan Barry says Nashville’s only indigent care, safety net hospital will wind down inpatient services, and soon, inpatient care at Nashville General hospital won’t be available.


Barry said her administration would submit to the Metro Council a “substantial request” for funds to stabilize the facility until the end of the fiscal year. Thereafter, Barry said, she would focus her efforts on transforming the facility into an ambulatory surgical care center, which would provide only outpatient services.

She also intends to pursue the creation of an indigent care fund to pay for hospitalization costs for low-income Nashvillians at privately run hospitals in the city. Barry said competition has kept patients away from Nashville General, while its costs have skyrocketed.

“Since 2005, Metro has provided more than half a billion dollars to support the operations of Nashville General,” a letter from Barry to members of the Metro Council said.  “I believe we can invest our resources more strategically to provide for the healthcare needs of our city’s indigent population, while maintaining operations at Nashville General Hospital.”

The announcement took many Metro Council members and employees by surprise.  Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher, who chairs the Metro Council’s budget and finance committee, said she had more questions than answers about Barry’s proposal.

“We want to build soccer stadiums and give tax breaks to billionaires,” she said. “We just need to decide if we’re going to have that same commitment to our most neediest in the city. I’m not passing judgment or anything like that, because I really want to wait to see the details.”

The transition to an outpatient-only facility will require approval from the Metro Council, the Nashville Hospital Authority and Meharry Medical College, Barry spokesman Sean Braisted said.

DeCosta Hastings, who is the vice chair of the Metro Council’s health and hospitals committee, said he cannot support a plan that includes ending inpatient care at General Hospital. Hastings said the reaction to Barry’s announcement was a mixture of “surprise and anger.”

“Our state is already having issues with health care,” Hastings said. “Our constituents elected us to speak for and work for them, and health care is a big thing. We’ve got to fix this system.”

Vercher said she wanted details about the indigent fund, how much would go in, who will decide how the money is spent and what would happen if money runs out. Vercher also questioned how much money will be allotted this fiscal year for the hospital and what any deal would mean for the hospital authority operating budget in the future

Barry also plans to create an indigent care fund for Nashville General patients to receive care there or elsewhere.

U.K. Woman dies from cold after being unable to afford heating bill 

Cheshire, U.K.- A single mother of four was found dead wrapped in a coat and scarf at her home, and the victims family claims it’s because she couldn’t afford her heating bill.
Elaine Morrall, who suffered from an eating disorder, physical and mental health problems, was discovered dead at her home in Runcorn, Cheshire, earlier this month, the Liverpool Echo reports.

Morrall’s mother Linda claims her daughter only turned the heat on when her children got home from school because the family was too poor to heat their home on a regular basis. 

She said the 38-year-old’s Employment Support Allowance (ESA) benefits were stopped because she was too ill to attend a meeting.

In a Facebook post- Linda slammed the government for “killing vulnerable people”.

She said her daughter was  “severely depressed. Suffered from eating disorder & many other problems for many years. She was in & out of hospital in recent months in intensive care.

“But was deemed not ill enough for ESA [Employment and Support Allowwance]. Had her benefits stopped numerous times, which in turn stopped her housing benefits.”

“No income but expected to be able to pay full rent. Was told being in intensive care was not sufficient reason for failing to attend a universal credit interview. I went to the job centre to inform them that she couldn’t attend. But benefits stopped again.”

“How many people have got to die before this government realises they are killing vulnerable people??”

The Department for Work and Pensions spokesman has said they are still investigating this case, but in the meantime, a spokesperson for the department has offered “thoughts and prayers for Ms Morrall’s family at this difficult time.”

Red Cross workers stole 5 million dollars during Ebola outbreak

The Red Cross has officially confirmed that more than $5 million dollars of aid money was lost to fraud and corruption during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The revelations follow an internal investigation of how the organization handled more than $124 million during the 2014-2016 epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Red Cross auditors have revealed that $2.7 million dollars intended to go to Ebola victims in Liberia  disappeared. Auditors found salaries were being paid to non-existent aid workers. Auditors also found receipts of overpriced supplies and fake customs bills.

In Sierra Leone, Red Cross staff colluded with local bank workers to skim over $2 million dollars. It is believed that the money was lost when they improperly fixed the exchange rate at the height of the epidemic. Investigations are still ongoing in Guinea, but so far auditors have found $1 million has disappeared via fake customs bills.

The Ebola outbreak erupted in Guinea and quickly spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The international aid response was initially slow, and money — once it arrived — was often disbursed quickly in the rush to purchase supplies and get aid workers into the field.

The Red Cross told the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva that it is deeply sorry for the losses. The Red Cross has said it now plans to send trained auditors along with emergency operations teams. Other measures will include additional staff training and “the establishment of a dedicated and independent internal investigation function.”

“These cases must not in any way diminish the tremendous courage and dedication of thousands of volunteers and staff during the Ebola response. They played a critical and widely recognized role in containing and ending the outbreak, and preventing further spread of the Ebola virus internationally,” said Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, the IFRC under secretary general for partnerships.

“We are pursuing every possible avenue to reclaim all funds that have been misappropriated, diverted, or otherwise illegally taken. This includes working with authorities in affected countries and elsewhere as appropriate.”

Trump continues quest to dismantle ACA and deny healthcare to as many Americans as possible 

President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday intended to allow small businesses and potentially individuals to buy a long-disputed type of health insurance that skirts state regulations and Affordable Care Act protections.
The White House and allies portray the president’s move to expand access to “association health plans” as wielding administrative powers to accomplish what congressional Republicans have failed to achieve: tearing down the law’s insurance marketplaces and letting some Americans buy skimpier coverage at lower prices. The order represents Trump’s biggest step to carry out a broad but ill-defined directive he issued his first night in office for agencies to lessen ACA regulations from the Obama administration.

Critics, who include state insurance commissioners, most of the health-insurance industry and mainstream policy specialists, predict that a proliferation of such health plans will have damaging ripple effects: driving up costs for consumers with serious medical conditions and prompting more insurers to flee the law’s marketplaces. Part of Trump’s action, they say, will spark court challenges over its legality.

Trump said that Thursday’s move, which will initiate months of regulatory work by federal agencies, “is only the beginning.” He promised “even more relief and more freedom” from ACA rules. And while leading GOP lawmakers are eager to move on from their unsuccessful attempts this year to abolish central facets of the law, he said: “We are going to pressure Congress very strongly to finish the repeal and replace of Obamacare.”

Under the president’s order, association health plans will be able to avoid many ACA rules, including the law’s benefits requirements, limits on consumers’ yearly and lifetime costs, and ban on charging more to customers who have been sick. Critics warn that young and healthy people who use relatively little insurance will gravitate to those plans because of their lower price tags, leaving older and sicker customers concentrated in ACA marketplaces with spiking rates.

Gunmaker stocks see boost after Las Vegas shooting

Shares of gunmakers jumped 5% in early trading Monday after the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Storm Ruger (RGR) was up $2.65, or 5.1%, to $54.35 and American Outdoor Brands (AOBC), the former Smith & Wesson, rose 71 cents, or 4.7%, to $15.96. Last year the board and shareholders of Smith & Wesson, which makes and sells pistols, revolvers and rifles, voted to change the name of the company to American Outdoor Brands, which CEO James Debney said at the time better “represents” the company’s “growing array of brands and businesses in the shooting, hunting and rugged outdoor enthusiast markets.” 

The move higher in gun stocks is due to the perception that there is bigger potential for tighter gun controls, as well as a belief that gun buying will pick up as Americans look to better protect themselves, says Gary Kaltbaum, president of investment firm Kaltbaum Capital Management.

It is not uncommon for shares of gun makers to rise after high-profile shootings, and oftentimes the initial price moves are sparked by computer-driven trades that buy on the news.

“The market always has an instinctive reaction to events and more and more it’s algorithmically induced,” says Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. 

“Traders believe that people will go out to buy guns for self protection; perhaps those who have been thinking about it but who have been debating the merits of the purchase,” Krosby says. These attacks, which are becoming too common, too regular and a seemingly inherent part of our cultural landscape,” she adds, “have potential buyers of guns wondering if they would be more difficult to buy, or even outlawed.”

GOP cashes in their CHIPs, denies healthcare to 9 million poor children

The Republican-led Congress failed to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) this weekend, spreading fear among states that rely on federal funding for the program. 
Lawmakers missed the September 30th deadline to reauthorize the Clinton-era initiative, which provides insurance coverage for millions of kids in families with lower to middle-class incomes.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) insisted last week that an “overwhelming number of states have some money to continue to spend” on the program. “So think that in other words, there’s a few days leeway — there might be a few weeks leeway,” he added. “But I can’t be specific because I don’t know but it’s too bad it’s not done right now.”

Despite Grassley’s assurances, many states are concerned because their federal funding for CHIP runs out on Saturday. With no incoming vote on reestablishing the program’s $15-billion appropriation, states are in turmoil. Even those who have money now can’t escape the consequences of Congress’ inaction, because they can’t merely assume that Congress will eventually get around to reauthorizing the funding, they have to start planning to shut down their programs now, or reallocate funding from other sources.

The consequences will be dire in many states, which will have to curtail or even shut down their children’s health programs until funding is restored. Hanging in the balance is care for 9 million children and pregnant women in low-income households.

What happened? The simple answer is that congressional Republicans’ last harebrained attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act got in the way. A funding bill for CHIP seemed to be well on its way to enactment until a week or so ago. That’s when the effort to pass the egregious Cassidy-Graham repeal bill sucked all the air out of the legislative room, even though CHIP is one of the few federal programs that has enjoyed unalloyed bipartisan support since its inception in 1997. 

Agreement on a bill had been reached in mid-September by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “Momentum was building,” says Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a children’s advocacy group in Washington. Then came Cassidy-Graham, and “we couldn’t even get a meeting,” Lesley says. “No one was even taking our calls.”
 By the way, if you’re wondering why Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price hasn’t bothered to sound the alarm about CHIP funding, which falls within his bailiwick, consider that as a Georgia legislator he voted twice against expanding the program in his state.

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