Thursday, March 29, 2012
The Internal Revenue Service wants to add about 4,000 agents to hunt down tax cheats and still plans to spend $303 million building a system to oversee Obamacare even though its future looks bleak in the U.S. Supreme Court.
A new Government Accountability Office review of the IRS 2012 tax return season and the taxman’s fiscal 2013 budget request also found that the agency’s customer service rating has slipped and 5.5 million returns were delayed a week because of a computer programming glitch.
The audit looked at everything from customer service to pending budget issues. It found that the agency’s “level of service” via phone calls dropped from 70 percent last year to 61 percent currently, and that the number of “abandoned (calls,) busies and disconnects” jumped 41 percent this year and almost 150 percent since 2009. The average wait time for IRS help also surged 48 percent to 16.6 minutes.
The FBI taught its agents that “bending or suspending the law” is sometimes OK, a review of training papers reveals. The documents also say Arabs are prone to “Jekyll and Hyde temper tantrums” and advise agents to “never shake hands with an Asian”.
The FBI has completed a six month-long review of materials and methods used to train counterterrorism agents.
‘Yes’ to suspending law, ‘no’ to handshakes with Asians
“Under certain circumstances, the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others,” one FBI PowerPoint presentation bluntly stated. The circumstances under which the FBI could get the carte blanche to violate one of the pillars of American society were not stated.
The files also contain samples of offensive stereotypes in training documents. One of the documents, titled “Establishing Relations” instructs trainees: “Never attempt to shake hands with an Asian. Never stare at an Asian. Never try to speak to an Arab female prior to approaching the Arab male first.”
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Set your iPhone to require a four-digit passcode, and it may keep your private information safe from the prying eyes of the taxi driver whose cab you forget it in. But if law enforcement is determined to see the data you’ve stored on your smartphone, those four digits will slow down the process of accessing it by less than two minutes.
Here’s a video posted last week by Micro Systemation, a Stockholm, Sweden-based firm that sells law enforcement and military customers the tools to access the devices of criminal suspects or military detainees and siphon off their personal information:
A few weeks ago, Fox News breathlessly reported that the embattled WikiLeaks operation was looking to start a new life under on the sea. WikiLeaks, the article speculated, might try to escape its legal troubles by putting its servers on Sealand, a World War II anti-aircraft platform seven miles off the English coast in the North Sea, a place that calls itself an independent nation. It sounds perfect for WikiLeaks: a friendly, legally unassailable host with an anything-goes attitude.
But readers with a memory of the early 2000s might be wondering, “Didn’t someone already try this? How did that work out?” Good questions. From 2000 to 2008, a company called HavenCo did indeed offer no-questions-asked colocation on Sealand—and it didn’t end well.
HavenCo’s failure—and make no mistake about it, HavenCo did fail—shows how hard it is to get out from under government’s thumb. HavenCo built it, but no one came. For a host of reasons, ranging from its physical vulnerability to the fact that The Man doesn’t care where you store your data if he can get his hands on you, Sealand was never able to offer the kind of immunity from law that digital rebels sought. And, paradoxically, by seeking to avoid government, HavenCo made itself exquisitely vulnerable to one government in particular: Sealand’s. It found that out the hard way in 2003 when Sealand “nationalized” the company.
For the last two years, I’ve researched the history of Sealand and HavenCo. I used the Wayback Machine to reconstruct long-since-vanished webpages. I dug through microfilm of newspapers back to the 1960s. I pored over thousands of pages of documents, only recently unsealed, from the United Kingdom’s National Archives.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
The U.S. dollar has probably been the closest thing to a true global currency that the world has ever seen. For decades, the use of the U.S. dollar has been absolutely dominant in international trade. This has had tremendous benefits for the U.S. financial system and for U.S. consumers, and it has given the U.S. government tremendous power and influence around the globe.
Today, more than 60 percent of all foreign currency reserves in the world are in U.S. dollars. But there are big changes on the horizon. The mainstream media in the United States has been strangely silent about this, but some of the biggest economies on earth have been making agreements with each other to move away from using the U.S. dollar in international trade.
There are also some oil-producing nations which have begun selling oil in currencies other than the U.S. dollar, which is a major threat to the petrodollar system which has been in place for nearly four decades. And big international institutions such as the UN and the IMF have even been issuing official reports about the need to move away form the U.S. dollar and toward a new global reserve currency.
So the reign of the U.S. dollar as the world reserve currency is definitely being threatened, and the coming shift in international trade is going to have massive implications for the U.S. economy.
A lot of this is being fueled by China. China has the second largest economy on the face of the earth, and the size of the Chinese economy is projected to pass the size of the U.S. economy by 2016. In fact, one economist is even projecting that the Chinese economy will be three times larger than the U.S. economy by the year 2040.
So China is sitting there and wondering why the U.S. dollar should continue to be so preeminent if the Chinese economy is about to become the number one economy on the planet.