With Miami Move, Jeff Bezos Proves Zip Codes Do Matter

Longtime Slashdot reader theodp writes: Our goal,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos explained in a Feb. 2021 Instagram post announcing the location of a second tuition-free @BezosAcademy preschool in Tacoma, WA, “is to unlock the potential in kids to become creative leaders, original thinkers, and lifelong learners — regardless of their zip code.”

Three years later, a new Amazon SEC filing reveals how much zip codes can matter, even to Bezos, the third richest person in the world. GeekWire reports: “A new Amazon [SEC] filing, detailing Jeff Bezos’ plan to sell a slice of his stake in the company, sheds fresh light on his move from Seattle to Miami — and his ability to avoid Washington state’s capital gains tax [ironically, earmarked to be funneled into early-childhood education programs and school construction] in the process. The filing reveals that the Amazon founder and executive chairman adopted a trading plan Nov. 8 to sell up to 50 million Amazon shares during a period ending in January 2025. It would be the first time he has sold Amazon stock since 2021. The plan was adopted less than a week after Bezos announced on Instagram, on Nov. 2, that he was leaving his longtime home of Seattle for sunnier skies in Miami. In his Instagram post, Bezos said he wanted to be closer to his parents and Blue Origin space venture in Florida. He did not mention taxes.”

“Given Bezos’ recent move out of Washington — where he founded and built Amazon into a global behemoth — he will also be saving around $600 million in tax expense if he ends up selling the maximum of 50 million shares under the plan, based on the company’s current stock price. That’s around $600 million in what would have otherwise been tax revenue for his former home state, as The Center Square reported Monday. The capital gains tax, passed in 2021, imposes a 7% tax on any gains of more than $250,000 from the sale of stocks and bonds, with some exceptions. It was challenged in court but ultimately ruled constitutional by the state Supreme Court last year. The tax brought in nearly $900 million in its first year of collection. Revenue goes toward early education and childcare programs, as well as school construction projects.”

It’s of course no secret that Bezos is no fan of taxes — he explored founding Amazon on an Indian reservation near San Francisco to avoid taxes, ponied up $100,000 to defeat a proposed WA state income tax aimed at improving WA state public education (joined in the fight by Microsoft and Steve Ballmer), characterized as unconstitutional attempts to make Amazon collect and pay sales taxes, and came under fire by ProPublica for paying no income tax in some years.

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US Department of Homeland Security is Now Studying How to Make Use of AI

America’s Department of Homeland Security “will establish a new task force to examine how the government can use artificial intelligence technology to protect the country,” reports CNBC.
The task force was announcement by department secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Friday during a speech at a Council on Foreign Relations event:
“Our department will lead in the responsible use of AI to secure the homeland,” Mayorkas said, while also pledging to defend “against the malicious use of this transformational technology.” He added, “As we do this, we will ensure that our use of AI is rigorously tested to avoid bias and disparate impact and is clearly explainable to the people we serve….”

Mayorkas gave two examples of how the task force will help determine how AI could be used to fine-tune the agency’s work. One is to deploy AI into DHS systems that screen cargo for goods produced by forced labor. The second is to use the technology to better detect fentanyl in shipments to the U.S., as well as identifying and stopping the flow of “precursor chemicals” used to produce the dangerous drug.

Mayorkas asked Homeland Security Advisory Council Co-Chair Jamie Gorelick to study “the intersection of AI and homeland security and deliver findings that will help guide our use of it and defense against it.”

The article also notes that earlier this week America’s defense department hired a former Google AI cloud director to serve as its first advisor on AI, robotics, cloud computing and data analytics.

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In a First, Renewables Beat Coal In the US Power Sector In 2022

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Electrek: For the first time ever, renewable power generation — that’s wind, solar, hydro, biomass, and geothermal — exceeded coal-fired generation in the US electric power sector in 2022, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Overall, the US electric power sector produced 4,090 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of power in 2022. Wind and solar’s combined total generation increased from 12% in 2021 to 14% in 2022. Hydropower stayed the same last year at 6%, and biomass and geothermal also remained unchanged, at less than 1%. So that’s a total of 21%. Utility-scale solar capacity in the US electric power sector — the EIA doesn’t include rooftop solar — increased from 61 gigawatts (GW) in 2021 to 71 GW in 2022, according to EIA data. Wind capacity grew from 133 GW in 2021 to 141 GW in 2022. Coal-fired generation, on the other hand, dropped from 23% in 2021 to 20% in 2022 because a number of coal-fired power plants retired, and the plants still online were used less.

Renewables surpassed nuclear generation for the first time in 2021, and that trend continued last year. Nuclear dropped from 20% in 2021 to 19% in 2022 because Michigan’s Palisades nuclear power plant was retired in May 2022. However, Palisades’ new owner, Holtec, wants to restart it, and this idea is not proving particularly popular, with one environmental group saying that would risk a “Chernobyl-scale catastrophe.” The Biden administration pledged $6 billion on March 2 to help extend the operating life of aging nuclear power plants in order to help the US combat climate change. However, natural gas is still the largest source of US electricity generation, and it grew from 37% in 2021 to 39% in 2022. This month, the EIA forecast that both wind and solar will each grow by 1% in 2023. Natural gas is forecast to remain unchanged, and coal is forecast to decline by 3% to 17% next year.

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US Regulators Bail Out SVB Customers, Who Can Access All Their Money Monday

Breaking news from CNN:

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Sunday instructed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to guarantee Silicon Valley Bank customers will have access to all of their money starting Monday.

By guaranteeing all deposits — even the uninsured money customers kept with the failed SVB bank — the government can ensure public confidence in America’s banking system, said Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and FDIC Chairman Martin J. Gruenberg in a joint statement….

The FDIC opened an auction Sunday for bids to acquire the bank, the Treasury Department said in a briefing with lawmakers in the California delegation, two sources familiar with the briefing told CNN…. Under Secretary for Domestic Finance Nellie Liang and Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Jonathan Davidson led the briefing, during which they told members that the FDIC is prepared “to operate the institution” to ensure depositors can maintain payroll for their employees and that more operations will emerge in coming days, one of the sources said.

The treasury secretary’s statement clarified that “No losses associated with the resolution of Silicon Valley Bank will be borne by the taxpayer.”

We are also announcing a similar systemic risk exception for Signature Bank, New York, New York, which was closed today by its state chartering authority. All depositors of this institution will be made whole. As with the resolution of Silicon Valley Bank, no losses will be borne by the taxpayer. Shareholders and certain unsecured debtholders will not be protected. Senior management has also been removed. Any losses to the Deposit Insurance Fund to support uninsured depositors will be recovered by a special assessment on banks, as required by law.

Finally, the Federal Reserve Board on Sunday announced it will make available additional funding to eligible depository institutions to help assure banks have the ability to meet the needs of all their depositors.

Meanwhile, congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said there are multiple potential buyers for SVB, and “What we would hope to see by tomorrow morning is for some other bank to buy the bank.” The UK arm of the bank has already received a bid from the Bank of London.

From the treasury secretary’s statement:

The U.S. banking system remains resilient and on a solid foundation, in large part due to reforms that were made after the financial crisis that ensured better safeguards for the banking industry.

Those reforms combined with today’s actions demonstrate our commitment to take the necessary steps to ensure that depositors’ savings remain safe.

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11 US States are Now Considering ‘Right to Repair’ Laws for Farming Equipment

Colorado farmer Danny Wood had a problem with his Steiger 370 tractor, reports the Associated Press:
The tractor’s manufacturer doesn’t allow Wood to make certain fixes himself, and last spring his fertilizing operations were stalled for three days before the servicer arrived to add a few lines of missing computer code for $950. “That’s where they have us over the barrel, it’s more like we are renting it than buying it,” said Wood, who spent $300,000 on the used tractor.

Wood’s plight, echoed by farmers across the country, has pushed lawmakers in Colorado and 10 other states to introduce bills that would force manufacturers to provide the tools, software, parts and manuals needed for farmers to do their own repairs — thereby avoiding steep labor costs and delays that imperil profits….

The manufacturers argue that changing the current practice with this type of legislation would force companies to expose trade secrets. They also say it would make it easier for farmers to tinker with the software and illegally crank up the horsepower and bypass the emissions controller — risking operators’ safety and the environment…. “I know growers, if they can change horsepower and they can change emissions they are going to do it,” said Russ Ball, sales manager at 21st Century Equipment, a John Deere dealership in Western states.
The bill’s proponents acknowledged that the legislation could make it easier for operators to modify horsepower and emissions controls, but argued that farmers are already able to tinker with their machines and doing so would remain illegal.

The article quotes Wood’s representative in Congress, who also argues that local dealerships in rural areas would be impacted by the legislation. “I do sympathize with my farmers,” he’s quoted as saying, but added “I don’t think it’s the role of government to be forcing the sale of their intellectual property.”

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FTC Launches New Office to Investigate Tech Companies, Seeks Tech Researchers

America’s Federal Trade Commission “has long been dwarfed by Silicon Valley titans like Google and Apple, each staffed with thousands of engineers and technologists,” notes the Washington Post.

“But FTC leaders are hoping combining and expanding their forces into a dedicated tech unit will help them keep up with the rapid advancements across the industry — and to keep it in check.”
The creation of the office will increase the number of technologists on staff by roughly a dozen, up from the current 10 — more than doubling the agency’s capacity, officials said. In an exclusive interview announcing the move, FTC Chief Technology Officer Stephanie Nguyen said the unit will work with teams across the agency’s competition and consumer protection bureaus to investigate potential misconduct and bring cases against violators. “Actually being able to have staff internally to approach these matters and help with subject matter expertise is critical,” said Nguyen, who will lead the office.

The announcement arrives at a critical juncture. Federal regulators are dialing up investigations into tech behemoths like Amazon and waging blockbuster legal battles against Microsoft and Facebook parent company Meta.
While Nguyen declined to discuss specific probes or cases, she said the new technology office will work directly on both the agency’s investigative and enforcement efforts to “strengthen and support our attorneys” as they look to tackle alleged abuses across the economy. “The areas … we will focus on is to work on cases,” she said…. Nguyen said, the new team of technologists could help the agency refine the subpoenas it issues companies to get at the heart of their business models, or to strike a settlement that gets closer to “the root cause of the harm” taking place.

Republican Commissioner Christine Wilson, who Tuesday announced plans to resign “soon,” voted in favor of creating the office, joining with the other commissioners in a unanimous vote.

The office’s core mission will have three key areas, reports FedScoop: “strengthening and supporting law enforcement investigations, advising commission staff on policy and research initiatives, and highlighting market trends.”

“For more than a century, the FTC has worked to keep pace with new markets and ever-changing technologies by building internal expertise,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said. “Our office of technology is a natural next step in ensuring we have the in-house skills needed to fully grasp evolving technologies and market trends as we continue to tackle unlawful business practices and protect Americans.”

Read on for more details about the new office.

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US Military Shoots Down Fourth Flying Object Near Michigan

The U.S. military shot down another high-altitude object Sunday, reports CNN — this one flying
“The operation marks the third day in a row that an unidentified object was shot down over North American airspace.”
Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan said Sunday that the operation to down the object over Lake Huron was carried out by pilots from the U.S. Air Force and the National Guard…. The object was flying at 20,000 feet over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and was about to go over Lake Huron when it was neutralized, a senior administration official told CNN on Sunday.

The object was “octagonal” with strings hanging off and no discernable payload, according to the official and another source briefed on the matter. While the U.S. has no indication that the object had surveillance capabilities, that has not been ruled out yet.

Why have so many flying objects been spotted in the last week? The Washington Post says the Chinese spy balloon and subsequently-spotted objects “have changed how analysts receive and interpret information from radars and sensors, a U.S. official said Saturday.”
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that sensory equipment absorbs a lot of raw data, and filters are used so humans and machines can make sense of what is collected. But that process always runs the risk of leaving out something important, the official said.

“We basically opened the filters,” the official added, much like a car buyer unchecking boxes on a website to broaden the parameters of what can be searched. That change does not yet fully answer what is going on, the official cautioned, and whether stepping back to look at more data is yielding more hits — or if these latest incursions are part of a more deliberate action by an unknown country or adversary….

The official said the current U.S. assessment is the objects are not military threats.

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Pulitzer-Winning Journalist Claims US Sabotaged Nord Stream Pipeline

Seymour Hersh is a former New York Times and New Yorker reporter who won numerous awards for his investigative journalism, including a 1970 Pulitzer Prize for exposing the My Lai Massacre and its cover-up during the Vietnam War. In his first post to Substack, Hersh details the covert operation the United States conducted last year to blow up the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

“In the immediate aftermath of the pipeline bombing, the American media treated it like an unsolved mystery,” writes Hersh. “Russia was repeatedly cited as a likely culprit, spurred on by calculated leaks from the White House — but without ever establishing a clear motive for such an act of self-sabotage, beyond simple retribution.” We covered the news last October from an environmental standpoint as it led to what became the biggest single release of climate-damaging methane ever recorded.

In a lengthy and detailed post, citing a source with direct knowledge of the operation, Hersh describes the planning involved, operation itself, and fallout. Slashdot reader r1348 shares an excerpt from Hersh’s report: Last June, the Navy divers, operating under the cover of a widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as BALTOPS 22, planted the remotely triggered explosives that, three months later, destroyed three of the four Nord Stream pipelines, according to a source with direct knowledge of the operational planning.

Two of the pipelines, which were known collectively as Nord Stream 1, had been providing Germany and much of Western Europe with cheap Russian natural gas for more than a decade. A second pair of pipelines, called Nord Stream 2, had been built but were not yet operational. Now, with Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian border and the bloodiest war in Europe since 1945 looming, President Joseph Biden saw the pipelines as a vehicle for Vladimir Putin to weaponize natural gas for his political and territorial ambitions.
Speaking about Biden’s decision to sabotage the pipeline as winter approached, the source said: “I gotta admit the guy has a pair of balls. He said he was going to do it, and he did.” Asked why he thought the Russians failed to respond, he said cynically, “Maybe they want the capability to do the same things the U.S. did. It was a beautiful cover story,” he went on. “Behind it was a covert operation that placed experts in the field and equipment that operated on a covert signal.”

In response to the report, White House spokesperson Adrienne Watson said: “This is false and complete fiction.” Tammy Thorp, a spokesperson for the CIA, similarly wrote: “This claim is completely and utterly false.”

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