Jim, Alice, and Rob Walton at 2012 Walmart shareholders' meeting
The Walmart heirs are infamous for their wealth and penny-pinching. Christy, Jim, Alice, and Rob Walton wouldn't be the sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-richest Americans, respectively, if not for Walmart's relentless exploitation of its low-wage workers. But the Waltons' stinginess also extends to their philanthropy. According to a new analysis by the union-backed Making Change at Walmart campaign, the Walton scions give way less money to charity than other über-rich Americans. In fact, the six other richest Americans have each donated many times more money to philanthropic causes than all four Walton heirs combined:
Making Change at Walmart
Typically, the extremely wealthy give a higher portion of their incomes to charity than middle and upper-middle income Americans. After all, you can only buy so many yachts, vacation homes, and Teslas before you start to look for other ways to spend money. But that doesn't seem to be true for the Waltons, who've redefined what it means to be a Scrooge. Americans' average net worth is about $650,000 per household (the median is only about $70,000), and the average annual charitable donation is about $3,000 per household. Meanwhile, the average Walton has a net worth of $36 billion and gives about $730,000 to charity each year. This means that the four richest Waltons have, on average, a net worth that's 55,000 times higher than that of the average American household, yet give, as a percent of that wealth, about 1/230th as much to charity in a typical year:
With Thursday's Scottish independence referendum too close to call, opponents of an independent Scotland have been stressing the would-be country's lack of a reliable currency. An independent Scotland could either keep using the British pound and lose control of its monetary policy, join the eurozone's well-known squabbles, or create a new national currency that's almost certain to be weak. But there's an intriguing fourth option: adopting an online crypto-currency such as Bitcoin.
Scotland actually has some historical experience with this sort of thing: Instead of relying exclusively on the British pound in the 18th and 19th centuries, many Scottish banks issued their own currencies—a fact noted by Guy Debelle, the assistant governor of Australia's central bank, at a recent conference on digital currencies in London. Here's Debelle in the Guardian:
"The Scots can go back to experimenting with a multitude of currencies, Bitcoin and the like, and we can just sit back and see how it goes. A nice natural experiment about the future of money in Scotland—again. Because, as I said, they tried this in the 18th and 19th centuries. It worked for awhile, but eventually fell apart."
In the ensuing discussion, David Birch, the director of the digital currency consultancy Hyperion, argued that Scotland's currency experiment was more successful than one might think. From the Guardian:
"The economic research shows that in Scotland, the bank failures were fewer, and less disruptive, than the bank failures in England at the time," he said. "Competing note issue in Scotland didn't end because it collapsed: it ended because of an outrageous extension of the Bank Act of 1844, which extended the Bank of England's monopoly over note issue north of the border."
But ending the Bank of England's monopoly might not be the biggest problem with Bitcoin. A national Bitcoin-based currency would, practically speaking, resemble one based on gold: Bitcoins are designed to function as a limited commodity that becomes harder to acquire over time. In either case, the result is a highly inflexible national currency that often can't keep pace with economic growth. As Felix Martin points out in the New Statesman, one of the first people to identify this problem was a Scotsman: The economist John Law of Lauriston emigrated to France, became that country's minister of finance, and in 1719 replaced the gold standard with paper money printed at the discretion of the government.
No matter: Edinburgh-based venture capitalist Derek Nisbet recently launched Scotcoin, which is offering 1,000 free Scotcoins to every resident adult. "Our motivation is to empower the Scottish people with an alternative digital currency opportunity," he told the Guardian, "which may be used as a medium of exchange, should the need or wish arise."
For now, at least, it seems like Bitcoin's biggest use in Scotland is as a marketing gimmick. In May, the London electronics retailer CeX got a load of free press when it introduced Scotland's first Bitcoin ATM and briefly turned its Glasgow store into a "pound free zone": For a few days, it only accepted Bitcoin payments. "The trial is turning the Scottish High Street [location] into a Bitcoin laboratory," a CeX spokesman told the website CoinDesk, "highlighting alternative forms of currency should Scotland vote 'yes' in the forthcoming referendum."
Yahoo has just released 1,500 pages of previously classified documents relating to its legal challenge to the government's warrantless wiretapping program. Yahoo lost the case in 2008 and was ordered to cooperate with National Security Agency or face a $250,000 fine for every day that it withheld its customers' data. The ruling in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was released to the public only in heavily redacted form, became a legal precedent for the warrantless wiretapping program that was later revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Today, based on a successful appeal by Yahoo, a slightly less redacted version of that court ruling finally became public.
Below, I've posted the more lightly redacted version released today as well as the redacted version of the ruling released in 2008. A side-by-side reading of the two documents may offer some insight into how the government has sought to cover up the true nature of its surveillance activities, or it might just be an example of how little has changed.
The new version of the ruling is notable for what it doesn't disclose: Key evidence presented by the government. A block of text that had previously been removed from the ruling still does not fully explain why warrantless searches are necessary to thwart terrorists:
Scanning the 1,500 pages of newly unsealed documents will take a while. Here are few examples of new information contained in the partially unredacted ruling:
The name of the plaintiff (Yahoo) and its law firm
A footnote defining the term "surveillance" to mean "acquisitions of foreign intelligence information." But part of the definition of the term still remains redacted.
The date when the government moved to force Yahoo to comply with the order (November 21, 2007)
A mention of "linking procedures" (defined as "procedures that link [redacted] targets.") as a one of the safeguards against unreasonable searches
You can help us out by pointing out any other interesting tidbits in the comments; we'll note additional highlights here if we find anything worth noting.
No, the internet isn't actually broken today. Those spinning wheels of death you may have seen on Netflix, Tumblr, Reddit, Mozilla, and hundreds of other sites are part of Internet Slowdown Day, an effort to show what might happen if the internet actually did get broken by the bureaucrats at the Federal Communication Commission. The FCC will soon vote on a proposal to essentially eliminate net neutrality, the policy that forces internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T to treat all internet traffic the same. Here are five things you should know about what's happening today:
The Participating websites aren't actually slower: Not even Netflix is crazy enough to make a political statement by throttling itself. The spinning page-load symbols on participating sites are just widgets (see below), which anyone can download here. Some activists are also replacing their social media profile pics with images like this:
Sign the letter to congress, the FCC and the White House telling the cable companies to fuck off, it's our internet https://t.co/aY661mCaBw
In this sense, Internet Slowdown Day is very similar to the SOPA blackout of 2012, when people and major sites across the internet blackened their logos and profile pictures to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have given the federal government wide latitude to enforce copyright law. SOPA showed that when major internet companies team up with grassroots activists, politicians tend to listen.
The real story is who is not participating: Although Google claims to support net neutrality, it's conspicuously silent about Internet Slowdown Day. Last year, Wired's Ryan Singel noted that the terms of service for Google Fiber, the company's relatively new ISP division, included some of the same provisions that Google had long decried as hostile to an open internet. By prohibiting customers from attaching "servers" to its network, Google Fiber was contradicting the principle of treating all packets of information equally, prompting Singel to accuse the search giant of a "flip-flop" on net neutrality. It's not that simple, of course, but tech companies such as Google clearly have much less to gain from net neutrality now that they're multibillion-dollar behemoths. Even if they don't take on the role of actual ISPs, large tech firms can easily afford to pay cable companies for faster service, creating a competitive firewall between their services and those offered by leaner startups.
In america, every day is already an internet slowdown day: Pushing internet traffic into "slow" lanes might be more tolerable if those lanes were still really fast in absolute terms. Sadly, however, the United States ranks a pathetic 25th among nations for download speeds:
This show is bigger than the superbowl: The net neutrality debate has generated a record 1,477,301 public comments to the FCC, the commission said today. As Politiconotes, that breaks the previous record of 1.4 million complaints generated by Janet Jackson's 2004 wardrobe malfunction. The number of comments to the FCC will likely continue to grow as Internet Slowdown Day encourages visitors to voice their objections.
the fcc is not your friend: There's no question that the FCC is facing a public backlash against its plan to gut net neutrality. The question is whether the outrage will be sufficient to change its course. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is a major Obama bundler and former head of two major industry groups that staunchly oppose net neutrality. He's likely to side with the cable industry unless essentially forced to do otherwise. All of which is to say that the bar is incredibly high for Internet Slowdown Day. Until "net neutrality" becomes a household term, don't count on Washington to care about it.
The TechCrunch Disrupt conference now underway in San Francisco is arguably the most important annual gathering for tech startups. It's also a notoriously hostile environment for women, as made clear by last year's conference, whose hackathon produced an app called "Titstare," which let the user "take photos of yourself staring at tits," not to mention "Circle Shake," an app that measures how fast guys can masturbate. The TC Disrupt crowd tends to be 80 to 90 percent male, as you might infer from my bathroom-line photo yesterday. Mike Judge lampooned the conference's "brogrammer" vibe in his HBO comedy series, Silicon Valley.
This year, the organizers of TechCrunch Disrupt have worked to prevent an embarrassing repeat of the Titstare debacle by publishing and enforcing a detailed "anti-harassment policy." An attendee of this weekend's hackathon told me that TechCrunch cited the policy when it quietly nixed a plan by a group of hackers to create a "Bitcoin for strippers" app. Even so, TechCrunch hasn't been able to completely scrub the event of everything that might be perceived as sexist. This morning, for example, guys entering the conference were mobbed and hugged by groups of women shouting "Groopie!"—they'd been hired to promote a mobile video app:
"I don't really see the point of booth babes," says Jenna Williams, a recruiter for the smart-home company leeo, a major outlier in that 40 percent of its tech employees are women. "If they get a question about the technology and can't answer it, it's not a good way to represent your product."
Anne Ward, a software developer, SEO expert, and marketer attending TC Disrupt for the third year, says men at tech conferences often assume that she's not a code jockey, and they expect her to prove her tech chops when she insists otherwise. She counsels younger female techies on how to navigate the conference scene: Don't be surprised when male geeks mistake professional interest for personal interest. And if they try to quiz your tech chops by dropping a lot of coding acronyms, just say: "Oh, I see we are using TLAs (three-letter acronyms) instead of having a real conversation."
To its credit, TC Disrupt has drawn a slightly larger proportion of women this year, according to longtime attendees. Yesterday, a panel of venture capitalists discussed the gender gap onstage for a few minutes, and several panels have featured the female founders of prominent statups, such as Elizabeth Holmes of the blood test company Theranos. Today, the makers of a documentary about "debugging the gender gap" distributed flyers:
A flyer at a conference table at TechCrunch Disrupt
Still, several female techies told me that the conference organizers could do much more to help women play meaningful roles. The panel discussions, they said, felt like lip service—outlining the problem but offering few solutions. A better approach would be to "start pulling in women who are founders as keynote speakers," says Hanna Aase, the founder of video-profile platform Wonderloop. "That's what really shows the serious side of what we are doing." (TechCrunch Disrupt doesn't feature "keynote speakers," but more than 80 percent of the people named in the printed conference agenda are men).
Ultimately, Ward says, more women will be willing to go into tech if they see others like themselves rising to the top. Earlier this year, she spoke on a "women in engineering" panel at Developer Week. "I saw tears in the eyes of women in the audience," she says. "It was seeing them be lifted up instead of put down. Like, 'Oh, wait, I should be here.'"