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Mom, dad, daughter accused in $7M shoplift spree
A father, mother and daughter from a posh Chicago suburb stole $7 million in merchandise during a decadelong shoplifting spree — traveling to stores nationwide and targeting dolls, toys, cosmetics and other valuables — according to a federal complaint released Wednesday.
The three were arrested earlier this week at their $1.3 million Northbrook home after returning from a three-day trip through Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana, where authorities say they shoplifted from stores. Working in tandem, the family traveled from their Chicago-area residence to hit businesses in multiple states, including Maryland, Tennessee and Florida, according to the 20-page complaint.
Branko Bogdanov, 58, Lela Bogdanov, 52, and their 34-year-old daughter, Julia Bogdanov, are charged with one count each of interstate transportation of stolen property. They made initial appearances Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, but did not enter pleas; they’ll be held at least until a detention hearing next week. Someone who answered a phone at their Northbrook residence declined any comment
Lela Bogdanov frequently donned a long black skirt with large compartments sewn on the inside during the alleged shoplifting binges and was caught on surveillance cameras leaving some stores with her skirt looking notably fuller than when she entered, the complaint says.
Standing in orange jail clothes Wednesday in federal court, Lela Bogdanov wiped away tears as U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason explained her rights. She followed the proceedings through a Romani interpreter.
An unnamed cooperating witness bought many of the stolen items — which included everything from American Girl dolls and Furby robotic toys to coffee and steak knives — at the Bogdanov home, then sold them online through eBay, the complaint says. On their own, Bogdanovs directly sold more than $690,000 in merchandise through eBay, the complaint says.
The United States Secret Service led the investigation after Barnes and Noble Inc. and Toys R Us Inc. contacted the agency about what the complaint describes as ”a huge loss in merchandise.” With the help of those companies and eBay, authorities traced stolen items to an the online trading account of the cooperating witnesses, who, in turn, agreed to help in the investigation of the Bogdanovs.
Speaking to reporters later Wednesday, the head of the Secret Service office in Chicago, Frank P. Benedetto, said large-scale shoplifting ultimately hurts both stores and their consumers.
”If this type of crime continues unchecked, the costs … will be passed from the retailer to the common shopper,” he said.
A conviction on the one count of interstate transportation of stolen property carries sentence of up to 10 years.
By Michael Tarm
André 3000 as Jimi Hendrix
China takes aim at pollution after years of growth
Huge chunks of concrete and broken machinery are all that is left of a cement plant that once spewed clouds of pollution over China’s most polluted province, Hebei. Demolished in December, the factory was one of 35 closed or torn down in Pingshan county as part of the government’s drive to clear up China’s notoriously smoggy skies.
Combatting pollution has shot up the agenda of the ruling Communist Party, which for years pushed for rapid economic development with little concern about the environmental impact. Under public pressure to reduce the air pollution that blankets Beijing and cities across China, the country’s leaders are rebalancing their priorities.
That was evident during this week’s ceremonial National People’s Congress. Premier Li Keqiang said Wednesday the government would ”declare war” on pollution in the same way China had fought poverty. Smog, he said, was ”nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development.”
The drive to clean up China’s industry has added impetus to the government’s campaign over the past several years to reduce excess production capacity in the polluting steel and cement industries.
But shutting plants has taken a human and economic toll in lost jobs and income. The demolition or closure of the 35 plants in Hebei’s Pingshan county, about a four-hour drive southwest of Beijing, resulted in layoffs of 3,780 workers, according to state media reports.
”I do want the government to do something to improve the air quality. If the air gets better, it is good for everyone,” said Guo Quanquan, 52, one of those laid off. ”But my life has gotten worse after the closure.”
He hasn’t been able to find another job and now lives off the earnings of his two 20-something sons.
Another resident in Guo’s village, Jia Shufang, said that most of its 200 households had depended directly or indirectly on the cement industry, with workers earning an average monthly wage of 3,000 yuan ($490). Former employees could work in restaurants or on farms raising pigs, cattle and poultry, she said, although ”now most of them are sitting at home doing nothing.”
For years, the central government has issued various environmental targets and pushed for industries to reduce excess capacity that had built up during China’s years of booming growth, but they were resisted by local officials whose performances were judged more on their region’s economic growth than the cleanliness of their skies.
Pressure has increased on local governments since September, when China’s Cabinet released an action plan to control and prevent air pollution through 2017. Since then, more than half the country’s provinces have released their own plans, including new restrictions on coal and heavy industry. The Cabinet also announced a $1.6 billion fund last month to reward the prevention and control of air pollution in key areas.
And in December, the party required local governments to revise the criteria used to evaluate their officials away from economic growth to their ”overall work,” including ”ecological civilization.” The quality of the environment is now among the main criteria used to assess officials’ performances in Shijiazhuang city, which oversees Pingshan county, according to a report in the Hebei Daily in December.
”What’s very important when assessing how likely it is for local officials to implement these policies is what are their incentives,” said Brian Jackson, a China economist at IHS Economics. ”This shows that the issue is being taken much more seriously even at the provincial level and they are adjusting their incentives accordingly to make sure that there is follow-through this round.”
In Pingshan county, cement factories that had failed to meet national pollutant emissions standards had been targeted in the round of closures with the aim of reducing overcapacity and combating pollution, said Jia Taosha of Shijiazhuang’s Development and Reform Commission. Shijiazhuang is one of seven Hebei cities that made it on to a recent environment ministry list of the top 10 most polluted cities in China.
The overall impact of these moves on China’s economy is hard to judge at this point and no official estimates have been released.
”We may suffer slow economic growth in the short term, but this will work in upgrading the economic structure and result in a good living environment for our people, so it is worthwhile,” the China Daily newspaper quoted Sun Ruibin, Shijiazhuang’s Communist Party chief, as saying.
Across the city, the local government is organizing job fairs for thousands of laid-off workers and encouraging them to work in farming and food processing, according to its website.
After years of break-neck growth, China’s battle against pollution isn’t going to bear results quickly.
Despite the plant closings in Pingshan, the air quality doesn’t seem to have improved much. The area was whitened by a seven-day stretch of hazardous thick smog, prompting authorities to order 200 factories to suspend operations, 550 others to halve production and a fifth of private vehicles to stay off the roads.
”The cement factories are all closed,” said Guo, the laid-off cement worker, ”but the air pollution is still the same as before.”
By LOUISE WATT
Facebook and Instagram to Begin Deleting Illegal Gun Sales Posts
Under pressure from gun-control advocates, Facebook agreed Wednesday to delete posts from people selling illegal guns or offering weapons for sale without background checks.
A similar policy will apply to Instagram, the company’s photo-sharing network, Facebook said. The policies announced Wednesday will be implemented over the next few weeks.
“We will remove reported posts that explicitly indicate a specific attempt to evade or help others evade the law,” the company said in a statement Wednesday. “For example, we will remove reported posts where the potential buyer or seller indicates they will not conduct a background check or are willing to sell across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer.”
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and gun-control groups have been asking Facebook to implement such restrictions. New York requires a federal background check for private gun sales and prohibits sales of some popular firearms, such as the AR-15. His office collected evidence that some website posters were willing to sell guns without background checks or to otherwise violate the sales restrictions of states with tougher gun-control laws.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Moms Demand Action have been pressuring Facebook to address the issue. Petitions from Moms Demand Action calling on Facebook to prohibit illegal gun sales had more than 230,000 signatures.
“Responsible social media sites know that it is in no one’s interest for their sites to become the 21st century black market in dangerous and illegal goods that place our families and communities at risk,” Schneiderman said. “I congratulate Facebook and Instagram for taking these simple, common sense steps to protect the safety and security of their users, and encourage other social media sites to follow their lead.”
Facebook said it will remove messages for buying or selling guns that indicate an attempt to evade the law. It also will issue advisories to people offering to sell “commonly regulated goods” — such as guns, tobacco, alcohol and adult products — to obey relevant laws. It also will keep children from seeing such posts.
Under the stated policy, Facebook would allow a user in Texas to list an AR-15 for sale, since the gun is legal there, if it wasn’t offered for sale in states where it’s illegal. But it would delete a similar post from someone in New York. It would also remove posts from any state in which the seller says the background check will be skipped, even if such checks aren’t required where the seller lives.
In her online petition, Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action had written: “There’s no way to stop a Facebook or Instagram user from potentially selling a gun to a felon, a domestic abuser or another dangerous person who would otherwise be prohibited from obtaining a gun.”
Acknowledging that people can’t actually sell things to one another through its site, Facebook said many people and organizations use its free tools to promote commercial transactions.
“This is one of many areas where we face a difficult challenge balancing individuals’ desire to express themselves on our services and recognizing that this speech may have consequences elsewhere,” the company said.
Facebook said it already has systems in place to remove advertising that’s false and deceptive or violates its policies. It already prohibits ads for illegal drugs, tobacco products and prescription drugs.
There’s no way to know how many guns are sold via Facebook, because the transactions are actually completed offline, said John Feinblatt, chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. But such sales have occurred. In Kentucky, for example, federal authorities in February charged an Ohio man with illegally selling a 9mm pistol to a Kentucky teenager, a transaction that investigators say was arranged through Facebook.
Feinblatt noted that Google+ and Craigslist already prohibit all gun sales. But he said there are “really virtual gun shows” online. His group issued a report in December showing 66,000 active ads on a popular gun sales website called Armslist, up 500 percent from two years earlier.
The report said 16 states and the District of Columbia require background checks for private firearm purchases.
Federal law prohibits gun sales to anyone under indictment or convicted of a crime punishable by a year in prison, fugitives, drug addicts, those who are adjudicated mentally defective, immigrants in the U.S. illegally, anyone dishonorably discharged from the military, and anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence or subject to a court order of protection after being judged at a hearing to be a physical threat to a partner or child. The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System lists people prohibited from buying guns.
Tom King, president of the New York affiliate of the National Rifle Association, acknowledged that Facebook is allowed to set its own rules, but he looks at the new restrictions “as a kind of limit on our First Amendment rights.” Although his group doesn’t sell guns, he questioned whether the Rifle & Pistol Association could be blocked if somebody reports its Facebook page anyway.
“This is something that could greatly get out of control very quickly,” King said.
RadioShack (RSH) and its plan to close 1,100 stores
Shares of RadioShack (RSH) are catching static this morning after the struggling retailer announced plans to close 1,100 of its 4,000 stores. The company also said it lost $191.4 million during the holiday quarter as sales declined 20% to $935 million.
RadioShack CEO Joe Magnacca said steep pricing competition, weak mall traffic, and a soft market in mobility sales negatively impacted results. Magnacca says the closures will improve RadioShack’s financial flexibility as the company aggressively tries to refresh its store base for a new generation of electronics customer.
RadioShack’s stock was down more than 18% in early trading, erasing all of its gains for the year. The drop is just another blow in a long brutal trip for investors. In 1999 RadioShack sported a stock price of over $75 and a market cap of $15 billion. Shares are trading hands at about $2.25 today, valuing the entire company at about $190 million.
While Magnacca insists traffic has been strong in its new concept stores, RadioShack is still plagued by the same issues we talked about a month ago when the company unveiled its well-received Super Bowl ad. Bringing in customers is a mixed blessing when you haven’t finished a redesign. Shoppers drawn to RadioShack over the last month were more than likely to find the stores looking very much like they’d been locked in a time capsule for more than a decade.
As for a buyout, RadioShack is going to first need to stop the bleeding and begin operating at a break-even level before private equity groups would be willing to consider a bid. There’s also the problem that RadioShack had to put up its store base as collateral to secure a much-needed loan last December.
It isn’t clear what an outside group could do strategically to change RadioShack’s fortunes. Current management is doing what they can but sometimes companies just die of old age. That’s tough news for 30,000 employees of the Fort Worth based company, but unfortunately that’s the circle of life and capitalism.
By Breakout Staff
California governor unsure legal pot is good plan
California Gov. Jerry Brown said he is not sure legalizing marijuana is a good idea in his state because the country could lose its competitive edge if too many people are getting stoned.
If pot smoking gains more legitimacy in the nation’s most populous state, Brown said he worries it could have negative ripple effects.
”The problem with anything, a certain amount is OK. But there is a tendency to go to extremes,” he said in a wide-ranging interview aired Sunday on NBC’s ”Meet the Press.” ’'And all of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”
Californians voted to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. But Brown said he is watching closely to see how Colorado and Washington handle their new laws that go a step further by regulating the growth and sale of taxed recreational marijuana at state-licensed stores. Colorado’s pot shops opened Jan. 1, and Washington’s are expected to open later this year.
”We have medical marijuana, which gets very close to what they have in Colorado and Washington. I’d really like those two states to show us how it’s going to work,” he said. ”The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”
Brown, who was interviewed remotely from San Francisco, also discussed California’s drought problems, climate change and his future political career.
Now, as he prepares to run for his fourth term as governor, Brown said that despite his progressive politics, the key to turning California’s budget deficit into a projected multibillion-dollar budget surplus was exerting fiscal discipline.
”You’ve got to be tough on spending. No matter how liberal you want to be, at the end of the day, fiscal discipline is the fundamental predicate of a free society,” he said.
Brown also mused about the Democratic Party’s future, saying he favored a Hillary Clinton bid for president in 2016.
”She’s got more experience, both domestic and international,” he said. ”I mean, it’s her nomination if she wants it, as far as I’m concerned.”
Obama’s 2015 budget appeals to Democrats
Striving for unity among Democrats rather than compromise with Republicans, President Barack Obama will unveil an election-year budget on Tuesday that drops earlier proposals to cut future Social Security benefits and seeks new money for infrastructure, education and job training.
But Obama’s almost $4 trillion budget plan is likely to have a short shelf life. It comes just three months after Congress and the White House agreed to a two-year, bipartisan budget pact that has already set the parameters for this election year’s budget work. Democrats controlling the Senate have already announced they won’t advance a budget this year and will instead skip ahead to the annual appropriations bills for 2015, relying on new spending ”caps” set by December’s budget deal that provide $56 billion less than what Obama wants in 2015.
Obama would divide the extra money equally between the Pentagon and domestic initiatives like boosting manufacturing hubs, job training and preschool programs and cutting energy waste. Republicans are likely to balk at the idea, which would be paid for by curbing special interest tax breaks and making spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Obama has also announced a four-year, $302 billion plan to boost spending on highways, rail projects and mass transit. Half of the initiative would be financed through corporate taxes. Funding for highway and mass transit projects expires at the end of September, and there’s bipartisan interest in finding a supplemental funding stream to augment stagnant revenues from the $18.4 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax.
Obama’s budget arrives after a tumultuous year that began with Obama muscling through a 10-year $600 billion-plus tax increase on upper-bracket earners. Feeling stung, Republicans refused to yield on about $80 billion in automatic spending cuts that began in March. Then, conservatives in the GOP forced a 16-day partial government shutdown over funding to implement the nation’s new health insurance program. The small-bore, two-year budget deal struck by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., emerged from the wreckage to alleviate the toughest automatic cuts.
With no design or expectation of luring Republicans into more budget negotiations in this election year, Obama’s blueprint presents his vision for boosting job growth and favored initiatives like education. The White House announced earlier Obama was dropping a plan opposed by most Democrats in his budget proposal a year ago to slow Social Security cost of living increases.
The budget also will flesh out a plan Obama announced in his State of the Union address to expand the earned income tax credit for childless workers.
”This year the administration is returning to a more traditional budget presentation that is focused on achieving the president’s vision for the best path to create growth and opportunity for all Americans, and the investments needed to meet that vision,” the White House said in a statement last month.
Republicans are sure to brush aside most of Obama’s new initiatives. Ryan released a report Monday criticizing many federal anti-poverty programs, saying they should be redesigned to better help the poor escape poverty. It found that many poor people have little incentive to find work or work more because higher incomes mean lower benefits.
The success that Washington has had in curbing spending over the past several years has come mostly at the expense of ”discretionary” spending for agency operating budgets approved by Congress each year. The $521 billion defense budget for this year amounts to 3.5 percent of the size of the economy, according to the Congressional Budget Office, down from 5.4 percent of gross domestic product 40 years ago.
Discretionary spending on nondefense programs has dropped from 3.9 percent in 1974 to 3.4 percent today. Meanwhile, autopilot spending on benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and insurance subsidies under the new health care law are growing rapidly as a percentage of the economy.
Obama’s budget does little to arrest these trends. And it arrives as dropping deficits have sapped much of Washington’s urgency for tackling the government’s fiscal problems. The deficit fell to $680 billion last year — still large but far smaller than the $1 trillion-plus deficits that plagued his first term.
Obama’s austere request for the Pentagon, including cuts to Army personnel, the National Guard and the much-criticized littoral combat ship and a move to retire the Air Force’s A-10 fighter, has already provoked howls of outrage from defense hawks. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Obama’s proposal ”guts our defense.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the $28 billion in extra defense money that Obama seeks would permit the Pentagon to increase training, improve aircraft and weapons systems and repair military facilities.
Obama will recommend tax changes that would generate billions in revenues to help pay for those initiatives. They include curtailing what the administration views as tax avoidance schemes by U.S. companies with profits earned overseas and by foreign-owned companies with operations in the United States.
One measure, according to administration officials, would limit the ability of companies to take advantage of differences in tax rules from country to country. A second would restrict the ability of multinational corporations to assign much of their debt to U.S. operations to take advantage of U.S. interest deductions. A third would classify as taxable the income from certain digital transactions that have escaped U.S. taxation.
The proposals are part of an international effort by leading economies to limit tax avoidance by multinational companies. Administration officials said the proposals in the budget would raise several billion a year and could be part of a broader tax overhaul that would be used to reduce corporate tax rates.
Obama is also likely to reprise a host of familiar tax increases such as limiting deductions for upper-income taxpayers and closing tax breaks for oil and gas companies. They have been routinely rejected in the past.
By ANDREW TAYLOR
California soaked but little drought help, damage
A storm that brought some of the highest rainfall totals to the Los Angeles area in years, including eight inches on some mountains, was just the beginning of what the region needs to pull out of a major drought.
Although the storm was expected to remain strong Saturday, forecasters said such systems would have to become common for the state to make serious inroads against the drought.
”We need several large storms and we just don’t see that on the horizon,” National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Boldt said Friday. ”This is a rogue storm. We will dry out next week.”
Forecasters expected the storm to last through Saturday in California before trundling east into similarly rain-starved neighboring states. Phoenix was expecting its first noticeable precipitation in two months. The storm was projected to head east across the Rockies before petering out in the Northeast in several days.
Southern California has so far been spared major damage from the powerful Pacific storm, but forecasters warn that intense rain will occur even as it begins to move east.
A burst of heavy showers before dawn Saturday impacted wildfire-scarred mountainsides above foothill suburbs east of Los Angeles, causing another round of mud and debris flows in the city of Glendora.
The National Weather Service says the center of the system located off the coast will move across Southern California to exit the region, but bands of intense rain will still occur.
The system has been so volatile that the weather service issued a 3:30 a.m. tornado warning for east-central Los Angeles County when radar showed the rotation signature of a tornado and severe thunderstorms.
In Azusa and neighboring foothill communities about 25 miles east of Los Angeles that sit beneath nearly 2,000 acres of steep mountain slopes that just weeks ago were menaced by a wildfire, about 1,200 homes were under evacuation orders Friday over mudflow fears but were so-far spared.
In particular danger were about a dozen homes in Azusa that were backed up against a steep fire-denuded hillside several hundred feet high that authorities feared could collapse.
Muddy water swept down the hillside earlier in the day, spreading about two feet of ooze above one backyard, although fencing walls and an orchard of about 5,000 avocado trees behind the development stopped most serious debris.
Despite the urging of police and fire officials who cleared reporters and others out of the neighborhood as the hill grew more saturated, at least a few residents decided to stay on.
Dennis Sanderson, 50, said his reaction to the evacuation order was ”we’ll ride it out,” but by nightfall he was undecided and keeping an eye on the weather because of forecasts for more rainfall.
About 13 homes were evacuated Friday night in Palmdale in northern Los Angeles County, where a mudslide closed a major road.
Thunder echoed and hard rain fell late Friday night on Hollywood, which was abuzz with preparations for Sunday evening’s Academy Awards and hopes the rain will have moved on by then as expected.
Rainfall totals in parts of California were impressive, especially in areas that typically don’t receive much, but not nearly enough to offer long-term relief from a long-running drought.
Three inches fell on Bel Air and Pasadena, and an urban flash-flood warning that was sent to cell phones was called late Friday night for central Los Angeles County.
For the first time in nearly three years, downtown Los Angeles received more than 2 inches — doubling its total for the rainy season that began in July, the National Weather Service said. Yet the city remained 7 inches below the normal 11 inches.
Meanwhile to the east in San Bernardino County, a levee failed and put eight houses in danger of serious flooding, but county fire crews were working to protect them and no evacuations were ordered.
Forecasters expected the storm to last through Saturday in California before trundling east into similarly rain-starved neighboring states. Phoenix was expecting its first noticeable precipitation in two months. The storm was projected to head east across the Rockies before petering out in the Northeast in several days.
Rain also fell along the central coast, the San Francisco Bay area and Central Valley.
Winter storm warnings were in effect in the Sierra Nevada. About 15 inches of new snow had fallen by mid-day Friday at the University of California, Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab located at 6,900 feet elevation.
A tornado warning was issued for Sacramento, Yolo and Sutter counties Friday night but was canceled soon after.
Farmer Ray Gene Veldhuis, who grows almonds, walnuts and pistachios and runs a 2,300-cow dairy in the Central Valley’s Merced County, welcomed the wet weather but knew it would not rescue California from drought.
”Hopefully, they keep coming,” Veldhuis said of the storms. ”If not, we’ll deal with the hand we’re dealt.”
Numerous traffic accidents occurred on slick or flooded roads across California, including one about 60 miles east of Los Angeles involving a big rig whose driver died after falling from a freeway overpass.
Power outages hit about 32,000 customers, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Southern California Edison said.
The storm was good news for other Californians who didn’t have to worry about mudslides.
Kite-surfer Chris Strong braved pelting rain to take advantage of strong winds that gave him about an hour of fun over the pounding surf in Huntington Beach.
”I don’t get to kite here in these conditions very often — only a handful of times — but you put them in the memory bank,” he said.
By JUSTIN PRITCHARD and ROBERT JABLON
Obama plan aims to improve odds for minority boys
In strong, often personal terms, President Barack Obama on Thursday called for vigorous efforts to reverse underachievement among young black and Hispanic males. He also cautioned young minority men not to repeat his own youthful mistakes in an unforgiving world.
The president kicked off his ”My Brother’s Keeper” initiative from the White House East Room, appearing on stage with teenagers involved in the Becoming a Man program for at-risk boys in his hometown of Chicago.
The aim is to ”start a different cycle,” Obama said. ”If we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens, then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren.”
The president said he, too, could have been a negative statistic, because of his own unfocused anger over having no father at home.
”I made bad choices. I got high, not always thinking about the harm it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short,” Obama said.
The large, mostly African-American and Hispanic crowd was dotted with dignitaries, among them black and Hispanic members of Congress, NBA great Earvin ”Magic” Johnson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Also present were the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two black Florida teenagers killed in separate shootings.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was there, too, and Obama said they had discussed the fatherless childhoods they had in common.
Addressing America’s young men of color directly, Obama told them to have ”no excuses” and to ”tune out the naysayers who say if the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up or settle into the stereotype.”
”Nothing will be given to you,” Obama said. ”The world is tough out there. There’s a lot of competition for jobs and college positions and everybody has to work hard. But I know you guys can succeed.”
Steve Benjamin, the first black mayor of Columbia, S.C., who called last month for the creation of a Center of Excellence for Black Male Achievement in his city, told reporters at the White House that Obama’s program is not about ”shifting responsibility for what they have to do, we’re talking about collective responsibility to make sure that the American dream is good for all people.”
Under Obama’s initiative, businesses, foundations and community groups would coordinate investments to come up with or support programs that help keep young people out of the criminal justice system and improve their access to higher education. Several foundations pledged at least $200 million over five years to promote that goal.
Meanwhile, Obama signed a presidential memorandum creating a government-wide task force to evaluate the effectiveness of various approaches, so that federal and local governments, community groups and businesses will have best practices to follow. An online ”What Works” portal will provide public access to data about programs that improve outcomes for young minority men.
The White House posted a list of figures it said underscored a need for the initiative: The unemployment rate for African-American men over the age of 20 was 12 percent last month, compared with 5.4 percent for white men. Hispanic men over the age of 20 had an unemployment rate of 8.2 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau showed a poverty rate of 27.2 percent in black households and 25.6 percent for Hispanic households in 2012, compared with 12.7 percent in white and 11.7 percent in Asian households.
”The president, I think, is uniquely qualified to talk about this,” Bloomberg told reporters after the event. ”The president is part African-American. The president did not have a father growing up. He knows the problem and yet he turned out to be president of the United States. You can’t have a better role model. I think this is exactly the kind of thing he should focus on.”
The phrase ”my brother’s keeper” comes from the Book of Genesis in the Bible, where God asks Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, for the location of his brother Abel, whom Cain had killed. In some versions, Cain replies: ”Am I my brother’s keeper?” Obama has quoted that Bible portion several times during his presidency, saying Americans should look out for each other.
Freed from the pressure of seeking re-election, Obama has taken a more visible role on issues affecting minorities. The president has moved to commute sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, hoping to combat sentencing disparities that disproportionately imprison minorities. Attorney General Eric Holder this month encouraged states to repeal laws that permanently bar felons from voting even after they have served their sentences.
Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a hero of the civil rights movement, called the president’s initiative ”long overdue.”
”I think we have to make this work,” Lewis said. ”This is a great launching to save a whole generation of young men of color, and if we can do it now it will pay off for generations to come.”
By JESSE J. HOLLAND
The Spy Tech That Might Have Kept El Chapo Invisible for So Long
Joaquin Guzman, better known by the nickname ”El Chapo,” didn’t get to be one of the world’s most notorious and elusive drug lords without knowing a thing or two about how to cover his tracks.
According to senior law enforcement officials, Guzman used some of the latest counter-surveillance gadgets to keep out of sight. ”He didn’t spare any expenses when it came to protecting himself,” one official told the Associated Press. ”It was top-notch.”
Though El Chapo might have been able to be harder to find if he went completely off the grid, Todd Morris, the founder of Brickhouse Security, said that wasn’t a likely option. ”You could go to the most extreme case and live a cave with messengers coming and going, but then what’s the point [of being a drug lord]?” he told ABC News. ”Typically, the goal [of a drug dealer] is to maximize invisibility without minimizing the joy of the billions of dollars you have.”
Top-notch security means more than just a thorough pat-down for every visitor and a handful of security cameras looking over the premises. Here’s a couple of the gadgets that Guzman may have used to keep out of sight from the law.
Chances are that Guzman wasn’t trusting a Wi-Fi password to keep his cyber activity hidden. ”There’s no way you could make that secure, so more likely, all of his computers were Ethernet connected,” Morris said, referring to the hard-wired connection to the Internet. But in the case that someone planted a bug to turn the computer into a surveillance device, Guzman could buy a spectrum analyzer to scan his connections.
”The spectrum analyzer looks for unknown signal and voltage changes,” he said. If the computers are shut down but the analyzer continues to detect a signal, then odds are that the connection has been bugged. ”These can run anywhere from $9,000 to $50,000,” Morris added, noting that the more expensive analyzers are better at diagnosing the root of the problem.
Wireless Signal Detector
The connection itself may be free of bugs, but there’s still a chance that that the electronics could be broadcasting unwanted signals. ”You can deactivate Wi-Fi on laptops by removing the chips so that it shouldn’t be transmitting anything wirelessly,” said Morris. If a modified laptop is still producing a signal, then it’s been bugged.
Alternatively, a wireless signal detector can also be used to detect specific frequencies and track cell phones operating on a different cell phone network. ”If all your burner cell phones are on the T-Mobile network and you find a [different] CDMA signal, you’re going to be able to track it down,” said Morris.
Non-Linear Junction Detector
Unwanted electronics themselves that don’t leave a wireless signal can still be found using a non-linear junction detector. ”This is a device that looks like an old metal detector from the ’70s,” said Morris. The detector works by sending and receiving specialized microwaves.
”You sweep it across any physical object and when the microwaves bounce back, you find things that shouldn’t be there,” said Morris. Even if a listening device or audio bug is dead or powered off, the detector will still register a change in the signal.
For a drug kingpin like Guzman, having a cellular jammer in his homes and his vehicles would have been de rigueur. ”As soon as someone comes onto his property, the cell signal would stop working,” said Morris. ”It could be used to block cell phones that are acting like audio bugs or transmitting data out.”
Unsurprisingly, the cell jammer is illegal in many countries. ”In the United States, only the Secret Service and the [National Security Agency] are allowed to use cell jammers,” said Morris. ”No one else can have it, including the bomb squads of the New York Police Department, where a cell phone could be used as a triggering device.”
By JON M. CHANG
After Fan Outcry, BlackBerry Bringing Back Its ‘Classic’ Controls and Trackpad
BlackBerry will release a low-cost phone in Indonesia in April and plans a broader release of a phone that restores a beloved row of control keys with a trackpad.
The Indonesia phone, the Z3, will sell for less than $200 without subsidies, the company said Tuesday. It will later expand to other markets in Southeast Asia. BlackBerry CEO John Chen said a version with faster, 4G connectivity is planned for the rest of the world “sometime in the future before I die.”
It’s the first phone made under a new five-year partnership with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles products in vast factories in China.
Meanwhile, Chen said, the company will restore the keys in a new phone he termed “Classic.” He said the new Q20 is a response to lackluster sales of last year’s Q10, which has a physical keyboard but lacks the trackpad or keys for functions such as going back. He said the company got many complaints about that.
BlackBerry also announced plans to expand its services for businesses needing secure communications, particularly in regulated industries such as health care and financial services. There are plans, for instance, to go beyond securing just email and messaging.
It’s part of the company’s plan to focus on its strengths in business services. BlackBerry strayed from that as it tried to lure consumers with new devices.
The BlackBerry was the dominant smartphone for on-the-go businesspeople and other consumers before Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, showing that phones could handle much more than email and calls. BlackBerry was slow in modernizing its operating system, and once it did, the much-hyped system flopped.
Chen was brought in as CEO late last year after talks to sell the company collapsed. Although he has been credited with turning around Sybase, a data company that was sold to SAP in 2010, Chen has acknowledged that reviving BlackBerry will be his most “complicated” challenge.
In the latest quarter, ending Nov. 30, BlackBerry reported a $4.4 billion loss and a 56 percent drop in revenue. But the company said it had plenty of cash to engineer a turnaround.
The new partnership with Foxconn will help reduce BlackBerry’s manufacturing costs. Foxconn, known for its manufacturing contract work on Apple’s iPhones and iPads, will jointly design and manufacture most BlackBerry devices and manage inventory of the devices.
Chen said BlackBerry will now target the heavily regulated industries that require greater security. It will simplify its pricing and let people upgrade to the latest systems for free this year. It will also offer free services this year for companies that had left BlackBerry for rivals.
By Anick Jesdanun
Big changes ahead for frequent fliers on Delta
Delta Air Lines is changing its frequent-flier program to favor passengers who buy the priciest tickets instead of those who fly the most miles.
It’s a bid to lure higher-spending business travelers, who often book flights on short notice and pay more than bargain-hunting leisure travelers.
Beginning next year, Delta will base miles toward free flights on the amount that passengers spend on tickets. Currently, members of its SkyMiles program earn miles based on how far they fly — it doesn’t matter whether they bought an expensive first-class seat or the cheapest ticket in economy.
Delta will become the biggest U.S. airline yet to make such a change. American and United are likely to watch to see how travelers respond.
Wednesday’s announcement wasn’t a total surprise. Delta had already taken steps toward rewarding big spenders.
A year ago, it announced that starting in 2014 passengers would need to spend at least $2,500 with the airline to qualify for the lowest level of elite frequent-flier status, which carries perks such as free upgrades and a waiver from bag fees. Before that, they could qualify on miles alone. United quickly matched Delta’s change.
Virgin America and JetBlue Airways Corp.’s ”True Blue” frequent-flier program award points based on dollars spent, not miles flown. Southwest Airlines Co., which carries more passengers within the U.S. than any other airline, overhauled its Rapid Rewards program in 2011 to award free tickets based on money spent, not trips taken. It seems to be paying off; a spokeswoman said the changes boosted Southwest revenue by $180 million in 2012 and an additional $100 million last year.
The move by an airline the size of Delta, with its international routes and important corporate customers, adds to a more fundamental trend in air travel — luring big-bucks travelers with better seats, fancier meals in first class, and VIP treatment at the airport.
”If you’re a corporate traveler, the IBM guy, this is good for you,” Randy Petersen, editor of InsideFlyer magazine, which tracks the airline-loyalty business, said of Delta’s move. ”The infrequent traveler clearly is the loser here. Frequent-flier programs are no longer for them at all.”
Some of those Delta leisure travelers wasted no time complaining on social media. The same thing happened at Southwest. But if United and American follow Delta’s lead, ”there’s not much a consumer can do,” Petersen said. ”Where are you going to go?”
That’s the dilemma facing Ben Holcomb, who works in information technology in Norman, Okla. He said he has earned seven or eight free trips in the past couple of years and climbed to Gold Medallion elite status on Delta by racking up miles with bargain-fare leisure trips. ”The days of being able to do that are numbered,” he said.
Holcomb said he understood why Delta decided to change its program, but added, ”It really leaves no incentive to fly with Delta unless they have a better price.”
Al Meyers, who has worked for nonprofits in Atlanta and used to be an elite Delta member, said SkyMiles will go from a frequent-flier program to an expensive-flier one. He said the biggest airlines are catering too much to corporate travelers, forcing average consumers to consider budget carriers.
”We’re going to have the Lexuses and the Tauruses,” he said.
Delta Air Lines Inc., based in Atlanta, said that beginning Jan. 1, SkyMiles members will earn between 5 and 11 miles for every dollar they spend on tickets — the low end for general customers, and the biggest bang for elite Diamond Medallion members. All of them will continue to get a bonus for buying tickets with a Delta-branded credit card.
Other changes, Delta said, include more availability of reward seats at the lowest mileage-requirement levels, one-way awards at half the miles needed for a round-trip reward — American does that now — and more options to combine miles and cash when buying tickets.
Jeff Robertson, a vice president who oversees the SkyMiles program, said that nearly all hotel and credit-card programs already base rewards on money spent, and Delta’s change was designed to better reward the airline’s most loyal customers.
Russell Simmons’ Key to Happiness Takes 40 Minutes a Day
For a man nicknamed Rush, and whose latest entrepreneurial venture All Def Digital shortens to A.D.D., Russell Simmons says only thing has calmed him: meditation.
“The idea of being still and operating from a calm place is one that I never would’ve thought would’ve suited my lifestyle or my goals or the way that I pursue life, ’cause I pursue everything with a vigor,” said Simmons.
After co-founding Def Jam Records, Simmons has had his hand in industries spanning film, television, fashion, digital media, video games and financial services. Simmons said before taking up twice-daily meditations about two decades ago, he was “frantic,” anxious and constantly worrying about what was going to happen the next day. Meditation allowed him to engage in the moment and let go of a feeling of neediness.
And now he hopes to share the benefits and demystify the practice of meditation through his new book Success Through Stillness.
“I used to think that the anxiety drove me, that just always worrying about what’s tomorrow was part of the process,” said Simmons. “But letting go of that kind of anxiety is the process. ‘Cause when you’re making a record, you’re not counting your money. You’re engaged. And when you’re fully engaged in working a melody, or when you’re reading a book and the world stops, you even forget to breathe, or you’re in a car accident and the world moves slowly, that kind of consciousness is what we’re looking for always. Everything we can do to gain that kind of consciousness is a plus.”
Among the many different forms, Simmons said he teaches mantra-based meditation in which someone sits quietly and repeats a single word – in his case, “Rum” – for a period of 20 minutes. He has one meditation session in the morning at his Los Angeles home, then drives over to his ex-wife Kimora Lee Simmons’ home for another session from 6:45 a.m. to 7:05 a.m. with his two daughters, Aoki Lee, 11, and Ming Lee, 14. They’ve been meditating together for three years.
Simmons said meditation’s primary purpose is to promote happiness: “I come out of meditation, and sometimes I just start giggling, I feel so happy, right in the mornings.”
In his book he includes scientific research which has studied the benefits of meditation. He also includes accounts from celebrities who practice meditation, including Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and Russell Brand. Simmons said he has even sent a meditation teacher to celebrities who are going through difficult — and very public — times.
“Meditation helps young people and adults to get control of the noise,” explained Simmons. “The noise is the cause of almost all sickness and sadness. If we can calm the noise, our relationship with the world benefits tremendously.”
He continued, “There’s nothing greater than being present. Presence is pure bliss. And if we want greater happiness, then we should take the time to look inside for that happiness.”
By Brandi Hitt and Mary-Rose Abraham
Arizona governor vetoes controversial anti-gay, ‘religious freedom’ bill
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer announced that she has vetoed a bill that would have allowed state businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers.
“The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences,” Brewer told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday. ”After weighing all of the arguments I have vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.”
Brewer made her remarks during a press conference announced with little notice on Wednesday evening.
Despite the short notice, a large crowd of demonstrators quickly gathered outside the state capital in Phoenix before Brewer made her remarks. The crowd of demonstrators erupted into cheers after Brewer’s announcement.
Senate bill 1062 generated national attention after it was passed by the Republican controlled legislature. However, its momentum quickly stalled after it was criticized by a number of local business leader and the state’s two Republican U.S. Senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake.
“I have protected religious freedoms when there is a present concern,” Brewer said, defending her decision during the press conference. “And I have a record to prove it.”
Despite herself being conservative Republican lawmaker, Brewer used her remarks to criticize the state Senate for making the religious freedom bill a priority over other concerns.
The bill was pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative group opposed to same sex marriage.
“This is the first policy bill to cross my desk,” Brewer said. “It does not address a specific concern related to Arizona. I have not heard one example where a business owner’s liberty has been put into jeopardy.”
Brewer said she had previously instructed state lawmakers that “passing a responsible budget that continues Arizona’s economic comeback,” should be the legislature’s top priority.
I call them like I see them despite the tears or the boos from the crowd,” Brewer said. “I took the necessary time to make the right decision.”
Brewer said she met with attorneys and policy advisers who both supported and opposed the bill. She also offered condolences to religious individuals who feel their freedom is being called into question in light of rapid advancements in gay rights and marriage equality.
“Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is nondiscrimination,” Brewer said. “Going forward let’s turn the ugliness over Senate bill 1062 into a greater search for greater respect and understanding among all Arizonans and Americans.”
After concluding her remarks, Brewer quickly exited the podium without taking questions from the press.
By Eric Pfeiffer
Obama makes it official: U.S. planning for full Afghan withdrawal
After giving him the silent treatment for eight months, President Barack Obama on Tuesday called Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The message? A blunt warning that all U.S. troops will leave his war-torn country by 2015 unless Karzai or his successor sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the United States.
The president had not spoken to Karzai since a June 25, 2013, video conference, and the two had had no contact since a Nov. 21, 2013, letter from Washington to Kabul.
Obama has said repeatedly that he hopes to leave a residual force of some 8,000-12,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan to train local security forces and target extremists after most combat forces depart in 2014. But U.S. officials had warned that Obama would pull all American troops absent a BSA that gives American and allied forces immunity from local prosecution.
Karzai refused, saying his successor should be the one to make that commitment. He continued to say no even after Afghanistan’s “loya jirga” assembly of elders approved the agreement.
On Tuesday, Obama bluntly delivered that warning to Karzai himself, according to a White House statement on the call.
Obama told Karzai that he has “asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014.”
“Going after the remnants of core Al Qaeda could be in the interests of the United States and Afghanistan,” the White House readout continued. “Therefore, we will leave open the possibility of concluding a BSA with Afghanistan later this year.”
But “the longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission” and “the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition,” the White House statement said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hammered home the message in a statement of his own released after the Obama/Karzai call, calling plans for a total pullout “a prudent step.”
”At President Obama’s direction, and with my strong support, the Department of Defense will move ahead with additional contingency planning to ensure adequate plans are in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014,” Hagel announced.
Hagel also underlined why Obama’s Afghan policy is at a crossroads: Defense ministers from NATO and other countries with a presence in Afghanistan are due to meet in Brussels this week to discuss the future of the alliance’s policy. The White House and its allies face increasing pressure to make decisions about the withdrawal, a complex undertaking requiring significant military resources that can’t all be mobilized instantly.
White House aides have increasingly sounded as frustrated with Karzai as their predecessors in George W. Bush’s administration were. At one point, a senior Bush foreign policy aide joked to reporters that Karzai’s first name should permanently be changed from Hamid to something unprintable here.
Faced with his refusal to sign despite an all-out pressure campaign, the United States is now looking ahead to April elections that will pick Karzai’s successor.
While some prominent Republicans have sharply criticized Obama’s handling of Afghanistan, the war-weary U.S. public has largely turned against the conflict, now America’s longest war.
While it’s likely too late to repair the Obama/Karzai relationship, it’s not like things were going swimmingly under Bush, either.
At a December 2008 press conference with Bush, the Afghan leader drew nervous laughter when he offered up this description of the relationship between Washington and Kabul:
”Afghanistan will not allow the international community [to] leave it before we are fully on our feet, before we are strong enough to defend our country, before we are powerful enough to have a good economy, and before we have taken from President Bush and the next administration billions and billions of more dollars — no way that they can let you go.”
By Olivier Knox
Galaxy S5 vs. iPhone 5s: How Does Samsung’s Newest Superphone Measure Up?
Samsung has just pulled back the curtain on its newest smartphone, the Galaxy S5, a device the company hopes will be your next smartphone — yes, even you, iPhone folks. So if you are an iOwner who’s always contemplated the switch to one of those shiny, big-screened Samsung phones, you may want to take a peek at our side-by-side measurable comparison between the S5 and the 5s — that is, the newest from Samsung and Apple (confusing, we know).
Here are the specs for the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Apple iPhone 5s. And then, we’ll explain what those differences actually MEAN below:
OS: Samsung and Apple’s smartphones run different operating systems, probably the single largest difference between them. The iPhone 5s runs iOS, an operating system you will only find on smartphones and tablets made by Apple. The Galaxy S5 runs Android 4.4.2, the latest version of Google’s Android operating system that is free and open for any company to run on smartphones and tablets.
You can find Android on many other mobile devices made by many other companies; Samsung modifies Android into something called “TouchWiz,” a special version of Android that features effects and design elements unique to Samsung phones. Most Android phone makers have their own “skins”: HTC has something called “Sense”; Nokia just released a version of Android that looks an awful lot like Windows Phone, with large animated tiles.
You can get a comprehensive breakdown of TouchWiz here. Diffen, meanwhile, breaks down the biggest differences between Android and iOS in a comprehensive, somewhat technical column here. Basically, updates to iOS tend to come quicker and with predictable regularity, and iOS features a deeper and better app selection. Android, meanwhile, is way more flexible, meaning you can adjust it to your liking more easily than you can the rigid iOS. Updates bringing more features tend to be occur with irregularity and unpredictability, due to a variety of reasons, chief among them the pickiness of your phone carrier. But you may want to try both in an electronics store before making a decision either way.
Display Size: The display is measured from one corner to the other. The below picture from Laptop Mag shows the difference in your hand. Generally, it’s accepted that a larger screen, like that of the Galaxy S5, is better for viewing movies and reading text, while the iPhone 5s fits more conveniently in your hand and in your pocket.
Display Type: Samsung and Apple use two different display technologies in their phones. The resolutions tend not to matter since, at a certain point, the human eye cannot make out these individual pixels, and images on the screen will appear totally unpixelated and high-def. Whether you like the iPhone’s LCD screen or Samsung’s AMOLED is a matter of personal preference. Again, get thee to an electronics store and find out for yourself.
Processor and RAM: Apple and Samsung diverge on the kind of processor they use, but equal each other on the amount of RAM they have onboard. This battle concerns phone speed, and these numbers matter less than you’d think. It’s all about how Samsung and Apple maximize those processors and RAM to make the smartphone run. Check back in several weeks to see if the Galaxy S5 can match the iPhone 5s — notoriously quick — in opening and switching between apps, web browsing and more daily tasks. Samsung and Apple are both at the point, however, where their premier phones are reliably, equally speedy.
Cameras: Again, we’ll have to wait at least a few weeks to see several test photos from the Galaxy S5 before we can determine which camera takes higher quality photos and videos, in both dark and light situations. As David Pogue has warned many times, however, DO NOT be deceived by the count of the megapixels, popular among advertisers as the be-all-end-all of measuring camera quality. The number of megapixels do NOT a great camera make: It’s all about the lens and the sensor, which we haven’t gotten to test out on the Galaxy S5 just yet. Initial reviews of the Galaxy S5 have been universally positive.
Storage: How much stuff your phone can hold. Both the iPhone and Galaxy offer you the option of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. The Galaxy S5 also lets you insert a small SD card (sold separately) to “expand” your device storage by up to 64 more GBs if you have a ton of photos, videos or songs you want to store. So-called “expandable storage” is one of the major advantages of the Galaxy S5, and Android phones in general, in the battle against the iPhone, which can only hold the number of GBs that you purchase. Accompanying a slot for an SD card tends to make the phone slightly bulkier, and saving to that card can take getting used to. If you can live with those sacrifices, you’ll get more storage.
Batteries: mAH refers to “milliamp hours,” a measure of storage for the battery and is fairly meaningless. Again, this is less about total mAH than it is about how much battery power the display and the processor of the Galaxy S5 require. The times above are what Apple and Samsung claim their phones can get under ideal conditions; wait for comprehensive field tests from sites like AnandTech or GSM Arena, which put all smartphones through rigorous battery life tests and rank them against each other, before deciding based on battery life.
Weight and Dimensions: Pretty straightforward: The iPhone 5s is lighter than the Galaxy S5. The Galaxy S5 is also much taller and wider than the iPhone 5s, to support its larger screen. Again, test it out in the electronics store, as though you are trying on a new pair of shoes. Put it in your pocket, and try typing with one hand, to see how you adjust to each.
Extras: We pit the Galaxy and iPhone’s fingerprint sensors against each other here. Early reports say that Apple’s Touch ID is more accurate than Samsung’s fingerprint scanner. Samsung’s scanner, however, can verify your identity for mobile payments, and it also features a heart-rate scanner on the back of the phone. Both Samsung and Apple feature voice control — through S Voice and Siri, respectively — though each has its voice recognition flaws.
The Galaxy S5 is rated IP67, for “Ingress Protection 67,” a definition of which you can find here. IP measures how well a device’s enclosure can keep out dust and water; a complete dust-proof and waterproof device would score IP68, so that 67 number is a triumph for Samsung. It reflects a phone that is highly dust- and water-resistant. In this case, the S5 is deemed completely resistant to dust (a 6 out of 6 on the scale), and resistant to between 15cm and 1m of water (a 6 out of 7 on the scale). Not totally submersible, but getting it wet won’t cause immediate harm like it may on the iPhone. (If you’re an adventurer, or just clumsy, you can buy bulky cases for the iPhone that will make it IP68.)
There are other features that distinguish the iPhone 5s and Galaxy S5 from each other as well (including colors, the material used to build the phone, available accessories and a lot more) but these should give you a sense of how the two diverge. Until we can put the Galaxy S5 through our own tests, we won’t really know how fast it is, how good the camera is, or what kind of battery life it gets. That’s the importance of the smartphone review: Ours will arrive some time in April, before the Galaxy S5 hits the shelves in the United States.
By Daniel Bean and Jason Gilbert
Samsung Announces the Galaxy S5, Its Latest Attack on Apple’s iPhone
The Samsung Galaxy S5 has arrived, and it wants you to give it the finger.
On Monday, Samsung announced the Galaxy S5, its premium smartphone followup to the Galaxy S4, and a challenger to Apple’s iPhone 5s for the top smartphone in the world. The Galaxy S5 features a crisp (and large) 5.1-inch display; new health tracking features, including a physical, finger-based heart rate monitor on the back of the phone and a built-in app to log meals; and a fingerprint sensor, which, like Apple’s latest iPhone, will let you unlock the phone with the touch of your finger.
Yes, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 doesn’t just share a letter and a number with Apple’s iPhone 5s. You can probably put your finger on its other great similarity to Apple’s smartphone.
Samsung is still embroiled in multiple legal battles with Apple over claims of patent infringement from both sides. Samsung’s inclusion of a fingerprint sensor on its latest flagship smartphone, mere months after Apple unveiled a similar Touch ID feature, will likely lead to more complaints and allegations that Samsung is following in Apple’s footsteps.
Still, the Galaxy S5 is more than just a fingerprint sensor — and, indeed, Samsung’s fingerprint sensor does more than Apple’s. Past simply unlocking the phone, the Galaxy S5 ships with a technology called NFC, which allows you to pay with your phone by “bumping” it against a mobile cash register. Samsung’s fingerprint sensor will allow you to verify your identity before paying.
The Galaxy S5 is also what Samsung is calling the first phone with a built-in heart rate monitor. The phone features a sensor underneath the rear camera. You place your finger on the sensor and the phone can read your heart rate. In other words, the Galaxy S5 wants you to give it the finger in more ways than one.
Samsung is also excited about its 16-megapixel camera, which it claims has the fastest auto-focus feature of any smartphone available. It also contains a “Selective Focus” feature, which allows you to focus on certain areas of a photo while blurring the background.
The Galaxy S5 is water- and dust-resistant and features an “Ultra power saving mode,” which closes all non-essential apps and services, to extend battery life into the double digits of hours. (A Samsung representative claimed that, with 10 percent of battery life left, your phone could last 20 hours on Ultra Power Saving Mode. That elicited some Oohs and Aahs from the crowd.) The Galaxy S5 runs Samsung’s colorful version of Google’s Android operating system, called TouchWiz, on top of the latest version of Android, dubbed KitKat.
The S5 will be released in April on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, MetroPCS and U.S. Cellular. Available colors include blue, white, black and gold. Samsung did not announce a price at the time of the unveiling.
By Jason O. Gilbert
Lotus enters motorcycle business with stunning ”hyper bike”
Ever since firing its CEO Dany Bahar in June 2012 and reporting a near $200 million loss, Lotus has sought to find solid footing. One way the British marque planned to achieve this was by entering the motorcycle business, promising to deliver a Lotus ”hyper bike,” built by German race team Kodewa and the Holzer Group, by the turn of the year.
And here it is, the Lotus C-01. A true stunner that isn’t really a Lotus at all.
The storied sports car maker has become more of a branding company than the automotive innovator it once was, enlisting others to do the heavy lifting while licensing the Lotus name for the sheet metal. This was evident in the 2010 IndyCar season, slapping Lotus logos on the carbon body that covered the Honda powerplant (they did enter an engine in 2012, although I’m not sure Lotus wants to be reminded of that). In Formula One, the Lotus F1 team is powered by Renault, and according to Lotus’ most recent press release, the C-01 bike ”is not designed, engineered or produced by Group Lotus” at all.
It remains another licensing deal where Lotus plays consultant, with Kodewa producing the bike and Holzer handling development. The glorious retro exterior was designed by Daniel Simon, the man behind the awesome glow-in-the-dark blue ”Tron: Legacy” bike. It features carbon-fiber and integrated titanium, along with aerospace-quality steel. Powered by a 2-cylinder, four-stroke V-twin motor delivering 200 hp, weighing a tick under 400 lbs., the C-01 promises to be as racy as the Lotus name depicts.
Only 100 bikes will be produced, and Lotus is yet to reveal pricing. (Translation: Outrageous.) A range of colors will be available, from the John Player Special black and gold from Senna’s early years to the legendary British racing green from Jim Clark’s latter. The Martini livery looks more Lancia than Lotus (Lotus had a darker background on its Martini F1 car), but it’s nonetheless sensational. No word on whether luminous Tron blue will be an option.
Does it matter that it’s not technically a Lotus? Well, that depends on your view. What we know for sure is it’s about as stunning a motorbike as one could imagine, which isn’t surprising given its designer. It may not have the strongest business, but Lotus still knows how to get attention.
By Alex Lloyd
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