National / International News
The giant retailer Target of Minneapolis said today it's closing down operations in Canada and has filed for bankruptcy protection to cover its North of the border operations. More on a move that could put more than 17,000 Canadians out of work. Plus, another major cross-border story developing today: Switzerland's currency surged 17 percent today, causing headaches for all sorts of Swiss exporters from wristwatches to cuckoo clocks. This after the Swiss Central Bank without warning gave up on trying to keep the euro-linked closer to the Swiss Franc. And at the big car and truck show going on in Detroit, the top honor in the car category went to Volkswagen's Golf, which comes in all sorts of flavors, from electric to diesel to muscle. But don't let that small car fool you.
Target Corp said on Thursday that it will cease operations in Canada and has filed for bankruptcy protection for its Canadian subsidiary.
Target has really struggled since its launch in Canada just a few years ago in 2013. The company said last November that it would review the future of its Canadian business after the holiday season.
Huge supply chain problems left Canadian stores thinly stocked, disappointing shoppers who had anticipated Target’s move into Canada where the discount retail space has been dominated by Walmart.
Target currently has 133 stores in Canada, employing 17,600 workers.
According to a Target press release, if a court approves it, the company would create a trust fund of $59 million for its employees, giving them a minimum of 16 weeks of compensation. The company says its Canadian stores would remain open during liquidation.
In the U.S., Target is actually performing better than expected. The company said Thursday same-store sales at its U.S. locations increase by 3 percent in the fourth quarter, thanks to more online purchases and store visits than predicted.
The man is now charged with arms trafficking. Local reports say the man sold one of the Paris suspects ammunition for his weapon.
President Barack Obama will outline a broad plan on Thursday to help states establish paid leave programs and to fund Labor Department feasibility studies on paid leave.
Obama is calling on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers to earn an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work.
“This is not a partisan issue. This is a family issue and an economic issue,” says White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett announced the President’s intent on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
Currently, workers are granted up to 12 weeks leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. However, Jarrett says most employers make that leave unpaid. Meaning that many workers can’t afford to take leave when they need it.
“It means that more sick children are in school because no-one can afford to stay home with them, and it means that fewer parents are taking the necessary time to bond with new babies or care for their aging parents," says Jarrett.
Jarrett says the President will also ask Congress for a $2 billion incentive fund to help states to create their own paid leave programs.
But, James Sherk, a Senior Policy Analyst with the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation says the President’s proposal would effectively cut workers’ pay.
“The way businesses respond when the government requires them to provide a benefit is, first they provide the benefit, but secondly they take the cost of that benefit out of workers’ pay.”
The President also plans to take executive action giving federal employees up to 6 weeks of paid leave for the birth, or adoption, of a child.
RealtyTrac reports that the rate of foreclosure filings was down 18 percent in 2014 from the previous year, and are approaching the same level as in 2006, before the housing crisis hit.RealtyTrac/Mitchell Hartman
Daren Blomquist, VP at RealtyTrac, said: “About 1 percent of all loans is the historic average that go into foreclosure, and I think we’ll probably end up below that for the next decade, as a reaction to what we’ve been through.”
Blomquist predicts fewer foreclosures than average because home prices have come down, homebuyers need very good credit to get a mortgage due to tighter underwriting standards, and many buyers are hedge funds and other investors with deep pockets.
Back to the Future Part II was a classic 80s movie in part because it was an escape.
From the harp plucking and the optimistic-sounding French horn in the first scene, it’s obvious that you’re going to get a picture of the future that is probably closer to Star Trek than Big Brother.
So when you’re watching the movie and you see that every car’s license plate is a barcode, it’s easy to think, “Sure, easy scanning. Very convenient.” It’s also easy to imagine why, in a movie released at the peak of one of the strongest periods of economic growth in the U.S., one of the most recognizable symbols of commerce—the Universal Product Code—was picked for plates.
Well, spoiler alert for those who haven’t looked closely at a car in 2015 yet: we don’t have barcode license plates. But the reality is in some ways more impressive and more concerning. Instead of codes that usually need to be scanned with the help of a laser, we’re using License Plate Recognition cameras all over the country to constantly record the passage of all traffic. And we’re often keeping all of that data for uses we haven’t yet realized.
The “haven’t yet realized” part is what has people like Kade Crockford worried. Crockford is the director of the Technology for Liberty project at the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union (she also writes the privacy matters blog). She says that in the last decade, the practice of collecting and storing traffic data has become widespread but mostly unregulated.
The barcode plates of “Back to the Future Part II” and the plate-scanning practices of the real world do have something in common: they’re both about making information machine readable. Barcodes were invented to make it easy to attach data to products that could be organized by computers. LPR technology, also called Automatic License Plate Recognition, does the same thing, either by reading a plate and attaching metadata in a matter of milliseconds, or sending a constant stream of photos to a server farm where the data is read and stored. These cameras usually capture not only the plates but an image of the car as well.
Technology now being used across the U.S. began as an invention of British law enforcement in the 1970s. It gained popularity there in the 1990s as a weapon against terrorism, following bombing attacks by the Irish Republican Army. LPR seems to have crossed the pond as computing power, storage, and camera technology became cheaper. By some estimates, LPR usage by police departments in the US has nearly quadrupled, going from 20 percent to 71 percent between 2007 and 2012.
The problem, says Crockford, is that there is very little oversight or even an understanding of how LPR technology is really being used. Private companies like Digital Recognition Network and Vigilant Solutions “Hoover up” billions of data sets, she says, and sell them to both law enforcement and private repo companies. Even though it’s been in America for over a decade, the first real federal scrutiny of the technology seems to have come only very recently, via a task force created by the Justice Department last May.
States are just starting to lay out rules about the collection and storage of data. In the last two years, around 30 pieces of legislation have been written, but only a handful have gone into effect. Of the few bills in place, those that endeavor to have police departments wipe data sets after a certain time, or try to prevent private companies from using LPR technology, are already being challenged in the courts.
Here’s one last bit that wasn’t imagined in "Back to the Future Part II" but could become a reality: The Center for Investigative Reporting recently found what it says are documents that suggest Vigilant wants to create a massive data collection system that combines LPR, public records, and facial recognition. Almost makes you wish for silly barcode license plates.
Google has launched its own website naming service, Google Domains. It says it's aimed at small businesses, 55 percent of which its own research has found don't have their own website right now.
Blake Newman, who runs a website design agency in Washington D.C., was one of the people invited to test out Google's domain name registration service before it went public. "It's relatively sparse," Newman says.
In other words, it's Google style. And that's the opposite of a lot of other domain name registration websites, Newman says, which can be complicated even for professionals like him.
But does that mean that other registrars like GoDaddy, E-nom and Network Solutions should be worried? No, says Phil Corwin, head of the Internet Commerce Association, a lobbying group for the domain name industry. Corwin was speaking from a domain name registrars' conference in Las Vegas, where he says Google wasn't even the main topic of conversation.
"It's a competitive space," says Corwin. "And some of the smaller players, they're not going for a mass market. They're going for more of a niche market." But for those 55 percent of small businesses without websites, Google is banking on simplicity trumping niche.