Mexican Citizen in U.S. Guilty of Food Stamps Fraud: Ordered to Pay $1.5M

Raul Carlos Monarca-Gonzalez, a Mexican citizen, 40, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years supervised release on Friday in federal court in Hartford, Connecticut, in connection with a massive food stamps fraud scheme, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Monarca-Gonzalez worked at WB Trade Fair Grocery on Willow Street in Waterbury where he, along with others who worked there, illegally allowed customers to redeem food stamps for cash from November 2014 to June 2016.

Investigators from the U.S. attorney’s office say WB Trade Fair Grocery redeemed a total of approximately $3.2 million over an 18-month period, far more than the estimated $120,000 to $240,000 the store could legally redeem.

He was also ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Monarca-Gonzalez pleaded guilty in November to one count of unlawful use of food stamp benefits and one count of conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud.

He also faces immigration proceedings at the end of his prison term.

Refugee Launches Lawsuit Against Facebook After Selfie Used for Memes

Syrian refugee Anas Modamani filed a lawsuit against Facebook after his selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel was used in allegedly “defamatory” posts on the platform.

“Mr. Modamani has filed for an injunction in a court in Würzburg, in the southern German state of Bavaria, that would require Facebook to remove any content linking him to terrorism,” reported the New York Times on Monday. “His lawyer, Chan-jo Jun, says that although his client deleted the photograph and requested that it be taken down in some postings, it still appears on other people’s social media pages and in fake news reports accusing him of having links to terrorism.”

“The image has been used with posts about the attacks in Brussels last year and on a Christmas market in Berlin. Recently, someone posted Mr. Modamani’s photograph on Facebook and said that he had been involved in a December attack in which a homeless man in Berlin was set on fire,” they continued. “Mr. Modamani’s lawyer says his client will continue to be a victim of libel until Facebook uses its algorithms to prevent the image from being reproduced.”

Facebook have reportedly taken down the defamatory posts reported to them by Modamani’s lawyer, however they also claimed that because the incidents are based on defamation, and not breaches of the platform’s community standards, the users who posted the defamatory memes would be responsible instead of the company.

“We are committed to meeting our obligations under German law in relation to content which is shared by people on our platform,” proclaimed the company in a statement. “We have already quickly disabled access to content that has been accurately reported to us by Modamani’s legal representatives, so we do not believe that legal action here is necessary or that it is the most effective way to resolve the situation.”

Despite Facebook’s effort to remove the offending posts, Modamani’s lawyer claimed Facebook has “created an environment that allows illegal content to thrive.”

“Facebook only deletes those URLs that are pointed out to them in written form. We are fighting for all reposts to be deleted,” said Modamani’s attorney, Chan-jo Jun. “Facebook has created an environment that allows illegal content to thrive… In this case, I will either demonstrate the legal gaps that are still being closed to effectively enforce German law, or Facebook will learn that it does not pay to constantly violate the law.”

“I took the selfie because my hobby is taking photos,” said Modamani to The Independent in January. “It was for me, not for other people.”

“I came to Germany because I wanted to live in peace, away from danger,” he continued. “I don’t want anyone to continue using my photo on Facebook. I want to live in peace without any problems.”

Uber Hires NASA Engineer for VTOL ‘Flying Car’ Project

Uber has hired NASA engineer Mark Moore as Director of Engineering for their flying car project “Uber Elevate,” which seeks to expand the cab service into airborne travel.

Moore worked at NASA “as an advanced aircraft engineer and basically kickstarted the current interest in vertical take-off and landing craft for short-haul urban flight with a 2010 paper on the feasibility of the helicopter-like vehicles.”

“The engineer was impressed by Uber’s work on the subject, and saw a chance to make the vision he’d originally articulated years ago into something real, in a reasonable time scale,” according to TechCrunch. “Moore said that key to his decision to join Uber was that the company seemed to have a practical business case for making a flying commuter transit service real – and nothing would ever get done without market motivation behind the vision.”

Uber’s plans for a flying service were first hinted at in September 2016 by Uber’s Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden.

In an interview, Holden shared his interest in “vertical takeoff and landing” vehicles (VTOL), claiming, “It could change cities and how we work and live.”

Holden added that he wanted to offer his customers “as many options as possible to move around,” and that passenger drone technology could be a fully functioning norm within a decade.

“VTOL is another way to do that,” said Holden, after talking about ways to decrease city traffic.

Uber’s Head of Product for Advanced Programs, Nikhil Goel, confirmed in a statementthat Moore would be working on VTOL vehicles.

“Uber continues to see its role as an catalyst to the growing developing VTOL ecosystem,” said Goel in the statement. “We’re excited to have Mark join us to work with companies and stakeholders as we continue to explore the use case described in our white paper.”

In 2015, rapper Jay-Z and other high-profile individuals, including members of the Saudi Arabian royal family, invested $20 million in JetSmarter, which has been billed as “the Uber for flying,” while an Israeli tech firm is also prepared to launch their passenger-carrying drone service in 2020, following 15 years of development.

Silicon Valley Wants More Foreign Workers, Asks Court to Ban President’s Immigration Reform

Judges should ban the president’s immigration reform to ensure that high-tech companies can continue hiring foreign workers instead of American professionals, says a new courtroom brief submitted by almost 100 technology companies.

The White House’s Jan. 27 immigration reform “threatens companies’ ability to attract talent, business, and investment to the United States,” says the legal brief by the companies, who include many Silicon Valley firms. The signers include Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Reddit, Paypal, Netflix, Lyft, and TaskRabbit, which helps wealthier people hire other people to do household chores.

The 53-page, green-eyeshade demand for economic benefits was submitted Feb. 5 to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, as part of the legal battle to block the popular reform.

The new reform follows the president’s campaign promises by curbing the annual inflow of taxpayer-supported refugees, and setting rules to exclude migrants with “hostile attitudes,” such as an ideological willingness to use violence.

The companies’ legal brief is focused on their claim that they will lose their ability to hire foreign workers for some of white-collar jobs sought by American graduates.

Each year, roughly 800,000 young Americans graduate from college with skilled degrees in business, science, medicine and technology. But many of the graduates are not working in jobs that match their technical skills. For example, from 2009 to 2013, “about one-fifth of underemployed recent college graduates—roughly 9 percent of all recent graduates—did work in a low-skilled service job,” says a 2016 report by two federal economic researchers.

The federal government annually imports 1 million legal immigrants, and allows companies to hire roughly 1 million foreign contract-workers. The inflow of white-collar contract workers is so large that roughly 1 million are now legally employed in white-collar jobs in the United States, including 100,000 H-1B contract-workers holding prestigious jobs at universities.

Many companies want to preserve the inflow of cheaper white-collar workers. For example, executives at Comcast organized a demonstration against the immigration and refugee reform.

According to the courtroom brief by the technology companies:

The [reform] effects a sudden shift in the rules governing entry into the United States, and is inflicting substantial harm on U.S. companies. It hinders the ability of American companies to attract great talent; increases costs imposed on business; makes it more difficult for American firms to compete in the international marketplace; and gives global enterprises a new, significant incentive to build operations—and hire new employees—outside the United States…

This instability and uncertainty will make it far more difficult and expensive for U.S. companies to hire some of the world’s best talent—and impede them from competing in the global marketplace. Businesses and employees have little incentive to go through the laborious process of sponsoring or obtaining a visa, and relocating to the United States, if an employee may be unexpectedly halted at the border.

Skilled individuals will not wish to immigrate to the country if they may be cut off without warning from their spouses, grandparents, relatives, and friends—they will not pull up roots, incur significant economic risk, and subject their family to considerable uncertainty to immigrate to the United States in the face of this instability.

The companies’ legal brief largely ignores the effort by Americans to win higher salaries, more secure employment and it also ignores the gains to civic cohesion from reduced social confusion and uncertainty. Instead, the brief claims there is “bedrock guarantee” of benefits for immigrants and employers:

Immigrants, family members, and businesses deserve much better—and Congress and the Constitution entitle them to an immigration system that is administered reasonably, non-arbitrarily, and in accord with statutory requirements. The Order contravenes that bedrock guarantee.

Roughly 86 percent of people living in the United States are native-born Americans. But the legal brief also excluded ordinary Americans from their own nation, saying that the country is a nation of “immigrants,” not of native-born Americans.

America proudly describes itself as “a nation of immigrants” … We are: in 1910, 14.7% of the population was foreign born; in 2010, 12.9%.2 A quarter of us have at least one parent who was born outside the country. Close to half of us have a grandparent born somewhere else. Nearly all of us trace our lineage to another country.

Each year, 4 million American youths enter the workforce to seek jobs that pay enough to afford a house and a family.

The federal government’s policy of importing a huge number of legal immigrants and contract workers lowers Americans’ salaries by roughly $500 billion a year, according to a Harvard professor, Nearly all of $500 billion is scooped up in greater profits for companies and investors. If the worker inflow is reduced, Americans’ wages will rise and investors’ stock prices will temporarily fall, according to a June 2016 report by a stock-market firm.

ManyAmericans are unemployed or have given up looking for work. Roughly 10 percent of American “prime age” men, or 7 million men aged 25 to 54, have dropped out of the nation’s workforce, at enormous cost to themselves, their communities and to the nation’s economic health.  Many other Americans are stuck in low-wage work in the heartland of the nation, while investors create jobs for immigrants along the two coasts.

‘Brazzers’ Porn Site Blocked in Russia for ‘Negative Influence’ on ‘Human Psyche’

Porn site Brazzers has been blocked in Russia for having a “deeply negative influence on the human psyche,” according to a report by The Moscow Times.

“The court ruled that Brazzers’ pornographic content had a ‘purely negative impact on the human psyche,’ and ‘violated citizens’ rights,’” explained The Moscow Times on Tuesday. “The case was brought to the court by local prosecutors working ‘in the interests of the Russian Federation.’”

“The move follows Roskomnadzor’s decision to blacklist adult video site Pornhub in September 2016,” they continued. “A court in Krasnodar petitioned for the site to be blocked after ruling that the website violated child protection laws. Pornhub reacted to the ban by offering Russians 14 days of free access to their premium services. The site also offered Roskomnadzor officials upgraded membership in return for lifting the ban, a deal which they ultimately refused.”

Conversely, Roskomnadzor, the Russian agency which oversees media, information technology, and telecommunications, unblocked porn site YouPorn in Russia on the same day it banned Brazzers. “We’ve removed the page on the website YouPorn from the state registry [for banned websites] after receiving a decision to cancel the verdict by a Vladivostok court,” The Moscow Times reports Roskomnadzor said in a press release.

In September, it was revealed that nearly 800,000 Brazzers users were exposed in a data breach that leaked users’ sexual fetishes and conversations among other details

“Problem with a hack like that is it’s a *forum*. Worse than just adult website creds, this is what people were talking / fantasising about,” said security researcher Troy Hunt, highlighting the fact that users’ specific sexual fetishes and fantasies could now be leaked into the open.

The identities of many anonymous users were also compromised after it was revealed that some used the same login details for the porn site as other accounts online.

Paralyzed Patients Able to Communicate via Computer Interfacing with the Brain

Researchers in Europe have made breakthroughs in technology that allows people suffering from “locked-in syndrome” to communicate via a brain-computer interface.

“Locked-in syndrome” refers to a condition in which patients are entirely paralyzed aside from some slight eye movement. The condition can be caused by diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s disease or a stroke. Researchers in Europe have now invented a brain-to-computer interface that has allowed them to communicate with four patients suffering from the condition.

MIT Technology Review reports that the new technology was designed by neuroscientist Niels Birbaumer at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva. The interface is worn on the head like a swimming cap and works by measuring changes in electrical waves produced by the brain. It also uses a technique known as near-infrared spectroscopy to monitor the blood flow in the brain. Birbaumer’s experiment was published in PLOS Bilology.

When tested on four patients suffering from locked-in syndrome, three of the four patients replied yes to the statement, “I love to live,” and the question, “Are you happy?” The fourth patient in the test was not asked open-ended questions, as it was believed by her parents that her mental state was quite fragile.

It took ten days of testing to verify that the interface worked correctly by asking the patients questions about their life, such as, “You were born in Berlin,” or, “Paris is the capital of Germany.” This helped the team to decipher which signals meant “yes” and which meant “no.” The answers were consistent just over 70% of the time.

Birbaumer says “the relief was enormous” for family members who were able to communicate with their loved ones for the first time in as many as four years and to finally learn of their loved ones’ wishes to stay alive.

Jane Huggins, who runs the Direct Brain Interface Laboratory at the University of Michigan, says that no one knows exactly how many patients suffer from locked-in syndrome but an estimate by a Dutch researcher put the number as high as 150’000 in that country alone.

Birbaumer hopes to further develop the technology so that patients may one day be able to select letters using his interface and communicate further than just “yes” or “no” replies.

Mark Zuckerberg Drops Property Lawsuits to Force Sale of Hawaiian Lands

Jan. 28 (UPI) — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has decided to drop a series of lawsuits to buy plots of lands in Hawaii after public backlash.

Zuckerberg published a letter in the local Hawaiian newspaper The Garden Island saying it was clear the decision to file the suits over his ownership of the beachfront property on the island of Kauai was a mistake.

“To find a better path forward, we are dropping our quiet title actions and will work together with the community on a new approach,” he said. “We understand that for native Hawaiians, kuleana are sacred and the quiet title process can be difficult. We want to make this right, talk with the community, and find a better approach.”

Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan purchased the 700-acre waterfront estate on Kauai for $100 million in 2014 and filed a series of eight lawsuits to buy out several hundred people’s stake of 13 plots on eight acres partitioned during the 1850s, according to USA Today.

He initially defended the move, saying the purpose of the quiet title action was to identify property owners who were unaware of their stake in the land, according to Forbes.

“Quiet title actions are the standard and prescribed process to identify all potential co-owners, determine ownership, and ensure that, if there are other co-owners, each receives appropriate value for their ownership share,” Zuckerberg’s lawyer, Keoni Schultz, said earlier in January.

The suit was met with heavy criticism by some Hawaiians including a group who planned to protest outside Zuckerberg’s estate on Saturday.

Zuckerberg said he initially misunderstood the quiet title process and hoped to work with the community to find a better solution.

“Upon reflection, I regret that I did not take the time to fully understand the quiet title process and its history before we moved ahead. Now that I understand the issues better, it’s clear we made a mistake,” he said. “The right path is to sit down and discuss how to best move forward. We will continue to speak with community leaders that represent different groups, including native Hawaiians and environmentalists, to find the best path.”

Many of the plots of land involved in the suits are “kuleana lands” which were granted to native Hawaiian tenant farmers between 1850 and 1855 and hold special rights including access, agricultural uses, gathering, water and fishing rights.

Zuckerberg said 72-year-old retired University of Hawaii professor Carlos Andrade is the only inhabitant of the kuleana lands belonging to his great grandfather Manuel Rapozo.

Andrade, who was a co-plaintiff with Zuckerberg in some of the suits, will continue to pursue the cases to clear up titles on the land belonging to his family.