Archive for January, 2012

Apple hits a new all-time high

January 31st, 2012 by Mariah

Apple (AAPL) capped a post-earnings surge by closing Tuesday at $456.48, a new all-time record high.

In intraday trading it reached as high as $458.24, also a record.

Measured by market capitalization (price per share times number of shares outstanding), Apple is now worth more than $425 billion, making it the world’s most valuable company by far.

No. 2 Exxon Mobil (XOM) trails by nearly $24 billion.

Speaking of oil companies, Neowin’s Owen Williams points out that according to the Wikipedia chartcopied below the fold, Apple’s net profit of $13.06 billion last quarter ranks as the fourth largest of all time. What’s interesting about the list is that Apple is the only company on it that’s not in the oil and gas business.

Deadline passes; Occupy DC remains

January 31st, 2012 by Mariah

Washington (CNN) – Living in a public park as a means of protest is not protected by the First Amendment, a federal judge said Tuesday in rejecting an Occupy DC demonstrator’s request to keep park police from enforcing a ban on camping.

Dane Charles Primarano sought a temporary restraining order prohibiting the National Park Service and its police department from taking action against protesters found sleeping in or in possession of camping gear in Washington’s McPherson Park and Freedom Square.

Primarano, who represented himself, argued that camping at the park is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. Judge James Boasberg disagreed, saying it is a matter of public policy, not constitutional law.

The setback for protesters came on the first full day of the camping ban enforced by U.S. Park Police. Authorities told protesters Monday that they had to remove camping gear such as sleeping bags and housekeeping materials but could keep their tents so long as one flap remains open at all times.

Protesters said Tuesday that police had told them they had “a few hours” to remove a large blue tarp they had draped over a statue of the park’s namesake, Civil War Gen. James B. McPherson. Protesters have dubbed the tarp, covered with stars, the “tent of dreams.”

They decided later to let police decide what to do with the tarp. Authorities did not immediately remove it.

Separately, an unidentified man attempted to tear the tarp down. He was stopped by protesters and removed by police.

Protesters who had struggled to stay awake overnight vowed to stay strong early Tuesday.

“I had more fun in the park last night than the whole time I’ve been here,” said demonstrator Amanda Rickard. “We were out here playing guitar, singing, playing drums, Scrabble, card games, you know, just stuff to keep us busy so we can stay here and stay awake.”

But one protester said he wouldn’t be surprised if the mandate against camping gear and sleeping in the park takes its toll on protesters.

“To be honest, I don’t know how long we can keep this up,” Kevin Wiley said after a sleepless night.

It was clear protesters did not like the rules. “No justice, no sleep,” one protester scrawled on a tent.

Another sign, written in white paint on a blue tarp, said: “Evicted from home by the banks. Evicted from the tent by the police. 99% has no safe place to rest.”

But Wiley said they were trying to abide by the rules to “show we are law-abiding citizens.”

“We’re not out here just trying to have a good time. We are out here for a political message,” he said.

Protesters had made arrangements to sleep off-site in shifts, said Rickard, who acknowledged nodding off for about 10 minutes overnight.

In another court hearing Tuesday on a case brought by Occupy DC protesters, Boasberg said he would rule within two days on a request that park officials be prohibited from seizing tents and other property without evidence of a crime, an emergency or a warrant.

Occupy DC is part of a larger activist surge that began last year in New York and quickly spread across the country.

While the protesters have highlighted a number of causes, the overarching theme has remained largely the same: populist anger over what activists portray as an out-of-touch corporate, financial and political elite.

On Monday, City Hall in Oakland, California, reopened after a violent weekend clash between police and protesters that resulted in about 400 arrests. Authorities said protesters broke into the building and committed acts of vandalism inside.

Police in Charlotte, North Carolina, also dismantled several tents at an Occupy camp there.

“We’re doing the right thing, peacefully and quietly,” protester Malachi Vinson told CNN affiliate WCNC. “We’re expressing ourselves in a better way than anyone else would.”

Party over for Zuckerberg?

January 31st, 2012 by Mariah

(CNN) — We all knew he’d eventually get around to it: Mark Zuckerberg is expected to finally bring Facebook public. The company is reported to be preparing to file for an IPO — initial public offering — through which anyone will be able to buy shares of the social networking company on an open stock exchange.

 

As a media theorist, I used to ignore these business shenanigans. Who cares if these companies are private or public, profitable or in the red? How many non-Wall-Street-Journal readers even knew what an IPO was back before the Internet created the likes of AOL, Netscape, and Google?

 

But the fact is we do now think about the stock market. Many of us are aware that Apple’s market capitalization is fast approaching half a trillion dollars, making it either the largest or second-largest company in the world behind Exxon Mobil – depending on the week. So when we hear that Facebook is preparing for an IPO that will likely dwarf

 

Google’s entrance to the public markets in 2004, particularly considering that the company doesn’t sell tangible goods or services in the traditional sense, we can’t help but wonder what this will mean for the future of Facebook, its users, its competitors, and the greater economy.

 

The way it appears at first glance – particularly for those who have been following Mr. Zuckerberg since he launched “The Facebook” from his college dorm or, better, those who have seen the movie “The Social Network” – is that the Zuckerberg juggernaut is continuing unabated.

 

This new form of media — social networking — will not only redefine the Internet, change human relationships, create a new marketing landscape, and challenge Google, but it will now rescue and alter the economy itself. Like virtual kudzu, it will infiltrate the financial markets, creating new sorts of opportunities for this peer-to-peer “social” economy to take root. We will all make our living playing Farmville, or designing new versions of it, or investing in companies that do.

 

In reality, however, I don’t think we are witnessing Facebook’s victory over the financial markets as much as its acquiescence to them. Yes, Apple challenged Microsoft for software supremacy, just as Facebook now challenges Google for Internet supremacy. But there’s another operating system churning away beneath all this high tech activity, and it’s called corporate capitalism. If a company is big enough — and that means simply holding enough money — then sooner or later that money influences the rest of the company’s activities.

 

In Facebook’s case, it meant approaching the legal limit of 500 investors, which triggers a requirement to open the books to regulatory scrutiny. It also meant dealing with a few thousand coveted employees who took jobs at Facebook instead of Google or Apple or anywhere else because they were hoping to get in on a big thing. The promise of cashing in a few million dollars worth of stock options helps many a programmer make it through a late night of coding.

 

The same goes for those who invested in Zuckerberg five or more years ago and want to cash in before the “social web” bubble pops, if it’s going to. Facebook was taking so long to get to market that many people had begun selling their shares privately on what are known as secondary markets, putting Facebook’s valuation even further out of the company’s own hands.

 

Simply becoming a multi-billion-dollar company changes the essence of its goals, activities, and purpose. Its bloodstream becomes filled with cash, and cash has its own agenda. For just like print, TV, or the Internet, money is a medium, too. It has biases, or tendencies, programmed right into it. The kind of money we happen to use — bank-issued central currency — is biased toward lending. That’s why we call our system “capitalism.” It’s about the capital: Our money is designed to favor those who lend it to others who actually use it to build companies or create value.

 

The more money a company takes in, the more obligated it becomes to function in accordance with the properties and rules of money. For example, since becoming public, Google has had to prove its devotion to its shareholders’ interests by cutting pet programs, showing earnings’ growth, and demonstrating focus over big dreams. Out with public experiments like Google Labs, in with products like Android try to compete with Apple’s iOS and G+ to compete with Facebook. No more touting that employees get 20% of their work hours to do whatever they want. It’s a real corporation, now, and has to behave like one.

 

By all accounts, Zuckerberg was trying to delay this eventuality as long as possible. He knows that becoming the CEO of a public company will not be nearly as much fun, or as free, as running an Internet startup.

However much we may not like his vision for our future, his primary purpose was to change the world. He wanted to create the operating system on which human social activity took place.

 

What he has ultimately succumbed to, however, is the fact that Facebook was running on top of another operating system all along. Instead of revolutionizing our reality, by filing an IPO Mark Zuckerberg is finally getting with the program.

North Korea denies punishing citizens for not mourning enough

January 16th, 2012 by Mariah

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) — North Korea has angrily denied allegations that it punished some of its citizens for inadequately mourning the death of its late leader Kim Jong Il.

Kim died last month after 17 years of repressive rule over the secretive state, setting off deep uncertainty about North Korea’s future.

The North Korean regime commemorated his death with elaborately choreographed ceremonies broadcast on state-run media that showed crowds of mourners beating their chests and wailing with grief in the snow-covered streets of Pyongyang.

Over the weekend, a report from the state-run Korean Central News Agency lashed out at “misinformation” that citizens who had “failed to show tears at memorial services were sent to a concentration camp.”

It attributed the allegations to “reptile media under the control” of a group of “traitors” that it said were connected to President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea.

The news agency appeared to be referring to a report last week by the South Korean news website Daily NK, which monitors developments in the North through a network of sources inside the country.

Citing an unidentified person in North Korea, Daily NK reported that “the authorities are handing down at least six months in a labor-training camp to anybody who didn’t participate in the organized gatherings during the mourning period, or who did participate but didn’t cry and didn’t seem genuine.”

The president of Daily NK, Park In-ho, said that the information for its report had come from a North Korean citizen in North Hamgyong Province, which borders China. The unidentified North Korean relayed the information to a Daily NK reporter using an illegal Chinese mobile phone — commonly used items among people living in the border areas — Park said.

Information from the North is usually communicated to Daily NK reporters in China, who then pass it on to South Korea, according to Park.

North Korea significantly restricts the ability of international news organizations to freely report within its territory.

Daily NK was founded and then spun off by the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights Network, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote human rights in North Korea. Daily NK has received tens of thousands of dollars in funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. nonprofit organization that is supported financially by the U.S. Congress through the Department of State.

The Korean Central News Agency report over the weekend expressed anger that the Daily NK report had coincided with Pyongyang’s own announcement of a prisoner amnesty in connection with the birthdays this year of two late North Korean dictators — Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of the North Korean nation.

“This evil deed could be done only by the despicable guys hell-bent on letting loose invectives and telling lies,” the KCNA report said.

North Korea has not specified how many prisoners will be released under amnesty, due to begin February 1.

International organizations estimate that the North Korean regime holds approximately 200,000 political prisoners.

Two survivors rescued from grounded cruise ship

January 16th, 2012 by Mariah

Porto Santo Stefano, Italy (CNN) — Rescuers reached two trapped honeymooners in the interior of a cruise ship more than 24 hours after it ran aground off a picturesque Italian island, killing three people, injuring 20 and leaving dozens unaccounted for.

The South Korean passengers, each 29, heard searchers calling out on the Costa Concordia, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported early Sunday. They were located in a cabin and taken ashore. Video showed them being taken to a waiting ambulance.

The captain of the ill-fated vessel, which turned over on its side after the grounding, was arrested late Saturday and was being investigated for abandoning ship and manslaughter, a local prosecutor said.

With perhaps up to 50 people unaccounted for, divers suspended their efforts at dark, with plans to resume the search in the azure waters off the island of Giglio at dawn Sunday.

Accounts of the chaos from many of the 3,200 passengers were reminiscent of a maritime disaster 100 years ago this April — the loss of the RMS Titanic.

“For me, the worst part of the whole ordeal” was when a lifeboat crew member told those boarding that it was “women and children first,” said passenger Benji Smith of Boston.

“All these families who were clinging to each other had to be separated,” Smith told CNN.

Some passengers fell into the chilly waters during the rescue, ANSA reported.

Questions abounded: Why was the colossal ship so close to the shore? How fast was it moving? How well did the crew respond? According to many passengers, the evacuation was disorganized and no one seemed in charge.

“Every crew member who walked past shouted instructions, but the instructions contradicted each other,” Smith said.

Concordia’s captain, Francesco Schettino, was interviewed earlier Saturday about what happened when the ship struck rocks in shallow water off Italy’s western coast Friday evening, said officer Emilio Del Santo of the Coastal Authorities of Livorno. Local fishermen say the island coast of Giglio is known for its rocky sea floor.

Schettino said “that rock was not indicated on the chart,” according to ANSA. “Me and the crew, we were the last to abandon ship,” he said.

The ship was 2.5 miles off route when it struck the rocky sandbar.

“There are rocks, they are on the maps,” said Capt. Cosimo Nicastro of the Italian Coast Guard. “What we know is the ship went really close to these rocks. … We don’t yet know why.”

The ship began taking on water Friday evening and the crew kept going because they believed the vessel could normally keep sailing, Nicastro said. Realizing there was a significant safety problem, the commander steered the Costa Concordia closer toward port.

Authorities also were looking at why the ship didn’t hail a mayday during the accident.

“At the moment we can’t exclude that the ship had some kind of technical problem, and for this reason moved towards the coast in order to save the passengers, the crew and the ship. But they didn’t send a mayday. The ship got in contact with us once the evacuation procedures were already ongoing,” Del Santo said prior to the announcement of the captain’s arrest.

Giuseppe Orsina, a spokesman with the local civil protection agency, said 43 to 51 people were missing, though authorities are reviewing passenger lists to confirm the exact figure.

“These people could be still on the island of Giglio, in private houses or in hospitals,” Orsina said.

Two French tourists and a crew member from Peru were killed, Port authorities in Livorno said. One of the victims was a 65-year-old woman who died of a heart attack, according to authorities.

Nautilus International, a maritime employees trade union, called the accident a “wake-up call” to regulators.

“Nautilus is concerned about the rapid recent increases in the size of passenger ships — with the average tonnage doubling over the past decade,” said Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson in a statement. “Many ships are now effectively small towns at sea, and the sheer number of people onboard raises serious questions about evacuation.”

Gianni Onorato, president of Genoa-based Costa Cruises, expressed “deep sorrow for this terrible tragedy,” but said the cruise line was unable to answer all the questions that authorities are now investigating.

The vessel, plying the waters from Civitavecchia to Savona, Italy, struck a submerged rock, Onorato said in a statement before the announcement of the captain’s arrest.

“Captain Schettino, who was on the bridge at the time, immediately understood the severity of the situation and performed a maneuver intended to protect both guests and crew, and initiated security procedures to prepare for an eventual ship evacuation,” he continued. “Unfortunately, that operation was complicated by a sudden tilting of the ship that made disembarkation difficult,” Onorato said.

Rosalyn Rincon, a member of the cruise ship staff, said the captain told passengers there was an “electrical problem.”

Concordia was carrying about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members when it ran aground.

“I’m not surprised that it (the ship) would wind up tipping like this,” said Neil Gallagher, professor of naval architecture at the Webb Institute on Long Island, New York. “Something had to go wrong with either the controls or the navigation to get it to this condition.”

Chris B. McKesson, adjunct professor of naval architecture at the School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at the University of New Orleans, said, “from the size of the gash, she must have been steaming at a pretty good pace.”

Fear and panic aboard crippled ship

Panic spread as people scrambled to find lifeboats in the dark as the ship quickly leaned to one side late Friday. Access to some lifeboats was hampered by the ship’s tilt into the water.

With the ship’s staircases flooded, Smith and others made rope ladders to climb from the outer fourth deck to the third. They were eventually rescued more than three hours later by a lifeboat that had returned from dropping passengers ashore.

At least three lifeboats, each with a capacity of more than 100 people, apparently malfunctioned due to technical or crew error, Smith said. “The people manning these boats were just cooks and shopkeepers,” Smith said.

Cmdr. Buddy Reams, chief of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise, said, “when it comes to cruise ships, in the event of emergency, cabin stewards or others would have safety roles,” he said.

The Coast Guard inspects foreign-flagged cruise ships in U.S. waters twice a year, studying the competency of the crew during fire and abandon-ship drills, Reams said.

Many passengers asked why they had not yet received an obligatory safety briefing when disaster struck around dinner time, only hours into their journey. The timing of the safety briefings and muster drills depend on the length of the cruise, Reams told CNN.

Many of those rescued in the early hours were taken to small churches and other buildings around the island for shelter. Some were still wearing the pajamas and slippers they had on as the ship went down.

Vivian Shafer, a passenger from Maryland, told CNN there was no initial announcement after the vessel began its tilt. Others reported being unable to clearly hear instructions.

Once ashore, no one from the crew assisted them, Shafer said. Rather, it was up to islanders.

“There didn’t seem to be anybody in charge,” she said.

Costa Cruises, owned by parent company Carnival Corp., said it was focusing on the final stages of the emergency operation and helping passengers and crew return home.

“It is a tragedy that deeply affects our company. Our first thoughts go to the victims and we would like to express our condolences and our closeness to their families and friends,” the line said on its website.

The Concordia, built in 2006, was on a Mediterranean cruise from Rome with stops in Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo.

Most of the passengers on board were Italian. CNN affiliate America Noticias, in Peru, said a group of 32 Peruvians were also onboard. Brazil’s state-run Agencia Brasil said 53 Brazilians were on the cruise ship. An estimated 126 Americans were also on board, according to the U.S. State Department. There were no reports of injured Americans though the U.S. Embassy in Rome said it was unable to account for all U.S. citizens believed to be on board the ship at the time of the accident.

Another Costa ship was involved in a deadly 2010 accident when the Costa Europa crashed into a pier in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh during stormy weather, killing three crew members.

Costa Cruise Ship Search Suspended

January 16th, 2012 by Mariah

Giglio, Italy (CNN) — The search for survivors and victims aboard the partially sunken cruise ship Costa Concordia was suspended Monday because the vessel began to move, said the mayor of the nearby island of Giglio, Sergio Ortelli.

The cruise ship hit rocks and rolled onto its side over the weekend, leaving at least six people dead.

Its owner is due to speak to the media Monday morning and may clear up questions about what caused the disaster.

Italian prosecutors ruled out Monday a technical error, saying the captain was on the bridge at the time of the accident and had made a “grave error.”

Captain Francesco Schettino is under arrest and may face charges including manslaughter, shipwreck, and abandoning a ship when passengers were still on board, Italian prosecutor Francesco Verusio said.

Schettino faces up to 15 years in prison, Verusio said.

The captain has not yet been interrogated, but more than 100 witnesses, including passengers and crew, have been questioned, the prosecutor said.

Prosecutors are examining the ship’s data recorder and expect to have results within days, he said.

They are also considering whether others may share responsibility for the crash with the captain.

Schettino has said on Italian television that the rocks he hit were not marked on his map.

Divers had been searching the skyscraper-sized ship, working underwater in pitch blackness, in hopes of finding about 16 people still missing after the wreck. There were roughly 4,200 people on the Costa Concordia when it ran aground Friday evening off Giglio.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry named one of the victims Monday as Guillermo Gual Buades, 68, saying his family had identified him.

The disaster will cost the ship’s owner $85 million to $95 million in the fiscal year to November, parent company Carnival Corporation said Monday — not including “other costs to the business that are not possible to determine at this time.”

The ship is expected to be out of service “for the remainder of the current fiscal year if not longer,” the company said.

The captain of the ill-fated cruise ship may have made “significant” errors that led to wreck, the cruise line said late Sunday.

“The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and the captain’s judgment in handling the emergency appears to have not followed standard Costa procedures,” Costa Cruises said in a statement.

Schettino joined Costa Cruises as a safety officer in 2002 before being appointed captain four years later, the company said.

First officer Ciro Ambrosio was being detained for questioning on similar charges, prosecutor Verusio said.

Even with its admission that mistakes were made, the Genoa-based cruise company defended the ship’s crew in the face of criticism.

“It is becoming clear that the crew of the Costa Concordia acted bravely and swiftly to help evacuate more than 4,000 individuals during a very challenging situation,” the company said, adding all crew members are trained and the passengers earlier took part in an evacuation drill.

Survivors have described the scene — after the ship hit rocks near Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany, and turned over on its side — as “chaos.”

“It was just battling, mad scrambles,” American student Brandon Warrick said of the fight to board lifeboats, describing it as “a giant every man for himself.”

His sister Amanda said she feared she was going to die as they waited for up to two hours for rescue.

“Waiting was definitely the worst. Because we didn’t know who was going to be coming, how much longer we would have to wait,” she said.

Authorities have said at least 20 people were injured due to the incident, in addition to those killed.

That death toll includes two elderly people whose bodies were found, with their life jackets on, near one of the ship’s restaurants, Italian Coast Guard spokesman Capt. Cosimo Nicastro told reporters Sunday.

Hours earlier, crews rescued a ship employee trapped in a ship restaurant.

The man — an Italian purser whose name was not released — was suffering from hypothermia when rescue crews found him, said Commander Filippo Marini, a spokesman for the Port Authority of Porto Santo Stefano.

Authorities are reviewing passenger lists to confirm the exact number of missing people, said Giuseppe Orsina, a spokesman with the local civil protection agency. Many of those rescued in the early hours were taken to small churches and other buildings around the island for shelter. Some were still wearing the pajamas and slippers they had on as the ship went down.

“These people could be still on the island of Giglio, in private houses or in hospitals,” Orsina said.

The U.S. Embassy in Italy, on its Twitter feed, said two of the 120 Americans who were aboard the ship still had not been accounted for. It was not clear Sunday as to the nationalities of other missing people, with CNN affiliates having reported Italians, Peruvians, Brazilians, French and Britons were all represented on the ship.

All 109 Russians on board have been accounted for, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced late Sunday.

There were fears the death toll could rise as rescuers searched the ship, which was nearly 50% submerged and had a gash in its hull, authorities said.

Questions and criticism continue about what caused the shipwreck and the adequacy of the response.

Speaking on Italian television, the ship’s captain insisted the rocks that the Concordia hit were not marked on his map.

“On the nautical chart, it was marked just as water,” Schettino said, adding that the ship was about 328 yards (300 meters) from shore.

But Nicastro, the Coast Guard spokesman, insisted that the waters where the ship ran aground were well-mapped. Local fishermen say the island coast of Giglio is known for its rocky sea floor.

“Every danger in this area is on the nautical chart,” Nicastro said. “This is a place where a lot of people come for diving and sailing. … All the dangers are known.”

He said the Coast Guard was investigating why the ship took the course it did.

“We know where the ship was,” he said. “We know it was too close to the island. … We don’t know why.”

Italian prosecutors seized the ship’s data recorders Saturday. Costa Cruses said Sunday that it can only access that information with authorities’ permission.

Built in 2006, the Concordia had been on a Mediterranean cruise from Rome with stops in Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo.

The ship was carrying about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members when it ran aground and began taking on water Friday night.

The crew kept going because they believed the vessel could continue sailing normally, said Nicastro, the Coast Guard spokesman. Realizing there was a significant safety problem, the commander steered the Costa Concordia closer toward the port of Giglio, he said.

Authorities are looking at why the ship didn’t send a mayday during the accident.

Besides the two elderly people, the dead include two French tourists and a crew member from Peru, port authorities in Livorno said. One of the victims was a 65-year-old woman who died of a heart attack, authorities said.

New law aims to speed screening of military personel

January 5th, 2012 by Mariah

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Members of the military may get expedited treatment at airport security checkpoints under a law signed Tuesday by President Obama.

The law, authored by Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minnesota, requires the Transportation Security Administration to study ways to speed up screening of service members and, to the extent possible, their families, when the service members are in uniform and traveling on orders.

Cravaack, a 24-year Navy veteran and former Northwest Airlines pilot, was inspired to introduce the bill after witnessing a soldier remove his boots while going through security at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

“It seemed way too excessive for someone who was obviously a patriot serving his country,” said the congressman’s spokesman, Michael Bars.

The new law was signed just days after two incidents involving the same soldier at airports in North Carolina and Texas.

According to court records, Trey Scott Atwater, a 30-year-old Army Green Beret, had a military smoke grenade in his bag when he was leaving Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Christmas Eve headed for Texas. He was allowed to continue on his trip.

On Saturday, he was arrested at Midland International Airport in Texas on his return trip when TSA screeners found an undisclosed amount of C-4 explosives in his bag. Authorities said Atwater did not have a detonator and initiator, that it would not have been possible to detonate the explosives, and that it did not appear he was up to anything nefarious.

It was not immediately clear how any checkpoint changes would impact cases like Atwater’s. Bars said the new law is intended to expedite screening, but not reduce security. Currently, the TSA expedites screening for trusted travelers by dedicating a special line for them, and by allowing them to keep their shoes on and keep laptops in their carry-on bags.

The new law says the TSA should establish guidelines for screening travelers in military uniforms and combat boots, and consider incorporating military personnel into trusted traveler programs that give preference to passengers who undergo pre-screening. Nothing in the law prohibits additional screening of the service member if intelligence or law enforcement information indicates that additional screening is necessary.

In November, TSA Administrator John Pistole told CNN that he was already working on ways to expedite screening for service members. The TSA was starting to tests its ability to scan military ID cards, known as “Common Access Cards,” at a regional airport in Monterey, CA.

Pistole said the TSA test would not immediately result in quicker screening for service members. But if tests are successful, “we hope to expand that to airports that would have a large number of military personnel traveling through them,” he said.

Supporters of the initiative said that by expediting the screening of military personnel, the TSA will have more time to focus on unknown travelers who could present a higher risk.”

China to open luxury hotel on Soviet aircraft carrier

January 5th, 2012 by Mariah

International luxury hotels are popping up on the horizon in China faster than ever, but affluent Chinese travelers have indicated a new desire for accommodation — somewhere more historic, alternative and … communist.

A former Soviet aircraft carrier under renovation in Tianjin is set to become China’s first ex-naval hotel in 2012.

Running dogs rejoice!

US$15 million for an aircraft carrier hotel

The future luxury hotel is part of Binhai Aircraft (天津滨海航母主题公园), an 80,000-square-meter military theme park opened in 2004 in east Tianjin. The government-supported park is built on and around a retired Kiev-class Soviet aircraft carrier, named Kiev (辅号), which was sold to China in 1996.

The park’s parent company is reported to have spent an estimated US$15 million on the transformation and finished the refitting of three presidential suites last August. The largest suite occupies 400 square meters.

Although Chinese and international media have reported the opening of the hotel, according to Binhai Aircraft’s vice marketing manager, Liu, the majority of the 148 hotel rooms aren’t finished. The company plans to open the hotel to the public sometime in 2012.

Liu noted that the company receives requests every year from visitors hoping to stay overnight on the Kiev, especially in the cabins in which sailors and officers once slept.

“The hotel will serve as a unique experience for a high-end clientele,” Liu told us. “It will not be ranked by stars, nor will it have a swimming pool or a gym.”

Aircraft carrier restaurant

While the aircraft carrier hotel has yet to welcome guests, Binhai Aircraft soft-opened the hotel’s restaurant on December 22, 2011, calling it “the world’s first Western restaurant on an aircraft carrier.”

Decked out in black, green and white, the 30-seat restaurant pays tribute to the Kiev’s heritage by serving mostly Russian dishes.

The aircraft carrier restaurant is now receiving guests by appointment.

More Soviet aircraft carriers in China

Two decades after the crumbling of the Soviet Union, China has managed to transform its neighbor’s once-formidable military machinery into popular tourist attractions.

China has purchased three of the ex-Soviet Union’s most powerful aircraft carriers.

One of them nearly became a casino near Macau. The other two have been repurposed as military theme parks, one in Shenzhen and the other, Kiev, in Tianjin.

iPad can double as passport?

January 5th, 2012 by Mariah

Forgot your passport? There’s an iPad for that.

At least in the singular case of a Montreal photographer who left home without the important document on his way to the United States. Martin Reisch said he was able to show a scanned copy of his passport to an American border guard and was given entry into the U.S., according to news reports.

To be sure, the incident was not without trepidation. “There was a slight hesitation; he didn’t really seem like he was impressed,” Reisch told CBC News. But the guard soon gave him back his iPad, and he was on his way to Vermont.

But isn’t this be a technological breakthrough? Could this be the Apple-white dawn of a new age of digital facsimile?What would Steve Jobs have thought?

“He’d probably say: ‘Here’s something to work on for the future.’ Maybe have some kind of digital certification or encryption to let people travel like this,”Reisch told The Montreal Gazette.

The only problem? A scanned or photocopied passport is not usually accepted.

According to the Canadian Border Services Agency, Canadian citizens entering the U.S. are required to present either a passport; a valid photo ID; NEXUS or FAST cards, which are frequent traveler programs between the two countries; or a certificate verifying a person’s Indian status.

Brian Masse, a member of the Canadian Parliament, told the Gazette that a scanned copy “is not a secure document. That could be altered, and could also lead to some precedents that would jeopardize (border) security.”

Reisch told the paper, “I hope the biggest thing to come out of this is that it becomes a catalyst to change the rules.”

What do you think? Is it time for a digital ID?

Should your mate get your airline upgrade?

January 5th, 2012 by Mariah

(CNN) – When it comes to relationship minefields, watch out for frequent flier miles.

Airline status can seriously test a romance, as lovers suddenly find themselves divided into elites or non-elites — with access to either lots of perks or just no-frills transportation.

If you’re the globetrotting spouse who gets an unexpected upgrade, should you keep it, offer it to your less-traveled mate stuck in coach, or just give it up all together?

Technically, there’s no “you have to,” said Lizzie Post, etiquette expert, author and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute.

“There’s nothing that says if the man gets it he should give it to his wife, or if the partner who travels more gets it they should give it to the one who doesn’t,” Post said.

Still, the person with the upgrade should consider what would be the best for his or her mate, she advised. But just because the frequent flier doesn’t offer up the upgrade, or winds up taking it, doesn’t suggest he or she is out of line or rude or not chivalrous, Post said.

It’s a dilemma that can provoke strong feelings on both sides.

“This sort of almost falls into the category of babies on planes. It just stirs the pot,” said Gary Leff, a frequent flier who shares strategies for making the most of traveler loyalty programs on his blog, View from the Wing.

Take Pat Baird and Diane Pallissard, who live in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, and recently became engaged.

He is the frequent flier in the relationship — jetting off for business every week and accruing about 50,000 miles a year — so he often gets upgrades when he travels. She does not.

That sometimes leads to “you-take-the-seat-honey-no-you-take-the-seat” kinds of arguments when they end up booking a trip together in coach and discover Baird has received a last-minute pass to the premium cabin.

‘My girl should get the upgrade’

Baird, 43, feels it’s only right and chivalrous to let his fiancée have the upgrade, but Pallissard, 47, cringes at the thought of taking advantage of a perk Baird has earned through lots of arduous travel.

So when Baird was upgraded on a recent flight from Munich, Germany, to Chicago, Pallissard declined his many offers to swap seats and stayed behind in economy class.

But when a similar situation came up just before a flight last month from Portland, Oregon, to Chicago, she gave in.

“I felt terribly guilty. I kept telling him, ‘No, no, you’re the one who has been spending so much time on airplanes lately, you take the seat,’” Pallissard said.

“Finally he insisted, so I took it, but I felt bad, because I felt like he’s the one who earned it so he should be the one who has it.”

Baird, on the other hand, was perfectly pleased.

“She’s my girl and my girl should get the upgrade,” he said. “I’m gone so much, I don’t get a chance to pamper my lady. So if she can sit with (a few) more inches of legroom for four hours, then why not?”

Leaving your spouse in coach

Other fliers are apparently not so generous with their mates. When the crew on Baird’s flight found out that he had given up his upgrade for his fiancée, they were floored, he said.

The flight attendants — who were so moved by Baird’s gesture that they snuck him free glasses of wine and a cookie from the premium cabin, he recalled — told Pallissard that business travelers are often perfectly content to relax in first class while their spouses sit in coach.

It’s a sentiment echoed on the message boards on FlyerTalk.com.

“Hubby has left me in the back on several occasions,” one flier posted.

“Wow, and you let him live? You must be a very generous person,” another poster responded.

Jared Blank, who writes the blog Online Travel Review, recalled how he took an upgrade 10 years ago while his then-fiancée sat in coach.

“I cannot imagine why she married me after I allowed that to happen,” he wrote recently. Blank made up for it during a flight last month, when he gave his wife his upgraded ticket and sat in economy with their kids.

Going for compromise

Some couples decide who gets the upgrade based on which spouse has more work to do on a flight and needs the extra room and comfort.

Still other travelers try to “split” the upgraded seat — with one person spending half the flight in the premium cabin, then heading back to coach to let the other spouse enjoy the perk for the rest of the journey.

It doesn’t always work out.

Jennifer, who used to fly more than 100,000 miles a year, was returning from Hawaii to New York with her husband two years ago when she qualified for an upgrade, but he did not. (Jennifer asked that her last name not be used for this story because she edits theDeals We Like blog and prefers to write anonymously.)

The couple decided she would take the comfy seat in business class and switch with him halfway through the flight. But he never came up to initiate the seat change and she wasn’t going to volunteer, she said. As a gesture of thanks, she asked a flight attendant to send him a “massive ice cream sundae” back to coach.

“Typically, if it is a short flight I will forgo the upgrade and sit with my husband if we both cannot get upgraded,” Jennifer said.

“For longer flights, I will never decline the upgrade. While I love sitting next to my husband, you just cannot beat a business class seat.”

The ‘Captain Kirk approach’

Leff, who flies about 100,000 miles a year, said there’s definitely more pressure on the man to give up an upgraded seat to his mate. But because he and his wife put a premium on sitting together during a flight, they would rather forgo an upgrade altogether than sit apart.

“Comfort is one thing, but marriage is something else,” Leff said. “I would not, under any circumstances, take the upgraded seat when she was left in coach. … I think there is also some truth in the maxim ‘happy wife, happy life.’ “

But Leff also takes what he calls a “Captain Kirk” approach to the dilemma, likening it to the Kobayashi Maru training exercise on “Star Trek”: a seemingly no-win situation that Kirk solved by refusing to accept the constraints of the scenario.

“I reject the premise in which one of us gets upgraded, because the only acceptable solution is for us both to be upgraded and my job is to ensure that that is the case,” Leff said.

What do you do when you’re faced with this situation? Let us know in the comments below.