Monthly Archives: July 2018

31Jul 2018

HP Offers Up to $10000 Rewards for Printer Bugs – Threatpost

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31Jul 2018

HotelTonight wants to wow more millennials by gamifying travel booking – Fast Company

HotelTonight, the mobile app that lets you book last-minute discounted hotel rooms, is making a bigger play for millennial stays. On Tuesday, the startup announced a new feature called Daily Drop, which promises a guaranteed 30% off online travel agency room rates.

It’s meant to be a funner, more rewarding experience for users looking to snag the ultimate deal. The time-bound, countdown-led Daily Drop is unlike other online booking deals, which usually offer discounts on unknown hotels. The feature needs to be “unlocked” by the user, and joins a host of other features, such as secret amenity searches, using emojis. The idea is to “gamify” travel booking, though it’s unclear how much sway such features have on the booking experience.

A HotelTonight rep says hotels are keen to partner with app on the new service–offering uncharacteristically discounted prices–in hopes of accessing younger audiences “who are high-value, incremental bookers.”

[Photo: courtesy of HotelTonight]

HotelTonight has had success with previous features, such as geo-tracking users who might need a last-minute bed following big events or experiences. AdWeek recently applauded the company’s ability to zero in on micro-moments, defined as “instances in customers’ decision-making process where a brand can step in with relevant content.”

For example, HotelTonight figured out that traveling die-hard baseball fans might be open to staying over near a stadium should a game run into extra innings. The app monitors games, then alerts those who are still in their seat during the game’s conclusion with a deal in their price range. (It refrains from sending such alerts to those who already left the stadium).

Last-minute deals have become increasingly popular with American travelers. Half of stays are booked within three days of arrival, reports Sojourn, while Google Data found that 50% of mobile users say they now feel comfortable booking their entire trip on their phone.

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31Jul 2018

Aeroplan Miles Targeted by Points Thieves: 5 Ways to Keep Your Miles Safe – NerdWallet (blog)

Aeroplan members are now asked to pay close attention to their balances, as the loyalty program is facing a recent rash of points theft. A small group of frequent Air Canada flyers and mileage collectors are reporting thefts of 100,000 points or more from their accounts.

Although the latest thefts target Aeroplan miles, points fraud can wipe out thousands of dollars in value. In addition to monitoring miles balances, travelers should watch closely for any unauthorized changes to their accounts. You should track your rewards balance as you would your bank account and credit or debit card activity so you can identify fraudulent activity more quickly.

» Learn More: Crooks want your credit card points. Here’s what you need to know to keep your rewards safe.

How to keep your frequent flyer accounts safe

Because points and miles fraud shares some signals with identity theft, there are actions every frequent flyer can take to protect their miles. Including:

  1. Change passwords frequently: Security experts recommend changing frequent flyer account passwords every three to six months. This reduces the chance of identity thieves stealing an active password to an account.
  2. Never click on unrequested “change password” e-mails: Even though they appear to be from the frequent flyer program, these are often “phishing” attempts to steal passwords. When it’s time to change your password, go straight to the website.
  3. Don’t access points and miles accounts on unsecure networks: On an unsecured network, anyone can access transmitted data. When flyers access their accounts on unsecured networks, they may be unwillingly sharing their data with everyone else who is connected.
  4. Don’t share frequent flyer numbers or passwords: With a frequent flyer number or password, identity thieves have everything they need to steal miles. Never share an account number or password.
  5. Contact your frequent flyer program immediately with any changes: If you receive any notifications of account changes, contact your program immediately to alert it.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2018, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more news and advice:
Aeroplan announces future as independent loyalty program
When will my credit card rewards, points and miles expire?
How to reach 2018 travel goals with credit cards

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31Jul 2018

Credit card companies offer points for, well, doing nothing – CNBC

Put down the scissors.

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Banks increasingly are rewarding customers who hold onto their credit cards.

“Loyalty has been the slow boat when it comes to credit card rewards,” said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at “Now we’ve seen a few cards include ongoing bonuses for cardholders to keep using their card.”

The new customer bonuses banks offer created a frenzy, Schulz said, in which many people signed up for a card only to ditch it soon after in pursuit of a new one with new rewards.

Rather than chasing these unfaithful customers, some banks are now working to deepen their current relationships.

“This is an interesting reaction to the peak of the credit card arms race,” Schulz said.

More from Personal Finance:
Credit card debt hits record high
Your credit card’s secret perks
Credit card debt can be bad for your health

For example, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card offers 7,500 points for every additional one year anniversary you share with the card.

A travel card by Barclays doesn’t offer any sign-up bonus, but it doles out up to 25,000 bonus miles for every year that you stay with it, spending a certain amount.

Bank of America now has a card that gives 25 percent more rewards to customers who have at least $20,000 in one of their banking accounts (or in a Merrill Lynch investment account). If you have a $50,000 balance, you’ll get a 50 percent rewards bump. $100,000? A 75 percent increase in rewards. That means you could earn up to 3.5 points per dollar on travel and dining.

This trend is good news for people who don’t want to bother with constantly hunting down the best credit card offers or putting on their strategist hat every time they flip open their wallet.

“It will appeal to a broad swath of of Americans who don’t want to work that hard to get their credit card rewards,” Schulz said.

Indeed, some 40 percent of Americans say they’ve stuck to the same card or haven’t signed up for a new one in over a decade, according to a recent survey by

You’ll still want to read the fine print though. Most of the offers come with a list of stipulations, including minimum amounts you need to spend along with annual fees you need to pay.

Check that the card is compatible with your existing spending habits. For example, you’ll want to make sure you already spend their minimum amount on a credit card, Schulz said. “No one should overspend on a credit card just for rewards,” he said.

“These offers are a big deal because it shows that banks are beginning to grasp a fundamental reality of the credit card space: People don’t change their credit cards very often,” Schulz said. “These cards show the beginning of a gradual shift towards that idea.”

CNBC Make It has ranked the best travel cards, which you can check out here.

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31Jul 2018

These Crypto Nomads Are Using Bitcoin (And Ether) To Travel The World – Forbes

Bitcoin. Litecoin. Ethereum.

Cryptocurrency. What was once seen as a tech fad is now being considered one of the top investment vehicles in the world. Kim Kardashian is even getting into BTC now.

But as speculation drives prices high and low, a small group of enthusiasts are still dedicated to using these currencies for actual monetary exchanges. Call them the crypto nomads.

Thanks to the ease of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum, we’re seeing the rise of crypto nomads in 2018. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

The Rise of Traveling with Crypto

The advent of “greater accessibility in the crypto financial system… helps travelers,” says Laura Shin, the host of crypto podcasts Unchained and Unconfirmed and former Forbes staffer. Shin has been covering the rise of cryptocurrencies for over three years.

There’s a “network effect,” agrees RockItCoin CEO and Founder Michael Dalesandro. The 50-year-old first got into crypto in 2015. Since then, he estimates that he’s seen 60% year-over-year growth of Bitcoin ATM machine installations.

“There are so many benefits of holding crypto over bank accounts and traditional financing,” said Gili Gershonok, a 34-year-old digital nomad who calls the world her home. The Israeli believes that people who are familiar with traveling and living internationally are more accustomed to setting up new bank accounts and might be more attuned to the advantages of having borderless money.

Since 2016, Gershonok trades currencies and sometimes takes freelance gigs in exchange for crypto. Although she generally exchanges it into fiat for day-to-day spending, she tries to use crypto whenever possible, and once even bought a coffee with Litecoin in Prague, the Czech Republic.

Balancing the Nomad Lifestyle with Crypto Trading

For folks using crypto as an investment vehicle, experts recommend buying local SIM cards and paying for data so that you can stay up-to-date on the volatile markets.

Blake Sandall, a digital nomad who trades crypto while traveling the world, opts for his daily crypto updates as SMS messages, rather than emails so that he doesn’t have to worry about connectivity in spotty locations. He purchases local SIM cards on arrival so that he doesn’t have to rely on internet at cafes or in hostels.

Blake Sandall traveled to Everest Base Camp on the profit he made from selling Ethereum in 2018. Photo credit: Blake Sandall.Blake Sandall.

One of Sandall’s most exciting trades was when he sold an ethereum coin in early 2018. He made $960 in profit which he used to finance a trek to Everest Base Camp.

Pending third-party solutions, litecoin and ethereum enthusiasts have found workarounds like buying fiat directly or spending at locations, similar to Gershonok’s purchase in Prague.

An Around-The-World Trip Using Only Bitcoin 

The poster boy for this kind of travel is Felix Weis, a crypto enthusiast who is originally from Luxemburg. In 2015, he spent 18 months traveling the world using only bitcoin, hitting 27 countries all over the globe. His journey featured a mix of hotbeds like Tokyo, Japan as well as less-inclined countries like Cuba, where the lack of high-speed internet makes traveling with crypto a headache.

“Everybody was doing the ice bucket challenge at the time,” recalls Weis.

It was 2015 and not one to be deterred, the then-27-year-old transferred all of his savings into Bitcoin (something he doesn’t personally advise), packed a backpack and made three rules.

  1. He couldn’t use a bank account or credit card.
  2. He couldn’t exchange one national currency into another one.
  3. Most importantly, he needed to pay with bitcoin as often as possible. If he couldn’t pay with Bitcoin, he could use cash that he acquired with a peer-to-peer trade.

His first purchase was an Interrail Pass for one month, so that if the experiment didn’t work, at least he could get back to Germany, where he was based. He used the website AllForBTC  to purchase the ticket. The then-27-year-old also had a backup credit card in case of emergencies, but cut it up after three months when he decided to go all in on bitcoin travel.

Felix Weis in San Francisco, a city so Bitcoin-friendly he said it was almost too easy to be a crypto nomad there. Photo credit: Felix Weis.Felix Weis.

“The hard part once I was already in a location was finding groceries or food or restaurants that accept bitcoin,” says Weis, who is now 30 years old. In some countries like Turkey, where bitcoin penetration was moderate, he had to convince people to accept BTC. Weis relished this challenge and even convinced a Turkish paragliding company to accept cryptocurrency.

“At the time it was a small, very small but vibrant community around bitcoin,” recalls Weis. “It was only in 2017 that it grew to a much larger audience.”

Prepare for the Unexpected

All the digital nomads I spoke with had one peice of advice: if you want to travel with crypto, expect the unexpected.

“One bright day in January, I got disconnected from all my financial means in one minute,” says Gershonok. She was at a resort in Thailand, trying to book a flight out or her next day’s accommodation when all of a sudden she was unable to use any of her accounts. “ This is not for someone who would freak out about not having access to money.”

“The crypto world makes [being a digital nomad] easier,” says Gershonok. “It sets your mind to this idea of being decentralized.”

This is the first in a series on crypto travel. The next post will focus on how to travel using cryptocurrency. The third will highlight the best bitcoin cities in the world. 

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31Jul 2018

Kroger's California subsidiary to bar Visa credit cards amid fee dispute – CNBC

Kroger announced Monday that a California subsidiary will no longer accept Visa credit cards as of mid-August as the two companies clash over payment fees and rates.

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“Visa’s rates and fees are among the highest of any credit card brand,” Foods Co. said in an emailed statement Monday. “The savings will be passed along to Foods Co. customers in the form of low everyday prices on the items shoppers purchase most.”

The ban on Visa credit cards will take effect starting Aug. 14 and affect 21 Foods Co. stores and fuel centers in central and north California. Though stores in major cities like San Francisco and Sacramento will be affected by the change, customers will still be able to use Visa debit cards, MasterCard, American Express and Discover credit cards as usual, the statement added.

“There are ongoing discussions about payment technologies,” Christopher Hjelm, executive vice president and chief information officer at Kroger, told CNBC. “We’ve been working to get the economics right and we are taking a step to make sure we continue to get our customers the best value.”

Visa said it was frustrated with Kroger’s move. “Visa is disappointed at Kroger’s decision to stop accepting Visa credit cards at its Foods Co. stores,” it said in a statement. “When consumer choice is limited, nobody wins. Our goal is to protect the interests of our cardholders to ensure they can use their Visa credit cards wherever they shop. Visa remains committed to working with Kroger to reach a reasonable solution.”

Shares of Visa fell 3 percent Monday amid the news while Kroger’s stock closed up 3.5 percent.

The dispute between Kroger and Visa is just the latest in a string of battles over the tens of billions of dollars merchants pay each year in swipe fees.

For example, the Supreme Court concluded earlier this year that American Express rules that don’t allow merchants to offer promotions or discounts on rival cards that charge them lower fees don’t violate federal antitrust law.

The Justice Department initially sued Amex and its larger rivals Mastercard and Visa, arguing that merchants had no real bargaining power when it came to using their payment services. A lower court had ruled that Amex’s “anti-steering” rules stifled competition.

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30Jul 2018

Air Canada Warns of 'Short Fuse' on Aimia Rewards Plan Offer – Bloomberg

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30Jul 2018

Exclusive: Trump's travel ban is supposed to make exceptions for worthy cases. A new lawsuit alleges it isn't. – Vox

A group of people whose visas have been denied or held in limbo under President Donald Trump’s travel ban are suing the administration in the first lawsuit over the ban since the Supreme Court upheld it in June.

The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California under the name Emami v. Nielsen, names Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and various government agencies as defendants. It was filed by a group of 36 people — some of them visa applicants themselves, some of them the US citizen or permanent-resident family members of visa applicants. Between them, they represent all five of the Muslim-majority countries affected by the current ban. (Vox has uploaded a copy of the complaint in the lawsuit.)

They’re not trying to reopen the question of whether the ban itself is legal or constitutional. Instead, they’re asking the administration to explain how it grants waivers under the ban — and to justify the gap between what the administration portrays as a clear and generous waiver process, and overwhelming anecdotal evidence that people who should be considered for waivers are getting flatly denied or held in administrative limbo.

The Trump administration says that it makes exceptions to its travel ban (which is in effect indefinitely for most people from five Muslim-majority countries and North Korea) for people in particularly compelling circumstances. It’s a key part of the government’s argument that the ban is a thoughtful policy motivated by national security, rather than a backwards-working attempt to satisfy Donald Trump’s campaign-trail promise to shut down Muslim immigration to the US. It’s one of the factors that Chief Justice John Roberts used when ruling for the ban.

But even as the Supreme Court was considering the case, there was substantial evidence that very few people were getting waivers to come to the US — and many more were being rejected.

And while the most recent numbers from the US Department of State indicate that 996 people have been “cleared” for waivers since the ban went fully into effect in December 2017 — and previous stats, from April, indicate that approximately 2 percent of all applicants are cleared — it’s not clear how many of those people have actually gotten their visas — or whether they’ll get visas at all.

“As we’ve been talking to immigrants and assisting people with the waiver process,” says Sirine Shebaya of Muslim Advocates (one of the public-interest groups representing the plaintiffs in this lawsuit), “we’ve come to realize all the ways in which there is no actual process — and, to the extent there is a process, it’s designed to result in near-universal rejection.”

With the ban on the books for good, the hopes of many would-be immigrants, and many US citizens and permanent residents with family members from affected countries, rely on the possibility of getting a waiver. The new lawsuit raises the question of whether that hope is real — or whether the waiver is just, as Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer called it in a dissent from the Court’s opinion, “window dressing.”

A simulated Iranian passport stands at a protest of President Trump’s travel ban in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, on April 25, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

After Trump’s first two attempts at a travel ban were struck down and radically narrowed, respectively, by the courts, he signed a third ban in September 2017. As it stands now, that ban (after modifications in April) stops all would-be immigrants from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States, as well as people on various types of temporary visas (the categories of banned visas vary somewhat by country).

But the travel ban wasn’t supposed to summarily veto literally all affected applications, or stop people from applying to begin with.

Instead, consular officers — the US State Department employees evaluating visa applications at embassies and consulates abroad — were supposed to consider whether applicants met three criteria:

  1. that they would suffer “undue hardship” if not allowed to come to the United States;
  2. that letting them come wouldn’t hurt the US’ national security or public safety, and
  3. that it would be in the “national interest” of the United States to admit them.

If an applicant met all three, the official text of the travel ban said that the consular officer was supposed to grant them a waiver.

The ban listed several hypothetical circumstances in which a waiver “may” be warranted: For example, an applicant who has “significant business or professional obligations” in the US; an applicant trying to visit or move in with a spouse, parent or child who was a US citizen or permanent resident; or an “infant, a young child, an individual needing urgent medical care, or someone whose entry is otherwise justified by the special circumstances of the case.”

As the last of those implies, that list wasn’t supposed to be exhaustive — nor was it supposed to mean that everyone in those circumstances would be granted waivers. Instead, the order Trump signed instructed the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to come up with further guidance about how someone could actually get a waiver.

The existence of a waiver process was one of the factors that led Chief Justice Roberts to conclude that there was a legitimate national security rationale for the travel ban, rather than an intent to discriminate by nationality or religion. But his opinion in Trump v. Hawaii didn’t actually evaluate the question of whether the waiver process was as “robust” as the government claimed. That’s what the lawsuit right now is seeking to answer.

Ismail Alghazali (right) is a US citizen. He’s been living in Djibouti with his wife Hend, a Yemeni national refused a waiver under the travel ban. Their son Khaled, born in February 2018, is a US citizen who has never seen the United States.
Ismail Ahmed Hezam Alghazali

Ismail Alghazali is a 25-year-old US citizen who worked in a Brooklyn bodega and hoped to get his GED so he could become a resident nurse. He met his wife Hend through family friends in Yemen, and went to live with her — despite a worsening civil war in the country — while he sponsored her for a visa to immigrate to the US.

The Alghazalis were originally supposed to interview for a visa in August 2017 — before the current ban went into effect. (Under the policy in place at the time, Hend, as the wife of a US citizen, would have qualified for a visa by having a “bona fide relationship” to the US.) But the airport in Yemen’s capital of Sana’a had been shut down by the fighting. They weren’t able to leave until December 2017, after 10 hot and claustrophobic days in Sudan.

When Hend finally had her interview in Djibouti in January, she was eight months pregnant — and already suffering from a heart condition. Ismail figured that her health condition would constitute undue hardship, while her marriage to a US citizen would qualify her for a waiver based on “national interest.”

But that didn’t come up in the interview, because the interview “didn’t take more than 5 minutes,” Ismail Alghazali told Vox last week. They approved the couple’s documents, said everything was in order, then suddenly returned Hend Alghazali’s passport to her with a form that said her visa had been denied under Trump’s proclamation — and that they would not be eligible for a waiver.

Since then, Ismail wrote in a letter to the US government this spring, “I am stuck in Djibouti. I have no income to cover our life expenses in Djibouti. I am borrowing money from friends these day[s], and that will not last for a long time.” His US-citizen sister, who has come to Djibouti because Ismail is her legal guardian, has developed insomnia and a speech disability from the stress. His son was born in February in the back of a cab because Ismail couldn’t find an ambulance or taxi in time.

Alghazani is one of several plaintiffs in the new lawsuit who have been prevented by the ban from living in the US with their spouses and children. Others have tried to bring their parents to visit or live with them and been thwarted, or been prevented from moving to the US to oversee the businesses they invested in.

Their frustrations raise three key questions about the waiver process. What do the standards — undue hardship, national interest, no harm to security — actually mean? Who’s making the decisions about who qualifies for a waiver? And do the government’s numbers actually reflect the number of people who are being allowed to come to the US — or are they designed to make the process seem more effective than it is?

So far, what we know about the waiver process is anecdotal. That’s part of the purpose of this lawsuit — to get some insight into the process itself rather than guessing from the outside. But one of the things the anecdotes suggest is that the standards to issue waivers are inconsistent — and some of them sound impossibly high to meet.

The evidence has come out in pieces. A Washington Post piece in May profiled several cases that seemed to meet the standards for a waiver but hadn’t been approved, including the case of an 11-year-old with cerebral palsy whose mother is a US citizen. In June, Slate published testimony from consular officers saying they were directed to find any excuse possible to deny a waiver — that the process was a “sham.”

Even the government’s own statements haven’t been consistent. The Department of State’s website, for example, says that the standard for “undue hardship” is that being banned from the US indefinitely — which is what the current travel ban does — would cause hardship to the applicant. But a letter to Senator Chris Van Hollen from a State employee in February says an applicant only demonstrates undue hardship if they need to come to the US immediately — and any delay at all would “defeat the purpose of travel.” The second standard wouldn’t apply for Hend Alghazali, or any other relative of a US family member; it assumes that bans on all countries will be lifted at some point — which the Trump administration doesn’t promise at all.

A consular officer in Vancouver told a lawyer his client didn’t qualify as an “immediate relative” (one of the circumstances that might make someone waiver-worthy) because he was over the age of 21, inventing a requirement absent from Trump’s proclamation. An officer in Djibouti told another lawyer that even though infants and young children are theoretically deserving of waivers (if they meet the standards), “Even for infants, we would need to see some evidence of a congenital heart defect or another medical issue of that degree of difficulty that likely could not be successfully operated upon in Djibouti and if not treated would likely lead to the child’s developmental harm or death.”

And one of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit (whose father is a US citizen) was told that he was flatly ineligible for a waiver because he was applying for a diversity visa — a restriction totally absent from any public waiver guidance, but one in line with Trump’s complaints about US immigration policy.

President Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Goes Into Effect, After Supreme Court Partially Revives It

The travel ban has resulted in mixed signals from the administration.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

According to the text of the travel ban, consular officers are responsible for granting or rejecting waivers. That’s a typical exercise of discretion on the part of officers, who grant or reject visas all the time.

But in this case, it’s not clear what information they have to make that decision. In a lot of cases, the information on someone’s visa application won’t address any “undue hardship” they have — and while the State Department’s website tells applicants to bring up waiver eligibility in their interviews, some plaintiffs in the lawsuit were told they weren’t allowed to present documents to help make their case.

More importantly, though, some consular officers have claimed that the decision isn’t really in their hands at all.

They’re allowed to refuse an application if they don’t think someone qualifies for a waiver. But if they believe that an applicant ought to qualify for a waiver, they’re supposed to formally “reject” the visa application — and then refer it to an office in DC for further review. Only after the DC office has approved are they allowed to waive the denial.

That extra step is formally called “administrative processing,” or the issuance of a “security advisory opinion.” It happens in normal visa applications if the consular officer notices a particular red flag. (In other words, the most worthy cases from travel-ban-affected countries are given the same treatment as the most suspicious ones from other countries.) In general, the State Department website says that administrative processing takes about 60 days — though a State Department official stressed to Vox that “the timing can vary based on the individual circumstances of each case.” The department official also said that “In some cases, the consular officer may need to request additional documents or other information from the visa applicant,” but many of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have heard no requests after months of waiting.

It’s not clear whether the DC visa office’s role is simply vetting applications, or conducting a completely new review. And they have a lot of leverage to reject them.

The State Department told Vox that they act in “consultation” with local consulates to make sure that an applicant meets the national-security standards for a waiver. But the letter to Sen. Van Hollen says that the national-security standards for a waiver involve looking at how much information the applicant’s country shares with the US — which is the same standard used to put that country on the travel-ban list to begin with.

The easiest way to figure out how real the waiver process really is is to look at how often waivers are being issued. But we don’t have a good answer to that.

The first statistics released by the government, a month after the travel ban went fully into effect, showed only two waiver approvals — out of over 6,000 visa applications. As of early March, the government said it had approved about 100 more.

In April, though, the government shifted its terms: It stopped releasing stats on waiver approvals and started releasing stats on people “cleared” for waivers instead.

That number has grown pretty steadily. By the Supreme Court oral argument in late April, 440 people had been cleared for waivers; as of July 15, 996 have.

Being “cleared” for a waiver isn’t the same as actually getting a visa; all the government says about the latter category is that “many” people who have been cleared have already gotten their visas. That raises the question of where, exactly, in the process someone gets “cleared,” and whether everyone “cleared” for a visa is going to get one after all.

Asked by Vox whether being cleared for a waiver was the same as approval, a State Department official said that it “means that the consular officer has determined the applicants satisfied all criteria and completed all required processing. If the consular officer determines, after consultation with the Visa Office, that an applicant does not pose a threat to national security or public safety and the other two waiver requirements have been met, a visa may be issued with the concurrence of a consular manager.”

As of press time, however, the government had not addressed a specific question about the role that administrative processing, in particular, played in the process — and whether it was the same as the “consultation” that happens before someone is “cleared.” The answer also doesn’t explain why there might be a difference between the number of cleared visas and the number of issued ones.

Raising even more questions about the numbers is the fact that, in at least three cases, the government has “reconsidered” an application after rejecting it — sometimes retroactively.

  • Shaema Alomari, the girl with cerebral palsy, was initially denied a visa after her January interview. In April — right before oral arguments on Trump v. Hawaii, a brief which cited her case — her family was contacted and told that she’d been approved and just needed to go through administrative processing. The email included a different version of the form they’d received — with the opposite box checked. She finally received a visa in late May.
  • Ismail Alghazali saw in June, right after the Supreme Court decision, that his wife’s case status had changed from “refused” to “administrative processing.”
  • Another Yemeni applicant in the lawsuit was emailed around the same time and told that his case was being “reconsidered.”

We don’t know where these cases fit into the numbers the government’s given, or why they were reopened, or what’s going to happen next. The plaintiffs argue that’s exactly the problem.

After Shaema Alomari was cited in a Supreme Court brief as an example of a mysterious visa denial, her family received an email that claimed her visa had actually been tentatively approved after her January interview. The attached form, dated to the day of her interview, selected the opposite option from the form Alomari received at the time.
Screenshot from Supreme Court filing via Arnold and Porter

“When the government holds itself out as providing a process,” Muslim Advocates’ Shebaya told Vox, “it has to follow its own laws.” Those laws include the Administrative Procedure Act, which prevents the government from making “arbitrary and capricious” decisions, and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process to all people.

The lawsuit argues that the government needs to show that the waiver process is real — and that, if it doesn’t, the Northern District of California needs to order it to put a real process in place. The latter would mean publishing clear guidance defining its standards, making it clear how applicants are supposed to demonstrate eligibility, and then reconsidering all visa applications that have been rejected for waivers so far.

This is a lot less radical than the previous legal challenges to the ban, which have all attacked the policy itself. And the plaintiffs aren’t even seeking a preliminary injunction to halt the administration’s implementation of the ban while the lawsuit is being considered — instead, they’re hoping that the judge will allow the lawsuit to proceed so that they can demand evidence from the administration about how the waiver process was designed and implemented.

To get there, though, they’ll have to keep the case from getting thrown out of court. The Trump administration is all but guaranteed to argue that decisions made on individual visas aren’t subject to appeal — a well-established principle known as “consular nonreviewability” — and that the government isn’t obligated to be transparent in how it accepts and rejects visas.

But courts have found some holes in consular nonreviewability, especially when the visas in question belong to immediate family of US citizens. And consular nonreviewability hasn’t stopped any of the previous lawsuits against the travel ban from going forward — even when judges ultimately upheld the ban.

If the plaintiffs can get a judge to agree that it’s proper for the judicial branch to ask questions about the waiver process, they’ll already have something of a win. It will then be on the administration to demonstrate that the policy it’s adopted really has all the hallmarks of a careful and deliberate policymaking process. It will, in other words, do exactly what the Supreme Court didn’t do: look at the reality of the travel ban on the ground.

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30Jul 2018

What Happened When A 20-Something Londoner Got A Credit Card – Forbes

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

About a year and a half ago I wrote about what fintech meant to me as a 20-something year old living in London and how living in the tech-friendly city of London meant that getting a credit card was the last option for me, with so many other choices available.

As a so-called millennial who grew up in the UK, I wrote that I could not remember a time in which a payment card did not exist and transferring money across accounts has been as easy as posting a tweet or ordering an Uber.

According to the UK Cards Association, the UK has a total of 101.8m contactless cards in circulation and that number is continuing to grow, however, a 2016 Bankrate study revealed that a whopping 67% of people under the age of 30 do not have a credit card.

Well, I decided to get one through my bank to see what the experience would be like. After using my bank’s comparison tool and realizing that I could only afford one with a limit of £1,500, I applied for one and at the end of the short-ish process, it said that it would arrive in a seven working days.

As is practice, the PIN number arrived days before the actual physical card and I couldn’t help but think, isn’t there a simpler way to make payments above £30 than to remember a new PIN number?

It was announced this month that MasterCard has been in talks with UK banks about launching cards with fingerprint scanners, that would be a built in way for customers to verify their identities when making a payment.

As reported in CNBC, a spokesperson confirmed that they would be bringing biometric payment cards to the market. Ajay Bhalla, President of Global Enterprise Risk and Security at MasterCard said: “The use of passwords to authenticate someone is woefully outdated, with consumers forgetting them and retailers facing abandoned shopping baskets.

“In payments technology, this is something we’re closing in on as we move from cash to card, password to thumbprint, and beyond to innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence. It’s far easier to authenticate with a thumbprint or a selfie, and it’s safer too.”

This biometric push comes soon after the implementation of PSD2 and under the new rules, customers are already required to confirm their identity every five times they have made a contactless payment. MasterCard is already being trialled in South Africa, while Visa are doing their own biometric thing in Cyprus.

So, it seems the future is bright when it comes to not having to remember your PIN number but after using the card for a few payments, I realized that paying off credit cards was not as simple.

After being used to payments going through immediately, when I tried to move money across accounts, it did not go through as fast as I am used to and at the time I needed it to be. On top of this, I got a letter through the post with an option to pay by Giro!

In addition to this, although interest rates are at an all-time low, they still exist. But what is the fintech industry offering that is better? For example, this year challenger Tandem Bank launched its first credit card and what’s more, it offers cashback on all purchases, no overseas transaction fees and real-time spending updates.

Although the APR is more than the credit card I got from my bank and Tandem’s 18.9% card is not the cheapest option but the card is interest-free for up to 56 days including a 25 day grace period.

Sven Schindele, Senior Product Manager at Tandem, said: “We took a close look at the lifestyle, values and spending behaviours of our customers and produced a card that helps you earn as you spend, spend abroad without worry, and borrow as it suits you.”

Because the card is so closely integrated with the Tandem app, the card also allows users to have a good oversight of their spending. But this questions whether millennials want rewards for spending and higher interest rates or just lower interest rates?

Also, with the current system put in place by my bank, it was very difficult to keep track of how much I had spent. With a credit card like Tandem is offering and other fintechs, it is clear that they have the customer in mind. Monzo, arguably the most well-known challenger bank out there, because of their coral debit cards, recently launched a web interface that allows its users to access account information in emergencies.

Francisco Carvalho Araujo, Product Manager at Monzo explained that after the “community of customers told us they’d find it useful to access Monzo online, so we’ve built a basic web interface that everyone can use when they need to.”

So, the challenger bank that strives to ‘build a bank that lives on your smartphone’ has brought its service to desktop which means that the underbanked or unbanked customers will have the opportunity to open bank accounts in the future. Again, putting the customer first.

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29Jul 2018

BRAD DOKKEN COLUMN: July blueberry excursion yields tasty rewards – Grand Forks Herald

Plus, I’ve found, there’s a satisfaction that comes from leaving the woods with a full bucket of blueberries that’s difficult to describe.

The idea of going blueberry picking without being forced to do so, and having a good time in the process, was something I never would have predicted as a kid. In those days, blueberry picking was pure torture because I didn’t control my own destiny.

Instead of picking for a couple of hours, we’d be in the woods for hours on end. Eating three blueberries for every berry that ended up in the pail probably didn’t help, but filling even the small pail I carried back then took forever.

Every minute in the woods took an hour, it seemed; it was excruciating.

I’d much rather have been fishing. Or at the dentist having a tooth filled.

I never appreciated it as a kid, but I grew up in a part of the world where blueberries were—and still are—abundant when spring weather conditions are right. An ill-timed May frost can wipe out the entire crop, but when the stars align—as they did this year—the forest floor can be carpeted with blueberries if you know where to look.

Without getting too specific, I’ve had my best success in small openings among stands of jackpine trees. Find that, and chances are good you’ll find blueberries nearby.

Such was the case last Saturday, when I parked the car and headed down the trail to one of my favorite northwest Minnesota blueberry spots. Some years, the trek means slogging through water before reaching the higher, sandier ground blueberries prefer. This summer, by comparison, conditions are relatively dry, and even the low spots along the trail were easily accessible.

Drier conditions also meant fewer mosquitoes, but I still slathered up with 40 DEET just to be safe. Unlike fishing, I pray for wind when I’m blueberry picking.

I hadn’t walked far when I came across several juneberry bushes along the edge of the trail. If I’d been there a week earlier, I likely could have picked a bucket of juneberries, as well, but the juneberries I encountered last weekend were shriveled up and too far gone for me to bother picking.

Still, I couldn’t resist stopping to sample a few, and they tasted better than they looked.

But the blueberries beckoned.

About 15 minutes into my walk, the bushes, oak and poplar trees that lined lower parts of the trail gave way to higher, sandier ground and the jackpine trees I knew I’d find.

I looked down, and sure enough, the ground was blue with berries.

I’d waited two years for this; a hard frost in May 2017 had all but wiped out last year’s crop, and I didn’t pick a single blueberry.

Last weekend’s excursion didn’t yield the best blueberry picking I’ve encountered since I took up the pastime again a few years ago, and I obviously wasn’t the first picker, either human or ursine, to hit the patch.

I didn’t find a spot where I could plop down and peel blueberries into the bucket in clusters, but it was good enough to keep me from venturing farther down the trail in search of bluer pastures.

Working an area maybe 100 feet square, I filled my bucket in a couple of hours.

I picked another half a pail later in the weekend, but that will probably be it for me as far as blueberry picking goes this summer. The season is fleeting, and the berries likely will be done before I again have the opportunity to venture back into the jackpine woods.

Still, blueberry picking has become a newfound rite of summer. A rite I’m glad to say I now actually enjoy.

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