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Microsoft’s follow-up to its successful Xbox 360 console is officially called Xbox One.
Xbox head Don Mattrick took to the stage on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., May 21 “to unveil the ultimate, all-in-one home entertainment system.” On display was a black, sharp-edged console, revamped controller and an upgraded Kinect sensor that constitute the new Xbox One. Anchoring the Xbox experience is a new, personalized home screen that unifies gaming, TV, music and movies for users.
As expected, the included Kinect motion sensor will play an integral role in operating the Xbox One., Xbox Senior Vice President Yusuf Mehdi demonstrated how the new Xbox detects a user and delivers a personalized home screen based on the person’s identity, games and favorites. He showed how voice commands and new hand gestures, all of which were detected by the Kinect, made switching between modes “as fast as switching channels on your TV remote.”
By uttering “Xbox, watch TV,” the system switched instantly to the TV viewing mode. The instant switching capability extends to practically every activity, including switching between games, movies and music. A new Windows-like snap mode allows users to multitask. Mehdi showed off the new functionality by “snapping” Internet Explorer alongside movie playback of the Star Trek (2009) film.
Xbox One will also offer deep Skype integration. Not only will the feature enable widescreen HD video calls, the Xbox One will have the distinction of enabling group video calls from the living room, Mehdi said.
Google‘s Checkout tool, which allows customers to make purchases of services or physical goods from online vendors, is being dropped by the company as of Nov. 20.
Created by Google in 2006, the service has outlived its usefulness for the search giant and will end as the company plays up and expands its related Google Wallet payment services, according to a May 20 post by Justin Lawyer, senior product manager for Wallet, on The Google Commerce Blog.
“Today, we’re letting Web merchants know that in six months, Google Checkout will be retired as we transition to Google Wallet—a platform that enables merchants to meet the demands of a multi-screen world where consumers shop in stores, at their desks and on their mobile devices,” wrote Lawyer.
Online merchants who are using Checkout to accept payments for goods and services will be required to find another payment service to handle their transactions, according to a support page for the service.
Elizabeth Warren, who by Senate tradition ought to be a meek, eyes-down freshman, turned in another stellar performance Wednesday at a Banking Committee hearing with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in the hot seat.
Got a question about tax refunds, polluters or subsidized housing? Don’t expect an answer this Friday.
That’s because four federal government agencies will be closed on Friday, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Employees at all four agencies will be on furlough that day. They include nearly 115,000 workers — or more than 5% of the 2 million-strong federal workforce — who are being forced to spend Friday at home without pay. It was triggered by the sequester, or the March 1 federal spending cuts that shaved $85 billion from government agencies and programs through Sept. 30.
Friday is the first of several days when so many agencies effectively close down, because almost all their workers are on furlough. This week, employees will get a four-day weekend, as the furlough comes ahead of the Memorial Day holiday on Monday.
The mini-shutdown on Friday is the first time such large parts of the federal government will be closed for business since 1995 and 1996, when the entire federal government shut down several weeks due to budget fights between the Republican Congress and the Clinton Administration.
Switzerland is on the brink of a deal to settle a long-running dispute with U.S. authorities over Swiss banks accused of helping wealthy Americans evade billions of dollars of tax, the finance minister said on Saturday.
“We hope that we will shortly be at the finishing line,” Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told Swiss radio in an interview. “The banks won’t get it for nothing.”
Widmer-Schlumpf declined to say how high fines might be, but added: “It is clear that it will not be a pleasant solution.”
Bank secrecy, which has helped Switzerland become the world’s largest offshore center with $2 trillion in assets, has come under fire since the financial crisis, as cash-strapped governments seek to clamp down on tax evasion.
The Swiss government has been in protracted talks to end U.S. investigations into Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer, in return for expected heavy fines and a transfer of client names.
Bern said last month it was considering a possible solution to the U.S. probes, but declined to give further details as negotiations were still continuing.
A source familiar with the talks has told Reuters the two sides had agreed an outline for a deal that would divide more than 300 Swiss banks according to the extent they had helped U.S. clients hide money, to determine how they are dealt with.
Under the outline deal, banks already under investigation would settle with individual deferred prosecution agreements, the source said. Credit Suisse has already made a 295 million Swiss franc ($303 million) provision towards a settlement.
A second group of banks which had U.S. clients but have not yet been targeted by investigators would have to agree to pay fines and hand over data on their customers, the source said.
The country’s biggest bank UBS was forced in 2009 to pay a fine of $780 million and hand over the names of more than 4,000 clients, delivering the U.S. authorities information that allowed them to then pursue other Swiss banks.
Switzerland’s oldest private bank, Wegelin & Co, said in January it was closing down after pleading guilty to helping Americans evade taxes, paying a fine of nearly $58 million.
Even as Apple became the nation’s most profitable technology company, it avoided billions in taxes in the United States and around the world through a web of subsidiaries so complex it spanned continents and went beyond anything most experts had ever seen, Congressional investigators disclosed on Monday.
The investigation is expected to set up a potentially explosive confrontation between a bipartisan group of lawmakers and Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, at a public hearing on Tuesday.
Congressional investigators found that some of Apple’s subsidiaries had no employees and were largely run by top officials from the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. But by officially locating them in places like Ireland, Apple was able to, in effect, make them stateless — exempt from taxes, record-keeping laws and the need for the subsidiaries to even file tax returns anywhere in the world.
“Apple wasn’t satisfied with shifting its profits to a low-tax offshore tax haven,” said Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that is holding the public hearing Tuesday into Apple’s use of tax havens. “Apple successfully sought the holy grail of tax avoidance. It has created offshore entities holding tens of billions of dollars while claiming to be tax resident nowhere.”
Thanks to what lawmakers called “gimmicks” and “schemes,” Apple was able to largely sidestep taxes on tens of billions of dollars it earned outside the United States in recent years. Last year, international operations accounted for 61 percent of Apple’s total revenue.
Investigators have not accused Apple of breaking any laws and the company is hardly the only American multinational to face scrutiny for using complex corporate structures and tax havens to sidestep taxes. In recent months, revelations from European authorities about the tax avoidance strategies used by Google, Starbucks and Amazon have all stirred public anger and spurred several European governments, as well as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based research organization for the world’s richest countries, to discuss measures to close the loopholes.
Still, the findings about Apple were remarkable both for the enormous amount of money involved and the audaciousness of the company’s assertion that its subsidiaries are beyond the reach of any taxing authority.
“There is a technical term economists like to use for behavior like this,” said Edward Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and a former staff director at the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. “Unbelievable chutzpah.”
While Apple’s strategy is unusual in its scope and effectiveness, it underscores how riddled with loopholes the American corporate tax code has become, critics say. At the same time, it shows how difficult it will be for Washington to overhaul the tax system.
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From Scott Reckard at the LA Times: 3 big banks nearly halt foreclosure sales after U.S. tweaks orders Sales of homes in foreclosure by Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. ground nearly to a halt after regulators revised their orders on treatment of troubled borrowers during the 60 days before they lose their homes.