Tax in a World of Pandemic

BY ORLANDO GOTAY

A name that did not even exist at the beginning of the year, COVID-19, has turned all of our lives literally upside down, in a matter of weeks. Folks, we are living in amazing times.

COVID-19 has a way to affect literally everything we do, or plan to do (I am asking South Dakota to waive a one-day “visit overnight” requirement for my driver’s license renewal, due soon). Employment, travel, supply chains –literally everything– is being affected by COVID-19.  And of course, this comes in the middle of tax season. People are losing jobs and facing incredible hardships –all have a very meaningful impact, come tax time.

As I write this, Congress is fashioning some emergency economic relief for Americans; details are unclear but suffice it to say this is a truly major calamity that requires unprecedented actions, the world over.

The IRS has moved a little (and by this, I mean not nearly enough) to cushion the blow for now. It announced a 90-day postponement of the due date for 2019 tax returns, July 15. This includes payments too. There are additional extensions available. Some extensions (if you reside abroad) are automatic (no extension request needed filing, your later returns simply noted as such). For regular stateside residents, an extension needs to be affirmatively filed on time.

States are tricky because sometimes they follow the federal rule and sometimes they don’t. For instance, some allow an automatic extension if you filed a federal one, some will require their own extension filed irrespective of federal extensions. COVID-19 throws an additional wrench. For example, California’s COVID-19 relief provides an automatic extension of time to file and pay tax until June 30. If you need to file a state tax return, make sure you note with precision the exact requirements if you are not able to file (or pay tax) by their regular due dates.=
Tax administrators are just beginning to wrap their arms about the entire set of consequences COVID-19 has on ordinary Americans, not just on patients and their loved ones. If you come up with a tax situation affected by COVID-19, I urge you to write the appropriate tax officials. They need to hear from you. I hope you will continue to be safe wherever you happen to be.

Orlando Gotay is a California licensed tax attorney (Master of Laws in Taxation) admitted to practice before the IRS, the U.S. Tax Court and other taxing agencies.  His love of things Mexican has led him to devote part of his practice to federal and state tax matters of U.S. expats in Mexico.  He can be reached at tax@orlandogotay.com Facebook: GotayTaxLawyer or WhatsApp at +17604491668. This is just a most general outline. It is informational only and not meant as legal advice.

Tips for Health & Safety While Food Shopping

Dr Jeffery Van Wingen, a Michigan surgeon, has offered some tips on how to prevent contamination from covid-19 when buying food, bringing it into your home, and storing it properly to ensure that you do not inadvertently introduce coronavirus from the supermarket or pharmacy into your living environment.

Anyone who has ventured out into the world to purchase goods that we take into our bodies has undoubtedly noticed that many people still aren’t wearing gloves or masks when they mingle with others during the course of a trip to the grocery store or pharmacy. Such people may be contaminating the containers of the products to be purchased. The people stocking the shelves, bagging the items, or filling the orders may be touching the containers of goods, or the goods themselves.

Remember that almost everything you buy has been handled by a number of people from the farm or factory down the road to your shopping venue.

First of all, the most obvious suggestion is to wipe down the handles of the shopping cart or basket with a sterilized cloth or paper towel. The virus can survive on hard surfaces for up to 3 days or more.

Secondly, take a list of the items you need, and commit to buying only those goods. The reasoning here is that it is best to spend as little time as possible in an environment where social distancing cannot be practiced.

Next, don’t go out at all if you have symptoms of the virus, or any respiratory issues whatsoever. Be committed to protecting others as well as yourself.

Plan for no more than two weeks of necessities. There is no rationing taking place. Farm workers are still harvesting fruits and vegetables. Shippers are still delivering goods to retail outlets. At least as of now, there is no need for panic buying. By hoarding necessities, you are only depriving your friends and neighbors from having an adequate supply of the same goods.

Many people are now using cloth bags when they go to the market. Remember to consider those bags “dirty” after you have filled them at the market. Don’t use them again until they have been washed or sanitized.

Once you’ve taken the groceries home, don’t bring them into the house unless they require refrigeration or are otherwise perishable. If possible, leave them on your porch, garage or any safe storage spot for 3 days if possible. And just to be safe, there are more tips for unbagging the items you have bought:

Clean the surface of the counter top where you plan to unpack the groceries and medications.

Wipe down the containers of medications, because you know those have been handled by human hands that may not have been gloved.

With items such as cereals, which have inner containers, remove the inner sealed bag from the outer box and discard the box.

Wipe down cans, bottles and jars.

Fruit, such as oranges, have peels that are porous, just like our skin. These need to be washed for at least 20 seconds in soapy water, rinsed thoroughly, then placed in a clean container such as Tupperware.

Vegetables must also be washed and rinsed individually.

Things like bread may be removed from its original container, dumped into a sterile container (again, like Tupperware); then discard the original bag.

Plasticized containers (such as boxed milk, potato chip bags, etc.), are ok with just wiping down the container itself. These items are generally hermetically sealed.

Remember to continually wash your hands during the process of unpacking your groceries.

What about take-out or delivery food? No problem.

First of all, don’t invite the delivery person into your house.

Then, remove the food itself from the plastic, foil, or box container that it comes in. Fortunately, the virus pathogens do not do well in food, especially if it is hot; heat destabilizes the virus. It’s ok (even recommended) to heat the food in a microwave, even briefly. Then, dump the food onto a sterile container from your cupboard, WASH YOUR HANDS, sit down, eat and enjoy.

With frozen goods, not so bueno. Viruses can live for up to 2 years in a frozen environment.

So, with a frozen pizza, for example, take the box out of the freezer, discard the box, place the pizza on a safe container or microwave or cook it in the oven.

With ice cream, sterilize the plasticized container before putting it into your freezer.

That’s about it. Some of these techniques are time-consuming, but if they work to keep you healthy during this pandemic, then, ultimately, you will be able to eat what you want safely, having protected yourself from the invasion of an unwanted and dangerous disease into your household.

The good doctor asked that his video be shared widely. If you’d like to see it for yourself, here’s the link:  https://youtu.be/sjDuwc9KBps

Eat, drink & be merry!

Mexico Starts Phase 2 For Coronavirus

March 31, 2020 UPDATE: Although Mexico is still in phase 2 of the Coronavirus epidemic, with more than 1,000 confirmed cases, its is expected to go into phase 3 at any day now.

 

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced a health plan in response to the transmission of COVID-19 in Mexico. The Navy and National Army will be acting on this strategy.

The route to follow for the next 40 days seeks to manage the risk and achieve a scenario whereby every day, we have a few cases, in order to have enough capacity to treat everyone. This is known as “flattening the curve.”

 

What measures should be taken?

Keep a healthy distance.

All events with 100 or more people will be canceled.

Suspension of work activities involving a large mobilization of people.

Maintain hygienic measures: Wash your hands with water and soap frequently for at least 20 seconds; sneeze into the inside part of your elbow.

Every person that has COVID19 symptoms should stay at home for about 15 days. Pregnant women, elders, hypertension patients should go to the doctor immediately.

 

Coronavirus phase two is declared to have begun

In Mexico, 5 cases were locally transmitted; in response we have decided to start phase two, since usefulness of the containment measures is exhausted and it’s necessary to expand the mitigation measures, stated Hugo Lopez Gatell, head of prevention and health promotion for Mexico.

“We have a slow transmission until it reaches an infection point where the contagion curve goes up. In Mexico, we haven’t gotten to that infection point yet. That is why Mexico still has the opportunity to contain the contagion. Because of this, we decided to declare a phase two”.

Massive measures have a bigger impact on reducing the transmissions, as they allow us “to flatten the curve” of infections. In other words, to have less community transmission, Lopez Gatell said.

 

Navy plan and DN-III Plan will support against COVID-19

For their part, the head of the National Defense and the head of the Navy, have pointed out that they have deployed the DN-III Plan and the Navy Plan, respectively, to support against the coronavirus pandemic.They indicated that they have 1,738 doctors, 1,727 nurses, 100 intensive care ambulances, and 400 transfer ambulances ready to be deployed, as well as enough capacity in facilities, 5 specialty hospitals, 36 second-level hospitals, and 272 first-level hospitals; these last with 262 health platoons, covering almost the entire country.

They Thought They Could Do it and They Did!

In my travels I have never experienced a community so involved in helping one another old/young, native/foreigner, human/animal…as Rosarito, and the communities at its borders.

One such group is Mujeres Para Mujeres (Women for Women), established March 16, 2018. About 50 ladies attended the inaugural gathering and continue to meet on the 8th of every even-numbered month with “Potlucks for a Purpose.” The times and days of the week vary in order to allow everyone  to attend, allowing for those who may have monthly meetings at scheduling conflicts.

I met with Board members Carol Council, Mary Contreras, Valerie Russell, and Barbara Acosta for an update of how the organization was progressing. These four met about a year ago in an effort to find ways that women could share their talents and skills and empower other women. The goal was to be of service and support “with” people, not “at” people; creating and extending relationships for a better community. “More can be helped if more become involved.”

They explained that Women for Women is a multicultural organization dedicated to “meeting the needs of girls and women in Baja,” with the target populations of teenagers, single mothers, victims of domestic violence, and those just striving to improve their lives. They seek  “to empower women to use their voices, acquire new skills, maximize their education, support other women, learn trades, and start businesses.”

On October 16, 2019 the Casa de Mujeres opened its blue door on Paseo de los Heroes in Santa Anita, south of La Mision. The Casa is open Mondays and Fridays from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm.

Several 6-week classes are currently being offered, with more under consideration. Every encounter is valuable. A six-week Self Esteem class led by Joanna Wood started with 13 signups and only three show-ups. Of these three only one lady finished, but this singular student declared, “This class saved my life.” By using the tools she had learned, “I feel happier, healthier, and more peaceful now than ever.”

Most classes suggest a 20 peso donation, but the fee is waived for those who cannot afford the payment. English class with Rita Gullickson is at 10:30 on Mondays, with ladies learning English through simple conversation. The Women’s Creativity Circle meets Fridays at 9:30 for Movement with Laura Mandala an Arts (painting, drawing, collage, writing…) at 10:30 with Sue McDevitt. Classes are mostly in Spanish.

A Sewing Program connected to Casa del Sol Naciente and run by Rosa Martinez is offered to those actually seeking a career in sewing and fashion; it’s a 2-year, 6-days a week intense sewing program. Information and scholarships are available through MPM or email rosamartinez77@gmail.com.

MPM’s Home Health Care program, led by Mary Simmons, is partnered with Rosarito Beach Christian Church. This 8-week course provides skills for the home health care workers who aid those who prefer to stay home during illness.. Tuition is $100. Anyone wishing to provide a scholarship should contact Mary Simmons.

Mujeres Para Mujeres is starting a microfinance program, with the committee chaired by Karen Cebreros. They are currently researching ways in which to provide microloans to women for entrepreneurial and educational ventures. MPM has partnered with VIA International, which has positive experience in micro-lending with 100% payback of microloans worldwide. Helping to fund this program are Greeting Cards by Rhonda, on sale at Baja Mail in Puerto del Valle, near La Mision. The cards may be customized for particular occasions.

For more information, MPM cordially invites you to their next gathering, a cookie exchange Sunday, December 8th at 3:30 pm at La Jolla Condos (km29, across the boulevard from Fat Cat Restaurant). Bring three dozen cookies to exchange. Membership is not a prerequisite.  For additional details, contact ValerieMRussell@yahoo.com.

March 8th will be the 1st anniversary of MPM and elections for next year’s Board will be held. The group is always seeking new energetic members, Mexican and expat, especially from the northern area of Rosarito. I know many of us have been giving generously of our time and funds, especially after the spate of fires Rosarito has experienced, but please consider sharing your talents with this fine group of ladies. Do you have any ideas for a class or a workshop that would benefit local ladies? They are currently seeking a Membership Coordinator, Volunteer Coordinator, Development Director, and Grant Writer… and a dozen folding chairs.

Donations or memberships may be paid through PayPal at MujeresParaMujeres2019@gmail.com. MPM is close to achieving their US 501(c)(3) non-profit status, making all donations tax-deductible. For information on any of the programs, classes, greeting cards, etc., please visit the Facebook page “Mujeres Para Mujeres Group” or phone 646-978-7507.

Consider coming out of retirement for this great cause. Gentlemen are welcome
too!

Giving Thanks

The spooks and ghouls of Halloween have gone into hiding; the departed loved ones who were honored during Day of the Dead await their next visit to their living counterparts.

The languid, lazy days of summer are over. School is back in session. Days are short, and flu season is back with a vengeance.

So how do we deal with the crisp fall months and the promise of another winter season?

We go shopping, of course!

Once upon a time (but well before MY time, I’m fairly certain), each holiday was representative of a corresponding season and usually was representative of a religious (or spiritual) observance.

Now that we’ve become indoctrinated by the corporate guidelines of product release dates and numeric progressions (we’re up to iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S-10), we know what Junior wants to find in his Christmas stocking well before the younger kids go trick-or-treating.

Nothing wrong with that. We’re evolving as a race. We want everyone to be happy and fulfilled.

But way back in our memory banks the true meaning of each holiday still resides. We know that, well before our time, many people paid some significant dues in order to guarantee that we would have the freedom to worship and to celebrate each and every holiday in whatever manner we so choose.

Thanksgiving is celebrated in countries other than the United States, but is generally accepted in each of them to be a time of recognizing and honoring a power greater than ourselves, a power that governs the seasons and the bounty of the earth itself, and is therefore respectfully paid tribute to by either fasting during lean times or feasting during successful ones.

Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620’s and 1630’s celebrated Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving in their home country and brought those traditions with them to their new home in North America.

In 1619, possibly the first Thanksgiving feast was celebrated by a group of 38 English settlers at Charles City County, Virginia. This event had been decreed as a religious celebration in recognition of the grace of God, by whose blessing the travelers reached their destination safely.

In 1621, another group of settlers celebrated at Plymouth Rock in what is now Massachusetts. They were fortunate in that the Native American Indians were generous and kind, and provided them with a bountiful feast to celebrate the success of their long journey.

Subsequent celebrations in New England included another celebration in Plymouth in 1623 and a Puritan holiday in Boston in 1631.

Up until 1682, religious leaders proclaimed that annual celebrations be held in reverence and appreciation for the bountiful gifts provided by successful harvests, most of which occurred well before the November date which later became set as the last Thursday of each November.

As the first President of the United States, George Washington decreed that November 26th be recognized as a national holiday, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.”

Later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made Thanksgiving a celebration to be held on the last Thursday of November, providing for a four-day holiday for many workers and their families.

So here we are! As with many if not all of the traditional holidays, Thanksgiving has evolved into a shopping frenzy, this one happening just before  Christmas. “Black Friday” has become an annual circus during which adults flock to the brick-and-mortar retail outlets to fight each other over the latest gadget from Apple or Microsoft to place beneath the aluminum Christmas tree for their beloved children.

In reality, the beauty of Thanksgiving is that it is a time for family members to enjoy a brief reunion, to give thanks for their health and safety, and to enjoy a few days of relaxation away from the stress of the workplace and a return to the comfort of home, sweet home.

Although Thanksgiving is not officially a holiday in Mexico, many ex-pats living in the Mediterranean warmth and security of Baja celebrate here anyway.

Many restaurants have Thanksgiving specials, catering to the people who cherish that holiday as a time to take stock of their many blessings and give thanks accordingly.

Also, as Thanksgiving is a signpost that Christmas is almost upon us, many people show their appreciation for their good fortune by donating to local shelters, orphanages, and institutions such as Cruz Roja.

Giving thanks by giving back is the most spiritual way one can show his or her appreciation for the good life here in Baja.

Pulling Together After the Fires

In October, fires ran rampant through areas of northern Baja. Several areas of Rosarito were hit hard. This article will focus on re-building operations that have come to my attention as of the first week of November. There may have been additional fires, and certainly more sources of relief that haven’t yet come to light. But here’s what we know as of this writing:

We’ve already heard numerous accounts of individual suffering due to the tragic fires, so we need not reiterate those tragedies. Our focus here is to shed light on sources of relief and recovery.

The two main fire areas were in Rosarito in the Ejido Morelos/ Santa Anita del Mar area, about three miles east of the Rosarito Beach Hotel, where 20 – 30 homes burned. The other primary location is in La Mision, where approximately 40 homes burned, many of which were owned by expats.

One big difference is that most of the less fortunate Mexican homeowners do not carry home insurance, so when the home and/or car is destroyed they are left with nothing. Most of them work for mere pesos to begin with, and In many cases the fires destroyed their means and implements of income, such as food preparation utensils or house-cleaning supplies.

Here are the Facebook organizations that have come to my attention as of the Gringo Gazette publication deadline:

KSitas – on Facebook and www.ksitas.org; a 501c3 non-profit organization. Funds may be donated to https://ksitas.org/bajacampaigns. 100% of the money donated will go to building supplies and labor for rebuilding homes.

Colectivo Surf Brew Company (above White Horse Liquors) and local artist Jaime Carbo spearheaded this group. An auction of some of Jaime’s artwork is scheduled to aid the rebuilding effort. The first house is nearly finished, at a cost of about $6000 (USD). Their website is an excellent source of relief efforts.

Facebook: Baja Fire Victims – Led by Jackie Alameda (Of Baja Blues Fest) and Lisa Marlott, their group is working to rebuild 30 homes. They’re appealing to the public for food items, toiletries, diapers, building materials, medical supplies, blankets and sleeping bags. www.gofundme.com/f/baja-fire-Victims is their website. For more Information please call: 1-858-790-2380.

Facebook: La Mision Fire Relief Fund – and https://openarmsmexico.org. Led by Daniel and Heidi Elizarraraz, Directors. You may donate at the website through PayPal or with a credit card. Checks may be sent to Open Arms, PO Box 6605, Chula Vista, CA 91909. All donations are tax-deductible. Phone: 1-619-882-9001 or 01152-646-255-0858. Check their website for information on how to donate.

Kumiai Fire Relief Drive – to help our indigenous “first people” in the hills. Needed are non-perishable food, water, clothes, blankets, toiletries, wood, pet feed and cash. Drop off points are at Kumeyaay Community College, Monday-Friday, 10 am – 4 pm and Saturday / Sunday 10 am – 2 pm. Manzanita Activity Center Monday – Friday 10 am – 2 pm, and Viejas Recreational Center, Monday – Friday 8 am – 8 pm. Contact Martha Rodriguez 760-445-7726 for information. Also Grace Sesma, 720-363-6034, and Brooke Baines, US 1-619-519-8264.

I must caution you about Go Fund Me pages where you are not personally knowledgeable of the person in charge. These may be used for good or for evil purposes. If you know the person or group hosting the page, by all means feel free to contribute, but tragedy attracts creeps who take advantage of the situation for their own personal enrichment. Make sure you know your money is being used for the purpose you intended.

There will certainly be more groups forthcoming. Please share through your social media, or by personal reference. Much help is needed. You may also take donations of clothing, household goods, etc. to the local Cruz Roja Thrift Stores in Rosarito and Primo Tapia, which help our community year-round.

Thank you so much for your support of the community.

Fins Up! It’s 5:00 o’clock Somewhere

There is a new social club coming to Rosarito and Ensenada. Many of you may already qualify for membership even if you don’t know it. If you have a “laid back” attitude, you enjoy having fun with people who are a lot like you, and escaping to the beach is your lifetime goal (and let’s face it…we are HERE aren’t we?) then you just might be a Parrot Head.

No, I didn’t just insult your intelligence. Baja’s two newest Parrot Head Clubs (yes, there IS such a thing) are submitting their charter applications this November for inclusion into the Parrot Heads in Paradise Inc., which was created back in 1994.

Now, these clubs are not just another excuse to party. But as Chapters President Larry Norman explained to me, their tag line is “Party with a purpose.” And we can “party with a purpose while supporting our community and have fun doing it!” Over the last 16 years, Parrot Head Clubs have contributed $53.5 million to charitable organizations all over the world, and members have donated 4.2 million volunteer hours to their communities.

Larry described the Club’s Mission Statement is to “promote friendship and organized activities for people that share an affection for the tropical spirit of singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, and a desire to contribute to the betterment of our community and environment through a variety of volunteer efforts.” Just think, with all of the post-fire labor we all have been doing, those hours can be made part of our local Parrot Head charitable experience. The principle charities that will be supported by the Rosarito and Ensenada chapters are Hearts of Baja and Blues Against Hunger Society, which are charities near and dear to our hearts.

The first organizational meeting for the Ensenada chapter is 4 pm on November 12 at the Hotel Coral and Marina and in Rosarito November 14 at the Club at Number 18, Pikin Zip Line Park at 4 pm. Both meetings will be followed by a free three-hour concert by Mike Nash, one of Nashville’s top artists. Don’t worry if you miss the first meetings. The Parrot Head clubs will meet every month on the first Tuesday in Ensenada and first Thursday in Rosarito, with “It’s 5 o’clock” social hours to follow. Concerts will be performed every three months.

Mike Nash has played with Jimmy Buffet, Charlie Daniels, and Lynyrd Skynrd, to drop just a few names. He tours the United States, including Alaska, ever year in his motor home. Larry convinced him to come down to Baja as long as he was going to be in San Diego on his Stay Thirsty 2020 Winter Tour anyway.

I visited the Rosarito Chapter clubhouse, which is in Larry’s home and has been renovated into a club atmosphere complete with two indoor bars, comfy concert seating, fully stocked kitchen for food at the events, and (for sunnier weather) an outdoor bandstand with a beautiful ocean backdrop.

Membership is $20, and Larry hopes to have 40 Charter Members signed up during these first two meetings. But don’t worry if you miss the meetings as they will meet every month. Contact Larry at larrynormanctc@gmail.com or at US 1-619-554-2438 with any questions you have or to RSVP.  In time Larry would like to see more Parrot Head Clubs in Baja than in California (which has 6).

Some of you may still be asking “So why ‘Parrot Head?’” Originally it was said to be as “Dead Heads” followed the Grateful Dead, Buffet fans followed the message of Buffet’s music. For some reason unclear to me, these fans took to wearing stuffed parrots on their heads at concerts. So if this story has you humming “Margaritaville” right now, you just might be a Parrot Head.

Creative Gastronomy Comes to Town

BY DANIELLE WILLIAMS

Tripping at Viaje is what I like to do on a mellow Sunday afternoon on the terrasse of the newer restaurant in town, VIAJE, COCINA DEL MUNDO.  Cool jazz from a 4-piece ensemble, a glass of Chardonnay, and having just polished off an order of enfrijoladas – a sort of chicken crepes in a luscious bean sauce redolent of pasillas chiles – takes me close to Nirvana, or maybe pig’s heaven with an ocean view.

Open with much fanfare in February, Viaje is located midtown Rosarito in the Quinta del Mar complex. You drive through the arch and it is a straight shot around the fountain.

The building had been a restaurant in a former incarnation some 15 years ago when it burned down.  In came Jerome Gombert, a talented and ambitious Frenchman with successful restaurant experience in San Diego (Vagabond in North Park).  He had the vision to turn the structure into the stunning establishment it has become. Assisted by designer Roderick Shade of Architectural Digest fame, he has created an airy, elegant, yet hip space. The design takes advantage of existing exposed structural elements: the cellar, the vintage tile and wide plank wood floor, and wall niches. It has two distinct areas: a refectory style room around an oyster bar with two dozen huge lanterns to offset the bare bone feeling; in sharp contrast you then proceed to an explosion of colors and textures for a 1001-nights feeling provided by kilometers of draped sari fabrics in the two cozy rooms adjoining the patio.

When alone, I sit at the bar for a chat with Jeser, the amiable bartender. As a bonus, it affords a full view of the open kitchen with pedigreed chef, Jonathan  Casas, and his team in action. Everything is prepared to order with mostly local ingredients: organic veggies from the Guadalupe Valley and seafood from Ensenada and San Quintin.

Viaje, meaning “travel” offers a culinary tour of the world with an eclectic selection of French, Peruvian, Moroccan, and Chinese preparations.  I have not tried it all, but the steak tartare is for me a near addiction: chopped to order fresh sirloin with assorted spices. Jonathan’s rendition of bouillabaisse, the French fish soup, is another favorite.  If you are fussy about your oysters, you’ll love these plump, sweet on the shell – the best anywhere.  My companions have raved about the various ceviches which  I have not tried yet, but looked like works of art.

Several times, the attendance was minimal making me think that Viaje has not yet appeared on everyone’s radar.  I have heard that some folks are intimidated by the exotic touch and fear high prices. In reality, the prices are reasonable and the place is unpretentious as is Jerome whose hospitality makes you feel at home. As of this writing, there is a happy hour from 5-7 on weekdays with music on Friday. Try it, enjoy it, and why not toss a coin in the fountain on your way out.

Facial Recognition Technology is Here

In Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film, “The Minority Report,” facial recognition technology was present at every transit center and port of entry in every city, allowing the government to track the movements of any- and everyone. A person wanted for questioning or in the process of committing an unlawful act could easily be tracked and thereby quickly located and apprehended by authorities.

When that film was released, facial recognition technology was science fiction; although it was in research and development stages in reality then, it was far too expensive to be put into practical use.

As interest in the technology grew, several mega-corporations began competing to develop it into a viable product that could be sold to governments for use at border crossings, airports, and other transit centers, ostensibly to track bad guys and apprehend them before they could wreak havoc on government installations or on the population in general.

The US Customs and Border Protection agency announced in August that it is set to begin expanding the use of facial recognition technology at border crossings in California and Texas to screen people entering the country. In fact, it has already formally requested bids from companies for development and installation of the technology at the crossing sites.

The plan is to replace the static inspection kiosks with dynamic mobile biometric systems. In other words, documents (i.e., passports) and fingerprint tracking will be enhanced and ultimately replaced by the biometric system.

CBP has sought bids for a “test phase,” which will begin in December and continue as long as through May 2025. The bid is rumored to be worth as much as $960 million USD.

Currently, the three major corporations capable of developing and supporting the technology are Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc., and Google.

The government document that announced the request for bids to develop the technology for practical and widespread use at border crossings states that “A biometric-based approach allows threats to be pushed out further beyond our borders before travelers arrive to the U.S.” In other words, troublemakers will be identified and detained before they are even close to entering the country.

San Francisco was the first city to ban the use of such technology, citing privacy and civil rights issues. Other cities are set to follow suit.

The problem that many see with the technology is that as software designs have improved and computing costs have diminished, the use of facial recognition promises to be put into use by more and more entities, not limited in any way to the government’s use of it at international border crossings.

As in Spielberg’s film, such technology was employed by police departments, using it to arrest and detain people for “Pre-crimes,” with the assumption that spying on people enabled them to predict by a person’s behavior that he was imminently going to commit a crime before actually doing it.

CBP is already under serious criticism for its policies of separating children from their parents at the border. Many fear that their inhumane policies will only become more severe with the use of a technology that is based on software applications that are still in the developmental stages, and have not been tested on a large scale in practical situations.

The inherent dangers are obvious.

Over the last decade, CBP has made several deals with tech companies to enhance its surveillance capabilities. In 2013, CBP awarded a multi-million dollar contract to Northrup Grumman Corp (a manufacturer of fighter bomber jets, among other things) to develop biometric software that is currently in use at 15 airports around the country. The agency’s goal is to have such technology cover virtually every major U.S. airport by 2021.

At present, CBP tracks over 1 million individuals and about 280,000 vehicles daily. Its software is currently maintained by Amazon Web Services and Salesforce Inc. Although the staff of San Francisco-based Salesforce lobbied for the firm to cut ties with CBP, the CEO of Salesforce announced that he will continue to honor its contract with the agency.

Privacy? What privacy? Your cell phone is already a GPS tracker. You’re always being watched by a system of satellites.

Why not facial recognition? What have you got to hide?

Sadly, it doesn’t matter. They see you coming….

Casting Call! Extras Needed!

Monday, September 9th, 11:00 am – 5:00 pm at Baja Studios, Rosarito. Extras needed for two television shows filming between October 2019 and May 2020. The Barbarella Casting Agency is looking for men and women of all ages (6 – 70), all sizes, all “looks.” Especially needed: Men with hair and mustaches in full growth.

What to expect: Have your photo taken; have measurements taken for costumes, and provide your name and contact information. No appointment needed – Just show up.

Send this to a friend