How ‘data brokers’ are striking gold – By Kate Tummarello – 05/31/14 08:38 AM EDT


A growing number of “data brokers” are raking in profits by scouring through the Internet to build profiles of consumers.

By looking at purchasing histories, social media pages and more, the brokers can piece together pictures of individual consumers that can help companies target their advertising with great precision.

Privacy advocates fear the information could be used for more nefarious ends, and the industry has caught the attention of federal regulators.

This week, the Federal Trade Commission issued a long-awaited report on the data broker industry that highlights how the companies collect and use data about consumers. The agency called on Congress to pass legislation requiring “transparency and accountability” in the industry.

The report comes on the heels of a similar report from the Senate Commerce Committee last year, and a call from the White House for a new privacy law.

The reports from the FTC and the Senate Commerce Committee both said data brokers group consumers together into categories for the use of marketers.

The FTC said the categories include “Plus-size Apparel,” “African-American Professional,” “Biker/Hell’s Angels,” “Allergy Sufferer,” “Exercise – Sporty Living” and “Working Class Mom.”

The Senate Commerce Committee report cited categorizations such as “Burdened by Debt: Singles,” “X-tra Needy,” “Credit Crunched: City Families,” “Ethnic Second-City Strugglers,” “Fragile Families” and “Small Town Shallow Pockets.”

The companies build the profiles based on publicly available information on social media platforms, retailers’ records of offline and online purchases made with credit and debit cards and information that consumers volunteer online, such as online surveys, warranty forms and sweepstakes entries.

Article continues:

http://thehill.com/policy/technology/207809-how-data-brokers-are-striking-gold

In Confronting Poverty, ‘Harvest Of Shame’ Reaped Praise And Criticism – by ELIZABETH BLAIR May 31, 2014 5:22 AM ET


 

 

 

CBS/YouTube

Harvest of Shame first aired in 1960, the day after Thanksgiving.

Fifty years ago this year, President Lyndon Johnson launched his war on poverty; But just a few years before that, CBS gave millions of Americans a close look at what it means to live in poverty.

In the world of journalism, CBS’ Peabody Award-winning documentaryHarvest of Shame is considered a milestone for its unflinching examination of the plight of migrant farmworkers in the United States. The CBS investigative report was the first time millions of Americans were given a close look at what it means to live in poverty. The producers — Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow and David Lowe — made no secret of their goal: They wanted to shock Americans into action. To maximize its impact, CBS aired the documentary — about the people who pick fruits and vegetables — the day after Thanksgiving. Murrow, perhaps the most recognized journalist of the day, delivered their message with a sense of urgency. “We present this report on Thanksgiving because, were it not for the labor of the people you are going to meet, you might not starve, but your table would not be laden with the luxuries that we have all come to regard as essentials,” he said in his narration.

Harvest of Shame begins in an open lot, crowded with men and women looking for jobs. It’s what’s called a “shape-up” for migrant workers. Crew leaders yell out the going rate for that day’s pay and men and women pack onto the backs of large trucks that drive them to the fields. One farmer told CBS, “We used to own our slaves. Now we just rent them.”

The film is full of vivid, black and white images reminiscent of Depression-era photographers Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. In it, African-Americans and whites; weary mothers, fathers and their children recount their stories to producer Lowe. Sitting with her nine children, one woman tells Lowe that an average dinner is a pot of beans or potatoes. As for milk, she reluctantly admits the children might have it once a week, when she draws a paycheck.

Article continues:

http://www.npr.org/2014/05/31/317364146/in-confronting-poverty-harvest-of-shame-reaped-praise-and-criticism

Why towns separated by U.S.-Mexico border closings are fighting back – by Catherine Rentz May 31, 2014 1:00AM ET


In rural West Texas, residents held a mid-river “fiesta protesta” calling for easier access to their Mexican neighborsScreen Shot 2014-05-31 at May 31, 2014 6.14

LAJITAS, Texas – On a blistering 101-degree May day, Brisa Garcia’s two daughters bounced in anticipation along the banks of the Rio Grande River in far West Texas.

It was the first time in a year that the two girls would see their grandmother and aunt, and they were dressed for the occasion. Both donned long matching French braids, one topped by a khaki Gucci baseball hat and the other by a straw hat with a big fuchsia bow.

Catching sight of their relatives on the other side of the river, they exploded into wide smiles and waded in, yelling and waving while trying to hold onto the bouquets of red roses they had for the women.

Eventually, dozens of other Texans and Mexicans followed suit, albeit with a little more hesitation, given that U.S. Border Patrol agents lingered above on a hill. By the end of the day, relatives and friends packed that corner of the river dancing, singing and grilling on both sides. It was – at least for a few hours – a return to a time before their lives became so complicated.

Technically, the “fiesta protesta,” or protest party, they were a part of on May 11 took place between two countries: Lajitas in Texas and Paso Lajitas in Mexico. These two towns were once close-knit communities, but since 9/11, when several informal border crossings were effectively closed,  the Paso Lajitas side had become a ghost town.

Crossing between the towns used to mean a couple of minutes wading across the river. Residents now face a four-hour trek through the nearest official crossing. People on both sides say the heightened border control has kept mothers from daughters and businesses from customers – a loss that’s costing them their community. So now they are pushing back: asking for less – not more – border control.

http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/articles/2014/5/30/why-towns-separatedbyusmexicoborderclosingsarefightingback.html

This Is Why You Have No Business Challenging Scientific Experts – —By Chris Mooney | Fri May 30, 2014 6:00 AM EDT`


Harry Collins, a founder of the field of “science studies,” explains why we should listen to scientists on climate change, vaccines, and HIV-AIDS.

Jenny McCarthy, who once remarked that she began her autism research at the “University of Google” Scott Roth/Invision/AP

Remember “Climategate“? It was the 2009 nonscandal scandal in which a trove of climate scientists’ emails, pilfered from the University of East Anglia in the UK, were used to call all of modern climate research into question. Why? Largely because a cursory reading of those emails—showing, for example, climate scientists frankly discussing how to respond to burdensome data requests and attacks on their work—revealed a side of researchers that most people aren’t really used to seeing. Suddenly, these “experts” looked more like ordinary human beings who speak their minds, who sometimes have emotions and rivalries with one another, and (shocker) don’t really like people who question the validity of their knowledge.

In other words, Climategate demonstrated something that sociologists of science have know for some time—that scientists are mortals, just like all the rest of us. “What was being exposed was not something special and local but ‘business as usual’ across the whole scientific world,” writes Cardiff University scholar Harry Collins, one of the original founders of the field of “science studies,” in his masterful new book, Are We All Scientific Experts Now? But that means that Climategate didn’t undermine the case for human-caused global warming at all, says Collins. Rather, it demonstrated why it is so hard for ordinary citizens to understand what is going on inside the scientific community—much less to snipe and criticize it from the outside. They simply don’t grasp how researchers work on a day-to-day basis, or what kind of shared knowledge exists within the group.

That’s a case that Collins makes not only about the climate issue, but also to rebut vaccine deniers, HIV-AIDS skeptics, and all manner of scientific cranks and mavericks. All of them, he argues, are failing to understand what’s so important and powerful about a group of experts coming to a scientific consensus. “If we devalue scientific attitudes and scientific values, we’re going to find ourselves living in an unpleasant society,” explains Collins on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast.

Defenses of scientific expertise have been published before—but the source of this particular defense is what is likely to surprise a lot of people. There was a time, after all, when people like Collins—sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and other scholars studying science itself—were deemed to be researchers’ worst enemies, rather than their staunchest defenders. The so-called “science wars” between these two camps peaked with the 1996 “Sokal Hoax,” in which one New York University physicist, Alan Sokal, got so fed up with so-called “postmodern” critics of scientific knowledge that he spoofed them by submitting a gibberish-laden article, entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” to one of their own journals. The paper got published, to Sokal’s delight.

Article continues:

Little Sovereign Wealth Fund on the Prairie – By Daniel Gross MAY 29 2014 10:16 AM


Raven Drilling, works on an oil rig drilling into the Bakken shale formation on July 28, 2013 outside Watford City, North Dakota.
Ray Gerish, a floor hand for Raven Drilling, works on an oil rig drilling into the Bakken shale formation on July 28, 2013 outside Watford City, North Dakota.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

North Dakota is enjoying a flood of biblical proportions. Shale-drilling technology has liberated huge quantities of oil from the Bakken shale in the western part of the state. Production has surged from about 100,000 barrels per day in 2007 to nearly 1 million barrels per day this year—a tenfold increase.

But North Dakota, America’s latest petro-state, is handling its newfound wealth with the kind of modesty you might expect in a land where people live in giant open spaces and at the mercy of nature. Decades of boom and bust in agriculture have forged a culture of thrift, an abhorrence of debt, and a healthy mistrust of high finance. Alone among the 50 states, North Dakota has a state-owned bank. It never had much of a housing and credit boom, so it never had much of a housing bust.

So it’s not surprising the state is taking a conservative approach to its sovereign wealth fund, the North Dakota Legacy Fund.

At about $2 billion, the fund is a minnow among the more established resource-fueled public funds in the world. For decades, Norway has channeled its North Sea oil wealth into a fund that now contains $840 billion. Sovereign wealth funds based in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, and elsewhere in the Persian Gulfhave become important fixtures in the global financial scene—buying companies, building skyscrapers, and financing massive projects. Several U.S. states have channeled resource revenues into common property. The Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund, which collects revenues from coal, oil, and gas extracted in the state, has about $6 billion in assets—about $10,000 for each of the state’s 576,000 residents. The interest and income it generates flows into Wyoming’s general fund, and helps the state get by without an income tax. The Alaska Permanent Fund created in the 1970s, has some $51 billion in assets. Each year, it pays out a dividend to citizens ($900 in 2013) to ease the sting and expense of residing in the state.

North Dakota, by contrast, has chosen to create a lockbox. The state had long imposed a 6.5 percent extraction tax and a 5 percent production tax assessed against the value of oil removed from its soil. The funds raised went into the general budget fund, or were channeled into trust funds to support schools or infrastructure.

But when fracking turned the Bakken Shale into Saudi Arabia on the high plains, the trickle of oil revenues turned into a gusher. Eager not to squander the state’s good fortune, North Dakota in 2010 created the state’s Legacy Fund through an amendment to the state constitution. The amendment stipulated that 30 percent of all extraction and production tax revenues collected should flow into the fund. Further, the money couldn’t be touched for seven years, until 2017—at which point the interest and income generated by the fund would be rolled into the state’s general budget. Money from the principal could only be spent if two-thirds of both houses of the state legislature approved. And no more than 15 percent of the principal could be spent in any two-year period.

The rainy day fund filled up much more quickly than anybody anticipated. From 2011–13, oil taxes produced nearly $4 billion for the state. By July 2013, the fund contained $1.23 billion.

In the self-driving seat – May 31st 2014


Google is miles ahead of its rivals in the race for autonomous motoring

Not quite as glamorous as “Knight Rider”

TO GOOGLE is now in broad usage as a verb for retrieving information from the internet. If the tech giant has its way, “I Googled” will become a standard reply to the question, “How did you get here?” On May 28th Google said it would build 100 prototype driverless cars devoid of pedals, steering wheel or controls save an on/off switch. It is the next stage in its apparent quest to be as ubiquitous on the road as on computer screens.

People have dreamed about driverless motoring since at least the 1930s, but only in recent years have carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz and Volvo given the matter more thought, kitting out test cars with the sensors and sophisticated software required to negotiate busy roads. Google has roared ahead by designing a driverless car from the ground up.

But bringing autonomous motoring to the world is proving harder than Google had envisaged. It once promised it by 2017. Now it does not see production models coming out before 2020. The technology is far advanced, but needs shrinking in size and cost—Google’s current test cars, retrofitted Toyota and Lexus models, are said to be packed with $80,000-worth of equipment.

Google’s latest efforts may have as much to do with convincing the public and lawmakers as refining the technology. The firm stresses the safety advantages of computers being more likely than humans to avoid accidents. The cars will have a top speed of just 25mph and a front end made of soft foam to cushion unwary pedestrians. The benefits could indeed be huge. Driving time could be given over to working, snoozing or browsing the web. Rather than suffer all the costs of owning a car, some people may prefer to summon a rented one on their smartphones whenever they need it. However, the issue of liability in the event of a driverless car crashing has yet to be resolved.

Turning cars into commodities may not be good news for traditional carmakers. But reinventing motoring as a service fits neatly with Google’s plans to become as big in hardware as in software. And unlike car firms, which talk vaguely of becoming “mobility providers”, Google has pots of cash to make that a reality and no worries about disrupting its current business. Google admits it still has “lots of work to do”. But one day Googling to the shops may be a common activity.

http://www.economist.com/news/business/21603029-google-miles-ahead-its-rivals-race-autonomous-motoring-self-driving-seat

Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki resigns after report – 30 May 2014 Last updated at 15:35 ET


 “I want somebody who’s spending every minute of every day figuring out, ‘Are we fixing the system?'”

Embattled US Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned amid a scandal over delayed care and falsified records at the agency’s hospitals.

President Barack Obama said Mr Shinseki told him he did not want to be a distraction as the agency tried to fix Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals.

Mr Obama said he accepted the resignation “with considerable regret”.

A recent report found veterans at an Arizona hospital waited an average of 115 days for an initial appointment.

‘New leadership’

On Friday morning after an Oval Office meeting with Mr Shinseki, a retired four-star general wounded in Vietnam, Mr Obama told reporters Mr Shinseki had “worked hard to investigate and identify the problems with access to care”.

“But as he told me this morning, the VA needs new leadership to address them,” Mr Obama said.

“We don’t have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem.”

The US president said he had named Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson to be acting head of the agency.

Shinseki: “I apologise as the senior leader of Veterans Affairs”

Mr Shinseki’s decision to step down came as his support among Mr Obama’s own Democratic Party steadily eroded. Republicans in Congress and at least one major veterans group had called for him to step down earlier this month.

On Friday, Jeff Miller, Republican chairman of the House veterans affairs committee, said Mr Shinseki’s tenure had been “tainted by a pervasive lack of accountability among poorly performing VA employees and managers, apparent widespread corruption among medical centre officials and an unparalleled lack of transparency”.

And House Speaker John Boehner said the resignation “does not absolve the president of his responsibility to step in and make things right for our veterans”.

Mr Shinseki’s resignation is the culmination of months of tumult at the agency over reports that administrators at a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, had falsified records to hide a lengthy backlog of veterans awaiting care.

On Wednesday, an internal VA inquiry revealed veterans in Phoenix waited an average of 115 days for a first appointment, but the hospital reported to the agency an average wait time of only 24 days.

The VA inspector general’s report also said at least 1,700 veterans were not even on official waiting lists because they had not been properly registered.

The Carl T Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix is seen 28 May 2014
The Phoenix VA hospital was the first focus of the investigation into veterans deliberately left off waiting lists

A separate internal audit released on Friday found 64% of the more than 200 VA sites investigated so far had at least one instance of questionable scheduling procedures.

VA strained

Mr Obama acknowledged the misconduct was not limited to Phoenix but had occurred in VA facilities across the country.

“It’s totally unacceptable,” he said on Friday. “Our veterans deserve the best. They’ve earned it.”

Mr Shinseki had begun sacking senior officials at the Phoenix hospital, and has also cancelled bonuses for top VA executives and ordered the agency to contact any veteran in Phoenix waiting for care.

The US veterans health system serves about nine million former US military service members.

Its resources have been strained by the ageing population of Korean and Vietnam War veterans as well as the large influx of wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-27640375

Experts puzzle over $2-billion bid for Clippers – CHARLES FLEMING, WALTER HAMILTON, ANDREA CHANG May 31 2014


Steve Ballmer’s $2-billion offer for the Los Angeles Clippers — nearly four times the record sale for an NBA team — has experts puzzling over how the former Microsoft chief plans to make any money on the deal.

But Ballmer, with a net worth estimated at about $20 billion, may have little need for profit. The eye-popping bid from the world’s 34th richest man underscores the explosion in tech wealth and the nonchalance with which billionaires chase trophy brands.

“This reflects an enormously wealthy person buying a toy,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. “It’s not a financial investment.”

If it were, the prospects for near-term profitability are at best questionable, according to experts in valuing sports franchises. Some observers believe the scarcity of available professional sports franchises makes almost any deal a good bet for the long term. But others see no financial justification.

“When I try to make sense of it economically, I can’t,” said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College. “You might be able to justify a price that’s maybe half of that, but you can’t justify $2 billion.”

The sky-high offer grew out of a sudden and rushed bidding war for the team. Ballmer’s winning bid beat a $1.6-billion offer from entertainment moguls David Geffen and Oprah Winfrey, who partnered with principals of Dodgers owner Guggenheim Partners and others. Another offer, at $1.2 billion, came from a team of Los Angeles investors led by Tony Ressler and Bruce Karsh and former basketball star Grant Hill.

Even the jilted suitors, who were not given a chance to match Ballmer’s higher offer, seemed stunned by the $2-billion number.

“I just can’t understand what exactly Ballmer was thinking when he decided to pay this price, but it’s fair to say he was determined to own it,” said one of the bidders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on behalf of his investment group. “It did not make financial sense based on where the team is today.”

All three bids were far higher than any previous estimates of the Clippers’ value or the highest price ever paid for an NBA team — the $550-million sale price for the Milwaukee Bucks this month.

The Clippers were purchased in 1981 by current owner Donald Sterling for $12.5 million. Although the real estate billionaire had no intention of selling the team, it came into play after last month’s public airing of tapes in which he chastised a female friend for socializing with black people.

This week’s auction was led by Sterling’s wife, and Clippers co-owner, Shelly Sterling, in an apparent attempt to complete a sale before a meeting Tuesday at which NBA owners were scheduled to vote on whether to strip the Sterlings of ownership. The NBA announced Friday that the meeting had been canceled because of the deal with Ballmer.

Donald Sterling has not publicly agreed to the deal. The embattled billionaire has said, through representatives, that he will never relinquish control of the team.

In the days following the release of Sterling’s remarks, a widely reported Forbes estimate valued the Clippers at $575 million.

Joe Maloof, whose family once owned the Houston Rockets and sold the Sacramento Kings last year, agreed that Ballmer is overpaying. And yet he insisted the bid is a smart move.

“These teams are rare gems,” Maloof said. “Owning a sports franchise in today’s world is a very secure investment. They always appreciate in value.”

One sports investment banker said that, if projected increases in television revenues are extended well into the future, the Ballmer offer doesn’t look so crazy.