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.