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New From the GAO

January 30, 2015 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Defense Health Care: Additional Information Needed about Mental Health Provider Staffing Needs. GAO-15-184, January 30.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-184
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/668209.pdf

2. Federal Workforce: OPM and Agencies Need to Strengthen Efforts to Identify and Close Mission-Critical Skills Gaps. GAO-15-223, January 30.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-223
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/668203.pdf

China — Labor Rights Violations Continue in the Toy Industry

January 30, 2015 Comments off

Labor Rights Violations Continue in the Toy Industry
Source: China Labor Watch

China Labor Watch (CLW) today published a 66-page investigative report on continued labor rights violations in the toy industry. The four-factory investigation includes plants that manufacture for Mattel and Fisher-Price, Disney, Hasbro, Crayola, and other major international toy brand companies. During the investigation, the factories were making toys like Barbie, Mickey Mouse, Transformers’ Optimus Prime, and Thomas the Tank Engine.

The investigation, carried out from June to November 2014, targeted labor conditions in four facilities in Guangdong, China: Mattel Electronics Dongguan (MED), Zhongshan Coronet Toys (Coronet), Dongguan Chang’an Mattel Toys 2nd Factory (MCA), and Dongguan Lung Cheong Toys (Lung Cheong).

Collecting data through undercover probes and off-site worker interviews, the investigation exposes a set of 20 legal and ethical labor violations that include hiring discrimination, detaining workers’ personal IDs, lack of physical exams despite hazardous working conditions, workers required to sign training forms despite little or no safety training, a lack of protective equipment, ill-maintained production machinery, fire safety concerns, incomplete or nonexistent labor contracts, overtime hours of up to 120 hours per month, unpaid wages, underpaid social insurance, frequent rotation between day and night shifts, poor living conditions, environmental pollution, illegal resignation procedures, abusive management, audit fraud, and a lack of effective grievance channels and union representation.

See also: Working Conditions and Factory Auditing in the Chinese Toy Industry (Congressional-Executive Commission on China)
Hat tip: IWS Documented News Service

Banks that make the most money, and the least, on credit card loans

January 30, 2015 Comments off

Banks that make the most money, and the least, on credit card loans
Source: CreditCards.com

The most lucrative card companies are ones you probably never heard of — but whose cards you just might carry.

Store-card issuers Comenity Bank and Synchrony Financial, formerly called GE Capital, reaped the most interest and fees from their cardholders among 12 major card issuers, an analysis by CreditCards.com found.

Banks that issue credit cards are enjoying high profits these days, buoyed by low defaults and cheap funding costs. But some card banks are better off than others, thanks to cardholders who shell out more interest and fees. Creditcards.com analyzed financial reports filed by 1,300 U.S. banks to see who made the most — and the least — from their card business in 2013.

The analysis found a wide spread in card income — with some big banks collecting three times as much from cardholders as their competitors. The industry generated an average yield of 12.4 cents on each dollar of card balances last year, before losses and other costs. Among the top dozen issuers, yields ranged from a high of 28.4 cents to a low of 8.4 cents per dollar of card loans.

Unique in the shopping mall: On the reidentifiability of credit card metadata

January 30, 2015 Comments off

Unique in the shopping mall: On the reidentifiability of credit card metadata
Source: Science

Large-scale data sets of human behavior have the potential to fundamentally transform the way we fight diseases, design cities, or perform research. Metadata, however, contain sensitive information. Understanding the privacy of these data sets is key to their broad use and, ultimately, their impact. We study 3 months of credit card records for 1.1 million people and show that four spatiotemporal points are enough to uniquely reidentify 90% of individuals. We show that knowing the price of a transaction increases the risk of reidentification by 22%, on average. Finally, we show that even data sets that provide coarse information at any or all of the dimensions provide little anonymity and that women are more reidentifiable than men in credit card metadata.

See: Privacy challenges: Just four vague pieces of info can identify you, and your credit card (Science Daily)

Regulation costs Canadian businesses $37.1 billion a year

January 30, 2015 Comments off

Regulation costs Canadian businesses $37.1 billion a year
Source: Canadian Federation of Independent Business

According to Canada’s Red Tape Report, the total cost of complying with government rules and paperwork has reached $37.1 billion a year. In the smallest businesses, the average employee can spend more than a month each year (185 hours) just dealing with regulations.

The onerous burden of excessive regulation is also deterring the next generation of entrepreneurs, as the report notes 42% of small business owners would not advise their children to start a business.

Although not all regulation is red tape, business owners say the regulatory burden could be cut by about 30%, or $11 billion a year, with no negative effect on health, safety and environmental goals of regulation.

Historical Hydraulic Fracturing Trends and Data Unveiled in New USGS Publications

January 30, 2015 Comments off

Historical Hydraulic Fracturing Trends and Data Unveiled in New USGS Publications
Source: USGS

This national analysis of data on nearly 1 million hydraulically fractured wells and 1.8 million fracturing treatment records from 1947 through 2010 is used to identify hydraulic fracturing trends in drilling methods and use of proppants (sand or similar material suspended in water or other fluid to keep fissures open), treatment fluids, additives, and water in the United States. These trends are compared to peer-reviewed literature in an effort to establish a common understanding of the differences in hydraulic fracturing and provide a context for understanding the costs and benefits of increased oil and gas production. The publications also examine how newer technology has affected the amount of water needed for the process and where hydraulic fracturing has occurred at different points in time. Although hydraulic fracturing is in widespread use across the United States in most major oil and gas basins for the development of unconventional oil and gas resources, historically, Texas had the highest number of records of hydraulic fracturing treatments and associated wells documented in the datasets.

The Air War versus The Ground Game: An Analysis of Multi-Channel Marketing in US Presidential Elections

January 30, 2015 Comments off

The Air War versus The Ground Game: An Analysis of Multi-Channel Marketing in US Presidential Elections
Source: Harvard Business School Working Papers

Firms increasingly use both mass-media advertising and targeted personal selling to successfully promote products and brands in the marketplace. In this study, we jointly examine the effect of mass-media advertising and personal selling in the context of U.S. presidential elections, where the former is referred to as the “air war” and the latter the “ground game.” Specifically, we look at how different types of advertising―candidates’ own ads vs. outside ads―and personal selling―in the form of utilizing field offices―affect voter preferences. Further, we ask how these various campaign activities affect the outcome of elections through their diverse effects on various types of people. We find that personal selling has a stronger effect among partisan voters, while candidates’ own advertising is better received by non-partisans. We also find that personal selling accounted for the Democratic victories in the 2008 and 2012 elections and that advertising was critical only in a close election, such as the one in 2004. Interestingly, had the Democrats received more outside advertising in 2004, the election would have ended up in a 269-269 tie. Our findings generate insights on how to allocate resources across and within channels.

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