National / International News
Some of the National Football League's big-money sponsors think the league is not doing enough to grapple with the problem of players who are charged with domestic violence. Last night, the Minnesota Vikings deactivated running back Adrian Peterson while he faces child abuse charges. Plus, California has a new law on its books. It's been dubbed the "Yelp law"--after the online location-aware directory of restaurants and other establishments. More on the "Yelp law," which stops businesses from stopping you from writing bad reviews. And tomorrow, the people of Scotland go to the polls for one of the most crucial political and economic decisions of their lives. They'll vote on whether or not they want to separate from the United Kingdom. More on the economic implications of a decision to split.
California Governor Jerry Brown has signed what some have dubbed the "Yelp Law." It bars the business practice of "non-disparagement clauses": fine print that prohibits customers from writing bad reviews.
The law was inspired by a case in Utah, in which online retailer KlearGear went after a couple who aired their grievances on the website Ripoff Report. KlearGear responded by calling the husband, John Palmer. His attorney, Scott Michelman characterizes that call: "'Your wife criticized us on Ripoff Report. You now [owe] us a penalty of $3,500."
Michelman and the Palmers ultimately won the case, though it took a lengthy legal battle. Their story inspired the California law, which bans such policies outright and imposes escalating financial penalties if businesses seek to enforce them.
Michelmann added that the law does nothing to restrict the traditional way of dealing with malicious and untrue statements: a defamation lawsuit.
"As opposed to an effort to harass, intimidate and silence its critics," Michelson says.
Either way, though, the business has to find those critics. Sparks Steakhouse is suing Yelp to find the identity of a reviewer who claims to be a former employee. "I have personally spit my own sal[i]via [sic] into dishes for the passed [sic] 3 weeks now," the review says.
Across the street from the restaurant, Victoria Miller says that one review would keep her away. "I would definitely avoid that place at all costs," she says.
True or false, that online critic's best defense is anonymity.
On Thursday, the people of Scotland go to the polls for the most important economic decision of their lives. They’ll vote on whether or not they want to separate from the United Kingdom. They’ll also be voting with an unprecedented chorus of warnings ringing in their ears.
More than a hundred companies with Scottish operations have spoken of the perils of independence; five major banks, a big insurance company and one of the UK’s largest investment funds have threatened to pull their headquarters out of Scotland if there’s a "yes" vote; and supermarket chains say it could mean higher prices.
The pro-independence leader Alex Salmond blames the 'No' Campaign for this outpouring of corporate angst.
“I think the problem lies entirely with the 'No' campaign," Salmond told a news conference in Edinburgh. "The 'No' campaigners have been caught red-handed as being part of a campaign of scaremongering."
Salmond claims that those opposed to independence—including the UK’s national government at Westminster—have pressured the companies into speaking out.
But the warnings of turmoil have been widespread and cannot be so easily dismissed. The main concern is acute uncertainty.
Following a "yes" vote, there would be at least 18 months of intense negotiation over some highly contentious issues: What currency would Scotland use? How much of the UK’s national debt would it shoulder? How much of the North Sea oil would it inherit?
Mike Amey of the Pimco bond investment firm says this would create uncertainty which could be economically damaging.
“We wouldn’t know who’d end up with what. As a result you’d find some business investment put on hold during that period, the economy would be weaker," says Amey.
Some economists say that, at a stroke, the UK’s reputation as a global safe haven would be smashed. A survey of foreign exchange traders has indicated that the British pound could fall by 10%, and it would be more difficult for the UK to attract the inward investment flows that it needs to balance its books.
Dire predictions are coming thick and fast. A well-known property website forecasts that if there’s a "yes" vote, Scottish house price could crash, wiping $130 billion of the value of Scottish real estate and rattling Britain’s mortgage banks.
Scottish businesswoman and "Yes" campaigner Michelle Rodger says these forecasts are ludicrously negative.
“A 'yes' vote would send the most positive message to the rest of the world,” she says. “It would be Scotland saying: We’ve taken this opportunity, we’ve grasped it with both hands and we’re going to change Scotland for the better."
No one doubts the Scots would be able to run their own successful economy—they’ve played a leading role in the UK’s political, corporate, scientific and creative life for centuries. But divorce can be messy. Disentangling the 307 year old union with the rest of Britain would be monumentally difficult and costly.
We learned from the Census Bureau this week that the federal poverty rate has fallen, albeit slightly, for the first time since 2006. Last year, 14.5 percent of people in this country earned less than the federal poverty line, down from 15 percent in 2012. But a new report out Wednesday says far more families are financially insecure.
Nearly half of households in major U.S. cities are “liquid asset poor,” according to the report from the nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) and Citigroup. That means if they lose their incomes, those households don’t have enough accessible savings to get by for three months at the federal poverty level.
“Liquid poverty tells us that many communities and families that may be middle class really don’t have the cash available, the liquidity available, to respond to unexpected emergencies or needs,” says Bob Annibale, Citigroup’s global director of community development.
Worse off is Newark, NJ, with nearly 75 percent of households considered liquid asset poor. When so many families lack a financial cushion, it takes a toll on the whole economy, says Stephanie Hoopes Halpin, an assistant professor at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark.
“What it means is that a huge portion of your community is struggling just to pay their bills,” she says.
The report is being presented at a conference in Washington, D.C. aimed at helping more low-income families save. Solutions include automatic savings plans “so that people don’t have to think about it every time they need to save a dollar,” says Ida Rademacher, chief program officer at CFED, or helping people pay off debts so that they can begin saving.
Lower-income households can and will save, she says, if given the right opportunities.
Schools around the country are using student data in all sorts of ways: to personalize education, to figure out which teaching techniques are working, and to make school services more efficient.
One place to actually see student data in action is the modern school cafeteria.
At Carr Intermediate School in Santa Ana California, sixth graders start school a day early for orientation. Among the lessons they’ll learn: how to use their ID cards to get through the lunch line quickly.
“Part of what we are trying to teach them is technology,” says school principal Ed Bustamante.
Students punch their ID numbers into a keypad. That brings up their names, photos, even food allergies. The cashier greets students by name and sends them on their way.
It all happens very fast. Hundreds of kids grab burritos, mini-burgers, fruit and milk in no time.
Mark Chavez is Director of Nutrition Services at Santa Ana Unified School District. He says the cafeteria software, called Meals Plus, records each child who gets a meal.
That kind of information can come in very handy if, for instance, a child’s academic performance starts to slip—School administrators can check to see if that child is eating.
The central office can also see exactly how many meals were served in the district, so schools can be sure they are being reimbursed properly by the state.
And, says Chavez, data can help when an upset parent calls because her child came home with a stomach ache: “We’ll say, ‘Mom, sorry to tell you, but they didn’t have lunch today because we didn’t see them at any points of sale.”
All students at Santa Ana get free meals, so the district only keeps track of whether a child got lunch or not.
But in some schools, cafeteria systems will log exactly what a kid puts on her tray—pizza or a chicken sandwich, juice or milk.
“The transaction can be rather detailed,” says Joel Reidenberg, a professor at Fordham University and a student data privacy expert. “Over time, that builds a profile of a child’s eating habits.”
Reidenberg says in some schools, cafeteria payment services are run by private contractors.
“Schools have lost control about the information about their children when they start using these outsourced services,” he says.
Then, says Reidenberg it’s not at all clear how that data will be used.