DoJ says it will end private federal prisons

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Six weeks after Mother Jones published its explosive undercover expose on the abuses, shortcomings and waste in America's vast private prison system, the Department of Justice has issued a ban on renewal of federal private prison contracts (where they are not able to do this, officials are told to "substantially reduce" the scope of those contracts), with the goal of "reducing -- and ultimately ending -- our use of privately operated prisons." Read the rest

Walmarts are high-crime zones thanks to staff cuts, but America gets the bill

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Starting in 2000, Walmart began an aggressive cost-cutting campaign that removed greeters, reduced floor staff, and replaced cashiers with automated checkouts; the more this went on, the higher the crime-rate at Walmart soared, everything from shoplifting to deadly violence. In true Walmart style, the world's largest retailer has offloaded the costs associated with this crime to tax-funded law-enforcement. Read the rest

Kickstarting "The Founder": a dystopian business simulator

Francis Tseng's simulator game invites you to "grow your startup and please those investors until there’s nothing left to give" by building biotech, defense, machine learning, cloud computing, drone and space companies with a crew of employees whose low wages can be mitigated with bulletproof coffee and whose products can be sold with "causewashing" sponsorships of hip music festivals. Read the rest

Kill Rock Stars president explains why the radio plays the same songs over and over

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Gus the hacker puppeteer writes, "Many of us hoped the Internet would disrupt the music industry along with all other media industries, giving more power -- and more pay -- to musicians and songwriters. And yet, somehow the amount musicians get paid each time their songs stream is a tiny fraction of a cent." Read the rest

Hackers claim to have stolen NSA cyberweapons, auctioning them to highest bidder

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The Shadow Brokers, a previously unknown hacker group, has announced that it has stolen a trove of ready-to-use cyber weapons from The Equation Group (previously), an advanced cyberweapons dealer believed to be operating on behalf of, or within, the NSA. Read the rest

UK Intellectual Property Office grants trademark on "should've"

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The trademark was granted to discount eyewear company Specsavers, whose slogan is "should've gone to Specsavers." If you object, you have until October 12 to file with the IPO. Read the rest

John Oliver on subprime auto-lending and its killswitches

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We've been following the trade in remote kill-switches for cars sold to subprime borrowers since 2009, and watched in dismay as they got worse and worse: though John Oliver's report on the billions inflating the subprime auto-lending bubble touches on these, he focuses on the economic factors -- sleaze, corruption, moral hazard -- driving the tech. Read the rest

Scalpers drive Harry Potter play prices from £140 to £8,327

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What do you get when you combine fantastic wealth-inequality with winner-take-all entertainment economics and high-speed trading algorithms? The Viagogo marketplace, where botmasters who've harvested every available ticket for the new Harry Potter play, Harry Potter & the Cursed Child are auctioning them off to the war-criminals and financiers who've colonized London since the Blair years -- with Viagogo trousering a healthy £1,772.53 transaction fee on each ticket. Read the rest

How self-driving cars could make everything worse, and what to do about it

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The promise of self-driving cars is to take our vehicle fleets from 5% utilization to near-100% utilization, reducing congestion, parking problems, emissions and road accidents. But what if the cheapest way to "park" your autonomous vehicle is to have it endlessly circle the block while you're at work? What do we do about the lost jobs of bus-, truck- and cab-drivers? How will we pay for roads if gas-tax revenues plummet thanks to all-electric fleets? Read the rest

As social media centralized, blogging's core infrastructure has withered

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When "social media" meant "blogs," there were many tools, services and protocols that comprised an infrastructure for federated, open, loosely joined interaction: the rise of the social giants has killed off much of this infrastructure, all but erasing it from our memories. Read the rest

Why did it take a private foundation to do public science right?

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Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen funded the Allen Brain Observatory, a detailed, rich data-set derived from parts of a mouse-brain: what's striking is that the Allen Institute released all the data into the public domain, at once, as soon as it was available, which is exactly what you'd want the publicly funded alternatives to do, and what they almost never do. Read the rest

Profile of People's Ride: a co-operative, driver-owned alternative to Uber

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People's Ride is a co-op ride-hailing company in Grand Rapids, Michigan: drivers own the service in common and collectively decide how to spend its profits (for example, on deploying an app to go with its website); for-profit competitors like Uber take 30% commissions from their drivers and deliver them to investors, while People's Ride spends all the revenue paying drivers and improving the service. Read the rest

Monopoly power and the decline of small business: big business vs democracy, growth & equality

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In the 15 years between 1997 and 2012: 72,000 small US manufacturers shut down; as did 108,000 local retailers and 13,000 community banks (fully half of America's complement of small banks!). The number of US startups has dropped by 50% since 1970. These statistics are not the result of the changing times: they're due to massive, monopolistic corporations stacking the deck against small competitors through unfair and corrupt practices, to the detriment of American growth, equality and democracy. Read the rest

New brand empowers teen fashion designers through creativity and business

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My wife Kelly Sparks is design director at Epic Sky, a new fashion brand that's all about empowering young teen and tween girls. Rather than just trying to guess what young people want in clothes, Epic Sky is working with hypertalented teenage designers to develop the collections, and a wide network of teens and tweens to vet the products and contribute content to their site. This past Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a big spread about the company. Congrats to co-founders Monika Rose and Marian Kown, Kelly, and all the badass women at Epic Sky! From the SF Chronicle:

“We’re all about empowerment and positivity,” says Kwon. “There are a lot of media messages about girls being perfect — that they’re not smart or pretty enough, while our mission is to inspire the epic in every girl. You don’t have to have a perfect body or be the most athletic, which is the pressure a lot of middle school girls face. Snapchat and Instagram put a lot of pressure on girls, too.”

“We offer clothes that fit girls and go beyond stereotypes,” says Rose. “As a mom, I want a brand I can say yes to — clothes that are appropriate for girls’ changing bodies and don’t promote early sexualization. On the market now, you go from a one-piece Speedo to a Brazilian thong, and there’s no option in-between for these girls.” Whereas Epic Sky bikinis, designed by Sausalito 17-year-old Antje Worring, actually look like they’d be comfortable and fun to swim in, not just lie around and look glamorous...

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Tiny business card sculptures of the profession on the card

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Paper engineer Petrina Case creates miniature sculptures from business cards that, if so desired, may depict the profession listed on the card. She accepts commissions via her Etsy shop: Petrina Case Studio (via Neatorama)

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Foreign influence: how a Chinese businessman funneled $1.3M to Jeb Bush's campaign

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Gordon Tang and Huaidan Chen -- Chinese nationals who live in Singapore -- own a global property speculation and development empire whose US branch is called American Pacific International Capital Inc. They followed a recipe set out in a memo by Charlie Spies, a top Republican lawyer, in order to funnel $1.3M to Jeb Bush's PAC, then Tang offered a reporter for the Intercept $200,000 not to mention that he had been investigated for smuggling, tax evasion and bribery by the Chinese government. Read the rest

How and why to short Uber

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Uber's $62.5B valuation is an utterly speculative bet on a company that can only pay out if many sub-bets pay off: the timely arrival of self-driving cars, widespread adoption of car-sharing (rather than private self-driving car ownership), no effective competition from other hailing companies (including those backed by the car manufactuers), regulatory reform to legalize its practices, and smooth sailing for its massive subprime lending program for its drivers. Read the rest

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