Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
James Joiner reports in the Daily Beast:
Willie Nelson takes a hit of the cigarette-sized vaporizer in his gnarled hand, exhaling a small cloud, before placing it on the foldout table in front of us. We’re seated in the cool enclave of his tour bus, at the entrance to his sprawling property just outside Austin, Texas, which he has dubbed the town of Luck. Up a hill and around a corner, people are rocking out at Willie’s own Heartbreaker Banquet, an annual fundraiser/music festival held concurrently with SXSW.
Now 81, Willie is biding his time before joining the festivities, and we’re talking about why he puts on the event every year. In the process, he lets slip that he has something else in the works: a new brand of weed, called, naturally, Willie’s Reserve.
Pressed on this, he’s either dismissive or coy, though he does indicate that the smoking implement he has again picked up is a part of the line. The PR person promises to connect me with Michael Bowman, a veteran hemp and pot lobbyist who serves as the fledgling brand’s spokesperson. Two days later, much colder, much more sober, and back in my native New England, Bowman and I connect by phone.
The discussion is below, but the rub is that the marijuana world is about to get its first connoisseur brand, edging it farther from an illegal substance and closer to the realm of fine wines.
So what exactly is Willie’s Reserve?
Well, you know, Willie has spent a lifetime in support of cannabis, both the industrial hemp side and the marijuana side. He wants it to be something that’s reflective of his passion. Ultimately, it’s his. But it was developed by his family, and their focus on environmental and social issues, and in particular this crazy war on drugs, and trying to be a bright light amongst this trail as we’re trying to extract ourselves from the goo of prohibition.
Really he wants it, at the end of the day, to envelop what his personal morals and convictions are. So from the store itself to how they’ll work with suppliers and how things are operated, it’s going to be very reflective of Willie’s life.
Wait, so there’s going to be stores?
Well, yeah, they’re in the making. I think it’s safe to say that there will be stores that roll out in the states where marijuana has become legal.
So will there be signature strains that you grow under Willie’s oversight? Or will you sell other people’s strains? . . .
Interesting article discussed by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:
Walter Frick writes in the Atlantic about recent research which suggests that a strong social safety net increases entrepreneurship. For example, one researcher found that expansion of the food stamp program led to a higher chance that eligible households would start new businesses:
Interestingly, most of these new entrepreneurs didn’t actually enroll in the food stamp program. It seems that expanding the availability of food stamps increased business formation by making it less risky for entrepreneurs to strike out on their own. Simply knowing that they could fall back on food stamps if their venture failed was enough to make them more likely to take risks.
The same is true of other programs. For example, the Children’s Health Insurance Program: . . .
James Fallows writes at his blog in the Atlantic:
1) Has anything like this ever happened before? Yes it has. Back in 1999, EgyptAir flight 990, shortly after taking off from Kennedy airport in New York en route to Cairo, disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Cod. In 2001, my friend and then-Atlantic-colleague William Langewiesche, who has spent all his life around aviation, wrote a celebrated story for our magazine about the evidence that the plane’s pilot had deliberately flown the aircraft into the sea. You can read “The Crash of EgyptAir 990″ online here. It is probably the most useful work of journalism to consider today.
William Langewiesche’s piece contains this observation, which so far reflects to the great credit of French and German officials:
One of the world’s really important divides lies between nations that react well to accidents and nations that do not. This is as true for a confined and technical event like the crash of a single flight as it is for political or military disasters. The first requirement is a matter of national will, and never a sure thing: it is the intention to get the story right, wherever the blame may lie. The second requirement follows immediately upon the first, and is probably easier to achieve: it is the need for people in the aftermath to maintain even tempers and open minds.
2) Could this happen in just the same way on U.S. airlines? In exactly the same way, no. In a somewhat similar way, yes.
It wouldn’t happen in exactly the same way, with one member of the flight crew left alone in the cockpit, because on U.S. airlines . . .
Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., last week addressed the Free State Foundation to announce his new plan to undermine recently enacted net neutrality rules by going after the funding of the Federal Communications Commission, the agency behind the decision.
The FCC’s approach to net neutrality represents “potential untenable rules and regulatory overreach that will hurt consumers,” said Walden, the chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, speaking at the foundation’s annual Telecom Policy Conference. Walden outlined a plan to limit FCC appropriations, cap its other revenue sources, and change the hiring process for the FCC’s inspector general.
David Segal, co-founder of Demand Progress, a pro-net neutrality group, said Walden’s remarks “underscore his allegiance to corporate interests.”
Walden’s choice of venue is telling. According to tax filings by two cable and wireless trade associations, the Free State Foundation has received nearly half a million dollars from the trade associations over the last five years. CTIA-The Wireless Association — representing Verizon, AT&T and Motorola, among others — gave the foundation $213,750. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the trade group for Comcast and other major cable companies, provided $280,000 to the foundation. The two trade groups intend to file a lawsuit to block the FCC’s net neutrality rules.
The Free State Foundation raised $797,500 total in 2012 but is not legally required to disclose its donors and, unlike many think tanks, does not do so voluntarily on its website. PCWorld gave the foundation an “F” rating for donor transparency. As of publication, the Free State Foundation has not responded to questions about its funders.
The Free State Foundation, founded by Randolph May, a former telecommunications attorney in Washington, D.C., describes itself as . . .
Perhaps there’s always this sort of struggle between the greedy and those interested in the common welfare, but lately the power has swung heavily in favor of the greedy, and we’re all the worse off for it.
Pam Martens writes at Wall Street on Parade:
One would think we had asked for missile launch codes when we reached out to the futures exchanges to find out what caused the precipitous plunge in the U.S. Dollar’s futures contract at 4:04 P.M. Wednesday afternoon – long after the Federal Reserve’s market moving news had been digested by traders.
If currencies are now the new weapons of mass destruction – maybe we were asking for the equivalent of missile launch codes.
Our curiosity was piqued when the intrepid Eric Hunsader of market data firm, Nanex,published amazing charts showing a precipitous plunge in the U.S. Dollar just after the equity markets had closed in New York. Hunsader wrote:
“On March 18, 2015 between 4:02 and 4:09 PM Eastern Daylight Time, the U.S. Dollar flash crashed, losing over 3% of its value in just under 4 minutes, then gaining most of it back over the next 3 minutes.”
If that isn’t a Flash Crash, I don’t know what is. (Both Wall Street On Parade and Hunsader know a thing or two about Flash Crashes.) But no mainstream business media reported the event as a Flash Crash or even alluded to the 4-minute bungee jump and retracement in any explicit terms.
The Wall Street Journal reported the next morning that “For a few minutes on Wednesday, the lack of dollar buyers caused a short-term freeze in electronic trading platforms, according to a New York-based trader at a major currency-dealing bank. ‘There was a lot of shouting on the desk, a lot of nervousness,’ the trader said…”
This morning, the Wall Street Journal is using stronger language, calling it a “wild ride” in currencies on Wednesday and quoting a currency trader who said it “was like a zoo,” with traders “struggling to fill orders” and “screaming and yelling for the fill.” (The “fill” means to have their currency order “filled,” that is, the transaction completed.)
One business writer who did quickly capture the magnitude of the plunge was Barron’s Chris Dieterich, who reported at 4:26 P.M. on Wednesday that the dollar “was down a whopping 3.6% versus the euro in recent trading, according to FactSet.”
There is no question that there is an extremely crowded trade in bullish bets on the U.S. Dollar by hedge funds around the world. In just the past year, the U.S. Dollar has gained 29 percent against the Euro on talk from the Fed of a strengthening U.S. economy and plans for an interest rate hike. But what made this move unusual was that the plunge didn’t happen right after the Fed’s FOMC statement release at 2 P.M., alluding to the potential for a delayed hike in interest rates, or during Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s press conference at 2:30 P.M. It happened at 4:04 P.M. Eastern time.
We went to the source for clarification: the CME and ICE exchanges which trade currency futures. A courteous spokesperson for CME told us the following via email: . . .
And why not? Because the companies housing the data have no reason to spend money on it: if the data are stolen, the company suffers no real loss or penalty. Why spend money to guard data if losing it costs them nothing?
Read this ProPublica article by Charles Ornstein:
It’s hard to keep track of even the biggest health data breaches, given how frequently they seem to be happening. Just Tuesday, health insurer Premera Blue Cross disclosed that hackers broke into its system and may have accessed the financial and medical records of some 11 million people. The intrusion began last May but wasn’t discovered until January and wasn’t shared publicly until this week.
Among the information that may have been taken about the insurers’ members and applicants: names, dates of birth, email addresses, street addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, member identification numbers, bank account information, and claims information, which may include sensitive medical details.
Premera’s announcement comes weeks after another health insurer, Anthem Inc., announced that it too had been hacked—and that the records of nearly 80 million people were exposed.The task of investigating medical data breaches falls to the Office for Civil Rights, a small agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Its staff of about 200 investigates thousands of complaints every year, large and small. Last month, ProPublica reported how, as the number of breaches has increased, the office infrequently uses its authority to fine organizations and health providers that fail to safeguard patient records.
The office’s director, Jocelyn Samuels, spoke on Monday to health privacy and security experts gathered in Washington, D.C., for the National HIPAA Summit, named for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This 1996 federal law protects the privacy and security of patient records. Her speech preceded Premera’s public disclosure.
After her talk, Samuels sat down with ProPublica to talk about the current state of health privacy. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. To start off with, the Anthem breach is still at the top of mind for so many people. Does this change the landscape in terms of health data breaches?
A. We won’t know until after we have investigated what the causes of the Anthem breach are or were, or whether there are concerns about HIPAA compliance. But I think that it illustrates both the increasing risks that exist in the cybersecurity space and the need for covered entities [health providers and others subject to HIPAA’s requirements] to continue to update and evaluate their risk analyses to ensure that their risk management plans adequately anticipate all of the kinds of threats they may face.
Q. I received a breach letter from Anthem [informing me that my data was accessed] and I heard from a lot of people who did. One of the things that they say is, ‘I don’t even know what to make of this. What of mine was taken? Will it be used against me?’ How do you advise them what to do?
A. We will be evaluating the kinds of information that was compromised and the source of the breach and the harm that accrued to the different individuals. Those are all question that I think will inform the work that we do in this space and we will have further answers as we learn more.
Q. Since HIPAA was passed in 1996, how would you say the state of play has changed with respect to patient privacy and the security of records? . . .
The Ornstein article includes an interesting sidebar:
Over 1,100 Health Data Breaches, but Few Fines
Since October 2009, health care organizations and their business partners reported 1,163 large-scale data breaches, each affecting at least 500 people, to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Of those, seven breaches have resulted in fines. Explore the app.
And definitely click that link to explore the app. The number of breaches is astonishing, but since the companies don’t have to pay anything, they don’t really bother to protect the data.
Also, Andrea Peterson reports for the Washington Post:
Last year, the fallout from a string of breaches at major retailers like Targetand Home Depot had consumers on edge. But 2015 is shaping up to be the year consumers should be taking a closer look at who is guarding their health information.
Data about more than 120 million people has been compromised in more than 1,100 separate breaches at organizations handling protected health data since 2009, according to Department of Health and Human Services data reviewed by The Washington Post.
“That’s a third of the U.S. population — this really should be a wake-up call,” said Deborah Peel, the executive director of Patient Privacy Rights.
The data may double-count some individuals if they had their information compromised in more than incident, but it still reflects a staggering number of times Americans have been affected by breaches at organizations trusted with sensitive health information. And the data does not yet reflect the hack of Premera, which announced this week that hackers may have accessed information, including medical data, on up to 11 million people.
Most breaches of data from health organizations are small and don’t involve hackers breaking into a company’s computer system. Some involve a stolen laptop or the inappropriate disposal of paper records, for example — and not all necessarily involve medical information. But hacking-related incidents disclosed this year have dramatically driven up the number of people exposed by breaches in this sector.
When Anthem, the nation’s second-largest health insurer, announced in February that hackers broke into a database containing the personal information of nearly 80 million records related to consumers, that one incident more than doubled the number of people affected by breaches in the health industry since the agency started publicly reporting on the issue in 2009.
“We are certainly seeing a rise in the number of individuals affected by hacking/IT incidents,” Rachel Seeger, a spokesperson for HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, said in a statement. “These incidents have the potential to affect very large numbers of health care consumers, as evidenced by the recent Anthem and Premera breaches.”
And some cybersecurity experts warn this may only be the beginning. “We’re probably going to see a lot more of these happening in the coming few months,” said Dave Kennedy, the chief executive of TrustedSEC.
Health organizations are targets because they maintain troves of data with significant resale value in black markets, Kennedy said, and their security practices are often less sophisticated than other industries. Now that some major players in the market have come forward as victims of cyberattacks other organizations are likely to take a close look at their own networks — potentially uncovering other compromises, he said.
“The information that companies like Anthem and Premera had is more valuable than just payment card information held by retailers or financial institutions,” said Scott Vernick, who heads up the data security and privacy practice at law firm Fox Rothschild. Credit card information has a relatively short shelf life, with new cards issued on a regular basis, he explained. But a health organizations often have complete profiles of people including Social Security numbers and medical health information that is much more difficult if not impossible to change.
Some of the data can be used to pursue traditional financial crimes — like setting up fraudulent lines of credit, Kennedy said. But it can also be used for medical insurance fraud, like purchasing medical equipment for resale or obtaining pricey medical care for another person.
This type of scheme is often . . .
Congress could do something about this except that Congress can’t seem to do anything.
Banks have narrow-gauge worries: no “big picture” for them. Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:
Could a deal to normalize Western relations with Iran and set limits on Iran’s development of nuclear technology lead to a more peaceful and less-weaponized Middle East?
That’s what supporters of the Iran negotiations certainly hope to achieve. But the prospect of stability has at least one financial analyst concerned about its impact on one of the world’s biggest defense contractors.
The possibility of an Iran nuclear deal depressing weapons sales was raised by Myles Walton, an analyst from Germany’s Deutsche Bank, during a Lockheed earnings call this past January 27th. Walton asked Marillyn Hewson, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, if an Iran agreement could “impede what you see as progress in foreign military sales.” Financial industry analysts such as Walton use earnings calls as an opportunity to ask publicly-traded corporations like Lockheed about issues that might harm profitability.
Hewson replied that “that really isn’t coming up,” but stressed that “volatility all around the region” should continue to bring in new business. According to Hewson, “A lot of volatility, a lot of instability, a lot of things that are happening” in both the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region means both are “growth areas” for Lockheed Martin.
The Deutsche Bank-Lockheed exchange “underscores a longstanding truism of the weapons trade: war — or the threat of war — is good for the arms business,” says William Hartung, director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Hartung observed that Hewson described the normalization of relations with Iran not as a positive development for the future, but as an “impediment.” “And Hewson’s response,” Hartung adds, “which in essence is ‘don’t worry, there’s plenty of instability to go around,’ shows the perverse incentive structure that is at the heart of the international arms market.”
Listen to the exchange here: . . .