National News

Swatting: not a new phenomenon, but the cost is rising

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-05-19 02:00

By now, a lot of video gamers and law enforcement officers are familiar with this bit of viral video. It's professional Video Gamer Jordan Matthewson, a.k.a. Kootra, doing what pro gamers like him do: Broadcasting his game play to viewers from his offices in Littleton, Colorado. In the middle of tactical movements with his teammates online, Matthewson is interrupted by sounds of police activity down the hall in real life. Moments later, he's forced to the ground by members of a real live SWAT team.

 

Matthewson was the victim of a prank called swatting. It's been around for decades, and it works like this: A prankster calls an emergency hotline claiming to be at the scene of a hostage situation—sometimes the perpetrator of said hostage situation—sending police and other first responders to an address, weapons and gurneys at the ready. But the prankster isn't actually at the location, and instead law enforcement surprises unsuspecting targets at the address.

For hackers, new technology is making swatting both easier to pull off and more attractive. The rise of live-streaming video games and other content online means the potential audience for swatting has gone from a few targets and the people sent to check up on them to thousands or tens of thousands.

For emergency call centers, fighting swatting or distributed denial of service attacks is a perennial cost. Christopher Carver is a director at the National Emergency Number Association in Virginia. He says that the process of updating emergency call center systems has a price tag in the "billions." These days, a 911 dispatcher can see caller ID and location information in a matter of seconds. But now that a majority of calls can come in from smartphones or over online services like Skype or Google Voice, there are also more tools to "spoof" the location of a call.

Spoofing is a hacker method that is used in lots of different ways. Alisdair Faulkner, chief products officer at the security firm ThreatMetrix, says it's one of the most common tools for hackers to take your identity. Swatting attacks from British Columbia to Florida have been made possible in part thanks to the use of spoofing.

Last month in the city of Rochester New York, Lieutenant Aaron Springer and his 30-member SWAT team got a taste. They raced to a residential building where there was actually no hostage situation. How much did swatting set his department back?

"My guys? Maybe fifteen hundred bucks, maybe three thousand dollars," he says. When you add 30 more officers sent to the scene to direct traffic, the fire department, an ambulance, and multiple department chiefs, Lieutenant Springer ballparks the total cost closer to $15,000.

Springer says swatting doesn't happen often enough to make a big change to operations—the last occurrence was several years ago—but the growing costs to law enforcement and emergency services helped inspire New York Senator Chuck Schumer to introduce a piece of legislation that would carry stricter punishments for swatting.

Lieutenant Springer is worried about a different cost; that he'll hesitate the next time his team gets a call, in a scenario when every second counts.

Wal-Mart reports results after hiking workers' pay

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-05-19 02:00

Wal-Mart announces its first quarter results Tuesday. There’s been a lot of buzz about the world’s biggest retailer bumping up wages. Earlier this year, CEO Doug McMillon announced the company would raise starting pay to at least $9 an hour, effective last  last month, and at least $10 an hour starting next year.

Sure, paying employees more comes with a cost—An estimated $1 billion. But Wal-Mart is taking the long view here, says University of California, Berkeley economics professor Enrico Moretti.

“First of all, they’re going to have lower turnover cost, and probably they’re going to be able to attract a better pool of workers,” Moretti says.

The downside: it’ll probably be at least several months before the benefits start to really sink in.

Still, cutting turnover is smart for a company like Wal-Mart, says Neil Stern, senior partner with retail consulting firm McMillan Doolittle. “Turnover is a huge cost for retailers,” he says.

Stern says it costs money to look for replacements, to hire, and to train new workers. And that cuts into profits.

Increasing pay is fine, Stern says, but other things also matter when you’re trying to retain workers; like promotion opportunities and how much fun you have on the job.

 

The bite is worse than the bark

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-05-19 01:59
$5.8 trillion

That's the size of the market for administering 401(k)s. On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that employees have the right to sue employers if they find a lack of due diligence in combating high management fees on their 401(k). Most don't tend to notice the 1 or 2 percent fees, but as the LA Times points out, that can add up over the span of a career.

30 percent

That's the commission Uber is collecting from some new drivers, testing a tiered system in which partners work up to keeping 80 percent of their fares after giving 40 rides each week. This would be Uber's highest commission yet, and Forbes notes in the competitive ride-sharing space companies like Uber and Lyft frequently tweak commissions to stay competitive.

5,767 times

That's how many times postal workers were bitten by dogs last year, according to new statistics. That's up almost 200 bites from last year. So in this case, the bite is actually worse than the bark.

One-fifth

That's the portion of Target's $73 billion in revenue that comes from groceries, the Wall Street Journal reported. The retailer is changing its approach to food, stocking more organic and specialty items, downplaying processed, packaged offerings.

$15,000

That's how much Lieutenant Aaron Springer of Rochester, New York, estimates was spent on a single SWAT team response to an emergency call. The problem? The call was a fake. In a prank known as swatting, a fake call is placed to an emergency hotline, often with claims of a hostage situation. As video gamers who stream themselves live online have become more popular, so has the practice of swatting them to see the ensuing chaos. But aside from creating a dangerous situation, the practice is also causing police departments more and more money.

2.75 million

That's about how many Republican voters from the 2012 election will be dead by November 2016, about 453,000 more those who voted Democratic. That's according to a back-of-the-envelope analysis from Politico, which reports that the GOP could be at a real disadvantage if it can't gather younger voters.

Conservative, Catholic Ireland Votes On Same-Sex Marriage

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 23:25

In every country where same-sex marriage has been legalized, it was brought about by lawmakers or the courts. On Friday, Ireland could become the first country to make it legal by the ballot box.

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They're Going Door-To-Door In The Amazon To See Why People Get Sick

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 23:24

In one of the most remote parts of the Peruvian Amazon, researchers are in midst of a extensive health census. The study could be key to figuring out the impact of mercury used in illegal mining.

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Urban Farmers Say It's Time They Got Their Own Research Farms

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 14:07

The University of the District of Columbia is the only land-grant university in the U.S. with an urban focus. It's studying how to grow food in raised beds, hoop houses and even a shipping container.

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The Tech Behind Traffic Apps: How (Well) Do They Work?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:22

A host of apps aim to take the guesswork out of navigating traffic. We put their accuracy to the test in a daily commute. As varied as the options are, the future of mobile GPS may be more precise.

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What Qatar doesn't want you to know about the 2022 World Cup

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:11

BBC journalist Mark Lobel and his team recently traveled to Qatar at the invitation of the country’s prime minister.

Lobel was invited to go on a tour of new and improved migrant worker facilities that would address Qatar’s reputation of laborer mistreatment. With Qatar getting ready to host the 2022 World Cup, there’s been an influx of migrant workers to house.  

But Lobel quickly found that he would not be allowed to complete a balanced report of Qatari labor camps.

 “Eight cars drove us off the street, and we were taken in by intelligence officers, treated like spies if you like,” Lobel says.

After two nights in jail, Lobel was released. But he says he worries about what this will mean for future World Cup coverage.

“The fact that we were dealt with by security officers is the beginning of what I think could be a very worrying trend,” says Lobel.  

Listen to the full interview by clicking play on the media player above.

The dark side of online education

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:06

Online education is the new thing, but there’s a dark side to it. The New York Times Pakistan bureau chief Declan Walsh wrote about a company in Pakistan that’s making millions of dollars by selling fake credentials to whoever wants them. His piece is called "Fake Diplomas, Real Cash: Pakastani Company Axact Reaps Millions." 

What’s the problem with Axact?

Our reporting has indicated that these websites are posing as universities, often giving the appearance of being in the United States, or high schools also in the United States. Their customers have been both in the United States and in many other countries around the world, particularly in the Middle East.

They have very cleverly and purposefully crafted the brand identity of these schools to cater to different audiences. Some of them will have names that hue very closely of those of famous American universities. Other universities will appeal to customers, perhaps in the Middle East…within the company, these fake universities are treated as brands to be created and marketed for specific customer basis. 

How do they get people to sign up?

They have a whole range of techniques that starts off by paying companies like Google and Facebook for advertising space, so that if you type in a search for online education, one of their sites will come up prominently. Secondly, they have promotional tools. They place stories on the CNN iReport, which is a citizen-journalism website. They create promotional videos using paid actors posing as staff and students. So, they have a whole range of tools to draw people into the website and to give them an appearance at least of legitimacy that allows them to maintain the fiction that these are genuine education institutions, as opposed to what they are, which is a diploma mill.

Why have they gotten away with it?

 It has very cleverly taken advantage of the sort of freedoms and anonymity that the Internet can allow you to do business. It has set up a whole web of off shore companies in places like Cypress and the British Virgin Islands to both take in the money that it receives and to pay the vendors. It has engaged in often quite aggressive legal tactics against people who would either investigate it or criticize it in public, so newspapers and other media groups in Pakistan and in other countries, including the U.K., have come under strong threats from the company’s in-house lawyers. 

Amazon's Echo lets you order something by saying it out loud

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

Amazon moves us one step closer to ordering something just by thinking it. 

People who use Amazon's voice-activated speaker system Echo can now order something just by saying it out loud.

I'd offer some thoughts here, but chances are Amazon already knows what they are.

'Pitch Perfect 2' leaves 'Mad Max' in the dust

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

"Pitch Perfect 2" made $69 million in U.S. movie theaters over the weekend, beating the action film" Mad Max: Fury Road."

"This was a huge surprise, I mean earth-shaking," says marketing strategist Peter Sealey, who was the head of marketing at Columbia Pictures in the 1980s.

The movie, about a group of young women in a singing competition, trounced the big summer action movie, which traditionally attracts a male-skewing demographic.

That demographic, boys and young men under 25, is what studios have traditional gone after, says Sealey. "It's just, you know, kind of a knee-jerk reaction."

But the 75 percent female audience that carried "Pitch Perfect 2" is evidence that the paradigm is shifting, says box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Rentrak.

"We have a lot of movies that we're seeing where women are driving the story. That they're the center of these movies. And, we're going to see more of that," Dergarabedian says, pointing to recent films such as the "Twilight" series, "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "Cinderella."

But Pitch Perfect hasn't been just a female-centric franchise. The first film, which was released in the fall of 2012, has attracted a broad audience on home video.

"And I have to say, when adult straight men say that they loved the movie, I find that extremely satisfying," Kay Cannon, the films' screenwriter, told Marketplace in an earlier interview.

"Often, there's a big preamble before: My wife made me watch it, none of the other channels on the television worked, I couldn't find the remote," says Cannon.

To reduce the need for a preamble this time around, Universal Pictures marketed the film broadly, even during the Super Bowl.

"Over time . . . given all those marketing efforts," says Dergarabedian, the film "could build more of a male audience" than the audience in its opening weekend.

Pitch Perfect 2

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

"Pitch Perfect 2" made $69 million in U.S. movie theaters over the weekend, beating the action film" Mad Max: Fury Road."

"This was a huge surprise, I mean earth-shaking," says marketing strategist Peter Sealey, who was the head of marketing at Columbia Pictures in the 1980s.

The movie, about a group of young women in a singing competition, trounced the big summer action movie, which traditionally attracts a male-skewing demographic.

That demographic, boys and young men under 25, is what studios have traditional gone after, says Sealey. "It's just, you know, kind of a knee-jerk reaction."

But the 75 percent female audience that carried "Pitch Perfect 2" is evidence that the paradigm is shifting, says box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Rentrak.

"We have a lot of movies that we're seeing where women are driving the story. That they're the center of these movies. And, we're going to see more of that," Dergarabedian says, pointing to recent films such as the "Twilight" series, "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "Cinderella."

But Pitch Perfect hasn't been just a female-centric franchise. The first film, which was released in the fall of 2012, has attracted a broad audience on home video.

"And I have to say, when adult straight men say that they loved the movie, I find that extremely satisfying," Kay Cannon, the films' screenwriter, told Marketplace in an earlier interview.

"Often, there's a big preamble before: My wife made me watch it, none of the other channels on the television worked, I couldn't find the remote," says Cannon.

To reduce the need for a preamble this time around, Universal Pictures marketed the film broadly, even during the Super Bowl.

"Over time . . . given all those marketing efforts," says Dergarabedian, the film "could build more of a male audience" than the audience in its opening weekend.

Georgia landowners fight eminent domain over pipeline

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

We’ve heard a lot about the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline over the last year or so. There are already more than two million miles of pipeline in the U.S., carrying natural gas, petroleum products and chemicals, right under our feet.

Now, a fight is raging over a new pipeline proposed for the Georgia coast. The company that wants to build the pipeline needs private land to do it, and it is asking the state for the right to use eminent domain.

That’s not sitting well with many landowners in the region, like Eddie Reddick, who owns a tree farm near the South Carolina border.

Eddie Reddick at his family's tree farm in Screven County. He says Kinder Morgan surveyors damaged some of his crop.

Molly Samuel/WABE

“This tree will eventually die,” he says, picking up a small crooked tree by its trunk on his family’s 845-acre property in Screven County. A few weeks ago, surveyors for the energy company Kinder Morgan came out here, and Reddick says they drove over some of his young pine trees.

See, there’s a nice vigorous growing seedling, about 7-foot tall, that’s been run over,” he says. Now that tree and others in its row are bent over sideways, like long grass on a windy day. They’re all pointing in the same direction, toward a wooden stake with a pink ribbon fluttering at the top.

Here’s the first stake, and it says, 'proposed pipeline,' ” Reddick says .

Surveyors have begun laying out the route for the proposed pipeline.

Molly Samuel/WABE

This marks where the Palmetto Pipeline would travel through Reddick’s land.

It continues in a southerly direction through this young pine plantation, till we get to a wetland branch several hundred feet on down the line,” he says.

The energy company Kinder Morgan wants to build this 360-mile pipeline along the Savannah River and then down the coast, to Florida. It would split off from another bigger pipeline the company owns that carries gas from Gulf Coast refineries to the Northeast.

A map showing the route of the proposed Palmetto Pipeline. 

Courtesy of Kinder Morgan

Reddick says he thinks the pipeline would take about 4.5 acres of his farm permanently out of production. That’s a small amount of land for Reddick, but he says it’s the principal of the thing. 

“As a private landowner, [you] feel like you’re being run over,” Reddick says. 

But Allen Fore says this is about planning for the larger community’s needs. He’s a vice president with Kinder Morgan.

We’re looking at not just service now and what the needs are now in Georgia, but we’re trying to look at the next 20-30 years,” Fore says .

Savannah’s fuel comes from ships or trucks; Fore says a pipeline would be cheaper and more reliable.

Savannah in particular is one of the few areas that doesn’t have direct pipeline capacity,” Fore says.

It would cost a billion dollars to build the pipeline, and it would eventually carry about 150,000 barrels of fuel a day. Fore says all of the gas is for domestic use, not for export, and that Kinder Morgan will only use eminent domain where it has to.  

“Our use of that, if granted, is extremely rare,” Fore says. “Over 98 percent of properties are acquired by amicable resolution to the satisfaction of landowners. So we’re talking about a small, very small number.”

But a lot of landowners are upset about the idea. At a public hearing earlier this month, a couple hundred people turned out. There were environmentalists concerned about fragile wetlands, but the most vocal opponents were people angry about a private company taking their land.

Most people at a public hearing in Waynesboro, Georgia, in early May opposed the use of eminent domain to build the Palmetto Pipeline.

Molly Samuel/WABE

“My mama’s people, and my daddy’s people, been here since the 1700s,” said Jeff Mallard. “I don’t agree with eminent domain.”

But eminent domain serves a purpose, explains Peter Appel, law professor at the University of Georgia. The government uses it to build highways, post offices and parks. And, yes, states can grant it to private companies, too.

“People want to say this is my property, and you can’t have it, and the fact of the matter is, that’s not true,” he says. “A pipeline, similar to a railway line, is almost a classic case for when eminent domain makes sense.”

That’s because it’s going to serve the public by delivering gas, he says, and a pipeline’s route isn’t very flexible. Kinder Morgan can’t twist and turn around every landowner who doesn’t want to sell. But Appel says just because the pipeline is a good candidate for eminent domain doesn’t mean Georgia has to grant it.

It really is up to the government to decide, 'Are we going to put our power behind this project?' ” he says.

Gov. Nathan Deal came out against the plan earlier this month. But under Georgia law, it’s the commissioner of the Department of Transportation who makes the decision. The deadline for that decision is Tuesday. If the commissioner gives the green light, the project will then need to go through an environmental review.

Target zeroes in on food, glorious food

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

Target, long the “cheap chic” destination for clothing and home furnishings, is trying to spruce up its grocery business at the expense of some of its big processed food suppliers by capitalizing on consumers’ growing preference for organic and natural foods over packaged foods.  

“Natural and organics has been growing mid-teens now for eight to 10 years,” says Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with Edward Jones. “And the center of the aisle, the cereal, the chips, the cookies, the crackers, the soups of the world — they’re barely seeing volume growth at all.”

A Wall Street Journal report says Target will do less to promote packaged foods suppliers such as General Mills and Campbell Soup Company. That may mean less space on shelves and in circular ads.

Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder would only confirm the accuracy of quotes from CEO Brian Cornell. He told the Journal that mac and cheese isn’t getting eliminated altogether, "but clearly assortment is being shaped around what consumers are looking for.”

Sean Naughton, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, suspects Target shoppers might see more items like craft beers or specialty organic foods.

“I think they would like to create a little more uniqueness inside the store,” Naughton says.

Doug Waxson of St. Paul, Minn., already sees more appealing products at his local Target.

“My wife's noticed they're starting to carry some things she ordinarily gets at Whole Foods or a co-op, like some higher-quality lunch items and frozen items,” he said. “It seems like something that they've started to get better at recently.”

Analysts caution that Target won’t be dumping packaged foods altogether. But they say it probably will nudge out some of the big food companies’ products in favor of its own private label brands.

Yarbrough says the situation will make things harder on big food companies, whose sales are already suffering.

“Once they shrink the shelf space,” he said, “it's going to pressure sales for the next year.”

 

 

 

Federal money talks — kind of

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

Now that the president's Task Force on 21st Century Policing has proposed its recommendations, the White House is offering grants to encourage local police departments to adopt some suggestions, like having officers wear body cameras and using a new federal tool kit to train them. 

The grants make the medicine go down a bit more smoothly, but the White House’s reach is limited. 

“On a day-to-day basis, the president of the United States does not control the way police officers interact with citizens,” says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police, says local authorities were already buying cameras, and local police will make the key decisions about how to use them, such as “who’ll be wearing them, and for how long, and under what circumstances they go on and off.” 

This isn’t the first time President Obama has dangled money in front of local officials to try to bend them to his will.

“I think it works,” says Robert Shapiro, a professor of political science at Columbia University, pointing to funding for states to expand Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act. “They’ll take the money," he says. "And I think a good case in point is what we’ve seen on Medicaid.”

President Obama also tried to get states to change the way they educate children with his Race to the Top grants. He’s hardly the first president to try buying a little local control. President Nixon handed out grants encouraging local police to get tough on crime. 

Elian Gonzalez Says He Would Like To Visit U.S. As A Tourist

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 12:59

Now 21, Gonzalez was seized 15 years ago from his relatives in Miami by U.S. officials who returned him to his native country. His mother died trying to reach the U.S. His father wanted him back.

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Here's What People Are Saying About The Waco Shootout And Race

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 12:54

People are contrasting media and police reaction to the Texas shootout with their reaction to the recent protests in Baltimore and Ferguson.

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Cellphones Or School? What Makes Kids Around The World Happy

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 12:14

Whether they're rich or poor, kids around the world are generally happy with their lives, an international study finds. But when it comes to liking school, poor children come out on top.

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Cheap And Fast, Online Voter Registration Catches On

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 11:55

Twenty states have implemented online voter registration and seven are expected to follow. It has Republican and Democratic support, but but some still worry about cyberthreats.

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How Machines Destroy (And Create!) Jobs, In 4 Graphs

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 11:36

For hundreds of years, people have been talking about machines taking jobs. Less often discussed: machines creating new jobs.

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