National News

How a librarian made me a surveillance skeptic

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-12 02:00

I was at a dinner table about a year ago, right after the first Edward Snowden leaks, when I heard for the first time an argument I've heard many times since. 

"Why should I care? I'm not doing anything wrong."

This appears to be the opinion of the majority when it comes to the idea of the government using surveillance to fight terrorism. By Pew Research's estimates, 56 percent of Americans support the government listening in while it fights the "bad guys." And it has been this way for something like 12 years -- right after the September 11th attacks and the beginning of the war on terror. 

Whichever side of the line you're on, part of my job as a journalist is to give you information. But as a consumer of journalism, I've found the stream of information about government surveillance over the last year to be exhausting and desensitizing. Heck, even data tracking and run-of-the-mill privacy online seems like such a huge issue that you want to just go Vint Cerf and suggest that privacy is an anomaly. But it's important to at least try to understand and remember the impact of government surveillance and what we know about it. That's why all this week we've been talking about your location data, your phone calls, and your address books for the Data on Our Data series. 

I get the "why should I care" argument, I swear. I've echoed it myself a few times. But I'd be lying if I said it didn't worry me. I support our law enforcement agencies protecting us from attacks. But I also know governments are not static; they are living, breathing organizations that change and evolve drastically over time. And when it comes to surveillance, the big question is how and whether we are thinking about a time when our government might aggressively use ready access to data against its citizens. 

It was hard enough for me, last year, to dust off my basic understanding of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Patriot Act, and other legislation that has built the world we currently live in. But especially this week, I've been thinking about how governments aren't static, and how easy it is to forget the things we've put in place in the name of self-preservation. 

All of this thinking about surveillance, government, and legislation has also reminded me of a chapter in my own history that I haven't thought of in a while. During my junior year of college in 2003, I worked in the D.C. office of a moderate Republican Congressman. My main job was to answer constituent correspondence with letters that represented the Congressman's policy positions, which he would then sign. One day near the end of my spring semester, I had an assignment I couldn't complete: I was supposed to answer a constituent letter about a proposed expansion of the Patriot Act. The letter had been sent, and signed, by librarians throughout the Congressman's home state who were opposed to the Patriot Act's allowance of officials to access library records. They were asking the Congressman to oppose any extension or expansion of the legislation, and really to roll it back entirely. As I was preparing to tell the librarians that the congressman fully supported the legislation, I made a discovery. One of the librarian signatures on the constituent letter was familiar to me. It belonged to my mother. 

Golf group hopes fewer holes means a better game

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-12 01:00

As the U.S. Open golf tournament starts today in Pinehurst, North Carolina, the event’s organizers kick off a campaign aimed at golfers, encouraging them to play shorter games: 9 holes, instead of 18.

Golf has been losing players by the hundreds of thousands, partly because it takes so long to play — up to five hours for 18 holes.

“If you go to a movie it takes two hours, if you go to dinner it takes two hours,” says Hunki Yun, of the U.S. Golf Association. “So, a five-hour round of golf is not necessarily compatible with today’s lifestyles.”

David Hueber takes some responsibility for the problem. As head of the National Golf Foundation in the 1980s, he helped launch a strategy to open more courses. “Unfortunately,” he says, “we developed a product our customers — that is, golfers — didn’t want to buy.”

The new courses were designed by marquee architects to be hard, meaning they took a long time to play.

They were also designed to be big — partly to satisfy the real-estate developers who funded them. The bigger the course, the more houses the developer could sell overlooking it.  “Take a typical hole,” says Hueber. “If you add 50 yards to it, with home-sites on both sides, you’re going to pick up four home sites. You know, that could be a million dollars.”

Multiply that by 18, and a half-mile’s walk has been added to every game.

Raining? Twitter wants to help sell you an umbrella

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-12 01:00

One of the scariest lines a bad guy in a movie can say is, “I know where you live.”

But these days, thanks to location data, online advertisers almost always know where you are. 

In fact, Twitter and the Weather Channel want to let them in on still more information about potential customers -- a newly announced partnership will target ads, or “promoted Tweets,” to users based on where they live and what the weather’s like.

By letting advertisers know a customer is shivering or sweating, they’re hoping to help the company target its products.

“Sixty degrees might be cold in Miami, which means that you want hot coffee," says Curt Hecht, the global chief revenue officer at The Weather Channel. “Sixty degrees in Chicago means I’m getting an iced coffee, right?”

Hecht says The Weather Channel’s service doesn’t take into account users' interests through past posts or searches, but rather tries to predict their needs based on current and upcoming weather conditions. In the past, the company has worked with Pantene to market anti-fizz hair products to customers on days with high humidity.

“If previously we used to think more about different advertising for different people, now we’re starting to think different advertising for the same people at different states of their environment -- in this case weather,” explains Oded Netzer, a marketing professor at Columbia Business School.

There’s a strong correlation between weather and consumption, says Netzer. Knowing what the weather’s like is really useful for advertisers. Studies show that customers are generally more likely to buy things on nice days and even spend more for the same product if the weather is good.

“There’s some evidence that companies might be able to charge a little bit higher prices during warm weather conditions,” he says. “Whether this will be ethical to do and whether consumers react to that if companies do it is a whole different story.”

In other words, a consumer might find it helpful to see an ad for an umbrella right before it’s supposed to rain. Jacking up the price of air conditioners on a really hot day – not so much.

How Well Do Tech Companies Protect Your Data From Snooping?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 23:20

We looked at 15 top companies and services that handle your email or store your data every day to see what steps they take to keep it from prying eyes. See how they stack up.

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Va. Students Abuzz As Star Professors Become Political Rivals

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 23:16

With Dave Brat's defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor, a tiny Virginia college fell into the political spotlight. Both Brat and his new opponent, Democrat Jack Trammell, teach at Randolph-Macon.

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Uber's Rapid Growth Pits Innovation Against Existing Laws

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 23:15

The fast-growing startup is operating in more than 100 cities around the world. But Uber, which is valued at $17 billion, faces opposition from traditional taxis and regulators.

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Fight Over Calif. Oyster Company Splits Chefs And Land Defenders

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 23:09

Drakes Bay Oyster Company is resisting the expiration of its lease in Marin County, Calif. The debate may reach the Supreme Court, and it's dividing residents of the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Health Care Can Be Key To A Better Life For Former Inmates

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 23:08

The sheriff's department in San Francisco is now enrolling inmates in post-jail health coverage as soon as they enter the system. But even with insurance, former inmates can have trouble getting care.

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Cantor's Loss In Va. Is Immigration Issue's Death Knell. Or Not.

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 16:58

Immigration was a key issue in Tuesday's primary. Rep. Eric Cantor's defeat may discourage others from promoting policy changes. But some advocates say the outlook for overhaul isn't so bleak.

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Suicide Rate In U.S. And Europe Climbed During Great Recession

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 16:45

Scientists can't prove a causal link, but the disturbing correlation in the data deserves a closer look, researchers say. Some countries seemed more resilient than others.

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What gadgets are the (college) kids using these days?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-11 14:22
<a href="http://marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/gadgets">View Survey</a>

Emirates Nixes Order For 70 Airbus A350s

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 14:07

The Dubai-based airline says the contract for the new planes, which was worth $16 billion, had "lapsed," but did not elaborate.

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Trivia: Who was the last PhD economist in Congress?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-11 13:56

A trivia question that will perhaps win you a drink at happy hour tonight (but probably only if you're at a weird politico-economic happy hour in Washington, DC).

Dave Brat, now the Republican nominee for Eric Cantor's seat, is a PhD economist. He'll be the only one in Congress.

So here's the question:

Who was the last one?

Scroll down for the anwer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answer: Democrat Tom Lantos from California.

Orlando Steps Up To Make Its Streets More Pedestrian-Friendly

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 13:40

Much of Florida was designed with cars, not people, in mind. Four of the state's metro areas top the nation in pedestrian deaths per capita. Now, planners in Orlando are working hard to change that.

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Defending Bergdahl Deal, Hagel Faces Critics On Both Sides Of Aisle

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 13:16

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, defending the prisoner swap that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

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In A Rare Act Of Bipartisan Speed, Senate Passes VA Reforms

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 13:08

The Senate has passed a bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. Like a similar bill in the House, the Senate bill gives veterans the option of seeking private care if the VA takes too long and makes it easier to fire VA employees. But the Senate version also spends a lot more money on doctors and hospitals than the House version.

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To Defeat A Goliath, David Brat Got Help In Conservative Media

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 13:00

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik looks at the role that conservative media may have played in the upset defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his Republican primary.

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Can You Call Yourself An Environmentalist And Still Eat Meat?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 12:41

After a Hollywood environmentalist told us the answer to this question was no, we posed it to the followers of the @NPRFood Twitter account. We got a big — and diverse — response.

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Bergdahl's Writings Provide A Window Into His Thoughts

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 12:26

The writings were obtained by The Washington Post, which also reported that the Army sergeant had previously been discharged by the Coast Guard for psychological reasons.

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