National News

Congress pushes for cybersecurity overhaul

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 13:00

After a series of spectacular cyber attacks on companies like Sony, Anthem and Target, Congress is pushing forward a bill to increase data sharing about security and hacks between private companies and the federal government.

The proposals address concerns from the business community that sharing data with the government could open them up to litigation from consumers; the companies that share data would be granted immunity.

The bills also address privacy concerns by requiring companies and government to try to scrub personally identifying information from the data. But that doesn't mean all the right information will be scrubbed.

"What we have seen in the surveillance context is the procedures don't actually protect privacy," says Mark Jaycox, legislative analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Matt Blaze, professor of computer science at the University of Pennsylvania, says the focus on data sharing was "baffling" and it would be better to encourage better security practices. "These systems are very weak to begin with," he says. 

And the version passed by the House Intelligence Committee would hand that shared data over to the NSA and parts of the Department of Defense, according to Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology.  

That, Nojeim says, could discourage data sharing because some big tech companies have promised not to fork over users' data writ large to the government. 

That same House Intelligence Committee version also permits data obtained to be used in criminal prosecutions, according to Nojeim. If both the Intelligence Committee and a competing version from the Homeland Security Committee pass, it will be up to House leadership to decide which elements make it into the final version. 

How the humble glass bottle lost its appeal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 13:00

It's Earth Day, but before we talk about recycling glass, Carl Zimring, author of the book, "Cash for Your Trash," suggests we start here: "The first question to ask is, 'how much glass is being produced to be disposed of as a product?'"

Way back when, glass wasn't so much recycled as it was reused, like with bottled milk.

"So that when you were done with the bottle, you would give it back to the dairy, which would wash it and then fill it with more milk," he says. Zimring says in the late 50s, beverage distributors started using bottles that were designed to be used once. Glass bottles were heavy, expensive, and expensive to transport. And they broke. So, Coke in plastic bottles and beer in cans took over.

"And that was absolutely deliberate to change the responsibility from the producer to the consumer," he says.

Zimring says manufacturers from that point on had no incentive to care about what happened to glass once it left their distributors. Some states enacted deposit laws, but he says the beverage industry lobbied hard against more. There hasn't been new bottle deposit legislation in more than 30 years.

Passing the buck — or in this case, the bottle — is just how manufacturers like it, according to Michael Munger, who teaches political science and economics at Duke.

"As soon as they make something, the packaging as well as the product belongs to someone else," Munger says.

Even with recycling, that someone else often turns out to be the landfill.

Soon Amazon will deliver to the trunk of your car

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 13:00

I know this makes it two Amazon finals in a row, but you gotta hear this.

The Financial Times is reporting that Amazon's going to pilot a program next month that will have packages delivered directly to the trunk of your car. The catch is that your car has to be an Audi and you have to live in Munich, Germany and you have to be an Amazon Prime member.

Amazon says a delivery person from DHL, a German delivery company, will get one-time keyless access to your trunk.

In the long term, they'll make the service available to Prime members everywhere.

Senate OKs Human-Trafficking Bill, Paving Way For Attorney General Vote

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 12:49

The human-trafficking measure had been stuck in the Senate because of an impasse over language on abortion funding. That has now been resolved.

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Comcast, Time Warner Push For Merger Approval Amid Opposition

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 12:31

Company officials met with regulators who are considering whether to back the proposed $45 billion merger. A group of U.S. senators say the deal should be rejected, calling it anti-competitive.

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Why NFL teams should think twice about coming to LA

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 12:20

The city of Carson, California approved plans Tuesday night for a $1.7 billion NFL stadium to be shared by the Raiders and Chargers, the second NFL facility green-lit in as many months in Southern California.  In February, Inglewood approved a $1.8 billion stadium for the St. Louis Rams to be built near Los Angeles International Airport.

Almost four million people live in Los Angeles, compared to 1.3 million in San Diego, or 318,416 in St. Louis — but in the NFL, bigger is not necessarily better.

Just ask the Green Bay Packers. Forbes ranks the Packers as the 13th most valuable NFL franchise out of 32 teams, even though they play in the tiniest market.

“It’s actually surprisingly profitable to host an NFL team in small cities,” says Victor Matheson, a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross. "Most of the revenue streams that an NFL team gets are shared equally among all teams in the league, which means a team operating in Los Angeles or New York City gets exactly the same share of the TV rights and merchandising as a team in Jacksonville or St. Louis.”

Tickets are split 60-40 between the home and away team, and all the revenues from jerseys and hats are pooled.

The NFL brings in enormous television rights fees of upwards of $6 billion a year, but all teams get the same cut: an estimated $187.7 million a year. By contrast, the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers are the first and second most valuable franchises in their respective leagues, according to Forbes. That's due, in part, to their lucrative local cable contracts: $122 million a year for the Lakers and $210 million for the Dodgers.

“In other sports, you go to a major market and you can get untold cable riches from having a local cable deal,” says Neil deMause, who edits the sports business site Field of Schemes. “That’s just not an issue in the NFL.”

What is a big issue is public financing, which smaller markets tend to be more generous with. Politicians in San Diego and Oakland are scrambling to come up with plans to keep the Chargers and Raiders in town, and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has proposed extending state and local bonds to provide hundreds of millions in financing to keep the St. Louis Rams from returning to Los Angeles.

“If Missouri comes up and says 'Hey, we’ll kick in half the cost,' that’s going to be awfully tempting,” deMause says.

Los Angeles is not offering public financing, which helps explain why an NFL team hasn’t played here for two decades.

Moving west

In the case of Rams owner Stan Kroenke, moving West could get very expensive. The financing details are murky, but deMause says it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Kroenke would be spending much less than a billion out of pocket — and that’s not even including a relocation fee the NFL charges, which could tack on another billion.

"I’m not saying that Kroenke is absolutely bluffing, but I think it’s safe to assume that when any owner in the NFL says, 'I’m going to move to L.A., and I don’t care if I have to spend my own money,' it’s safer to assume bluff until proven otherwise,” deMause says.

So why would any NFL owner want to come to LA then? For one, there's nice weather, but more important is the ability to sell premium seats and luxury boxes. They're exempt from revenue sharing and have become an important tool to finance stadiums. There, L.A does have a big advantage, says Scott Spencer, President of the Suite Experience Group, a luxury box reseller.

“While the Rams and St. Louis have done a good job selling their suites, you’re going to see it go to a whole new level if they move to Los Angeles,” says Spencer. “Individuals – especially in Hollywood – they want to be in the 'in spots.' They want to be seen on the floor at Staples Center and so they’re going to be in suites in an NFL venue. In St. Louis, it’s frankly a different mindset, and businesses there just don’t have the funds to spend on luxury suites.”

Scott says that means the Rams could double the price of each luxury box if they were in LA, and have twice as many boxes. A nice stadium is important for keeping suites full, but the most important thing? Just win, baby.

Why Do Mosquitoes Like To Bite You Best? It's In Your Genes

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 12:08

Researchers set hungry mosquitoes loose on identical and fraternal twins. They found that inherited genes do play a role in making you a mosquito magnet.

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Man Who Shot Reagan Seeks Release From Mental Hospital

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 12:06

John Hinckley Jr.'s lawyer says he has been in full remission from psychosis and major depression for at least 20 years and should be allowed to live full-time with his elderly mother.

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Acclaimed Australian Wellness Blogger Says She Made Up Cancer Claims

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:35

Belle Gibson's claims that she cured her terminal brain cancer solely through diet and lifestyle spawned a wellness empire, an award-winning app, a recipe book and a large online following.

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Can A Person With Dementia Consent To Sex?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:34

A jury in Iowa acquitted a man who had been criminally charged for having sex with his wife, who had Alzheimer's. Very few care facilities have policies on dementia, sex and consent.

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Turks And Armenians Prepare For Dueling Anniversaries On Friday

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:30

Turkey has moved up a major military celebration by a day this year. Critics say it's a clunky attempt to overshadow the 1915 slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire.

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IBM banks on Watson for progress and profit

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:27

IBM reported profits this week; they still made a pile of money, but it was the 12th straight quarter — that is, three straight years — of falling revenue.

Though known for hardware, IBM wants to be a major player in cloud computing, specifically in what the company calls cognitive computing. Their plan relies on the Jeopardy-winning super computer, Watson.

Marketplace's Ben Johnson visited the IBM Watson building in Manhattan this week. And while you can't see Watson — it's an amalgam of interconnected mega-servers and fans whirring away — its technology could hold great promise.

When Johnson went to visit Watson's human collaborators, he found them in a futuristic glass building in Manhattan, no buttons in the elevators. 

The goal of cognitive computing is simple on the surface: a computer that can hold a conversation. 

It's "the step before you get to artificial intelligence," Johnson says. "Google Now, Apple's Siri, Microsoft Cortana are all part of this idea."

What's not simple for a computer, is the vast amount of data that flows between two humans in even the simplest conversation. However, improving this process could speed up a lot of slow conversations that still take place person-to-person, or the data that we fill out in forms that later has to be entered into computers. 

Sound technical? Let's take this into a frustrating real-world location, the doctor's office. 

"Medical information doubles every three years. And in 2020, it will be doubling every 73 days. Your doctor's not going to be able to keep pace with that volume of information," said Steve Gold, Vice President of IBM's Watson group. "But Watson has a voracious appetite. It reads and understands all this information in context and become this assistant."

Instead of filling out reams of forms at every doctor visit, and waiting on that giant piece of paper in the back office, you could be talking to Watson until the doctor comes in. 

"Then, there's a three-way conversation [with] you, and the doctor, and the computer," Johnson said. "It actually could be really good for helping the doctor understand the full context of the patient, getting a good prognosis and a good way to a cure."

A Young Mother's Death Raises Questions Without Answers

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:09

The official cause of death was an accident. Friends believe her husband had beaten her. Yet no one will speak up — part of the hush that descends over domestic abuse in India.

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Of Fruit Hats And 'Happy Tropics,' A Renaissance For Carmen Miranda

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:01

The Brazilian performer was a huge hit with American audiences who loved her outrageous costumes and beautiful voice. But she's been less appreciated in her homeland — until now.

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Google Announces Foray Into The Wireless Business

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 10:55

The service will only work on Google Nexus phones, but it could potentially disrupt the wireless industry with its pay-only-for-what-you-use data plans.

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Emoticon creator says emoji are :-/

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 10:33

The year was 1982. The internet was in its infancy, and email had just opened up between universities. There was even a kind of social media, remembers Scott Fahlman, computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University. You could send an email to a bulletin board to post it up. And just like today, sarcasm was rampant, and often misinterpreted. 

"We would have these flame wars," Fahlman said. "We felt maybe we needed a way to mark the posts that we put up that were just meant to be humorous."

They considered using an asterisk in the subject line, but that wasn't intuitive. Instead, Fahlman threw together three easy-to-find characters: a colon, a dash and a closing parenthesis. :-) 

"I thought, maybe people would turn their heads, and we could make a really nice face in that case," he says. 

Fast-forward a few decades and emoticons moved into work email, chats, and now text messages and tweets in the form of emoji. Fahlman doesn't much care for the cats-with-hearts-for-eyes variant. But he says it's a personal preference.

"People want to make this into a big crusade on my part and it's not. I'm not a fan of the graphical emojis, no," Fahlman says. "I think it took a little bit of creativity to figure out how to make a smiling face out of just text characters. And then for awhile people were inventing more and more complicated ones. Santa Claus and Abraham Lincoln and the Pope all being eaten by a python."

An example of ASCII art.


For emoji fans, Fahlman's perspective is less :-) and more . But one thing is clear: pictures help us express emotion and intent where words alone can leave too much ambiguity: softening the tone of a work email, turning a straightforward text into a flirtation, or adding fire to a heated back-and-forth exchange on a message board. And with the vast number of texts, tweets, emails and posts sent each minute, that's an important communicative tool.

Fahlman has worked as a computer scientist for decades, with an eye toward the development of artificial intelligence. Part of his legacy, though, is tied up in the expression of all these feelings, be they textual or graphical. 

"I've reconciled myself to the idea that the first line of my obituary is going to be 'Scott Fahlman who invented the email smiley face (and also made major contributions to artificial intelligence) passed away today.' And depending on how old I am, I guess there will either be a smiley face or a frowny face on the tombstone."

Obama says Elizabeth Warren is 'wrong' on trade

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 10:15

Unions blame job losses on trade deals like NAFTA signed under Bill Clinton. But President Obama argues one he's trying to strike with Pacific Rim countries is different, and it's dividing his party.

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In Its Season Finale, 'Fresh Off The Boat' Is Still Wrestling With Authenticity

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 10:03

Its fiercest critic, Eddie Huang, whose memoir inspired the show, says his life isn't recognizable in it. What's "real" or not is up for debate.

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The bookstore primaries

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 10:02

Before presidential candidates head to Iowa, New Hampshire or Chipotle, they're in your book store.

Looking toward the GOP primaries, Marco Rubio just released his second memoir, "American Dreams"; Ted Cruz's "A Time for Truth" will hit shelves this summer; Rand Paul's second book in three years is out next month; and Jeb Bush is rolling out an e-book. Last year, policy wonks scoured Hillary Clinton's "Hard Choices" for clues to a presidential run and an expose about her finances is making headlines ahead of its release.

But writing, selling and releasing a book takes time, even with a ghostwriter. Why is just about every presidential hopeful doing it? What good does it do so early in the election season?

"Primaries are a crazy time, and they are so different from the general election," says D. Sunshine Hillygus, associate professor of political science at Duke University. "So when a candidate can do anything in a primary to get a bit more media attention, a bit more evidence that they might be electable and able to beat the other side, that's ... advantageous."

Sales don't hurt, but the political book is less a moneymaker than it is the foundation of a larger strategy, Hillygus says. As soundbites shrink, a book lets a candidate frame themselves and get out in front of any potential "dirt." In "Dreams of My Father," for example, a young Barack Obama discussed his drug use.

But here's the rub: it's not actually all that important that people read the book.

"Part of the value of the book is not the readership of the book, but the fact that you wrote it," says Craig Allen, an associate professor of journalism at Arizona State University who has written about presidential communication throughout history. Candidates can draw on the book during speeches and debates, he says, giving them an air of thoughtfulness and credibility. Best case scenario: the candidate recaptures the success of John F. Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage," which Allen says inspired many of the politicians who've written books since.

Even if they don't win any Pulitzers, savvy candidates can at least go on a book tour, giving interviews and essentially holding campaign events without ceding media coverage to their opponent under equal-time requirements.

That works if candidates get out their book early enough, says Peter Hildick-Smith, head of the publishing insights firm Codex Group. That's where the current crop of GOP candidates could run into trouble, he says, even if the message is well-crafted.

"If everybody's got their book coming out within a month of each other, it's very hard to get the audience's attention," he says. When candidates release the book early in the election cycle, "you don't have a campaign to run [and you get] to talk to people in a more normal way instead of being on the stump. It's that quiet conversation with Matt Lauer when people aren't really expecting it."

Hildick-Smith's company worked with a candidate on one of last year's political bestsellers. He wouldn't say who, but he did say the book had a larger-than-expected "crossover readership" of independent voters. Part of that comes from striking the right balance between policy and personal writing, along with getting the book out early.

Of course, a candidate's detractors can use similar tactics. The Clinton campaign is already running interference on "Clinton Cash," which comes out May 5 and alleges that foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation lined Hillary's pockets and influenced her policies as secretary of state.

"Clinton Cash" has potential to hurt Clinton because some major news organizations got an early look; the New York Times and Washington Post published deep investigations into the book's claims this week. While Clinton's campaign has a sizable headstart, her long history in politics means she's more vulnerable to this kind of scrutiny, says UC Davis political science assistant professor Amber Boydstun.

"If you took any potential opposing Republican candidate and you put them in public service as long for as she's been in public service, you'd probably have a book about them too," Boydstun says. "In Clinton's case, there's of course going to be dirt, and I'm not sure what the dirt looks like but that could potentially not play well, especially if the media gives credence to [it]."

There's a lot of ink spilled on all sides about candidates, but come Election Day, what impact does it really have? Duke's Hillygus says that's something political scientists are still puzzling out.

"A debate doesn't have much effect, frankly. A single television ad has almost no effect... it's all cumulative and incremental," she says. "What becomes important is: does this book by the candidate help to create a characterization of who they are that sticks? And it's never going to stick on its own."

Spoofing: An explanation using bananas

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 09:37

London-based trader Navinder Singh Sarao, and his company are accused of using software to manipulate the S&P’s futures contracts through a practice known as "spoofing.”

Spoofing means fooling the markets – making it look like you’re doing something, when you’re actually not. How about an analogy?

Imagine you have a booth at the farmers market, where you are selling bananas at two bucks a pound. Suddenly, this guy sets up an empty stall beside you and starts shouting about selling bananas for a dollar a pound. His truck is just coming up the street, he says – the bananas will be here in a minute. All your customers start lining up at his stall! It’s a nightmare!

So now you have to cut your price and sell your bananas for a buck a pound. You sell several boxes to a woman in a green hat. And suddenly, the guy beside you has disappeared! There’s no truckload of bananas coming!

You decide to raise the price back up to two dollars a pound again. When, suddenly, you get a phone call from your wife, who has spotted the truckload of bananas guy at the other end of the market. He’s selling bananas right out of the box, helped by a woman in a green hat. You have been spoofed! They fooled you into selling your bananas at half price, and now they’re selling them at two bucks a pound.