National News

Tea Party Losing Every Senate Battle And Winning The War

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 11:55

Meaningful as this rightward shift has been for the GOP and the Senate, the insurgent elements would have preferred to actually knock off a few of their targets.

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Dry Western U.S. May Not Get Help From El Niño, Forecasters Say

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 11:17

Some Californians had been hoping El Niño would break the state out of a drought. But a government expert says of the prospect of a strong El Niño, "It's a flop."

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Who has better online privacy? The U.S. or EU?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-08 11:04

There's a lot of debate over whether United States or European Union online privacy protections are better. They certainly take different approaches.

To that point, we have the tale of two online privacy activists: Parker Higgins in San Francisco, and Xander Bouwman from the Netherlands. Higgins is 26.  Bouwman is 21. 

Higgins works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Bouwman is an information sciences student and volunteer activist. 

In theory, the EU has it better: Privacy law across the Atlantic actually guarantees protection of personal data, and new digital privacy legislation being considered by the European Parliament would strengthen those guarantees.

How does that affect the average person? If Bouwman did a Google search, Google would have to tell him before it shared his tracking information outside the EU.

Bouwman likes that: "I would want to know if Google is behind a page, and using analytics to make a profile of me," he says.

The differences continue. When Bouwman logs onto Facebook, he has the right to access all the data Facebook has on him. That is something Higgins doesn't have.

“We're bound by a website's privacy policy," he says. "And everyone who's seen one of those knows how ridiculous they can be. And they can change at any time.”

Europe isn't perfect. It would be almost impossible for Bouwman to get all of his Facebook data, because enforcement in Europe hasn't been strong. It's left up to privacy regulators who don't have much power.  

As Higgins contends: "The laws are important here, and it's great that this is happening in Europe. And I'm jealous of it in the U.S.  But at the same time, if it's about enforcement, you know, these companies can collect sort of whatever they want."

"Yeah, Parker I can only agree with you here, " says Bouwman.

The lawyer's point of view

Now, Higgins and Bouwman aren't lawyers.  So I'm going to bring a law professor into the conversation.

David Sorkin teaches information technology and privacy and consumer law at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. 

He says in the U.S., we enforce our digital privacy rights, albeit privately.

"That is, the right to sue," he explains. "And sometimes, that would have to be in the form of a class action. Whereas in the EU it's mostly data protection commissioners, regulators, who impose the rules and enforce them."

The data protection legislation the EU Parliament is considering would give privacy regulators a lot more enforcement power. 

U.S. tech lobbyists and government officials say the EU legislation is too rigid, and the U.S. system is more nimble with its many different privacy laws, covering everything from health data to video rental records. 

"There's a huge gulf across the Atlantic which is taking many years to resolve and I think is many years off yet," says Simon Davies, founder of Privacy International.

But our 20-somethings don't want to wait that long. So Bouwman says his generation is taking things into their own hands.

"I held a CryptoParty in Amsterdam a few months ago," he says. (A CryptoParty is a chance for privacy nerds to get together and swap tips for evading online profiling and tracking.) "It might sound really wild because it's called a party but usually we host these at public libraries."

Higgins says it's not just a European thing. He holds CryptoParties, too.

Higgins and Bouwman say, if they CryptoParty hard enough, they can stitch together their own privacy blanket. They hope eventually, pokey lawmakers and government officials will catch up. 

ISIS gains control of key infrastructure in Iraq

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-08 10:41

ISIS militants in Iraq have managed to gain control of a key piece of infrastructure in the country, the Mosul Dam. It’s not the first time the group has taken over a supply of water, electricity, or oil.

It’s likely they will attempt to extort Iraqis in the area, who rely on the dam for water and power. ISIS has shown a “great ability to be self-supporting and self-financing and a great ability to carry out extortion schemes,” says Tim Arango, the Baghdad Bureau Chief for the New York Times.

The worry is that ISIS could open the Mosul Dam and flood the area, as they did with the Fallujah Dam earlier this year. Arango says it will probably be difficult to retake the dam, since the structure itself is very fragile. It’s unclear if ISIS has the “capability to maintain it.”

 “A very small crack in that dam could just start the water flowing.”

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Money can buy you happiness... sort of

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-08 10:36

What if the key to happiness lay in numbers?

Or more specifically, economics. On its face, that seems fairly nuts. Our joyous memories are generally about people or feelings: a night of dancing with abandon, a hug from a child, the certainty of helping another person.

The search for happiness has bedeviled generations of lovers, writers; even the founders of our country of course who took only a swipe at its pursuit – not attainment – in our Declaration of Independence.

And yet, we buy, inserting money into this equation.

For the essentials: shelter, food, security for our families.

The more frivolous things. To fill a need, perhaps? The post-breakup pair of shoes. The clichéd mid-life crisis sports car.

I’ve been reading some economic research on happiness  that my friend Jim Tankersley turned me on to. Richard Easterlin, a professor at the University of Southern California, examined research on money, psychology, and contentment.

Back in the 1960s, a social psychologist named Hadley Cantril asked people what they would need “for their lives to be completely happy,” Easterlin writes.  And pretty much everywhere, no matter their circumstances or culture, people ranked their level of living first, then the desire for a happy family life.

Easterlin goes on to cite studies showing that married people tend, on average, to be happier than single ones (debate away, as needed).

And then comes the part that really intrigues me: our measure of happiness isn’t fixed. It depends on our neighbor’s.

So while research showed that people with a higher income tend to report being happier, that didn’t hold up over a whole life.

“Indeed, if happiness and income are compared at any point in time,” Easterlin writes, “those with more income are, on average, happier than those with less. But what happens to happiness as income goes up over the life cycle – does happiness go up too? The answer is no; on average, there is no change.

So what’s going on? Well, we’re doing everything our mothers told us not to, and comparing ourselves to our other people. No matter how well we do, if it’s not better than everyone around us, we don’t feel like we’re attaining something, because our internal norms are changing.  And p.s., Easterlin says it makes us kinda Grinchy: “The subversive effect of rising internal norms also explains why people think that over the life course more money will make them happier, when, in fact, it doesn’t.”

So what to do?

Awhile back, I interviewed a psychologist, Ryan Howell, about this paradox.

Here’s the trick: spend on experiences, not things.

There is a reason that mental snapshot of your last vacation brings you so much joy.  The “buy high” you have from a physical thing? It doesn’t go away if you’re investing in adventures, connections and people. Year after year, you can unpack those memories and savor them.

Et voila! Money just bought you happiness.

Maybe the dismal science is good for something. 

In Chicago, Neighborhoods That Are More Black Don't Gentrify

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 09:52

A recent study reviewed places in Chicago that seemed to be undergoing gentrification two decades ago and found that the process had slowed or stopped for those that were at least 40 percent black.

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A Group Of 29 State Attorneys General Ask FDA To Strengthen E-Cig Regulations

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 09:51

The attorneys recommend that the FDA ban flavored electronic cigarettes and restrict advertising in the same way it does for traditional cigarettes.

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Shazam! Now You Look Like A Better Borrower

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 09:35

The company that controls the FICO credit score says it is changing the way the scores are calculated, making it easier for millions of borrowers to look better on paper.

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Playing Video Games Can Help Or Hurt, Depending On Whom You Ask

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 09:19

Playing video games for an hour a day may make children happier and more satisfied, one study says. But another finds that playing violent games is associated with risky behaviors.

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This Isn't The First U.S. Rescue Operation In Northern Iraq

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 09:01

The last time was 1991, when the U.S. rushed to the aid of the Kurds. That mission offers several lessons as the U.S. embarks on a new operation to help the besieged Yazidi religious sect.

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Investors Pump Prospects Of Unproven Ebola Treatments

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 08:37

Drugs in development to treat Ebola virus are far from being ready for general use, but that hasn't stopped investors from rushing to talk up companies that are trying to develop the drugs.

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Malaysia's Money-Losing Airline Will Become National Property

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 08:25

Malaysia plans to nationalize its flag carrier Malaysia Airlines after back-to-back disasters and a 12-year stretch that saw the company restructured four times.

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White House Goes On Lockdown After Sneaky Toddler Breaches Fence

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 07:09

The toddler had no comment because he can't talk yet. But the Secret Service handed the little guy a time out and then sent him on his way.

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Luring talent with more than just a basketball

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-08 07:00

The NCAA has voted to give schools with the biggest sports programs more leeway to lure talent. The move will affect the five biggest conferences: the Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Pacific 12, Big Ten and Big 12 conferences.

If finalized, the conferences "will receive the power to raise the value of scholarships, improve health insurance, allow players to consult agents and more," according to the New York Times. For more on what this decision could mean, we spoke to Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who follows the business of sports. 

Click the media player above to hear Andrew Zimbalist in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

What you should know about the changes to credit scores

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-08 07:00

FICO, the nation's leading provider of those all-important credit scores that so many Americans can feel they have tattooed to their backs, has announced it is changing the formula it uses to score credit. The changes could boost the scores of tens of millions of Americans.

Here are a few things to know about the changes:

Exactly what is FICO changing?

There are two main changes. One is that FICO will stop docking people for being overdue on a payment, as long as they have ultimately paid the bill or settled with a collection agency. Until now, having a collection on your record — even if your balance was at zero — could impact your credit score as much as a foreclosure or a bankruptcy.

The second change will be good news to people with medical debt, which is about 40 percent of Americans. FICO says it will start giving less weight in its credit scoring formula to unpaid medical bills that are with a collection agency.

So how could these changes affect my ability to borrow?

FICO’s goal is to boost lending without creating more risk. Since the recession, it has been hard to get a loan without fairly spotless credit. These new changes could boost certain scores by as much as 100 points, meaning if you have an otherwise good credit record aside from the above issues, you might qualify for a loan you wouldn't have before, or at least for a lower interest rate.

When do the changes go in to effect?

FICO says they will offer the new credit score formulas to credit bureaus in the fall and to lenders by the end of the year. But just because the new formulas are available doesn’t mean they will be used. FICO rolls out new scoring formulas every few years, and it takes a while for many lenders to adopt the newest versions.

Beyond that, even though FICO has changed its approach to unpaid medical bills and debts that have been resolved with collections agencies, those events won’t disappear from your record altogether. Lenders will still be able to see them on your credit report for up to seven years, and can still decide they are a sign of risk.

What are the pros and cons of FICO’s new approach?

Any loosening of credit standards raises worries in some corners, that it could leave lenders open to more risk or entice borrowers deeper in to debt. FICO doesn't think so. But we'll have to see.

If the company is wrong, it could undermine the credibility of their credit scores.

John Ulzheimer, a credit expert at credit education website Credit Sesame and a former manager at FICO, says what is certain is that FICO carefully considered the changes. “The only reason someone like FICO is going to make this type of drastic change to their scoring system is because the science behind it supports the change,” he says.  “As time changes, different data elements on a credit report are tested to make sure they're still predictive of elevated risk.”

For example, as medical expenses have risen sharply in the last few decades, FICO may have found that medical debt is no longer a good predictor of elevated risk.

If FICO is right, and the new scoring system raises credit scores for tens of millions of Americans without opening lenders up to more risk, it could have positive ripple effects on the economy. Part of the slow recovery has been due to tight credit. More people qualifying for loans could create useful momentum.

And don't forget how powerful credit scores have become in our lives. Credit card companies and banks look at them, but so do potential landlords and even potential employers.  

State Abortion Laws Face A New Round Of Legal Challenges

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 06:24

State legislatures have passed laws that require doctors to have hospital admitting privileges to perform abortions. Some courts are now saying these laws are unconstitutional.

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Chermoula: From North Africa To The White House To Your Table

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 05:51

Guests at the U.S.-Africa Summit were served beef with a Moroccan spice blend. We asked food mavens Marcus Samuelsson and Paula Wolfert to share their recipes. So now you can dine like a diplomat!

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Dueling Afghan Presidential Candidates Agree To Resolve Election Dispute

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 05:46

The two men, who agreed to cooperate on forming a new, national unity government, made the announcement after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

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Making online education more like iTunes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-08 05:30

As MIT sees it, education is a lot like the record business used to be: still producing albums, when  people would rather download songs one at a time.

To put it another way, instead of offering semester-long classes, professors need to start offering individual lessons and letting students pick which ones they want.

“The very notion of a ‘class’ may be outdated,” says a new report from an MIT task force on the future of the school. “Much like a playlist on iTunes, a student could pick and choose the elements of a calculus or a biology course offered across [MIT’s online platform] to meet his or her needs.”  

The report notes that 25 percent of professors and 40 percent of students believe classes could benefit from this “modular” approach.

MIT is not the only school thinking this way.  The University of Wisconsin began offering MOOCs this year that offer shorter, more narrowly focused segments.

Also recommended by the MIT task force:

  • Continue to expand online and blended-learning options.
  • Expand the school’s certification program for online courses.
  • Develop ways to use game-based learning in classes.
  • Attract a more diverse group of students to MOOCs– more than 70 percent are male.
  • Make the school more affordable.
  • Admit more students.

 

Weekly Wrap: Blame geopolitics

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-08 04:41

Felix Salmon of Fusion and Jo Ling Kent of Fox Business News talk with about geopolitics, economics and where the two shall meet. 

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