National / International News

Diana play 'clunky' and 'clueless'

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 02:04
A controversial new play about Princess Diana's death is called "patchy", "confused" and "clueless" by reviewers.

Ruth Rendell critical after stroke

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 02:03
Best-selling crime writer Ruth Rendell is in a critical but stable condition after suffering a stroke, her publishers have said.

President Obama aims to pass the Healthy Families Act

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-15 02:00

President Barack Obama will outline a broad plan on Thursday to help states establish paid leave programs and to fund Labor Department feasibility studies on paid leave.

Obama is calling on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers to earn an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work.

“This is not a partisan issue. This is a family issue and an economic issue,” says White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett.  Jarrett announced the President’s intent on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

Currently, workers are granted up to 12 weeks leave under the Family Medical Leave Act.  However, Jarrett says most employers make that leave unpaid.  Meaning that many workers can’t afford to take leave when they need it.

“It means that more sick children are in school because no-one can afford to stay home with them, and it means that fewer parents are taking the necessary time to bond with new babies or care for their aging parents," says Jarrett.

Jarrett says the President will also ask Congress for a $2 billion incentive fund to help states to create their own paid leave programs.

But, James Sherk, a Senior Policy Analyst with the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation says the President’s proposal would effectively cut workers’ pay.

“The way businesses respond when the government requires them to provide a benefit is, first they provide the benefit, but secondly they take the cost of that benefit out of workers’ pay.”

The President also plans to take executive action giving federal employees up to 6 weeks of paid leave for the birth, or adoption, of a child.  

Foreclosure crisis just about finished

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-15 02:00

RealtyTrac reports that the rate of foreclosure filings was down 18 percent in 2014 from the previous year, and are approaching the same level as in 2006, before the housing crisis hit.

RealtyTrac/Mitchell Hartman

Daren Blomquist, VP at RealtyTrac, said: “About 1 percent of all loans is the historic average that go into foreclosure, and I think we’ll probably end up below that for the next decade, as a reaction to what we’ve been through.”

Blomquist predicts fewer foreclosures than average because home prices have come down, homebuyers need very good credit to get a mortgage due to tighter underwriting standards, and many buyers are hedge funds and other investors with deep pockets.

RealtyTrac/Mitchell Hartman

Barcode license plates? Try mass traffic surveillance

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-15 02:00

Back to the Future Part II was a classic 80s movie in part because it was an escape.

From the harp plucking and the optimistic-sounding French horn in the first scene, it’s obvious that you’re going to get a picture of the future that is probably closer to Star Trek than Big Brother.

So when you’re watching the movie and you see that every car’s license plate is a barcode, it’s easy to think, “Sure, easy scanning. Very convenient.” It’s also easy to imagine why, in a movie released at the peak of one of the strongest periods of economic growth in the U.S., one of the most recognizable symbols of commerce—the Universal Product Code—was picked for plates.

Well, spoiler alert for those who haven’t looked closely at a car in 2015 yet: we don’t have barcode license plates. But the reality is in some ways more impressive and more concerning. Instead of codes that usually need to be scanned with the help of a laser, we’re using License Plate Recognition cameras all over the country to constantly record the passage of all traffic. And we’re often keeping all of that data for uses we haven’t yet realized.

The “haven’t yet realized” part is what has people like Kade Crockford worried. Crockford is the director of the Technology for Liberty project at the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union (she also writes the privacy matters blog). She says that in the last decade, the practice of collecting and storing traffic data has become widespread but mostly unregulated.

The barcode plates of “Back to the Future Part II” and the plate-scanning practices of the real world do have something in common: they’re both about making information machine readable. Barcodes were invented to make it easy to attach data to products that could be organized by computers. LPR technology, also called Automatic License Plate Recognition, does the same thing, either by reading a plate and attaching metadata in a matter of milliseconds, or sending a constant stream of photos to a server farm where the data is read and stored. These cameras usually capture not only the plates but an image of the car as well.

Technology now being used across the U.S. began as an invention of British law enforcement in the 1970s. It gained popularity there in the 1990s as a weapon against terrorism, following bombing attacks by the Irish Republican Army. LPR seems to have crossed the pond as computing power, storage, and camera technology became cheaper. By some estimates, LPR usage by police departments in the US has nearly quadrupled, going from 20 percent to 71 percent between 2007 and 2012.

The problem, says Crockford, is that there is very little oversight or even an understanding of how LPR technology is really being used. Private companies like Digital Recognition Network and Vigilant Solutions “Hoover up” billions of data sets, she says, and sell them to both law enforcement and private repo companies. Even though it’s been in America for over a decade, the first real federal scrutiny of the technology seems to have come only very recently, via a task force created by the Justice Department last May.

States are just starting to lay out rules about the collection and storage of data. In the last two years, around 30 pieces of legislation have been written, but only a handful have gone into effect. Of the few bills in place, those that endeavor to have police departments wipe data sets after a certain time, or try to prevent private companies from using LPR technology, are already being challenged in the courts.

Here’s one last bit that wasn’t imagined in "Back to the Future Part II" but could become a reality: The Center for Investigative Reporting recently found what it says are documents that suggest Vigilant wants to create a massive data collection system that combines LPR, public records, and facial recognition. Almost makes you wish for silly barcode license plates.  

Hey Google, name my website

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-15 02:00

Google has launched its own website naming service, Google Domains. It says it's aimed at small businesses, 55 percent of which its own research has found don't have their own website right now. 

Blake Newman, who runs a website design agency in Washington D.C., was one of the people invited to test out Google's domain name registration service before it went public. "It's relatively sparse," Newman says.

In other words, it's Google style. And that's the opposite of a lot of other domain name registration websites, Newman says, which can be complicated even for professionals like him.

But does that mean that other registrars like GoDaddy, E-nom and Network Solutions should be worried? No, says Phil Corwin, head of the Internet Commerce Association, a lobbying group for the domain name industry. Corwin was speaking from a domain name registrars' conference in Las Vegas, where he says Google wasn't even the main topic of conversation. 

"It's a competitive space," says Corwin. "And some of the smaller players, they're not going for a mass market. They're going for more of a niche market." But for those 55 percent of small businesses without websites, Google is banking on simplicity trumping niche.

Switzerland scraps ban on franc cap

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:59
The Swiss franc soars and sends markets into turmoil as Switzerland gives up trying to peg its currency against the euro.

VIDEO: Vote for FA Cup goal of the round

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:59
Watch BBC Sport's shortlist of our six top goals from the FA Cup third round and vote for your favourite to choose the goal of the round.

Review of Pilley murder conviction

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:57
David Gilroy, the man convicted of killing Edinburgh office worker Suzanne Pilley, is to have his murder conviction reviewed.

University applications: 'The most stressful experience'

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:56
"The most stressful experience" of applying to university

Kenya apology over Muhammad cartoon

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:49
A leading Kenyan newspaper apologises for publishing Charlie Hebdo's cover, depicting Prophet Muhammad following an outcry from its Muslim readers.

Ebola cases declining in West Africa

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:44
New Ebola cases in the three West African countries worst affected by the deadly outbreak of the virus are declining, weekly UN figures show.

VIDEO: Major fire at Oxfordshire council offices

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:43
A "major" fire has broken out at council offices in Oxfordshire after a suspected arson attack.

Iran to try Washington Post reporter

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:30
Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, detained for almost six months in Iran, is to stand trial on unspecified charges, state media report.

Buy a house? What about an entire city?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:30
18 percent

RealtyTrac's foreclosure report for December 2014 and the full year is out, and the outlook is positive. According to the report, foreclosure filings were down 18 percent in 2014 from the previous year and are approaching the same level as in 2006, before the housing crisis hit.

16

The number of trips Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have each taken in the past two years, outpacing all other potential candidates for president, according to U.S. News & World Report.

55 percent

That's the percentage of small businesses that don't have a website, according to Google research. It's why the tech giant is launching its own website-naming service, aimed at this small corner of the market.

11

The number of consecutive quarters RadioShack has seen losses, despite some aggressive and public re-branding. The electronics retailer is expected to declare bankruptcy as soon as next month. Quartz has nine charts showing the brand's gradual decline.

One-third

That's how far American manufacturing fell between 2000 and 2013, while Chinese manufacturing grew several times over. Now, more stable wages have some companies looking back to the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reported.

$9.6 million

That's how much a city has been put on the market for. Yes, a whole city. Bargylia, an ancient site in Turkey, to be exact. As the BBC reports, the city sits on the coast and dates to fifth century B.C. Although it's in a popular tourist spot, the eventual owners will be prevented from building on the site. They will, however, have access to what could be an archaeological treasure trove of historical artifacts.

Buying a house? What about an entire city?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:30
18 percent

RealtyTrac's foreclosure report for December 2014 and full-year is out, and the outlook is positive. According to the report, foreclosure filings was down 18 percent in 2014 from the previous year, and are approaching the same level as in 2006, before the housing crisis hit.

16

The number of trips Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have each taken in the past two years, outpacing all other potential candidates for president, according to U.S. News & World Report.

55 percent

That's the percentage of small businesses that don't have a website, according to Google research. It's why the tech giant is launching its own website naming service, aimed at this small corner of the market.

11

The number of consecutive quarters Radioshack has seen losses lately, despite some aggressive and public rebranding. The electronics retailer will reportedly declare bankruptcy as soon as next month, and Quartz has nine charts showing the brand's gradual decline.

1/3

That's how far American manufacturing fell between 2000 and 2013, while Chinese manufacturing grew several times over. Now, more stable wages have some companies looking back to the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reported.

$9.6 million

That's how much it will cost you to buy a city. Yes, a whole city. Bargylia, an ancient site in Turkey, to be exact. As the BBC reports, the city sits on the north of the Bodrum peninsula, and dates back to the fifth century BC. Although it's located in a popular tourist spot, the eventual owners will be prevented from building on the site. They will, however, have access to what could be an archaeological treasure trove of historical artifacts.

Ex-minister Robertson to stand down

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:28
Former Sports Minister Sir Hugh Robertson announces he is to stand down from his Faversham and Mid Kent seat at May's general election.

Bill Cosby accuser seeks charges

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:20
Model Chloe Gains who claims she was drugged and sexually abused by Bill Cosby six years ago has met with LA police to pursue criminal charges against the comedian.

CIA clears staff of Senate snooping

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:19
A CIA internal watchdog clears its officers of improperly accessing the computers of members of the US Senate intelligence committee.

Jilted man's honeymoon makes £8,000

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 01:15
A man "dumped" six weeks before his wedding raises thousands of pounds for charity by auctioning his fiancée's place on the honeymoon.

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