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PODCAST: Good news for the Georgia pecan

Mon, 2015-05-18 03:00

New limits are on the way for military-style gear used by police officers. More on that. Plus, luxury brands take Alibaba to court over counterfeit goods on the site. And Calpers wants to sell a portion of its timberland holdings, mostly in Louisiana. Timber is performing below par compared to private equity, public equity and real estate since the recession hit. And with years of drought in California affecting nut production, some farmers are looking at other places, and other nuts, to grow. That’s good news for Georgia pecan growers.

San Francisco takes innovative approach to homelessness

Mon, 2015-05-18 02:00

The tech sector in San Francisco may be booming, but the city's homeless are still suffering.

With real estate prices skyrocketing, pressure has intensified on San Francisco's needy. Advocates say there is only one shelter bed for about every six homeless people. New residents are clamoring for solutions.

The city is now trying something a little different—a shelter with fewer rules and more open space.

I sat on a bench next to Marco Simonetti. He rolled back his sleeve to show me thick, long, fresh scars. They ran all down his right arm. Simonetti says he was robbed and stabbed a couple of weeks ago.

Simonetti was living on the street. The attackers took all he had—a bike, wallet, and three dollars. He says, “They just picked me at random I guess.” He thinks maybe it was his gray hair. They saw and old guy and decided to get him.

Simonetti is safer now. He's living at The Navigation Center. 

Marco Simonetti sits outside The Navigation Center.

Sam Harnett

The center is different from most homeless shelters—less institutional. There is a big courtyard, and no curfew. Guests can come and go anytime.

Julie Leadbetter is the center's director. She says, “We're trying to lower the barriers on the street to access shelter.”

The biggest difference from most shelters, Leadbetter says, is that people can bring pets, partners, and possessions. Usually, they have to leave all that behind.

“We don't want to create a place that breaks down the very little supports that they have,” Leadbetter says. “It's about starting with what they have and building up."

Shelters are a band aid, not a solution. They are often dorms crammed with beds. There's no place to put your stuff, and they have a curfew for when you can come in and when you must leave during the day. Sexes are separated to protect women from rape. These conditions keep people out.

Allen Naethe is an army vet. He's been homeless 15 years and never went to a shelter. He couldn't abandon the love of his life. “I don't go nowhere she wont go,” Naethe says.

“She” is an English Staffordshire Terrier named Benthe. She's nine years old and pretty adorable. Naethe says he promised to get her a house, and that is what he's trying to do now at the Navigation Center.

Allen Naethe with his dog Benthe

Sam Harnett

Once someone like Naethe comes in to the center, the goal is to get them on their feet and into housing in about two weeks. The center has government services on site to help with housing, benefits, and jobs.

Bevan Dufty is San Francisco's housing director. He says the city is under pressure to innovate like this.

Dufty says, “The technology companies here want to see us do a better job responding to homeless.”

Dufty hopes the center will prove the city can be successful, and that tech companies will then start chipping in more—because the center isn't cheap. It's funded by a $2.4 million anonymous donation, and it accommodates only 75 people at a time.

For Simonetti though, the difference from other shelters is huge. “They treat you more like a regular person here,” he says, “They help more. They want to see you progress. They don't want to see you stagnate.”

Simonetti hopes to organize himself and get back together with his old girlfriend, who is now living off the street. His big dream though is to buy a boat like the one he used to live in, to head out through the Golden Gate bridge, turn left, and keep on sailing.

As walnut prices rise, consumers look to pecans

Mon, 2015-05-18 02:00

The water-thirsty nut crops grown in California are getting a lot of attention these days given that state’s four-year drought.

Take walnuts for example. The drought has affected both supply and quality of this popular nut, and that’s helped double its price over the last few years.  But with increased prices, coupled with declining quality, consumers are looking for alternatives.  

That means farmers are starting to look at other places – and other nuts – to grow. The interest is good news for pecan growers in places like Texas and Georgia, because pecans are a natural substitute for walnuts.

“The applications, particularly when you’re talking about baking, are very similar,” says Dan Zedan of Nature’s Finest Foods, which specializes in marketing tree nuts.

Aside from the obvious differences – different nuts, different trees – there’s one key distinction between the two: where the nuts are grown. Pecans are grown in a handful of states and can flourish in a variety of climates.  Walnuts, on the other hand, need arid conditions to thrive and are grown almost exclusively in California.  

With the price of walnuts on the uptick, Zedans says, “We’ve seen a significant shift in consumption of Pecans.”

Zedan says confectioners and bakers have always preferred pecans, but up until recently pecans have generally been the more expensive option. The opposite has been true in the last three years.

“[Pecans] have a much better flavor profile, they have a better shelf life, they’re a bit more versatile, and there is a quality perception difference between walnuts and pecans,” Zedan says.

This is all good news for Georgia, which is the top pecan producer in the U.S. Other pecan producing states like Texas and New Mexico are happy too.

Lenny Wells, a pecan specialist with the University of Georgia, says the pecan industry was booming even before the California drought. Growers, he says, have seen almost a dollar increase per pound in the last few years.

“A lot of that is driven by the export demand for pecans right now, mainly to Asia,” Wells says. “So the economics looks good and we’ve had a lot of outside interest in the industry.”

With California’s ongoing drought, this interest is showing no signs of letting up.

Wells says he’s even gotten a couple of calls from California nut growers looking to set up shop in Georgia. 

Calpers reportedly looking to sell of timberland

Mon, 2015-05-18 02:00

California’s public-employee pension fund—Calpers—is reportedly looking to unload some trees. About 300,000 acres-worth, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reports Calpers wants to sell timberland it owns in the Southeastern U.S.

Calpers lists about $2.2 billion worth of forestland investments in its $300 billion portfolio; it has much bigger stakes in investment classes such as stocks, bonds, and real estate. The investments fund the pensions of more than 1.5 million California public employees and retirees in California.

Back in the early 2000s, the trend was to diversify investments to get higher returns (Calpers faces underfunded pension liabilities, as do many other state pension funds). But some alternative investments didn’t pan out, says economist John Canally at LPL Financial.

“What happened to timber prices over the last ten years—you basically got no return on forestry stocks,” says Canally. He says the housing crash and global recession depressed the lumber market. If pension funds like Calpers had left their money in stocks and bonds, he says, their investments would have been more profitable in the long run.

A spokesman for Calpers told Marketplace by email that he could not confirm any plans to downsize Calpers’ timber holdings or review that segment of the fund’s portfolio.

University of Georgia forestry business professor Thomas Harris says that if Calpers did want to sell its timberlands in Louisiana and East Texas, there would be plenty of potential buyers. “Weyerhauser, Potlach, Plum Creek, have been active in acquiring timber land,” says Harris. “There’s interest by pension funds and high-wealth individuals.”

Harris says timber can be an attractive and stable investment, because the trees keep growing, getting more valuable as time goes on.

How Mexico is fighting obesity

Mon, 2015-05-18 02:00

Mexico and the United States have the highest rates of obesity of any major country in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

But Mexico has been taking steps to change that. "In the United States, we think we're the first to do everything, but that's not necessarily true," says Kelly Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. "And in the case of policies, to address the obesity problem, there are other countries that have been out of the gate earlier than we have." 

Mexico is one of the first countries to adopt a tax on sugary beverages, a ban on junk food advertisement during kids' shows and movies, and a push towards healthier food in schools. But Franco Sassi, senior health economist at the OECD, says it is difficult to specify exactly what constitutes a "healthy food." 

When it comes to obesity, there is no single food and policy that can tip the scales by itself, Sassi says.

A Loft-y purchase

Mon, 2015-05-18 01:59
$2.16 billion

That's the purchase price for Ann Taylor's and Loft's parent company. The buyer? Ascena Retail Group, the owner of Lane Bryant and Dressbarn. As reported by the New York Times, the combined companies will have 4,930 stores in the United States alone.

"Seven or eight"

That's how many errors publisher HarperCollins corrected in "Clinton Cash," a controversial book about Hillary Clinton's finances and foundation. Normally, readers would have to wait for a new edition for these revisions, but there's no standard practice for e-books, and in this case they were updated with a notification email from Amazon. 


That's about how many acres of timberland the California’s public-employee pension fund, Calpers, is reportedly looking to sell. With the lumber market down since the housing crash, investments in that industry by Calpers have not been performing as well as if the money had been put into stocks and bonds.

$16.1 million

That's how much Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba says it spends per year fighting counterfeit goods. But not everyone thinks the site is doing all it can. Shortly before its IPO in July, a group of luxury brands represented by Kering SA filed a suit against Alibaba citing dissatisfaction with efforts to weed out counterfeit goods. That initial suit was dropped, but now those same brands are back, this time claiming Alibaba assists counterfeiters in the sale of their products.

2 weeks

That's about how long The Navigation Center, a new kind of homeless shelter in San Francisco, aims to have residents back on their feet and into housing. Facing pressure from the tech industry to address homelessness, the city is trying out a new kind of system that feels less institutionalized. At The Navigation Center, residents are allowed to bring pets, and there are no curfews. There are also government programs on site to help with employment and 


That's how many people police killed in 2013, according to the FBI. But there's more to those numbers; mainly that they may be inaccurate, and better data is hard to come by. Local departments' reporting standards don't match up, and often the paperwork just doesn't get filed correctly. That's the latest story in our series "Behind the Blue Line."

Change is in the air traffic control tower

Fri, 2015-05-15 13:30

Momentum is growing for major changes to the U.S. air traffic control system, which, believe it or not, uses radar, not GPS, to land planes.

Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice present for policy at Airlines for America, says getting rid of radar would increase efficiency.

“It would enable us to put planes closer together and be more accurate in our prediction in weather and working around weather,” she says.

But American skies are already some of the safest in the world. So why the urgency? The Federal Aviation Administration’s budget has become a political football in Congress, and that's rattled air traffic controllers.

“They want to see stable, predictable, long-range planning and funding to modernize the system,” says Jim Burnley, who was transportation secretary under Ronald Reagan.

The union, he says, “has now made very clear in the last couple of months that it is willing to look at serious alternatives to the present structure of air traffic control.”

But proposals are still vague. Some want to reform but keep the agency inside the government, others want it privatized. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, says the Pentagon has told him it's weary of giving airspace control to a private group.

“Do we want to do the same old thing, maybe try to patchwork it in place?” he says. “Or do we want to do something iterative and say, 'OK, we’re going to make a major change to try and solve some of the long-term problems with this agency'?”

China's not building islands for mere economic gain

Fri, 2015-05-15 13:00

Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Beijing this weekend.  Originally he was supposed to be laying the groundwork for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state to the U.S. this fall.  But now he’s going to be talking about islands.  The Islands that China is building in the highly disputed South China Sea.  

Complexity on the high seas

There are seven so far, about 2,000 acres in all, whipped up out of thin air – or rather, whipped up out of sand dredged from the sea floor and built up on top of coral atolls.

China’s artificial islands are its way of aggressively, but quietly, staking its claim to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Calling the Spratlys “Islands” though, is kindof a stretch.  There are hundreds of them, but most are coral reefs or atolls, only breaking the surface at low tide.

And yet, they represent “ the world’s most complicated territorial dispute,” says Professor Taylor Fravel, associate professor of political science at MIT and an expert in China’s territorial disputes.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, the Philippines, and China all have overlapping claims.

Almost every country in the world has some kind of ongoing territorial dispute, but “there’s no other dispute in which six states claim all or the same land features.”

All six states have bolstered their claims in the archipelago via some form of construction activity, but none have created islands where there were none – or merely reefs – before, says Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the director of its Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative .  The AMTI was the first to break the news of China’s island building spree over the past year.

What is this about, really?

Some of the disputed claims are the result of the messy aftermath of World War II, but mostly these are unresolved claims that go back centuries.  “The reason that these countries’ claims have become salient only recently is because China is rising as a major power.   China has had these claims for decades but has only been able to match its capabilities to its claims and press them recently.”

All about money?

But what is to be gained by pressing China’s claims now?

“Economically it used to be for a long time people believed it was all about oil and natural gas,” says MIT’s Fravel.  “Turns out there is a lot of oil and natural gas in the South China Sea, but it tends to be very close to the coasts of Vietnam or Malaysia or Brunei,” not far out in the most disputed areas.

The South China Sea channels nearly a third of 30% of global commercial shipping, and the vast majority of crude oil bound for Japan and Korea.  But having claims on this shipping corridor isn’t a source of economic gain for China.    “And China doesn’t really have a major incentive to disrupt commercial shipping,” says CSIS’s Rapp-Hooper, noting China depends heavily on that trade itself.

So if it’s not about resources, and not about trade, what is it about?

“If we were to be a little reductive and pick between the two, its closer to pride than money,” says Rapp-Hooper.

There is a potential security element:  if China were to attempt to exercise control over large stretches of air and water around its islands, it could limit military activities of other powers far from the shores of the mainland.  Controlling the sea could potentially help were a major war to break out, a scenario in which China could want to disrupt the flow of trade. 

But national pride is priceless.

“You have a post-colonial nationalism that is very strong in this region,” says Professor Fravel. “So countries don’t want to cede claims to land – even though they’re small islands, coral, rocks.  The features are not substantial but the emotions are.”

 Fear of China’s intentions

A country gets to claim the sea as its territory 12 nautical miles out from its shores, under the U.N. convention on the Law of the Sea.  It also gets to claim an “Exclusive Economic Zone” for 200 nautical miles off its coasts.  In that zone, a country has the exclusive rights to exploit resources.  But “under most interpretations,” says Rapp-Hooper, “it does not have the right to control what other activities can take place in those waters,” says Rapp-Hooper.

This is a key point of disagreement between China and the United States.  “The U.S. and most countries in the world believe military ships can freely transit through other states’ exclusive economic zones and there should be nothing to impede passage,” says Rapp-Hooper.  That includes conducting military exercises.  China, on the other hand, has a much more restrictive interpretation, and does not believe the U.S. or any other power should be conducting surveillance activities or military exercises within  its exclusive economic zones.

As of now, China has not declared an EEZ around its newly created islands.   “Strictly speaking, these new islands should not be entitled to an EEZ because they are not naturally formed,” says MIT’s Fravel.  “However it is possible that at some point in the future they will make some kind of claim based on these artificial islands.”

What can the U.S. do?

“This is the big question, this is the soft spot evident in China’s strategy,” says  Victor Cha, professor at Georgetown University and senior advisor for Asia at CSIS.

“On the one hand no one likes the fact that China is undertaking this strategy, including small countries in the region.  On the other hand, this is so far away, not directly in U.S. interests.  Our treaty with the Philippines does not cover this sort of activity, our treaty with Japan does not cover this sort of activity.  So the question becomes naturally what can the U.S. do and does it want to get involved?”

Cha argues the most feasible strategy for now is to develop the capacity of China’s competitors in the region to monitor and record China’s activities in the sea.  Secretary of State Kerry has promised strong language over the issue in his meetings with Chinese officials this weekend.

So far The U.S. has charted a careful course between the parties, emphasizing that its priorities are freedom of navigation, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and regional stability.

Last week a U.S. littoral combat ship conducted a routine in the vicinity of Chinese-built islands, but not within the 12 nautical mile sovereign zone.  The U.S. is reportedly considering more such maneuvers.

“The U.S. every year conducts what the Pentagon describes as freedom of navigation exercises,” says Fravel.  “Where there are areas around the world where states are not abiding by customary international maritime laws reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the US will conduct a patrol to demonstrate it doesn’t recognize whatever limits the coastal state is trying to impose on freedom of navigation.”

An Island of Irony

“What is so interesting about this,” says Professor Cha, “is that we’re talking about a region of the world that is experiencing the fastest economic growth, and is really the economic future of the world. And yet in spite of that we are having disagreements involving major powers over the most fundamental and almost archaic of things which is small pieces of territory.”

Do you know if your e-book's been updated?

Fri, 2015-05-15 13:00

The Kindle version of the book "Clinton Cash," which has faced criticism from Hillary Clinton's campaign, was updated this week to correct for "seven or eight" factual errors, according to publisher HarperCollins.

Amazon called the changes "significant revisions" in an alert to users.

"It may not be unheard of, but it is not common" to make such corrections to a published book, says Mike Shatzkin, a consultant with decades of experience in the publishing world. Shatzkin says e-book corrections are a relatively new phenomenon.

"It's not like a lot of people have done this and there's a protocol around it. There really are no rules about this," Shatzkin says.

But publishing consultant Ted Hill, founder of THA Consulting, says there is a business case for keeping e-books updated. Publishers see it as customer service "and in many cases, consumers want to have that file updated dynamically," he says.

"Consumers don't know the fact that the book has changed a bit," says Hill, pointing out that the publishing world is still debating that practice.

Publishing industry lawyer Jonathan Kirsch, who teaches about publishing at NYU and is himself the author of 13 books, says e-books should follow established conventions in printed books and in online journalism.

"Unless a publisher tells you what is being changed, the reader has no way to make a critical judgment about the credibility of the author," Kirsch says. "The best practice would be to insert a marginal note or a footnote, which alerts the reader to what was the error that has been corrected."

Carls Jr. says this is the 'most American' burger

Fri, 2015-05-15 13:00

Just in time for bathing suit season, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. have announced a new sandwich, the "Most American Thickburger."

If you are curious as to what constitutes the most American version of a hamburger, it's a huge patty topped with a hot dog and potato chips, all glued together with American cheese. It comes in at a whopping 1,030 calories.

My favorite part of this story is not the culinary peak or valley the sandwich represents, but the fact that, reportedly, it's an idea that Carl's Jr. and Hardee's have had for a long time.

I wonder what was it about now that made them decide to go for it. What happened in that board room that finally made them say yes?

In police killings, numbers are scarce or inaccurate

Fri, 2015-05-15 13:00

Each year police kill a certain number of civilians. And every year the FBI puts out the Supplemental Homicide Report that's meant to provide an accurate count of those deaths. But it doesn't.

"I would rate it somewhere between awful and garbage-worthy," says David Klinger, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri and a retired cop, "It should be thrown out. People should not pay any mind to it."

It is so full of errors says Klinger, "I have described it as garbage, I have described it as a steaming pile of feces."

Three different government agencies have tried to get at the numbers. The Centers for Disease Control puts out a report, and there’s the FBI’s Justifiable Homicide Report. And, until March 2014 when it suspended data collection, the Bureau of Justice Statistics put out a report on arrest-related deaths

Check the data collected by the FBI and you'll see that in 2013, 461 civilians were killed by police. But the data may be off. That's because the information comes from local police agencies that aren't required to send their data to the FBI, so some police departments don’t send data at all. Klinger notes that some agencies say justifiable homicides shouldn't be treated as crimes.

"I have heard some police agencies say 'We’re not going to report this to the FBI because there’s no crime involved,'" Klinger says. 

But another part of the problem comes down to a tiny and seemingly mundane detail: paperwork. Look no further than the form law enforcement officers in Florida have to fill out when anyone in the state is killed. It looks like the kind of paperwork you fill out at a doctor’s office, but it's a form about death, and the categories are a little different. And that, says Gretl Plessinger, spokesperson for Florida’s Department of  Law Enforcement, is the problem. Some of the FBI’s categories and Florida’s catagories don't match.

Florida's Uniform Crime Reports Supplemental Homicide Report

Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement

“We both have a rifle and shotgun code," Plessigner says, "but the FBI has an additional code called 'other gun.' Florida doesn’t have a category called 'other gun.'”

Even though Florida sends its data to the FBI, the FBI isn't using it because the bureau can't compare apples to apples, or in this case, death-by-handgun to death-by-handgun, says Plessinger. While some of Florida’s police departments could easily update their systems to be in sync with the FBI’s, she says, for others, the process would be prohibitively expensive. It would mean buying new software or paying more staff. This same issue is preventing data from police departments around the country from being counted.

"Everyone is not filling out the same form, and that’s part of the problem," says Kevin Strom, director of the policing, security, investigative science program for RTI, a national nonprofit research organization.

RTI did a study with the Bureau of Justice Statistics that found that the FBI’s data is missing more than half of police-involved civilian deaths. Translate that into layman-speak and you have hundreds of people who have been killed by police who aren't being counted. That means the FBI's count of 461 deaths in 2013 could be vastly off.

What is the best way to find out how many civilian deaths have actually occurred?

"Unfortunately, in many places you would have to go to each individual police department and ask them," Strom says of the more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the country.

Getting a uniform system for all those police departments to report their data, says Strom, could be a challenge. In the meantime he says, the current system isn’t working very well, and the FBI agrees.

"Quite frankly, information's limited. It's very limited and it's very, spotty,"says Stephen Morris, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services division.

But, he says, fixing the problem is not as easy as it might seem.

“Most people will say, 'Well that's simple, just issue, just make a law, just legislate it," Morris says.       

While the state of Maryland has just introduced legislation to make reporting all officer-involved deaths to the governor’s office mandatory, Oregon and North Carolina are the only other states with similar laws on the books. And, Morris says, even if the federal government made reporting justifiable homicides to the FBI mandatory, it's unlikely it would get willing participants.

“The states and the local agencies, some believe that they can, some believe that they don't have to," Morris says.

The FBI says it’s working on getting better data on deaths involving police, such as how and why the deaths happened. Klinger says if they don’t get the data they need to help them understand the problems, they won’t be able to fix them. He says better data is something everyone, including the police, want to see. 

But to make things even more complicated, Klinger says if we look only at deaths, we’ll miss out on most of the situations where cops decide to use deadly force. That’s because bullets shot by police are more likely to cause injury rather than death, Klinger says.  

"If we focus on the last moment when a police officer is making his or her decision to pull the trigger or to hold fire, we’re missing a huge component of what’s going on," he says.

If we knew more about the way officers behaved before a shooting, says Klinger, we could figure out ways to reduce the number of shootings that occur. Imagine, he says, you’re a cop on patrol. You get a call about a man with a gun. You’re in your police car, and you decide to pull up within 10 or 12 feet of this individual. He brandishes the gun. You end up shooting him.

 “An analysis would say that, 'Well, it’s a legally justified shooting,' and that would be true. But the broader analysis would be, 'Why in the world did you drive a squad car so close to a guy who had a gun?' ” Klinger says.

"Police officers are going to have to shoot people because people do bad things, and some of these people doing bad things who are shot by the police are going to die," Klinger says. "But there are ways we know that we can mitigate the likelihood that a police officer is going to have to shoot. If what we’re doing is just looking at the end point and not what came before, we’re missing an opportunity to train."

Weekly Wrap: consumers, takeovers and Pacific trade

Fri, 2015-05-15 13:00

Joining Adriene to talk about the week's business and economic news are Nela Richardson from Redfin and Cardiff Garcia from FT Alphaville. The big topics this week: a consumer sentiment number decline, fake takeover bids and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. 

What's the hang-up with collecting phone data?

Fri, 2015-05-15 13:00

Congress is trying to decide whether to change the way spy agencies collect bulk phone data on Americans. Earlier this week, the House decided to end government collection of our phone records.

We wondered, what if you did a cost-benefit analysis of all that metadata? Is it worth all the trouble? We’re talking about huge amounts of data here. 

The National Security Agency stores phone company billing information for calls made and received in the U.S. — which numbers called other numbers and when. So what does that cost?  Well, let’s just say in this case, talk is not cheap.

John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State and the libertarian Cato Institute, says it's in excess of $100 million a year.

Mueller got that number by estimating what the phone companies spend to gather and store their billing records, and adding in some extra for the cost of NSA analysis. 

That’s really hard to measure, though, because it’s classified.

“You get sort of a range," Mueller says. "It’s not trillions of dollars, by any means, and so you have fairly substantial money being spent on it."

OK, now the benefit part of our cost-benefit analysis.  A presidential commission has looked into that.

“There’s no benefit,” says Richard Clarke, who worked as a counter-terrorism adviser in the White House and was on the commission. He says all the phone record metadata wasn’t instrumental in preventing any terrorist attacks.

Clarke says the NSA has done its own cost-benefit analysis of its bulk collection of U.S. phone records.

“Some people at NSA told us that if Snowden hadn’t leaked this thing, they probably would have terminated it anyway,” he says, referring to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. 

So the commission said, "The phone companies already keep these records. Why should the NSA store them, too? Let’s keep them at the phone company. The NSA can get them with a court order." 

“We found that it was useful to have the ability to find out who has contacted whom," says Peter Swire, another member of the commission.  He teaches privacy and cybersecurity at Georgia Tech. "We believed the better way to do it was not a huge government warehouse.”

Swire says phone records may not be instrumental in preventing terrorist attacks, but they can help, so they should be available to the NSA. Just not at the NSA’s fingertips. 

Parents find promise and peril in education technology

Fri, 2015-05-15 11:16
These days, virtually every school in the country is wired, and students are doing everything from class work to homework on laptops and tablets. This hasn't just changed things for teachers and students, it has also changed life for parents.

In a national, online survey, "Parents' Attitudes Toward Educational Technology," Marketplace asked parents of children in grades 3 through 12 for their opinions on tech in the classroom.

Parents say nearly every child uses a computer, tablet, or smartphone for school work, including turning in homework, writing reports, taking tests and playing math and spelling games. In Atlanta, parent Carl Fields says his daughter uses technology in almost every one of her classes.

"She has her own laptop, and everything is done on Google Drive now, so she very rarely has to write anything. It's just primarily all a laptop, computer or tablet," he says.

Daryl Jackson and his wife are raising 11 children in Atlanta. The Marketplace survey shows most parents — about three-fourths — think technology in school will help children in their future careers.

"I think it's a great thing," Jackson says. "I wish I had it back when I was in school, I think I would be a lot more successful than I am now — not that I'm doing too shabby."

Also, the majority of parents — more than 71 percent — say technology has improved the "overall quality of education."

Technology for school has also allowed the helicopter parent to go digital — no more hiding the report card in the bottom of the backpack. Manny Garcia of Los Angeles has a 12-year-old and 16-year-old. Like most parents, he uses tech to track what's happening at school .

"I do check on their grades all the time," he says. "The good thing about that is that they're always good. So I don't worry too much about that."

But some parents are proudly unplugged, like Kerry Martin in Chicago. She says there's not a computer in her home.

"You've got to do it the old-fashioned way," she says. "We don't use the internet for things like math and science. You've got to dig down and get it done."

For all its advantages, technology has also given parents a new set of worries. Beth Sanders is the mother of a third grade student in Washington, D.C., and says she has to monitor her son carefully.

"It's easy for him to just get on YouTube or search for 'Minecraft' videos when he should be doing his work, so I have to stand over him and make sure he's looking at what he's supposed to be looking at," she says.

For Dominique Bell, who has a 11th grade student in a Chicago high school, "auto-correct is the devil," she says. About 40 percent of the parents we surveyed say they worry school tech makes their child too reliant on technology, and only 57 percent say technology for school has improved critical thinking skills.

"It's not teaching them to critically think. If they want to know the answer, they can just Google the answer instead of just actually having to figure it out or rely on themselves," Bell says.

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The Transaction: Hawaii condo

Fri, 2015-05-15 10:50

Marketplace listener Tracy Cambre Morales planned a Hawaii vacation for her 50th birthday.

After meticulously planning the trip for almost a year, the Morales family was excited. The plane tickets were purchased, the condo and car rental were secured, the family was set. Right before the family was supposed to depart, Tracy's mother-in-law got sick, and the doctor gave her two months to live.

The Hawaii trip to was postponed indefinitely. After canceling the plane tickets and the rental car, Tracy was faced with canceling the rented condo, which was not refundable. To her surprise, the condo owner had different plans.

Listen to the Morales' story in the audio player above.

Making food more selfie-friendly

Fri, 2015-05-15 10:48

That’s how many people follow Chili’s on Instagram, as of Friday morning, and the chain is sprucing up their dishes to try and attract more. They've started serving fries in stainless steel containers and using burger buns with more visual appeal, Bloomberg reported.


That’s how many Pedialyte sales are attributed to adult consumers. Yep, the electrolyte-filled drink used to re-hydrate kids with stomach flu is being used frequently by adults to cure hangovers and the like.

71 percent

That’s how many parents are saying technology has improved the “overall quality of education” for their child. The data comes from a new Marketplace survey of about 1,000 parents of kids in grades 3 through 12.

3.4 million

That’s how many rural-area addresses Google plans to capture using drones for their Google Maps. Or is it? Take our Silicon Tally quiz to test your tech news savvy. 

$2 billion

That’s how much money the military spent on “urgent humanitarian” needs in Afghanistan. The money was used to “gain support from the locals for both the U.S. military and the nascent Afghan government,” Pro Publica reported. The items include sweaters, prayer beads for Ramadan and healthcare supplies, among other efforts like community radio and a poetry competition.

Sotheby's courts new buyers with an assist from Drake

Fri, 2015-05-15 10:48

A Jean-Michel Basquiat painting hangs on a wall in Sotheby’s S2 gallery in New York — two black and red faces in profile on a gray background. On a stand in front of it, an iPad with a pair of Beats by Dre headphones plays a song by ILoveMakonnen.

The pairing is part of a recent show, “I Like It Like This.” While Sotheby’s is best known for its high-end auctions, it sells through gallery exhibitions as well. For this one, curators tapped an unexpected partner: Drake, the Canadian TV actor turned Grammy-winning musician. He selected songs to go with roughly 20 works of art in the show.

The idea is to look at the dialogue between black American art and music, says S2 Director Jackie Wachter.

“You have [Takashi] Murakami doing Kanye West albums, you have Jay Z rapping about Picasso,” Watcher says. “There obviously is this intersection and overlap between the two art forms.”

So what is the dialogue? What do the pairings say? Wachter says they’re just Drake’s interpretations; she didn't ask for explanations, and he didn't say.  

“I sort of think it’ll come out organically here and there,” she says.

To accompany this 2014 painting by artist Kehinde Wiley, “Ferdinand-Philippe-Louis-Henri, D’Orléans,” Drake chose the song “Multiply” by A$AP Rocky.

Tracey Samuelson/Marketplace

But Wachter is very clear on why Drake makes sense for Sotheby’s: The company is hoping its association with Drake might bring new, younger people in the door.

“We’re just a business that’s trying to grow,” Watcher says. “It’s interesting to look at our numbers and see 'Wow, we really have the same clients every single year.' ”

Plus, Sotheby’s is eager to be seen as cool, says Ben Davis, the national art critic for ArtNet News.

“I really view this as an experiment,” he says. “It’s a little bit of a freakish experiment, like throwing stuff at the wall at seeing what sticks. In this case, like literally just throwing up iPads with music on them and seeing if that amuses people.”

Price tags for the show range from $10,000 to $10 million — songs not included.

PODCAST: Rethinking flood protection

Fri, 2015-05-15 03:00

First up, Netflix is in talks with a Chinese media company about a potential partnership in China. More on that. Plus, how much are your feelings worth? We look at how much is paid for detailed information regarding consumer sentiment. Plus, AquaFence is essentially a removable, reusable temporary wall that hooks into the ground and keeps out water. Since Superstorm Sandy, the number of AquaFences in Manhattan and Brooklyn has gone from zero to 40. Several Boston companies are now investing in the system too. They say it's the answer to East Coast flooding problems that are becoming more frequent because of climate change.

Exclusive survey: Parents weigh in on the digital classroom

Fri, 2015-05-15 02:15

For the last year, our LearningCurve team has been looking at the impact of technology on education. We've talked to students, teachers and ed-tech companies about the digital revolution taking hold in classrooms across the country.

We've explored the promise of individualized learning and the peril of student data-mining. We've delved into the economics of the corporate arms race to outfit the nation’s classrooms, and student interactions with devices and software in lockup.

Now we turn our attention to parents, many of whom have spent the last year exploring the ins-and-outs of educational technology themselves, alongside their children. We wanted to get parents' views of the shift, as their children do more school work on laptops and tablets, and become accustomed to emailing teachers and checking grades online.

In a national, online survey of 1,002 parents of kids in grades 3 through 12 conducted by Lieberman Research Worldwide, "Parents' Attitudes Toward Educational Technology," we found parents feel good about the growing use of technology in education, and most think it is improving the quality of education for their children.

Share the survey results using our infographic

Parents also think tech can be especially effective for courses in STEM — subjects like math and science. Most parents also think technology can help level the playing field between rich and poor children, with Hispanic parents especially apt to feel this way. But parents across all income levels and races still have concerns about issues like screen time and technology’s impact on critical thinking.

  • 90 percent of children in grades 3 through 12 have access to use a computer for school work, with most using their own household computer.  
  • 98 percent of children use technology for their school work, including smartphones.

Marketplace/Parents' Attitudes Toward Education Technology, page 

Most parents — 51 percent — think schools are spending the right amount of money on technology in the classroom. About four out of 10 parents would like to see schools spend more.

Parents are also comfortable with the amount of money they spend on educational technology for their own child. Seventy percent say they are spending the right amount on technology for their kid’s school work.

  • 83 percent of parents say their child's school requires students to conduct research online.   
  • 68 percent say technology has increased their ability to help their children with school work. 

Marketplace/Parents' Attitudes Toward Education Technology, page 11

Students from low-income households are required to do fewer educational tasks digitally than their high-income counterparts. For example, 70 percent of high-income students have been asked to turn in assignments online, while only 41 percent of low-income students have submitted work digitally.

Parents name teacher quality and class size as the education issues most important to them — student use of technology for school ranked third. They are also concerned about the amount of standardized testing.

  • 80 percent of parents say tech has made it easier for them to be involved with their child's education.  
  • 78 percent of parents use technology to monitor their child's grades.

Marketplace/Parents' Attitudes Toward Education Technology, page 27

Parents also worry about their child's private information. Seventy-nine percent say they are at least somewhat, very or extremely concerned about the security and privacy of their child’s data. About three-fourths of parents worry about advertisers' access to their children, and the same amount — 72 percent — are concerned their child will find inappropriate content online.

In spite of these worries, parents remain very positive about the potential of the digital classroom. More than 71 percent of parents report technology has improved the “overall quality of education” for their child.

Marketplace/Parents' Attitudes Toward Education Technology, page 23

How much are our feelings worth?

Fri, 2015-05-15 02:00

“It’s not an exaggeration to say as goes the consumer, so goes the economy,” says Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman Private Banking. That’s why consumer confidence is one of the leading economic indicators, it tells us how consumers feel about the economy and what their expectations are, which are clues on how the economy is doing and where it’s going.

But that consumer survey data isn’t free. At least, not all of it.

“The top line data we release publicly, for anyone to avail themselves of,” says Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, the source of one the Consumer Confidence Index – one of the two most widely known consumer surveys.

While the top line, or general data, is free, if you want to know more it’ll cost you. “What folks are subscribing to then is the more detailed information,” says Franco.

The Conference Board’s subscriptions to its in depth data start at $629 a month. 

That pales in comparison to what the other major source of data charged recently. The University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, which creates its Surveys of Consumers, charged Thomson Reuters more than $1 million a year up through 2014. 

That, however, was for exclusive rights to the data. Thomson Reuters with the cooperation of the University supplied the data early to investors who paid extra – on the order of $5000 per month. These subscribers got only a 2 second head start – but that was plenty of time for electronic traders.

Since January of 2015, the University sells its detailed data to Bloomberg, and offers its general data for free simultaneously on its website. While the contract with Bloomberg is not exclusive, Bloomberg is the only one buying the data. The firm ended the practice of selling early access.

Who uses consumer confidence data? 

“It ranges from economists to government agencies to retailers,” says Franco.

Economists such as Kristin Reynolds with consulting firm HIS uses the data in conjunction with troves of other data points in forecasting. “We try to look at a trend and look for changes in the direction of the economy,” she says. 

That’s gold for just about any industry – all from our feelings!