Marketplace - American Public Media

Iran says it's curbing uranium enrichment

Mon, 2014-01-20 06:18

The news from the Tehran and the United Nations today is that Iran has stopped its most sensitive uranium enrichment work. It's part of a deal with world powers to ease worry about the country's nuclear program. It also clears the way for a partial lifting of sanctions. To hear more about this story from the BBC's Matthew Price, click the audio player above.

China GDP lowest since 1999

Mon, 2014-01-20 06:05

China reported its lowest Gross Domestic Product in 14 years. In 2013, China's economy only grew by 7.7 percent, lower that economists were expecting. But Shaun Rein, managing director of the China Market Research Group, says that this slowdown may be useful.

"The underlying reasons are healthy," Rein says. "The country can no longer rely on heavy investment and exports for growth, so the government is trying to push more consumption. And in 2013, 13.6 percent retail sale growth came in and showed that shift is starting to happen."

To listen to the interview, click the audio player above.

Desperate patients smuggle prescription drugs from Mexico

Mon, 2014-01-20 05:27

In borderland Texas, a widespread lack of health insurance goes along with poverty, and high rates of diseases like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure.

Cheaper prescription drugs to treat these conditions are available across the border in Mexico. But physicians and law enforcement are tracking a relatively new trend -- the smuggling of medicine in bulk from Mexico to U.S. patients who no longer feel safe shopping for them over the border.

Pharmacist Jorge Sandoval says people who buy his medicines these days often buy for people they don’t even know.

"There's a trade in legal prescription medication," he says. "The trade is generated by people (in both countries) who want to buy medicine at a lower price. People are bringing in ice chests to fill with medicines that they sell to friends and relatives.”

About 33 percent of Texans have no medical insurance, the highest percentage of uninsured in the nation.

That’s one reason why, for years, people have crossed the border for cheaper medicine. The diabetes medicine Metformin is $35 a month here in the U.S., only $15 in Mexico. The blood thinner Coumadin is $60 a month here, $15 in Mexico.

But what’s new is a cottage industry of smugglers buying medicines in bulk to bring back to the U.S.

At emergency rooms on the border, physicians like Juan Nieto of Presidio, Texas say patients are at risk. He says they’re increasingly showing up with medications that don’t look right.

"These are medications that sometimes can’t identify. They appear to be black market, homemade," he says.

Nieto said patients are unapologetic about how they get medicine from Mexico, even if they don’t buy it themselves.

“Some of them say they have them bring it over for them, others say they just buy them here," Nieto says.

"Medications have made the scene in flea markets," he explains. "It’s a good avenue for people to be inconspicuous in obtaining their medicines, without seeming like they’re dealing with a drug dealer."

Branwyn Maxwell-Watts, a small business owner in West Texas, is hardly a dealer. She's a married mother of four, and engaged in her tight-knit rural community. But she crosses the border to buy medicine for friends and herself.

“Mainly diabetes, a ton of high blood pressure medicine. For me it’s migraine medicine, "she says. “It’s something that I was providing that they needed. I didn’t think about the consequences, I still don’t, because I still do it.”

A recent report by the British medical journal The Lancet says Maxwell’s case isn’t rare.

“There’s a lot of people, and even people that I know who’ve gone down there in the past, that won’t go down there now," Maxwell says. "Not even for their medicine. So they’re always asking, ‘Do you know anyone who is going that can pick this up for me?’.”

Medical professionals are sometimes asked the same question.

“I had a patient who had blood pressure, high cholesterol, congestive heart failure and diabetes," recalls physician’s assistant Don Culbertson, who has a license to prescribe prescription medicine.

Culbertson is talking about a patient who said he couldn’t afford to buy the medicine in the United States.

So he went to Mexico himself.  Then Culbertson showed up at U.S. Customs, knowing it’s illegal to bring back medicine for anyone but yourself.

“The Customs officer asked me if I had anything to declare," he told Marketplace.

"And I declared, medications. And he asked me if they were from me for someone else. And I told him they were for someone else," Culbertson said.

"The Customs officer was a compassionate, reasonable person. And I know they have a job to do and laws to uphold. But they let me through that one time."

Back in Mexico, pharmacist Sandoval says  "It’s being done in kilograms the same way it’s done with illegal drugs."

Sandoval is a passive participant in this trade. Nothing he does is illegal. He can't sell to anyone without a prescription. The days of walking into Mexican pharmacies and leaving with controlled drugs like the pain medication OxyContin are long gone.

But he acknowledges that obtaining prescriptions inside Mexico is easy.

In one raid alone last summer, authorities in Texas, seized 25,000 bottles of prescription medicine like antibiotics at a flea market across from Reynosa, Tamaulipas.

Nine  people were charged with membership in a prescription drug organization that allegedly earned $5,000 a day. 

‘Am I crazy?' Deciding to work for the government

Mon, 2014-01-20 04:56

The government job has lost some of its luster. There have been pay freezes, hiring freezes, and on top of that, there was the shutdown just a few months ago. 

Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recalls giving a speech to a group of Presidential Management Fellows -- young men and women who he says are among the government’s best and brightest.

“And when we got to the Q&A, it was all about: ‘Am I crazy?’ ‘What am I doing here?’ ‘Can I count on this as a reasonable and productive career?’” Ornstein recalls.

Questions like that aren’t unreasonable on the heels of a government shutdown. Ann Porter, a law student at George Washington University, notes federal salaries had been frozen.

“I’m not applying for a government job because they don’t pay as well as private sector positions do,” she says.

And according to her classmate, Austen Walsh, a lot is up in the air.

“It’s certainly not a sure shot whether you are going to get hired, or whether you are going to get a raise or be able to advance if you are hired, which is scary,” he says.

Maggie New deals with that anxiety directly every day. She is the associate director of career services at GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs. You can see the State Department from her office window, but it has gotten harder and harder for students to land jobs there.

“You have to have two people leave or retire or resign for one person to be hired,” New says.

As the head of career services at the Harvard Kennedy School, Mary Beaulieu has heard about that partial hiring freeze too. “When you get a sequester situation or a shutdown situation, where people’s budgets are cut, what it means is they can’t do any hiring,” Beaulieu explains.

Kennedy School students want to make a difference, she says.

“And certainly, when the government is shut down or opportunities are more limited because budgets are cut in a sequester situation, it’s frustrating for them.”

Beaulieu says she finds herself telling students this: You can tackle big problems in the public sector, but also in the private sector and at nonprofits.

Another ratings agency. Woohoo?

Mon, 2014-01-20 04:41

Count the big three U.S. credit rating agencies among those companies that could have been, but weren't hurt by the financial crisis.

Moody's, S&P, and Fitch were all accused of giving inflated ratings to mortgage investments that helped trigger the financial crisis. Yet the Big Three still control nearly 97 percent of the industry. But competition may be coming.

Five international credit ratings agencies from around the world have opened Arc Ratings. Arc's strategy is to focus on mid-size companies in emerging markets like in Africa and India. 

"We believe we know better than the local conditions to judge about the conditions of the risk," ARC chief executive Jose Esteves says. He adds that the big agencies cater to the world's largest corporations and banks.

But William Cohan, author of the book, "Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World,says breaking into the business is a long shot.

"While Arc has a chance and there is a real need to dislodge these three guys, it's frankly like trying to dislodge OPEC out of the oil market," he says. 

Cohan says he doesn't expect much of a shakeup in the $5 billion U.S. credit rating business unless the federal government demands it. And Cohan says that's a long-shot too.

African-American unemployment is double that of whites. Why?

Mon, 2014-01-20 00:06

Martin Luther King, Jr., advocated for both civil rights and the economic betterment of those at the bottom of the income ladder. And while the civil rights movement has delivered upward mobility for many African-Americans, it hasn't had much impact on the persistently high level of African-American unemployment.

Since the Great Recession ended, African-Americans have been getting back to work slowly, just like the rest of the population. But one thing hasn’t changed much over several decades: the disparity between African-Americans and whites in the job market.

“The black unemployment rate is typically twice that of the white unemployment rate -- in good times and even in bad times,” says William Rodgers, chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. “We’re creating jobs, we’ve got economic growth, but it’s not enough to move down the job ladder to young minorities, to teenagers, to young millennials who have just graduated from college.”

In the late 1960s, about 7 percent of blacks were unemployed, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today, the rate is about 12 percent.

Margaret Simms at the Urban Institute says the uneven jobs recovery following the Great Recession poses particular challenges. There is still a high degree of residential segregation in the U.S., and places that have been booming, where employers are desperate for workers -- like North Dakota -- don’t necessarily have a lot of minority job-seekers.

“African-Americans tend to be geographically concentrated in communities where jobs are not growing fast,” says Simms, “and in some cases there are very few jobs available.”

Simms says African-Americans are also heavily represented in the public sector, as bus drivers, schoolteachers, case-workers. A lot of those jobs -- mostly with union representation and often coming with good salary and benefits -- have been cut since the recession.

Finally, Simms says racial discrimination in hiring is still a factor. This is demonstrated in so-called audit studies, in which candidates with matching credentials and previous job experience are presented to potential employers, with the only difference between them being their imputed race.

“African-Americans are the least likely to be called in for an interview, the least likely to get a job offer,” says Simms. “They’ll be dressed similarly in these studies and have the same diction, so it’s not that there are differences in the way they make appearances. This does not seem to be related to their skill or their presentation.”

William Rodgers points out that young African-Americans also face a unique set of challenges. In minority-dominated communities with high unemployment, they lack good job networks—friends and family who can connect them to promising employment opportunities.

Amazon's crazy-scary "anticipatory shipping"

Fri, 2014-01-17 14:22

This final note about Big Data and what companies know about us.

Amazon has won a patent for what it calls "anticipatory shipping," which is just what it sounds like: It's gonna start shipping you stuff before you order it.

The Wall Street Journal says Amazon will consider previous orders, product searches, wish lists, shopping-cart contents, returns and even how long your cursor lingers on an item.

Ask Carmen: Tips for choosing student loans

Fri, 2014-01-17 14:21

Worried about your student loans? Businessweek reports that "outstanding student debt topped $1 trillion in the third quarter of 2013, and the share of loans delinquent 90 days or more rose to 11.8 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York." All other types of debt is decreasing.

Student loan expert Heather Jarvis stopped by the show to give us a few tips on choosing student loans:

"Fill out the free application for federal student aid (at FAFSA.ed.gov). Whether you believe you qualify or not, whether it’s undergraduate school or graduate school, because that’s the foundation of all financial aid, including institutional aid or scholarships that a school might be able to provide. As well as all the different loan programs."

"Avoid private student loans. Because interest rates in the market are so low, private student loans might look like a good option, and they can be appropriate for people in certain circumstances. But they are in general, more expensive and risky than federal student loans. They tend to have higher interest rates that are variable and sometimes can go up with no cap. Focus on [federally-subsidized] Perkins Loans if you can qualify, then the un-subsidized Stafford loans. [When it comes time to pay loans], you’ll want to pay those that are more expensive for you and do not have a subsidy more aggressively."

Want more advice? Listen to the interview above, or check out our post: "How to get rid of your student loans without paying"

They're telling junior bankers to work less, but will they listen?

Fri, 2014-01-17 13:01

At 7 p.m. on a recent night on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan, men and women in suits are streaming out of JP Morgan Chase, UBS, and other big banks nearby – while delivery guys on bikes drop off food.

Those dinners are going high upstairs, where the lights are on, to analysts and associates, the junior bankers on the lowest rung, who might work hundred-hour weeks, hoping they'll pay off.

Three years ago, Saad Siddiqui used to be one of them. When he was 23, he worked at the bank RBS. After a couple months of training, he was assigned to Mergers & Acquisitions, one of the company’s most prestigious groups. They do big deals – and work long hours.

“There was a deal that came in on a Friday around 5 or 6 o’clock, and we had to make a bid for the company by Monday,” he recalls. “Which meant that we had to work basically around the clock till Monday. I left for a total of about three hours during that weekend."

Siddiqui says that wasn't always the norm. And that he learned a lot. And made money. But the grind was, well, grinding.

So he left for a job in tech. “I know a lot of analysts that go months without having a single weekend off. And after a while, you start losing your mind. And just need to get away from the office.”

Now the big banks are saying junior bankers have to get away from the office. They're banning Saturday work, or saying one weekend a month is protected, or even bringing on more staff to spread out the load.

The concern began last summer when an intern in Bank of American's London office died after an epileptic seizure. The coroner noted that his hard work may have been a trigger. The bank began reviewing its policies after his death.

Marketplace got a copy of an internal memo that went out last week. It says junior bankers must take four weekend days off each month. The memo also says the bank wants to support work-life balance.

But there's something else going on here, too.

“Right now, Wall Street is not the only game in town for really talented people,” says Anthony Rose, a former CFO at Credit Suisse, and now a professor at Columbia Business School.

He says some of his students are going to venture capital firms, or to Silicon Valley to work in tech.

“Technology now is a big driver,” he says. “People are starting to ask the question of, ‘What else do I get out of it?’ And what they mean by that is, ‘Am I going to have to work 120 hours a week, or am I going to have a chance to spend time with my family or friends?”

There's skepticism that these announcements will actually change the culture of Wall Street, where people come to make money.

“You have guys and girls coming out of school with huge debt and a focus on getting a job, when right now it’s the most competitive it’s ever been,” says Harry Youtan, whose company Phaidon recruits bankers for jobs.

“These guys, perhaps irrespective of the things implemented by the big banks – the Goldmans, the J.P.’s the Credit Suisse – they’re going to work,” he says. “They want to show their commitment, and they want to show their loyalty.”

And of course, there are older bankers to contend with, who came up in the old system and may not take to the new policies. What happens to protected weekends when a managing director drops a project on somebody's desk at 5 p.m. on a Friday?

“That’ll probably be the first real test of crunch time,” says Columbia’s Rose. “Deal’s on the table, this guys going out to the Hamptons for the weekend. I think that will be the first real test of 'How do you implement this?'”

If a big deal happens, that test may come earlier. After all, the start of the week on Wall Street goes by the nickname "Merger Monday."

No high-fives in Washington, despite budget deal

Fri, 2014-01-17 12:40

We have a budget.

President Obama signed the $1.1 trillion spending bill that funds the federal government through the end of September. 

Cardiff Garcia, from the blog FT Alphaville, says in Marketplace's Weekly Wrap segment: 

"I just don't think we should be high-fiving ourselves because Congress finally decided to do its job. .... We're kind of holding the expectations bar really low, so it's easy to step over. The size of this budget is smaller, if you adjust for inflation, than George W. Bush's budget was six years ago. So if you, like me, think that Congress and the government and fiscal policy-makers haven't done enough to support the economy this really isn't that much to get excited about."

And forget excitement over a budget deal. There's another fiscal cloud on the horizon, according to Nela Richardson, from Bloomberg Goverment:

"They're getting ready for the debt ceiling debate. ... There are bigger fish to fry on the fiscal picture and they are going to fry them in February, when they can really hold the Treasury's head underwater on this issue of the debt ceiling."

Richardson says she thinks "it will all work out" with the debt ceiling because, as they say, the sequel is never as exciting as the original, "so maybe it won't be as exciting this time around."

Garcia and Richardson both say they are concerned about the failure to extend long-term unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans.

Worried about Target? The do's and don'ts of protecting your data

Fri, 2014-01-17 11:56

Millions of Americans have had credit card and debit card information stolen by hackers at big retailers like Target and Neiman Marcus.

Bob Sullivan, consumer advocate and investigative journalist at BobSullivan.net, says “this is going to be the most important credit card hack ever.”

Need more advice? Sullivan wrote more tips about protecting yourself on his website

In upstate S.C., BMW jobs replace textile mills

Fri, 2014-01-17 10:52

Upstate South Carolina, and the cities of Greenville, Greer, and Spartanburg, traditionally rose and fell with the textile industry.

And, boy, did the region feel it when the textile business got hammered economically in the 1970s. But the area has now repositioned itself as a global manufacturing hub, with BMW setting up its only North American manufacturing center here.

The BMW plant is reminiscent, The Atlantic's James Fallows says, of the original stop in our American Futures project. Sioux Falls, S.D., was an agri-business capital that's had to adapt to a global economy. Also like Sioux Falls, this part of South Carolina seems to have positioned itself as regional trading/transportation center.

Visually, the region is stunning. Fallows says, "it really is beautiful to fly down the inland valleys of Virginia and North Carolina, with the mountains to your west all the way along." The route Fallows, and his wife Deb, flew was more-or-less parallel to the "Fall Line" -- the border between the mountains, which rise in quite a steep escarpment west of Greenville, and the rolling piedmont ("foot of mountain") plateau which leads to the "low country" and the sea. The fall line is so named because that is where the water is falling out of the mountains, in rapids and waterfalls. And that is where the early mills set up their waterwheels to power their work.

The heritage from those days led, in fits-and-starts, to today's Michelin and BMW factories, according to James Fallows:

"There's one relatively well-known tale about this part of the country. People have heard in the past 20 years that BMW has set up its only North American plant here, outside Greenville. Michelin is here. GE is here. This is a perfect test case of a place that was built for one industrial era, this was all textiles and even 20 or 30 years ago this was the textile capital of the world. Textiles are just gone now and the way that certain part of this area have recovered -- and others have struggled -- is what we're looking at." View Survey

15 cities that really need earthquake insurance

Fri, 2014-01-17 10:32

Twenty years after a 6.7-magnitude earthquake shook Northridge, Calif.,  scientists have gathered in Los Angeles to talk strategy. Los Angeles is the largest U.S. metropolitan area on an active fault line, and the question at hand isn't whether another quake will strike, but where, when, and who will be within range. Plus, on top of all that, how much will it cost?

U.S. Geological Survey scientists say earthquakes are the most expensive natural disasters, in terms of human and monetary risk. For instance, the 1994 Northridge quake cost $15.3 billion (adjusted for inflation, that's $24 billion in 2013 -- a price tag eclipsed only by Hurricane Katrina.)

Today, seismologists worry future earthquakes will be more expensive than any before -- not because there will be more movement of tectonic plates (that stays constant), but because population growth has put more people and metropolises on top of active zones. According to U.S. Geological Survey scientist Bill Leith, "It depends on where it hits. What earthquakes do is generate a lot of energy, and if that energy is directed at a major metropolitan area, it does a major amount of damage." 

So which cities should worry about becoming the next Northridge? 

University of Colorado professor Roger Bilham has researched the cities most at risk of a "big one." In terms of population growth vs. seismic history, residents of these cities should be on guard for lots of possible shaking, and lots of possible financial fallout:

  1. Tokyo
  2. Mexico City
  3. Dacca, Bangladesh
  4. Jakarta, Indonesia
  5. Karachi, Pakistan
  6. Manila, Philippines
  7. Delhi, India
  8. Los Angeles
  9. Cairo, Egypt
  10. Teheran, Iran
  11. Istanbul, Turkey
  12. Osaka, Japan
  13. Lima, Peru
  14. Lahore, Pakistan
  15. Bogotá, Colombia 

 

Could the old rules of retirement no longer apply?

Fri, 2014-01-17 10:23

We all dream of a nice nest egg for retirement, but how do you make your savings stretch once you are there?

We've been told that there are some simple rules to follow in the golden years. But in the "new normal," do those rules still apply? David Blanchett, head of investment research at Morningstar Investment Management, says the first rule you should question is the 4 percent rule. That is, the idea that when you retire, withdraw 4 percent from your 401k every year … and then increase that by inflation.

So does it still apply? "The problem is the four percent rule is kinda based on a couple both aged 65 and it doesn’t really apply to someone who is single and age 65 and married couple who is 75."

"It’s a good starting point, but it’s not very realistic for every type of retiree."

What about income?

Things like the four percent rule provide a better insight on how much you need to save for retirement, not how much you withdraw, for instance.

“Whatever income need you have to create that’s not covered by things like a pension or social security, you need about 20 to 25 times that income amount when you actually retire.”

But even that, it comes down to your spending.  A 65-year old might not spend like an 80-year old.

What's in a nickel (hint: not just nickel)

Fri, 2014-01-17 10:09

When a nickel is worth five cents, but costs ten cents to make, the U.S. Mint has to consider an update.  As extracting, transporting and engineering metals like copper and nickel gets more expensive, the Mint is weighing changes to composition of coins. 

"It's the same way that we absorb in music," said Garrett Burke, a coin enthusiast who designed the concept for the California state coin. "It used to be vinyl, then it went to digital, now we do downloads.  We can't expect the composition of the coin to remain the same, particularly when the costs go up."

For business owners who make their trade in change, some of these proposals are nervewracking. 

Roni Moore is vice president of marketing for the National Automatic Merchandising Association, which represents vending machine operators.

"We need the mint to understand that a redesign of currency would change the alloy content of coins, likely in a way that would force our vending companies to upgrade or replace coin acceptors," Moore says.

According to Moore's calculations, the process could cost between one hundred and five hundred dollars per machine, a formidable cost to small business owners.

California's governor can't make it rain. Which is why the price of your salad is likely to go up.

Fri, 2014-01-17 10:09

It’s a beautiful, sunny day in California’s Central Valley. Up and down the West Coast, it's been sunny for weeks. Anyone who got caught in the recent polar vortex might call that a fantasy.  

But this morning, in an official statement, the governor of this agricultural state gave it a different name. 

"Today, I am declaring a drought emergency," Gov. Jerry Brown said. "We're facing perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago."

Brown has been under pressure to make such a declaration for weeks from farmers, farm workers, and the various people who represent them. But as he has said, the governor "can’t make it rain," official declaration or no. What water there is gets moved around the state, and Brown’s statement does open the door for farmers to ask for a bigger share.

Gayle Holman is with the Westlands Water District, which distributes water to farmers in the state’s Central Valley region.  The drought obviously affects jobs for workers and money for farmers there, but the region has major reach.

"Anything that you are consuming for dinner tonight," she says, "I imagine originated right here in the Central Valley."

Especially if you’re thinking about a salad:  Tomatoes, lettuce, almonds. Glass of wine? That’s nearby, too. Holman says that right now, farmers are holding back from planting about a third of the Central Valley’s 600,000 acres.

Nor is the problem limited to California. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared parts of 11 western states official disaster areas. Including all of Oregon, home to a region that produces much of the country's yellow onion crop.

The effects will be visible in grocery baskets nationwide, says Phil Lembert, who runs Supermarket Guru

"It means that foods are going to be more expensive," he says. "Matter of fact, this is not a surprise. We’ve been hearing from the USDA and from the weather folks that we’re going to have more weather problems for probably the next 15 to 20 years."

Yes, he means climate change. "We're really seeing the effects of what's gone on with the climate for the last 50 years," he says. "There's no question that the price of our foods will rise because of this."

 

Which spies scare you more?

Fri, 2014-01-17 10:09

 Today, President Obama spoke at the Department of Justice about the National Security Agency, and the massive amounts of data the government has been collecting about us.Obama announced some changes that would restrict the ability of the government to access our data. Ultimately, he says he will move the data that has been collected out of the hands of the government.

And if that’s not enough to keep you awake at night, the data breach at retailer Target seems to keep getting bigger: Investigators announced that the breach appears to be part of a huge, very sophisticated international attack against many retailers.

So: Which is worse? The government collecting our data on an unprecedented scale, or cyber criminals attacking us every time we swipe our card? 

"The criminals are a bigger and more immediate threat," says Stephen Cobb, security researcher at ESET North America. He says data breaches make us vulnerable to identity theft, which can destroy people’s credit and take years to sort out. "One of the big drivers of our economy is improved use of electronic communications. If people are spooked into not using that, that has an impact on the economy."

Others are more worried about the government collecting our data: "I want to be able to shop and not worry about losing my credit card information," says Barrett Lyon, CEO of defense.net. "But I also want to be able to chat with my wife online, and not worry about somebody deciding to use that against me in the future."

It’s not the data the government is collecting that worries Aram Sinnreich, author of The Piracy Crusade, it’s the data about the data. "The NSA is able to infer things like what your sexual orientation is, what your religion is, what your income is,  simply by looking at what’s known as the metadata, the information about the information that you transact. We cannot trust anybody to hold that kind of power without misusing it at some point."

Sinnreich says Target and the NSA are two sides of the same coin: Our data is being collected and used in ways we can’t control and that can mean an evil government trying to crush you or just some guy trying to charge a steak dinner to your AmEx card.

Which spies scare you more?

Fri, 2014-01-17 10:09

 Today, President Obama spoke at the Department of Justice about the National Security Agency, and the massive amounts of data the government has been collecting about us.Obama announced some changes that would restrict the ability of the government to access our data. Ultimately, he says he will move the data that has been collected out of the hands of the government.

And if that’s not enough to keep you awake at night, the data breach at retailer Target seems to keep getting bigger: Investigators announced that the breach appears to be part of a huge, very sophisticated international attack against many retailers.

So: Which is worse? The government collecting our data on an unprecedented scale, or cyber criminals attacking us every time we swipe our card? 

"The criminals are a bigger and more immediate threat," says Stephen Cobb, security researcher at ESET North America. He says data breaches make us vulnerable to identity theft, which can destroy people’s credit and take years to sort out. "One of the big drivers of our economy is improved use of electronic communications. If people are spooked into not using that, that has an impact on the economy."

Others are more worried about the government collecting our data: "I want to be able to shop and not worry about losing my credit card information," says Barrett Lyon, CEO of defense.net. "But I also want to be able to chat with my wife online, and not worry about somebody deciding to use that against me in the future."

It’s not the data the government is collecting that worries Aram Sinnreich, author of The Piracy Crusade, it’s the data about the data. "The NSA is able to infer things like what your sexual orientation is, what your religion is, what your income is,  simply by looking at what’s known as the metadata, the information about the information that you transact. We cannot trust anybody to hold that kind of power without misusing it at some point."

Sinnreich says Target and the NSA are two sides of the same coin: Our data is being collected and used in ways we can’t control and that can mean an evil government trying to crush you or just some guy trying to charge a steak dinner to your AmEx card.

PODCAST: Surprise! Smoking is a lot worse than we all thought

Fri, 2014-01-17 06:30

A new report out by the Surgeon General says smoking is a lot worse than we thought.

A new initiative calls for more than doubling the number of U.S. students who study abroad in Latin America and the Caribbean, and vice versa. Foreign students and their families contributed $24 billion to the U.S. economy last year.

 Austin has banned watering lawns and raised rates for city water. So affluent residents are drilling private wells.

President Obama scales back NSA surveillance

Fri, 2014-01-17 05:31

President Obama delivered a speech Friday morning about changes to the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. He laid out a blueprint for change, including a new way of handling phone metadata and how that information is accessed. The sweeping nature of those programs and the secrecy around them have drawn fire from civil liberties groups

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer joins host Mark Garrison for details.

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