National News

While more secure, Chip and PIN technology is costly

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 06:03

Sam’s Club, the warehouse chain owned by Walmart, is unveiling credit cards with chip-enabled safety technology. In fact, they’re declaring themselves the first mass retailer to do so in the U.S. The cards will be co-branded with MasterCard.

Chip and PIN technology is more secure than the magnetic strip on the back of many cards. Target learned that the hard way when it was hacked last year.

Carl Howe, vice president of research and data sciences at Yankee Group, says the biggest obstacle to adopting chip-enabled technology in the U.S. has been cost, including the price tag for overhauling all those point of sale devices where we swipe our cards now.

“Those are expensive devices -- a few thousand dollars each -- and they have a lot of them,” he says. “And there’s all the backend programming that’s required for it too. So this is not a small move, it takes a lot of infrastructure to make this work.”

Still, credit card companies want all retailers to follow Sam’s Club’s lead and adopt the technology by late 2015. 

An Inability To Connect With Horses Isn't Why Racing Is Failing

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 05:58

There is a perception that Americans would rather play slot machines and watch car racing because those things are more relatable than horses. NPR's Laurel Dalrymple doesn't think that is true.

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For New College Grads, Finding Mental Health Care Can Be Tough

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 05:50

Finding and paying for a psychologist or psychiatrist can be difficult at any age. But young adults just making their way in the world face particular challenges.

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​The best starter-coding language? How about English?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 05:25

Douglas Kiang was tired of having the same types of students in his computer-science class year after year: socially awkward boys.

"I used to only get one or two girls who'd take course," said Kiang, who teaches computer science at Punahou School on Oahu.  

So Kiang took a page from his wife’s teaching manual--she’s a 6th-grade teacher--and gave something called interactive fiction a try.

Think of the famous "Choose Your Own Adventure" book series, where the reader decides what the protagonist does next,  jumping to a new page with each decision.

In online interactive fiction, readers must tell the computer program what they want to do next.  There are common commands that work in most programs, like “put,” “feel,” “take” and “open,” as well as custom commands for different stories.

What does interactive fiction have to do with coding?  Everything, says Kiang,  who has  a Master's Degree in Technology, Innovation, and Education from Harvard.

"One of the core concepts we try to teach is abstraction -- the idea that you take a large idea and break it down into smaller pieces," Kiang said.

To create a story in interactive fiction, you have to figure out how to give the reader a bunch of understandable decisions to make that will allow her to navigate through the story and understand it.  

The same thought process applies to coding.  Say you are building an app to play blackjack: you would need to figure out how to create the card, how to allow the user to hit or stand, how to deal the cards, and a bunch of other tasks.

Kiang has had success with the approach.  Students who have started with interactive fiction more easily pick up actual coding languages, he says.

For technophobes, interactive fiction also has the benefit of being surprisingly low-tech.  It’s nothing but text.  You can see (and play) one of Kiang's student's stories below (hint: try walking south, east or west to start with).

25 Years After Tiananmen Protests, Chinese Media Keep It Quiet

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 05:04

On the anniversary of the massacre that broke up pro-democracy protests, China is quashing attempts to mention the fateful date, with heavy security and online monitoring.

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What Does A Good Common Core Lesson Look Like?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 04:03

You've heard the complaints — now take a close look at a top-notch lesson plan.

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Taliban Release Video Of Handoff That Freed Bergdahl

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 03:33

The Pentagon says there's no reason to question the authenticity of a video the Taliban released Wednesday. The exchange went smoothly, including a handshake between U.S. and Taliban representatives.

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Assemble your own Stanley Cup gift basket

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 03:29

The NHL's Stanley Cup championship series begins tonight and it's something of a broadcaster's dream. The New York Rangers take on the Los Angeles Kings, and the clash of teams from the top two TV markets should be good for ratings.

Plus, it's a pretty rare match up. There hasn't been a New York vs. L.A. championship in any major sport in more than 30 years. Last time, the Dodgers beat the Yankees in baseball's World Series in 1981.

So it seems appropriate that the Governors of both states would place a friendly bet on the outcome of the game. Though, what California Gov. Jerry Brown and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have at stake is, well, pretty lame.

Nevertheless, if you want to join in on the fun, here's what you'll need (and what it will cost you) to make your very own gift basket should you lose to your rival coast:

California Shopping List

- California: A History by Kevin Starr, Cost: $11.70

- Lundberg Organic Lightly Salted Brown Rice Cakes, Cost: $3.99

Total: $15.69

New York Shopping List

-Original Anchor Bar Buffalo Wing Sauce, Cost: $3.99

-Vidal Blanc Ice Wine from the Leonard Oakes Estate Winery, Cost: $49.95

-Vidal Blanc Ice Wine from the Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, Cost: $43.00

-Lupo's Original Endicott Style Spiedie Marinade, Cost: $3.49

-Gianelli Hot Italian Sausage, Cost: $4.50

 -Sammy and Annie Foods' Riggie Pasta Sauce Starter, Cost: $10.00

 -Parker Family Maple Farm's Pure New York Maple Syrup, Cost: $7.50 for a pint

 -Saratoga Chips, Cost: $18.53

-Fishkill Farms' Apples: $10.00

-Make My Cake's Red Velvet Cupcakes: $36 for a dozen

-Braun Seafood Company's Long Island Oysters: $8.95 for a dozen

Total: $195.91

Tiananmen: More than just students and democracy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 03:03
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 04:54 Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Chinese Paramilitary soldiers stand guard in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. Twenty-five years ago on June 4, 1989 Chinese troops cracked down on pro-democracy protesters and in the clashes that followed scores were killed and injured.

Twenty-five years ago today, Chinese troops and tanks cleared protesters from Tiananmen square, shooting and killing hundreds – some say thousands – of unarmed civilians. The violence capped weeks of student protests demanding a better government.

But Tiananmen was more than just students and democracy. There were also hundreds of thousands of blue collar urban workers who were involved in the Tiananmen demonstrations. Some of these workers may have been interested in democracy and the other demands students were making on China’s leaders, but most of them were more concerned with their own economic status and future economic opportunity for their children in an economy that was moving away from socialism.

In 1989, most Chinese urbanites made the same wage, a fact that helped unite the Chinese during the protests that year. If you lived in a city back then, you made a wage set by the state, it was very low, and you belonged to a Danwei - a work unit - which took care of your housing, your kids’ education and pension. Back then, the price of food was set by the state, but in 1988, that changed.

China’s government begin to lift price controls, in favor of the open market, and suddenly prices climbed. Inflation in 1988 and 1989 surpassed 18%. Suddenly, it was hard to afford anything. The pressure workers felt spurred them to join the students to protest. After the government's brutal crackdown of demonstrators on June 4th, 1989, China passed a slate of economic reforms.

“It allowed people who were going to be successful to be successful," says University of Michigan Political Science Professor Mary Gallagher. "It allowed migrants who were desperate and would’ve worked for pennies to squeeze out people in the middle. When you look at people who protested in 1989, the urbanites who protected the students, those people eventually lost out.”

Urban workers in China are still protesting today. Case in point: there are dozens of worker strikes each week in China, and according to labor groups, even as China's economy cools down, the number of strikes this year is up by more than a third.

 

 

 

Marketplace Morning Report for Wednesday June 4, 2014Interview with Rob SchmitzPodcast Title Tiananmen: More than just students and democracyStory Type InterviewSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

How Chocolate Might Save The Planet

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 03:03

Honey is nature's gift. It's natural. Made by bees. Chocolate is the opposite, a great engineering creation that could, just possibly, just maybe, help save our planet.

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Complying with the EPA, state by state

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 02:54

The EPA’s plan to curb carbon-dioxide emissions lets each state figure out how its going to reach its goal. 

There are already big differences among states in one area: the cost of electricity for their residents.

In March, folks in Wyoming were paying ten cents per kilowatt hour, but people in Massachusetts paid nearly double.

“The biggest factor here is that there’s just a lot of different generation mixes across the states," said Harrison Fell, a professor with the Colorado School of Mines.

Wyoming gets almost all of its energy from coal, while in Massachusetts it’s mostly natural gas, according to the Georgetown Climate Center.

 “The more coal intensive you are, the bigger impact the rules will be,” said Andrew Kleit is a professor of energy and environmental economics at Penn State.

Sharing our personal health data – for good

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 02:33

Health privacy can, at times, be at odds with a major cultural shift happening in healthcare: a demand for greater transparency.

The Health Data Exploration project is another example where sharing trumps privacy.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – in collaboration with several California schools – aims to convince consumers to share the personal health data that’s being generated from an avalanche of apps and wearable devices like Fitbit.  

The question behind the Health Data Exploration project is how to harness that data, and do something other than make money off of it.

“With these technologies, we can get to a space where we are getting more realistic data. It’s capturing that everydayness of heatlh," says Matthew Bietz with the University of California Irvine, and one of the project’s lead investigators.

Bietz says the data would allow researchers to look at how stress affects eating, or how caffeine impacts sleep, on a scale that’s currently impossible.

This project will launch a research network that helps link businesses and their consumers with researchers.

University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Anita Allen says before consumers share their data to help solve some of healthcare’s most pressing questions, consumers must know they will be protected.

“Like it or not, some employers might find out information about us and use it against us when it comes to making hiring decisions,” she says.

“Are you a smoker? Are you overweight? Do you have diabetes? Do you have an irregular heart beat? These kinds of things might be used to our disadvantage.”

Bietz agrees that one of the trickiest tasks ahead is figuring out how to best protect consumer privacy.

Though, if done correctly, Bietz is convinced that “we could actually say new things about connections between the way we live and our well being.”

American Express: from exclusive to inclusive

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 02:03

A new documentary from the director of "An Inconvenient Truth" is called "Spent: Looking For Change."  It’s about people living on the margins of the American financial system. And it has an unlikely sponsor: American Express.

"Spent" profiles several families as they navigate check cashing services, payday lenders and, of course, the fees that come with low balances and overdrafts.

About one in three Americans has no relationship with a bank at all, or a tenuous one. All told, this segment of the population spends around $90 billion a year on fees. AmEx wants a piece of that pie. The company, which has traditionally focused on the wealthy, is redirecting that focus to low income consumers.

"We really want to move our brand from being an exclusive brand to being a welcoming and inclusive brand," says Dan Schulman, president of enterprise growth at American Express.

Amex teamed up with Walmart to offer an all-mobile banking service called Bluebird. They've also rolled out a line of pre-paid cards. The services don’t rely on steep fees that usually come with financial products targeted at low-income customers.

"We’re trying to reimagine the consumer financial services landscape in a way that’s very different from traditional bank branches," explains Schulman.

Thanks to the ubiquity of smart phones and internet access, there’s currently a race to the bottom in financial services.

"We’re talking about tens of millions of people," says Andrew Zolli, author of "Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back." "Not all of them with lots of money, but if you put them together, it’s real money."

Case in point: last year, venture capitalists put almost $1 billion into financial start-ups, mostly catering to low and middle income Americans.

"We're talking about new kinds of accounts that provide the same kinds of functions of a traditional financial services relationship without the same kind of high cost," says Zolli.

American Express is the first major financial institution to aggressively target lower income consumers in this way, but Zolli expects other big players will soon follow suit.

Tiananmen: More than just students and democracy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 01:54

Twenty-five years ago today, Chinese troops and tanks cleared protesters from Tiananmen square, shooting and killing hundreds – some say thousands – of unarmed civilians. The violence capped weeks of student protests demanding a better government.

But Tiananmen was more than just students and democracy. There were also hundreds of thousands of blue collar urban workers who were involved in the Tiananmen demonstrations. Some of these workers may have been interested in democracy and the other demands students were making on China’s leaders, but most of them were more concerned with their own economic status and future economic opportunity for their children in an economy that was moving away from socialism.

In 1989, most Chinese urbanites made the same wage, a fact that helped unite the Chinese during the protests that year. If you lived in a city back then, you made a wage set by the state, it was very low, and you belonged to a Danwei - a work unit - which took care of your housing, your kids’ education and pension. Back then, the price of food was set by the state, but in 1988, that changed.

China’s government begin to lift price controls, in favor of the open market, and suddenly prices climbed. Inflation in 1988 and 1989 surpassed 18%. Suddenly, it was hard to afford anything. The pressure workers felt spurred them to join the students to protest. After the government's brutal crackdown of demonstrators on June 4th, 1989, China passed a slate of economic reforms.

“It allowed people who were going to be successful to be successful," says University of Michigan Political Science Professor Mary Gallagher. "It allowed migrants who were desperate and would’ve worked for pennies to squeeze out people in the middle. When you look at people who protested in 1989, the urbanites who protected the students, those people eventually lost out.”

Urban workers in China are still protesting today. Case in point: there are dozens of worker strikes each week in China, and according to labor groups, even as China's economy cools down, the number of strikes this year is up by more than a third.

 

 

 

My six weeks with Google Glass

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 01:53

Google Glass may be the product you've heard most about without ever having been able to try. It's certainly still a hot ticket item: the company is set to unveil new, limited edition frames for Google Glass from fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. But in terms of its actual functionality, not that many people can say they've gotten a chance to really ingrain the technology into their daily life.

That's why Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent for the BBC, has been rocking Google's frames for six weeks, and fielding questions about the device from curious strangers. The most common question: "What's it for?"

Cellan-Jones says it's great for taking pictures, but he found that the Glass's voice command feature - the easiest way to navigate through its interface - had trouble translating from "English English" to "American English": 

"I wanted to put a caption on a photo I took of my garden. And I wanted to say, 'Garden looking unusually tidy,' in a rather British way, and it came out as, 'Gordon looking for usual Thai tea.'

Unfortunately, translation issues aren't the only problem Cellan-Jones found with the smart frames. He says that because of its lack of functions, and its generally clunky feel, Google Glass is still a ways off from being the must-have item that everyone will rush to buy.

The man behind Fannie and Freddie

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 01:50

In the world of real estate, few people are more powerful than Mel Watt, the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Together, the two mortgage giants guarantee about 60 percent of all new home loans. 

Watt hasn’t made a lot of public appearances since he was appointed head of the FHFA in January. In fact, his first major speech wasn't until May 13, at the Brookings Institution. 

“We’re balancing, in a number of instances, contradictory mandates,” he told the audience.

For example, the mandate to protect the taxpayers while trying to get banks to lend more but not make risky loans, which Fannie and Freddie would still have to guarantee. After the speech, Watt hung around outside Brookings and chatted for a while -- Maybe not what you’d expect, but perhaps a throwback to Watt’s previous job. He served in Congress for more than two decades, representing the banking hub of Charlotte, North Carolina. 

The Senate Banking Committee has passed legislation that would gradually wind down Fannie and Freddie, something Watt’s predecessor also tried to do, but without input from Capitol Hill.  

But Congress isn’t likely to act this year, leaving Watt in charge of Fannie and Freddie’s fate.  

“I think he’ll work cooperatively with Congress,” says David Stevens, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, who adds that he thinks Watt will let Congress decide what to do with the mortgage giants.

“He gets it.  Mel understands his role," Stevens says. "He understands the role of Congress.”

Watt’s role also involves dealing with a lot of money. Since Fannie and Freddie were taken over by the government in 2008, their profits have gone to the U.S. Treasury.

“Even in this town, $25 billion a year is a lot of money,” says Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending, a homeowner advocacy group.   

Sitting in Calhoun's Washington office, I ask him whether all that money led to pressure on Watt, maybe from people in the White House who don’t want to change Fannie and Freddie because they’re afraid of cutting off the spigot of cash. But Calhoun doesn't think that'll happen.

“They know he is going to be independent.  He’s in his mid 60s," Calhoun says. "He’s quite comfortable standing his ground.”

If we were to replace the Dow Jones?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 00:53

Okay, so this is going to be interesting. And by the end of it I may or may not still have a job. But here goes.

If you've been listening to Marketplace this week, you know we've been airing some stories and interviews from the debut of our new live stage show.

We premiered in Washington,D.C., with WAMU in late April – we're in a handful of cities around the country this summer and fall. (Complete tour information here.)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Numbers is just that: An exploration and explanation of the flood of numbers we're deluged with when talking about business and the economy. You know 'em as well as I do, so I won't belabor the point, other than to say this (which will, eventually, get me to my point): sometimes, the numbers aren't all they're cracked up to be.

Case in point: the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Now, I like the Dow as much as the next guy. I mean, we do it on the show every day.

(Little known Marketplace fact: the only segment that's appeared on each and every broadcast, going all the way back to Show No. 1? The Numbers.)

But really, a non-inflation adjusted, stock-price sensitive index made up of 30 lousy companies as a proxy for the entire $16 trillion American economy? C’mon.

There are plenty of reasons to still keep a daily eye on the Dow. And a whole bunch of reasons not to.

But if – and I'm just saying "if" here (thinking out loud, if you will, quite possibly at the risk of my job) -  if we were going to stop tracking the Dow, what's something better to replace it with?

The Wilshire 5000 and the Russell and all the rest we can come up with ourselves. Gimme your ideas. Hit me up in the comments below, or tweet us.

@Marketplace is the show, @kairyssdal is me.

Will A Triple Crown Win Save Horse Racing? Don't Bet On It

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 23:38

Many in the horse racing industry are looking to Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome to revive interest in the sport. He wants to believe it, but commentator Frank Deford says that's a fantasy.

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Into The Virtual Reality Lab With Pioneering Researchers

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 23:37

Facebook's acquisition of Oculus VR has raised hopes for a decades-old technology. Some researchers believe virtual reality has the potential to transform everything from medicine to teaching.

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As Banks Open In Schools, A Chance For Students To Learn To Save

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 23:36

The closest many kids once got to banking was handling colorful Monopoly money. Today, students across the country can go to — and work at — student-run bank branches inside their schools.

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