National News

Obama, Tumblr, and student debt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-10 01:00

On Monday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that will help up to 5 million people pay off their student loans. He also pushed congress to lower borrowing costs for college kids.

Now, he's taking to Tumblr for the first time, to talk education.

It’s another chance for him to shine a light on the unsustainable cost of college.

It's also another chance to point out how comfortable he is with social media.

President Obama has participated in an Ask Me Anything on Reddit, a town hall meeting on Twitter, and even the online faux talk show “Between Two Ferns” to plug the Affordable Care Act.

“I wouldn’t give him an A on all the things in his presidency,” says Dave Kerpen, social media expert and cofounder of Likeable Media. “But on social media, I’d actually give the president an A.”

Tumblr, say experts, is exactly the right place to talk school costs. “It’s most popular with people under the age of 30,” said Mark Schafer, author of “Social Media Explained.”

It’s a direct line to a generation facing a trillion dollars in student debt, not to mention an indirect line to congress to put the pressure on.

Data on our data: 250,000,000 email address books

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-10 01:00

This month marks the first anniversary of the Edward Snowden leaks that changed our understanding of online privacy. Just like the subject matter of the leaks, the reporting over the last year has offered a deluge of information. So this week, we're posting a short series about all that data. Every day we'll bring you another number that reminds us how much we have learned in the last year about online surveillance and the reach of the NSA.

250,000,000

email address books

Stephen Cobb, *Senior Security Researcher at ESET says that during a single day in 2012, the NSA's Special Source Operations branch copied a ton of users' online address books and all the data therein, including names, phone numbers, addresses, and added notes. The exact breakdown?444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from other providers. The data is often succeptible to interception when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers. Cobb says you can get a really good picture of a person's activity and social network from an address book. And that should raise some alarms.

*CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Stephen Cobb. Cobb is a Senior Security Researcher at ESET. The text has been corrected.

Can Radio Shack fix it?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-10 01:00

Ever dropped your phone or tablet? Cracked a screen? RadioShack wants to help. It’s launching a nationwide repair program this week it calls "Fix It Here."

RadioShack says that customers can bring an injured iPhone or Samsung Galaxy into a store and it’ll be fixed right there. Repair prices start at $79.99. 

“I think it’s pretty cool,” says Samuel Gibbs as he leaves a RadioShack store in downtown Washington DC. 

He says his girlfriend recently dropped her phone. They didn’t even think about getting it repaired.

“She ended up having to get a new one, which cost us about $250 I think, so it would have been nice to have had a replaced screen instead,” he says.

Radio Shack may be onto something. More consumers are having to buy their own phones, so more may be interested in repairing them when they break. It doesn't change the fact that Radio Shack has been struggling for years. Will "Fix It Now" fix RadioShack? 

Not unless the chain makes other changes, says Harry Wang, director of mobile research at Parks Associates: "They either have to beef up their online program or try to find some really unique kind of merchandise to survive.”

Wang says RadioShack will also have to contend with competition as manufacturers and other big retail chains start their own repair programs.

Obama, Tumblr, and student debt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-10 01:00

On Monday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that will help up to 5 million people pay off their student loans. He also pushed congress to lower borrowing costs for college kids.

Now, he's taking to Tumblr for the first time, to talk education.

It’s another chance for him to shine a light on the unsustainable cost of college.

It's also another chance to point out how comfortable he is with social media.

President Obama has participated in an Ask Me Anything on Reddit, a town hall meeting on Twitter, and even the online faux talk show “Between Two Ferns” to plug the Affordable Care Act.

“I wouldn’t give him an A on all the things in his presidency,” says Dave Kerpen, social media expert and cofounder of Likeable Media. “But on social media, I’d actually give the president an A.”

Tumblr, say experts, is exactly the right place to talk school costs. “It’s most popular with people under the age of 30,” said Mark Schafer, author of “Social Media Explained.”

It’s a direct line to a generation facing a trillion dollars in student debt, not to mention an indirect line to congress to put the pressure on.

The difference between debt and deficit: An explainer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-10 00:34

A lot of people confuse the words debt and deficit. They're not quite the same, although they are related.

It's pretty simple, though. If you spend more money than you make, that's a deficit. And if you run a deficit, you have a choice: you can either borrow money and go into debt, or you can go bust, or default.

Debt itself isn't necessarily bad. Debt can help you grow – you may not be able to get an education without a student loan, for example. And just because you have some debt doesn't necessarily mean you're running a deficit. So long as you make enough money to pay the interest on the loan without going into more debt, you're in good shape. You may even be running a surplus, which is when you make more money than you spend.

The one thing you don't want to do, as a homeowner, is to use debt to run a deficit. In other words, you don't want to get into a situation where you're spending more money than you make, and you're making up the difference by borrowing.

But that's what a lot of Americans do. And they do it by using credit card debt. The Federal Reserve's latest figures say American household debt is now $13 trillion, and the average U.S. household credit card debt stands at $15,191.

Borrowing money to keep your financial head above water is a bad idea to begin with, but using the most expensive kind of debt is insane. And credit card debt is, without a doubt, the most expensive kind of debt that's out there.

For a household, then, running a deficit is, generally, a bad idea, particularly if you're using credit card debt to stay afloat.

But what about a country? The U.S. has a roughly $17 trillion debt load. And our government spends $306.4 billion more than it earns. And we make up for that $47.2 billion deficit by borrowing even more!

The fact is that when countries borrow to make up a deficit, they generally don't have to resort to the most expensive debt out there. And in the case of the U.S. government, it's the reverse: the U.S. is able to borrow at the cheapest rate anywhere.

But just because we can run a deficit cheaply doesn't mean we should, does it?

That depends on your points of view. An economy like the U.S. is far more complicated than a household. It has many more variables, and is infinitely more complex. To ensure the economy didn't run at a deficit, the country's leaders would need a big insurance plan to deal with any variables that required more money than they expected.

That would mean having a large reserve, and running a big surplus. That, in turn, would mean keeping that money out of circulation, which would inevitably crimp growth – perhaps a smart plan for a household, but not a healthy strategy for an economy.

Spiders Tune In To Web's Music To Size Up Meals And Mates

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-09 23:48

Pluck the silk of a spiderweb and it vibrates like a guitar string, scientists say. By strumming the strands and detecting the tune via sensors in its legs, a spider gets key information.

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How Coal Industry Jobs Coexist With Rising Sea Levels In Virginia

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-09 23:47

Virginia is dependent on coal mining and export, but it also faces routine flooding from rising sea levels. That irony is a very real, day-to-day problem for residents.

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Project Eavesdrop: An Experiment At Monitoring My Home Office

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-09 23:47

NPR's Steve Henn, along with two tech experts, allowed Internet traffic through his laptop and cellphone to be monitored. If someone tapped your Internet connection, what would they find out?

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In Booming San Jose, Businesses Settle Into A Minimum Wage Hike

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-09 23:46

Since an increase in 2013, the minimum wage in San Jose is now one of California's highest. Some businesses have thrived in the past year, but for others, it's a more complicated picture.

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Chicago's Latest Case Of Political Graft Has A Twist

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-09 16:41

A jury must decide whether Democratic State Rep. Derrick Smith abused his office and took a $7,000 bribe or was entrapped by an overzealous FBI.

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White House Hosts Discussion On Role Of Working Fathers

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-09 16:01

The talk was part of the Obama administration's push for more workplace flexibility and paid parental leave.

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Japan Says It Wants To Resume Larger Annual Whale Hunt

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-09 15:04

Despite a ruling in March by the International Court of Justice that the country's whaling is not scientific, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he wants to resume the Antarctic hunt.

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State Senator's Resignation Roils Virginia Politics

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-09 14:58

Gov. Terry McAuliffe's efforts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act have been thrown into further uncertainty by the actions of a single Democratic legislator.

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Supreme Court Rules Against Homeowners In Superfund Case

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-09 14:20

The justices made it harder for residents in a handful of states to sue companies for contamination that wasn't discovered until long after it took place.

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Contemplating the short suit

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-09 13:52

Not for the first time, I am thanking my lucky stars that I'm in radio, and that, therefore, you all can't see what I'm wearing.

Because apparently there's a new thing in mens fashion this year: A short suit. Not a suit that's cut a little bit short, but a suit in which the pants are actually shorts.

Bermuda shorts, to be sure, but still... above the knee.

J. Crew thinks people are going to pay $358 for something called "the Ludlow short suit in rope stripe Italian wool-linen."

 

For those of you who have said that yes, you would wear shorts with a suit -- and there were more than a couple of you -- it's time to put up or shut up.

Tweet us a picture @Marketplace... or it didn't happen.  

Are there more of you? MT @AndrewConte: Thanks @kairyssdal, @Marketplace and @jcrew Saving up for #ShortSuit. pic.twitter.com/nqwfPMnwVq

— Marketplace (@Marketplace) June 10, 2014

At $18 billion, Uber isn't just competing with taxis

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-09 13:52

The latest venture-capital investment in Uber, a mobile app that allows users to hail a ride in a town car or taxi, pegs the company’s value at more than $18 billion. That's more than United Airlines or Sony, just shy of what car-rental Avis and Hertz are worth together. That may seem high for a company with direct competition like Lyft, Sidecar and the entire taxi industry.

For Uber to be worth what investors are betting, the company might need to capture half of the worldwide market for taxis, says Andy Brennan, author of a recent report on that industry from IBIS World Research.  “I can’t see that ever happening,” he says. “Generally taxi customers are quite price-conscious.”

A ride in one of Uber’s town cars costs more than a cab. “The average person who gets a taxi is not necessarily going to use Uber on a regular basis,” Brennan says.

However, competing with taxis isn’t Uber’s goal. The company’s CEO has identified a much bigger competitor: The personal automobile.

The idea of Americans parting with their cars may sound wild, but younger people may not feel as strong of an urge to own one. “Someone who’s 20-years-old today may be much less concerned with whether their car expresses their personality than with whether their phone or their tablet expresses their personality,” says analyst James McQuivey of Forrester Research.

He sees a future where people could subscribe to Uber like a service. Uber cars—with robot drivers, of course--may deliver their packages, or shlep their kids to piano lessons.

Ultimately, Uber may not just replace a taxi, or a car, but something that hasn’t even been invented yet. “We’ve all been waiting for that personal helicopter, that personal jetpack,” McQuivey says. “But really, you don’t need to move around as much as the stuff in your life needs to move around. And someone will help you do that much more efficiently than waiting for that jetpack.”

Maybe a company with that market is worth at least $18 billion dollars -- because the competition in that scenario is something like Amazon— currently valued at about $150 billion.

Why the celeb mag market is still worth something

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-09 13:51

We've heard again and again that the magazine industry is dying as readers increasingly turn to websites for news and gossip. So, expect a tough road ahead for Time Inc. which has split from its parent company, Time Warner, the owner of money-makers like Warner Bros Studios and HBO.

And while Time's prospects as a magazine company may look grim, Time has something of a trump card in the celebrity magazine, "People." It is Time's top title. Although sales of People have dropped off in the past decade, the magazine, with its mix of celebrity news and human interest stories, still has a weekly circulation of around 3.5 million readers, nothing to sniff at in an age of shrinking readership. 

By Shea Huffman

Another plan to ease the student-loan burden

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-09 13:49

President Obama made an announcement Monday about a popular subject. Or unpopular really: student loans. Under the new plan, if you took out a student loan before 2007, you may be able to cap your loan payments at 10 percent of your discretionary income. That'll add millions more students to a pay-as-you go plan that was passed in 2012.

“This might impact, oh, maybe five million borrowers, but there are 40 million people who have federal student loans,” says Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Then, he says, there’s the trillion dollars in outstanding student debt, in which  the latest plan will barely make a dent.

Borrowers may see things differently. 

“It could provide for some people, perhaps $50 or $100 a month of relief, which is, for a low income person, is material," he says.

The plan expands an earlier one and will now include students who took out loans as far back as 2007.  It  will also allow borrowers to apply for forgiveness after 20 years of payments.

But it doesn't apply to private loans, says Terry Hartle, senior vice president for the American Council on Education. 

The mount of money that people can borrow for an undergrad education from the federal government has not changed all that much in recent years, and the increase that we’ve seen in borrowing is in part attributable to the large number of private lenders,” he said.

Even so,  Hartle says he's in favor of the new plan. But Vedder says there's a more fundamental problem. The new plan, he says, is "dealing with symptoms, not the disease -- rising tuition fees. 

"What the president is proposing," says Vedders, "might be some help to past borrows,  but it’s going to do nothing to deal with the problem in the future."

Beijing Denounces Vietnam, Philippines 'Farce' On Disputed Islands

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-09 13:28

China's Foreign Ministry said a get-together between soldiers of the two countries on the Spratly Islands was an effort to "pick quarrels and cause trouble" with Beijing.

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