National News

Sandwich Monday: The Passover Sandwich

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 12:11

For this week's Sandwich Monday, our non-Jewish colleagues get an introduction to the wonders of the Passover lunch. Manischewitz rules this meal.

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Nevada Ranch Dispute Ends As Feds Back Down — For Now

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 12:01

A Wild West-style dispute between a Nevada rancher and the Bureau of Land Management has subsided — at least for the moment. Saying Cliven Bundy owed substantial back fees for allowing cattle to graze on federal land, the BLM had begun rounding up his cattle. But following protests from Bundy and hundreds of others, some armed, the BLM backed down, for now.

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Suspected Kansas Shooter Had Ties To KKK

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 12:01

The man suspected of killing three people at a Jewish community center and retirement home is a white supremacist formerly of the Ku Klux Klan. As Frank Morris of KCUR reports, 73-year-old Frazier Glen Cross once ran a paramilitary camp in North Carolina. Cross may have been planning the shooting for months.

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Defiant Of Deadline, Pro-Moscow Occupiers Persist

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 12:01

Pro-Moscow militants have taken over more government buildings in eastern Ukraine, ignoring a government deadline for them to lay down their weapons. The Ukrainian army may enter to retake the region.

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Restaurants: The Modern-Day Lab For Our Smartphone-Obsessed Ways

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 11:57

Servers and bartenders say those addictive glowing screens are changing restaurant experiences, and not for the better. "This is just sort of the new norm," psychology professor Thomas Plante says.

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When the IRS 'likes' your Facebook update

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 11:43

Taxes are due tomorrow, which means that today is the last minute scramble. Really, we're all just trying to get through this time of year without losing our shirts and —of course--without getting audited. The IRS is kicking into high gear, too. Their goals are a bit different than ours, though. The agency is hoping to catch tax dodgers. It loses an estimated $300 billion a year to tax evasion, and getting that money isn’t getting easier. Because of budget cuts, the IRS will have fewer auditing agents than at any time since the 1980s.

Enter robots. After all, the IRS may not have a whole lot of money or manpower, but it has a gold mine of data on you. A lot of it from... well... you.

"It’s hard to believe that anybody who puts anything on Facebook has any legitimate expectation of privacy," says Edward Zelinsky, a professor of tax law at the Cordozo School of Law.

Those fancy vacation photos you posted on Instagram? The Facebook status update about your new car? The tweets about your wildly successful side business?

All fair game for the IRS.

Not that the IRS is perusing everyone’s Facebook photos. It’s probably only looking at your Facebook photos if it suspects you might be a tax dodger. How does it get suspicious? Data, of course.

"It appears from its public statements and some other reports, that it’s using data to piece together likely profiles or likely candidates for closer review," says Behnam Dayanim, co-chair of the privacy and data practice at Paul Hastings.

The IRS is notoriously secretive about its methods; it didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment. But recent private sector hires and off-the-record sources indicate the IRS is seriously gearing up its data mining, using tools like online activity trackers to enhance the vast cache of information it’s already privy to: your social security number, your health records, your banking transactions.

The result? A pretty sophisticated data profile.

"It seems they may be using predictive analytics," says Joseph Turow, professor at University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication. "That takes a huge amount of data and puts it together in a big pot to see if they can predict which individuals don’t pay their taxes."

Creating profiles based on that data could be problematic, says Turow. "Once you begin giving people scores like that, you’ve given them reputations that might stay with them over years, and might be used by the IRS and other agencies in really incorrect ways."

Of course, these days everyone from Google to Nike is cobbling our data together to create profiles of us.

Still, it’s different when the IRS does it. "If Nike is analyzing my information, the worst consequence is that they market stuff to me that I don’t want and it’s annoying," says  Dayanim. "If the government does it, the worst consequence is there could be legal ramifications, whether it’s fines, penalties or imprisonment."

If you don’t want the IRS in your online business, Dyanim suggests ratcheting up the privacy settings on all of your social media accounts. And never posting anything that you wouldn’t want the agency to see. You could also try a charm offensive. The IRS has 24,000 Facebook fans and 52,000 Twitter followers.

Pulitzer Prizes Are Out: 'Washington Post,' 'The Guardian' Win For NSA Stories

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 11:15

Months after exposing the National Security Agency's surveillance program, The Washington Post and The Guardian win a Pulitzer for public service. Donna Tartt won for fiction with The Goldfinch.

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Tyrant lizard king arrives in Washington

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 11:13

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's what's coming up April 15:

  • The National Association of Homebuilders reports on builder confidence in the single family housing market.
  • Did consumers pay more or less for stuff in March than they did in February? The Labor Department issues its Consumer Price Index.
  • On April 15, 1912 the Titanic sank after a fatal run-in with an iceberg.
  • Federal tax returns need to be postmarked by tomorrow. Some post offices have extended hours to accommodate procrastinators. Sounds like fun.
  • And here's some news with teeth. A ceremony at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum marks the arrival of a nearly-complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil. I see a future of selfie's with T rex.

Why Babies Cry At Night

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 10:51

Maybe she's not just hungry. One scientist thinks the chubby bundles have a devious plan: Exhausting a mom delays the arrival of another brother or sister.

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Dutch Test Glow-In-The-Dark Road Of The Future

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 09:35

Luminescent paint absorbs energy during the daylight hours and then glows green in the dark. If widely adopted, the inventor envisions an energy-saving smart highway.

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Russian Attack Jet Repeatedly Overflies U.S. Warship In Black Sea

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 09:33

The Pentagon calls the action "provocative and unprofessional." The Russian jet's low-level passes come amid ever increasing tensions over Ukraine.

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Digital advertisers losing the 'bot arms race'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 09:15

Cyber-crime is a serious threat to anyone who does businesss on the internet. Some of the biggest heists have involved credit card data and banking information.

But that is changing.

Criminal rings have found a new target, one that is turning out to be very lucrative and less risky than bank and credit card fraud: digital ad fraud. Researchers believe that more than one third of all internet traffic is from bots--software programs, and not actual humans. And all those fake eyeballs are wreaking havoc on the $50 billion digital ad market.

Let's say you are a big box retail store. To get people into your store you place thousands of online ads on thousands of websites. Some of those websites are very secure, but others are set up to generate ad views from bots. So you, the retailer, keep a list of the sites that are viewed by humans and those that could be overrun by bots.

"The problem is those lists are not updated frequently enough," says Dr. Augustine Fou, a marketing science consultant. We are in the midst of what he calls a bot arms race. The good guys can detect bots, maybe by noticing that the bot doesn't move the mouse like a human. But then, the bots get more sophisticated, they learn to move a mouse like a person would. "Once the good guys detect that kind of stuff," Fou says, " then the bad guys now add the next level and they can now simulate those things."

Fou says that between 30 and 60 percent of all display ad views are fraudulent--meaning they're on websites being viewed by bots.

Several companies have tried to recoup ad spending when they discovered their ads weren't seen by humans. They are also turning to companies like White Ops.

"Whenever a page is loaded on the web, we determine in real time whether it was viewed by a human or a bot," says *Tamar Hassan, the chief technical officer of White Ops.

He says criminals are increasingly turning to digital ad fraud because it can be more profitable than good old-fashioned credit card fraud. "Now, the price is around 25 cents a credit card, and you still have to get away with the fraud," Hassan says. Not only that, "when you do, somebody is actually chasing you because the money is missing."

But in advertising the money is just as good if not better than credit card fraud. And no one is chasing you because the money isn't missing. It's the human eyeballs that are nowhere to be found.

*CORRECTION: The original article misidentified an executive with White Ops. He is Tamar Hassan, the company’s chief technical officer. The text has been corrected.

Banksy Is Believed To Be Behind Eavesdropping Mural Near British Spy HQ

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 09:08

A telephone box near British spy agency GCHQ is now adorned with a trio of snoops, after a mural was added to a wall this weekend. The art is believed to be the work of street artist Banksy.

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Real estate flippers are back!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 08:13

Some of the biggest players in the housing bubble were house flippers, people who'd buy a house, fix it up and sell it – sometimes at a huge profit. When the bubble burst, the flippers fled. But now they’re back, even in areas that have been overlooked by the big hedge funds and foreign investors. 

For example, take Prince George’s County, Md., which doesn’t have the glitzy condos of Miami Beach or new housing developments of Vegas that big investors like. But it does have lots of housing for middle and low-income families.

That's just fine for Rich Minor, who's been flipping houses for about 30 years. I meet him at his latest acquisition – a house in Bowie, Md.

As he shows me around, Minor explains that he laid low during the housing crisis. He was on one of the first flippers to come back to Prince George’s County in 2009, when you could buy foreclosures cheap. Now, there’s actually a lot of competition, because flipping is back, he says.

“It’s back, and it’s back with a vengeance now, because the deals are much harder to come by,” Minor says.

And even if you get a deal in Prince George’s County, it may be in a neighborhood that's a little dilapidated. That's one reason the big hedge funds and international investors aren't that common here.

“We’re not getting the big boys here, we’re getting the small fries,” says Anthony Sanders, a professor of real estate finance at George Mason University.

The small-fry flippers know they’re going to spend a lot to fix these houses up and that they can’t sell them for too much, because they’re still not in great neighborhoods. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of competition for fixer uppers, even if rough areas.

“On the open market, we don’t really have a ghost of a chance of acquiring any of these homes," says Maryann Dillon, executive director of Housing initiative Partnership, a non-profit which buys rundown houses, fixes them up, and sells them to low income buyers. "We cannot compete with investors who are all cash offers, who can close in a week or two weeks."

Dillon’s organization is able to buy some houses through a federal program that gives them first dibs over private investors.  But there are no such protections for the low-income buyers Dillon tries to help.  She’s seen people who’ve clawed back from foreclosure trying to buy a new house, but losing out to the flippers.


Percentage of total home sales to flippers

“They lost their nest egg during the recession. And now that things are coming back and there’s an opportunity to rebuild their wealth, they’re losing out yet again," Dillon says.

But at least they're just competing with the small flippers.

“These are not the big operations you find in Las Vegas or Phoenix," says Sanders, "where they’re going to the courthouse and buying up 20 properties, 30 properties and flipping them over the course of a couple months."

Sanders says, if you live in a place dominated by small-fry flippers, be thankful – it could be worse. 

Patients Often Win If They Appeal A Denied Health Claim

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 08:10

Obamacare set national rules for appealing a denied health claim — a process that used to vary by employer and state. Consumers should appeal more often, advocates say. Half the time, they'll win.

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Marketing the moon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 08:06

Looking back, sending a man to the moon seems like an easy sell. But in the 1960s, NASA had to convince the American public that the space program was a good idea.

"In the 1960s, it was just a radical idea," says David Meerman Scott, co-author of "Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program." "Can you imagine deciding that we’re going to send 12 people to the surface of the moon and it's going to cost 4 percent of the national budget and 2 percent of the national workforce for a decade? So we had to sell it."

And unlike their Soviet counterparts, NASA allowed their success and failures to be public.

"They were selling it not only to the American people, but to the world," says Richardz Jurek, co-author of the book. "It was really the vanguard of real time communication happening with the whole world watching."

To keep Americans interested, NASA hired former journalists to run their publicity campaign. And NASA's publicity department had help from outside marketers, too. As Americans became more interested in the Apollo program's success, they became more interested in buying items associated with the astronauts.

Any company making something for the astronauts – from Stouffer's to Tang to Omega Watches, used the space program in ads to sell their product.

"The brilliance of what NASA did at the beginning is they focused on what we would call today 'brand journalism' in marketing speak," says Jurek.

Wikimedia Commons

Coke and Pepsi cans flown aboard STS-51-F in 1985  on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

Japan May Send Maglev Train Expertise To U.S., Without A Fee

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 08:06

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has spoken about the idea with President Obama, and Japan is reportedly willing to include billions of dollars in loans to help underwrite the expensive project.

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Ohio Ordered To Recognize Out-Of-State Gay Marriages

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 08:01

A federal judge put a "stay" on his ruling, though, which apparently means his order affects only the four couples who sued to have their names put on their children's birth certificates.

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French Police Deploy DNA Dragnet To Solve Rape Of Teen

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 07:46

Investigators say they've run out of leads in the September rape at a high school in western France and are hoping that a mass sampling of male students will produce a suspect.

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Deficit Forecasts Shaved, But Likely Won't Shrink For Much Longer

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 07:32

While the Congressional Budget Office has lowered its shortfall projections for the next few years, it warns that deficits will start rising substantially again unless policymakers act.

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