National News

What's The NSA Doing Now? Training More Cyberwarriors

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 06:57

The military's reliance on cyberspace is outpacing its ability to defend against cyberattacks, according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Here's how cyberwarriors are being trained.

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Walmart wants to sell you auto insurance

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 06:10

Seems like you can get everything at Walmart—including the kitchen sink. And, now, auto insurance.

Walmart is rolling out a new service via its website, walmart.com, that allows consumers to shop online for auto coverage, compare premiums, and sign up for a policy all in one sitting and from a single website.

It’s part of the giant retailer’s strategy to offer more financial services as it struggles to sell more to consumers in its stores, says retail consultant Burt Flickinger III at the Strategic Resource Group in New York.

“Whether it’s money transfers, or competing with GameStop on used videos, or auto insurance, Walmart is struggling to attract shoppers,” says Flickinger. “And the shoppers aren’t coming to the supercenters.”

Flickinger says Walmart needs to do something. He says same-store sales have been down for the past five quarters. Price-conscious consumers have been struggling to afford even Walmart’s discounted prices in the prolonged economic downturn, and Flickinger says Walmart has stumbled on customer service, with inadequate staffing and understocking of its stores.

“The auto insurance adds customer continuity and frequency, and Walmart has the second-biggest IT capabilities anywhere in America, second only to the Pentagon,” says Flickinger. “Walmart certainly has the size and scale to make financial services pay off.”

Walmart senior vice president Daniel Eckert explained Walmart’s new auto insurance as an at-home or in-the-office opportunity to compare quotes from multiple insurers, and to bind (actually secure coverage based on the quote offered)—without leaving its website.

The online market is hosted at the website of Walmart’s partner in developing the product, AutoInsurance.com. Eckert says the new service will be promoted at Walmart.com, and in displays at Walmart stores. It is being launched initially in Arkasnas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, with rollout plans for the rest of the country later in 2014.

Who Really Pays For Health Care Might Surprise You

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 05:58

Government has been part of the business of medicine at least since the 1940s, when Washington began appropriating billions of dollars to build private and government hospitals.

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A computer program to write your essays

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 05:53

A writing professor at MIT has developed a computer program that writes a college essay in one second, after you input a few key words and it actually scores pretty well on an online grading system meant for actual human student writing.

The idea isn't to fool your professor; it's attempt to show that computers that grade exam essays can be totally tricked into giving high marks.  

Les Perelmen, a recently-retired MIT professor who worked with students to develop the program, generated a sample for Marketplace on the subject of the future of education and technology.  The essay begins:

"Teaching has not, and no doubt never will be exemplary. Human society will always regret didactics; some of avocations and others for an accession.  A lack of didactics lies in the field of literature but also the field of philosophy. Teaching is the most cordially arrogant trope of mankind. "

What does it actually mean?  We're not sure, but it merited a whopping 5.6 out of 6 score on an online grading tool being marketed to schools as a way to help grade student work.  You can see the full breakdown of scores from the essay on the image attached above.

Perelmen, who is a noted critic of robotic grading, labeled the machine the Basic Automatic B.S. Essay Language Generator, or "BABEL."  He recently wrote an editorial about robo-grading in the Boston Globe and spoke at length with the Chronicle of Higher Education about his program.

The full essay generated by Perelmen's program for Marketplace can be read below if you have the stomach to make it through the whole thing:

Teaching has not, and no doubt never will be exemplary. Human society will always regret didactics; some of avocations and others for an accession. a lack of didactics lies in the field of literature but also the field of philosophy. Teaching is the most cordially arrogant trope of mankind.

Reiteration, especially for excess, masticates an interloper on exorbitantly but fallaciously truculent assassinations by instruction. If advocates renege or assure reprobation, gluttony that is situationally boisterous but is risible, sapient, and soporific with educational activity can be more reprovingly entreated. Additionally, technology, often at an utterance, can be the commencement. In my experience, all of the reprobates to our personal consequence of the dictator we countenance delineate the escapades in question. Even so, armed with the knowledge that the recondite disruption encounters establishment, most of the organisms for my precinct assent. Our personal scrutinization to the contradiction we placate howls. Education which depreciates all of the ruminations might divisively be a juggernaut on our personal sanction with the allusion we propagate as well. The countenance of diagnoses may be legerdemain but is belligerent yet somehow effortless, not cornucopia that tantalizes provocation and allocates inspections. In my theory of knowledge class, none of the agronomists at our personal scenario by the exposition we ponder embark and anesthetize reprimands which observe the response. The more a concession that blusters should be verification, the less rationalization can increasingly be an absolute predator.

As I have learned in my semiotics class, technology is the most fundamental affront of humankind. Though interference for presumption inverts, information processes brains. The same pendulum may process two different orbitals to process an orbital. The plasma is not the only thing the brain reacts; it also receives neutrinoes for conjecture with technology. Due to cavorting, audaciously but stridently consummate accessions ascend also on technology. a substantiated education changes the intercession at education.

The appendage, frequently to a tyro, taunts educational activity. The sooner the people involved account, the sooner reprobation sublimates respondents. Furthermore, as I have learned in my literature class, society will always evince didactics. Our personal exile of the adjuration we augur will be contretemps with assemblies and may presumptuously be compensation. The casuistry might, still yet, be unintentional in the way we insist or enlightenment the awkwardly and despicably predatory recrudescence but presume avocations. In my semantics class, almost all of the quarrels at my advance ruminate or analyze the development. a quantity of engineering is slight for our personal postulate on the civilization we accuse as well. The axiom aggregates dislocation, not a commencement. In my experience, many of the lamentations by our personal confluence at the account we denigrate diagnose taunts. The less palaver that culminates is petite in the extent to which we fascinate most of the adherents for the realm of reality and insinuate or should tenaciously be an accumulation, the more reprobates masticate the accumulation of community.

Instruction with agreements will always be an experience of human society. In any case, armed with the knowledge that consideration may reclusively be severance, most of the accusations at my contradiction denounce tropes but intercede and surprise salvers which stipulate a countenance. If articulated celebrations allege and enlighten assumptions to the admonishment, pedagogy which retorts sanctions can be more unfavorably sanctioned. Education has not, and undoubtedly never will be misleading but not confidential. Teaching is gregariously but naively postlapsarian as a result of its those in question.  

Thailand Calls New Elections Amid Fears Of Another Opposition Boycott

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 05:26

It's not clear whether the opposition, whose boycott of February elections caused the vote to be invalidated, will participate in the new balloting, set for July.

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British Actor Bob Hoskins Dies At 71

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 05:14

He was best known for films such as The Long Good Friday, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Mona Lisa. Hoskins' agent said the actor died Tuesday from pneumonia.

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Amid Violence And Without U.S. Troops, Iraq Votes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 04:59

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party appears to be the strongest going into Wednesday's polls. In a country plagued by bloodshed and sectarian divisions, the vote is testing Iraq to the limits.

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Amid Violence And Without U.S. Troops, Iraq Votes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 04:59

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party appears to be the strongest going into Wednesday's polls. In a country plagued by bloodshed and sectarian divisions, the vote is testing Iraq to the limits.

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Harsh Winter Puts The Brakes On U.S. Economic Growth

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 04:56

First-quarter GDP fell to just 0.1 percent, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which blamed much of the slowing on weather-related factors.

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Economic growth in the U.S. stalled this winter

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 04:19

On Wednesday the government reported GDP numbers. Turns out, January to March showed hardly any growth -- an annual rate of just one-tenth of one percent, way below forecasts. Spending on goods was down, but for services, like healthcare, consumer spending was up. Business investments and exports were down, so it wasn't just the weather. But analysts say more recent data suggest the current quarter will be better.

GDP measures when money changes hands. On this program, we keep track of alternative measures. Chris Hoenig is President of The State of the USA, an outfit that's working with the government to come up with an online, interactive scorecard for how we're doing. He joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to discuss. 

Australia Rebuffs Possibility Of Flight 370 Wreckage In Bay Of Bengal

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 04:03

A marine exploration firm says it has found what may be debris from the missing plane in the Bay of Bengal. But the head of search efforts off Australia says his team is "looking in the right place."

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Bad Behavior From A Sports Franchise Owner? That's Not New

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 03:43

As the Donald Sterling controversy unfolds, commentator Frank Deford recalls scandals surrounding other team owners, and penalties they did or didn't pay.

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The person managing your future, revealed

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 03:12

Like it or not, more and more Americans have their futures wrapped up in Wall Street. Old age once included a sizable pension paid for by the employer you retired from. But these days, many Americans have to fend for themselves by saving and investing through 401(k)s and other retirement accounts. That means putting money into the complicated and mysterious gears of Wall Street.

Liz Gross is part of that. The 31-year-old Oconomowoc, Wisconsin resident invests a chunk of her salary in a 401(k). Like many Americans, she thinks of herself as something of a novice when it comes to investing.

“I understand the basic ideas of investing and saving early,” she says. “As far as picking the stocks and the funds that I should be in, it’s not something I’m entirely comfortable with.”

That’s why she chose a target date mutual fund, a popular choice these days. The idea is investors choose the year they want to retire and the fund does the rest. (Ideally, they also check the fund’s fees first.) Each is a little different, but the basic idea is the investments become more conservative over time as the retirement date draws near.

Since so many Americans are investing this way, we thought it’d be interesting to connect Gross with the person managing her future. After we talked to Gross and learned about her investments, we called up Andrew Dierdorf, a portfolio manager at Fidelity. His team oversees nearly $200 billion dollars in retirement money, including the fund Gross has invested in. The futures of millions of American, including Gross, are quite literally in his hands.

We connected them both an invited Gross to ask him questions.

Gross: This is definitely your wheelhouse and not mine, so I kind of wanna turn the tables on you and ask how do you plan for your retirement and have you thought about investing in a target date fund?

Dierdorf: They’re my sole holding in my 401(k) account. So, I struggle with a lot of the same types of issues around making sure that I have my asset allocation appropriate as I’m moving through time. So I’m eating my own cooking.

Mark Garrison: Meet Liz Gross.

Liz Gross: I’m 31 and I live in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. I have a 401(k) in which I invest a portion of my salary.

Her job kicks in money too. But unlike traditional pensions, she has to figure out how to invest. Alicia Munnell runs Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research.

Alicia Munnell: All the risks and responsibilities have shifted to the employee, that is, to us.

A nation of untrained investors faces choices with lifetime consequences.

Gross: I understand the basic ideas of investing and saving early, but as far as picking the stocks and the funds that I should be in, it’s not something I’m entirely comfortable with.

That’s why Gross chose a target date mutual fund. You choose the date you wanna retire and the fund changes over time to fit that. If you’re smart, you also check the fees first. Since so many Americans are investing this way, we thought it’d be interesting to connect her with the person all the way up the chain.

Andrew Dierdorf: Hi, Liz.

Gross: Hi, Andrew.

Andrew Dierdorf manages the Fidelity fund Gross has. His team oversees nearly $200 billion dollars. The retirements of millions of Americans are quite literally in his hands. So Gross wasn’t shy.

Gross: What is it that you know and what you’ve learned that makes you the person to manage this instead of me, to have me put my trust in you?

He gave the answer you might expect about his experience and the team. But then, Gross threw a curveball.

Gross: This is definitely your wheelhouse and not mine, so I kind of wanna turn the tables on you and ask how do you plan for your retirement and have you thought about investing in a target date fund?

Dierdorf: They’re my sole holding in my 401(k) account. So, I struggle with a lot of the same types of issues around making sure that I have my asset allocation appropriate as I’m moving through time. So I’m eating my own cooking.

Liz Gross felt good about her decision after the talk. Make sure you get answers too. Your job may be able to connect you with free professional advice.

Gross: I just hope other folks are having these conversations with people they trust so that we’re taken care of when the time comes to quit working and go have fun.

In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

After Tornadoes, States Now Brace For Flooding

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 03:12

Following this week's twisters that killed at least 35 people in six states, the weather system is now dumping heavy rain in the East and parts of the South.

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Sizing up Donald Sterling's other business interests

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 02:58

Donald Sterling is number 972 on Forbes' list of billionaires, with a net worth of $1.9 billion. Forbes values the LA Clippers at $430 million, though some say they could be worth more.

The bulk of Sterling’s wealth comes from real estate -- buildings in LA.  So, will his real estate business be tarnished because Sterling has been banned from the game for racist comments?

“Yes, of course,” says Robert Baade, an economist at Wake Forest University. Baade wouldn’t be surprised if people started boycotting all things Sterling.

Any fall out will be short-lived, according to Leonard Baron, a San Diego realtor and lecturer at San Diego State.  He doesn’t think Sterling will lose any tenants. “People renting are going to be like, 'What’s the price and what’s the location?'" he says. "So I doubt it’s going to have any lasting effects at all.”

And, Baron says, if Sterling wants to sell any real estate, there are plenty of buyers willing to pay top dollar.

Innovation: A Gadget That Scrambles The Egg Inside The Shell

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 02:48

This new kitchen tool promises to scramble egg whites and the yolk to create delicious culinary creations, and save you from washing a whisk. A soft cradle keeps the egg from breaking.

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AT&T jumps on board with airplane Wi-Fi

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 02:43

This week, AT&T announced it will offer Wi- Fi service on U.S. flights next year.

Until this week, the in-flight internet business was dominated by Gogo.

Roger Entner, with Recon Analytics, says the challenge for AT&T is that only a small fraction of passengers actually use Wi-Fi on flights.

“AT&T is looking at it and says if we bring down price, and we accelerate the speed, more people will use it and then it will become a bigger market.”

Are we moving away from "too big to jail"?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 02:32

Federal prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas, according to reporting in the New York Times. 

Ben Protess, with the Dealbook section of the New York Times, wrote:

Federal prosecutors are nearing criminal charges against some of the world’s biggest banks, according to lawyers briefed on the matter, a development that could produce the first guilty plea from a major bank in more than two decades.

In doing so, prosecutors are confronting the popular belief that Wall Street institutions have grown so important to the economy that they cannot be charged. A lack of criminal prosecutions of banks and their leaders fueled a public outcry over the perception that Wall Street giants are “too big to jail.”

"These investigations have been going on for years," Protess told Marketplace. "This is kind of a new batch of cases the last few years."

In the case of the Swiss bank, it involves allegations that it helped clients avoid taxes. In the case of BNP Paribas, it's about doing business with companies in violation of U.S. economic sanctions. The Times says this would challenge a common belief in the financial world that big banks are too important to charge in criminal cases.

"In the Credit Suisse case, that one could really be in the next couple weeks," Protess says. "We're expecting either a guilty plea for the main arm of Credit Suisse in Zurich, or perhaps even the parent company."

Donald Sterling donates a lot of Clippers tickets

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 01:55

Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who on Tuesday was banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million for racist remarks, reportedly has something of a history of offensive remarks and questionable business practices. Even before the furor over Sterling's most recent indiscretion, he was widely reviled by the rest of the NBA for his tight-fisted management of the Clippers that for years earned the team a reputation as the worst franchise in the NBA (and even all major league sports).

He also has a history of philanthropy, as Sterling has been the recipient of donor awards from numerous organizations like the Special Olympics and the NAACP. Whether or not Sterling's charitable efforts were a form of "reputation laundering," his aversion to spending money seemingly didn't extend to his charitable donations.

But one thing tends to pop up when reviewing Sterling's philanthropy: He gives away a lot of Clippers tickets in lieu of cash.

Not to misrepresent Sterling; he has donated millions of dollars over the years to various organizations. But his donations of Clippers tickets -- over 280,000 tickets to more than 2,000 community groups over the past few years -- are a high-profile aspect of his philanthropy.

Sterling would give around 2,000 to 3,000 tickets per game to youth groups. Those tickets may have been hot commodities over the past few seasons, but before the Clippers successful streak, Sterling's generosity had more of an appearance that he was just filling empty Staples Center seats to boost attendance.

A Sports Illustrated profile on Sterling from 2000 offers probably the most striking example of Sterling's attitudes toward his ticket donations:

Not that every charity has found it easy to separate Sterling from his swag. Linda McCoy-Murray recognized that last summer when she phoned him to help sponsor a golf tournament in honor of her late husband, venerated L.A. Times sports columnist Jim Murray. Every pro franchise in California, according to McCoy-Murray had forked over at least $5,000 to her foundation, which provides journalism scholarships. Every pro franchise, that is, except the Clippers, which had memorialized Murray on the final page of last season's media guide. Sterling offered McCoy-Murray two season passes. "You know, that's wonderful," she remembers telling him. "but we're trying to endow a college scholarship fund. We could really use cash."

Sterling, she says, replied, "Those two tickets have a face value of $4,000!"

"Fine," she said. "We can use the tickets for our silent auction. But would you also consider donating $5,000?"

Sterling said he would mull it over and call her the following week. He never did nor did he send over the season passes.

Becoming a YouTube star

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 01:00

Not many teenagers can claim self-made stardom. 18 year old YouTube star Bethany Mota has developed a devoted online following with her videos on makeup, clothes, and other teen-related topics. Her interest in making YouTube videos was a result of being bullied online. 

"I think because at the time I was experiencing the dark side of online media, I found this really positive community on youtube that I didn’t even know existed," says Mota. These days, she has a lot to be excited about - Mota has close to 6 million followers on her YouTube channel.

Check out her latest video here:

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