National / International News

The job application for Al-Qaeda

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

On Wednesday, the U.S. government declassified a whole bunch of documents it found in Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

Lots of fascinating stuff — among them a job application to join Al-Qaeda, which will sound familiar to anyone who's ever filled out any job application.

These are all quotes:

  • "Please write clearly and legibly."
  • "Have you ever been in jail or prison?"
  • "List your previous occupations."
  • "Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?"
  • "Who should we contact in case you became a martyr?"

Northwestern professor is a real 'Survivor'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

Max Dawson has always been a fan of the long-running reality television "Survivor," so much so that in 2012 he taught a class about it at Northwestern University. “The class was called “The Tribe Has Spoken,” says Dawson, now a Los Angeles-based media consultant. “I wanted to teach these students … about the industry they were going into. And what better way than using a case study of a show that really defined reality TV and redefined what American television is all about?”

Dawson’s class soon caught the eye of recruiters for "Survivor" and he was offered a spot on the show. “First, I thought I was being pranked by a friend or a student, but when the idea was planted in my head, it suddenly seemed really logical,” he says.

After getting the invitation, Dawson spent nearly two years preparing for the show. He did everything from putting in time at the gym to reading books about psychology in order to get ready. When it finally came time to make his debut, he felt ready. But he quickly realized that he may have been a bit too prepared.

“I was voted off in the second week,” Dawson says. “I came to the harsh realization that not everyone loves a know-it-all.”

This season of "Survivor" also had contestants broken into one of three groups: The white collars, the blue collars and the no collars. Dawson was put into the white collars, which he doesn’t think did him any favors. “White collar is synonymous with the 1 percent, the oppressor, the man,” he says. “To me that was putting a target on our backs.”

Even though some would say that reality television represents a degradation of entertainment TV, Dawson says that the genre goes beyond that.

“I see it more as a great sociological experiment that not only allows us to be entertained, but forces us to think about really tough issues, to confront things that we might not otherwise want to confront or that our entertainment might otherwise allow us to avoid.”

How many jobs does $100 million get you?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

Like many cities, Baltimore is dotted with the ghosts of industry: businesses, large and small, that have moved elsewhere or closed altogether.

There's the old FMC Corp. campus in Fairfield, its the lawn still neatly trimmed, but the parking lot is empty, and the property is ringed by fences and "No Trespassing" signs. FMC left Baltimore in 2008, part of a cost-cutting move.

The Globe Screen Printing building is on Hollins Street, right across from St. Peter's church, where Babe Ruth was baptized. Globe Screen, a family business, closed about 12 years ago.

A Bank One check-remittance center on East Fayette Street has been turned into Baltimore City Health Department building. It closed several years ago, primarily because people stopped writing so many checks.

What these businesses have in common is that each of them was located within one of Baltimore's poorer neighborhoods, which, in the '90s, were part of a citywide and federal effort to turn disinvested neighborhoods into "neighborhoods of choice."

In December 1994, Andrew Cuomo, then an assistant secretary with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, stood at a podium to announce the names of six cities that had been chosen to take part in an ambitious federal push to alleviate inner-city poverty. The Empowerment Zone program awarded a $100 million block grant and a package of tax credits for businesses and employers to the six. Seventy four cities applied, but Baltimore put on a show, dispatching a caravan of school buses and a marching band to Washington to deliver Charm City's application.

The winning cities, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit and Philadelphia-Camden, had some leeway in how they'd use the funds, which were to be spread out over a decade. For Baltimore, job creation and job training in the poorest neighborhoods (called Empowerment Zones) were priorities. Twenty years later (and 11 years after the program ended) Baltimore's effort offers both successes and failures.

The money was dispersed with an eye to getting people to work. Thirty-five million went to workforce development, including career centers and job training. About $27 million went to job creation efforts, including small business loans. Another $13 million focused on quality of life rather than jobs, financing home improvements and cleaning up lead paint.

Baltimore kept detailed records of how the money was spent, and in 2005, researchers at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute tallied up the number of jobs created within the Empowerment Zones. In total, the report says 5,777 jobs were created. Over time though, many of those jobs have left Baltimore. Small businesses, listed as the recipients of tax credits or loans in HUD reports, have shut down. Some larger industries have moved their operations overseas.

Some areas of the city, though, have been transformed. In 1997, Sylvan Learning Systems relocated its headquarters to the Harbor East neighborhood, which at the time was industrial and largely empty. Today, Harbor East is a vibrant area of retail and restaurants. Sylvan, now Laureate Education, is still there.

But in the poorest neighborhoods, job creation has remained elusive. Unemployment and poverty rates remain high.

Sandtown-Winchester drew attention earlier this month as the blight-ravaged home of Freddie Gray, a young man who died in police custody, sparking protests that grew violent in some places.

A Marketplace analysis of census data shows that during the decade of Empowerment Zone funding, the unemployment rate in Sandtown-Winchester was 18 percent. In 2013, data, which includes the recession years, shows an unemployment rate of 22 percent.

Diane Bell-McKoy, the CEO of Associated Black Charities, was chair of the Empower Baltimore Management Corporation, the nonprofit entity set up to distribute the federal money. She sees some successes, but the failures haunt her.

"I can tell you factually, by looking at wage record data, that people benefited," Bell-McKoy says. "I can tell you factually that people that got loans [from] us for homeownership, that they still own their homes. I can tell you factually that there are some businesses that survived. I can tell you all that factually. But I can tell you that wasn't enough."

The boarded up homes and lack of stores in Sandtown-Winchester would seem to attest to that. Still, the Empowerment Zone money did lead to a personal transformation for one Baltimore individual. 

Antoine Bennett, a 44-year-old lifelong Sandtown-Winchester resident, had just finished up a three-and-a-half year stint in prison when the Empowerment Zone funds were made available.  The zone joined with other community development efforts. Bennett took advantage of them, finding a job at a youth center, taking college courses, feeling the pride of being called Mr. Bennett instead of a prison number. He hasn't missed a paycheck since. He considers neighborhood transformation a full-time job — his.

Bennett is now an outreach minister at New Song Community Church in Sandtown-Winchester.

"Our goal is to build up strong men of character in this community," Bennett says. "That the world can look and say, 'In that community, it is easy for them to go from ex-con to icon in a very unique way. It's the evidence that the ill-fated are truly illuminated in that community.' "

Technology meets advertising, with you as the target

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

Advertising used to look like this: People went out to lunch, drank a lot, had some great ideas and put them on television. But these days, advertising is all about mobile, all about digital and all about machines.  

Doug Fleming heads up programmatic ad sales at Hulu, the TV streaming service. Along with thousands of other advertising and marketing executives, Fleming has decamped to San Francisco this week for the Adtech conference. It’s two days of, well, everything thats means anything when it comes to advertising and technology.

Fleming is giving a talk at the conference about the way things work now. Here’s a preview:

“It is absolutely imperative that a publisher has their technology stack in order. Their content management system is talking to their database, their consumer marketing team is tied in with their advertising team, who are tied in with all facets of the inner-workings of the machine.”

Translation: Digital advertising is on a tear. It's expected to hit $50 billion this year, and a lot of that is thanks to automation. Buying, selling, targeting and placing ads is all being done by computers, and it needs to be a well-oiled machine to work properly.

Here’s what that looks like: Say you load a YouTube video on your smartphone. An ad often pops up first. But before it does, there’s a tiny pause. And during that pause, “in nine-one thousandths of a second, there’s a mini bidding war that takes place to see who’s going to win that impression,” says Kenny Day, who runs political ad sales for Yahoo! and is a veteran of the ad tech business. Day is describing what’s known as real-time bidding. It was introduced by Google back in 2009, when it bought the ad-tech company Doubleclick and invented computerized ad auctions.

But ad tech really took off when the power of buying and selling in a fraction of a second was combined with the mounds of data companies collect on consumers. That combination has fueled a spate of acquisitions in the past two years. And it’s what is behind Verizon’s $4.4 billion offer for AOL, which has a solid ad tech business.

“There are all these data companies that are dropping pixels on you. They're cookie-ing you. They know that you are female, between the ages of 30 and 54,” says Day, adding that they know where you live, your political leanings and the products you buy.

And when you log into Facebook or Google or surf on your phone, those little trackers follow you everywhere.

Everyone's sort of tagged with these IDs that we carry with us. It's called a long tail, Day says.

The data is anonymous, but computer algorithms compare your activities to millions of people doing the same things you are doing online and determine what types of ads people similar to you might like. And the more data that gets fed into the mix, the more precise the targeting and the bigger the potential payoff for advertisers.

So when that ad pops up on the video you’re about to watch, and it’s for a product that you may actually be interested in buying, there you have it: the cross-device, behaviorally targeted, real-time bidding, technology stack in action.

And who said ad tech was hard to understand?  

Maine Bill Aims To Make Abuse-Deterrent Painkillers More Affordable

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:58

Expensive versions of prescription opioids that are tougher to cut, crush and inject are less likely to be abused, legislators hope. But some doctors call the bill well-meant, but ill-advised.

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Immigrant Family's Hope On Hold After Promises From The President

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:56

Six months ago, President Obama announced executive actions that would protect millions of immigrants who are undocumented from deportation. But those actions are on hold pending a lawsuit.

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An Author Of Paper About Changing Minds On Gay Marriage Seeks Retraction

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:51

The paper, published in Science, suggested conversations could increase support for same-sex marriage. Researchers who tried to replicate the study say the data were not collected as described.

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Rangers 2-0 Hibernian

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:45
Rangers earn a hard-fought victory over Hibernian to take a two-goal advantage into the Premiership play-off semi-final.

Terminally Ill California Mom Speaks Out Against Assisted Suicide

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:40

Stephanie Packer's debilitating illnesses have led her to consider assisted suicide. But she is opposed to a California bill that would legalize the option.

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US sends Iraq missiles for IS fight

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:39
The US military says it is sending 1,000 anti-tank missiles to the Iraqi government following the fall of Ramadi to Islamic State forces.

Race to cleanup California oil spill

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:39
Two oil slicks, stretching nine miles, have formed off the coast of southern California after an onshore pipeline ruptured.

Is Harvard Showing Bias Against Asian-Americans?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:37

A coalition of more than 60 organizations says the university has adopted higher expectations for Asian applicants in order to limit enrollment of this minority group.

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Family's tribute to charity worker

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:31
Relatives of a young charity worker who died in India have praised their "beautiful, bright, caring girl".

Desperate Rohingya Granted Temporary Shelter. But What Next?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:30

Malaysia and Indonesia will allow migrants stranded at sea to come ashore. But it's a one-year, one-off deal, with no signs the flow of the Muslim minority fleeing persecution in Myanmar will stop.

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'Mercedes deal was never in doubt'

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 11:48
Lewis Hamilton on his new Mercedes contract, having a point to prove at Monaco and Ayrton Senna's out-of-body experience.

David Letterman Is Set For Final Curtain Wednesday Night

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 11:48

"What this means now," the talk show host told a hushed audience as he announced his departure in December, "is that Paul and I can be married."

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IS 'in control' of Syria's Palmyra

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 11:38
Islamic State militants in Syria take near full control of Palmyra, which contains prized ancient ruins, activists and witnesses say.

On top of the One World Trade Center

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 11:21
A first look from the observatory of New York's One World Trade Center, built on the site of the twin towers destroyed on the 9/11 attacks.

I'd Like To Buy The Emerging World A Coke

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 11:16

The Mad Men finale featured the classic jingle: "I'd like to buy the world a Coke," sung by a globally diverse group. Today, the global market is more important than ever to Big Soda.

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Court reveals race to stop IS family

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 10:58
How a family was stopped from joining IS militants