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The painting that was suddenly worth millions

Thu, 2014-06-12 03:00

Britain's National Trust now has a Rembrandt on its hands. Well, it's had the painting -- a portrait of the artist -- for several years, but until a few weeks ago the work of art was held in storage, thought to be a fake. 

After months of investigation, analysts and researchers are putting the price of the painting -- deemed authentic -- at $50 million, several times what it was worth before.

Click the audio player above to hear art critic Blake Gopnik discuss the business of art, branding, and the worth of the master's hand. 

So how much is a "selfie" worth? 

The Rembrandt has been referred to as one of the more expensive "selfies" ever created. Sure, the Ellen Oscar selfie has cache, but can it compare to the most pricey paintings and photographs artists have made of themselves throughout history?

While Britain's National Trust has no plans to sell their new Rembrandt, many "selfies"  have been auctioned for millions of dollars.

Click through the slideshow above to see some of the most expensive "selfies" ever sold.

Smart ads

Thu, 2014-06-12 02:35

Data on our data: The cost of surveillance

Thu, 2014-06-12 02:30

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.


spent in 2013 by the NSA on "corporate-partner access project

"This is the amount spent by the NSA in fiscal year 2013 under what it calls its corporate-partner access project," Says Susan Crawford, visiting Professor at Harvard Law School. "What they're doing is reimbursing telecommunications companies for domestic surveillance of all internet traffic"

The National Security Agency says that it's pulling data on only non-US citizens. Telecom companies, as well as tech companies, need to comply with these surveillance orders made possible through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But they're still not allowed to be fully transparent on what data they're being paid to give up. 

Crawford says, "We do know that the fiber optics cables that NSA is getting access to carry everything - all of our phone calls, all of our emails - and our concern is that domestic surveillance can be carried out through these foreign intelligence programs.”

How a librarian made me a surveillance skeptic

Thu, 2014-06-12 02:00

I was at a dinner table about a year ago, right after the first Edward Snowden leaks, when I heard for the first time an argument I've heard many times since. 

"Why should I care? I'm not doing anything wrong."

This appears to be the opinion of the majority when it comes to the idea of the government using surveillance to fight terrorism. By Pew Research's estimates, 56 percent of Americans support the government listening in while it fights the "bad guys." And it has been this way for something like 12 years -- right after the September 11th attacks and the beginning of the war on terror. 

Whichever side of the line you're on, part of my job as a journalist is to give you information. But as a consumer of journalism, I've found the stream of information about government surveillance over the last year to be exhausting and desensitizing. Heck, even data tracking and run-of-the-mill privacy online seems like such a huge issue that you want to just go Vint Cerf and suggest that privacy is an anomaly. But it's important to at least try to understand and remember the impact of government surveillance and what we know about it. That's why all this week we've been talking about your location data, your phone calls, and your address books for the Data on Our Data series. 

I get the "why should I care" argument, I swear. I've echoed it myself a few times. But I'd be lying if I said it didn't worry me. I support our law enforcement agencies protecting us from attacks. But I also know governments are not static; they are living, breathing organizations that change and evolve drastically over time. And when it comes to surveillance, the big question is how and whether we are thinking about a time when our government might aggressively use ready access to data against its citizens. 

It was hard enough for me, last year, to dust off my basic understanding of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Patriot Act, and other legislation that has built the world we currently live in. But especially this week, I've been thinking about how governments aren't static, and how easy it is to forget the things we've put in place in the name of self-preservation. 

All of this thinking about surveillance, government, and legislation has also reminded me of a chapter in my own history that I haven't thought of in a while. During my junior year of college in 2003, I worked in the D.C. office of a moderate Republican Congressman. My main job was to answer constituent correspondence with letters that represented the Congressman's policy positions, which he would then sign. One day near the end of my spring semester, I had an assignment I couldn't complete: I was supposed to answer a constituent letter about a proposed expansion of the Patriot Act. The letter had been sent, and signed, by librarians throughout the Congressman's home state who were opposed to the Patriot Act's allowance of officials to access library records. They were asking the Congressman to oppose any extension or expansion of the legislation, and really to roll it back entirely. As I was preparing to tell the librarians that the congressman fully supported the legislation, I made a discovery. One of the librarian signatures on the constituent letter was familiar to me. It belonged to my mother. 

Golf group hopes fewer holes means a better game

Thu, 2014-06-12 01:00

As the U.S. Open golf tournament starts today in Pinehurst, North Carolina, the event’s organizers kick off a campaign aimed at golfers, encouraging them to play shorter games: 9 holes, instead of 18.

Golf has been losing players by the hundreds of thousands, partly because it takes so long to play — up to five hours for 18 holes.

“If you go to a movie it takes two hours, if you go to dinner it takes two hours,” says Hunki Yun, of the U.S. Golf Association. “So, a five-hour round of golf is not necessarily compatible with today’s lifestyles.”

David Hueber takes some responsibility for the problem. As head of the National Golf Foundation in the 1980s, he helped launch a strategy to open more courses. “Unfortunately,” he says, “we developed a product our customers — that is, golfers — didn’t want to buy.”

The new courses were designed by marquee architects to be hard, meaning they took a long time to play.

They were also designed to be big — partly to satisfy the real-estate developers who funded them. The bigger the course, the more houses the developer could sell overlooking it.  “Take a typical hole,” says Hueber. “If you add 50 yards to it, with home-sites on both sides, you’re going to pick up four home sites. You know, that could be a million dollars.”

Multiply that by 18, and a half-mile’s walk has been added to every game.

Raining? Twitter wants to help sell you an umbrella

Thu, 2014-06-12 01:00

One of the scariest lines a bad guy in a movie can say is, “I know where you live.”

But these days, thanks to location data, online advertisers almost always know where you are. 

In fact, Twitter and the Weather Channel want to let them in on still more information about potential customers -- a newly announced partnership will target ads, or “promoted Tweets,” to users based on where they live and what the weather’s like.

By letting advertisers know a customer is shivering or sweating, they’re hoping to help the company target its products.

“Sixty degrees might be cold in Miami, which means that you want hot coffee," says Curt Hecht, the global chief revenue officer at The Weather Channel. “Sixty degrees in Chicago means I’m getting an iced coffee, right?”

Hecht says The Weather Channel’s service doesn’t take into account users' interests through past posts or searches, but rather tries to predict their needs based on current and upcoming weather conditions. In the past, the company has worked with Pantene to market anti-fizz hair products to customers on days with high humidity.

“If previously we used to think more about different advertising for different people, now we’re starting to think different advertising for the same people at different states of their environment -- in this case weather,” explains Oded Netzer, a marketing professor at Columbia Business School.

There’s a strong correlation between weather and consumption, says Netzer. Knowing what the weather’s like is really useful for advertisers. Studies show that customers are generally more likely to buy things on nice days and even spend more for the same product if the weather is good.

“There’s some evidence that companies might be able to charge a little bit higher prices during warm weather conditions,” he says. “Whether this will be ethical to do and whether consumers react to that if companies do it is a whole different story.”

In other words, a consumer might find it helpful to see an ad for an umbrella right before it’s supposed to rain. Jacking up the price of air conditioners on a really hot day – not so much.

What gadgets are the (college) kids using these days?

Wed, 2014-06-11 14:22
<a href="">View Survey</a>

Trivia: Who was the last PhD economist in Congress?

Wed, 2014-06-11 13:56

A trivia question that will perhaps win you a drink at happy hour tonight (but probably only if you're at a weird politico-economic happy hour in Washington, DC).

Dave Brat, now the Republican nominee for Eric Cantor's seat, is a PhD economist. He'll be the only one in Congress.

So here's the question:

Who was the last one?

Scroll down for the anwer.















Answer: Democrat Tom Lantos from California.

Fracking is buoying up the Mississippi barge business

Wed, 2014-06-11 12:01

We check in with Austin Golding from time to time to see how his business is doing. He’s the co-owner of Golding Barge Line down in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He says after a rough drought last year, things are looking up. The river is flowing nice and high and there is new demand from a burgeoning industry.

“We’ve really benefited from becoming a true source of quick transportation for anything fracked in this country. The domestic crude oil, the natural gas, the natural gasoline is all being moved by barge now and kind of a new wave of product we’ll be moving soon is the actual fracking water. They’ve been really trying to find a safe way to move it in bulk, so right now we’re working with the coast guard to determine what form of regulation will be placed upon that cargo. But we’re excited because we feel like we’re a great option to move that throughout the country in a safe and efficient manner.” 

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Target credit card breach still hurts small businesses

Wed, 2014-06-11 11:23

After the Target breach, banks gave millions of customers new credit cards.  That's a big problem for businesses that rely on subscriptions and monthly memberships. Some are losing significant revenue while scrambling to update customer information.

Rocky Arbitell hates the sound of his gym's scanner rejecting a membership card.  Unfortunately, it's what greets about 30 percent of people coming to work out at his Orlando, Florida business, The Gym Downtown.  Many just haven't updated their credit card numbers on file.

In his office, Arbitell points to a computer screen.  "That is the decline list," he says.  "That's all the credit cards that were dishonored, declined and invalid since January, and it's $57,000 worth of cards."

Arbitell's income hit is double that for the past year.  He says if his business hadn't been stable before this, it might not have survived.

A solution already exists

At an eCommerce expo across town, payment experts focus on what made customers change credit cards in the first place: fraud.  They discuss preventing it – and dealing with it when it happens.  

Dan Burkhart is CEO of Recurly, a subscription processor.  He says when customers get new credit cards, they can sign up to automatically give those numbers to any businesses they use.  Banks and credit card companies just put the information in a database, and merchants check it. 

"And, for any match that occurs, this service will provide the replacement card and then transaction is processed with the new replacement card," Burkhart says.  "The end customer isn't bothered.  They don't know nor care that their card has been updated."

Here's the catch: To use the database, businesses have to pay to work with specific credit card processors.  Some big companies don't do that, let alone the corner gym.  

Competitive cooperation

Steven Casco says limiting access slows innovation for everybody.  He's CEO of, the company that set up the e-commerce expo.  His solution to the subscription problem is competitive cooperation.  

"We, in America, invented the very idea of e-commerce," says Casco. "So, I would say, do we have problems with what's going on right now? Absolutely. Are we best suited to solve it and have the rest of the world look to us as the model? You better believe it."

Beyond Credit Cards

Casco says it's even time to look beyond credit cards themselves.  He flips through the expo schedule – and points to a name of someone doing just that.  Shaunt Sarkissian is the founder and CEO of Cortex MCP, a company that offers a "mobile wallet." 

Here's how it works: people put a specific amount of money on their phones. From there, Sarkissian demonstrates on his own mobile: "When I'm ready to make a payment, I just go in. I select the one I want to use, click 'use now,' enter my pin, hit 'pay,' and I can either show that QR code.  Boop, merchant scans it, and that's it.  Or, I can activate NFC, and I just tap my phone."  

A thief can steal only that amount – not drain an entire account.  

Other ideas include Bitcoin, biometric identification, and chip and pin machines.  In the end, Casco says, merchants from the cable company to the corner gym will have to try something.  

After all, he says, "Actually getting paid is the core of that business.  So, there's no way around it, you have to become educated."

And, this subscription problem isn't over yet.  The largest banks have replaced about 21.8 million cards since the Target security breach.  That's only about half the cards affected.

Please leave your Kryptonite jewelry at home

Wed, 2014-06-11 11:17

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Thursday, June 12:

In Washington, the Commerce Department reports on retail sales for May.

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee discusses bureaucratic barriers to care for veterans.

The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee holds a hearing titled, "A National Priority: The Importance of Child Nutrition Programs to our Nation's Health, Economy and National Security."

The 41st President of the U.S., George H.W. Bush, will be 90.

It's a bird...It's a plane...It's the 36th annual Superman Celebration getting underway in Metropolis, Illinois.

And in Cooperstown, New York, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates its 75th anniversary.

A new landscape in the House after Cantor falls

Wed, 2014-06-11 11:11

Eric Cantor's surprise loss to fellow Republican David Brat in the Virginia primary elections Tuesday will reshape the leadership in the House, and it will have effects that reverberate into upcoming legislative fights. Here are three takeaways:

Money is something in politics, but it isn't the only thing. Cantor raised more than $5 million, compared to about $200,000 for Brat. Consider this idea: having so little money may have helped Brat. He didn't have the money to do major televsion advertising, so he didn't get the scrutiny that comes with that.

The coming fight over the debt limit has taken on a new element. The U.S. has the borrowing authority to keep paying its bills, but only until March 2015. Cantor's loss may make some Republicans less willing to support an increase in the debt ceiling. As lobbyist Steve Ryan put it, "It unsettles the firmament. There is a ripple in The Force, as we would say. And it's just totally unpredictable now what's going to happen out of that."

It's a new environment for businesses and lobbyists. One of the things that made Cantor so effective in the House was that Tea Party Republicans trusted him, and so did Wall Street. He was accessible to lobbyists, and he was seen as a good fundraiser for his party. 

Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

Data courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics.


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