National News

One way to ration water: raise the price

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-07 11:01

California is in the fourth year of one of the worst droughts in the state's history. California Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered cities to cut water use by 25 percent, but how do you achieve that?

One way would be to change the economics of water use, or in plainer terms, raise its price. But that's harder to do than you might think, especially in California, the land of propositions.

Still, as of July 1, the price of water in Southern California is going up. The Metropolitan Water District, which brings water into Southern California from Northern California and the Colorado River, is charging penalties to utilities in the Los Angeles region that exceed their allotments. The cost of that extra water could be four times the current rate.


One pair of Rand Paul flip flops, please

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-07 11:01

Rand Paul officially declared his candidacy for president this afternoon, as you might have heard.

To that end, he needs to raise money. Well, there's a store already up on his campaign website, where memorabilia and trinkets abound.

You can get a pair of Rand Paul socks for $15, and "Stand with Rand" car mats for $70. Other items up for sale include an eye chart, an autographed copy of the constitution and an NSA spy cam blocker.

And —  doesn't seem his campaign staff really thought this through — Stand with Rand flip flops, for the low, low price of just $20.


Also, because "that day" is almost upon us:

If you're young, ambitious, like working with numbers and are looking for a job, the Internal Revenue Service wants you.

Bloomberg reports only 650 of the 37,000 people who collect, process, enforce and refund our taxes are under the age of 25.

More than half IRS employees are over 50-years-old.

Microsoft plans to hire workers with autism

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-07 11:00

Aaron Michael Cohen says he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome when he was a child, and says it’s given him very specific skills.

“Well, I’m good at math and I’m also good noticing patterns,” he says.

Cohen has put those skills to work. Now 27, he’s a data analyst in the IT department at Freddie Mac and looks for irregular patterns that signal a problem with company computers.

These are the types of skills that make Cohen very popular in the tech world. It’s no wonder Microsoft is now reaching out to the autistic community for potential hires as part of a pilot program.

“This is a smart move on Microsoft’s part,” says Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC.

He says Microsoft is getting a two-for-one deal: it gets some nice PR and finds essential workers.

People with autism fall across a wide spectrum. Some have unique skills, like Cohen, including attention to detail, which is essential for programming tasks like coding.

“Even if a code is off by one space, or one period, that could throw the entire code and it can throw the entire program off,” Llamas says.

Microsoft might have to make some adjustments. Workers with autism may not like the open-plan office, where everybody can hear everybody else. But, if they’re happy, they’re loyal.

“They’re far more likely to stay as long as they’re getting the right kind of understanding and are in the right kind of culture,” says Samantha Crane, director of public policy at
the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Microsoft isn’t giving interviews about the program yet because it is still in the pilot stage. But in a blog, the company says the disabled workers it has already hired have a quit rate of only one percent. Microsoft plans to start the pilot program in May, with about 10 candidates.

Mexican-American Toddlers: Understanding The Achievement Gap

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 10:33

A new study finds Mexican-American toddlers are lagging behind their white counterparts.

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Hillary Whiskey Glasses? The Campaign Shops Are Open

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 10:21

From Rand Paul's "NSA spy cam blockers" to the RNC's George H.W. Bush socks, political swag is already getting creative ahead of the 2016 race.

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Three-Peat Or Upset? UConn And Notre Dame Play For Women's NCAA Title

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 10:09

For Notre Dame, tonight brings a chance for to overcome years of frustration. In three of the past four years, the team has lost in the championship game.

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When Wearing Shorts Was Taboo

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 09:55

In certain places in American history, showing a little leg has been illegal — for men and women.

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Power Outages Hit Parts Of Washington, D.C., Including The White House

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 09:40

Several government buildings, including the Capitol and the State Department were without power. The local power company, Pepco, reported major problems throughout the D.C. area.

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Quiz: What’s the word on 8th graders?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-07 08:53

National vocabulary scores for 4th and 8th graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading exam rose between 2011 and 2013.

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Fate Of Accused Boston Marathon Bomber In The Hands Of Jury

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 08:52

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's conviction is almost certain — given his lawyer acknowledged he participated in the deadly 2013 attack. If he is convicted, the jury will decide if Tsarnaev should be executed.

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Alabama Bill Would Increase Workers' Comp Benefits For Amputees

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 08:49

A proposal to nearly triple the maximum compensation for workers who lose a limb follows an investigation that showed Alabama to have the lowest permanent partial disability benefits in the country.

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Quick Income Changes Can Threaten Coverage For Those On Medicaid

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 08:41

Obamacare added millions of new customers whose incomes hover near the Medicaid line. When their earnings rise or fall, their health insurance could lapse while they're switching plans.

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Debate: Has The President Exceeded His War Powers Authority?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 08:30

President Obama has launched a sustained, long-term military campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Four legal experts debate whether he had the constitutional power to do so.

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Hold The Mammal: Daring To Make Dairy-Free Cheese From Nuts

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 08:29

A new generation of cheese-makers is culturing the milk of nuts like almond and cashew with bacteria. The idea is to give the cheese more umami taste than what many other vegan products have.

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Lucille Ball Sculptor Apologizes For 'By Far My Most Unsettling' Work

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 07:47

"I take full responsibility for 'Scary Lucy,' " artist Dave Poulin says, adding that he didn't mean "to disparage in any way the memories of the iconic Lucy image."

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Remembering Phyllis Klotman, Who Created An Amazing Collection Of Black Cinema

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 07:46

Phyllis R. Klotman made it her life's work to find and preserve black films. She found more than 3,000 films that may have disappeared otherwise.

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Greece Puts A Figure On Nazi-Era Reparations From Germany

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 07:22

Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas told a parliamentary panel the figure was about $305.1 billion. It's the first time Greece has set a figure for the German occupation in the 1940s.

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Can Obama Turn Pariahs Into Partners?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 07:20

The president's tenure has been marked by outreach to nations that previous U.S. presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, ostracized for decades. It may take years to see if this approach succeeds.

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Watch Jon Stewart Defend Trevor Noah On 'The Daily Show'

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-07 06:17

Stewart, the show's host, called Noah, the man named to succeed him, "an incredibly thoughtful and ... funny ... individual." Noah had been criticized for the tone and content of some of his tweets.

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Hospitals innovate to keep patients from coming back

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-07 05:44

Mary Knight is in the lobby of Elyria Medical Center in, Elyria Ohio.  She was admitted three days earlier because of difficulty breathing, and she was waiting for her husband to pick her up. Knight explained she has asthma and a lung disease called COPD.  In her hands is a packet from the hospital containing 30 days of free steroids and antibiotics.

“And then they also gave me a prescription for Cingular which is going to help with the asthma,” Knight said.

Every patient with a diagnosis of COPD at University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center leaves with that packet.  It’s one of the ways they are trying to keep this fragile group of patients from landing back in the hospital and driving up their readmission rates.

The government thinks sick patients are coming back to the hospital too soon. So a couple of years ago, the department of Health and Human Services decided to give hospitals a financial nudge in the right direction – by penalizing the hospitals’ Medicare reimbursements if the number of patients who came back to the hospital within 30 days exceeded the national average. 

It’s supposed to encourage hospitals to find ways to keep patients healthier.  The result is that hospitals are spending lots of money to find ways to keep patients from coming back – but there’s no consensus about what’s best for patients.

Wei Jen Chang, a hospitalist at UCSD who has studied the problem of readmission rates in patients with COPD, has done research that suggests it’s not the quality of care in the hospital that’s critical to keeping COPD patients healthy. It’s what happens and doesn’t happen after they leave.

“Not having good follow up, not being compliant with their medications, not having appropriate oxygen therapies…” Chang said, citing common problems that occur after discharge.

Chang and his team have lobbied his hospital for money to hire coordinators to follow up with their COPD patients and help them get outpatient services, but so far they’ve been unsuccessful.

“As it turns out, even if you are making a difference in the lives of patients for the better you may not be making a difference for the better in your hospital’s bottom line,” Chang says.

At Metro Health Medical Center in Cleveland, officials have done something similar to what Chang hopes to do. They hired a half dozen staff to identify patients at risk for readmission and guide their outpatient care. As a result, they have managed to reduce their readmission rates by 20 percent, said Alfred Connors, Metro Health’s chief of medicine.

“We can make quite a difference in the readmission rate,” says Connors “It’s clearly better for our patients – so we should do that.

But the question is what are hospitals willing to invest to do it? It’s clear that hospitals want healthier patients.  It’s less clear how much of their own financial health they’ll need to sacrifice to get there.