National News

Supermarkets Waste Tons Of Food As They Woo Shoppers

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-25 13:09

In the U.S., consumers account for the biggest share of waste in the food chain. Demand for stocked shelves and unblemished produce, and confusion over date labels lead to mountains of tossed meals.

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California tries to grow olive oil industry

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 13:07

This week new standards go into effect for California olive oil. The state is eager to grow its tiny share of the global olive oil market, which is currently at less than 1 percent. Demand in the U.S. is up, but the vast majority of the olive oil Americans buy still comes from the Mediterranean. That raises the question: Why isn’t California, which is blessed with a Mediterranean climate, an olive oil powerhouse like Spain or Italy?

In the 18th century, Spanish missionaries established a small olive oil trade, but American demand for olive oil was relatively small compared to demand for butter and vegetable oils. “Consider that 40 years ago, olive oil was sold in pharmacies in the United States,” says Eryn Balch, executive vice president at the North American Olive Oil Association, a trade group representing importers. It was “a specialized health product,” she says.

Italian cooks had always used it, of course, but it wasn’t until Americans focused more on heart-healthy eating that olive oil started flying off the shelves. U.S. consumers now buy more than three times the olive oil they did 20 years ago. It's been a significant enough jump to draw many California growers into the olive business. The state's drought also provides incentive. Olives are a less thirsty crop than, for example, almonds.

Thom Curry, general manager of Temecula Olive Oil in Southern California, says domestic olive oil is as good as Europe’s, and certainly higher quality than much of the cheap, imported oil sold in American supermarkets. Some of those imports are mislabeled as extra virgin when they’re not, according to reports over the past few years. Growers have complained to trade authorities about labeling fraud and generous European subsidies. But low-cost imports aren’t their only problem.

“I think we’re going to be limited for at least the near future by the amount of acres planted,” Curry says. “Once we get to tens and hundreds of thousands of acres, that’s when we can really start taking over the world.”

Just for comparison, right now California has about 35,000 acres in olive production, according to the California Olive Oil Council. Spain, meanwhile, has between 5 million and 6 million acres. But California growers are expanding quickly. “Right now, olives are the fastest growing specialty crop in California,” says the council’s executive director, Patty Darragh. She says California produced 1.2 million gallons of olive oil in 2011. Just two years later, it was producing almost three times that.

Much like California’s neophyte vintners in the '70s, olive-oil-makers in the state are trying to convince Americans to seek out domestic brands, even if some of them cost more than they’re used to paying. Many growers here are planting trees close together so they can harvest mechanically and cut costs. They’re also experimenting in new terrain. Temecula Olive Oil is expanding into the Imperial Valley, a dry, desolate region north of the Mexican border. “If they can grow there they can grow pretty much anywhere,” Curry says.

Supporters of California’s new labeling and testing rules hope they will signal “high quality” to consumers. “We want to make it easier for consumers to understand the product before them,” says Darragh.

One of the labeling rules bans using the term “light,” which denotes a type of oil common among imports. Darragh says many Americans falsely believe that means the oil is less caloric, though the term actually refers to the flavor and/or color.

Importers believe the new California rules are simply self-promotional. “They appear to be written in a way to name things based on a very specific flavor profile,” says NAOO's Balch. “They don’t take into account the reality of the broad market of olive oils today.”

Graphic by Shea Huffman

Olive oil pairings

We asked our sources for their favorite things to eat with olive oil, but we want your favorite pairings too! Tweet your suggestions to @Marketplace and we'll add the best ones here.

Patty Darragh, California Olive Oil Council: Vanilla ice cream with olive oil drizzled on top with a dash of sea salt.

Trudy Batty, Temecula Olive Oil: Grilled peaches brushed with blood-orange olive oil.



These are the ISIS refineries we're bombing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 13:05

The U.S. and its allies bombed 12 “modular” refineries in territory controlled by ISIS on Wednesday. The terror group is considered well-funded, in part because of oil revenue. But Middle East analysts say the refineries are unsophisticated, not unlike homemade moonshine operations.

“These refineries are so rudimentary,” says analyst Shwan Zulal of Carduchi Consulting in London. “It’s almost like distilling your alcohol at home. They get these big barrels and they just burn the petrol underneath it to get it distilled. You can make a new refinery in a week.”

Zulal says private citizens – often a couple of guys – own the refineries, not ISIS. ISIS makes money by selling crude oil to these refiners. And the group needs the refined product — say diesel for Humvees, or kerosene for lamps.

The air campaign is meant to dent ISIS finances. But for now, a dozen refineries may be trivial.

“I think it’s really 1 percent of the volume that goes through their hands every day,” says Valerie Marcel of the Chatham House think tank in London. “So the U.S. and the coalition will need to bomb relentlessly for a sustained impact on the revenue generation.”

One argument in favor of the strategy: There’s little downside. Homemade refineries are often in remote areas, far from potential civilian casualties.

By contrast, targeting oil fields controlled by ISIS carries more risk.

“If people got concerned that, ‘Oh, what does that mean? We’re bombing crude-oil-producing wells in the Middle East,' the market itself might be concerned,” says Mark Routt at KBC Technologies in Houston. “Which would raise the price of crude, which would raise the price of gasoline for everyone around the world. So this is very clearly a thought-through strategy to minimize the market impact while still achieving the stated aims of degrading this group.”

By all accounts, degrading ISIS will take more than going after oil assets. The group is known to make money taking hostages for ransom, extorting traders and farmers and selling stolen antiquities.

Rouhani: Western Powers Have Helped Globalize Terrorism

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-25 12:28

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani told the U.N. that the solution to the problem of ISIS now must involve the region. He also said resolving the Iran nuclear issue could lead to greater cooperation.

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Solar Advocates Fight Utilities Over Grid Access

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-25 12:28

Across the country the solar industry is battling utilities over the financial details of feeding electricity from renewable resources back into the power grid.

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Islamic State Defector: 'If You Turn Against ISIS, They Will Kill You'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-25 12:12

A Syrian defector from the self-proclaimed Islamic State says he had happy moments when he first joined the militants. But he began to see brutality and cruelty that was impossible for him to support.

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Families Want Federal Investigations Into Black Men's Deaths

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-25 12:07

Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., last month. Eric Garner died in July after being placed in a chokehold by a New York officer. Their families say they want justice.

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50 Years Ago, A Fluid Border Made The U.S. 1 Square Mile Smaller

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-25 11:49

Since Texas became a state, the Rio Grande has marked the border between the U.S. and Mexico. But, like rivers do, it moved. In 1964, the U.S. finally gave back 437 acres of land.

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First Heartbleed, now Shellshock

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 11:37

You might remember back in April when thousands of servers were hit with the Heartbleed bug. Well, the Department of Homeland Security warned Thursday against a new bug called Shellshock, which could be far worse.

"Shellshock is a new security hole and this is a way for hackers to get access to our information that we don’t want to give up," says "Marketplace Tech" host Ben Johnson.

While Heartbleed gave hackers access to a user’s data, Johnson says, the Shellshock bug allows hackers to take total control of a person’s computer.

So, what now? Unfortunately it's too early to tell.

"There’s not much you can do here except wait for the people who know what they’re doing to build the patches and fix these things on the back end," Johnson says. "In the meantime, I think you should be extra careful about clicking on links that come from mysterious people on your email, and just ride it out and hope for the best."

For more on Shellshock, click the audio player above.

Spain's Abortion Debate Shakes Government That Pledged To Ban It

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-25 11:35

Supporters and opponents of abortion have taken turns taking to the streets. After months of protests, the conservative prime minister has dropped his plan to enact a strict anti-abortion law.

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Do you know what your college is doing with your data?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 11:16

By the time most college freshmen step on campus, it’s a good bet Facebook knows who their friends are, Amazon knows what they buy, Netflix knows what they watch and Google knows …well, pretty much everything they do online.

What students may not realize is that their colleges are collecting data about them, too.

It’s not just grades and transcripts. Most colleges are completely wired. Students turn over their data when they take a book out of the library, when they log on to the campus Wi-Fi network, when they swipe their student ID to get into their dorms, when they buy lunch at the dining hall, when they post an assignment on a class discussion board and at almost every other point throughout their day.

Students typically don’t sign a blanket data-use agreement when they arrive on campus, like they do when they sign up for Facebook or Gmail. But the data colleges collect could be just as valuable.

So who owns these data? The students, who create it? Or the colleges, who collect it?

The short answer: No one knows.

“I think it’s unclear at this point,” says Bruce Maas, chief information officer at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. “We’re in a learning phase right now about this.”

A lot of student data can be used to make colleges operate better, Maas says. Knowing that students prefer pizza over chicken in the cafeteria, for instance, can help food-service operators be more efficient. Data on what time students return to their dorms could be used to improve campus security. Data on how many use the library could affect staffing or inventory.

Data can also make a difference in the bottom line, as colleges fight to get more students in the door — and turn them into successful graduates in six years or less.

From the moment a student first inquires about a college, admissions offices are learning about them through social media, campus visits and interviews. Applications, which are often submitted online through the ubiquitous Common Application, have long been rich sources of data about a student’s academic history, interests, family and finances.

Many colleges are using this trove of data, along with information gleaned from digital school work, to predict student behavior, to craft interventions for students at risk of dropping out and even to direct students to the classes and majors in which they are most likely to succeed. Companies like Naviance, which provide college-counseling services to high school students, make this easier by collecting even more detailed data on students.

"It’s difficult, because if we can help the student to be more successful through the analysis of disparate pieces of data, is that by itself sufficient to justify that we’re using it this way?” Maas says. “I don’t know the answer to that question.”

To the extent that students are even aware of what data are being collected about them, they don’t like the idea of college officials tracking their movements. Does anyone really want administrators to know that they didn’t get back to their dorm until 3 a.m. when they had a discussion section at 9 the next morning?

“I actually didn’t really think about it at all,” said Rae Friedman, a freshman at Oberlin College, when confronted with the fact that her college collects data every time she swipes her student ID card. “The swiping was just kind of like, ‘Oh, I have to get into my dorm, I have to eat.’ But now that I think about it, it’s kind of a weird tracking device on each student.”

Of course, colleges say they aren’t actually tracking students. Instead, these location data could be useful in drawing connections if students begin to do poorly. But they could track students, which is enough to worry privacy advocates.

“There’s definitely an imbalance of power and an imbalance of knowledge about the extent to which things are being collected,” says Michael Zimmer, associate professor of information studies at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, who writes about online privacy. “We really need to be educating parents and students.”

It’s unclear what rights, if any, students have to protect this data. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the law that governs what data about students educational institutions can disclose, protects “education records.” Experts disagree on whether metadata created when a specific student logs on to the Wi-Fi network or enters the library are protected under FERPA. After all, the law was written when student records were kept on paper.

“A lot of the student information that we see today unfortunately falls out of the scope of the very narrow definition of education records,” says Khaliah Barnes, director of the EPIC Student Privacy Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Which could give colleges the ability to sell student data to the highest bidder. It’s not hard to imagine PepsiCo, say, being interested in the eating habits of undergraduates. Under current law, there is little stopping the university — or the third parties to whom they contract out many campus services, including data storage — from selling data about this valuable, captive, 18-to-22-year-old demographic.

Colleges already sell access to their students to banks through campus debit cards, which are typically linked directly to a student’s ID card. The lucrative contracts often offer colleges incentives for signing up more students, who then become bank customers.

And with hacks becoming commonplace, security is a big issue, no matter who is collecting the data. Colleges and universities are juicy targets for hackers, because student records typically include social security numbers, and may also include credit card information and financial information on family members. (Explore our graphic on data breaches.)

Some students are hoping schools will do a better job of protecting and using student data out of sheer regard for their reputations. Kyle M.L. Jones, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in library and information studies at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, believes it's in universities’ best interests to be at the forefront of responsible data-privacy practices.

“I think it’s our ethical responsibility as academic institutions to understand what’s going on with Google and Amazon and to say, ‘It doesn’t have to be this way,’” says Jones. “We can be a model for how data can be used.”

Jones, who recently wrote an article about ownership of student data, says that this model would require colleges to be transparent about what data the collect and what they do with it, and only to use it to advance students’ interests.

That’s asking students to put a lot of trust in their educational institutions, Barnes says. Luckily for the colleges, most students already feel an affinity for their universities.

“If I’m going to feel uncomfortable about giving data out, it’s going to be about giving it to big social network companies, not about giving it to my college, which I feel a personal connection with,” says Friedman, the Oberlin freshman. “I trust Facebook less than the college that I’m giving $60,000 to a year.”

But with technology moving faster than many schools' and regulators' ability to keep up with it, Friedman may look back one day and find she was just another idealistic college student.

On The Cusp: 11-Year-Olds Around The World Share Their Wisdom

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-25 11:12

Age 11 is when you're most passionate and optimistic, says Australian filmmaker Genevieve Bailey. So she created a documentary looking at the world through the eyes of 11-year-olds in 15 countries.

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Remembering Mandolin Hero U. Srinivas

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-25 11:03

The gifted Indian musician died Sept. 19 at just 45. Hear his music and celebrate his unlikely achievement — bringing a Western instrument into the heart of South Indian classical music.

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FBI Chief Says U.S. Has Identified Man Who Beheaded Americans

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-25 10:34

The Islamic State released a video that appears to show a masked man beheading two American journalists. FBI Director James Comey would not name the suspect.

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Airstrikes hit ISIS-controlled oil refineries

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 07:00

The U.S. and its allies are pursuing a new target in eastern Syria. A wave of airstrikes is being aimed at modular oil refineries controlled by ISIS. The revenue from those small refineries is believed to be helping ISIS finance its operations in the region.

Click the media player above to hear reporter Noel King in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio. 

The numbers for September 25, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 06:39

After nearly six years as attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr. will step down, according to several published reports. President Obama is expected to make the announcement Thursday. This is not a complete surprise. Holder had said earlier that he planned to step down before the end of the year. Word is he will stay at the Justice Department until a successor is chosen, even if it's not until 2015.

In the meantime, here's what we're reading — and the numbers we're watching.

$2 million

That's how much the Pentagon estimates ISIS makes every day from selling oil, now that the extremist group controls 60 percent of production in Syria. Last night, the U.S. and its allies hit about a dozen ISIS mobile refineries in an effort to choke that funding stream.


The number of television and movie companies expected to get Federal Aviation Administration permission on Thursday to use drones, the Washington Post reports. Commercial drone use has been effectively banned by the FAA for some time, but filmmakers will soon be able to use them for aerial shots in place of helicopters, saving money. 


 The average price on StubHub yesterday for a ticket to Derek Jeter's final game with the Yankees, which is now in danger of being rained out. According to Business Insider, that's bad news for sellers, who would have to return the money they made — as much as $12,000 for the best seats — if the game is called off and not rescheduled.

The Airbnb of classical music

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 03:00

It’s not uncommon to sell the idea of a new startup based on the model of another (think: "It’s the Uber of pet adoption,” or “It’s like Tinder for baristas").

Sam Bodkin’s business is no different, even if he’s a bit reluctant to be categorized: “We refer to ourselves as the Airbnb of classical music,” he says.

The comparison isn’t unfair, though. Groupmuse — started in 2012 and run by Bodkin, Ezra Weller and Kyle Nichols-Schmolze — matches Groupmuse users looking to host a concert with willing musicians needing a venue to perform. Once a match is set up, other “Groupmusers” are invited to attend, creating an event that’s part house concert, part party, part social platform.

Where the sharing economy and the arts intersect

It’s a melding of some of Bodkin’s experiences: his travels through Europe using online platform to find people willing to host him, and his love of classical music discovered through musicians he befriended in Boston as an undergraduate student.

Combining his interest in classical music and the sharing economy of couch surfing, he came up with Groupmuse.

While the endeavor is inherently artistic, Bodkin isn't aiming to become a not-for-profit organization.

“We are absolutely a startup, and we fancy ourselves as such. It’s a social startup, built around a web platform,” he says.

There’s certainly a social network aspect to the experience: Members interested in attending a Groupmuse connect through Facebook, sending a message to prospective hosts to introduce themselves before the event. Additionally, musicians who regularly perform have access to guest lists of people who come to their performances and are regular Groupmuse attendees.

Have a problem? Found a startup.

If classical music and startup culture seem like odd bedfellows, to Bodkin, it only makes sense. Fading interest in classical music was a problem he wanted to address, and he sees this kind of entrepreneurial thinking as a solution.

“This is how, basically, people of our generation resolve to deal with these challenges that they see," he says. "We found companies.”

Groupmuse is currently up and running in three cities (New York, Boston and San Francisco), but there are still some aspects to be worked out as the company grows — for example, musicians are currently paid by donation, whereas ideally Bodkin envisions payment will eventually be built in to the Groupmuse platform.

While in the process of raising venture capital funding, Bodkin says he's also looking to partner with companies interested in hosting Groupmuse for their employees as part of a new funding structure.

Ultimately, aside from promoting the music itself, Bodkin would like to see it turn into a tool for musicians to manage their careers, building a fan base that is personally invested in their success.

He even has a startup buzzword for it: “Micropatronage.”

PODCAST: The number of uninsured Latinos drops

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 03:00

Here's why we have to be careful with headlines: There's news that orders for expensive, long-lasting merchandise fell more than 18 percent in August, the most precipitous drop on record. But all is not as it seems. And in health care news, there's data showing the percentage of Latinos who don't have health insurance in America has fallen by more than a third since the health care reform law kicked in. More on that. And we think we live in the future — Apple's new Dick Tracy watch might be evidence of that — but there is an argument that, in at least one regard, the United States currently is like Europe in the 19th century. 

Health care coverage reaches Latinos

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 02:00

The percentage of Latinos who lack health insurance has fallen by more than a third since the Affordable Care Act kicked in this year, according to a new report from The Commonwealth Fund, a health care policy group.

Historically, Latinos have been one of the least-covered groups in the U.S. when it comes to health insurance. Michelle Doty, the lead author of the report, says the low coverage has a lot to do with employment trends.

"For a long time, Latinos have tended to work in jobs that don't provide health insurance — low wage and small firms," Doty says.

But now that coverage gap is quickly being filled, Doty says, at least in states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. The uninsured rate for Latinos has dropped from 35 percent to 17 percent in less than a year.

That shift translates to fewer emergency room visits and more preventive care for patients at the AltaMed community clinics that Alfonso Vega runs in Southern California. The clinics serve many low-income Latinos, many with diabetes. Without insurance, Vega says, many patients would avoid health care until crisis hit, but that has been changing as more people have enrolled in Medicaid in the last few months.

"There's countless patients that we're seeing that are seeing a primary care doctor every 90 days like they're supposed to — getting all the tests that they're supposed to have done on a periodic basis," Vega says.

In the states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage under Obamacare — where more than 20 million Latinos live — their uninsurance rates remain basically unchanged.