National News

Delayed Safety Recall May Haunt GM As It Continues Its Makeover

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 13:06

General Motors is recalling 1.6 million vehicles because of faulty ignition switches linked to 13 deaths. It now faces a congressional inquiry into why it took nearly 10 years to warn the public.

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A plan to wind down Fannie and Freddie

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:57

Leaders of the Senate Banking Committee unveiled a bipartisan plan on Tuesday that would wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and replace them with a hybrid public-private mortgage-finance system. The government-sponsored enterprises were bailed out by taxpayers in 2008, at a cost of $187 billion as the housing market crashed. Fannie and Freddie guarantee mortgages and issue mortgage-backed securities, and back well over half of new mortgages right now.

The new plan would shut Fannie and Freddie down—presumably over several years—and create a new government entity just to guarantee mortgages. Private sector firms would bundle those mortgages into securities and market them to investors.

“There’s no question it would be a boom for large financial institutions,” said Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance. “Mostly banks that would take over that activity and, to some extent, that risk.”

The first 10 percent of losses from guaranteed mortgages would be absorbed by private financiers, not the government. That’s to protect taxpayers from another bailout.

But Cecala is skeptical: “Just like we couldn’t afford to let Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fail, the question is, would we be able to allow large banks to fail, if they were propping up the mortgage market by issuing government-guaranteed mortgage securities?”

Star in a TV pilot? You should sign a pre-nup

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:47

This is the season of the television pilot. Networks are shelling out boatloads of cash to produce what they hope will be mega- hits. Of course, most of the pilots produced each season are not mega-hits, they're not even micro-hits. The vast majority don't even make it to air. But there is a way to tell which ones the studios are banking on. It's sort of like a pilot pre-nuptual agreement. It's properly called a put pilot.

Let's say you are a bright-eyed young TV writer. You've just pitched your first pilot to the networks and they love it. Actors are hired, sets built, the pilot is shot, and...it's terrible. The studio kills the project and tells you to get lost. Welcome to Hollywood. Now, if your pilot had what's called a put pilot commitment, things would have gone much differently.

"Put pilot means that the network or the studio behind the pilot has ordered it and committed to putting it on the air," says Ben Travers, a TV editor for Indiewire.

The put gets added because it means the show will be put into production. But here's the important guarantee: If the network doesn't air the show, it pays you a hefty penalty.

So how does a pilot get put?

"Well, if it's a sexy hot script by a very hot writer, then you are going to have competition all over town," says Jay Gendron, a former executive with Warner Brothers. He says studios can gain an edge over other networks by offering put pilot commitment for a show. While throwing money at a pilot can secure a hot series, it doesn't guarantee it will be a hit.

Here are all the ways a put pilot can go down in flames:

Didn't even get to pilot: "Murder She Wrote"
Despite a put pilot commitment, NBC changed their mind before the pilot of the "Murder She Wrote" reboot was even made. Rumor has it Angela Lansbury is investigating the mysterious death of the show.

Whacked after pilot: "Beverly Hills Cop"

Eddie Murphy signed on as an occasional guest star in a series based on the "Beverly Hills Cop" movie. But after the pilot was produced, CBS pulled the plug on it. Rumor has it the show was axed after Eddie Murphy refused to appear on screen unless he could play every character in the show.

 Killed after pilot, brought back to life: "The McCarthys"

Ordered as a put pilot, shot as a single-camera show last season, nixed by CBS, and then rejiggered as a multi-camera comedy for this season. Rumor has it Eddie Murphy will be operating all the cameras.

Wait, actually made it!: "Sleepy Hollow"

The series was put on air and became Fox's top rated series. Rumor has it Washington Irving's ghost is using supernatural powers to manipulate the Nielsen ratings.

Star in a pilot? You should sign a pre-nup

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:47

This is the season of the television pilot. Networks are shelling out boatloads of cash to produce what they hope will be mega- hits. Of course, most of the pilots produced each season are not mega-hits, they're not even micro-hits. The vast majority don't even make it to air. But there is a way to tell which ones the studios are banking on. It's sort of like a pilot pre-nuptual agreement. It's properly called a put pilot.

Let's say you are a bright-eyed young TV writer. You've just pitched your first pilot to the networks and they love it. Actors are hired, sets built, the pilot is shot, and...it's terrible. The studio kills the project and tells you to get lost. Welcome to Hollywood. Now, if your pilot had what's called a put pilot commitment, things would have gone much differently.

"Put pilot means that the network or the studio behind the pilot has ordered it and committed to putting it on the air," says Ben Travers, a TV editor for Indiewire.

The put gets added because it means the show will be put into production. But here's the important guarantee: If the network doesn't air the show, it pays you a hefty penalty.

So how does a pilot get put?

"Well, if it's a sexy hot script by a very hot writer, then you are going to have competition all over town," says Jay Gendron, a former executive with Warner Brothers. He says studios can gain an edge over other networks by offering put pilot commitment for a show. While throwing money at a pilot can secure a hot series, it doesn't guarantee it will be a hit.

Here are all the ways a put pilot can go down in flames:

Didn't even get to pilot: "Murder She Wrote"
Despite a put pilot commitment, NBC changed their mind before the pilot of the "Murder She Wrote" reboot was even made. Rumor has it Angela Lansbury is investigating the mysterious death of the show.

Whacked after pilot: "Beverly Hills Cop"

Eddie Murphy signed on as an occasional guest star in a series based on the "Beverly Hills Cop" movie. But after the pilot was produced, CBS pulled the plug on it. Rumor has it the show was axed after Eddie Murphy refused to appear on screen unless he could play every character in the show.

 Killed after pilot, brought back to life: "The McCarthys"

Ordered as a put pilot, shot as a single-camera show last season, nixed by CBS, and then rejiggered as a multi-camera comedy for this season. Rumor has it Eddie Murphy will be operating all the cameras.

Wait, actually made it!: "Sleepy Hollow"

The series was put on air and became Fox's top rated series. Rumor has it Washington Irving's ghost is using supernatural powers to manipulate the Nielsen ratings.

Young People Lag Behind In Health Insurance Enrollment

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:42

One-quarter of the people who have signed up for private insurance through the federal and state exchanges are young adults. Insurers are counting on their participation to keep premiums manageable.

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Being middle class in Pakistan

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:23

Middle class life in Pakistan isn’t that different from middle class life in the United States, says Haroon Ullah. Or at least, he hopes you’ll come away with that message after reading his new book, “The Bargain at the Bazaar: A family’s day of reckoning in Lahore.”

The book follows the Reza family and their three sons as they attempt to maintain normalcy in an increasingly tense environment.

Ullah says he met the family at a dinner party in Pakistan 10 years ago.

“They are very blue collar and yet they’re able to, as a family, find a way to move on amidst the sort of tragedy that they often times experience.”

The Rezas shared their story with Ullah over many evening meetings over mangos, what Ullah calls “the best ice breaker in the world.”

The oldest Reza son followed in his father’s footsteps to run the family shop at the local bazaar. The youngest son went to school to become a lawyer. But it was the middle son who would most worry his mother and father when he joined a militant Islamist group.

“The parents would tell me, 'Did we do something wrong? Did we fail as parents?'” says Ullah. “They want better for their kids than they had for themselves. They’re willing to sacrifice everything.”

Is There A Better Way To Track Aircraft During Flight?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:23

Much of the technology we use to track a plane – like radar – is old. New technology is already out there, but their limited use and the cost of adoption are deterrents.

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Save The Escargot! Snail-Devouring Predator Rears Its Head In France

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:21

The New Guinea flatworm is a vicious little thing with an appetite for snails. Its discovery in Normandy has raised concerns about the fate of Europe's snails — and France's famed mollusk appetizer.

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Move To Honor Prohibition-Era 'Untouchable' Hits A Snag

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:00

Several U.S. senators want to name the ATF's Washington headquarters after Eliot Ness, credited with bringing down mobster Al Capone. But Chicago's City Council says Ness doesn't deserve the glory.

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To Sell Health Care To Young People, Obama Steps 'Between Two Ferns'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:00

President Obama's pitch for his health care law has brought him to an awkward place: "Between Two Ferns." In a bid to up the enrollment of young people, Obama visited Zach Galifianakis' Internet show.

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Christie Aides Refuse To Comply With Subpoenas

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:00

Two key aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are now trying to convince a judge not to force them to testify. They're citing their fifth amendment rights in order to avoid complying with subpoenas.

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On Senate Floor, Rift Opens Between Lawmakers And CIA

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:00

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the CIA of interfering with her committee's efforts to oversee the agency. Feinstein made her comments in a speech Tuesday.

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Joe McGinniss, Headline-Grabbing Author, Dies At 71

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:00

Best-selling author Joe McGinniss has died at the age of 71. He was known best for his incisive books on Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign and the murder case of a former Green Beret doctor.

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Outside Groups Lay Millions On Florida Special Election

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:00

The campaign for a congressional seat in St. Petersburg, Fla., will have seen some $10 million in spending by candidates and outside groups. Where did all of this money go?

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Theories And Disputes Eddy Around Missing Malaysian Airliner

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:00

Questions continue to proliferate around the disappearance of a Malaysian airliner. Matthew Wald of The New York Times sorts through the latest news and tries to puzzle out some answers.

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Evolved Science: Crowds Can Catalog Bugs Faster

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:00

Thousands of non-scientists sitting at their home computers may now be as useful as a single Einstein — thanks to online crowdsourcing. What once took years, now takes days.

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A Plan To Eliminate Wild Mute Swans Draws Vocal Opposition

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:00

The proposal to eradicate the birds in New York by 2025 has pitted environmentalists against animal rights activists. Some call the swans invasive and destructive; opponents say the science is faulty.

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Bitcoin Exchange Mt. Gox Files For Bankruptcy In U.S.

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 11:35

Mt. Gox had been the most active bitcoin exchange before it announced the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of the cryptocurrency last month.

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Take note: 'The web' is not 'the Internet'.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-11 11:33

Here's a note to self: If you’re in Silicon Valley, never mistake the web for the Internet. It’s sort of like being in France and asking, 'So what’s the difference between Champagne and bubbly?'

That’s what Don Nielson taught me. In the 1970s, Nielson was a computer scientist at the SRI, a tech research company, and he was on one of the teams that started the Internet. And when I met him, I said, "You were one of the guys who helped created the web!"

"Absolutely not, I had nothing to do with the web," he said. 

Nielson doesn’t have a problem with the word "web." He’s got a problem with the fact that I don’t know the difference between said "web" and "the Internet." He says back in the 1960s, when we relied on the telephone and the telegraph to communicate, the U.S. Military wanted another way to interact, and they wanted to do it through computers. So Nielson’s team basically wrote the protocols -- or rules -- that got computer networks around the world to talk to each other. And really, simply put, that’s what the Internet is -- a global connection of computer networks.

"Arcane as it may be, this was absolutely revolutionary. And the World Wide Web would not have functioned without the Internet," Nielson said.

Marc Weber is a curator at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. He says back then, computers were huge and mostly owned by universities, governments and large computing companies like IBM. And they saw the value of the Internet as a fast way to communicate and to gather and transfer large amounts of information.  

"In the late 80s, the Internet was growing really fast. It’d gone from 200 computers or so back in the beginning of the decade to over half a million," Weber said. 

But as the Internet grew, there was no "easy to use" system that let you find all the information online. Companies were trying to fill the gap  by basically creating toll roads. For a price, you could connect to their network and get all the information you needed.

"The easy to use interfaces were in the commercial systems, so like Compuserve, which had its own network, was easy for anybody to use," Weber said. "Minitel in France -- which by that time well over 10 million users -- was also easy to use, but that was owned by France telecom."

Their vision of the Internet was a patchwork of information superhighways owned by companies, said Brad Templeton, a professor at Singularity University. He says the Internet could have evolved that way if not for Sir Tim Berners Lee, who published a paper 25 years ago, proposing a different system for managing information -- one that came to be known as the World Wide Web.

"So Tim called it 'Information Management, a proposal,'" Templeton said.

And it was a manifesto of sorts.  Berners-Lee argued that information on the Internet shouldn’t be confined to a structure.

"One of the great realizations: You think want to do it structured, you think you have a vision of the order of how it should all work and be laid out," Templeton said. "[But] the idea is that you don’t  have an official hierarchy. Remember the dewey decimal system? You’d go in and say 'Let’s look up information on a science, and in science there’ll be anthropology, and so you’ll go down and find things. Instead, it’s just a big sea of documents," he said. 

These "documents" came to be known as "web pages" that could be found quickly, by punching in an address or a URL. Information would be linked to other websites, thereby creating a "web of information."

It took Berners-Lee a couple of years to actually create the first website and when he did, he made the technology free for anybody to use. Templeton says, it wasn’t until 1994, when the web browser Netscape was introduced, that the web became accessible to the general public. But Berners-Lee’s proposal established the ethos that allowed the web to flourish and become a commercial success.

"Look at Google, and Facebook, and all these other companies that didn't have any idea how they were going to make money when they began," Templeton said. "And they were able to become some of the world’s biggest companies because they got that zone and didn’t need to ask anybody’s permission to do it. That’s what gave us all this innovation." 

And Templeton said, it’s that idea that we’re celebrating today.

Seriously: Angry Fat Cat Traps Family In Bedroom

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-11 11:19

The 911 call reveals the family's 4-year-old male cat Lux had a history of violence. The cat snapped after the owner kicked it to get it away from their infant.

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