National News

Pilot Program Aims To Close Trust Gap Between Government, Native Tribes

NPR News - Tue, 2015-08-25 01:03

Native American tribes can be hampered trying to fight crime on reservations because they don't have access to federal databases. The Justice Department wants to help.

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At A Shelter Of Last Resort, Decency Prevailed Over Depravity

NPR News - Tue, 2015-08-25 00:58

Ten years ago, 25,000 people huddled inside the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans seeking shelter from Hurricane Katrina. The fiasco there came to epitomize the chaotic, inadequate response.

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For Brazil's 1 Percenters, The Land Stays In The Family Forever

NPR News - Tue, 2015-08-25 00:49

Under a centuries-old law, a small group of families has rights over swaths of land — including some of the country's most valuable areas — collecting taxes and taking a cut of property sales.

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Keep Calm And Carry The One: Investors Often Miscalculate Amid Volatility

NPR News - Tue, 2015-08-25 00:43

Selling after a market plunge, we are told, just locks in the loss and prevents investors from participating in the rebound. But human psychology can make that advice excruciating to follow.

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Advocates In Maine Take Steps To Put Gun-Sales Background Checks On Ballot

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-24 16:21

In calling for a referendum on gun purchases, Judi and Wayne Richardson are working with a chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, formed after the Sandy Hook school shooting of 2012.

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Sen. Menendez Bribery Case Heats Up With New Justice Filing

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-24 15:21

Defense teams had accused the government of such "outrageous misconduct" that they said all charges should be dismissed. Now the government is hitting back.

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The stock market freaks out ... but you don't have to

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-08-24 14:50

You've heard by now that the stock market took a pretty steep downturn, but not everyone is concerned. Click below to hear our survey of listeners from across the country to see how they're feeling about all the chaos:


Calm, cool and collected, right? Too bad we can't say the same for the media outlets today. Click the below audio player to see what we mean:



A Nasty Place On Wall Street: What Kind Of A Dive Is This?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-24 14:16

Stock prices plunged Monday, prompting Wall Street analysts to talk about a "correction" in stock prices. But many savers worry that this might be the start of a long "bear" market.

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Blue Bell Says Its Ice Cream Will Be Back In Some Stores Next Week

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-24 14:06

The rollout will happen gradually, reports member station KERA, with Homemade Vanilla being sold in some Texas stores next Monday. Other flavors will soon follow.

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New Ferguson Judge Overhauls Municipal Courts

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-24 14:05

Among several reforms, Judge Donald McCullin ordered that all arrest warrants issued in Ferguson before 2015 be withdrawn.

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Joke stealing is no laughing matter

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-08-24 13:56

When the self-titled internet comedian the Fat Jewish, aka Josh Ostrovsky, got picked up by a talent agency, people took note.

“This guy basically built a career around aggregating/stealing, depending on how you want to call it, other people’s content … often without attribution,” says Adriene Hill. "The news that he got picked up by CAA sort of made everybody’s head explode a little bit.”

The larger issue around this is whether or not jokes fall under copyright law.

Hill asked New York University professor Christopher Sprigman about the copyright laws regarding jokes. He told her that “a comedian who’s interested in lifting a joke could possibly just lift the underlying comedic idea and express it somewhat differently and escape the reach of the copyright law.”

Hill found that comedians do a good job of policing themselves. She says that if the comedy community sees someone stealing jokes, that person is essentially shunned.

But online is another world, Hill says. Some people will tweet another person's joke, gain followers and make money, an Austin comedian tells her. In those cases, advertisers don't care about that informal code, they care about how many followers are next to a person's name.

Comedy writer Mara Quinta, who has been outspoken about joke stealing, thinks change will come from public opinion — that advertisers won't want to be associated with someone tweeting another's work.

“If we take away the financial incentive, this becomes a much smaller problem,” Quinta tells her.

In Turkey, A Kurdish Conflict Flares — Again

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-24 13:02

With the collapse of a 2-year ceasefire, Turkish forces and Kurdish militants are again killing each other in earnest. In one largely Kurdish town, residents are hunkering down for more bloodshed.

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As 911 outages increase, FCC considers new rules

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-08-24 13:00

Imagine this scenario: You have an emergency. You pick up the phone and dial 911. And no one answers.

It seems unthinkable. But a year ago, more than 6,600 emergency calls went unanswered in an outage that affected 11 million people. Officials say there were no deaths as a result.

The cause of the outage was a software glitch. And outages like it are happening more often, as the nation's 911 system transitions from analog to digital.

A look inside a 911 center in Evanston, Illinois. 

Nova Safo/Marketplace

"We are in this uneasy transition phase between old and new technology," says Henning Schulzrinne, former Chief Technology Officer at the FCC who now teaches computer science and engineering at Columbia.

Eventually, an internet-based system will allow emergency operators to know exactly where callers are located — no matter the kind of phone they are using, in addition to be able to receive texts, photos and videos from callers.

But right now, we are in an in-between phase, and experts say the transition isn't happening fast enough.

One reason is that it is expensive. The bulk of the cost of the 911 network is covered by small fees on phone bills.

"It's all about cost pressure, both on the public side and on the carrier side," says telecom analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics, "and [companies] regularly get beaten up by consumers and regulatory bodies alike, who are saying: Why is this fee going up?"

In that environment, companies have been looking for cost savings, and various speeds of technology adoption across the country has created a 911 system that is a patchwork of workarounds: not fully internet-based, not completely analog.

To deal with the complexity and hold down costs, telecom companies have outsourced 911 routing to subcontractors, which consolidate customers from multiple states. That's created the potential that a single point of failure can knock out service for millions.

"It makes the system more complicated, in some sense more brittle, and it leads to less redundancy," Schulzrinne says.

This has federal regulators paying attention.

"We've seen a number of 'sunny day' outages in the last year or so, outages that, instead of affecting maybe a single community, they were affecting an entire state or an entire region," says David Furth, a deputy bureau chief at the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

That's what happened in April 2014, when a software glitch in one operations center in Colorado knocked out 911 service in parts of California, Florida, Washington and four other states. Callers got busy signals when they dialed 911.

The FCC fined two subcontractors involved in the outage more than $17 million and ordered them to implement better outage alarms to respond to incidents more quickly.

The FCC has also drawn up new national guidelines, proposing that companies be required to conduct regular audits to ensure that they have working backup systems, among other rules. The comment period for the proposal has ended, but Furth won't say when the agency might move forward.

"We take 911 very seriously," Furth says. "So there is a sense of importance, in terms of making the changes that need to be made."

Some in the telecom industry have objected to the FCC's proposal, saying the agency is overreaching into areas of oversight that are the purview of states. AT&T filed comments arguing that "it is impossible for the Commission to regulate the 911 ecosystem to a zero-defect and outage-free world and a rush to expand the 911 Reliability Rules will be costly, burdensome, and, possibly, unworkable."

Today, burritos. Tomorrow, a company car?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-08-24 13:00

Chipotle announced today it’s going on a hiring spree, planning to hire 4,00 people in just one day next month.

The burrito maker is pitching the jobs as the commencement of an entire career, instead of a short-term gig. Chipotle needs to make those jobs sound attractive because a tight labor market means there’s a lot of competition for restaurant workers right now.

“Heading into the fall is typically a time when we see something of a slowdown in the number of applications we receive, and yet our hiring needs really remain,” says Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold. He says that's because many younger workers are quitting their summer jobs and heading back to school, and workers with kids may cut back on hours to be more available during the school year.

Chipotle’s pitch to hourly workers is that they could become managers, maybe netting a six-figure salary and a company car.

Chipotle compensation chart 

(Courtesy Chipotle)

“There’s a saying in the industry that you can go from the dish room to the boardroom, and that’s certainly true,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge group.

The association says about nine out of 10 managers in the restaurant industry started as hourly workers. But it’s rare for people to make the kind of money Chipotle’s talking about.

Robert Krzak is the president of Gecko Hospitality and recruits for restaurants, including Chipotle.

“It is a candidate-driven market. Candidates right now can choose from ... an abundance of different opportunities right now, a different amount of offers.”

So it's a tough time for everyone in the restaurant business, but Chipotle may have to work harder than its competitors: The company’s been embroiled in a number of class action lawsuits. Some promoted managers say they were pushed to work longer hours without compensation.

But the National Restaurant Association points out wages are rising faster in the restaurant industry compared to other sectors of the economy, making a career in fast food not a bad choice.


Stop worrying about China

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-08-24 13:00

Yes, markets are shedding value on fears that China’s economy will slow sharply and more deeply than expected. 

Markets, however, “can go off on a path on their own that’s not very much connected with reality,” says Nicholas Lardy, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“People have gotten spooked a bit with some specific numbers coming from industry — China’s exports are down, the so-called purchasing manager’s index of industry is down,” says David Dollar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s China Center. “But that’s just one part of the economy, and it’s an increasingly less important part of the economy. They’ve been growing primarily on the service sectors ... one of the main sources of employment in China.” Part of the nervousness is that there’s not a lot of updated data on those sectors.”

The Peterson Institute’s Lardy agrees. 

“I look at all the evidence, and it’s hard to say the [Chinese] economy is slowing dramatically,” he says. “Wage growth is strong, 10 percent, the service sector is expanding at more than 8 percent, and there are a number of other indicators that suggest this economy is still doing reasonably well.”

To the extent markets are concerned for the U.S., that concern may be an overreaction.

“The U.S. has relatively little vulnerability to a slowdown in China — if it were to occur,” says Lardy.

First, the U.S. is not strongly linked to China via direct exports. Dollar estimates it’s less than 1 percent of U.S. economic output. Those sectors that do export directly would be affected: aircraft, some sophisticated machinery and power plants. 

“There are a lot of important companies — Caterpillar, General Electric, United Technologies just to name a few — that produce goods in China that they mostly sell in China,” says Lardy. “And many of those are in capital-intensive sectors, and the sales of those companies in China have already been slowing down quite a bit. Because investment in property has declined, there’s less construction activity.”

To the extent that a Chinese slowdown would depress economies of countries that export commodities to it, that can reduce demand for U.S. products. “If the Chinese slowdown really hurts other economies that are connected to the U.S., then we, of course, we feel this indirectly,” says Dollar. But he says a more significant source of pressure is the strong dollar itself, which has made U.S. exports less attractive.

A decrease in demand in China could also further depress oil and commodity prices, which would have various effects on the U.S. economy. Cheaper commodities and oil would be a boon to consumers, but exacerbate problems in the U.S. oil and gas industry.

“It really depends on if you see China as a consumer, if you see them as a source of goods, if you see them as a partner or a potential competitor,” says Clara Gillispie, director for trade economic and energy affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research. Different firms and sectors will experience a Chinese slowdown differently.

Even the scary market fluctuations are not as scary as they seem. Justin Wolfers, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, says market watchers need a dose of context.

“U.S. financial markets are down a few percent, as are other major countries',” he says. “But take a step back from last week and look at the last seven years — the U.S. stock market has more than doubled. So stocks are still up literally hundreds of percent over the period since the Great Recession ended. So over that broad historical context, this move matters and affects your savings, but it’s not large, and it’s just clawing back some of the extraordinary gains of recent years.”

So yes, the U.S. is a little bit vulnerable to a Chinese slowdown, but we’re also vulnerable to a lot of other things. Like the weather. Or the Federal Reserve.  

The long party for commodity producers is so over

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-08-24 12:59

The S&P 500 index is down less than 1 percent from last year, but an index of global commodities is down more than 30 percent. You name it: cotton, oil, sugar, nickel, wheat.

This downturn comes after a long, long commodities party, which has some wondering if the hangover will last just as long.

This bust goes back a ways, to a commodity boom that started around 2000. You may know the story: China went modern. It bought soybeans to feed pigs to feed people. And iron ore for steel. And coal for power.

“Definitely a super cycle,” says futures broker Pratik Patel of “You saw the prices rally, and they stayed higher for a very long time. Even when prices dipped, buyers would step in and markets would rally back up.”

There’s a history of super cycles, according to economist Bilge Erten of Northeastern University. In a recent paper, she found long commodity booms often were built on colossal demand: from the U.S. reconstructing itself after the Civil War, and from Europe and Japan rebuilding after World War II.

Commodity super cycles since 1960. See the darkest line. (Bilge Erten/Northeastern University)

Then they ended, Erten says, just as China’s industrial peak has come and is going, too. 

“In the future, it won’t be China that’s going to be demanding more and more commodities,” Erten says. “So there doesn’t seem to be another country that’s going to be another powerhouse, that’s going to demand all these commodities.”

She figures prices may stay low for a while. Producers of commodities like copper, silver and coffee have overinvested and produced oversupplies. And in the oil market, too many drillers are hanging on. So the glut continues.

“Now we are in the downturn for only about three years,” Erten says. “It could last another five to 10 years, potentially, in terms of the historical trend.”

If that’s the case, the big resource countries that partied the last decade — Australia, Brazil, the oil states — will have to find something else to sell in the next.


Mount Everest Open To Climbers For The First Time Since Deadly Earthquake

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-24 12:50

A Japanese man says he wants to show Nepal is safe after the quake and avalanche killed more than 9,000 people there in April.

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Chef Wants Diners To Remember Her Cooking, Not Her Blindness

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-24 12:48

Laura Martinez defied many skeptics when she opened up her Chicago restaurant, La Diosa, this year. It helps that she used to work for the late Charlie Trotter, one of the city's most acclaimed chefs.

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New York Begins To Question Solitary Confinement As Default

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-24 12:35

Efforts to reform the practice of isolating inmates faces opposition from many corrections officers, who say solitary confinement has been a trusted tool in American prisons for half a century.

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Don't Panic About Stocks. It's Not 2008 All Over Again, Economist Says

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-24 12:35

Unlike 2008, the current turmoil didn't originate in the U.S., economist Austan Goolsbee notes. And this time, the economy is growing, banks aren't in danger and there's no credit crunch, he says.

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