National News

Probe: No Proof VA Delays Caused Phoenix Veterans To Die

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 23:24

Revelations that 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital rocked the agency, bringing to light scheduling problems and allegations of misconduct at other hospitals as well.

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'Breaking Bad' Wins Its Final Emmy Award

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 19:23

Nearly a year after wrapping up, the AMC drama Breaking Bad and its star Bryan Cranston have two more nice going-away presents: Emmys for best drama and actor in a drama.

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The List Of Emmy Winners

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 19:09

The list of winners at Monday's 66th annual Primetime Emmy Awards presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

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Could A 2-Year-Old Boy Be 'Patient Zero' For The Ebola Outbreak?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 14:29

Scientists now think the entire outbreak in West Africa was triggered by one person and then the virus took off from there. Early signs pointed to a little boy in southern Guinea.

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Forget the Whopper. How about doughnuts and coffee?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-25 13:51

The fast food industry is not the easiest place to be right now, even for a [Burger] King. The chain is talking about a merger with Tim Hortons, a coffee and doughnut staple in Canada. So, how does it help one fast-food chain to acquire... another one?

“The market is incredibly competitive,” says Darren Tristano, Executive Vice President with Technomic, a food industry research and consultancy based in Chicago. He says growth is very low – just about 3 to 3.5 percent. Inflation for the industry is also expected to be about 3.5 percent, thanks to rising costs of commodities like beef. So, it’s almost a wash.

“We don’t see any real growth for the restaurant industry as a whole,” Tristano says.

Low-income customers haven’t seen much if any wage growth, so they’re holding onto their cash. Higher income customers have been wooed by higher-end places like Chipotle and Panera – “fast casuals” as Morningstar’s senior restaurant analyst RJ Hottovy calls them. “That’s the sweet spot in the industry,” and it is not a spot occupied by Burger King.

But if Burger King can’t immediately control its customers’ spending, it can control its own, and that has been one area of focus ever since the fast food chain was bought and taken by Brazilian private equity firm 3g in 2010.

“They have been cutting costs to free up resources. And they’ve been running the business less like a restaurant, and more like a financial company,” says Tristano.

Whereas at one point 10 percent of Burger King’s restaurants were actually owned and operated by Burger King, the company washed its hands of all of them, and now leaves the operation of its locations (and the exposure that comes with direct ownership from labor costs to maintenance budgets) to franchisees, says Charles Pinson-Rose, director at Standard and Poor's. “It’s all royalty revenue, and it allows the company to improve cash flows.”

The chain has aggressively tried to keep up with McDonalds on menu items, revamping its menu several times. It has expanded successfully in Brazil, China, and Russia. Pinson-Rose echoes an oft-heard sentiment in summing up the King’s reign of late: “Overall they’ve largely been successful, but the reality is it’s a very difficult environment for food service in the United States.”

Ironically, that’s exactly where acquiring Canadian firm Tim Hortons could help Burger King. Tim Hortons is successful in one of the few arenas that seem to be looking up for fast food: coffee.

“Starbucks continues to do very well with strong profit margins, you see McDonalds make coffee a key priority, and I think this partnership strengthens Burger King’s coffee offering as well,” Hottovy says.

“The push out of Starbucks is to push its own packaged coffee, and Tim Hortons has the same kind of aspirations,” says Hottovy. Partnering with Burger King could help Hortons and Burger King both on that front.

Of course, the tax benefits and easier access to cash abroad that Burger King would get by reincorporating in Canada... well, that can’t hurt.

High school will keep starting too early. Here's why.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-25 13:51

The American Academy of Pediatrics has joined a chorus that’s been growing louder for years: The school day should start later for teenagers because they aren’t wired to go to bed early — and they need their sleep.

The AAP says this is a public-health issue: Sleep-deprived teenagers are more likely to crash cars, get depressed, and become obese. Also, they may not do as well in school. 

However, early start times aren't going away quickly, and probably won't, because of the costs.

That's surprising because, from the outside, the economics of a later start-time seem pretty good. A 2011 study from the Brookings Institution looked at three ways school districts could improve just by getting better organized. Starting school later for teens was number one.    

"Among all the things schools could do to increase student performance, this is one of the less expensive ones," says Brian Jacob, an economics and public-policy professor at the University of Michigan, one of the study's co-authors. "This is not like hiring extra teachers to reduce class size, or building a big new expensive building."

School boards often hear objections about disruptions at the other end of the school day: Kids getting home really late from sports practice or chess club. Or not being able to work after-school jobs.

The big issue — the expensive issue — is transportation, says Kristen Amundson, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education. Amundson is a former member of the school board in Fairfax County Virginia, which is ground zero for debates on school start times.

The debate started there when Amundson was serving, back in the 1990s; buses were the sticking point.

"How school districts make school buses pay is, you basically use the equipment as much as you can," Amundson says.

Meaning, the district runs each bus multiple times every morning. High school students typically get picked up on the first run, which can happen before sunrise for part of the year. 

Asked why little kids, who tend to be early risers, couldn't start early, Amundson laughs. "Oh, no, that was a non-starter," she says. "There were exactly zero of us who were prepared to have five year-olds on the street in the dark."

She says later start times probably work better for smaller districts, with fewer buses to run.  Fairfax County’s School Board is scheduled to vote on a later-start proposal in October.

What happens when Miley Cyrus blesses your cause

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-25 13:51

Heather Carmichael, executive director of My Friend’s Place,  a nonprofit that supports homeless youth in Hollywood, says thanks to Miley Cyrus' promotion at MTV's Video Music Awards Sunday,  $70,000 in donations had come in as of Monday morning.

“Today’s been a little bit of a whirlwind – it actually started last night,” she said.

Carmichael notes that My Friend’s Place is privately funded. "So coming into this opportunity is really out of the ordinary... ever so extraordinary," she says. "It’s a rare day that we will be able to raise that amount of money in that short period of time."

The money, says Carmichael,  could go to anything from providing more food to longer hours to adding more staff. But Jeff Shuck, CEO of Plenty, a consulting firm that helps nonprofits raise money through peer-to-peer fundraising, says a nonprofit should take a moment to stop and think about the money.

“It’s an aberration, it’s a windfall, it’s not something that can be easily replicated,” he says.

One trap, says Shuck, is for nonprofits is to make long-term decisions like hiring new staff based on a one-time shot of income that isn't sustainable. Instead, he says, organizations should think about saving and improving infrastructure.

"Annoying purchases that you would not otherwise want to spend money on," he says. “We can’t change the world unless we can turn the lights on. We can’t make a difference to other people in our lives unless we have desks and paper and computers.”

As for the strategy of using a celebrity to raise money, says Trevor Neilson, president of G2 Investment Group and co-founder ofGlobal Philanthropy Group, a consultancy for nonprofits - and a friend who advised Cyrus on how to promote My Friend’s Place - “really, it comes down to a combination of both raising awareness, but also raising funds."

"Any celebrity-oriented philanthropic campaign that doesn’t actually raise money to create real change in the world, isn’t really a success," he says. "It’s fine to raise awareness but if you don’t raise awareness and don’t create real world change, you’re not really helping these kids."

British Embassy marks White House burning with cake

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-25 13:51

The British burned down the White House 200 years ago yesterday.

It was a big moment in the War of 1812, which you know all too well if you listen to public radio regularly.

The British Embassy marked the anniversary yesterday. While "celebrated" wouldn't be the right word... there was cake! A big cake in the shape of the White House.

And, this being 2014 and all, the British Embassy even tweeted a picture of it:

Commemorating the 200th anniversary of burning the White House. Only sparklers this time!

— British Embassy (@UKinUSA) August 24, 2014

Plenty of people seemed to take umbrage at that including a spokesperson for the State Department.

The special relationship, she tweeted back, is #ItsComplicated.

Commemorating 200 years of peace between the US & UK

— British Embassy (@UKinUSA) August 24, 2014

Turnitin And The Debate Over Anti-Plagiarism Software

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 13:39

One company and its algorithms are changing the way America's schools handle classroom ethics.

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Amazon Buys Twitch, Proving Gaming Live Streams Are Golden

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 13:07

Twitch broadcasts gamers to huge audiences around the world, and it boasts big potential when it comes to advertising dollars. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos calls watching gameplay "a global phenomenon."

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In Hostage Negotiation, Qatar Plays Middleman To Prove Its Worth

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 13:00

The small, gas-rich Arabian Gulf nation of Qatar played a key role in freeing U.S. hostage Peter Theo Curtis after nearly two years in Syria.

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Some Call For More Sharing In Ridesharing

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 12:42

A researcher says startups Uber and Lyft aren't really ridesharing services. An emerging set of services being tested promises to be more about sharing and less about being like taxis.

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Liberia's President Apologizes To The Mother Of A Slain Teenager

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 12:34

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came to the poor neighborhood of West Point today. She talked with residents, handed out cash and apologized to the mother of a 15-year-old killed during last week's protests.

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In Latest Calif. Earthquake, Shake Alert Tests Its Legs

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 12:06

Before the earthquake that struck Napa, Calif., an earthquake early warning system blared an alarm 10 seconds early. Doug Given, the Earthquake Early Warning coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey, tells Melissa Block about the system that he's helped to institute.

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More Than 2,000 Mourners Gather To Lay Michael Brown To Rest

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 12:06

Funeral services were held Monday for Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager who was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

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A New Strain Of Ebola Emerges In Democratic Republic Of Congo

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 12:06

A new outbreak of Ebola is being reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But scientists say it's not related to the Ebola epidemic going on in West Africa.

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In Michael Brown's Memory, Pleas For Justice And Calm

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 12:06

More than 2,000 attended the funeral for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Both family and clergy referred to Brown's death as a sacrifice for the greater good.

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Director Richard Attenborough Brought Intimacy To Big Ideas

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 12:06

Attenborough engaged audiences in the struggle for apartheid in Cry Freedom, and spent 20 years and his own fortune to bring Gandhi's story to the screen. NPR's Bob Mondello has this remembrance.

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Mexico Swears In A New Police Force, But Many Aren't Impressed

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 12:06

Mexico is inaugurating a new elite police force, a gendarmerie of 5,000 highly trained officers. The force was a campaign pledge by President Enrique Pena Nieto. His administration has touted a decrease in violent crimes, but despite the dip, the rate of kidnappings is up in many of the country's states.

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Wine Country Quake Leaves Behind Bottles In Shards

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-25 12:06

The wine industry in California's Napa Valley is taking stock of the damage from this weekend's magnitude 6.0 earthquake.

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