National News

More Squash, Less Bacon: Calculating Your Real-Life Heart Risk

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 11:51

There are lots of cardiovascular risk calculators, but they usually expect you know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. This one wants to know if you play tennis. And if you like bacon.

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Sweden Confirms Foreign Sub Snooped In Its Waters

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 11:26

The intrusion occurred last month. Although defense analysts have said Russia is the likely culprit, Swedish authorities say it's "impossible" to say whose submarine it was.

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Twitter's 'junk' rating is not as stinky as it sounds

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 11:01

On Thursday morning, Standard & Poor’s handed Twitter a corporate credit rating of "BB-." That's "junk" territory, and Twitter's stock spent the day falling nearly 9 percent. Who wants to own "junk," right? But should a label scare investors away?

"Junk is kind of a colloquial term," says Thomas Lys, a professor of accounting and management at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. "Probably the more professional term is 'non-investment grade.'"

The word “junk” oversells things, according to Lys. "If the headline read 'S&P rates Twitter Below Investment Grade,' people wouldn’t be jumping quite as much at the headline as 'junk,'" he says.

Basically a “junk” credit status means a company’s debt is high compared to its earnings.

"The rating agency is less certain that Twitter is going to make its debt payments," says Robert Neal, an associate professor of finance at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.

On the scale of junk credit ratings, BB- isn't as stinky as, say a C, but it’s smelly enough that some investors will stay away.

"Many institutions, like pension funds, are restricted — they can only invest in investment-grade bonds," says David Kass, a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Fewer investors and the lower credit rating mean Twitter will pay more to borrow money — from those lenders out there willing to hold their nose. And today the company's stock price regained half of what it lost 24 hours before.

It won't be easy for ISIS to create its own currency

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

Apparently the leader of ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, has been doing some sovereign financial planning. He is aiming to get his self-declared caliphate into the currency business.

Announcements on jihadi websites say ISIS plans to mint gold, silver, and copper coins — to be the currency used throughout the extensive areas it now controls in Iraq and Syria. The coins will reportedly be based on the Islamic dinar used in early Islamic times, specifically during the Caliphate of Uthman in the year 634.

There are some logistical hurdles for ISIS, like acquiring enough precious metal, minting and distributing the coinage, mandating that people in its zone of control use the coins and not other currencies (U.S. dollars, euros, Iraqi and Syrian dinars, etc.).

And then there's the problem of having the currency shunned by the global family of nations, along with international banks and corporations — as proceeds of terrorism and money laundering.

Former Treasury official Ted Truman, now at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, says it would be a "weird, difficult system to manage."

“Prices of bread and so forth would go up and down with the price of copper or gold or silver on the global market," Truman says. "A unit today would buy one loaf of bread, and tomorrow, half a loaf of bread."

That could spread panic and hoarding,  because people wouldn’t know how much food or gasoline those coins would purchase on a day-to-day basis. 

And then there's the problem of trade: It's based on systems of credit and banking, not the exchange of precious metals and coins, says Fariborz Ghadar, director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State University. This is crucial for ISIS, Ghadar says, which does plenty of trade in black-market oil, weapons and food using international currencies such as the U.S. dollar.

“Imagine somebody wants to buy wheat from a trader in Iraq and wants to use it in Damascus," Ghadar said. "Does that mean then you have to put gold in a truck and ship it and exchange it for the wheat that’s coming. And then what happens if on the middle of the road, somebody steals your gold?”

Creating a gold-and-silver based currency has another drawback for ISIS. The value of the coins would be set by the global metals markets — in New York, London, Tokyo and other international financial hubs. This is exactly what the self-declared caliphate says it’s trying to avoid. Its intent is to isolate its citizens from the ‘tyrannical’ global financial system that has ‘enslaved and impoverished’ Muslims, according to online communications from ISIS explaining the new currency plan. Having a precious metals-based currency might bind the self-declared state even tighter to global finance.

Patrick Heller, a numismatic expert and owner of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Michigan, says minting its own coins could serve a useful political purpose for the militant group, which is governing, providing services and administering justice in territories it controls.

"It's brilliant," said Heller. "ISIS is trying to pretend it's a government. And one of the things that governments do is set a monetary standard, and issue coins and even currency."

Truman speculates that even if the new coinage doesn't end up being adopted as an effective means of day-to-day commerce in ISIS's sphere of influence, it could have a morale-boosting effect. He predicted that ISIS sympathizers around the world would buy and collect the new coins — decorated with images of shields and spears, mosques and minarets — as a way of showing support and expressing their religious affiliation with the group. 

Pimco co-founder got a $290 million bonus last year

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

If you need a reminder that you picked the wrong profession, this is your story.

Legendary bond trader Bill Gross, left his firm, Pimco, a couple of months ago. But according to Bloomberg he left with plenty of money in his back pocket. The report, which Pimco denied, said Gross got $290 million as a year-end bonus last year.

Two-hundred ninety. Million. Dollars.

How your car's computers can spy on you

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

A group of major car-makers has come out with a set of consumer privacy protection principles. In essence, they promise to place limits on the ways their cars will spy on us – and who will get the information the cars collect.

The document includes rules for geolocation (where you are), driver behavior (how fast you drive, whether you’re wearing a seat belt and your "braking habits") and personal information, including — this is right there in the document — biometrics. 

Of course, modern cars already collect plenty of data.

"Anyone who's taken their car to a dealer knows that there's a port the dealer plugs into, and it gives them all kinds of diagnostic information," says Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, which has issued a white paper about privacy and connected cars.

"But that data used to be in your car. You went into the dealer— he had to plug in," Polonetsky says. "That wasn’t being sent anywhere."

Now that cars can connect directly to the Internet, there’s more data to float out there – and some of that data is already floating.

"You’re driving along and advertisements will come up for certain hotels that we use," says Lori Rectanus, author of a Government Accountability Office report on location-based services in cars

"We look at that and we go, ‘How did they know that?'" she says. "'How did they know we would be interested in that?’"

The GAO did not find GPS navigation companies selling consumer-location data to advertisers, according to Rectanus. But they could. Or they could get hacked.

The point is: They know where you are, and that's enough to raise concerns, says Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Lee Tien.

"Somebody might say, 'Wait a minute. I drove to my oncologist's. I drove to Planned Parenthood. I drove to this location at this time when there's an AA meeting,'" Tien says. "There's lots of things about location that people would rather, often, keep private."

What if the car has a video camera that could record what you — and your passenger — are doing and saying?  Think about who you tend to be in a car with: "Parents with children, co-workers, colleagues, friends, family," Tien says. "A lot of conversations, a lot of activity [take place] inside the car."

There’s also the question of how you drive: Should your car have the ability to issue you a speeding ticket?

The new privacy principles don’t impress Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who has pushed for federal legislation to protect privacy in cars. "The principles do not provide consumers with a choice, whether sensitive information is collected in the first place," he says.

After all, if you don’t want anyone to track you through your phone, you can always turn it off.

How your car's computers could expose you

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

A group of major car-makers has come out with a set of consumer privacy protection principles. In essence, they promise there will be limits to the ways their cars will spy on us and who will get the information the cars collect.

The document includes rules for geolocation (where you are), driver behavior (how fast you drive, whether you’re wearing a seat belt and your "braking habits") and personally-identifiable information, including — this is right there in the document — biometrics. 

Of course modern cars already collect lots of data.

"Anyone who's taken their car to a dealer knows that there's a port the dealer plugs into, and it gives them all kinds of diagnostic information," says Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, which has issued a white paper about privacy and connected cars.

"But that data used to be in your car. You went into the dealer— he had to plug in," Polonetsky says. "That wasn’t being sent anywhere."

Now that cars can connect directly to the Internet, there’s more data to float out there.

Some of that data is already floating. "You’re driving along and advertisements will come up for certain hotels that we use," says  Lori Rectanus, author of a Government Accountability Office report on location-based services in cars

"We look at that and we go, ‘How did they know that?'" she says. "'How did they know we would be interested in that?’"

Rectanus says the GAO did not find GPS navigation companies selling consumer-location data to advertisers. But they could. Or they could get hacked.

The point is they know where you are, and that's enough to raise concerns, says Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Lee Tien.

"Somebody might say, 'Wait a minute. I drove to my oncologist's. I drove to Planned Parenthood. I drove to this location at this time when there's an AA meeting,'" Tien says. "There's lots of things about location that people would rather, often, keep private."

Or, he says, what if the car has a video camera that could record what you — and your passenger — are doing and saying?  Think about who you tend to be in a car with: "Parents with children, co-workers, colleagues, friends, family," Tien says. "A lot of conversations, a lot of activity inside the car."

There’s also the question of how you drive: Do you want your car to be able to issue you a speeding ticket?

The new privacy principles don’t impress Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts who has pushed for federal legislation to protect privacy in cars. "The principles do not provide consumers with a choice, whether sensitive information is collected in the first place," he says.

After all, if you don’t want anyone to track you through your phone, you can always turn it off.

Missing Lynx? Search Continues For Mystery French Feline

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 10:52

The animal, which was spotted Thursday, was initially thought to be a tiger. Officials now say it's not, but they aren't sure what it is. One theory is that it's a lynx.

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Aasif Mandvi's cross-cultural journey

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 09:53

Best known as a contributor to "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Aasif Mandvi usually reports satirical news pertaining to the Middle East – under the title "senior Muslim correspondent" or even "senior foreign-looking correspondent."

Mandvi was born in Mumbai, moved to England a year later and then to Florida as a teenager. He's written a collection of personal essays called "No Land's Man" that explore his cross-cultural identity and acting career.

Mandvi describes the journey to his birthplace:

There’s this little children’s theater where I first discovered my bug and penchant and proclivity for performing and acting. I went back after all these years and the place had burned down. The book, you know, is called "No Land’s Man" and I keep searching for a home and ultimately realize that the metaphor of the open field is really the home that I've been searching for.  

On working for "The Daily Show":

"The Daily Show" has put me in front of millions of people. It has allowed me to speak into the zeitgeist in a way that very few other jobs could have. There’s very little downside to being on "The Daily Show." It’s been a great opportunity for me.

I don’t think of myself as a comedian. I think of myself as an actor who does comedy. Even on "The Daily Show," I feel like that person that I play is a character who happens to have my name but he also has a team of very funny Ivy League-educated Jewish comedy writers that go around with him wherever he goes. 

On using his cultural identity as a drive for creative work:

What is it to be a South Asian American man? That question is constantly in my work and will continue to be and actually becomes my source of power now.  

NBA Commissioner Thinks Gambling On Games Should Be Legal

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 09:53

Breaking with other major pro sports leagues, Adam Silver says the world is changing and that Congress should allow sports betting that is legal and regulated.

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5 ways to make a city more walkable

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 09:23

For about half a century, American cities and suburbs were built as car towns – with long stretches of road. And sometimes without sidewalks. But lately, things have been changing. Americans are seeking more intimate city spaces and putting a high premium on good public transportation. Millennials don't seem to want to buy cars, or drive much. In their quest for more walkable cities, they are teaming up with some unlikely allies: Retirees.

As the baby boomer generation ages, more and more of them want to remain at home – and remain independent. A whopping 63 percent of boomers don’t intend to move, according to a recent study from the Demand Institute, a nonprofit think-tank devoted to consumer issues. And the aging population is soaring – a joint project from Harvard University and the AARP predicts that by 2030, there will be 73 million adults over age 65 living in the U.S. 

Aging Americans increasingly ask for walkable cities. It's one of their top priorities, according to Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of the AARP. What the AARP wants, it frequently gets. The organization is the eighth-largest lobbying group in the U.S. – its members are consummate voters, and more importantly, LeaMond says, "tend to be participants in the community. They come to community meetings, they're very involved." 

The AARP and the World Health Organization have focused on building more livable communities for the aging population through their Age-Friendly Cities and Communities program. Cities can adopt elements of a WHO-approved checklist to make communities safe and engaging for people who are aging. Many places have come a long way toward addressing infrastructure issues and community engagement, according to Tori Goldhammer, a Washington, D.C., occupational therapist who specializes in aging-in-place and fall prevention.

Yet investing in more walkable cities can be relatively affordable.

"There are many places where there's a lot of construction underway, and they're already making changes to the physical environment, and ensuring that it's done in the right way often doesn't add very many costs," LeaMond says.

Even when modifications are pricier, the investment can pay off.

"The more walkable a community is, the more the value of the property is going to be higher, and so there is an incentive for communities to look at this in more than just safety and mobility of its residents," LeaMond says. 

To better understand the importance of walkable communities, Lizzie O'Leary took a walk in the Washington, D.C., Eastern Market neighborhood with Goldhammer and a very special guest: her dad, Buck O'Leary.

On their walk they found these five factors that help make a city walkable:  

1. Keep sidewalks well-maintained

Sidewalk cracks, uneven bricks and tree roots are tripping hazards, especially when they're wet or icy. That’s one reason personal-injury lawyers exist. Slips and trips happen all the time on uneven sidewalks, according to occupational therapist Goldhammer. “Anything greater than a one-quarter inch in change of height can present a trip risk for anybody,” she says. Updating sidewalks that have undergone ordinary wear and tear would prevent injuries and make it easier to get around. 

2. Provide lots of outdoor seating

When you’re out for a stroll, it’s nice to be able have a seat, take a break, relax. Many communities that are participating in the AARP and World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities initiative have made a lot of progress in this area. For instance, the New York City Department of Transportation says 1,500 benches will be installed by 2015 through its CityBench program. 

3. Allow enough time at crosswalks

The Beatles may cross the street with a bit of swagger, but for many people it’s not so easy. Crosswalks can become hazardous for people rushing across them and frustrating for drivers waiting for them to clear. “There might be six lanes of traffic and [it takes] 22 seconds to get across the street, and it’s really very difficult,” Goldhammer says. 

4. Turn on the lights

In addition to being a major crime deterrent, a lack of sufficient lighting (also known as darkness) makes it more difficult to see those cracks in the sidewalk. Once shrouded in darkness, potential hazards that aren’t a big deal during the day become exponentially riskier.

5. Build plenty of clearly marked bike paths

It's not always this adorable when someone gets side-swiped by a Huffy. Cyclists need their own lanes to ensure they have enough space to ride safely. And in the context of age-friendly cities, bike lanes also keep bikes off sidewalks, making both the roads and the walkways safer for everyone.

'Shirtstorm' Leads To Apology From European Space Scientist

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 08:46

As the Rosetta mission made history by putting a lander on a comet, one of its leading scientists drew wide criticism for wearing a shirt featuring lingerie-clad women.

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PODCAST: Phoneless phone tapping

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 08:41

Federal agents reportedly have the technology to spy on mobile phones without ever involving phone companies.  This revelation from the Wall Street Journal today involves the US Marshall's service using light airplanes with devices that trick cells phones into linking with the plane instead of the phone company's cell phone towers. We talked with  Devlin Barrett, the Wall Street Journal reporter with the scoop this morning.  Plus: Volkswagen is laying out a plan to recognize the United Auto Workers Union at its only U.S. plant--the one in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It's not quite what the union was hoping for. WPLN's Blake Farmer reports. Finally: Augusta National sees itself as a very exclusive golf club, indeed. Two years ago, it refused admission to no less than Chief Executive Officer of International Business Machines. Ginni Rometty is female and until recently, Augusta National didn't admit women. Now there is a report the IBM CEO has been let in.

Drug-Maker In India's Sterilization Deaths Arrested

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 08:05

Thirteen women are dead and dozens sick after the Nov. 8 procedures at a state-run hospital in central India. The doctor who performed the procedures was arrested Wednesday.

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Climate Change To Make Lightning More Common, Study Says

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 07:13

Researchers writing in the journal Science say that if the rate of global warming goes unchecked, the frequency of lightning strikes will increase by 50 percent.

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Mormon Church Publishes Essay On Founder Joseph Smith's Polygamy

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 06:27

The Mormon church's founder was married to as many as 40 women in the years before his murder in 1844, the church acknowledged in an article posted on its website.

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Comet Lander Deploys Drill, But Could Lose Power Tonight

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 05:59

Fearing that Philae's batteries won't last past Friday, engineers look at possible ways to help it get more power from its solar panels. One ray of hope: its comet is heading toward the sun.

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Political Diversity Pioneers Win Medal Of Freedom

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 05:38

Trio of political leaders honored for fighting bias, breaking ceilings and leading the charge for equality for people of color.

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Political Diversity Pioneers Win Medal Of Freedom

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 05:38

Trio of political leaders honored for fighting bias, breaking ceilings and leading the charge for equality for people of color.

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Hagel To Announce Billions In Upgrades To Nuclear Deterrent

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 05:08

The defense secretary is expected to detail Pentagon reports that have pointed to "systemic problems" with the system that controls U.S. ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

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