National News

Feds Clear Banks To Do Business With Budding Pot Industry

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 12:56

The departments of Treasury and Justice signal that banks can work with the legal marijuana industry without fearing prosecution for such crimes as money laundering.

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Under Armour's speed skating #SochiFail

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 12:37

Under Armour shares were off almost two and a half percent today after the Wall Street Journal reported that "people familiar with the U.S. Speedskating team were blaming Under Armour suits for American skater's poor performance."

Not what you might call an ideal product placement.

What happens at Netflix when House of Cards goes live

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 12:06

The new world of Internet TV is really geeky.

I spent some time in the Netflix War Room last night, as the company debuted the new season of its smash hit TV series, House of Cards. The war room is a conference room with big table in the middle. And as we approached midnight, a bunch of engineers were couched over their laptops.

Jeremy Edberg, Netflix’s Reliability Architect, was one of them.

"So when the clock hits 12, the first thing I’m going to be doing is looking at our dashboards to see if anybody is playing the show," Edberg said.

If nobody is playing House of Cards, that means there’s a problem. Unlike traditional TV, we use hundreds of different devices to go online. And last night, the engineers were there to make sure that House of Cards would play on every one of them.

"We’ve probably got sitting around the room an X-Box, a Play Station, Nintendo, Apple devices, Android devices and a couple of different TVs from our partner manufacturers," Edberg said.

The engineers can tell, in real time, how many people are streaming the show on these devices, where they are, and who’s binging. Edberg said the last time House of Cards launched, the engineers figured out that the entire season was about 13 hours.

"And we looked to [see]  if anybody was finishing in that amount of time," Edberg said. "And there was one person who finished with just three minutes longer than there is content. So basically, three total minutes of break in roughly 13 hours."

That’s right, of its 40 million subscribers around the world, Netflix was able the find the one super binger. Netflix spokesman Joris Evers said Netflix knows everything about your viewing habits.

"We monitor what you watch, how often you watch things," Evers said. "Does a movie have a happy ending, what’s the level of romance, what's the level of violence, is it a cerebral kind of movie or is it light and funny?"

Evers said Netflix uses this data when it decides on which original program to buy.

"House of Cards was obviously a big bet for Netflix," Joris said. "But it was a calculated bet because we knew Netflix members like political dramas, that they like serialized dramas. That they are fans of Kevin Spacey, that they like David Fincher."

Netflix’s move into original programming is all about taking viewers from other media companies, especially HBO, said Brad Adgate, an analyst at Horizon Media.

He says Netflix has more subscribers than HBO, but when it comes to making money, Netflix is David to HBO’s Goliath. But Adgate says, Netflix does have its slingshot.

"I think right now Netflix does have a competitive advantage over HBO because of the analytics," Adgate said.

Networks like HBO still rely, on large part, on Nielsen data. But the information Netflix gets is much more textured, granular... and valuable.

"And I think that’s where television and streaming video is headed - but I think right now streaming video is in the lead," Adgate said. That said, he added, it’s just a matter of time before HBO and other premium channels catch up.

President Obama calls California drought plan 'climate resilience'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 12:06

President Obama met with farmers today in Fresno, California. He's promised to help them deal with the drought that plagues the region. Short of making it rain, though, there's not a whole lot the federal government can do to help farmers who don't have enough water.

What Obama is promising is money. Some is for disaster relief, but the big-ticket proposal is a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund, which he has included in his 2015 budget.

So what is "climate resilience"?

When floods devastated much of Northern Colorado this past fall, several waste water treatment plants were closed. Just how quickly they were able to get back online is a perfect example of climate resilience. It's a community's ability to recover from a natural disaster.

"Drought in California, hurricanes on the eastern seaboard, wildfires in the Rocky Mountain region," all of these disasters, says Elizabeth Albright, an assistant professor of environmental policy at Duke, will intensify in the future. The president's proposed climate resilience fund would provide money to help regions bounce back quicker from these disasters.

The fund would also support research.

"One of the most important things we can do is try to get a better understanding of the magnitude of floods, hurricanes and droughts that we might face," says Glen MacDonald, director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA.

One of the keys to creating resilience is being able to accurately predict just how bad a disaster will be. For example, scientists are coming up with new ways to study aquifers -- natural underground reservoirs -- to better predict the severity of future droughts.

"We can actually measure the loss of ground water through satellites," says Dr. Juliet Christian Smith, with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Using satellites, scientists looked at the Ogallala aquifer in the Midwest. They found that depletion of the aquifer is changing the gravitational pull of the earth, "because we are extracting ground water at such a great rate," says Christian-Smith.

In addition to research and disaster preparedness, the proposed $1 billion would also fund new technologies to build more climate resilient infrastructure.

WATCH: A Death-Defying Climb To The Top Of Shanghai Tower

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 12:01

Two daredevils, one from Russia, the other from the Ukraine, sneak onto the construction site at the as-yet-unfinished world's second-tallest building and climb to the top.

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Polish your pick up lines, it's International Flirting Week

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 11:45

Here’s an extended look at what’s coming up next week:

  • On Monday, we start the week off right with a holiday. Light some birthday candles for the nation’s first president, George Washington. Did you know he built and operated a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon? Inspiring. Well, you do have a three-day weekend ahead of you… What else are you going to do? U.S. markets are closed.
  • On Tuesday, we celebrate Pluto. It was discovered on February 18, 1930. Once thought to be the farthest planet from the sun, it’s been reclassified as a dwarf planet.
  • On Wednesday, we get data on newly-constructed homes from the Commerce Department. Also, the Labor Department releases the Producer Price Index. Both look at January.
  • President Washington signed legislation on February 20, 1792 creating the U.S. Post Office. And people started mailing love letters to each other all over the country.
  • On Friday the National Association of Realtors reports on sales of existing homes last month.
  • And finally, pile on the mascara. It’s International Flirting Week. A whole week to bat your eyes. 

What We Learned From Our Month-Long Exploration Of #XCultureLove

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 11:39

We dive into four themes we saw during our month-long exploration of how race plays out in the dating world.

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Weekly Wrap: Settling beer bets

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 11:35

Congress passed a budget and reached a debt ceiling agreement, surprising host Kai Ryssdal. Who had at least one beer riding on the question.

In today's end-of-the-week conversation with Nela Richardson of Bloomberg Government and Cardiff Garcia of Financial Times, the three reflected on:

The debt-ceiling deal:

"Amazingly enough, the politically smart thing to do also happened to be the right thing to do...I always breathe a sigh of relief when this happens." -- Cardiff Garcia

Janet Yellen's first days:

"I thought stylisitcally, she was great. More confident than Bernanke was when he started his term." -- Cardiff Garcia

What's ahead for Yellen + more bets:

"I think she has a few surprises in store for us" -- Nela Richardson

"Wanna bet?" -- Kai Ryssdal

Seasonal adjustments:

"We've had winters for as long as I can remember." -- Nela Richardson

Pandora uses data on your musical taste to lure political advertisers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 11:06

In the past, Pandora used two factors to infer how a listener would vote: the listener's zip code, and the voting habits of people in that zip code.

Now, according to Pandora spokesperson Heidi Browning, they will add data on listener music tastes. It may sound like shaky science, but researchers have seen a correlation between the types of artists a person listens to and how he or she votes. 

In 2012, Brian Whitman, the founder and CTO of The Echo Nest, a music intelligence platform, tracked what people listened to. Here are his findings.

Artists whose fans are most likely Republicans: 

  1. Kenny Chesney
  2. George Strait
  3. Reba McEntire
  4. Tim McGraw
  5. Jason Aldean
  6. Blake Shelton
  7. Shania Twain
  8. Kelly Clarkson 
  9. Pink Floyd 
  10. Elvis Presley

Artists whose fans are most likely Democrats:

  1. Rihanna
  2. Jay-Z
  3. Madonna
  4. Lady Gaga 
  5. Katy Perry 
  6. Snoop Dogg
  7. Chris Brown
  8. Usher
  9. Eminem
  10. Bob Marley

And then, there are artists that aren't really predictors. They attract both Republicans and Democrats. Six of the ten, says Whitman, are metal bands:

  1. The Beatles
  2. Marilyn Manson
  3. The Rolling Stones
  4. Johnny Cash
  5. Pantera
  6. Alice in Chains
  7. Paradise Lost
  8. Moonspell
  9. Fleetwood Mac
  10. Tiamat 

Research from The Echo Nest

Match Game: Which Couples Go Together?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 10:59

Go ahead and guess which individuals are paired up. Surprised? Intrigued? Have your own story? We asked members of the #xculturelove group to submit photos of themselves and share reactions they've heard about their interracial relationship.

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At Iranian Colleges, Some See Brighter Future In Another Country

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 10:37

President Hassan Rouhani is promising more opportunities for young Iranians. NPR's Peter Kenyon found that many college students like his rhetoric, but don't want to wait and see if it becomes reality.

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Even From Space, Near-Record Ice On Great Lakes Is Chilling

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 10:30

This winter's extra-cold temperatures mean that nearly 90 percent of the five lakes' total surface area is covered with ice. That's approaching the record high of nearly 95 percent, set in February 1979. Satellite images help tell the story.

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Here's One More Reason To Play Video Games: Beating Dyslexia

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 10:26

People with dyslexia take longer to alternate their attention between visual and audio cues, researchers say. That's particularly true if they have to attend to a sound after seeing something. That difference may provide clues to better treatments for dyslexia.

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Here's One More Reason To Play Video Games: Beating Dyslexia

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 10:26

People with dyslexia take longer to alternate their attention between visual and audio cues, researchers say. That's particularly true if they have to attend to a sound after seeing something. That difference may provide clues to better treatments for dyslexia.

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Make It A Grande: Mammoth Tusk Find Likely Seattle's Largest

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 10:11

A giant tusk from a Columbian mammoth that lived 16,000 years ago appears to be the largest, most intact ever found in the region.

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Delhi's Crusading Chief Minister Resigns, Slams Main Parties

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 09:36

Arvind Kejriwal stepped down less than two months after his stunning rise to the position. His move came after lawmakers in the state assembly blocked an anti-corruption measure that he has championed.

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Hospitals are sharing data to save lives

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 09:32

A new report shows over the past five years, 350 hospitals have saved more than $11 billion and nearly 150,000 lives by following best practices like how to treat pneumonia and hospital acquired infections.

Five years ago, the firm Premier launched a national quality improvement project for hospitals. The firm’s Blair Childs says through sharing data and adhering to best practices health systems have seen dramatic changes.

Take for example, when bacteria in the hospital leads to the potentially lethal illness, sepsis. “It was the number one driver of mortality in hospitals when we started this project,” says Childs.

Now it’s the 14th leading cause of mortality in the participating hospitals. Hospitals also reported improvements in patient safety and satisfaction.

Leapfrog’s Leah Binder says in the last decade the healthcare industry has made real strides in figuring out the best ways to treat certain conditions. The trouble, she says, is that it can be hard to get hospitals and staff to implement the new protocols.

"To get everybody to follow the rules actually takes a lot of effort and energy. And unfortunately, sometimes organizations don’t invest in that kind of attention and that’s the problem,” she says.

Binder says the Affordable Care Act puts in place what she considers modest incentives to improve quality. She says bigger carrots and sticks are needed to get hospitals attention.

The real cost of Valentine's Day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 09:14

It’s Valentine’s Day. For a lot of people, that means a day of big spending (and total paranoia).

But is your Valentine's Day dollar going to stretch as far this year as it did last year? Turns out, it depends.

Take roses. They've actually gotten less expensive. Jan Ooms has owned Roses and Blooms in Midtown Manhattan for more than 20 years. He shows off stacks of boxes that contain roses that have just been flown in from Ecuador.

"We’re looking at about 12,000 roses," says Ooms, who expects to sell about 25,000 roses out of his small shop this Valentine's Day.

Ooms says there is a Valentine’s mark-up. That's because, to get all those flowers, shops like his have to contract out entire farms in Central and South America. Growers charge a premium for the risk of dedicating entire fields to roses that must be ready exactly on time for the critical week. In the end, a dozen roses at Roses and Blooms will set you back between $28 and $70 this Valentine’s Day (vase not included) and that's not bad compared to five years ago.

"Overall, during the year, the price has been going down a little bit," says Ooms. "The bad economy has been hitting the flower business pretty hard."

Meanwhile, pricing competition has gotten fiercer.

"Flower prices overall have been declining over the past decade and that’s really with the emergence of online retailers," explains Hester Jeon, research analyst with IBISworld. "Price-based competition is more severe because consumers can compare prices."

Flowers aren’t the only Valentine’s Day essential that’s gotten cheaper: This year, bubbly is also a bargain (comparatively, anyway).

"Champagne sales globally have been in decline since 2007," says Ross Colbert, global beverage strategist with Rabobank. Colbert says demand for champagne has suffered as cheaper bubbly wines like prosecco and spumante have gained popularity. "Pricing today on champagne is probably as low as it’s going to go. There’s a lot of good value out there."

You’ll need those champagne savings to help pay for chocolates this year. Chocolate prices have plumped up a lot lately and that's mostly because of a price hike for chocolate's main raw material.

"The price of cocoa has risen significantly," says Jacques Torres,  New York-based chocolatier. He says cocoa prices are up more than 25 percent from last year. That’s partly because of skyrocketing demand from new markets like India and China, and partly because of fancier tastes here at home.

"Dark chocolate sells more and more and a higher percentage of dark," says Torres. "We used to see a lot more milk and we’ve switched. Now we sell over 60 percent dark chocolates."

Dark chocolate uses more cocoa. Cocoa is more expensive. So, those fancy chocolates cost a lot more.

Now, if only diamonds will do for your Valentine, be prepared to pay, says IBISWorld’s Jeon.

"10 percent of proposals take place on Valentine’s Day, which is interesting," Jeon says.

Yes. Interesting. Jeon says more people are getting married this year, thanks to an increase in gay marriage and the improving economy.

"So we’re going to see a growth in demand for jewelry this year and also higher prices."

All told, The National Retail Federation expects the average person will spend $133 this Valentine’s day, up from $130 last year.

Unjustly enough, single people will spend more—roughly $30 more than their married counterparts. There’s also a gender divide in Valentine’s spending according to chocolatier, Jacques Torres.

"Woman are usually organized," says Torres. "They will go on the website, look at the flavors and come a couple days before and shop. Men come the last 2 hours of the day. They rush, because they double park and they have a price in mind, but they don’t know what they buy... They come in saying, 'I want $20, $50 worth of chocolate.' When they pass $100, I know they are in trouble."

That’s the thing… You could opt not to spend any money at all on Valentine’s Day, but that could end up costing a lot more

Did Michael Sam Take A 'Huge Risk' To Come Out Before The Draft?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 08:57

NFL hopeful Michael Sam recently announced he's gay. But is that why his draft stock has reportedly dropped? The Barbershop guys weigh in.

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Remembering The Radio Stations That Got Loud With 'Black And Proud'

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 08:57

Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio highlights a time when black radio stations were the only ones playing music by African-Americans. Host Michel Martin talks about the audio documentary with legendary music producer Kenny Gamble, who narrated the project.

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