National News

Voluptuous Veg: Can Food Porn Seed Lust For Healthy Eating?

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 12:55

Tempting-looking spoonfuls of chocolate are plentiful online. Beautiful Brussels sprouts? Not so much. A campaign aims to boost the number of these images and whet our appetites for healthy foods.

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In shale country, a boom in quiet

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-06 12:15

Carroll County, in eastern Ohio, was the original bird’s-eye for Utica shale gas development in the state.  Trucks with Texas license plates now jam the roads alongside Amish buggies. Farmers are fixing up their houses as money from mineral leases rolls in.

But for Frank Brothers, the price is too high.

“As you can see, that’s what’s coming right at our door,” Brothers says, nearly yelling to be heard above the continuous, grating hum emanating from a nearby gas compressor station.

It’s something you’d expect to hear inside a factory, not in a residential urban neighborhood – and less in a rural township like this one.

But even though their house sits on 21 forested acres, the Brothers family has been cooped up indoors with the windows closed since last March. That’s when the energy company Blue Racer Midstream started the huge engines of its compressor station across the street. They’ve run pretty much 24/7 since.

“They’re you’re hitting 87,” Brothers says, holding up a decibel meter at his front property line. It’s hard to have a conversation from just a few feet apart.

Compressors are needed about every 50 to 100 miles along pipelines to help move gas through them.

They’re always loud, but this situation is rare – energy companies do usually shield the neighbors. And that’s what’s pushing what you might call a "silent boom" accompanying the oil and gas bonanza – a boom in noise abatement. 

Companies say business took off with development of the Barnett Shale in the mid-to-late 2000s, as oil and gas companies were rushing to pull gold out of the ground under Fort Worth, Texas.

“Noise became a front-burner issue for them, because the sweet spot of the shale was literally underneath some of the more densely populated areas,” says Murray Stacy, vice president of Shreveport-based Sound Fighter Systems.

Stacy says energy companies improvised their own solutions at first, but soon realized they needed expert help. At the peak of Barnett development, 80 percent of Sound Fighters’ business came from the shale gas industry, he says. It’s still about 60 percent. 

The demand for noise control in the Utica and Marcellus shales drew Canadian company Noise Solutions to open a branch in western Pennsylvania.

“It was a growth of about 100 percent,” says Tyler Mose, the company’s business development engineer, as he stands on the busy production floor of the plant in Sharon. He shows off 15-inch-thick sound-absorbing walls, and explains that everything is custom-built to address specific sound frequencies.

Then he takes me outside to show me what his company can do.

He leads me across the snow to a little building, designed for loud equipment. One side is open, and another is walled off by a series of panels, a few inches thick and about a foot and a half deep.

From inside the building, it’s like you’re looking through open window blinds. The panels are made of perforated sheet metal and sound-absorbing insulation.

Mose crouches inside, looks out at me through the slats, and starts talking. Even though he’s only three or four feet away, I pick up only the faintest hints of his voice. Mostly, I watch his mouth move and hear nothing. It’s kind of amazing.

That kind of technology can reduce compressor noise from factory-floor level, like in Frank Brothers’ yard, to a low hum, about what you’d expect if you lived in an urban neighborhood.

In fact, when I stand about eight feet outside a noise-suppressing building housing a compressor station in Canton, Ohio, the sound is similar to the highway traffic I hear from my neighborhood in Cleveland.

Dominion East Ohio owns this station, and John Schniegenberg is the company’s principal engineer. He says the effect isn’t cheap.

“We’re probably talking in excess of a quarter million dollars,” for noise abatement at the $6 million facility, he says.

But that has bought much better relations with the neighbors.

Even with low oil prices, professional noise fighters are confident. Sound regulations are tightening. And gas producers profit on volume, so they’re always trying to move more gas, faster. That means stronger – and louder – compressors.

Noise Solutions’ CEO Scott MacDonald says his role is to referee.

“We help to ensure harmony between the industry and the community,” he says.

That doesn’t guarantee communities will embrace oil and gas development. But it might lower the volume on a little part of the debate.

Should Labels Say Meat Was Made In USA? Ranchers, Meatpackers Disagree

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 12:14

U.S. ranchers want consumers to know their meat came from cattle "raised in America." Meatpackers argue such labels add cost without much benefit. A trade dispute could soon make the labels disappear.

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North Korean Diplomat Stopped In Bangladesh With $1.4 Million In Gold

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 11:33

The first secretary of the North Korean Embassy in Dhaka tried to claim diplomatic immunity when customs officials asked to scan his bags, officials said.

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Source: Justice Dept. Prepares To Charge N.J. Sen. Menendez With Corruption

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 10:49

It is alleged that the Democrat did political favors for a friend and donor. It is not clear how long it will take for actual criminal charges to emerge, NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

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#NPRreads: On America's First Suicide Bombing And Its Influential Pizza Lobby

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 10:43

From the people on our money to the effects of calling someone black, this week, we bring you four reads that illuminate a bit of history or pieces of regulation you may not have known about.

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DOJ Indicts 3 Men Accused Of 'Largest Data Breach In History'

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 10:08

Two Vietnamese citizens and a Canadian are charged in connection with hacking eight U.S. email service providers and using stolen addresses for spam marketing.

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Don't even think about sledding on Capitol Hill

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-06 10:07

Perhaps you've seen photos of kids sledding on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., since the federal government and schools were closed on Thursday.

But, did you know they were breaking the law?

"No person shall coast or slide a sled within Capitol Grounds." Also, kite-flying and tricycles are prohibited.

— David Gura (@davidgura) March 5, 2015
It's true. From the Capitol Grounds Regulations, courtesy of the architect of the capitol's office: "No person shall coast or slide a sled within Capitol Grounds."

Bah ... humbug.

Documentary Filmmaker Albert Maysles Dies At 88

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 09:51

He is perhaps best known for the films Grey Gardens and Gimme Shelter. The Oscar-nominated director died Thursday in New York.

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ISIS supporters have about 46,000 accounts on Twitter

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-06 09:33

According to a paper from the Brookings Institution, there are about 46,000 Twitter accounts out there being used by ISIS supporters.

And they're pretty active, too.

Those accounts had an average of a thousand followers each, which is way higher than your average non-ISIS-related Twitter user.

Former NBC Executive Returns To Oversee Troubled News Division

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 09:33

Andrew Lack held top roles at NBC from 1993 to 2001. He is returning as chairman of NBC News in the wake of Brian Williams' suspension as chief anchor.

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Obama Returns To Selma For 50th Anniversary Of Historic March

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 09:32

President Obama will speak in Selma, Ala., Saturday, a half century after civil rights marchers led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were attacked by state troopers.

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Fun fact Friday: A lot of business buzz

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-06 09:28

Kai talked to Nela Richardson of Redfin and John Carney of the Wall Street Journal today to discuss the week that was. But what else happened this week at Marketplace?

Fun Fact: Without bees, it would be tough to produce almonds.

On Monday, we visited a farm in California's Central Valley and uncovered the buzzy business behind growing almonds. The answer? Traveling bees. Commercial bees, the unsung heroes of the nut business Fun Fact: 75 percent of the $30 billion in military aid awarded to Israel by the Bush administration in 2007 will ultimately come back to the United States.

Political tensions were high when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed congress on Tuesday. Not to worry, more than half of what the U.S. gives in military aid to Israel is returned to the U.S. in the form of armaments purchased from American defense contractors. Taking stock of U.S. aid to Israel Fun Fact:There will be around half a billion middle-class consumers in China five years from now. 

The private-equity industry is coming of age in China, and has been doing so for the past 20 years. Chinese investors are banking on the country's growing middle class and their sky-rocketing purchasing power. The buying power of the Chinese middle class Fun Fact: You can buy an antique brass clock from The New York Times store for $6,500.

The New York Times's retail shop had a recent makeover, further differentiating it from the online stores of other media outlets. Here's a comparison between its gift shop and NPR's wares. The New York Times picks up where SkyMall left off Fun Fact: The world's second largest economy announced a new growth target of 7 percent on Thursday.

Despite a growing middle class, China's progress is slowing a bit — though the U.S. and other established countries would be pleased to have China's growth rate. What a 7 percent growth rate could look like

3 Ferguson Officials Linked To Racist Emails No Longer With Department, Mayor Says

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 09:08

Mayor James Knowles also told The Associated Press that city leaders would meet with Justice Department officials in about two weeks to provide ways to improve the Ferguson, Mo., police department.

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The science – and the cost – behind weight loss

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-06 09:04

Obesity and related complications cost Americans roughly $150 billion per year in health care spending. And there’s still no silver bullet for treating obesity. Diet, exercise and surgery all work to a point, but these methods are plagued by relapses. It’s hard for most obese people to lose weight and keep it off.

But a new device approved by the FDA last year will attack obesity in a novel way. VBLOC therapy, which is delivered by the “Maestro system,” is essentially a pacemaker for the stomach. It is implanted under the skin, and ledes connect to the vagus nerve.

Mark Knudson, founder and president of Enteromedics, developed the technique. He said he realized that controlling hunger could be an integral part of obesity treatment.

“We tried to develop a way to treat a disease that affects millions of people in the U.S. without having to alter their anatomy or make them have to completely change everything that they eat,” he explained.

For some people, he said, combatting their obesity is a constant struggle – even at the grocery store.

“Can I go into a store and just buy the five items I want, or am I going to end up filling up my grocery cart and taking it all home?” he asked.

VBLOC sends signals to the stomach branch of the vagus nerve during waking hours. The electrical pulses interrupt the complex neurological process of hunger and, in essence, allow people who are obese to feel full. That makes it easier to decide not to eat.

Erica Roy-Nyline struggled with obesity for years. The 48-year-old health care worker from St. Paul, Minn., signed up for a trial of the treatment because diet and other weight loss methods hadn’t worked.

For the first year after she had the device implanted, she lost about five pounds.

“The one thing I said to myself is: ‘I will not go backwards. I will not gain weight on this thing,’” she said.

But after a year, researchers told her that she was in the placebo group – her device hadn’t actually been turned on. After it was turned on, she quickly dropped 30 pounds – half of her total weight loss goal.

“It’s just night and day,” Roy-Nyline said. “I couldn’t believe that sense of fullness and sense of satisfaction when I was done eating. I thought through… I don’t think I’ve ever really had that feeling.”

Her weight loss has been so dramatic that she’s thinking of going off her blood pressure medication. That’s because losing even a small amount of weight helps to improve obesity comorbidities, or related health complications.

If all this sounds like the silver bullet in the treatment of obesity, there’s a catch: the cost. The device’s cost isn’t officially set yet, but Enteromedics says it will be approximately $15,000 – and that does not include the costs of surgery and followup.

Melissa Martinson, president of the health economics consulting firm Technomics Research, says insurance companies might not rush to cover the treatment, even if it is highly effective.

“A lot of times insurance companies will claim they don’t consider cost when they make coverage decisions,” she said. “But most health economists and most people who work in the field don’t think that’s literally true.”

Aside from cost, insurers will consider safety and efficacy before approving something like VBLOC for people who are obese. Martinson says that defibrillating pacemakers, which are now common, faced similar hurdles when they were released.

And as for efficacy, that may be the toughest hurdle. William Dietz, director of the Redstone Center at George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health, says obesity treatments have always struggled when it comes to maintaining weight loss. It’s still unknown if VBLOC’s effects will sustain over time or whether they will diminish.

“People are losing weight all the time, they just can’t sustain that weight loss,” Dietz said. “So we know the types of therapy available need to be long term.”

But the benefit of even a slight reduction in obesity has impacts on health. A five to 10 percent loss of excess weight can start to reverse high blood pressure, diabetes and other comorbidities.

FDA Approves First Of New Type Of Generic Drugs

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 08:57

So-called "biosimilar" drugs closely mimic existing drugs but are made from living cells, blood components and tissue. In some cases, they could substantially reduce the cost of drugs.

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Why Apple is replacing AT&T in the Dow

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-06 08:56

After the market closes on March 18, 2015, Apple will replace AT&T as one of the 30 blue-chip stocks that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It will not make waves in the financial markets, because relatively little money is actually invested in funds pegged to this index. But it's nonetheless a sign of a sea change in the American economy. 

The composition of the Dow is decided by a committee of five, led by committee chair David Blitzer. He says the decision to change the index started not with Apple or AT&T but with Visa. The company split its stock, reducing its share price, and because the Dow is simply an average of companies' share prices, this unbalanced the portfolio. To rebalance it, since Visa is classified as a tech company, Blitzer says they had to ad another tech company.

"Apple is everybody's obvious choice," Blitzer says. "Nobody even thought about arguing against Apple." 

Adding Apple required removing another company, and Blitzer says he and his partners picked AT&T because they needed to reduce the index's share of telecommunications companies, and the index also includes Verizon.

But Jim Angel, associate professor of finance at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, says it's also a sign of AT&T's declining significance, and the rise of the "iCompany."

Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, adds that Apple, unlike Google or Facebook, has a long track record of making and selling tangible products.

Another oil train derails, as new rules approach

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-06 08:56

For the third time in three weeks, a train carrying crude oil derailed. This time, 21 cars derailed in western Illinois. No injuries or water pollution have been reported, but the incidents are turning up the pressure on federal regulators to craft new rules that accommodate both the petroleum boom and public safety.

Federal rules are due in May. A chief area of debate is tank cars. Industry prefers a revamped version of an existing model, known as CPC-1232. But that type of rail car, specifically one without a safety "jacket," leaked the last two incidents.

"The unjacketed 1232's seem increasingly likely to be part of the phase-out based on the recent events," says analyst Kevin Book of Clear View Energy Partners.

Book expects stricter rules in general, ones that go farther than industry would like. Yet the regulatory conversation does not go far enough for Sean Dixon of the New York nonprofit Riverkeeper. He cites oil train speed limits. The currently acceptable limit is 40 miles per hour.

"We've seen seen accident after accident happen below 40 miles an hour," Dixon says. "Below 20 miles per hour in many cases."

Also not on the regulatory table, critics say: track standards, bridge safety, and oil train accident insurance. Right now, a giant accident would not be fully covered by insurance, so the public would hold the financial bag.


Quiz: No test, no excuse, no problem

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-06 08:52

According to the Education Commission of the States, two states have laws that explicitly allow students to opt out of upcoming standardized tests.

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Google Thinks We're Clueless About Cocktails, And It Wants To Help

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-06 08:49

The world has been Googling up a storm on how to make cocktails like the Moscow Mule, Mojito and Whiskey Sour, according to the tech giant. So it's created a new feature to bring you that info faster.

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