National News

Iraqi Leader Visits Washington Looking For Help In Fight Against Islamic State

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 14:09

Iraq's prime minister is trying to drum up military support against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which controls parts of his country. He is also looking for billions of dollars in loans.

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Drone Strike Reportedly Kills Al-Qaida Leader In Yemen

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 13:53

Ibrahim al-Rubaish was a prominent al-Qaida cleric who was released from Guantanamo Bay in 2006. He had a $5 million bounty on his head.

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How AeroPress Fans Are Hacking Their Way To A Better Cup Of Coffee

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 13:38

Coffee aficionados say the simple, syringe-like device makes exceptional espresso and allows for countless variations on the perfect cup. Not surprising, given that its inventor is a serial tinkerer.

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When Rates Turn Negative, Banks Pay Customers To Borrow

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 13:26

European interest rates are being pushed so low — to less than zero — that some banks are paying borrowers to take loans. Such low rates are aimed at boosting Europe's economy, but there are risks.

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Thousands Of Young Women In U.S. Forced Into Marriage

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 12:51

Sometimes the women aren't allowed to leave their homes. Some commit suicide. Many have little recourse, advocates say, because current laws are ill-equipped to address this hidden crisis.

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Advocates Fight to Keep Sheltered Workshops For Disabled Workers

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 12:21

Such workshops are being closed across the U.S., more than 15 years after the Supreme Court said separate work settings constitute discrimination. But advocates say clients have nowhere else to go.

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No Rest For Your Sleeping Brain

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:43

No wonder the brain needs so much energy. The same coordinated activity that allows you to retrieve a specific memory, like what you had for breakfast, continues at rest and even during sleep.

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White House Says It Will Remove Cuba From List Of State Sponsors Of Terrorism

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:41

The move is just one part of the Obama administration's push to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.

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Why The FDA Is Clueless About Some Of The Additives In Our Food

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:29

In recent decades, the number of food additives has skyrocketed from about 800 to more than 10,000. A legal loophole in food safety law means companies can add them to foods with no government review.

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Tea Tuesdays: Evolution Of Tea Sets From Ancient Legend To Modern Biometrics

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:23

Legend has it that a Chinese emperor first discovered tea more than 4,700 years ago. As the culture surrounding tea has changed through the centuries, so, too, have the tools we use to drink it.

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Jon Ronson on the renaissance of public shaming

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:06

There was a time when trolls were just scary fairy tale creatures under bridges harassing billy goats. These days? Trolls are everywhere.

Journalist Jon Ronson documents this public shaming renaissance in his new book, "So You've Been Publicly Shamed."

He highlights the recipients of some recent high-profile, public shamings: a joke on Twitter that came out badly and went viral, a brand compelled to offer compensation to unhappy customers. He says where once there was public humiliation you actually had to show up for, now there are subtweets and anonymous YouTube comments. 

"We've created this system for ourselves ... this kind of weird surveillance system, where the only way to survive is to either be bland or silent," Ronsen says.

More often than not, Ronsen says, public shaming stems from good people just trying to do good:

"It was nice people like us wanting to show that we're proper, and ethical, and empathetic and we're attacking—we're punching up, we're attacking people misusing their privilege. It's good people like us that are creating the most destruction."

Ronson himself has recently received a fair amount of Internet backlash surrounding the book release, for a (now cut) line comparing the way men feel about getting fired to the way women feel about rape.

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above to hear more, including Ronson's take on Trevor Noah, the new (publicly shamed) host of "The Daily Show."

The intersection of food, sustainability and politics

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:00

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee isn't usually a group that stirs up great controversy in Washington, but its 2015 draft report shocked policymakers because it desecrated the sacred cow. Or at least, it suggested that the average American's 113 pounds of red meat consumed per year could have a negative health and environmental impact. 

It even suggested that a vegan diet could result in ideal health and environmental outcomes. "Sustainability is not something that's within the purview of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee," says Eric Mittenthal, of the North American Meat Institute. "That should be looked at by experts in sustainability."

Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University and vice chair of the committee, said they didn't consider politics — just science.

"The...report did indicate that lean red meat could be a perfectly acceptable component of the diet," she says. "Lean" is the only category of red meat the committee recommends.

Marion Nestle, a New York University nutrition professor and author of "Food Politics," said she thinks it's about time the committee consider the American diet's impact on the world. Calling the draft guidelines "groundbreaking," Nestle said they were scientifically sound. 

"The committee said the healthiest diet has a lot of plant foods in it," Nestle says. "And guess what? The most sustainable diet you can possibly eat is exactly the same."

Tapping Watson's computing power for health

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:00

There is a new push into the potentially lucrative world of health data analytics. In collaboration with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic, IBM has launched what it calls the "Watson Health Cloud," a service it believes will help you and me be healthier.

Let’s face it, when it comes to data, healthcare – as an industry – is still in the crawling stage.

“When you go to your doctor today, you see computers on the tables, in the exam rooms,” says Dr. Atul Butte, who's at the University of California San Francisco. “And doctors and nurses are entering a lot of data about patients, but the average amount of data is probably never looked at again.”

Butte says the Watson Health Cloud is an effort to mine the gold in that data that’s currently just sitting around. The promise is to gather distinct data threads, from heart rates measured by Apple Watches to blood pressure levels in the ICU, and weave them all together. That, says Dr. Kyu Rhee, IBM’s chief health officer, will give insurers, doctors and patients something illusive: a clearer picture of one person’s health. “The extraordinary opportunity we have with the data available, the knowledge that exists, to be able to connect that, that’s what this is fundamentally about,” he says.

IBM hopes to work with hospitals and insurers. Apple wants a seat at the adult’s healthcare table. And for Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic, it’s a chance to gauge product performance in the field. Industry analyst Tim Barjarin of Creative Strategies says other companies are offering similar services, but these behemoths are well positioned.

“The belief right now is that Apple could sell anywhere from 15 to 20 million smart watches in just the first year," he says, meaning Apple and IBM could create the "gold standard" in this sector.

Barjarin says if these guys can pull it off, healthcare’s use of data may finally be ready to graduate to the walking stage.

A look at the gender wage gap across the US

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:00

Tuesday is Equal Pay Day, a  day designed to draw attention to the unequal pay men and women get in this economy.  

There are lots of caveats and warnings about the pay gap data, but the generally accepted number is that women make about 78 cents for every buck a man earns.  The folks over at FiveThirtyEight have aggregated some state by state data, and came out with -- what else in data journalism today, but a chart.

Washington, D.C. is the closest to pay parity. Women there make 90 cents to every man's dollar.

Wyoming's dead last: 63 cents there.

Mixed signals: Decoding the economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:00

Consumer spending finally rebounded, big banks are doing great, and people are optimistic about the stock market. So why isn’t the economy doing as well as  you might expect? Marketplace editor Paddy Hirsch explains the mixed signals.

Consumer spending:

Consumer spending rebounded after three months of declining retail sales, but the increase isn’t as strong as people were expecting. Economists believed that recent job gains, wealth gains, and low gas prices should have added up to a resurgence in consumer sentiment. However, it seems that people are saving money and paying off debt, instead of pumping money into the economy. It’s a big deal if people aren’t spending, because the consumer economy makes up about 2/3 of the U.S. economy.

Big banks:

Big banks have reported positive first quarter earnings, but it’s not because people are saving money. Rather, banks are running certain sectors well, like trading and lending. Bank success this quarter doesn’t have anything to do with the consumer economy.

The stock market:

There is currently a disconnect between what is happening in the actual economy and what is happening in the stock market.

The stock market is doing really well, but that isn’t a reflection of what’s happening today. It’s a bet on what’s going to be going on in the economy in six months. Right now, people are optimistic about the stock market which is why the bet is so good. A lot of people are saying we might see a 5-10% correction in the next six months.

In California, farmers' water market is drying up

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:00

For at least 25 years, California has been developing an informal “spot market” for water. Cities or farmers looking for more water can often buy it from water districts that have more senior water rights and may not need all the water they get from state or federal water projects. But the state’s extreme drought is pushing the limits of that market. Supply is so constricted that even traditionally water-rich districts aren’t always willing to sell. 

“If we’re water-short in our area, we’re not going to sell water outside of our area,” Ted Trimble says.  Trimble, general manager of the Western Canal Water District, says the rice farmers in his northern California district and some others recently opted out of a tentative deal to sell their water to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. That’s because they found out their own water allocations from the state would be cut in half.

Right now, the California water market is “very supply-constrained," says Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.  “So when a market gets highly constrained, the number of transactions contracts and prices goes up. And that’s what’s happening in California.”  

MWD was willing to pay $700 an acre foot for the rice farmers’ water.  That’s twice as much as the going price five years ago, according to Trimble.  An acre foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre one foot deep in water, or roughly the water supply used by two families of four in one year.

North Dakota oilfield slowdown ripples across businesses

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:00

From Greg Gieser's at an oilfield services company in Kildeer, N.D., there are plenty of signs of a slowdown. He sees less traffic on the roads and fewer trucks clogging up the gas station. And then there's the drilling rigs—some of which are effectively mothballed.

“You'll see a field where there will be 18 drilling rigs, just sitting there, not doing anything,” he says.

And at Trilliant Oilfield Services, where Gieser is area supervisor for North Dakota, business is not exactly booming. The firm rents out equipment used for drilling new oil wells. In the past, it also made crews available for roustabout services—odd jobs on the oilfield. Both of those business lines have slowed down.

“We used to have half a dozen employees here and that's just gone by the wayside,” says Gieser. “They wanted me to hire more people, I just didn't see it, for the little bit of work that we do.”

Gieser surmises that if he had a sales rep, he could drum up more business, but the market forces aren’t working in his favor. A huge drop in oil prices is rippling across North Dakota, the second biggest oil producer in the U.S. Oil companies are backing off on the costly investment of drilling new wells because they may not be able to sell their oil profitably. Today there are about 90 rigs drilling new wells in the state, more than 50 percent fewer than a year ago.

The retrenchment is holding down revenue and headcounts at a whole host of businesses with ties to the oilfield.

Greg Gieser’s trying to keep his company going through the slow times by whatever means necessary.

“I rented a space in my yard to a company. Rented my building out. Whatever you can do to get revenue in and cut costs,” he says.

Bob Horab, the owner of a firm called McCody Concrete in Williston, N.D.

Todd Melby

Meanwhile, oilfield companies want steep discounts from their service providers. Bob Horab, the owner of a firm called McCody Concrete in Williston, N.D., says negotiating those requests is like playing poker.  

“I like to play poker with these guys just as much as they like to play with me. So we'll see what happens,” he says. “Who's going to tip their hand first? Am I going to chance losing their business or am I going to just fold?”

 About 60 percent of the business at Horab's company is tied to oil. His concrete slabs serve as bases for heavy vessels and pumpjacks on the oilfield.

Horab says it'll likely be a while before the oil downturn really takes a toll on his business, and he may be able to offset any declines with commercial construction projects. But it’s clear that requests for discounts on his oilfield products are causing consternation in the meantime.

“The thing about it is, is, profit isn't a dirty word. They're in it for profit as am I. And if they break me, because I can't produce a profit, if I'm working at a loss, and if I go away, what good am I to anybody?” he asks. “When things come back, and I'm not here, then what do they do?”

Some business owners in the oil patch have much more immediate concerns about survival.

Mark Pyatt, owner of Killer Diesel Performance in Williston, N.D.

Todd Melby

Mark Pyatt owns a repair shop called Killer Diesel Performance in Williston, N.D., where segment his parking lot has been dubbed "Death Row.” It consists of trucks left behind by customers, largely oilfield workers, who were previously flush with cash. They'd pay thousands of dollars to beef up their diesel engines so their trucks would go faster. But now, several customers aren't paying their bills. 

Pyatt points to a black pick-up truck with enormous tires and wheels. He says the owner spent about $12,000 on bells and whistles and then found out the motor is bad, so he doesn’t want to fix it.

“And what's probably happened—probably work slowed down and he can't afford to. And it's been sitting here for two and a half months,” Pyatt says. “And if he doesn't pay the bill he owes, he'll never get it back.”

An employee of Killer Diesel Performance 

Todd Melby

The reversal of fortune for Pyatt has been abrupt. He says when he opened his doors last August, he had so much business that his mechanics were each earning about $9,000 a month. They still have some work trickling in, but Pyatt says it's not enough.

“They should probably be looking for jobs here shortly, and they know that,” he says.

Pyatt expects to close his doors this summer. He says a buyer is interested in taking the place off his hands and turning it around.

“I say more power to you, if that's the case,” he says. “But I have warned him fairly. I just do not believe that's possible.”

Pyatt's a tall guy with a long, scruffy beard, and the words "love hard" tattooed on his knuckles. He comes across as a mostly cheerful guy. But his outlook on the future of Williston is gloomy. If the oil industry bounces back, as many here hope it will, it won't happen soon enough to save businesses like his.

“It's called a boom town,” he says. “Why do they call it a boom town? It has to have a bust, otherwise they'd just call it a town.”

Chicago Plans Reparations Fund For Victims Of Police Torture In '70s, '80s

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 09:30

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is supporting the proposed $5.5 million package. More than 100 people are eligible for reparations for their treatment at the hands of a former police commander.

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End Of FX's Excellent 'Justified' Highlights TV's Vanishing Westerns

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 09:18

FX's powerful modern-day Western 'Justified' airs its series finale tonight. NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans says its end underscores the decline of a once-powerful TV genre.

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Cheap Oil Fueling Global Growth. Now If We Just Had Roads And Bridges

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 09:05

The World Economic Outlook released by the International Monetary Fund says the pace of economic growth in 2015 will tick up to 3.5 percent, helped along by lower energy costs and weaker currencies.

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