National News

To Pay For Hepatitis C Drugs, Medicare Might Face A Steep Bill

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 12:01

The federal Medicare program for the elderly and disabled will cover two new drugs that can cure hepatitis C, a liver disease that can cause cancer and lead to death. The drugs are very expensive, but they cure hepatitis C in most cases. The government and insurers are concerned about these costs; three million Americans have hepatitis C, most of whom don't know they have it.

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After Weeks Of Voting, India's Opposition Party Gets A Sweeping Win

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 12:01

After several weeks, India's parliamentary elections have finally finished. Voters swept opposition leader Narendra Modi into power as prime minister, voting for the Hindu nationalist party he leads.

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Amid Raging Wildfires, Southern Californians Find Blaze On Doorstep

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 12:01

Wildfires are burning in California's San Diego County. Megan Burks of KPBS says that one person has been killed in the blaze, and high temperatures are frustrating containment efforts.

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Watergate Conspirator Jeb Stuart Magruder Dies At 79

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 11:45

As President Nixon's deputy campaign committee head, Magruder helped authorize the unsuccessful break in of the Democratic National Committee's headquarters on June 17, 1972.

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A Role Reversal In Pennsylvania's Race For Governor

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 11:39

GOP Gov. Tom Corbett is using a populist attack against Tom Wolf, the businessman who is leading the Democratic field in the May 20 primary.

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Do millionaires pick up stray coins on the street?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-16 11:09

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's an extended look at what's coming up next week:

Students from around the country are in Washington to compete in the annual National Geographic Bee championships getting underway Monday.

Look over your financial plans because Tuesday is Be a Millionaire Day. Something I think most of us like to think about. At least how we'll spend it.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee holds a roundtable discussion on economic security for working women.

And 60 years ago, Bill Haley and His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" was released as the B-side of the single "Thirteen Women." It still sounds totally rockin'.

Toward the end of the week, we get some reports on housing for April: Thursday, the National Association of Realtors reports on sales of existing homes. Friday, the Commerce Department issues data on new home sales.

And before you vanish into your three-day odyssey of BBQ, beaches and beer for Memorial Day weekend, let's land face up on National Lucky Penny Day.

That's right, pick that lucky penny up: you're working toward being a millionaire, after all.

Top VA Health Official Resigns Amid Scandal Over Treatment Delays

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 10:59

The resignation of the department's undersecretary for health comes a day after he and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testified before Congress.

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Five big stores that are moving online

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-16 10:49

To no one's surprise, online sales in the U.S. are continuing to steal a larger and larger share of the consumer market, and expected to hit $370 billion by 2017. Even though the overwhelming majority of stuff is sold offline, where you shouldn't shop for the latest Game of Thrones novel in your underwear, brick-and-mortar retailers are still doing everything they can to move into that still growing market. Here are five big stores that have said they are moving to become a bigger presence in the online market:

Staples

Staples is really feeling the pinch from online retail. According to its chairman, Ronald L. Sargent, online retail is the main reason Staples will close nearly 225 stores by the end of 2014. And with the closing of so many physical stores, Staples is trying to make sure it dominates the online office supply market. Already, online orders make up nearly half their business, and Staples now offers 500,000 products on its website, rather than the 100,000 offered just a year ago. It even acquired Runa, a tech company specializing in e-commerce personalization. However, investors might be wary of Staples' new direction, as its stocks fell 15 percent in one day when the company announced it would close stores.

Wal-Mart 

Amazon is still the king of selling everything you could possibly want over the internet, but Wal-Mart, known for its gargantuan stores in real life, could be closing the gap. In 2013, Wal-Mart’s online sales grew faster than Amazon’s for the first time. Wal-Mart’s had to invest heavily to catch up to Amazon, acquiring 12 tech companies and building a presence in Silicon Valley. But even though Wal-Mart is growing faster than Amazon, it’s still a world away. Just look at the numbers: While Wal-Mart racked up $10 billion dollars in online sales over 2013, Amazon took in $67.8 billion.

Apple

The Apple Store might be the shiniest place in the mall, but Apple’s online store might be even shinier -- metaphorically, that is. That’s because Apple is the second largest online retailer in the U.S., right behind Amazon. Factoring in the App store, iTunes, and sales of Apple’s hardware at Apple’s website, Apples pulls in $18.3 billion in online sales. It’s not that Apple doesn’t still value it’s retail stores; they’re doing very well. But for the first time in Apple’s history, one person is being put in charge of both the online store and the retail stores, which is supposed to bring more collaboration between the two entities. As it is now, Apple’s online and retail aspects are both extremely successful, leaving Apple in a pretty sweet spot.

Best Buy

According to its CEO, Best Buy is now an “online first” retailer -- as opposed to being a "showroom" when shoppers would browse Best Buy first, and then actually buy their electronics online. They’ve even hired a handful of tech people to update their decade-old (yup, decade old) website. They’ve also instituted a loyalty program that works with their website and started a big-data mining project called Athena to get customer information for a more focused experience. Perhaps most notably, they’re using innovative methods to attempt to get products to shoppers faster than Amazon. This is all in an effort to double their online sales, and hopefully compete in a market that may have left them behind.

Target

With the public relations fallout from a huge data breach as well as an employee rant going viral on Gawker, Target is in a pretty bad place right now. But the company is hoping a push toward online retail could help turn things around. It’s experimenting with Google to deliver same-day shipping, and it’s significantly expanded its online subscription service. However, if the anonymous employee rant is anything to go by, they have a long way to go.

Separatists Abandon Government Buildings In Eastern Ukraine

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 10:25

Patrols of miners and steelworkers, urged on by Ukraine's richest man, have forced pro-Russian partisans to end their occupation of some areas.

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That Darn Cat: 'Hero' Feline Will Throw Out First Pitch At Game

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 10:15

The cat that saved a young boy from an attacking dog became an Internet star this week. Next week, we'll see how Tara the cat does on the ball field.

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Introducing Roma Cuisine, The Little-Known 'Soul Food' Of Europe

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 09:46

There's a long history of prejudice against the Roma people in Europe. A non-profit in Slovenia is hoping to diffuse it by launching a restaurant serving the tastiest of the traditional Roma dishes.

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Introducing Roma Cuisine, The Little-Known 'Soul Food' Of Europe

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 09:46

There's a long history of prejudice against the Roma people in Europe. A non-profit in Slovenia is hoping to diffuse it by launching a restaurant serving the tastiest of the traditional Roma dishes.

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Economists find same-sex marriage gives a boost

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-16 09:03

This week marks ten years since the first legal same-sex marriages took place in the U.S. At 12:01 am on May 17, 2004, the state of Massachusetts started issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Since then, more than a dozen states have followed suit, and still more are in the middle of legal battles over whether they should.

Setting aside for a moment the debates around justice, personal freedom, and religion, there are also plenty of economic dimensions to the legalization of same sex marriage. While the research is limited, there are a number of studies that show that legalizing same sex marriage is a net good for the economy. A few years ago, researchers at the William’s Institute at UCLA conducted surveys and combed through state- tax records, and found that during the first years of same-sex weddings in Massachusetts, the local economy got a boost of more than $111 million. Studies of other states have shown similar benefits.

The benefits extend from a family budget to a state budget, says Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who is behind much of the research.

At the personal level, for couples who live in a state that recognizes gay marriage, legalization has “probably saved them a lot of money,” she says. “It gives people security to be treated legally as a family and to have access to health care benefits, social security benefits,” she says.

Across the country about 150,000 same sex couples have gotten married in the last ten years according to Badgett. Meaning, a bump in business for the companies that make those weddings happen. A survey from TheKnot.com found that the average same-sex couple spends about $10,000 on their wedding.

“That’s millions and millions of dollars that are being pumped in to local economies and small businesses, like florists, caterers and hotels,” Badgett says, pointing out that all this business has come at an important time-- during an otherwise gloomy economy.

“Our business keeps tripling every year,” says Michael Jamrock, the founder of EnGAYgedweddings.com, a national clearinghouse where LGBT-friendly wedding services pay to advertise their businesses to same-sex couples about to tie the knot. When Jamrock started the company six years ago, Massachusetts and Connecticut were the only states where same-sex marriage was legal. “Whenever a new state becomes legal, the traffic to the website is just absolutely phenomenal,” he says.

Legalization can also boost state revenue, says economist Badgett. States see more sales tax dollars—from couples spending on their weddings, and guests who travel from out of state to celebrate. There can also be a rise in income tax revenue from couples filing jointly.

Badgett says legalizing gay marriage can also mean less government spending on social safety net programs, as married couples pool financial resources often rely on less public assistance.

“When marriage strengthens families in terms of economic security, that's also good for state budgets,” she says.

Legalizing gay marriage can also bring some extra costs. Spouses of state and private employees may qualify for more retirement and health-care benefits. But economists who’ve crunched the numbers say on net, those costs don't outweigh the overall revenues.

A report in 2004 from the Congressional Budget Office, then headed up by Doug Holtz-Eakin (who now runs the conservative American Action Forum) estimated that if same-sex marriage was recognized in all fifty states and at the federal level, the federal budget’s bottom line “would improve the budget’s bottom line to a small extent: by less than $1 billion in each of the next 10 years.”

After Finding $40,000 In Thrift-Store Couch, Roommates Return Money

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:32

Two months after they bought a couch for $20, three roommates realized it was stuffed with envelopes of cash. They decided to track down the rightful owner.

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How Do You Count 500 Million Votes? A Look At India's Election

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:32

Parliamentary elections in the world's largest democracy ended on Friday with a landslide victory for the opposition. Photos offer a glimpse at the logistics behind a massive, six-week election.

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When Numbers Bleed, Freeze, Starve And Die On A Battlefield: The Dark Poetry Of Data

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:25

Let me tell you a story — a history story — that's all numbers, only numbers, and still packs an emotional wallop. Button up. It's 1812. In Russia. It's cold.

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How we measure the poverty line(s)

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:23

Until the mid-1960s, the U.S. didn't have an official, federal poverty line.

In 1963, the Social Security Administration asked one of its researchers, Mollie Orshanksy, to report on child poverty. Orshansky quickly realized there was no way to tell exactly how many children were living in poverty, and devised a simple calculation to determine who was poor. 

She took the the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "thrifty food plan," which estimated the minimum amount of food that cash-strapped families could survive on, and still be healthy.

In 1963, that food cost $1,033 dollars for the year. Data from surveys at the time showed the average family spent about a third of their income on food, so Orshanksy took that $1,033 and multiplied it by three. Any family earning less than that amount was below the poverty line. Fifty years later, that is still how the federal government determines who is in poverty: the minimum you need for food, multiplied by three.

Many poverty researchers find that problematic, because these days, the average family spends about one-seventh of its income on food, not one third. But other costs, like housing, medical care, childcare and commuting have risen.

For the past few years, the Census Bureau has published a Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes those rising costs into account, along with whether people live in low-cost or high-cost areas. The Supplemental measure also adds in the benefits that many low-income people recieve like SNAP and subsidized housing.

Many poverty researchers agree the supplemental measure paints a more accurate picture of who is in poverty, but the government still uses Orshanky's original formula to determine its official measure.

Why The U.S. Shunned The Man Who Will Now Lead India

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:21

The U.S. and other Western governments ostracized Narendra Modi for the past decade. They are now willing to deal with him, but it's not clear how warm those relations might be.

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Wole Soyinka: I Just Want Those Monsters Exterminated

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:09

The Nigerian Nobel laureate says the abduction of more than 250 girls by extremist group Boko Haram is a defining moment for his country.

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GM To Pay Record Fine Over Safety Recall

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:06

The Department of Transportation on Friday announced that it's ordering General Motors to pay a $35 million civil penalty for the handling of its ignition switch problems.

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