National News

The pollutants in your face wash

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:39

Lots of personal care products—like facial scrubs and even some toothpastes—are jammed with little plastic beads.  When they go down the drain, they end up in our lakes and rivers, by the millions.  They’re too small to be filtered out by water-treatment systems.  

New York legislators are reviewing a proposed ban following a request from non-profit group 5 Gyres Institute, which monitors plastic wastes in the oceans. A couple of years ago, their research team went hunting in the Great Lakes.

The group’s executive director, Anna Cummings, stayed home, but her husband, the head researcher, made the trip.  

"So my husband called me from Lake Erie," she says, "and he said, ‘You’ll never believe this, but in a sample from Lake Erie, we had 1,500 little particles of plastic, and it looks like they’re microbeads from facial products.’”

When he got home, he bought a 5.5 oz. tube of Clean & Clear scrub and started counting beads. Cummings watched him stay up till 2 a.m., three nights running.

"It’s an average of 300,000 in one single tube," she says.

5 Gyres asked companies to take the little beads out of products. Some, including Johnson & Johnson, agreed to phase them out in favor of natural alternatives. But there were too many companies to track down.

In response, 5 Gyres has asked states to ban the products outright. New York’s attorney general pushed for that state’s legislation, which would ban the beads by the end of 2015.  

"It's a significant problem," says Lemuel Srolovic, who heads the office's Environmental Protection Bureau. "They kind of act like tiny sponges to which toxic chemicals—that may be in low concentrations in the water—really concentrate on these beads."

If fish eat the beads, those toxins could end up in the human food chain.  

Later this week, a California legislator expects to introduce a similar bill.  That would make two big markets off-limits.

Demian Conover, who watches Johnson & Johnson for Morningstar, says if that company hadn’t already agreed to phase out the beads, state laws like this would force the issue.

"If you lose those two states, you’re starting to lose some pretty critical scale," he says. "You start to defeat the branding strategy that these companies go for."

He thinks a company like Johnson & Johnson would rejigger the product, or dump it. 5 Gyres has a list of five other states that may consider similar bills soon.

How watching the Olympics is like a sport of its own

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:39

The Olympics are pressure packed, aren't they?

For viewers, I mean. In today's world, knowledge is currency, and if you want to be competitive at parties and in the office, you've got to be as focused as an athlete.
 
NBC is running 1,539 hours of programming across its broadcast and digital platforms, and an unprecedented 18 nights of primetime coverage. Heaven forbid you become dehydrated -- watching other people exercise -- and crawl to the kitchen for water. You could miss the defining moment of Sochi 2014. Sure, you could watch the replay-but then you might miss another Moment, and pitch yourself into a credit-card debt-like spiral from which you could never recover.
 
There are athletes' backstories to be moved by; the names of snowboarding tricks to learn-and-forget; and scandals and Twitter feeds to follow. I signed up for so many summaries that my inbox is crammed with news of distant athletes whom I need to feign interest in, lest I seem like a philistine.
 
Do you know what happens if you slack off? I do. Over the weekend I was so busy enjoying a YouTube video of an Indian luger whizzing down a Himalyan highway to train for the Olympics--he startled a flock of sheep--that I missed him in the actual Olympics.
 
That should have taught me a lesson, but on Sunday night when Downton Abbey rolled around, I felt the pull of the Dowager Countess, and unlike the Olympians I admire, I gave up.
 
NBC, I understand your desire to recoup your $775 million investment. But one report said you might sell as many as 5,500 minutes of ad time. That's plain cruel. How about we call a truce: We'll watch the entire Olympiad-even the ads -- if you make it less of an endurance event. Let's think three-part mini-series. Because really, if we all love figure skating so much, why can we only stomach it once every four years?

Comedian And Actor Sid Caesar Has Died At 91

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:23

The multitalented Sid Caesar, who took live and complex comedy skits on the air as a pioneer in 1950s TV, has died at 91. Caesar, who established a new comedic tradition in America before he was 30, died in Los Angeles this week.

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Sid Caesar, One Of TV's Earliest Stars, Dies At The Age Of 91

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

The comic actor Sid Caesar died on Wednesday at the age of 91. He starred in the popular 1950s program, Your Show of Shows, television's first live comedy show, featuring skits and musical numbers.

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Senate Follows House Lead In Passing Debt Limit Raise

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

Eager to follow their House colleagues out of Washington for a break, senators Wednesday cleared a raise to the debt ceiling for the president to sign into law. It will take the issue of limiting U.S. debt off the table until March 2015.

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Something Winter This Way Comes: The South Braces For Storms

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

A debilitating winter storm is creating havoc across the Deep South on Wednesday. As much as a foot of snow is expected in Georgia and the Carolinas. Ice will also be a problem: Forecasters say that up to an inch of it will coat roads and power lines. Jim Burress of member station WABE reports from Atlanta that hundreds of thousands of people are without electricity.

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American Speedskaters Leave Ice Disappointed

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

U.S. speedskating took a big hit in Sochi today, coming out of the 1,000-meter competition with no medals. The team's highest rank was eighth, earned by Shani Davis, who has dominated this race in the past.

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More Findings, More Questions About Value Of Mammograms

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

A long-running study has been raising questions about the value of mammography for younger women, and recently it has produced yet more evidence to cast doubt on routine screening. The study found no evidence that screening saved lives, even after 25 years of follow-up. Rather, screening may lead instead to unnecessary treatment for many women. The findings are unlikely to settle debate over the value of mammography.

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Face Of Katrina Recovery Found Guilty Of Corruption Charges

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

Wednesday in New Orleans, a federal jury convicted former Mayor Ray Nagin on 20 of 21 corruption counts. The two-term mayor was in office when Hurricane Katrina struck and was the public face of the city during the city's rebuilding. Federal prosecutors say that it was during this time he took bribes to steer rebuilding contracts to businessmen.

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Surprise Pot Hole Claims 8 Vintage Corvettes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., met with a rude surprise on Wednesday morning. A sinkhole — 40 feet wide and 20 feet deep — opened beneath part of the museum, swallowing eight vintage Corvettes. To find out more, Robert Siegel speaks with Katie Frassinelli, the museum's communications manager.

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Two Decades From War, Unrest Simmers Anew In Bosnia

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, protesters have begun to gather in several towns to demand the resignation of the regional government. Their complaints range from corruption to unemployment, but some say the roots of the unrest can be found in the flawed system established two decades ago, in the wake of sectarian civil war. Robert Siegel speaks with Reuters correspondent Matt Robinson about the changes that need to be made and the unclear path forward.

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Behind Besieged Walls, UN Peacekeeper Sees War's Toll On Syrians

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

In the war-torn Syrian city of Homs, a tenuous cease-fire is set to expire on Wednesday. Fighting has centered on a district within Homs known as the Old City, a rebel-held area under siege by government forces for more than a year. For more on the cease-fire and evacuation, Melissa Block talks with Matt Hollingworth, the Syria director for the United Nations World Programme.

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At 102, Reflections On Race And The End Of Life

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

Rosa Finnegan worked until she was 101. Even now, she says, she's still learning things about herself. "Even as old as I am," she says, "you think you're not prejudiced, but all of a sudden you really find out you are. How stupid I was. 'Cause before you know it, it's all over."

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Risky Tech Fixes For Climate Becoming Likelier, Critic Warns

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

As time runs out to put the brakes on global warming, world leaders seem loathe to reduce gas emissions, because it's politically hard, says social scientist Clive Hamilton. Instead, he worries, we'll try to engineer the atmosphere — a tech fix that sounds quicker and simpler – but is fraught with risk.

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25 for 25: Leave the big numbers to Janet Yellen

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-12 12:55

There's a small problem with numbers we use to measure the economy. You know, those numbers you hear on Marketplace every day.

"One simple number is never going to capture simple reality," says Zachary Karabell, historian and economist and author of "The Leading Indicators: A short history of the numbers that rule our world."

"When these numbers were invented, largely during the 1930s and '40s, they were invented to capture a world of industrial nation states and having those as markers was incredibly helpful," says Karabell. But the world has changed since then and "these numbers remain very good at capturing that world but not the world that we currently live in."

The U.S. government first started using data to help it understand the economy in the 1930s. It was the beginning of the Great Depression and President Herbert Hoover realized he had no way to actually know how bad the economy was. He wanted numbers. To measure unemployment, for example, he helped launch the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unfortunately for President Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to use those numbers as a tool to help defeat Hoover in the election.

To this day, the Bureau of Labor Statistics measures unemployment in the United States. But, says Karabell, you should keep in mind that to the BLS, being "unemployed" is not just not having a job. You  have to not have a job, have been looking for a job for the previous four weeks, and then not be able to find one.

"If you don’t fit that particularly category, you are not statistically speaking unemployed you just evaporate from the labor force," he says.

Another problem is that these numbers often rely on averages. Think about the per capita income of your average neighborhood bar. Now imagine Bill Gates walks in – immediately, the per capita income rises. But it's a meaningless rise and tells you nothing about the economics of that neighborhood.  

Karabell recommends leaving the big numbers like GDP and inflation to Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other government policy makers. For the rest of us, it's "much more important what the housing reality is in the 50 mile radius of where you’re going to buy a home than what the national number is."

We’re more likely to be misled by broad national numbers than correctly informed by them.

Democrats Clash In Military Sexual Assault Debate

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 12:48

Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are at odds over whether military commanders should retain control over pursuing prosecution in sexual assault cases.

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With Senate's OK, Debt Limit Bill Will Head To White House

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 12:45

The Senate has voted to extend the federal debt limit, giving final congressional approval to a bill that is meant to cover the government's finances into 2015. The measure passed on a 55-43 vote.

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One More Year, Yankees' Jeter Says, Announcing Retirement Plan

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 12:21

"I want to start by saying thank you," New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter tells fans. The idea of Jeter retiring from pro ball has been a subject of debate in recent years, driven in part by his age and a nagging ankle injury.

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California's drought: Bad, but not the whole economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-12 12:16

It’s dry here in California. Really dry. The state is facing its worst drought in more than a century.

President Obama will be in Fresno, the heart of the agricultural Central Valley, to check things out Friday. The governor has declared a statewide emergency.

The drought is decidedly bad for farmers. But what it’ll mean for the rest of the economy isn’t as obvious. 

At 7:30 a.m. at the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, the day was coming to an end. Jesse Martin, president of Value Produce, showed me the fruit he had for sale: kiwi, strawberries, grapes, melons. His take on the drought: "everyone is going to get hurt."

But, he’s not that worried. "It’ll be a little more money to the housewife," he says.

The housewife -- and the rest of us who eat.

But, a few extra dollars for fruit each week is nothing compared to what some California farmers are in for. Without water, crops will die. The California Farm Water Coalition estimates 500,000 acres will be fallowed. It says the drought could cost the agriculture industry $2 billion. And $2 billion sounds big. It is big.

But, it isn’t a disaster for the state. Not yet.

"It’s not the sort of thing that’s going to tip the state into recession or anything like that," said Jeffrey Michael, head of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific.

California’s GDP is $2 trillion.  The economy here is the same size as Russia’s.

"The state’s overall economy is primarily a service economy in big coastal metro areas," Michael said, "which is pretty much unaffected by the drought." 

Agriculture uses about 80 percent of California’s developed water. The state grows two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts. But, agriculture is only about 2 percent of the state’s economy.

"The economy of California is huge," Michael said. "We don’t want to minimize the impacts. You can make just about anything in California look small just by comparing it to the total."

The power industry is pinched by the drought. Fisheries. Recreation. Some towns are just a few months away from running out of water.

Without rain, or a change in how we use water, things could get a whole lot worse.

David Rose is an analyst and water expert at Wedbush Securities. We peered out a tenth floor window, looking at rooftops dotted with cooling towers. These towers, Rose said, sustain Los Angeles. And use a tremendous amount of water.

Everyone needs water. Farmers. Manufacturers. Lawyers. Movie executives. Even securities analysts.

"It’s very important for California from a competitive perspective to attract businesses," Rose said, "and in order to attract businesses, you have to insure 100 percent reliable affordable water, every single day."

Right now, Rose said, California is thirsty for more water than it has. If this drought continues, it may have even less to drink in the future. Which means the state has some long term figuring to do.  

Study casts doubt on value of mammograms

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-12 12:10

When it comes to women's health, routine mammograms are part of the gospel. But now, an in depth study in the British Medical Journal says the screening tests may not be that useful after all.

Researchers followed 90,000 women for 25 years, and determined that there was no difference in breast cancer deaths between women who got mammograms and those who did not. 

Around 37 million mammograms are performed every year in the US, and they cost about $100 a piece. That’s not always money well spent, says Dr. Steven Narod, one of the study' authors.

"Our conclusion is that if it worked, we would see it," says Narod.

He adds this study is just the latest of many that have found mammograms to be ineffectual for most women. Still, mammograms remain one of the most widely used medical screenings. Nearly 75 percent of women over 40 have had one in the past year, and study findings have been widely disputed.

"The pushback comes from two sides: One is the radiologists, and secondly, the patients themselves," says Narod.

J.B. Silvers is a professor of health care finance at Case Western Reserve University. He says years of awareness campaigns and marketing have patients demanding the tests, and a lot of doctors prescribing them.

"The whole idea of medicine is 'do no harm', it doesn’t say 'do cost effective'. So, if it looks like something might be of value and might be able to help you out, there’s a big incentive to go ahead and do it."

But there can be real harm in taking unneeded tests. "We end up with 1 screen-detected cancer in 3 being over-diagnosed, and that means that women got breast cancer therapy that they really didn’t need," says epidemiologist Cornelia Baines, who co-authored the study.

In a statement, The American College of Radiology said mammograms have saved millions of lives, the study is deeply flawed, and didn’t include the most updated screening technology.

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