National News

White House Seeks Ways To Go It Alone In Keeping Companies Stateside

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

The Obama administration is exploring ways to prevent U.S. businesses from relocating abroad to save money on taxes. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew indicated that Congress would need to act, but now the administration says it is looking for ways to act on its own.

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With Gazans' Eyes On Cairo, Hamas Hopes For Leverage

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

War's toll on Gaza has been brutal, claiming civilians' lives and leveling buildings. But Hamas and many Gazans say the conflict was necessary, because they had run out of options in negotiating. If Palestinians come away with concessions after peace talks in Egypt, many think the damage will all have been worthwhile.

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Iraq's Widening War Imperils A Religious Minority

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 11:57

The Yazidis are an ancient religious sect concentrated in a remote corner of Iraq. They've been thrust into the spotlight of Iraq's nasty conflict, with thousands taking refuge in barren mountains.

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Gluten-Free Food Banks Bridge Celiac Disease And Hunger

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 11:34

It's not always easy for people with celiac disease to find gluten-free food. And it's even harder for lower-income people with the disease who rely on food pantries to help them fill their bellies.

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Michigan Man Found Guilty In Shooting Death Of Girl On His Porch

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 11:15

The white homeowner said he shot the 19-year-old because he'd felt threatened when she pounded on his door after 4 a.m. She had crashed her car about half a mile from his house.

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Obama Signs $16 Billion VA Health Care Bill Into Law

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 11:01

The legislation provides funding to improve facilities and hire more medical staff, along with allowing more veterans to use private facilities.

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The slick business behind 'Sharknado(es)'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-07 10:54

The movie industry is suffering from a poor year at the box office, but one production company is doing better than ever.

The Asylum is an L.A.-based film company that made cinematic gems like "The Terminators", "Titanic II" and "Transmorphers."  If these titles sound familiar, that’s because they were inspired by actual blockbuster hits. These "mockbusters," as they're called, were made to ride the coattails of their namesakes.

Co-founder David Michael Latt is now the head of production. He says bigger movie studios use their strategy all the time.

“They just call it 'drafting'. It’s like having 'Volcano' and 'Dante’s Peak' at the same time. When you find out somebody’s making a film about transforming robots, basically, the appetite out there... is that people want more about transforming robots. So we’re gonna go create a film that kind of takes advantage of the awareness.”

Since The Asylum’s launch in 1997, it has made over 200 movies and none of them have lost money. Their most recent film is "Sharknado 2: The Second One", which was seen by almost four million people – the largest audience the SyFy channel has ever had.

Latt says his company is lucky to have lasted this long in the business.

“We don’t have outside investors. We are a cash flow company. The reason why we make so many movies is because we need to keep this dog and pony show up and running –because the film we make today is the film that’s gonna fund the film five months from now.”

If The Asylum's success continues, Latt says he’d be happy to field offers from bigger studio interested in buying them out. For now, he's having plenty of fun.

Listen to one of The Asylum's partners Paul Bales read a letter from some less than friendly "fan" mail and offer his response...

...and listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Film by Preditorial.

Music: [include the linked Attribution 3.0]

"The Descent" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"Say Yeah" Topher Mohr and Alex Elena
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 

"Wah Game Loop" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"Rollin at 5" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"Mandeville" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"Monkeys Spinning Monkeys" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"Feelin Good" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Embattled Montana Senator Withdraws From Race

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 10:34

In the wake of plagiarism accusations, appointed Democratic Sen. John Walsh announced Thursday he would not seek a full term in November.

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NCAA Votes To Give New Autonomy To Big Conferences

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 10:20

Elite college sports conferences can set their own rules about sharing profits with student-athletes, under a new policy adopted by the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors on Thursday.

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Transformer Paper Turns Itself Into A Robot. Cool!

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 10:03

Start with paper; add Shrinky Dinks, a microprocessor, heat, and voila! It's not quite that easy. But this engineering project might one day lead to a printable, flat spacecraft that folds itself.

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Interval Training While Walking Helps Control Blood Sugar

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 09:17

Sure, you know that walking is a simple, low-impact way to get exercise. But did you know that adding faster intervals to the walk could help control blood sugar levels?

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As ISIS Advances In Iraq's North, U.S. Weighs Airstrikes, Humanitarian Aid

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 08:57

There are also reports that the Sunni militant group had captured Iraq's biggest dam, which controls the water supply for a huge swath of land.

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Young, Idealistic And Transsexual: Speaking Out In Africa

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 08:55

Tampose Mapotheng was born a girl but now lives as a man — a difficult choice in Lesotho. He's spent the summer in the U.S., learning to be a more effective advocate for the LGBTI community.

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Familiar Name Returns To Missouri Ballot

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 08:02

Jay Ashcroft, the son of the former U.S. attorney general — and governor and senator — is following in his father's footsteps by running for office.

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Butterfly Shifts From Shabby To Chic With A Tweak Of The Scales

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 07:58

By playing with the physics of wing color, scientists get a glimpse into how butterflies get their colors, and how quickly they can evolve from brown to brilliant.

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How Texas can live with lower carbon emissions

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-07 07:49

When the Environmental Protection Agency released its Clean Power Plan, its proposal for regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants, every state got its own target for reducing emissions. The EPA's plan creates some challenges for Texas, but it also creates major opportunities for the second-biggest state.

The biggest challenge, before and after the EPA's plan: air conditioning.  Texas summers are murder without it, and the state’s grid has to be ready for demand to spike quickly on hot days.

On a summer day, eight technicians manage that challenge from a huge, dim room near Austin. The silence is deafening, and the visual stimulus is overwhelming, with most of the light coming from computer monitors — 10 or so on each desk, plus the big board — 50 feet wide, with maps, charts, weather projections, all shifting in real time.  

This is the control room at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — ERCOT for short. It looks a little like something out of the TV show “24,” but a lot quieter. "It’s not as crazy, if you will, as what you would see on an episode of '24,'" says Dan Woodfin, ERCOT's operations director.  "Even when things get a little hectic, you d0n't hear a lot of voices raised." When managing an electric grid that serves about 24 million people, he says, it helps to keep a cool head.

ERCOT sends signals to different power sources — coal, gas, wind and nuclear — to turn on and off at just the right time to keep the air conditioning running for those 24 million people. Each source costs a different amount to run and takes a different amount of time to turn on and off.

Near Houston, Steve Hedge watches ERCOT’s signals at a giant power plant he manages for NRG Energy. The plant has three different types of generators.  

First, coal: "The coal units are low-cost generation," Hedge says. "They run all the time, 24 hours a day."

Next come some big natural gas generators. "Gas is a lot more expensive fuel than coal, right now, so it costs more to make that power," says Hedge. "Those units start and stop every day during the summertime."

But they don’t start on a dime. Three hours, minimum. So what if the temperature suddenly spikes?

That’s where another kind of natural gas generator comes in — a peaker.  "This unit can respond to those short peaks," says Hedge. "Start real quick, provide the power, and then shut off." It’s less efficient and more expensive to run, but it comes in handy on hot days.

So, Steve Hedge, his counterparts at other plants and ERCOT are all working with two variables: Cost and timing.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan introduces a third: Carbon emissions. The coal generators are cheap to run because coal is cheap, but they emit more carbon dioxide. 

One way or another reducing emissions will raise electricity prices, probably by some switching from coal to less-cheap gas. "About a billion dollars a year in increased costs for energy," says John Larsen, an analyst with the Rhodium Group, which issued a study on the Clean Power Plan in July. He says that billion-dollar bill, spread across Texas and three next-door states, comes with a big upside for the region: "Anywhere from two or three billion dollars a year, up to 16 or 17."

Those billions will come from pumping more natural gas, because lots of states — not just Texas — will have to do some switching from coal to gas. "That increases demand for natural gas, so parts of the country that produce natural gas do quite well," says Larsen. "In fact, Texas is one of the largest gas-producing states in the country." Meaning that Texas will see more upside than most.  

A construction project behind one of Hedge’s coal generators could point to a second big advantage for Texas under the EPA's proposal. NRG is starting to build a system to capture the carbon dioxide. "We’re going to take that CO2, we’re going to put it in a pipeline, and inject it in an oilfield south of the plant," says Hedge.

The project, called Petra Nova, combines two things:  First, carbon capture, the part happening here. That's technology the EPA would like to see used more, but it’s expensive.

The second part pays the bill, by putting that carbon to lucrative use in the oilfield. Pump carbon into a low-performing oilfield, and it will pump out more oil, a technique called "enhanced oilfield recovery." Arun Banskota, president of NRG subsidiary Petra Nova, says the oilfield produces about 500 barrels daily right now. "Once we get carbon into that same field," he says, "we will be producing about 15,000 barrels a day." That's 30 times as much.

Banskota hopes to repeat the process elsewhere. He says there are lots of Texas oilfields where carbon dioxide could help.  To hit all of them, he says, "You need approximately one hundred projects of the type we’re doing right now. The potential is huge, and the opportunity is huge."

It's an opportunity, however, that most states don't have access to. Kentucky, for example, has lots of carbon dioxide from burning coal, but not so many oilfields.

The Murky Motives Of The Afghan Soldier Who Shot A U.S. General

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 07:18

The soldier resented the Taliban, according to fellow soldiers. But he was apparently upset that male British troops were training female Afghan soldiers, they say.

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House Calls Keep People Out Of Nursing Homes And Save Money

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 07:08

In the case of an elderly patient with multiple medical problems, having a team of health workers deliver care to the home can be cheaper than expensive stays in nursing homes and emergency rooms.

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Google announces it will reward secure websites

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-07 07:00

Google has announced a move it hopes will push websites to become more secure in the wake of headlines about a Russian crime ring collecting more than 1 billion internet passwords, not to mention ongoing revelations about the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance of some online activities.

The company said Wednesday it will start rewarding websites that use encryption by giving them slightly higher search rankings.

If you don’t know what an encrypted website looks like already, try the following: go to the top of your web browser where the url address is displayed, and look for a picture of a little padlock.

If you see a padlock (and/or the letters “https” in front of the “www”), that means the website you are on is secure and encrypted. If you don't see those signs, the site is probably not encrypted.

Most e-commerce sites already have the little padlock.

“But any of the sites that are just content sites -- that you don't have to log in to, that you just read -- most of those sites probably do not,” says Barry Schwartz, of Search Engine Land, a website about internet search.

In fact, Schwartz's own website does not currently have that little padlock. Neither does Marketplace, the New York Times (with the exception of pages devoted to subscriber account information), or for that matter, my woefully out-of-date personal wordpress site.

It’s not that hard for a web developer to convert an unencrypted site into an encrypted one, says Schwartz. But it can take time and money to make sure the process is done right, especially for sites with a lot of existing content.

Google's decision to boost search results for sites that take these steps adds a bit more incentive.

That’s a good thing, says Roger Kay of tech research firm Endpoint Technologies, because even if you are just browsing content, an unsecure link can leave your computer more vulnerable to hackers.

“They can take it over, they can turn it in to part of bot net, they can fish around in it for passwords and things that lead to money,” Kay says.

Even an https website that has that little padlock can never be 100 percent secure, he says. But encryption measures definitely help.

 

 

Senior Khmer Rouge Leaders Found Guilty Of Crimes Against Humanity

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 06:26

The verdict is the first to be handed down against the top Khmer Rouge leadership. As many as 2 million people died in the regime's "killing fields." The two men will serve life in prison.

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