National News

An Uneasy End To Ramadan In Gaza, Where Fighting Intensifies Once More

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:09

NPR's Emily Harris reports on the Muslim holiday of Eid in Gaza, where one where one family traces the course of three weeks of war in broken bread, temporary shelters and mourning for their dead.

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A Deal Between 'Dollar' Stores Raises The Stakes Against Wal-Mart

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:09

The slice of retail aimed at America's most budget-conscious consumers is consolidating. Dollar Tree is buying Family Dollar for $8.5 billion, a deal encouraged by activist investors Carl Icahn and Nelson Peltz. The new company will have 13,000 stores, making it a more formidable competitor — in size, at least — to Wal-Mart.

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Teacher Tenure Fight Spills Into N.Y., Where A New Lawsuit Brews

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:09

A new salvo has been fired in the fight over teacher tenure. A group led by former TV anchor Campbell Brown filed a complaint in New York state court, arguing that tenure laws are preventing the state from providing every child with the "sound, basic education" its constitution guarantees.

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Taliban In Pakistan Derail World Polio Eradication

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:07

The militant group threatens to kill parents who immunize their children. As a result, polio has come roaring back in Pakistan. Eradication now hinges on whether the country can control the virus.

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Russia ordered to pay $50 billion to oil shareholders

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:03

There was more bad news for Russia today. The Hague, an international arbitration court, ruled the country acted improperly when it confiscated the assets of the oil company Yukos back in 2003.

The court’s ruling requires Russia to pay $50 billion to former Yukos shareholders but “there’s no likelihood that they will simply roll over and hand the cash over” says the BBC’s Andrew Walker.

Russia has already says it will appeal the ruling but Walker says shareholders of Yukos could fight back. They could get a court order to seize some of Russia’s commercial assets but that would likely take years.

The ruling probably won’t mean much to other companies with an eye to invest in Russia. Walker says Russia already has a poor reputation when it comes to creating a good climate for business.

“Investors that get involved in Russia are typically doing it because they think that the energy resources there are so large that there must ultimately be the potential to make money. “

Walker notes that tomorrow, EU officials will meet to consider sanctions against the energy, arms, and financial sectors in Russia.

Teacher Tenure Lawsuits Spread From California To New York

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:03

Why are so many low-income and minority kids getting second-class educations in the U.S.? That question is at the center of the heated debate about tenure protections and who gets them.

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Medicare's Costs Stabilize, But Its Problems Are Far From Fixed

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 11:43

Medicare's trust fund is projected to have money until 2030, four years longer than predicted last year. But the fund that pays for disability benefits could run dry just two years from now.

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Another Appeals Court Tosses Same-Sex-Marriage Ban

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 11:41

A lower court's ruling that threw out a Virginia law has been upheld by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling quickly led North Carolina to drop its defense of its own ban.

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A small UK company with big graphene dreams

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 11:05

It’s not often that anyone speaks highly of carbon, given the part that element plays in climate change. But a growing number of companies are eagerly promoting carbon in one specific form: It’s called graphene, and it is said to be the strongest, thinnest and most flexible material ever discovered.

First isolated by a British university in 2004, this so-called "wonder product" has sparked a multi-million dollar corporate scramble to exploit the breakthrough.

“This is akin to the invention of silicon or plastics,” says Jon Mabbit of Applied Graphene Materials (AGM), a small start-up in northeast England that has joined the great graphene rush. “This is a disruptive technology. It has the potential to revolutionize countless markets.”

One atom thick, the substance is so thin that it’s regarded as two-dimensional. And it has an impressive list of other properties: 100 times stronger than steel; far more flexible than rubber; the world’s best conductor of heat and electricity; almost totally transparent and yet completely impermeable. Among the uses touted: super-fast computer chips; cellphones you can roll up like a piece of paper and stuff into your pocket; and super-thin condoms.

But the graphene “prospectors” face some major hurdles.

“There’s an enormous leap between what you can do in the laboratory and having a product that is technologically ready," says Valerie Jamieson of New Scientist magazine. "Graphene’s been stymied by the difficulty of making large sheets of the stuff. A tiny flaw can impair the product’s conductivity, making it useless in electronics."

Jamieson is also concerned about cost. Graphene sheets cost $60 per square inch to produce but that needs to come down to $1 a square inch for use in computer chips, and 10 cents for touch screen displays. And there’s another, strategic worry: the vast bulk of the graphite from which graphene naturally derives would have to be mined in China.

But Mabbitt of AGM reckons that his company has cracked some of those problems. He and his colleagues have developed a method of synthesizing the substance out of cheap alcohol, so there is no need to dig it out of the ground at great expense. The company claims it can grow a ton of graphene a year with one relatively small piece of equipment. And they’re not turning out sheets for use in consumer electronics, so tiny flaws don’t matter. They aim to use their graphene as an additive to paints and lubricants.

"The impermeability of graphene makes it fantastic for stopping moisture attacking a ship’s hull," says Mabbitt. "It also prevents sea-life from building up on the hull. So potentially you have a rust and barnacle-free vessel. That gives you a double whammy: low-maintenance and improved efficiency through water, which equates to fuel-saving."

Graphene-coated aircraft – he says – would be both lighter and lightning proof. He believes the range of industrial applications for graphene is enormous. Not as sexy as roll-up cell phones and ultra-thin condoms, perhaps, but a wonder material nevertheless.

Netanyahu: Israel Is Prepared For 'Long Operation' In Gaza

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 10:26

Ignoring calls for a cease-fire, Israel's prime minister said the country's incursion into Gaza wouldn't halt until its "mission is accomplished."

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Midwestern college dilemma: fewer local kids to tap

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 10:22

Tom Crady wants high school kids across the country to think about attending Gustavus Adolphus College, even if they mangle the name.

"Some won't say the name at all. They just say, 'Tell me how you pronounce the college's name,'" says Crady, vice president of enrollment at the college, which is pronounced gus-TAY-vus uh-DOLPH-us.

The liberal arts college, perched on a bluff in southern Minnesota, is seeing fewer applicants from its home state, as well as other Midwestern states. So Crady is courting potential students from far-flung places like Texas and even India.

"We go farther and longer distances than ever before," Crady says.

Crady says the changes are occasioned by big demographic shifts. In the '90s, birth rates fell nationally. On top of that, lots of people migrated south and west. That all spells a decline in high school graduates in the Northeast and Midwest today. That's according to Brian Prescott, who directs research at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

"You can't grow 18-year-olds or high school graduates in a laboratory," Prescott says.

Prescott estimates there's been a 7 percent drop in high school grads in the middle of the country just over the past six years.

Colleges as far away as Dartmouth and Harvard have noticed fewer Midwestern applicants. But experts say the demographic changes are not a big deal for elite institutions with fat endowments and kids lined up at the door. Small, liberal arts colleges that are not household names will likely suffer more as tuition dollars shrink.

"It's very tough right now not only finding the number of your potential applicants dropping but knowing that there are others competing with you to try to get those graduates," says Diane Viacava, vice president in the higher education division at the credit rating agency Moody's Investors Service.

Viacava says many small Midwestern colleges are struggling with the shifting demographics. Among those rated by Moody's rates, a couple dozen have seen two consecutive years of declining enrollments.

Many are bumping up their recruiting budgets and offering big discounts on tuition.

"What we're finding is that some of the Midwest colleges are discounting over 50 percent to get a student to come to the college," Viacava says.

That's true at Gustavus Adolphus. On average, the college cuts its $40,000 annual tuition by about half.

But, Viacava says, as revenue falls, colleges have to figure out how to cut costs in other areas, like faculty.

"Given that many of them could have a somewhat inflexible expense structure, that can prove very challenging for operations," Viacava says.

Even some public institutions are feeling the pain. Minnesota State University Moorhead recently blamed changing demographics when it announced plans to eliminate several low-enrollment programs.

If there are any winners in this scenario, they may be the Midwestern high school students who are in such short supply. Brayden Yel begins her senior year of high school in a St. Paul suburb this fall. On a recent visit to Gustavus Adolphus, Yel said she's received a lot of emails and letters from Midwestern Colleges.

"Absolutely," Yel says. "Lots of asking for tours and stuff like that."

So far Yel doesn't seem to mind all the attention.

Region Class of 2008 (actual) Class of 2014 (projected) % change Midwest (IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, OH, WI) 705,639 656,022 -7 Northeast (CT, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT) 552,289 526,820 -4.6 South (AL, AR, DE, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV) 1,031,773 1,051,890 2 West (AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, MT, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY) 711,636 700,086 -1.6

Source: Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

Midwestern college dilemma: fewer local kids to tap

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 10:22

Tom Crady wants high school kids across the country to think about attending Gustavus Adolphus College, even if they mangle the name.

"Some won't say the name at all. They just say, 'Tell me how you pronounce the college's name,'" says Crady, vice president of enrollment at the college, which is pronounced gus-TAY-vus uh-DOLPH-us.

The liberal arts college, perched on a bluff in southern Minnesota, is seeing fewer applicants from its home state, as well as other Midwestern states. So Crady is courting potential students from far-flung places like Texas and even India.

"We go farther and longer distances than ever before," Crady says.

Crady says the changes are occasioned by big demographic shifts. In the '90s, birth rates fell nationally. On top of that, lots of people migrated south and west. That all spells a decline in high school graduates in the Northeast and Midwest today. That's according to Brian Prescott, who directs research at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

"You can't grow 18-year-olds or high school graduates in a laboratory," Prescott says.

Prescott estimates there's been a 7 percent drop in high school grads in the middle of the country just over the past six years.

Colleges as far away as Dartmouth and Harvard have noticed fewer Midwestern applicants. But experts say the demographic changes are not a big deal for elite institutions with fat endowments and kids lined up at the door. Small, liberal arts colleges that are not household names will likely suffer more as tuition dollars shrink.

"It's very tough right now not only finding the number of your potential applicants dropping but knowing that there are others competing with you to try to get those graduates," says Diane Viacava, vice president in the higher education division at the credit rating agency Moody's Investors Service.

Viacava says many small Midwestern colleges are struggling with the shifting demographics. Among those rated by Moody's rates, a couple dozen have seen two consecutive years of declining enrollments.

Many are bumping up their recruiting budgets and offering big discounts on tuition.

"What we're finding is that some of the Midwest colleges are discounting over 50 percent to get a student to come to the college," Viacava says.

That's true at Gustavus Adolphus. On average, the college cuts its $40,000 annual tuition by about half.

But, Viacava says, as revenue falls, colleges have to figure out how to cut costs in other areas, like faculty.

"Given that many of them could have a somewhat inflexible expense structure, that can prove very challenging for operations," Viacava says.

Even some public institutions are feeling the pain. Minnesota State University Moorhead recently blamed changing demographics when it announced plans to eliminate several low-enrollment programs.

If there are any winners in this scenario, they may be the Midwestern high school students who are in such short supply. Brayden Yel begins her senior year of high school in a St. Paul suburb this fall. On a recent visit to Gustavus Adolphus, Yel said she's received a lot of emails and letters from Midwestern Colleges.

"Absolutely," Yel says. "Lots of asking for tours and stuff like that."

So far Yel doesn't seem to mind all the attention.

Region Class of 2008 (actual) Class of 2014 (projected) % change Midwest (IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, OH, WI) 705,639 656,022 -7 Northeast (CT, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT) 552,289 526,820 -4.6 South (AL, AR, DE, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV) 1,031,773 1,051,890 2 West (AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, MT, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY) 711,636 700,086 -1.6

Source: Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

FAA Seeks $12 Million Fine Against Southwest Airlines

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 10:18

A contractor for the airline failed to perform repairs properly and Southwest put some jets back into service despite their not being in compliance with federal regulations, the agency alleges.

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Your Wallet: The rising costs of childcare

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 10:15

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the cost of child care in America has nearly doubled since the mid-1980s: 

 We want to know: How did you made it work? Does a family member watch your kids? Do you pay for daycare? 

Tell us about your childcare sacrifices and solutions, either in the comments below or through email. We'd love to chat.

Fast-Food Scandal Revives China's Food Safety Anxieties

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 09:59

A U.S. company that supplies meat to fast-food chains in China has pulled all its products made by a subsidiary. An expose revealed some of the products were mishandled and had expired.

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Margot Adler, An NPR Journalist For Three Decades, Dies

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 09:46

Adler joined NPR in 1979 and covered everything from the emergence of the AIDS epidemic to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She was 68.

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It May Be Summer, But For Economists, This Week Feels Like Christmas

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 09:37

Each day this week will bring new decisions and reports that could have a big impact on the nation's economy.

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Uber ranks drivers... and passengers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 09:33

Uber, the ride sharing service in business in major cities around the world, lets you use a smart phone to hail a car.

When you use the service, at the end of the trip, you rank your driver on a five-point scale. A driver's ranking determines how much business he gets. Even if he can stay in business, drivers live in fear of too many low ratings.

It turns out Uber drivers can also rank Uber passengers on a scale of one to five. Uber keeps that number secret. But, over the weekend, the website Medium posted a work-around. With a few keystrokes and some copy and pasting, you could find out how you rank.

Unfortunately, Uber got wind of it all and quickly closed the loophole.

I did this last night, though. And not to brag, but I'm a 4.9.

To Stop Cheating, Nuclear Officers Ditch The Grades

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 09:19

A switch to pass-fail grading is curbing the "perfection" culture among U.S. nuclear missile forces. Critics of the old way say striving to be perfect invited cheating by those who launch the nukes.

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With Men's Y Chromosome, Size Really May Not Matter

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 08:41

The string of genes that make a man a man used to be much bigger, and some geneticists say it may be wasting away. Back off, others say. Y has been stable — and crucial — for millennia.

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