National News

Germany And Brazil To Face Off In World Cup Semifinals

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 10:20

Brazil ended Colombia's Cinderella story on Friday with a 2-1 win to advance to the World Cup semifinals. On Tuesday Brazil will face Germany, who defeated France 1-0 in the quarterfinal.

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SiriusXM Fires Anthony Cumia, Host Of 'Opie & Anthony,' Over Tweets

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 09:55

The satellite radio network said his "racially-charged and hate-filled remarks on social media" are inconsistent with its values. Cumia's tweets came after he was allegedly assaulted in New York.

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German Held On Suspicion Of Passing Classified Information

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 08:28

News reports say the unidentified man worked for Germany's spy agency and passed secrets to the U.S. Ties between the countries have been affected by revelations the NSA spied on Germans.

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Why do they still have floor traders at the NYSE?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 08:15

Listener John Wang, who dabbles in a little online trading, wrote in to ask this:

“I’ve always wondered why there are still people on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. It always seems kind of strange that they're there, now that we have computers and networks for doing all sorts of trades.”

Most of us have a mental picture of floor traders at the stock market – men in blue jackets, shouting at each other, waving bits of paper, gesturing wildly with hand signals.

“Even though it looks chaotic to people, it's actually very crystal clear what was going on to the people down on the floor,” says Johanna Lee, director of a documentary film called The Pit, about a group of floor brokers at the New York Board of Trade.

The guys in her movie dealt in coffee futures. And they used to do something called open outcry, setting the price right then and there in an open pit.

Lee made the film at an interesting time, back in 2011, just as the New York Board of trade – like almost every other exchange – was going electronic.

So what's it like on Wall Street now?

I went to find out at the New York Stock Exchange: the grand stage of American capital markets. It has an impressive carved stone ceiling, in which you can see the nearly 200 years of history – which is totally at odds with the rows of computer screens that line every single booth in the hall.

On the floor, traders in their blue jackets are everywhere.

“I spent my whole career in this building,” says Kenny Polcari, a trader for O'Neill Securities who represents an institutional investor. “For me it's really all I know.”

Polcari, a fast-talker with a big laugh and sense of humor, says things work very differently today from when he first started out in this job 30 years ago.

“Today it's defined by technology. It's defined by high-speed computers that take the emotion out of investing. Some say it's good. I, on the other hand… Listen, part of what investing was about was the emotion. You come down here 25 or 30 years ago, the emotion blew the roof off the building every single day. It was just so exciting.”

But here's the thing - for all the excitement and history and prestige, the NYSE actually handles a tiny amount of the overall volume of trades in the U.S.

So who does the rest of the trading? Robots.

“Robots now do anywhere between 50 and 75 percent of the trades in the United States,” says Bob Ivry, who works for Bloomberg News and wrote a book called The Seven Sins of Wall Street.

Ivry says the real action takes place in a high-security warehouse in a small town in New Jersey. That's where you'll find computers trading at lightning speed. They're also cheaper and more efficient than humans.

Hooray for robots, right? Not quite.

“They are there when the going is good,” says Ivry. “The minute the prices start plummeting, for any reason, what the robots do is they run for the hills. They're nowhere to be seen when that stock is going down.”

Computers have been known to cause a flash crash – where prices tumble uncontrollably, causing a lot of damage. But the reality is, automated trading has taken over.

So does that make traders like Kenny Polcari an endangered species?

Polcari believes there is still a role for human judgement in the system, especially when the market is fragmented. “You almost have to develop a sixth sense, you have to be able to feel the liquidity,” he says.  “Today brokers use that sixth sense to try and assess supply and demand in a fractured market structure. And I think that’s part of the challenge but that’s also part of the key, that’s how you’re able to represent customers.”

“As far as the nuts and bolts of trading are concerned, they're already gone,” says Ivry. “If you consider there's some theatre involved – and I do – then they have a specific and necessary function. They put a face to the battle of the robots. All those traders down there in their blue smocks and their pins – they put a face on trading, on American capitalism.”

Ivry says we need a narrative to tell us how to invest our money in a way that will help communities. Trading algorithms are “a brutal and souless way of allocating capital,” he says.

Back at the New York Stock Exchange, it's a good thing trader Kenny Polcari is a “Type A” personality.                      

“I think that's fair,” Polcari says with a hearty laugh. “I love being the face of Wall Street.”

PODCAST: European banks leery of Bitcoin

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:53

The European Banking Authority is recommending that banks there keep away from Bitcoin, a virtual currency favored by techies, libertarians, and, sometimes, criminals.

Drivers this summer are paying the highest gas prices since 2008, in part because of the turmoil in Iraq. But mass transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in cities like Boston, St. Louis, and D.C. Some of this is driven by increasing operating costs, but even with these fare hikes, the transit systems will still lose money.

In India poor investment in cold storage warehouses and supply chain infrastructure means that a lot of food is wasted before reaching consumers-- 7 billion dollars every year.

PODCAST: European banks leery of Bitcoin

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:53

The European Banking Authority is recommending that banks there keep away from Bitcoin, a virtual currency favored by techies, libertarians, and, sometimes, criminals.

Drivers this summer are paying the highest gas prices since 2008, in part because of the turmoil in Iraq. But mass transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in cities like Boston, St. Louis, and D.C. Some of this is driven by increasing operating costs, but even with these fare hikes, the transit systems will still lose money.

In India poor investment in cold storage warehouses and supply chain infrastructure means that a lot of food is wasted before reaching consumers-- 7 billion dollars every year.

How LeBron James is changing how athletes are paid

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:28

There's a huge shift happening this month in the world of sports. We're in the middle of the free agency period, where NBA players are eligible to sign with any team.

And Lebron James, considered the best player in the NBA, is reinventing not only how NBA players get paid, but maybe professional athletes as a whole.

We wanted to explore why, so went down to the legendary West 4th Street basketball courts in New York City to meet up with sports business analyst Keith Reed.

Reed called LeBron maybe "the only truly free athlete in America."

"[LeBron] was an investor in Beats electronics. That just sold for $3 billion. He made $30 million sitting on his couch just from that Beats transaction. And so, when people talk about, 'Why is LeBron opting out of his contract, and what's he going to do?' At that stage of the game, he's made his money."

Brandon Grier is an agent who represents NBA players a little further down in the hierarchy, and sees how contracts go beyond just the single player on the court. "You're dealing with not just an individual's life, but the families that are affected by it as well. A lot of time these guys are the breadwinners as well."

Grier's company Principle Management represents four solid, but not superstar, NBA players. He says the free agency period is important to the average fan — not just the players.

"It affects the product that they consume for their enjoyment. I believe the super teams in big markets are great for the NBA, you either love them or you hate them. But one way or another you're watching. So the better the ratings are for the NBA, the better the business does in general. Because TV is the cash cow now.

And speaking of that cash cow, this weekend's number: 18 million. For 18 million viewers.

That's how many people tuned in to watch the San Antonio Spurs beat Lebron James and his teammates on the Miami Heat in this year's NBA finals, according to Nielsen, up 10 percent from last year.

Fireworks spark up a black market economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:24

California bans anything that flies into the air and explodes. Which isn't surprising -- according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, most states have restrictions on this type of firework. 

For Californians who want to celebrate the independence of our nation by blowing things up, they could head over the mountains to more firework-friendly Nevada, or head into the virtual black market on your computer.

On Craigslist you’ll find listings like "Air shows Disneyland style cheap" and "I HAVE FIREWORKS FOR SALE WHENEVER YOU NEED THEM."

You can find bottle rockets, roman candles, and mortars with just a mouse click and a phone call. But what’s harder to get is an interview with one of these dealers. Which makes sense, because having a large quantity of illegal fireworks is a felony in California, punishable by a year in jail and up to $50,000 in fines. But one firework dealer in Stockton is willing to take the risk.

"It’s not something I prefer to do, you know there’s always that spice of danger that you have to watch out for," he says.

In a well-lit parking lot at night, the young, friendly man lays out some of his merchandise on the hood of a car. What keeps fireworks coming into California are people like him and his business partner.

"I have a buddy of mine who goes down to Nevada and brings back a U-haul truck that’s full and then basically I just help him distribute it," he explains.

Their truck carries about $2,500 worth of product, and he figures they will double their money on resale. This vendor is relatively small time. In other parts of the state, police recently seized stockpiles of fireworks worth more than half a million dollars .

"If it is that profitable enough, then there are big criminal enterprises working in this area- quite professionalized," says Steve Weber, who teaches at UC Berkeley’s School of Information and co-wrote a book on the Black Market Economy of the 21st Century. "The mistake is to think of this as fly by night stuff- these are really serious people and they are as entrepreneurial, innovative and venturous as anyone you’d meet in Silicon Valley."

Actually, there's a hotbed of illegal firework trafficking just south of  Silicon Valley.  The police department in San Jose says the crime ranks low on its list of priorities.  

But Keith Gilless, chair of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, says it’s a major concern. "California is the most flammable place on earth by most people’s reckoning, we can have 400-500 fires a year whose origin is fireworks."

All those fires can cost millions in damage, and millions more to put them out. Something, Gilless says to consider before lighting up this Fourth of July.

Pentagon Grounds All F-35s Amid Fire Investigation

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:03

The Defense Department said the decision was made following a runway fire incident June 23 at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The Air Force is investigating the cause of the fire.

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Calif. Town Thrusts Heated Immigration Debate Into National Spotlight

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:46

As protesters block buses full of detainees from entering a border patrol station, many Murrieta residents say the federal government is the real root of the problem.

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Hurricane Arthur Is No Match For Man In Ocean With Facebook

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:14

Richard Neal, of Mint Hill., N.C., chronicled the storm from his point of view, which was a pretty darn good one.

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Richard Mellon Scaife, Philanthropist, Conservative Donor, Dies

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:13

The heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune revealed in May that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Scaife was 82.

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Hollywood turns to... taxidermy?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:12

On Sunday morning in Downtown Los Angeles taxidermist Allis Markham immediately cuts into her subject for the day: a bird.

She started her studio, Prey Taxidermy, this March and rents her mounted pieces to Hollywood films, television sets, and photoshoots. She recently worked on a shoot for Disney featuring Taylor Swift as Rapunzel.

“I did some combing pigeons for them,” she says. “Bird skin is like working with wet toilet paper with feathers attached. And so it’s this very tedious process where you’re making all these incisions.”

Animals rights groups, including PETA, have criticized Hollywood in recent years after news broke that animals were harmed on Hollywood sets. On the now-canceled HBO show, “Luck,” four thoroughbred horses died during production. According to reports, the horses were elderly, underfed, and possibly even drugged. Due to these alleged abuses, taxidermy businesses are catering to studios who are looking to minimize their legal and safety risks. “If you want to have a tiger on set, it’s a lot safer when it’s dead,” Markham says.

Wayne Carlisi inherited his father’s big game taxidermy collection, and in 2012, he opened ArtKraft Taxidermy in North Hollywood. His company rents out lions, antelope, and rhinos to studios including Warner Brothers and Paramount. Carlisi says, in the special effects ridden world of entertainment, taxidermied animals serve a new purpose.

“They’re [computer graphics animators] able to scan the actual mount into the computer,” he says, after which studios will build rigs and transpose them on the animal’s body. “So from rigs they can make the animals move and perform the way they want.”

Smaller production companies are also vested in mounted animals for its cost effectiveness. David Anderson, an independent filmmaker, says directors like himself often have no choice but to use taxidermied animals.

Renting an animal actor gets expensive when final costs include handlers, insurance, and a representative from the Humane Society. Markham’s larger pieces, like a bear, could can run up to $1,500, while the cost of a live animal can easily shoot into the $8,000 range. Because of all of the additional costs, Anderson turned to Markham for his latest movie.

Yet others in the industry, including set decorator Kristin Peterson, think something is lost when Hollywood productions use mounted animals instead of live animals.

“The taxidermied animals don’t have as much of a personality as the live animal,” she says.

Clashes Erupt In Jerusalem Over Palestinian Teen's Funeral

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 05:25

Palestinians say the 16-year-old was killed by Israeli extremists. His body was found just days after the recovery of the bodies of three Israeli teens in the West Bank.

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Weakened Arthur Heads Up U.S. East Coast

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 04:44

The National Hurricane Center predicted further weakening as the Category 1 storm moved offshore. Arthur knocked out power for about 44,000 people in North Carolina.

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Ex-Editor Gets 18 Months In U.K. Phone Hacking Case

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 04:29

Andy Coulson, the former editor of the now defunct News of the World, was found guilty last week of conspiracy to hack personal voicemails.

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Big Data Comes To College

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 03:38

The exploding field of "learning analytics" raises ethical questions similar to those arising from the recent Facebook revelations.

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Bored On The Fourth Of July? Try These Movies

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 03:03

Action, singing and lots of fireworks — American movies celebrate the Fourth of July.

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Here comes yet another increase in transit fares

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 02:43

Drivers getting out of town on this Fourth of July weekend will pay the highest gas prices since 2008, but transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in major cities like Boston, St. Louis, and Washington D.C.

But even with semi-regular fare hikes, transit systems still lose money. Revenue from fares isn’t enough to cover rising costs, like labor, fuel, expanded services, and infrastructure maintenance, even though ridership in 2013 was the highest it's been in nearly six decades. 

“The actual fare rider could be paying half of the rider cost, sometimes two thirds of it,” says Mitchell Moss, director of the NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

Nationally, fare revenues covered only 33 percent of the operating cost of all transit systems in 2012, according to the National Transit Database.

But raising fares is tricky.

“When you increase fairs, it tends to discourage ridership,” says Steve Schlickman is with the Urban Transportation Center at University of Illinois at Chicago. “If you increase fares too much, you discourage so much ridership that you really don’t have an increase in revenue.”

It falls to cities and states make their transit systems’ deficits. But the Department of Transportation is warning that without intervention from Congress, a critical source federal funds for many transit and highway projects will run out of money later this summer. 

Here's a look at which cities bring in the most revenue from transit fares per rider, and which cities are planning to hike their fares this summer:

North Dakota oil wells drain energy and money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

A defining sight in the booming oil fields of North Dakota is flames flaring from the top of wells -- burning off natural gas that escapes during pumping.

Today oil wells in the state burn about a third of the natural gas that comes when fracking for oil. North Dakota officials estimate that’s like burning about $50 million dollars a month.

The problem is drillers have rushed to extract oil and ignored building pipelines to capture natural gas needed to ship to market. Basically, economist Philip Verleger says ,it’s cheaper to burn money than build pipelines.

“The economics of constructing a pipeline to every one of these large number of wells becomes prohibitive,” he says.

After getting input from industry, this week state officials said that by the fall, wells must capture 76 percent of natural gas or be forced to cut oil production.

Western Environmental Law Center Senior Policy Advisor Thomas Singer says state leaders and industry officials know the current level of flaring is unsustainable.

“They recognize that a gold rush in the Wild West where everybody goes out and starts poking holes is really a very wasteful way to develop these resources,” he says.

Singer says the test now is to see if the state enforces its own rules. 

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