National News

Samsung steps up the battle to be your "pay phone"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-03 02:00

Samsung is hoping to take a bite out of Apple, and cash in on a share of the more-than-$30 billion in swipe fees collected by credit card companies every year.

How? By removing one of the main stumbling blocks to expanding mobile-payments among consumers. Namely, too many retailers don't have the devices needed to process the payments. 

So far, only about 200,000 of the 12 million checkout points in the U.S., have the machines to process payments from apps like Apple pay.  

Samsung's new Galaxy 6 smartphones use a technology that radiates magnetic energy from your phone directly into traditional credit-card readers, essentially turning your phone into a credit card.  

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Developing the ideal prosthetic arm

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-03 02:00

Miles O’Brien, a science correspondent for PBS Newshour, had his arm amputated after he suffered an injury while he was on assignment last year.  

“It was quite a fluke,” said O’Brien. “I had been on a reporting trip and a case fell on my arm. A bruise turned into something potentially life threatening.”

By the time he got to a doctor it was too late to save his arm. He now uses a prosthesis. But not all the time.

“There’s one that I use for bicycling, one that I use when I am driving,” said O’Brien. As for the day to day, he added, he’s learn to live with one arm.

That’s largely because the current technology hasn’t produced the ideal replacement yet.

“When you think about what your hand does for you, that’s a huge engineering challenge,” said O’Brien. “The challenge of replacing the human arm, and in particular the human hand, is  tremendous.

But he’s optimistic because there’s been a lot of progress in related technologies, from batteries to sensors to computers that recognize patterns. The last, especially, has him most excited.

Computers, he explained, can now identify patterns in the remaining muscles in his stump. That means they know the patterns which signal that he wants to move his wrist or finger.

“And something that’s made of silicon, metal and and plastic would do my bidding,” said O’Brien.      

How the cost of a drug impacts the placebo effect

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-03 02:00

The placebo effect has always been a bit of a mystery to science. Give patients a pill filled with sugar or in an injection of saline but tell them it's medicine, and a percentage of them will report feeling better.

A recent study in a handful of Parkinson's patients suggests you can boost the effects of the placebo even further by telling patients the drug costs a lot of money.

In the experiment by Alberto Espay and his colleagues at the University of Cincinnati, the patients received saline but were told they were testing the efficacy of two real drugs – one that cost $100, and another that cost 15 times as much.

“When they received the cheap formulation, they got better, but nowhere near those who received the expensive medication,” Espay says.

In fact, the people who thought they were getting the expensive drug did almost as well as when they were on a real drug. What the patients experienced was real, but it was entirely due to the placebo effect.  

Espay believes that cost affects the placebo because so many of us believe that expensive things are better.

“We feel the more be pay, perhaps the more value we're getting,” he says. “And of course that isn't true.”

It isn’t true, unless we believe it is, explains George Newman, a professor of psychology at Yale School of Management whose research has demonstrated that the pleasure we get from objects is determined by what we believe about them. 

For, example, if we believe we are drinking a $200 bottle of wine, it tastes better, and the regions of the brain devoted to pleasure light up more brightly than if we think it's a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck.

“What we're believing about the world, what we're imagining about the word directly effects how we experience things even very tangible things like the effectiveness of medication,” Newman says.

In this case, cost creates a bias in patient's expectations, says Ted Kaptchuk, director of the placebo studies program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

“But it's a bias we want to utilize, we want to maximize,” Kaptchuk says. “We want to optimize in clinical practice.”

But before drug manufactures start raising prices in the name of science, Kaptchuk says there are plenty of ethical ways to raise patient expectations. And most of them, like improvements in listening and attentiveness by physicians, are free.

Taking stock of U.S. aid to Israel

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-03 02:00

Political tensions are high around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress Tuesday, but that shows no sign of impacting aid agreements between the U.S. and Israel.  

In 2007, the Bush administration agreed to give Israel $30 billion in military aid over ten years. 75 percent of that money comes back to the U.S.—Israel uses it to buy weapons systems from American defense contractors.

“So it’s everything from Hellfire missiles to airplanes," says Haim Malka, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “U.S. aid to Israel accounts for about 20 percent of Israel’s total defense budget.”

The U.S. also gives Israel supplemental aid for things like its Iron Dome anti rocket system. And the U.S. allows tax breaks for donations and investment in Israel. 

“U.S. funds invest in Israel, annually, roughly $1.5 billion,” says Avner Cohen, a professor of nonproliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. 

The U.S. mainly gives Israel military aid. Non-military economic aid dried up as Israel’s economy grew.

Quit your job, become a longshoreman

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:30
55,000 pages

That's how many pages of emails were turned over to the State Department by Hillary Clinton's aides in order to comply with new federal requirements. As the WSJ reports, Clinton's extensive use of a private email account goes against current rules that emails be archived on department servers as part of the Federal Records Act.

-130.05 points

The Dow was down by triple digits at noon eastern time Tuesday. GM, Ford, Chrysler and Nissan all missed sales expectations, CNBC reported, driving the drop.


In a recent study on the efficiency of two drugs, patients were told the two cost $100 and $1500 respectively. The group treated with the more expensive drug saw much more improvement. The catch? Both medicines were placebos, with the only difference being the perceived price. In fact, the people who thought they were getting the expensive drug did almost as well as when they were on a real drug. What the patients experienced was real, but it was entirely due to the placebo effect.  

$100,000 per year

About half of West Coast union longshoremen make at least that much, and some make more than three times that. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union's power and influence was felt last month when a labor dispute that nearly shut down ports along the coast, and this week the LA Times is looking into how dockworker wages have remained so high.


In 2008, the number of "non-domiciled" residents in the UK — that's citizens who can show their fathers were not born in the UK, or that they have a home elsewhere they plan to return to — surged to 130,000. That's because non-dom status also comes with an Edwardian-era tax break on foreign income, which has attracted the uber wealthy of Britain. As reported by the NY Times, the wake of the HSBC scandal in Switzerland has called the antiquated tax loophole into question.

50 percent

The portion of Americans who think it's important the U.S. be number one economically, up from 39 percent in 2007. That's according to a new Gallup poll, which also showed that priority was slightly split along party lines. Republicans were more likely than Democrats to think economic supremacy was important. 

Controverisal Netanyahu Speech Is Latest Glitch In U.S.-Israel Relations

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:03

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday. The speech highlights differences between the U.S. and Israel on how to stop Iran from going nuclear.

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What Shapes Health? Join The Discussion On Harvard's Webcast

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-03 00:03

People say many things affect health, from personal behavior and childhood abuse to God's will, according to a new poll. The people behind the numbers explain what it means for people and communities.

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In English Town, Muslims Lead Effort To Create Interfaith Haven

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 23:46

A disused church in the northern English town of Bolton has been transformed into a community center where all are welcome. It's the product of years of effort and difficult discussions.

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States Face Correctional Officer Shortage Amid A Cultural Stigma

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 23:41

Administrators are trying new recruiting tactics and offering bonuses to make up for the shortfall. But for now, open shifts in some states have to be covered with mandatory overtime.

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In Houston, Falling Oil Prices Spark Fears Of Job Cuts Beyond Energy

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 23:39

Cheaper gasoline has benefited millions of motorists around the U.S. But in Houston the downturn in prices has brought layoffs and could hurt other sectors, including finance and real estate.

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Abortion Restrictions Complicate Access For Ohio Women

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 23:37

In Ohio, abortion restrictions have helped shut down half the state's clinics that perform the procedure, forcing many women to travel farther away, even to neighboring states.

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Improving Housing Can Pay Dividends In Better Health

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 23:37

Living in substandard housing can make health problems like asthma much worse. Two mothers tell of their families' struggles to stay healthy in poor housing and their efforts to improve their lot.

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Behold The Humble Block! Tools of the Trade

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 23:34

Math. Measurement. Balance. Negotiation. Collaboration. And fun. You might call blocks the anti-app: These smooth maple pieces need no recharging, no downloading.

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Seattle Cuts Public Transportation Fares For Low-Income Commuters

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 18:06

Low-income riders can now qualify for a program that will slash their fares by more than half of peak rates. But the cost will be offset by fare increases for everybody else.

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Obama Says Iran Should Commit To 10-Year Freeze Of Nuclear Program

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 15:28

A long-term deal like that, Obama said in an interview with Reuters, would be the best way to assure that Iran does not attain a nuclear weapon.

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Google's wireless gamble

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-02 14:23

It's official. In a speech Monday at the Mobile World Congress, Sundar Pichai, a Google senior vice president, confirmed the months-old rumors: The Internet giant is getting into the wireless network business. But only in what he called a "very small-scale" way. 

"They don’t plan on really setting up  a service that will go directly head-to-head with the two that dominate the market, AT&T and Verizon," says Gartner analyst Bill Menezes. Instead of building its own cell-phone towers, Google plans to choose certain locations to set up a "mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)"—a kind of middleman that buys and repackages access to data, texting and phone calls from the big wireless-network providers.

There are many MVNOs already in the market. Scott Allan, director of Ting — an MVNO that works with Sprint — says his company's innovation is flexible billing. Ting charges less when customers use less data. 

It remains to be seen what Google's product will look like, but Ben Schachter, Internet analyst at Macquarie, believes the company will focus on pushing more people online.

"At the end of the day, who benefits from that? Google," says Gartner's Menezes. "Because all those people are using search, accessing YouTube, using Google docs, and so on."

Commercial bees, the unsung heroes of the nut business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-02 14:15

Bill Lewis is waiting for the sun to set, the time of day when his bees crawl back inside the short white boxes that house their colonies. As the sky turns pink behind the San Gabriel mountains, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Lewis climbs into the seat of a forklift and starts moving the hives onto the back of a flatbed truck. These bees are on the move.

“As soon as you get on the freeway and there’s air flowing past the entrances, all the bees run back inside,” says Lewis, of any stragglers.

Lewis, who runs Bill’s Bees, is taking about 700 of his hives on a road trip to the California’s Central Valley, where he’ll unload them across acres of almond orchards, working until 1 or 2 a.m. under the light of full moon.

All across the country, more than a million-and-a-half colonies are making a similar journey – traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to pollinate California’s almonds. Farmers rent hives for few weeks because in order for almond trees to produce nuts, bees need to move pollen from one tree to another.

No bees, no almonds.

“This pollination season there will be [some] 800,000 acres of almonds that need to be pollinated,” says Eric Mussen, a honey bee specialist at the University of California Davis. He says more than 100 different kinds of crops need these rent-a-bees, but almonds are significant for the number of acres that require pollination all at the same time. About 85 percent of the commercial bees in United States – which Mussen calls “bees on wheels” – travel to California for almonds.

The state supplies roughly 80 percent of the world’s almonds, worth $6.4 billion during the 2013-2014 season, according to the Almond Board of California.

“It’s a matter of numbers,” he says. “You’re trying to provide enough bees to be moving the pollen around between the varieties and whatnot. It’s just a huge, huge number of bees. The only way we can get a huge number of bees in one place at one time is to bring them in on trucks.”

In fact, bees are such an important part of the almond business that Paramount Farms, one of the biggest almond growers in the world, has decided they need to be in the bee business, too. The company just bought one of the largest beekeepers in the United States, based in Florida.

“Bees are so essential for the process of growing almonds,” says Joe Joe MacIlvane, Paramount’s president. “If we don’t have a reliable supply of good strong colonies, we simply won’t be a viable almond grower, so that’s our primary motivation for getting into the business.”

Renting bees is about 10 to 15 percent of Paramount’s production costs, but the motivation to keep their own bees isn’t simply economic.

“Many bee keepers are individual or family business and many people are getting on in years and we don’t see a lot of young people coming into the business,” says MacIlvane.

Additionally, bee populations are struggling. A significant number having been dying each year for the past decade or so, thanks to a mix of factors, from pesticides to lost habitat for feeding. Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what’s killing them.

“We had a large problem last year with bees dying in the orchard because of something that was going on during bloom,” says Bill Lewis. He thinks a pesticide or fungicide may have been to blame.

This year, Lewis and his bee broker are being pickier about the farms they’re working with, vetting them more carefully because those lost bees had big economic consequences – about $300,000 in lost income for Lewis.

Before Rosa Parks, A Teenager Defied Segregation On An Alabama Bus

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 14:13

Claudette Colvin was a 15-year-old student from Montgomery when she refused to yield her bus seat to a white passenger. But she has been largely forgotten in civil rights history.

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Silicon Valley's diversity issues highlighted in trial

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-02 13:52

There is a trial going on in San Francisco that has its roots down the road in Silicon Valley. Ellen Pao is suing her former employer Kleiner Perkins — the big-name venture capital firm — for gender discrimination and retaliation. 

The trial is offering a rare glimpse into the not-always-transparent side of Silicon Valley: who gets the money and how those decisions are made.

It's a landmark case, says Re/code reporter Liz Gannes, because it's surfacing some of the tech industry's long-time diversity problems.

"It's bringing together a whole bunch of issues around gender, around what happens at the highest echelon of the tech industry," Gannes says.

The case is far from over, but Gannes says it's clear Pao had to deal with some inappropriate workplace situations.

"I wouldn't say that they've really truly established a pattern of gender discrimination yet, but there's some pretty egregious stuff that's happened," says Gannes.

About 20 percent of venture capitalists who make investment decisions are women at Kleiner Perkins, Gannes says.

"These are the people who control who gets money, who builds products," she says, "and I think it would be a better situation if they were more representative."

With Much Controversy, Boston Begins Removing Parking Space Savers

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 13:42

The near-record winter is testing a longtime Boston tradition of allowing residents to save a parking space they shoveled out 48 hours. The problem is that the snow hasn't stopped falling.

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