National News

The NFL has appointed its first female referee

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 10:13

We still have a ways to go before the 2015 football season kicks off, but the Baltimore Sun broke some big news about the NFL today, seems the league has appointed its first ever female permanent game official.

Sarah Thomas is her name, and she's no stranger to breaking new ground when it comes to football. She was the first woman to officiate a major college game in 2007, two years later, she was also the first woman to officiate a bowl game.

The 2015 NFL season officially starts on September 10.


For U.S. Workers, The March Of Progress Slows Down

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 10:01

On Friday, economists were left scrambling to explain why last month's employment growth was just half as good as they expected. Many fingers pointed at the harsh weather, along with port disruptions.

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How a good night's sleep can help the economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 09:48

There are cycles everywhere in our financial lives. But there's one cycle to rule them all: Our sleep cycle.

How and when we sleep impacts our work, our finances and even the overall economy. Research says most people need at least seven hours to feel rested the next day. But what happens if you don't get that amount? 

We spoke to Monica Schrock, who works the late shift at a diner in Los Angeles and Ken Wright, a sleep expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, to find out what happens when work disrupts our sleep cycles.

Wright says that when people work while tired, they make more mistakes, have more accidents and are generally less productive. And sleepy, inefficient workers are costly. 

Tune in using the player above to hear the full interviews.

When Civilians Accuse Troops Of Rape, Military Courts Often Decide

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 09:34

Hundreds of times a year, civilians accuse military personnel of sexual assault. The cases can wind up in the military justice system, where many victims say they are at a big disadvantage.

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The World According To Xi Jinping (Or At Least His App)

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 09:27

The man sometimes describes as China's most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong now has an app that lets you read about Xi's love of soccer and learn all about his "Four Comprehensives."

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What China Can Teach The World About Successful Health Care

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 09:12

From free, universal care to for-profit hospitals, China has tried out radically different health care systems in the past 60 years. So what works — and doesn't work — for 1.3 billion people?

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For Chinese Migrant Workers, It Is Possible To Go Home Again

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 09:03

In the past, rural Chinese seeking success left their families and found work on the coast. Now, high wages mean factories are shifting inland and migrants are delighted to be following them home.

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What it means to say Kraft manipulated the wheat market

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 09:00

Regulators at the Commodities Futures Trading Commissions have accused the Kraft and Mondelez International – the renamed company that now owns what was Kraft's cookie and cracker businesses – of manipulating and excessively speculating on the price of wheat.

Commodities broker and analyst Jack Scoville says buyers typically avoid sudden price hikes in wheat, a key ingredient for crackers and cookies, by using futures contracts. But the CFTC alleges that in 2011, the maker of Oreos, Chips Ahoy and Ritz Crackers purchased far more wheat futures than it needed.

"Reading the allegations in the complaint, it looks like a traditional corner or squeeze," says Craig Pirrong, finance professor at the University of Houston. That would mean the large order pushed up the price, allowing the company to then sell the excess for a profit.

But proving this in a court of law will be difficult, according to former CFTC lawyer Jerry Markham.

Both the CFTC and Mondelez declined to comment while litigation is pending.


As oil jobs falter, North Dakota feels the squeeze

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 09:00

One of the weak spots in the U.S. jobs report for March was mining, especially oil and gas extraction. Employers that provide services to that industry dumped 11,000 jobs last month.

A big reason? The massive drop in oil prices over the past few months. When oil trades low, companies do less drilling and, in a place like North Dakota, also less fracking. That's the process used there to draw the oil out of the shale rock.

The upshot in North Dakota is simply less work on the oil fields for people like Mike Waliezer. His company, Century Crane Services, provides equipment, including cranes, to the oil patch.  

Last year, Waliezer did about $20 million in sales. This year, he’s expecting about half as much.

“Right now it feels like the balloon has been deflated,” he says.

Waliezer says he's down about 25 positions — mostly through attrition so far — but harsher layoffs could come this summer.

Some other companies have already made big cuts. Or in many cases, they've slashed workers' hours and wages.

“Between the salary and the bonus scale, it was so far down that it was getting too expensive to live out there,” says Brandon Hartman, a former hydraulic fracking crew worker.

Hartman says he used to pull in more than $100,000, but in recent months his income fell by half. Meanwhile, he still had the same $1,750 monthly rent to cover and feared that the subsidy he was getting from his employer could disappear, as many other companies slashed housing subsidies.  Without the subsidy, he would pay $2850 per month.

Hartman quit his job and left the oil patch at the end of February, taking his wife and two youngest kids back to their native Minnesota.

“I couldn't even take it anymore,” he says. “I was so stressed out about whether I was going to make anything in the next week or was I even going to have a job?”

Companies are drilling and fracking far fewer new wells because oil prices are so low, but existing wells still need to be kept up.

That's good news for some workers, like Chad Perrault, who repairs wells.

At a bar in Sidney, Montana, on the western edge of the oil patch, Perrault says oil will have to drop a lot more before he loses work.

“Our job is pretty secure for the time being,” he says. “Unless it's a total bust.”

An Iran deal won't change oil market overnight

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 09:00

Oil prices were down about four percent on Friday following the tentative diplomatic deal reached between Iran and the United States.

At one point Iran was OPEC's second-largest oil exporter, leading many to assume that lifting sanctions would now drive prices down even further in a global market that is already awash in cheap crude. 

This would be particularly bad news for U.S. shale-oil producers. But Kate Dourian with the Middle East Economic Survey says barriers remain before Iran can re-emerge as a viable oil-exporting country.

"The timing is off,” Dourian says. “I think it’s going to be very difficult for Iran to come back into the Market because they've lost market share, they've lost customers, so, I think it’s not going to be a smooth ride for them."

In order to get production back up Iran needs a heavy infusion of technology and investment from outside companies, which is a gamble many international firms aren’t willing to take.

"It’s got to be a really good deal for them to go in,” Dourian notes. “I don't think they're going to go rushing in because if Iran doesn’t comply with deal, the sanctions could come right back in again."

All things being equal three to five years from now, if Iran lives up to its end of the nuclear bargain, Iranian exports could push oil prices down. But all things typically don’t remain equal.

You know, the oil market is a volatile beast, the world remains a dangerous place,” says Trevor Houser, a partner with the Rhodium Group. “I won't bet on oil remaining permanently cheap just because of the deal yesterday.” 

Houser says any number of potential market disruptions, could account for the 1.5 million barrels per day that Iran could potentially supply.

"That's about how much production we lost in Libya,” Houser says. “That's about how much production you could lose form a significant disruption in Nigeria or Venezuela." 

Even without outside investment, Houser says Iran could start exporting some of its current stockpiles by the end of the year, or early 2016.

For one Vegas sports book, it's anyone but Kentucky

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 09:00

It’s March Madness, in early April. The Final Four play their semifinal games on Saturday: Michigan State against Duke, which is favored to win; and Wisconsin versus Kentucky, also favored to win. Then the winners face off on Monday.

If Kentucky wins its last two games and takes the championship, it will have achieved an undefeated season at 40-0. It would be the first undefeated season in men's basketball since the Indiana Hoosiers went 32-0 and won the NCAA championship in 1976. And Kentucky’s victory would bring cheers, but not only from people who picked the school to win their bracket. It would also benefit some lucky bettors who wagered with Las Vegas sports book William Hill.

Spokesman Michael Grodsky says the firm was first approached last season for a "prop," or proposition bet, that Kentucky would go undefeated. The bet was offered at 400-1.

“It would have been quite a feat, because no team had gone undefeated since the ‘76 Hoosiers,” Grodsky says.

This year, with Kentucky an even stronger prospect going into the season, Grodsky says the firm offered the prop again in July 2014, starting at 50-1 odds. By the time the betting closed on March 15, 2015, the odds were 9-2.

“It’s the biggest liability of a prop we’ve had,” Grodsky says. “It’s a mid-six-figure decision for us, so we kind of have a mantra around the office now: 'Anyone but Kentucky.'”

Betting on sports and betting on stocks or other financial investments can seem similar. There is risk to financial bets — though less than with sports betting, if one invests in a diversified portfolio of well-established stocks or index funds. Companies may lose value, but their stock doesn't often become worthless. A bet on the losing team (or one that doesn’t cover the spread) is a flat loss; no chance to make it back by holding on or doubling down.

Venture capital investment might be more like sports betting, says Vivek Wadhwa, a serial technology entrepreneur, academic researcher and fellow at Stanford Law School.

“We pick the winners based on our emotional liking of the people we’re investing in,” says Wadhwa. “It's very similar to gambling on sports. You think you have all these formulas, all this data, and you take the risk. The difference here is, venture capital is played with someone else’s money. You’re more likely to risk it, than if it were your own personal money.”

Mixed Reaction To Changes In States 'Religious Freedom' Bills

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 08:47

Revisions to the measures in Indiana and Arkansas were prompted by a loud backlash from opponents who said the laws were meant to condone discrimination against gays and lesbians.

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Quiz: Race gaps in the Common Core

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 08:26

Opinions about the Common Core standards differ by race, according to a new NBC poll sponsored by Pearson.

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NFL Is Reportedly Hiring Its First Female Full-Time Official

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 08:18

Sarah Thomas has officiated football games in the NCAA and for the NFL's preseason and training camps; for the 2015 NFL season, she'll reportedly work full-time at the game's highest level.

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Vatican? More Like Vatican't! Eat Spaghetti, That Is

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 07:27

Pope Francis's doctors are telling him to lay off pasta and get more exercise. But Francis, who reportedly eats a plate of spaghetti every day, has not taken well to the suggestions.

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How art curators help boutique hotels stand out

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 07:00

It's hard to stand out as a high-end boutique hotel. One way to do it: Art.

The lobby of the Archer Hotel has a kaleidoscope of colored frames billed as a "diaphanous abstraction" by Artie Vierkant. Its "Bugatti Bar" has vintage posters of the French sports car. Artisanal quilts hang above tables of its David Burke-run fabrick restaurant.

"They're made with chocolate wrappers and tea bags and coffee filters," says Debbie Davis, an art advisor who held a position you don't often associate with hotels: Curator.

Davis normally helps rich people and corporations pick art for their homes and office. Hotels have many more rooms to fill, and relatively tight budgets.

"I was a little nervous about running those numbers," says Davis. "I kept checking and checking. I don't usually have these production spreadsheets for a piece of art."

Filling the Archer Hotel's 180 guest rooms with original works wasn't feasible.

"We were going to license artists and make high quality reproductions of their works," says Davis. "But I didn't really know how we were going to do it."

She did it by contacting Kalisher, a North Carolina-based company that provides art for hotels.

"I think people are most surprised to learn that we exist," says founder Jesse Kalisher. "That making art for hotels is a way to make a living."

The company started with a goal of providing hotels with the black and white photography of Jesse Kalisher. But Kalisher says that is now a small fraction of its work creating, curating, printing and framing art for hotels around the world.

The price for those artworks can range, according to Kalisher, from $30 at a Motel 6, to a couple hundred dollars for a luxury hotel.

"Bear in mind that art is the least expensive item in a hotel, and the easiest thing to change to update the image," Kalisher says.

In the Archer Hotel guest rooms you can see these relatively inexpensive copies of, for example, a customized etching of a typewriter by Brooklyn artist Sam Messer. And if you stroll down to the lobby, you can compare them to the original, off-the-etching plate version.

"Doesn't look that much better, right?" says Debbie Davis as we look at it.

While the edges looked different, the image itself, to my untrained eye, looks identical.

"Right, that's the high quality printing," she says.

Typically, these kind of copies are licensed for just five to seven years, Kalisher says, after which point the art has to be replaced. But the Archer Hotel purchased rights in perpetuity — for a gallery look at more of a dorm room price.

Will Smart Clothing Amp Up Your Workout?

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 06:53

Startups are developing clothing with sensors that measure heart rate, breathing and muscle activity. Fitness enthusiasts are the target market. But the garments could be used for health care, too.

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Did A 19th-Century Brothel Tunnel Cause A Sinkhole In Dublin?

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 06:27

An Irish historian says "there are tunnels under here going down Dame Street which are linked to the Bank of Ireland up the block, which was formerly the House of Commons and the House of Lords."

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If A Caller Says, 'I Am With The IRS,' He's Not

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 05:56

The IRS says if you are surprised to be getting a call from the agency, it's not them on the line. Don't fall for it! Scammers are trying to trick you into giving up personal information or cash.

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You won't die if you don't go to Harvard or Stanford

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 05:46

It's college acceptance season — or perhaps, more accurately, rejection season — at the most elite schools. Harvard and Stanford turned away about 95 percent of applicants this year, a new record for Harvard.

There are lots of reasons top-ranked colleges are turning away more applicants. They're getting more, thanks to more aggressive recruiting. And because some kids are so unsure of what it will take to get accepted, they're applying everywhere. 

All of this can be crazy-making and heartbreaking for a lot of kids and their parents. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni says it doesn't have to be. He's out with a new book: "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be."

The fixation on getting into top colleges is nothing new for hyper-talented and extra, extracurricular-engaged high school students. But with 95 percent rejection rates, the competition is all the more intense. 

"It's fed by a whole industry of admissions consultants and coaches," Bruni says, adding the demand has deeper roots in parents' fears about the economy. "I think in their anxiety about the country's prosperity and its future, they want to give kids any leg up, anything that might be a leg up, and they see elite schools as one of those things."

One reason that the volume of applications have increased: ease. Most elite colleges and universities use the common app, an electronic form that allows students to apply to send the same information, scores and essays to an array of schools. Schools also market themselves aggressively to see as many applicants as possible. 

"They want to get the best students and they want the most diverse student bodies, so that's the good impulse behind it," Bruni says. "But they also just want big, big numbers because we've entered an era here where a low acceptance rate – proof that you've turned away masses of people – is bragging rights among colleges."

For low-income students in particular, research shows that going to a selective school can make a big difference in graduation rates and future earnings. 

"It's not fair to say that the brand doesn't buy opportunities," Bruni says of the most elite and selective colleges like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. "But it's not a do-or-die, make-or-break advantage. It's not going to last your whole life."

Listen to the complete interview below to find out which school produces the strongest startup founders, according to venture capitalist and Y Combinator President Sam Altman. (That question comes at 3:21).