National News

Spain's skilled and affordable workers may turn the tide

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-05 04:09

Spanish government figures out this week show that about 113-thousand Spaniards lost their jobs in January. Spain’s unemployment rate of 26 percent is higher than that of any European Union country except Greece. But the government says the economy is improving and the jobs picture will improve this year. The BBC’s Tom Burridge reports from Madrid that one advantage the country enjoys is a skilled and affordable workforce.

Antonio Molina is the CEO of a company called Advanced Medical Projects which tries to cure some of the rare and fatal genetic diseases that affect children. He set it up in 2009 at the height of Spain’s economic crisis. Back then, it wasn’t easy to get funding for a start-up and he had to apply to 69 banks before he got the necessary funds. Molina believes things are getting better and investor confidence is returning. He just secured 21 million Euros – about 28 million dollars – from a French-Swiss venture capital firm. Molina says start-ups based in Spain have an advantage because the scientists are highly-trained and they cost less than in the US or Germany where competition is greater.

Tech company boss Juan Cartagena agrees. He says the current difficult jobs market means that talent is available at a discount rate and there’s not as much competing demand as there would be in countries like the US, where the tech sector is much bigger than Spain’s. Cartagena says many bright people want to work for his firm Traity – a website that collates and analyzes social media activity - because it’s a challenge.

The Spanish government, meanwhile, has challenges of its own. It must make Spain more competitive and cement the economic recovery it says is in place. Professor Xavier Vives, a prominent Spanish economist from the SA Business School, says more investment is needed in innovation, in research and development and in education. He believes Spain can only be successful once it embraces radical structural reforms.

But European elections are taking place in May and few believe there will be reforms before then – or any significant improvement in Spain’s depressing jobs situation.

Irish bankers on trial for financial collapse

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-05 03:59

In the US, there's a persistent criticism is that no high-level Wall Street executives went to jail for their role in the 2008 financial collapse. That may not, in the end, be the case in Ireland.

The former chairman and CEO of Anglo Irish Bank, Sean FitzPatrick, and two deputies go on trial today in Dublin for allegedly trying to pump up the bank's share price.  The trial is described as one of the most complex in Ireland's history.  There's intense public interest because the Irish government's fateful decision to bail out banks like Anglo Irish five years ago essentially bankrupted the country.

The BBC's Diamaid Fleming joined us from Dublin to give some perspective. Click play above to hear the interview.

Vatican Let Abuse Of Kids Go On For Decades, U.N. Panel Says

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-05 03:55

In what's being called an "unprecedented and scathing report," the U.N.'s Committee on the Rights of the Child says the Catholic Church's hierarchy adopted policies that let tens of thousands of children be sexually molested for decades. The Vatican says it isn't responsible for abusive priests.

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What story will Twitter's first earnings report tell?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-05 03:21

Twitter is announcing its first ever earnings figures later today. But for the social media company, revenue is hardly the only number that matters.

Sure, earnings do matter in an earnings report. But people who follow Twitter -- the stock — are going to be looking other places for clues, too.

Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst at eMarketer, says, "I'm going to be watching for any information about how big their user base is getting."

How many more people are using Twitter is important.

"They do trail behind Facebook by a wide margin," she says, "and there have been some concerns that while they are growing substantially, Twitter is still a hard service to use."

Williamson will be looking for any sign Twitter might try to simplify. Nate Elliott, who follows Twitter for Forrester Research, says, "I'm most looking forward to hearing what the management has to say about their plans for marketing and advertising offerings."

Of course, all these indicators --  how many users, how many ads -- add up to the question investors want an answer to: how much revenue?

 

Amid Texas drought, this rain man bottles water

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-05 03:10

Drive west on U.S. 290* about 20 miles from Austin, Texas, and turn directly into Richard Heinichen’s driveway. A sign overhead reads, “Tank Town: World Headquarters, rainwater stuff.”

From this 10-acre plant in Dripping Springs, Heinichin installs home rainwater-collection systems for his neighbors in the Hill Country, and sells “bottled cloud juice” to cafes and hotels in Austin.  

Collecting rainwatwer may seem like an unorthodox proposal to address the record water shortages that have gripped the drought-gripped state. Heinichin says it's no problem. "You got enough square footage"— on a rooftop—"you got it covered."  

He's got the square footage at Tank Town. Two barns have 20,000 square feet of rooftop that rain can run off of. Instead of downspouts, the gutters run to across-spouts, like aqueducts, to 17 above-ground tanks.

Those tanks hold a quarter-million gallons, and they’re full up, even though Heinichin bottles about 37,000 gallons a year.

That’s not enough to keep up with the rainfall, even in a drought.

"It rained 11 inches on Halloween," he says.  "Over 100,000 gallons went out on the highway out there."   

Heinechin says it’s not just the quantity of rainwater that makes it compelling. It’s the quality.

"I didn’t realize rainwater was so good," he says, "till I drilled a well."

That was in the early 1990s, when he moved to the Texas Hill Country. At first, well water— hard and salty-- was the only option.

"Took a bath in it— I smelled like rotten eggs," he recalls. "Almost threw up in the shower. And you try to go to the shower to get clean!"

His clothes stood up by themselves. His coffee tasted awful.

So he decided to give rainwater a try. As a trained blacksmith, and a tinkerer, Heinichin did the work himself, installing the gutters, the aqueducts, and the first tanks.

He liked the result, but he didn’t think of it as a line of work. That came to him.

"My neighbor comes over and says, 'What’s the deal with your dishes? They’re so clear!'" he says.  "And I say, 'I know!' Because before they were foggy and looked like hell.  And he came over and just noticed it, and says, 'I want— I have to have that, too.'"

That neighbor told others, and a business was born.  "Tank Town just grew by itself," says Heinichin, "Bbcause there was such demand for what I did."

The cost — around $15,000 — is comparable to having a well dug.

"People say, ‘When is this damn thing gonna pay me back?’ And I say, ‘First shower.’"  

Heinichin says he does about 30 home systems a year — and he doesn’t want more customers.

"We weed ‘em out," he says. "If we do their system, then they become a Tank Town citizen — one of our people — and we have to take care of them. And some of these — you don’t want to take care of everybody."

However, to start the bottling business, he did need to do some convincing. Just not to customers.

"Government said, 'You can’t do that, because government’s not approved as a source for water,'" he says. "I say, 'OK, where do you get your water?'  They keep thinking, and I get ‘em up to the highland lakes.  ‘OK, so what fills that?’"

The Texas Commision on Environmental Quality eventually certified Tank Town as an approved public source of water.

*CORRECTION: The original version of this story misidentified the highway leading to Richard Heinichen’s home. It is U.S. 290. The text has been corrected.

 

A Denver Family Of Doctors Has Seen Medicine Transformed

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-05 00:48

Bureaucracy and mammoth student loans weren't part of the package for Dr. Michael Sawyer's father and grandfather. Still, like them, he feels medicine is a calling. A fourth generation of Sawyers is thinking about whether to carry on the tradition.

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An Olympic Shame: Vladimir Putin Plays Host To Winter Games

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-05 00:33

Vladimir Putin's Olympics remind commentator Frank Deford of prescription medicine ads — the kind with the short list of benefits and long disclaimer.

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One Prediction Of Sochi Doom That Hasn't Happened

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-05 00:31

There's plenty of snow for the Olympics. A massive, fully automatic snow-making system operated by a Michigan-based company comes complete with two man-made lakes to draw water from. The company says the snow that's been pumped so far could cover more than 900 football fields.

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China Ends One Notorious Form Of Detention, But Keeps Others

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-05 00:29

China officially shut down its re-education through labor camp system late last year. But critics say the change was mostly cosmetic and that the government still has a wide range of means to incarcerate critics without legal process.

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JPMorgan Pays $614 Million In Mortgage Lending Fraud Case

NPR News - Tue, 2014-02-04 20:47

The nation's largest bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co., will pay $614 million and improve mortgage lending practices under a deal announced Tuesday to settle claims it approved thousands of unqualified home mortgage loans for government insurance and refinancing since 2002, costing the government millions of dollars when the loans defaulted.

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Lawmakers Look To Prevent More Target-Sized Data Breaches

NPR News - Tue, 2014-02-04 18:57

Target says it's "deeply sorry" for compromising the data of up to 110 million customers. Appearing before lawmakers Tuesday, company executives backed a faster move to encrypted, chip-enabled cards to prevent future fraud.

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When flirting makes you more loyal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-02-04 17:20

It turns out that flirting makes you more loyal -- at least in a business sense.

A professor at Harvard Business School found that exposure to a new brand actually made the customer more committed to their original favorite brand

For example, the researchers asked people who were die hard Coca-Cola drinkers to name some good qualities of Pepsi, and vice versa.

In both cases, doing so made the customers return more fiercely to their preferred soda pop.

Maybe just don't try this on your spouse.

Satya Nadella and Bill Gates: Microsoft's Batman and Robin?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-02-04 16:33

Big news out of the world’s biggest software maker today: After a months-long search, Microsoft has officially hired insider Satya Nadella as its new CEO. The 22-year company veteran is its third chief executive.

Our own Ben Johnson of the Marketplace Tech Report has been following the story. He says the announcement isn’t a big surprise – Nadella had worked on Bing and Azure, Microsoft’s successful cloud computing platform.

The question now: What’s next for Microsoft?

Johnson says:

"They’re moving a lot of [their] software onto the cloud -- basically, [making] a way for us to access these kinds of powerful tools, either as a business or as a single consumer, via the internet. Now, there’s another side of this – there’s Xbox, there’s the  Microsoft surface, which not very many people I know have. And then there’s the Windows phone, which is a product of Nokia now, and a space for Microsoft to grow in the hardware area. My guess is that Satya Nadella is going to work on the former more than the latter… what [he] is going to be focused on is big data and innovation in this area of cloud computing."

 

The other interesting nugget to come out of the CEO announcement is that Bill Gates, the founder of the company, will be leaving his position as chairman and will be something of a special tech adviser to Nadella:

"It is a little bit confusing and a little bit weird that Bill Gates is still around. I think what this tag-team, Bill Gates-Satya Nadella, Batman-and-Robin thing might be about is Bill Gates is sort of getting back involved in the company. He’s going to be working at the company three days a week, instead of dealing with investors. And he’s going be a sort of support to Satya Nadella. He’s going to be the reminder that the person who built this company is still involved in the day to day."

Nadella's got some "I built this" cred of his own, however – his cloud computing department at Microsoft is now is a $19 billion business. 

Look Ma, No Cables: Flea Cops To Playing Air Bass At The Super Bowl

NPR News - Tue, 2014-02-04 16:20

The Red Hot Chili Peppers played to a track, but the vocals were live, the band's bassist admitted. Internet sleuths started questioning the performance, when they noticed the band's instruments weren't plugged in.

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More Access To Health Care Means Millions Can Quit Or Cut Hours

NPR News - Tue, 2014-02-04 16:15

A budget report estimates that about 2.5 million people will work fewer hours or not at all by 2023 because under Obamacare, they can get health care without holding down a full-time job. The news immediately became political fodder for critics of the Affordable Care Act.

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Cancer Cases Rising At An Alarming Rate Worldwide

NPR News - Tue, 2014-02-04 16:09

The long-held idea that cancer is a disease of the rich is slowly being undermined. The world now records about 14 million new cancer cases each year, a study found. The majority of these cases occur in developing countries, which aren't equipped to detect and treat the disease.

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Watch The Creationism Vs. Evolution Debate: Ken Ham And Bill Nye

NPR News - Tue, 2014-02-04 15:55

Does it damage children to teach them biblical creationism? What are the costs of denying evolution, one of biology's core tenets? Those are the questions for Tuesday night, in a live debate between best-selling Christian author Ken Ham and Emmy Award-winning science educator Bill Nye.

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RNC Highlights Black History Month With Radio Ads

NPR News - Tue, 2014-02-04 15:27

After a presidential election where GOP nominee Mitt Romney won just 6 percent of the black vote, the Republican National Committee is asking African-Americans to give the party another look.

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Spike In Heroin Use Can Be Traced To Prescription Pads

NPR News - Tue, 2014-02-04 15:11

Heroin overdose deaths have increased significantly in the U.S. over the past five years. Experts point to aggressive prescribing of opioid drugs for pain about 15 years ago as a reason why. Heroin users often say their addiction began with exposure to painkillers like OxyContin.

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The View From Down There: FDA Approves Pill-Cam For Colon Exams

NPR News - Tue, 2014-02-04 15:11

Patients who undergo colon screenings might breathe a little easier now that U.S. regulators have approved a pill containing two cameras. The PillCam Colon is minimally invasive and runs on batteries, its maker says.

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