National News

In Shanghai, Stocks Are Booming — But Growth Is Bogged Down. What Gives?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 12:07

The Shanghai stock market is on a tear, hitting its highest level in seven years — which is curious because economic growth in China continues to slow.

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Maya Angelou's 'Forever' Stamp Forever In Error

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 12:07

A limited-edition stamp intended to honor the late poet bears a quote that was actually written by a different author.

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Shell's Big Deal Could Shift Global Landscape Of Gas Business

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 12:04

Royal Dutch Shell plans to spend nearly $70 billion to acquire natural gas giant BG Group. The deal, if approved, would create the world's largest independent producer of liquefied natural gas.

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Convictions Come Down For Boston Marathon Bomber; Death Penalty Still Possible

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 12:04

The jury in the Boston Marathon bombing case has handed down its verdicts against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Jurors found Tsarnaev guilty on all 30 counts, 17 of which can carry the death penalty.

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After Some Delay Of Game, NFL Gets Its First Female Ref

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 12:04

Audie Cornish talks to commentator Rick Cleveland about the first female referee in the NFL — and why the news is long overdue.

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USPS Finds Perfect Line For Maya Angelou Stamp — If Only It Were Hers

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 12:04

The U.S. Postal Service has put the late poet Maya Angelou's face and name, together with a choice quotation, on a special edition stamp. Trouble is, that quotation didn't start with her.

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Summit Plays Host To Cuba — And To A Few Historic Meetings

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 12:04

The Summit of the Americas is convening this week in Panama — and it's expected to feature a historic meeting between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. It's the first time Cuba will be represented at the summit.

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The Navajo Nation's Tax On Junk Food Splits Reservation

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 12:04

The Navajo Nation started taxing junk food and soda. No other tribe has passed such a law. But half of the tribe is unemployed and say they can't afford expensive food.

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On A Scale Of 1 To 10, Brazil Gets A Zero For Disability Access

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 12:04

Brazil is hosting not just the Olympics in 2016 but also the Paralympics. And activists for the disabled say Rio de Janeiro has a long and potholed road ahead of it to get ready for the games.

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The 33 Venezuelan Mayors Who Face Charges (And Oppose The President)

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 11:37

President Nicolas Maduro's government hasn't solved food shortages or ended high inflation. It's been more effective in cracking down on the opposition, filing legal charges against many mayors.

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The benefits of wearing the same thing, every day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-08 11:28

Art director Matilda Kahl works in an office where women often wear heels and have “fixed” hair.

But one day, after Kahl was late and unprepared for work, she realized she was wasting too much time on choosing her outfit.

She was fed up.

“You know what? I’m just gonna opt out of this,” she recalls saying to herself.  

So Kahl decided to adopt her own work "uniform" of sorts: black pants and a white blouse. She recently wrote about her decision in Harper's Bazaar.

“This doesn't mean that I don’t love to dress. I go crazy over the weekends,” Kahl says. “I simply just choose to put this choice and time and love for clothing into nights and weekends instead."

Kahl says she has noticed changes since donning her minimalist garb.

“My life has just become so much more efficient, in so many ways,” she says.

Her sartorial decisions are by no means a religion though.

“I wouldn’t have any problem with giving it up, if I felt like it. But it works great for me so, yeah, I have no plans of stopping,” Kahl says.

Kahl says she even (almost) got a raise by wearing the same thing every day. When one of Kahl’s previous bosses noticed that her outfit was a bit redundant, she misinterpreted the uniform as a sign of need.

Trading insurance discounts for health data

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-08 11:11
Could fifteen minutes of exercise could save you fifteen percent on your life insurance?   John Hancock Financial is the first insurer in the U.S. to offer discounts to policyholders who wear wireless fitness trackers. Sign up for a new life policy today, and the company will send you a Fitbit, one of those bracelets that tracks your steps. The more exercise you get, the bigger discount you get on your insurance premium, up to 15 percent.   Company president Craig Bromley says the policy will also reward good behavior with "fun sort of rewards" to get you to the gym, like gift cards, discounted hotel stays and leisure travel.   Delaying a death benefit "would obviously be good for us, but also good for them," Bromley says. "You know, other companies are not really helping people to live longer."   It's not just about customers living longer. By leveraging wearable devices and promoting wellness, the company is also trying to bestow a youthful glow on the aging life insurance industry.   "It’s great to be at sort of the forefront of all this technological change, which hasn’t always been the case for the life insurance industry," Bromley says.   It sure hasn't. A recent report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers says the life insurance industry could use some reinvention: the number of life policies has gone up from 23 million in 1950 to 29 million in 2010. PWC says that amounts to a 35 percent drop in market share over 60 years.   "If anything it’s as important or more important than it’s ever been," says Massachusetts-based Certified Financial Planner Tim LePain. Life insurance used to be seen as an investment, LePain says, not so much anymore.   "It’s less prevalent today because there are many other ways to invest your money," LePain says, citing mutual funds as an example.   Analysts expect other insurance companies to follow John Hancock's lead, but will it work? Will more policy holders take up Jazzercise and the Insanity Workout to improve their position on the actuarial table?   "Sure!" says 38-year-old Julie McMahon. "I’d get cheaper life insurance, for what I do anyway."   Other potential customers are not so sure.   "I hope my insurance company doesn’t do that," says Polly Brown. She has concerns about sharing personal health data for commercial purposes.   Brown said she wants her insurance provider to sell her a policy, not to try to be her personal trainer.

Stopping German students in their tracks?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-08 11:07

At an elementary school in Essen, a city in northern Germany, students stream in from recess. They stuff boots into cubbies and hang up their jackets.

The fourth-grade classroom looks a lot like the classrooms in American public schools.  The class has one teacher, who covers all the subjects in the same classroom. Some students excel, some struggle, some are in the middle. 

But next year, that will end.

Every student will be placed on one of three different education tracks: Gymnasium, Realschulen or Hauptschulen. Gymnasium includes eight years of university-prep school. Realschulen is six years, and typically leads to an apprenticeship instead of college. Hauptschulen is the lowest track, meant to serve slower learners.

Bela, one of the fourth-graders, says he wants to be a deep-sea scientist when he grows up, studying marine ecosystems and animals. To do that, he’ll have to go to university.

In Germany, kids are divided up after four years of school, put on paths to university or vocational training.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

In the United States, 66 percent of high school graduates enroll in college. In Germany, only a third of students do.

Germany is very selective about who gets to go to college, because the state pays for every student to attend a public university, and there are a limited number of spots.

Decisions about which students should be tracked for college depend on a mix of grades and test scores, and are heavily influenced by teachers. Students spend the first four years in school with the same instructor.

Lis Vincenz is the principal at the elementary school in Essen. She says this system puts a lot of pressure on teachers, who have to make these tough calls with anxious parents peering over their shoulders.

“They just had their mid-term grades last week, and it only took three hours for the first parents to complain,” Vincenz says. “Parents feel very pressured to have their kids be university-bound.”

Vincenz isn’t a big proponent of the tracking system, and she would like to see students stay together for a longer period of time.

She once taught at a Hauptschule, the lowest track. She questions whether full potential can be predicted so early, pointing out that students at Hauptschulen are disproportionately poor, or children of immigrants.

“Any form of tracking is a form of discrimination really,” Vincenz says. “Even if you don't tell that to the children, they are feeling that they are not really wanted.”

Supporters of tracking point to Germany’s vocational system, where students who don’t go to college are given the opportunity to learn a trade. Graduates of vocational education are still able to earn good money, sometimes even more than college graduates.

 “I see the functionality in it, and I’m impressed by the society that results from it,” says Joshua Hallet, an American expat living in Germany.

Hallett and his wife Wendy live in Dusseldorf, an affluent city north of Cologne. They have two teenage sons who are on the university track.

Wendy Hallett says she loves the tracking system. Her sons are high-achieving students, and she says they were always held back in American schools.

“For our kids to be pulled out, and now be in a classroom of basically all gifted and talented kids, it's insane,” she says. “They're taught at a level that they understand and where they can perform.”

The Hallett family is American, but have lived in Germany for three years. Both sons were put on the university track.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Subject matter doesn’t necessarily differ from track to track, but the depth and pace of teaching does vary. And, says Joshua Hallett, Americans would be quick to call that unfair.

“The tracking system in Germany is so, for lack of a better word, un-American,” he says. “It doesn't give you that golden ring to reach for. Americans are bred from an early age that nobody can tell you what to do, but you can do what you want.”

The irony is, the American comprehensive high school was partially a reaction to Germany’s tracking.

In the 1950s, former Harvard president James Bryant Conant served as an ambassador to Germany. He didn’t like the tracking system he saw there, so he came home and led a movement to reform American schools.

It took 30 years, but by the 1980s any type of tracking in the U.S. — even within high schools — was widely considered regressive and unjust.

In Germany, though, the system hasn't changed much in 60 years, even though parents like Anya Turner worry about the effect it's having on their children.

“My daughter is maybe not as focused as we want her to be sometimes. And having looked back at my education I can relate,” Turner says. “I would find it very sad for her path to be set after the fourth grade.”

Turner's daughter is 9-years-old and will be placed on a track soon. If she isn’t recommended for gymnasium, the university track, Turner and her husband could decide to ignore the suggestion and send her there anyway. In the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the government recently granted parents the right to make that choice.

However, ignoring a recommendation is still rare because, for all of their misgivings, Germans still trust the system.

This is the final part in a series from WGBH's "On Campus" that explores how higher education works in Germany, compared to the U.S. Click the links at the top of the page for previous coverage.

When water runs dry, farmers focus on profit

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-08 11:03

"When farmers are short on water, they're going to say, 'Well, I'd like to have more water, but with the water I have, I'm going to make the most profit from it that I can,'" says Jay Lund.

That's how Lund, a professor for civil engineering at the University of California in Davis, explains the crop choices in the state's Central Valley. Lucrative specialty crops reign when water supply tightens.

Here are the Central Valley's top crops, by acreage and value, according to the latest numbers compiled for Marketplace by Bill Matthews, UC Agricultural Issues Center, using data from the USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Service:

Rafael Cardenas/Marketplace



'Furious 7' charges up box office, diverse audiences

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-08 11:03

For less than a week's work, over $174 million isn't so bad. Add another $250 million on top of that for overseas box office, and "Furious 7" is off and running.

The latest installment of the "Fast and Furious" franchise went ahead despite the death of star Paul Walker a year a half ago, using a mix of CGI and body doubles to keep his character in the film. 

"I love these movies," says Wesley Morris, film critic at Grantland. "They're so much better made than they even need to be." 

This isn't high art, Morris says, but a highly entertaining series of impossible stunts, gaining praise form critics and filmgoers alike. The cast is also more racially diverse than the average blockbuster, encouraging a broader audience to go out and buy tickets. 

"I think the number is 75 percent non-white — the audience," Morris said, but here's a note for distributors growing smug about their profit margins. "People think that Universal has the multiracial, multiethnic thing locked up, right? I think they have the 'Fast and Furious' thing locked up." 

And to retain audiences long-term, studios will have to offer more than sleek cars and an appealing ensemble cast. 

"People don't only want to see brown people drive cars and rob banks," Morris said. "With the right the people and the right story, you can have a diverse cast without calling attention to the fact that you have a diverse cast." 

As for Furious 7, you don't have to see the prior six to enjoy it, Morris says. All you need is a healthy appreciation for cars parachuting backward out of cargo planes.


Tsipras' visit with Putin raises European eyebrows

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-08 11:02

A beautiful new friendship appeared to blossom in Moscow today between two embattled leaders. Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras held his first official meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Both clearly hoped they might be able help each other in their time of need.

Putin wants to snag at least one "no" vote when the European Union meets this summer to consider renewing sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. The sanctions have to be approved unanimously, so one negative vote would terminate the measure and bring Russia some much needed economic relief.

In turn, Putin might, "give the Greeks a bundle of goodies," says Athenian blogger John Psaropoulos.

But, analysts warn that Putin may have a tough time doling out large amounts of cash to Greece; the sanctions and the collapsing price of oil have taken their toll on the Kremlin’s finances.

Putin might reward the Greeks in other ways. He has imposed counter sanctions on a whole range of foodstuffs from the EU, an embargo that has cost Greek fruit growers $1 billion in exports a year. The Russian president could lift the ban on Greek produce. He could also give the Greeks a further discount on Russian oil and gas supplies.

But the Germans say these are paltry rewards when you consider what the Greeks are risking. By playing footsie with Putin, they are putting their whole relationship with the western world in jeopardy.

“What is it that Russia can offer to Greece that can compensate for falling out completely with Europe at large and the United States?" asks Heinz Schulte, a leading German commentator.

In Athens, Psaropoulos says that after six years of economic misery, Greeks no longer seem to care about upsetting their Western partners.

“There’s no feeling that in this marriage between Greece and the West, there’s a danger of breaking the wedding china because the wedding china has already been broken,” Psaropoulos says.

The question now is whether the rift will end in divorce, with Greece’s ejection from the eurozone.

ESPN doubles as the Grinch

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-08 11:01

Twelve-year-old Sam Holtz of Hawthorne Woods, Ill., tied for first place in ESPN's March Madness basketball bracket.

That's tied for first, out of 11.5 million brackets. ESPN awards the prize through a random draw of brackets that were among the top 1 percent in the contest.

But Holtz won't be allowed to enter for the $20,000 gift card or trip to Hawaii, because the rules say you must be 18 to enter.

“I’m irritated," Holtz told the Daily Herald. “"Yes, I'm still proud of my accomplishment, but I'm not happy with the decision."

An ESPN spokesman says that the real prize isn't money, but glory, and knowing you are better than everyone else: "That's what makes this so awesome. The prize really is secondary."

No, ESPN, it's not.

Shelling out for a BG takeover

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-08 11:00

Oil company Shell is teaming up with BG, a gas company. It’s just one of a number of mergers in the oil and gas business that are either being considered, or are in the works.

Shell will reportedly pay $70 billion for the company, one of the largest mergers in the industry since ExxonMobil.

The industry is under immense pressure to consolidate — but are some sectors under more pressure than others?

Click the audio player above to listen to the full story.

'I Was Sickened By What I Saw,' Police Chief Says Of S.C. Shooting

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 10:14

Discussing the case of a North Charleston, S.C., officer shooting an unarmed man in the back, police chief Eddie Driggers said Wednesday, "I have been praying for peace."

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Dreams Of Hope And Happiness In Turbulent Yemen

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-08 10:06

Yemen is in chaos. But behind the headlines of war and poverty are generous and gentle people. Photographer Stephanie Sinclair recalls her most recent visit and shares some of her photos.

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