National News

Are The Vaccine Court's Requirements Too Strict?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 23:45

Before awarding compensation, the court wants a "preponderance of evidence" that a vaccine caused the injury. Some years the nearly $4 billion fund earns more interest than it pays out in claims.

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Coming Soon: More Ads On Instagram, And a "Buy" Feature On Pinterest

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 16:04

Pinterest will launch an in-app "buy" button, and Instagram will soon target ads using demographic data from Facebook.

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Pro-Warren Group Disbands, As Senator Splits Again With Obama

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 15:06

A group pushing Elizabeth Warren to run for president moves on and "declares victory" in advancing her positions. But Warren is already on to new fights.

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Grass Gourmands: A Herbivore Food Mystery On The African Savanna

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:20

A new study sheds light on a longstanding ecological question: How do so many species like impalas and elephants co-exist when they're all feeding on the same limited foods?

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A Boeing 747 pilot writes a love letter to flight

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

Mark Vanhoenacker is a commercial pilot who flies a Boeing 747 from London to major cities all over the world. Although he has been flying planes for years, Vanhoenacker is still mesmerized by the wonder of flight. He poetically shares his experiences in his first book, "Skyfaring: A Journey With a Pilot."

On the scale of travel:

Pick a city on the front of the globe and a city on the other side, and imagine the distances between them are geographic but also historical and linguistic and cultural. The plane connects them. It takes people and ideas and goods and awareness between those places. That world of possibility is built into how we think of the planet. It’s built into modernity itself, but that doesn’t mean we should take it too casually or take it for granted.

On the idea of “place lag”:

Place lag is the best term I could think of for the kind of experience we have when we take a long-haul flight. There’s a kind of shock. When I fly to Singapore, the last hour of the flight is quite busy, and then we go through customs and immigration and get our bags. And suddenly we’re on a bus. I’m suddenly off duty for the first time in 16 hours, and I look around, and it’s just a regular afternoon in Singapore. Everybody’s going about their business. It’s all these people doing all these things that they would have been doing if we hadn’t flown there.

There’s this sense that planes show us that the whole world is going on at once. When we fly between places, we’re confronted with that. It’s a kind of wonder. Like jet lag, I think it’s something that we won’t ever get used to. And that’s probably a good thing for retaining that sense of magic.

On kids reading his book:

I’ve had a whole bunch of letters from kids, and I didn’t expect that. I wasn’t writing the book for children specifically or for early teenagers. I think that kids love looking up at planes or down from them, and the things that amaze children are usually a good guide to what we, as adults, may want to rediscover.

Purchasing items on Pinterest is now a pin away

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

Say goodbye to your bank account. Pinterest just announced what it's calling "buyable pins," which is, basically, the option to instantly buy the pretty things you see on the app.

Ordering items on Pinterest's new purchasing service. (Courtesy Molly Wood)

The feature will be coming to iOS (sorry, Android fans) sometime in June, according to co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann. He said shopping on Pinterest was the No. 1 request of "pinners" who fill the app with photos of clothing, cars, curios, furniture, shoes and much, much more. 

Silbermann said Pinterest is partnering with retailers big and small, like Macy's, Nordstrom, Cole Haan, Poler Stuff and others, and will have a catalog of 2 million items available to buy when the feature launches. Buyable pins are tailored for mobile shopping, and you'll be able to check out with either a credit card (that will then be stored in the app for future shopping) or by using Apple Pay.

Navigating buyable pins. (Courtesy Molly Wood) 

If an item on Pinterest is available to buy, you'll see the usual red button (Pin It) or a blue button that says "Buy It." And you can search for buyable items by tag (like "jacket") or by a sliding price filter.

Freshly re-elected Sepp Blatter leaves FIFA

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

Sepp Blatter was re-elected as the president of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, last Friday. It looks as though, however, the ride is almost over for Blatter: he announced Tuesday that he will resign his position. To say it came as a surprise is something of an understatement.

Daniel Roberts, a sports business writer for Fortune magazine, says the reasons why Blatter decided to resign is unclear.

"My bet though is that it was the [New York] Times report, which came out Monday night, and that fingered a top lieutenant of his, Jérôme Valcke, as having personally handled $10 million in bribery money. I think that’s what did it," Roberts says.

Blatter’s departure from the organization might reopen the battle to host the next two World Cups. Qatar fought hard to win the voting and host the 2022 tournament; the United States finished second. However, Roberts does not think the location will change.

"It would be a bigger shock if they manage to get this World Cup out of Qatar’s hands," Roberts says.

Insurers grapple with keeping premiums stable

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

Around the country, major health insurers are proposing to increase monthly premiums by 26 percent to 51 percent. This, predictably, has reignited the political debate over the Affordable Care Act. But there’s something more important going on, and it’s happening in the belly of the insurance industry.

Insurers are grappling with new rules to bring price stability to their businesses.

Before the ACA, insurance premiums were crazy. In one year, sick people buying their own insurance could see a 39 percent spike, but if you were young and strong, almost nothing.

Insurers can’t divide customers like that anymore, says industry veteran Jay Silverstein. Now they set one price for everyone on the individual market.

“When you have one big pool, you have to price towards making sure you are retaining your book of business and attracting new people in,” Silverstein says. “So ultimately you have to be very good at managing cost."

The better a company manages those costs, the more stable the premium.

But it’s tricky. Companies must factor in expensive new medications and new customers that come along, and Silverstein says consumers have more choices.

“If a company comes out and says, 'We have a 20 percent rate increase,' I have the chance to shop and enroll with a new carrier,” he says.

Under Obamacare, any company looking to increase premiums by more than 10 percent must post that publicly.

Joel Ario, a former insurance commissioner in two states, says public scrutiny pushes insurers to find a middle ground.

“When I was the Pennsylvania commissioner, I told carriers that I would want to hold a public hearing on rate increases over 10 percent,” he says. “And I got mostly rate increases less than 10 percent.”

Ario says eventually insurers will figure out how to run their businesses with more price stability. He shrugs.


JPMorgan Chase to eliminate voicemail

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

JPMorgan Chase has joined the 21st Century.

A bank executive said at a conference today that the company's going to start phasing out voicemail for some of its employees. Which I get — cell phones and email and texting and all that.

Here's the kicker though, and maybe this was just me — JPMorgan is still paying $10 a month per employee for corporate voicemail.

Seems kinda steep.

Keeping mental health patients stable and out of jail

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

Jesse Harrison’s parents used to have to call the police to get him to come out of his bedroom, so it’s something of a triumph he took visitors up there himself.

His psychiatrist, Rob Weisman, follows him up a narrow carpeted staircase into the attic room. The light was broken, so it was very dark. An unmade bed is on one side of the room, and an asthma nebulizer sits amid Styrofoam cups and other trash on the floor in front of the TV.

“We’ve got to get you cleaned up in here,” Weisman says.

Harrison is schizophrenic and smokes a lot of marijuana.

Weisman visits Harrison at least once a week to check up on him. Weisman is part of a Forensic Assertive Community Treatment team out of the University of Rochester, a special program that aims to keep people with mental illness out of the hospital and out of the criminal justice system.

“I wanted to talk about the medicine we give you. We give you that long-acting injection. Is it working?” Weisman asks.

“Yeah,” Harrison replies.

“How does it help you, if at all?” Weisman wants to know.

“I’m really doing well since then,” Harrison responds in a quiet voice.

“Does it make you feel less anxious?”

“Yeah,” Harrison replies, still mumbling. “I haven’t wanted to harm myself or anything like that.”

Assertive Community Treatment teams were first developed in the 1970s as a way to help people with severe mental illness live on their own, outside of institutions. The teams are made up of experts, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and employment specialists, who are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ACT teams are expensive. But early studies showed they saved money by keeping people out of the hospital. The Rochester FACT team is a new spin on the approach — trying to keep people like Harrison not just out of the hospital, but also out of jail.

It sounds unlikely that a man who spends months at a time hiding in his room needs a whole support team to keep him out of jail.

“He’s not a hardened criminal or gang banger. He happens to live in a very bad area,” Weisman says. “[He] is at risk because of his drug use. And when he does go out, he’s involved in some card games, and a little bit of gambling and trouble can find him.”

This team of specialists meets clients where they are, literally: at home, on street corners, or, even under bridges. Dr. Steve Lamberti, another psychiatrist on the Rochester team, says the trick is to figure out how to treat the clients medically and understand why they keep getting in trouble with the law.

“Is it driven by their addiction? And if so, how so, are they selling drugs?” he says. “Are they appearing drunk in public? Is this somebody with DWIs, and that’s their channel into the criminal justice system?”

Lamberti’s team has just finished collecting data for a study to see how well their program works. Early results suggest their clients spent less time in jail, less time in the hospital and were more engaged in their outpatient treatment. The more complicated question is whether the program saves money.

In the short-term, FACT teams are expensive.

“If you’re running a clinic and you hire a psychiatrist, you could either get that psychiatrist to run a FACT team, which has on average about 50 patients,” Lamberti says. “Or you could get the psychiatrist to see outpatients … it would be more like 1,000.”

It seems that in the longer term, though, the money you save on hospitalization and incarceration should add up. And earlier studies suggested the traditional ACT teams did save money by keeping people out of the hospital.

But in the early days of ACT teams, psychiatric patients were often hospitalized for years, which was very expensive. Nowadays, it’s rare for people to stay in the hospital for more than a few days, or at the most, a few months.

“The cost savings aspects of Assertive Community Treatment programs may have changed,” says Eric Slade, a health economist at the Veterans Affairs who has studied ACT teams. “To the extent that public agencies are expecting savings from Assertive Community Treatment, that assessment may need re-evaluation.”

There’s also the question of how long somebody like Jesse Harrison will need his intensive support team.

“A success for Jesse is getting him mobile, moving him out of his attic room," Weisman, his psychiatrist, says. "Getting him to get medical care as well as accept mental health care. And get him to minimize, what we call harm reduction related to his substance use."

All of those interventions will probably keep him out of the hospital and out of jail, but what remains to be seen is whether it will save any money.

Roth's reporting on mental illness and the criminal justice system was supported by a Soros Justice Fellowship

When horses fly

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

The next time you find yourself balking at the cost of air travel, think of this: horse owners have it worse. Every year, thousands of horses travel by air domestically and internationally. And the price tag for these flights can be extravagant.

Triple Crown contender American Pharoah was expected to touch down today at Long Island's MacArthur Airport before making the 40-mile trek over to Belmont Park.

When it came time for Mersad Metanovic to send his racehorse, Metaboss, from Los Angeles to Kentucky for a Derby prep race, he had a decision to make. Send him on a 72-hour road trip, or put him on a plane. For Metanovic, the choice was simple.

“We don’t want to put the horse on a van and go clear across country," he says. "Especially that caliber of a horse. No way.”

Instead, Metaboss flew the horse equivalent of business class — two slots in a stall that holds three horses. Lots of leg room. Well worth the $8,500 price tag, Metanovic says.

“Those are better seats than sitting in between two people going clear across country,” he said.

Metanovic used Equi Air Shipping, which ships 500 to 800 horses a year. Co-owner Rachel DeBerdt says they’ve sent horses to Singapore, Malaysia, all over Europe and Saudi Arabia. Most expensive these days is Australia, DeBerdt says, because there’s a lot of quarantine involved.

"So for that, you’re probably looking at about $20,000 a horse," she says.

Shipping to Europe from the U.S. bare bones is about $5,000. And what does a horse get for that kind of money? Alfalfa, on demand, according to Katie Schroeder, owner of Equiflight, another air transport company. “And then they get complimentary water,” she says. Horses get jet lag too, so just like with people, water is key.

KLM also transports horses, often with people.

“So it looks like it's the back of the plane,” Schroeder says, “but then when you open the door thinking you’re going to the restroom or something, there’s actually a whole row of horses back there.”

A literal underground music scene

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

The subways of New York echo with lots of different sounds — the footsteps of commuters, the rumble of trains, announcements about arrivals and departures — but occasionally, through the din of the daily commute, there breaks through the sound of a musician performing on the subway platform.

And for those musicians who make some or all of their living underground, it can be a hustle trying to eke out a living based on tips from commuters. There's another challenge, too. Choice times at some of the busiest subway stops in New York are available to performers only after they pass an audition.

Run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Music Under New York is a program that schedules performers for events throughout the city, including regular time slots at some of the prime subway stations like Times Square or Grand Central. Every year, hundreds of musicians submit CDs for the chance to score a live audition. Come audition day, 70 were given the opportunity to perform live, with just 20 to 25 spots available on the roster.

For those who make the cut, there are perks. MUNY groups receive an official banner and can reserve performance space at some of the most popular subway stations during high-traffic hours. And that means dollars.

A video posted by Marketplace (@marketplaceapm) on Jun 2, 2015 at 1:16pm PDT

Alex Steyermark, a film and music producer, has hired some of the performers out of the program. He has also seen first hand just how lucrative a couple hours in the subway can be. He remembers a particular recording session when two musicians used their break to perform in the subway. “They came back two hours later with $1,000. And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s like how to earn a living as a musician,’ ” Steyermark says. 

MUNY musicians also avoid any run-ins with the police. Legally, musicians can perform anywhere in the subway without a formal permit. But there are rules about amplification and volume that can get tricky, and sometimes that leads to performers being ejected from the subway or arrested (though law enforcement understands that groups performing under MUNY banners have been pre-approved to perform).

It’s why Daniel Duke’s jazz ensemble decided to audition this year, even though they’ve already been performing in the subway for years. “We don’t like to deal with cops that come and kick us out or give us tickets or stuff like that. It really messes up our day and our vibe,” Duke says.

But aside from the day-to-day perks, many of the musicians are thinking about the larger value of being part of the program: exposure. “We would love for this to lead to … just a passerby to be like ‘Wow, I’m really interested in that.’ And then allowing that to give us bigger and better shows,” says a singer who performs as Lachi in an all-female a capella group, Femme Rhythm. They're hoping that a spot on the MUNY roster will mean reaching a much larger audience.

And ultimately, that’s what a lot of the groups want out of passing the audition. The hope is that maybe the next big gig will come from one of those subway commuters.

The great trade debate: nine sticking points

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 12:48

On Wednesday, Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal will sit down with President Obama to discuss the future of international trade. Here's a look at what's on the table:

Among the top issues facing the House of Representatives this summer is whether to give President Obama enhanced power to negotiate trade deals. It's known as "trade promotion authority," and passing it means Congress agrees to give completed trade packages a straight yes-or-no vote without amendments or filibusters. 

The Senate passed TPA after vigorous debate in May.

If TPA passes, it would clear the way to move forward with a giant Pacific free-trade agreement among the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Together, the dozen nations make up 11 percent of the world’s population and 37 percent of the world’s GDP. Here’s a summary of U.S. objectives for the agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, from the U.S Trade Representative.

Some of the major sticking points in the current trade debates include:

1. Whether free trade is good for the U.S. – and who benefits

In part because we haven’t had a big new trade deal in quite a while, much of the debate about upcoming trade deals circles back to the pros and cons of past free trade deals, whether free trade is, in practice, good for the U.S. and who benefits most from new agreements. While many economists argue there is consensus on the benefits of free trade, others counter trade in the real world is complicated and only as good as the rules that govern it.   

2. Transparency

Drafts of the TPP are classified, which means members of Congress and their staff who meet a required security clearance are able to view the text. Members of trade-advisory committees – which include labor, environmental and business groups, among others – can view negotiating proposals, but not the full document. The agreement won’t be publicly available until the deal is finalized, at which point there is a mandatory review period before Congress votes on it. But some members of Congress and advocacy groups worry the process is not open enough and that by giving the president TPA, they’ll essentially be green lighting the Pacific trade deal without knowing what’s in it.

3. Currency Manipulation

If countries devalue their currencies, it makes their exports cheaper relative to other countries, which gives their exporters a competitive advantage. Therefore, the American Automotive Policy Council, among others, would like to see the TPP include rules against this type of behavior. However, the Obama administration is opposed to including rules about currency manipulation in the deal, arguing that it would limit U.S. monetary policy options and threatened to veto a bill that includes such controls.

Opponents of strong currency control measures also argue that trying to stimulate your domestic economy can devalue your currency even if that’s not the stated goal, and that it becomes a question of a government’s intent and that gets murky very fast. Others say currency manipulation can be narrowly and clearly defined in a way that doesn’t limit U.S. activities.

4. How to resolve disputes

The heart of this issue is whether an independent international tribunal should hear complaints by companies that believe they’ve been harmed by government actions. The argument for such a system is that domestic courts can be biased in favor of their home countries and having independent arbitration protects international investors. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative points out the U.S. has versions of this in 50 other agreements already, that cases are rarely brought against the U.S. and that the U.S. has never lost one. Opponents say this process could limit democracy by giving companies a vehicle to challenge U.S. regulations, often pointing to an example of how a tobacco company sued the governments of Uruguay and Australia for restrictions they’ve passed on the design of cigarette packaging.

5. Environment

Environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, and that Natural Resources Defense Council, worry that the TPP could lead to increased fracking and put stress on natural resources. After analyzing a draft chapter of the Pacific trade agreement released by Wikileaks, the environmental groups warned that environmental provisions aren’t as strong as previous agreements.

6. Intellectual Property

Intellectual property provisions of the TPP are especially controversial as they relate to pharmaceutical patents. But Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam are concerned the deal could lengthen the duration of pharmaceutical companies’ patents and therefore restrict access to more affordable generics.

7. China

The Pacific trade negotiations do not involve China, and the Senate failed when it tried to pass an amendment requiring Congressional approval for new countries to join the deal. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who sponsored the amendment, said China had already expressed interest in joining the TPP and that because of its size, “a deal of that scale demands that the American public weigh in.”

President Obama has frequently evoked China while calling for the passage of TPP, saying that if the U.S. doesn’t write the rules on global trade, China will.

8. Human Rights

The Senate passed a human rights measure seeking to bar countries complicit in human trafficking from receiving the benefits of a trade deal passed under TPA. The White House opposes such a provision, as it says it would exclude Malaysia from the TPP.

9. Trade Adjustment Assistance

Trade has winners and losers – that’s often repeated regarding these deals. The idea behind Trade Adjustment Assistance is to provide assistance to workers displaced by trade deals. It is favored by labor unions, like the AFL-CIO, but whether this assistance is renewed and how much funding it receives have been sticking points.

In Several States, Abortion Waiting Periods Grow Longer

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 12:33

State lawmakers passed dozens of bills to restrict abortion this session. One trend: making women wait ever longer, up to 72 hours in some states, before having the procedure.

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South Koreans Mask Up In The Face Of MERS Scare

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 12:19

The spread of the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, virus has sent sales of surgical masks soaring. Do they really help?

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Indiana's HIV Outbreak Leads To Reversal On Needle Exchanges

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 12:15

Scott County's needle exchange program is part of a response to the largest HIV outbreak in Indiana history. After a slow start in April, the needle exchange is drawing users and community support.

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Slavery, Famine And The Politics of Pie: What Civil War Recipes Reveal

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 12:12

From recipes for apple pie without apples to advice on how to treat servants, the era's cookbooks hint at the turbulence outside the kitchen window. Indeed, food helped decide the war's outcome.

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Who's The Candidate Of The Future?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 12:08

People always say they want change in elections, but who represents that change? A new poll sheds some light on who does — and who does not.

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Senate Approves USA Freedom Act, After Amendments Fail

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 12:07

The Senate has approved the USA Freedom Act, which will alter the way U.S. agencies conduct surveillance and gather data. A final vote on the bill came late Tuesday afternoon.

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Vaccine Court Aims To Protect Patients And Vaccines

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 11:21

It's been nearly 30 years since Congress established a special court to help keep good vaccines on the market and fairly compensate the rare person who has a severe reaction. Who wins these cases?

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