National News

Born In 1898: World's Oldest Living Person Celebrates Birthday

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 06:25

Misao Okawa of Japan is now 117. She has reigned as the world's oldest living person since 2013, when Guinness World Records certified that she was 115.

» E-Mail This

Japanese World War II Battleship Musashi Found, Billionaire Paul Allen Says

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 06:01

The Microsoft co-founder says his team found the ship's wreckage in the Sibuyan Sea off the Philippines. The vessel was sunk during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944.

» E-Mail This

Rapper Jin Tries To Stretch His '15 Minutes' Of Fame

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 05:50

In 2004, Jin was one of the first Asian-Americans to drop a major label rap album. One controversial song, "Learn Chinese," raised eyebrows. A decade later, he's trying to rephrase the message.

» E-Mail This

Man's Identity Questioned In LAPD Skid Row Shooting

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 05:12

Officials say the man killed Sunday was the subject of a federal warrant for violating probation for a 2000 bank robbery. There's also word that he lived under a stolen identity.

» E-Mail This

For U.S. Children, Minorities Will Be The Majority By 2020, Census Says

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 04:05

America is heading toward the day when whites will no longer make up the majority of the population. And U.S. children will get there soon, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report.

» E-Mail This

Watch A Film From Mali: The Day Before The Music Died

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 04:03

The Last Song Before the War presents the glorious sounds of the 2011 Festival in the Desert, held shortly before Islamic extremists took over the region and banned music.

» E-Mail This

Boston Marathon Bombing Trial Begins For Dzokhar Tsarnaev

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 03:02

Opening statements begin in Boston Wednesday, in a capital trial that's expected to last several months. It took nearly two months to seat a jury to try the case.

» E-Mail This

PODCAST: A forecast to Friday's Jobs Report

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-04 03:00

First up, we'll talk about what the jobs report is likely to look like on Friday. Plus, Ukraine’s central bank is raising its interest rate from 19.5 percent to 30 percent. The hike comes as the government is seeking a $17.5 billion assistance program from the International Monetary Fund. Inflation is rampant and the national currency has tumbled since Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula and pro-Russian separatists took up arms in the country's east.  We look at the reasons behind the hike in the interest rate. And gas prices sure seem to go up a lot faster than they go down. On the West Coast, 37 cents a gallon just last week. We explain.

Federal Agents Carry Out Search For Evidence Of Illegal Support For 'Birth Tourism'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 02:22

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says some wealthy foreigners seek to give birth to their children in the U.S. so they will obtain U.S. citizenship.

» E-Mail This

Target announces layoffs at company headquarters

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-04 02:00

Target Corporation has announced thousands of job cuts, most of them at company headquarters, set to roll out over the next two years. CEO Brian Cornell, who joined Target last year, told investors the cuts were part of a broader turnaround. 

The biggest event in Target’s recent history was a black eye for the retailer: A data breach in 2013 that saw millions of customer credit cards exposed to possible fraud.

However, that's not what's behind these cuts, says Brian Yarbrough, an analyst from Edward Jones. "Of course some customers will never shop them again," he says. "But for the most part, most of the customers have come back. So I don’t think this has anything to do with the data breach."

There have been other problems, too — like a failed expansion into Canada, which collapsed. Target Canada filed for bankruptcy in January after just two years in operation. It’s in the process of closing more than 100 stores and laying off more than 17,000 workers.

"Target’s last five years have been the most challenging in the history of the company," says Burt Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a retail consultancy. "Every major move Target made seemed to be a major management mistake."

However, Flickinger thinks the company may be poised for a rebound. For instance, he thinks Target is addressing supply-chain problems, which helped sink Target Canada and which Flickinger says have hurt stores here.

Also in the works: A new emphasis on fancier groceries, to lure younger shoppers. Once shoppers come to Target, the thinking goes, they will buy stuff. Come for the organic yogurt and gluten-free granola, stick around and pick up some pants or a deck chair.

The Sound of Computers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-04 02:00

Have you ever wondered what computers sounded like before they evolved into the sleek, silent processors we know and use. Well, now you can find out.

Matt Parker, a UK-based sound artist, is the man behind the Imitation Archive - it’s a collection of sounds from the early days of computing. The archive will be in the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park, England. Parker is also working on turning some of these sounds into musical compositions.

What was surprising, he said, was the rich variety of sounds he encountered. “Certainly the assumption would be that they all sound the same,” said Parker.  

“Very early electromechanical computers running on relay switches make a very different sort of sound to the sounds you get from high processing smaller devices,” he explained, before playing sounds from one particular device, known as the WITCH. It sounded, he said, like “various pieces of metal grinding.”

Parker described the device as “basically, a very advanced calculator.”

He also said the WITCH was the most musical of all the technology he's recorded: “It’s very interesting, very rhythmic."

His goal is to explore the separation between the quiet devices that we keep beside us or tucked away in our pockets and bags, and the place where all the information they process is ending up. “I want to try and find a way using sound to remind people of that,” said Parker.   

 

Why two companies dominate the private prison industry

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-04 02:00

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved funding for the Department of Homeland Security until next fiscal year. Republicans had held up funding for DHS in an attempt to overturn President Obama’s executive action to give up to five million undocumented immigrants a reprieve from deportation. A federal judge blocked the President’s order, but the administration has vowed to appeal the decision.

No matter what happens with President Obama’s executive action, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, will still detain up to 34,000 immigrants. ICE partners with private prison companies to house undocumented immigrants in prison-like facilities around the country.

One such facility is the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA, run by a corporation called the Geo Group. Detainees there complain of low wages, abuse from guards, even maggots in their food. They staged three hunger strikes in the past year. Byron Hernandez Lopez, a 26-year-old man from Guatemala, claims a guard assaulted him, grabbing his wrist and leaving marks on his arm.

The entrance to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA.

Ryan Katz

ICE doesn’t officially acknowledge these allegations. ICE Spokesman Andrew Munoz says the Northwest Detention Center remains in compliance with the agency’s 2011 detention standards. But ICE’s own audit inspection found the Northwest Detention Center violated almost half of the standards it reviewed last year.

At the same time, ICE sees few alternatives. Geo only has one major competitor, Corrections Corp. of America. The two of them claim they control around three-quarters of the private prison industry.

Ryan Meliker, an analyst with MLV and Company, says the main reason is because, unlike their competitors, Geo and CCA are publicly traded.

“There’s more transparency surrounding their business, government entities feel a little more comfortable selecting them from a contracting standpoint.”

Meliker says ICE can inspect their financial records and confirm they have sufficient credit.

He adds that ICE likes to work with companies it has contracted with in the past. They know Geo and CCA are capable of building, staffing and operating a detention center – not an easy task.

Activists see a different reason why Geo and CCA dominate the market. Jamie Trinkle of the Enlace Private Prison Divestment Campaign, claims that “In the last decade, CCA and Geo have spent $45 million lobbying the federal government.”

Trinkle concedes that Geo is very likely to re-win the contract at the Northwest Detention Center. 

Inside the center, many detainees sense whichever company runs the center, conditions will remain poor. Cipriano Rios, a 55-year-old man from Mexico, says “We’re a captive population, hidden from the public. If the company’s motive is profit, it spends as little as possible. Geo can leave and when the next one arrives, everything will be the same.”

The contract for the NWDC will be awarded later this month.   

 

 

When disaster strikes, FEMA turns to Waffle House

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-04 02:00

When a big storm or tornado devastates a community, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) usually steps in to help state and local officials. But in recent years, FEMA has been getting some help of its own from an unexpected source – one you see on almost every highway throughout the Southeast: Waffle House.

During a busy lunch hour at a Waffle House in Norcross, Ga., manager William Palmer grills up a Texas Lover’s BLT for one of his customers on the high counter.

But there were a couple of days last January where this Waffle House was packed to the brim. It was during the ice storm that paralyzed the metro Atlanta area, and Palmer says people took refuge here.

“A lot of people were stranded on the highway with cars and they couldn’t get to their cars,” Palmer said. “But since we’re a staple in the community, they always knew they can come here and get great service and great food.”

Palmer and his employees worked shifts around-the-clock as the city thawed – the company put him and other employees up in hotel rooms nearby.

The 24-hour restaurant chain prides itself on serving its customers at all hours of the day, seven days a week. And FEMA caught on to this. They discovered that if a Waffle House was closed after a storm, then that meant things were really bad.

“It just doesn’t happen where Waffle House is normally shut down,” said Philip Strouse, FEMA’s private sector liaison for the Southeast.

Strouse said Waffle Houses are able to bounce back relatively quickly after a natural disaster, and have a good sense of what their statuses are in a community.

“They’re the canary in the coalmine, if you will,” Strouse said.

In 2011, the current head of FEMA, administrator Craig Fugate, was said to have coined what’s called the Waffle House Index. There are three measures in the index: green, yellow and red.

Green means the restaurant is open as usual, yellow means it’s on a limited menu, and red means the restaurant’s closed.

The index isn’t necessarily scientific, Strouse said, but it allows FEMA to know quickly about how things are on the ground.

“It gives us a pretty good feel right away of what’s going on at what time,” he said.

Because Waffle Houses restaurants are in areas prone to hurricanes and tornadoes, the company has made it part of their business plan to be prepared, said Pat Warner, the vice president of culture at Waffle House.

“We all have, what I call, ‘day jobs’ and then when the crisis comes, we all kind of stop,” said Warner, who’s also part of the company’s disaster management team.

For example, the man who handles restaurant operations also monitors the weather during hurricane season. The company starts tracking storms when they're still a tropical depression, Warner said.

Every employee also has a copy of the company’s hurricane playbook, which has instructions on how to respond during a crisis. If a storm’s on its way, Warner said the company will rent generators and start sending teams to the area.  

Waffle House even has an emergency menu, pared down for quick production and efficiency.

“Unfortunately for bacon folks, bacon takes up too much grill so we do sausage instead of bacon,” Warner said.

Waffles are not on the menu either, because they take too much electricity to make.  

Back at the Waffle House outside Atlanta, manager William Palmer focuses on serving his customers for now. But he said if the next disaster strikes, he’s not worried.

“We’re ready for it,” Palmer said.

And FEMA will be watching.

 

 

 

 

Ukraine raises interest rate to 30 percent

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-04 02:00

It’s tough to be a Ukrainian right now. In addition to Ukraine’s ongoing conflict with Russia—and partially because of it—the country’s currency is collapsing and inflation rates are soaring. As a result, Ukraine’s central bank has raised its benchmark interest rate to 30 percent, up from just over 19 percent.

How did Ukraine get here?

“Ukraine is fighting a war that it cannot pay for [and] it has a budget that isn’t balanced,” says Keith Darden, a professor at the School of International Service at American University. He adds it also has long history of government corruption and it’s running out of money. As a result, Ukrainians are moving to more stable currencies or rushing to purchase staples like sugar and flour in bulk.  

Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University and the director of the Troubled Currency Project at the Cato Institute, estimates Ukraine’s real annual inflation rate is now around 270 percent. Theoretically, raising interest rates could draw investors and convince people into leave their money in the bank, but Hanke says it also kills demand for loans and that without credit, Ukraine's economy will sink further into a "death spiral." He says to reverse it Ukraine must tackle the structural problems that got it here in the first place. 

The volatility of gasoline prices

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-04 01:45

The U.S. Energy Information Administration releases its weekly numbers on oil supplies on Thursday. The agency also surveys gas station prices, and they rose 14 cents a gallon nationally last week. In California, prices spiked up 37 cents a gallon, because of lower production at refineries.

More on why gas prices often seem to rise faster than they decline:

Click the media player above to hear more.

Blurred Lines and its blurred profits

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-04 01:30
$16,675,690

That's how much "Blurred Lines," the biggest hit of 2013, made in profit. More than $5.6 million went in Robin Thicke's pocket, and Pharrell got more than $5.1 million. Poor T.I. got just $704,774 for his guest verse. Usually these details are top secret, the Hollywood Reporter notes, but they've come out in the ongoing legal battle over the song's alleged similarity to Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give it Up."

270 percent

It’s tough to be a Ukrainian right now. Ukraine’s central bank has raised its benchmark interest rate to 30 percent, up from just over 19 percent. But with the country's currency collapsing, and with many Ukranians moving to more stable currencies, some estimate the country's real annual inflation rate is more like 270 percent.

3,370

The number of political scientists living in the District of Columbia, 120.5 more than one would expect based on the average across all 50 states. The Pew Charitable Trusts used Bureau of Labor Statistics data to calculate the jobs that are most disproportionally represented in each state.

$521 million

The estimated value of Florida-based Keiser University, a former for-profit college that was sold to a nonprofit in 2011 amid an investigation from the state's attorney general. But the nonprofit is also owned by the school's founders, the Keiser family, and the University uses several big-ticket services, facilities and vendors family members own a stake in, the New York Times reported. Keiser is far from the only school to go non-profit following a nationwide crackdown on for-profit institutions.

2 companies

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, partners with private prison companies to house undocumented immigrants in prison-like facilities around the country. These days, just two companies, Geo Group and Corrections Corp. of America, control around three-quarters of the private prison industry.

24 hours

If you're from the Southeast, chances are you're familiar with the Waffle House franchise. You may have also come to depend on the fact that the chain prides itself on being open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Well, now the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) depends on that fact, too. Using Waflle House restaurants as a kind of community thermometer, the current head of FEMA, administrator Craig Fugate, was said to have coined what’s called the Waffle House Index. There are three measures in the index: green, yellow and red. Green means the restaurant is open as usual, yellow means it’s on a limited menu, and red means the restaurant’s closed.

Injured Workers Suffer As 'Reforms' Limit Workers' Compensation Benefits

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 01:04

Over the past decade, states have slashed workers' compensation benefits, denying injured workers help when they need it most and shifting the costs of workplace accidents to taxpayers.

» E-Mail This

Immigrants Worry They'll Face Deportation After Deferred Action Delay

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-03 23:34

Some unauthorized immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens and green-card holders are worried they may be forced to leave the U.S. because a court ruling has put a hold on their deportation relief.

» E-Mail This

Shrink The FAFSA? Good Luck With That

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-03 23:32

Lots of politicians are calling for a shorter FAFSA — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It now has more than 100 questions. But, it turns out, shortening the FAFSA is a tall order.

» E-Mail This

Alabama Supreme Court Again Halts Gay Marriage

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-03 17:14

In a 134-page opinion, the court issued an order that goes against what higher courts has decided. The decision once again will pit the state against the federal judiciary.

» E-Mail This

Pages