National News

Hacker Group Sues German Government Over NSA Spying

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 12:41

The group wants German federal prosecutors to investigate the country's aiding of the U.S. agency's activities. It's the latest fallout from revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

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Going to prison can be costly for the whole family

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 12:13

At the end of last year, the Department of Justice issued a memo stating the federal prison system is in crisis: It’s overcrowded and expensive to run. And while there’s always a lot of hand-wringing over the burdened taxpayer - it costs about $29,000 a year to keep an inmate in federal prison - it can also be expensive for the family. 

For the Hurleys in Maine, having two sons in federal prison has been surprisingly expensive.

The men were arrested for their involvement in a cocaine ring in Waldo County and sentenced to serve 30 and 56 months respectively at a federal prison camp in Florence, Colo.

"Here’s this lower middle class, working class family, our family," explains their uncle, Mike Hurley, "We’re in Maine and they take two guys and stick them in Colorado. You know, don’t look for compassion from these people."

Matt spent $10,000 on a lawyer and Chris used a public defender -- not a lot to spend on legal fees, respectively. Chris says he could have borrowed from his large family.

"They would have done it, but, I didn’t say 'Let’s sell the house and fight this.' I couldn’t ask that."

But even without fancy lawyers, the costs went into the thousands. Chris lost his job and access to his bank account – everything had to be managed, and paid for, by his family back home. There’s also no cash allowed inside prison, although some kind of alternative currency often develops, like trading cigarettes or stamps.

"Some places it’s not stamps. In New Hampshire, it was ramen," Chris, who was held briefly in that state, said. "It was a trip because people would be carrying around laundry bags full of ramen."

He says that it was possible to have your laundry done in exchange for two ramen. But bartering goods in prison isn’t legal, so as their months in the Colorado prison went on, when the brothers wanted something from the commissary: shower shoes, dental floss, sweatpants - Uncle Mike helped the family organize a fund.

"What I was trying to avoid was making these guys beg or do stuff in prison that would get you money in prison."

He made sure that every month his nephews would have $50 each, collected from the family. That adds up to about $2,500. But the biggest expense was for visits. The brother's grandmother figures it cost her $1,500 for one of her two 2,000-mile trips from Maine to Colorado. That’s a lot for Roseann Costello, who still works full-time in her mid-70s. 

"I just needed to see them," Costello said, holding a stack of the various bills she collected over the past few years on her lap. "To see that they were okay. And they needed to see me.  So it was good."

Family members made the trip 13 times over the past few years, totaling roughly $20,000.

"What we know from an analysis we did recently is that the average federal inmate is about 500 miles away from home," explained Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. She says the federal prison system has grown sevenfold in the past 30 years, so the impact is now felt far and wide.

"Virtually every American in this country knows somebody who’s been touched by the criminal justice system."

Including this large, tight-knit family from Maine.

"Frankly, the day they got arrested taught them everything that they learned," argued the brother's aunt, Jerri Holmes. She says that the brothers’ time in federal prison has come at a great cost to everyone involved. When the family added up everything, they figure they’ve spent $60,000.

And the money has been the least of it.  

"It doesn’t heal anything, it doesn’t teach you anything," continued Holmes. "Except for how to hoard your postage stamps."

U.S. One Step Closer To Future Where Cars Talk To Each Other

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 12:11

The technology, the Department of Transportation says, could mitigate 70 to 80 percent of accidents. The agency is not talking about self-driving cars; instead it's talking about a system that alerts drivers to dangers.

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A woman quit her job on TV: Good news for the economy?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 12:01

During yesterday’s Super Bowl, an ad for the web hosting company GoDaddy featured "Gwen," an engineer from New York quitting her job and announcing her new puppet business.  She did this in front of a TV audience of 100 million people -- but apparently, no one from the Department of Labor.

Because while the government tracks how many people quit their jobs, the data doesn’t provide a category for public quitters – like people who announce their departure on You Tube, or on national television.

"The Department of Labor does not track those numbers," says Kent Smetters, a professor of economics at Wharton.

Smetters says 480,000 workers quit jobs in accommodations and food services last November, and that we’re seeing high quit rates from other jobs with low pay, like retail. It's what he'd expect to see as the economy recovers.

"Those were kind of like holding jobs," says Smetters, "Temporary jobs they will quit... if they feel like they can move up."

But William Ward, a professor of social media at Syracuse’s Newhouse School, says public quitters beware – your need to vent on a large platform can come back to bite you in the tuchus.  

"It’s fun to watch on movies and on television and as entertainment, but it’s really never a great career move," he says.

Barbara Pachter, author of the Essentials of Business Etiquette, agrees.

"The bottom line is it’s just not fair to the other people. You’re only presenting one side to the story. There’s always two sides. I mean, people can publicly quit and they can be a bad employee," she says --which means future employers may be wary.

Jon Israel, a labor lawyer in New York, says GoDaddy’s Super Bowl ad could have been a lot worse. Gwen, the worker featured in the ad, appears to have been careful. She didn’t even mention the name of the company she was leaving:

"I suspect there was a lot of consideration given not to make difficulties for her employer," he says.

Or difficulties for herself. Israel says public quitting can lead to lawsuits. Or what Ward calls "social media hangovers,"  the feeling a public quitter might awaken to, the morning after.

"'Did I really do that? Can I take it back?' Unfortunately once you do it it’s out there forever," he says, "so you can’t take it back."

 

United kills another airline hub. What happens next in Cleveland?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 12:01

When United Airlines announced that it will be dropping Cleveland as a hub, the move itself wasn’t a huge surprise. The city’s been working overtime to keep United there, knowing the ice was thin.

But the timing was awkward. Just last week, United executives came to town for a big party hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, celebrating the new issue of United’s in-flight magazine, which features a 56-page insert about Cleveland.  

Joe Roman, who heads the Greater Cleveland Partnership, puts on a resolutely brave face.  "Well, we’re certainly disappointed," he says, "but I don’t feel as though we left anything out on the table."

With Roman's urging, the airport got some upgrades, the city pulled back on some airport fees, and Roman says hundreds of local businesses encouraged their employees to fly United for work. 

He says some of them adopted policies putting United’s bottom line ahead of their own.  "Companies have created specific threshhold policies, where they said: 'If the price of flying United falls within $300 or $400 of a competitor’s ticket, fly United.'"

But it didn’t work out. The airline says it was losing tens of millions of dollars a year on its operations there. The company is pulling 470 jobs from Cleveland. 

The worst-case scenario would be that other businesses pick up and move.  

"The major example in recent memory is Chiquita," says Adie Tomer, from the Brookings Institution.

Delta pulled its hub out of Cincinnati’s airport, and Chiquita Brands moved its headquarters to Charlotte.

"It offered them a metropolitan area of similar size, but more-expansive flight connections," Tomer says.

That kind of pullout seems unlikely in Cleveland's case, says Michael Boyd, president of Boyd Group International, an aviation-industry consulting firm.

"Cleveland will do fine," he says. "They’ll end up with 35 to 40 non-stop destinations. They won’t have non-stop flights to Albany anymore, and all seven people who took that flight every day will be upset, but other than that, it’ll be back to normal."

Other, smaller, cities—places that the Cleveland hub serves—will get hurt more. He offers Parkersburg, W.V., as an example.  "Their main access to the rest of the world is on a commuter flight that connects to that hub" in Cleveland, he says. "That hub is gone." 

Tomer and Boyd agree, the smaller number of hub airports, and the smaller number of flights to smaller cities, are part of the consolidation of the airline industry in recent decades.

"Thirty years ago, there were something like 40,000 people who flew between Albany and Boston," says Boyd. In those days, smaller regional airlines made money flying those routes.  

Not anymore. Today, he says, "there's probably not one-tenth that number" flying from Albany to Boston.

"And almost none of them are flying non-stops. There aren't any flights."

So, how are people getting from Albany to Boston?  "They're not," he says.  "The travel paths have changed. You can't fly there anymore, so people just don't travel it."

 

Food Comics Turn 'ZAP' And 'POW' Into 'Sizzle' And 'Bubble'

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 11:52

A growing number of comic artists are focusing on what's on their plates, rather than dreaming up caped crusader capers. One common theme in these contemporary comics is the epicurean epiphany.

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Sandwich Monday: Poppin' Pebbles, A Fruity Pebbles Spinoff

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 11:38

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try an update to the breakfast classic "Fruity Pebbles." They've added a Pop-Rocks-like substance to make the cereal sizzle in your mouth.

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Inexpensive Aquarium Bubbler Saves Preemies' Lives

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 11:21

Students at Rice University designed a low-cost medical device to help premature infants breathe. The instrument, which uses a cheap aquarium pump, boosted the survival rate of newborns with respiratory problems by 60 percent at a rural hospital in Malawi.

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As China slows, emerging markets stamp on the brakes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 11:00

The U.S. stock market fell hard Monday—with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down more than 2 percent, a fall of 326 points to 15,372—on concerns about U.S. manufacturing, emerging market troubles, and China’s long-term economic slowdown.

 

With the Federal Reserve now gradually trimming back its fiscal stimulus, international markets have been feeling the pressure. 

Paul Ashworth at Capital Economics in Toronto says: "We’ve had problems emerge in Turkey, in Argentina, and to a lesser extent that has spread to other countries such as Venezuela, South Africa, possibly even to Indonesia," says Ashworth.

 

While Ashworth’s list of troubled emerging markets seems long, he says each country is beset with specific problems, some of which can be traced to unsound fiscal policies.  

What's scarier to Ashworth? China.

China's ongoing slowdown could have knock-on effects in a wide range of emerging economies, and fears of disruption are unsettling global equity markets. China’s manufacturing activity fell to a six-month low in January. Economists predict China is likely to grow at an annual rate of just 7 to 8 percent in coming years, as opposed to the double-digit growth the country has seen for the past three decades.

 

“There’s sort of a snowballing effect here that starts with China but ripples through to many of these emerging-market countries,” says Gary Thayer, chief macro strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors in St. Louis.

 

He points out that China is reorienting its economy intentionally--to focus more on consumption and internal growth, and less on exports and external investment. Thayer says this is impacting major emerging economies on other continents that supply raw materials for China to build houses, and high-speed train lines, and iPhones.

 

"A decade ago it might have been more isolated to Asia," says Thayer, "but now countries in South America, even South Africa” are feeling the slowdown in commodity demand from China. These include Chile for copper, Brazil and Australia for iron ore, and several African countries that export hard-to-find metals."

 

But Nicholas Lardy, senior fellow and China expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics points out—China’s economic shift also has a positive side.

 

"Incomes are rising in China, diets are improving," says Lardy. "China will still have a large and growing demand for agricultural products—American soybeans for animal feed. Services are rising—medical services, education. Chinese are traveling more abroad, so Boeing and other aircraft suppliers are going to do extremely well."

 

And while a few U.S. heavy-equipment makers might see a slowdown in demand for tractors and other capital equipment, Lardy says new exports to serve China’s growing middle class—by U.S. farmers, and software companies and insurance companies—should more than make up for the loss.

 

John Canally, chief economist at LPL Financial in Boston, says that from his scrutiny of U.S. regional reports on economic activity from the Federal Reserve, he doesn’t see much evidence of a pullback in manufacturing or employment by U.S. companies due to China’s slowdown.\

 

"You might have some companies cite China as an excuse for missing earnings projections," says Canally."But thus far we haven’t seen that the slowdown in emerging markets, which has been going on for two or three years now, has had a big impact on corporate profits."

 

Canally does says global growth is shifting, as the recovery from the Great Recession proceeds. Emerging markets led the way back to growth in late 2008 and early 2009—while developed economies were still mired in recession and financial crisis. But some of those emerging economies began slowing down in 2011. Now, with investors pulling out and the Fed’s tapering exacerbating that trend, emerging economies are being overtaken by the biggest, most advanced economies.

 

"The growth pattern in the world is shifting away from emerging markets and toward developed markets," says Canally. "Growth is going to come from the U.S., which we expect to grow at about 3 percent this year. Japan’s economy is accelerating, and so is Europe’s."

Did London Get An Economic Boost From The 2012 Olympics?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 10:15

The British government says yes and points to a lengthy report. But economists and other critics say the Games rarely if ever produce long-term economic benefits.

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As Search Ends, Toll Rises To 27 In Quebec Seniors' Home Fire

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 09:03

Flames tore through the facility last month. It took 10 days for searchers to look through the building, which was encased by ice after firefighters poured water on the blaze. While 27 bodies have been recovered, it's believed that five other people died there. Bone fragments will be tested.

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Yellen Becomes Fed Chair, And Bernanke Heads To Think Tank

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 08:11

Ben Bernanke, who saw the country through a recovery from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, will join Brookings' Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy.

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6 Odd College Courses In America

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 08:11

On the surface, certain academic pursuits may seem trivial, but sometimes odd courses can be instructive and illuminating.

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10 Places Where Health Insurance Costs The Most

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 07:56

Some of the priciest markets for insurance include rural counties in Georgia and the areas around ski resorts in Colorado. While many people in these places will receive government subsidies to help pay for premiums, the portion that they pay will still be higher than what they would have to foot elsewhere.

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Joe Namath's Fur Coat: Nothing New, But It's A Talker

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 07:53

The legendary quarterback showed up for the coin toss at Sunday's Super Bowl in one of his trademark coats. Social media went nuts. Older fans, though, knew that it would have been bigger news if Broadway Joe didn't come wrapped in a fur.

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PODCAST: Matchmaking in Mexico

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 06:48

Today, the new Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker will lead her first trade mission abroad. Over the next few days, Pritzker visits Mexico along with business leaders from 17 American companies. And what are some metrics for judging whether one of these trips is worth the money?

Plus, if the lopsided Super Bowl didn't fill your sports needs, just wait a few days. The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, kicks off Friday. Athletes are pumping themselves up, but so is law enforcement, including those in Russia doing counter-terrorism.  Beyond that, the international crime-fighters at Interpol have a $20 million deal with the International Olympic Committee to crack down on dopers, match-fixers, and corrupt betting schemes.

Meanwhile, if you think your internet bill is high, try paying to keep 680,000 computers online. As schools try to make sure that every student has a computer or a tablet at their disposal, one often overlooked cost is access to the network itself.  The country's second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, is learning the real costs of connecting students to the world of data. 

Al-Qaida Says It Has No Ties With One Syrian Rebel Force

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 06:42

In a message posted on jihadist websites, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri distances the terrorist network from one of the groups fighting in Syria. There have been rebel vs. rebel clashes there.

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South Africa hosts major mining conference amid labor strife

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 06:05

The big money business in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa is mining, and that industry's annual conference is playing out today against a back drop of labor tensions in South Africa. The BBC's Lerato Mbele joined us from Cape Town to give perspective on how exploration for minerals and other resources is drawing prospectors to the continent.

"Explorers are very busy prospecting and looking for opportunities in countries such as Ivory Coast, inj Mail, in Tanzania, in Ghana," says Mbele, "Those who are looking for oil are in Sudan, Angola, and other such areas."

China, Mbele says, is an increasingly big player in the region as it consumers more and more African resources.

"Never before has mining and the story of commodities been more relevant for Africa's growth and development than it is now," she says, "Unfortunately on the downside, labor unrest has really been the blemish on the prospects and opportunities that exist."

Today's conference, in fact, happens against the backdrop of a strike by platinum workers in South Africa.

"They are saying, 'We go deep below the Earth's surface to mine this resource, it sells at premium prices internationally, the least you can do is pay us what is decent,'" Mbele says, "Unfortunately plantinum mining is a distressed sector."

The economic downturn, among other things, has hurt global demand for platinum, making it difficult for companies to meet the workers demands. But for many of the workers, Mbele says, the issue is one of social justice as well as economics.

VIDEO: Obama And O'Reilly Hit Harder Than Denver And Seattle

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 05:20

The Super Bowl was a super bore if you prefer close contests. Seattle trounced Denver, 43-8. The president's pregame interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly was a much more contentious affair.

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The real cost of connecting a school to Wi-Fi

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 04:36

As more schools move equip all students with a computer, one cost is often overlooked - getting those computers connected to the network grid.

The L.A. Unified school district is planning to spend over $500 million to upgrade servers, pull wire and connect antiquated schools to a data grid - a necessary part of its huge effort to supply 700,000 students and teachers with an iPad.

The price tag is high, says Joe Monaley, a network engineer at Caltech, because costs start far from the building, out on the street.

“A lot of the pipes going through the city or between cities, those have been built, those have been built,” Monaley says. “The problem is, how do you get from the middle of the street to house, and how do you do that for everybody in city and or everybody in the county?”

It’s not as simple as plugging in a modem and router for a home connection: it's a challenge just to get high-capacity classrooms wired, much less connect whole schools directly to the grid.

L.A. Unified will have to pay to lay cable at the street level or lease it from a utility such as AT&T or the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which like many utilities ended up with loads of extra cable after the dot-com bust.

Putting L.A. Unified online is like putting a whole city online. There are more students in the school district than there are people in Seattle or Boston.

The federal government is shelling out a $2.22 billion through its E-Rate program so schools can get more students online.

Often, the districts will pair the federal funds with local issued bond money to pay for the upgrades.

Rosemary Sea, a student at Diego Rivera Learning Complex in South L.A. said as long as the Internet remains spotty, teachers are reluctant to plan iPad lessons.

Last time, she was in the middle of crafting a slideshow for her chemistry teacher when the Wi-Fi dropped out.

“The images wouldn’t come up, but he gave me an extension until my Internet was working,” Sea says.

"The Wi-Fi seems to be shutting down from time to time,” says Robert Sandoval, a freshman at the school. “Since we are all signed into LAUSD [network], they all shut off.”

125,000 iPads are scheduled to arrive at schools as the district continues its push to supply all 680,000 students and teachers with a device.

So construction for wireless upgrades also needs to ramp-up. The district has 486 of its approximately 800 campuses scheduled for modernizations before the end of 2014 with an average sticker price of $736,000.

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