National News

Building water systems for the next century

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:58

Water's getting a lot of attention these days.

There's the drought across the West, questions about whether the water in West Virginia is safe to drink, and severe rainstorms flooding the East Coast.

The original urban water system started in Ancient Rome, where pieces of aqueducts can still be seen. But for modern civilization? How we get our water is usually out of sight, out of mind.

"But actually, there's a remarkable hidden world bringing water into our homes, treating it before it goes back out into our environment, and providing us with all the water we can ever want," says University of California Berkeley professor David Sedlak. His book "Water 4.0" looks at how civilizations have dealt with their water problems.

"It's part of the same story about water infrastructure -- no longer up to the challenges that nature's throwing at it," says Sedlak.

For example, the city of Perth in Australia used seawater to solve their water crisis:

Sedlak says he's surprised that overhauling existing water systems happens in a relatively short period of time. And that investing in water systems now can save money throughout the next century.

"You don't appreciate water until it's not there," says Sedlak. "What we're seeing is precisely what the climate change models predict -- the wet places are going to get wetter, and the dry places are going to get drier."

Food Industry Groups Say They'll Label GMOs, On Their Terms

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:57

In an open acknowledgement that many consumers are annoyed that GMO ingredients aren't labeled, a coalition announced Thursday that it does support labeling. But it wants a federal standard to be voluntary, and it wants to keep states from passing any more mandatory labeling measures.

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Italian Navy Rescues Some 1,100 Migrants In Mediterranean

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:47

The people, including pregnant women and about 50 children, were fleeing sub-Saharan Africa when they were intercepted near the island of Lampedusa.

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8 post-apocalpyse scenarios: The Day After the Debt Ceiling

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:45

February 7th marks the beginning of renewed debate in Congress around the Debt Ceiling. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says if we don’t reach an agreement, he won’t’ be able to pay our bills by the end of the month.

So what happens then?

Sam Weiner and Daniel Kibblesmith, authors of “How to Win at Everything” have some ideas. Possible scenarios:

1. The Debt Pit:

In this scenario, if Congress is unable to set aside their differences, the nation's entire supply of dollar bills will be herded into a massive hole in ground.  Once contained, hundreds of federal musclemen will bash the money with heavy tree branches.

2. The Deficit Volcano:

If America can't balance its budget, we'll be forced to sacrifice a lusty virgin and whoever the current Fed chairman is by throwing them into one of Washington D.C.'s 29 active volcanoes.

3. The Financial Miasma:

This noxious, soupy fog would surround Fort Knox, cutting us off from our supply of precious gold.

4. America's Widening Income Gap:

The Income Gap is a literal crack in the earth is spreading all over the country, swallowing up the nation's middle class. Do not even look into the income gap – you will fall in.

5. The Money Meteor, a.k.a.'The Cashteroid':

Fortunately, all of America's economic woes will briefly be solved after the country is hit by The Money Meteor, AKA The Cashteroid, a giant wad of 100 dollars from outer space. Unfortunately, this densely packed chunk of space money will knock over the Statue of Liberty.

6. Attack of the Loan Sharks: 

Next in our financial apocalypse would come the Attack of the Loan Sharks, when anyone who has recently taken out a loan is eaten by a shark.

7. The Credit Crunch: 

This reverse Big Bang will implode the entirety of the nation's credit as well as all other matter in the universe into a single, super-dense particle.

8.  ...America's economy will survive...

Don't worry. The Invisible Hand of the market will guide us through a new Big Bang and billions of years of financial progress until we end up right back in our current state of unchecked prosperity and economic glory.

So bring on the debt ceiling. We have nothing to lose but all of our personal wealth, and the universe as we know it.

Who 'Won' The Creation Vs. Evolution Debate?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:27

Days after a wide-ranging debate on creationism and evolution between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, the topic is driving an online conversation about points raised in the debate. Themes of belief and literalism, logic and faith — and, for some, relevance — are being debated online.

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Health care data is becoming big target for hackers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:11

Retailers like Target and Neiman Marcus have been in the spotlight lately for cyber security breaches but a recent study suggests that your health care provider might be more vulnerable to hacks.

In part, that’s because, our medical records are easy targets because they can increasingly be accessed online, said Barbara Nelson, who is with IronKey, a company that sells encrypted storage devices.

“The healthcare community, especially doctors and nurses, they’re concerned about healing people,” Nelson said. “And it just takes time for these people to change their infrastructure, it’s also expensive.”

Nelson said many healthcare providers still don’t encrypt patient data on laptops or USB sticks, which are often used to transfer files at a hospitals.  

And many providers still give full access to medical records to anybody with a password from doctors to receptionists, said Sam Imandoust, a legal analyst at the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center.

“And considering the value of these patient records where anywhere they can be anywhere from $50 to $500 apiece,” that can be a big temptation for insiders to sell their passwords to hackers.

Imandoust says hackers mostly mine the data for insurance records, which they use to buy prescription drugs. He says 1 million medical records were reported stolen last year but the number is probably much higher because lots of providers stay mum about hacks.

Start Early To Cut Women's Stroke Risk

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:06

Women face a higher risk of stroke than men. But until now there haven't been guidelines specific to women for managing the risk. New recommendations say women should start thinking about reducing their stroke risk early on, when they're thinking about getting pregnant or avoiding pregnancy.

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Violin Worth $5 Million Makes A Safe Return Home

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:00

Police in Milwaukee have recovered a Stradivarius violin and arrested three suspects in its theft. The instrument, said to be worth approximately $5 million, was stolen in a brazen armed robbery from the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra late last month. Mitch Teich of WUWM in Milwaukee reports on the violin's recovery.

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Leaked Ukraine Phone Call Puts U.S. Credibility On The Line

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:00

An apparent private telephone conversation between two senior American diplomats about the crisis in Ukraine has surfaced on YouTube. In the call, which has not yet been authenticated, the two participants discuss the relative merits of the leaders of Ukraine's opposition movement. One of the callers is also vehemently critical of the European Union. There's speculation that the call is between the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

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Maryland Drug Officials Worry Over A Deadly Mixture

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:00

Officials with the Drug Enforcement Agency are meeting with Maryland state police and other law enforcement officers on Thursday. They hope to find a way to head off a tainted heroin mixture that has killed nearly 40 people in the state since September. Officials say the drug is affecting users in both the suburbs and inner cities, and groups that offer services to drug abusers are moving quickly to warn users to watch out for the deadly heroin-fentanyl combination.

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Family Feud Renews Over MLK's Prized Possessions

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:00

The children of Martin Luther King Jr. are embroiled in yet another legal battle — this time, over control of the late civil rights leader's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize.

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Trains May Be Slow In Sochi, But The Snowboarders Are Flying High

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:00

The first day of competition at the Sochi Olympics took place Thursday on the slopestyle course, as snowboarders took part in qualifying runs. Crowds tangled with logistical issues, but for the most part, the day was a success.

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In Eastern Congo, Complex Conflicts And High-Stakes Diplomacy

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:00

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold now serves as special envoy to the African Great Lakes, where millions have died and dozens of armed groups scramble to seize land and minerals. He is part of a team of diplomats trying to rid the region, mired in decades of war, of a dizzying array of militias.

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Obamacare Thrives In San Francisco's Chinatown

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:00

San Francisco's Chinatown has long had its own hospitals and health care system. Now, one of the hospitals there is offering health insurance plans on California's exchange specifically for the Chinese-American community. It has been very successful where other plans have not.

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One reason folks aren't charged up over electric vehicles

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-02-06 12:53

When Seattle homemaker Wendy Lo needs to charge her electric-powered Nissan Leaf, she hunts for a library or community center where she can plug in at no cost. "As long as you plan your trip it will be free," Lo says.

James Echols uses the idea of free fuel to sell Nissan Leaf electric vehicles at a dealership in downtown Los Angeles. He doesn’t tell customers that the Leaf costs nothing to run, exactly. Instead he tells them about the many places they can charge up for free, including at 11,000 Nissan dealerships across the country, and at numerous public facilities, like schools, universities and hospitals.

Run your car for free. It’s a powerful sales pitch. But it also might be one reason why electric vehicle sales are still stuck in neutral. There are currently about 165,000 electric vehicles on the road, just a fraction of a percent of the 254 million passenger vehicles in the United States. The sales of the plug-in electric vehicle rose from 12,970 units in 2012 to 47,694 units in 2013. Although the 2013 sales were more than triple the sales from the previous year, they are far below the rosy estimates of 2011 when Obama aimed for one million plug-in electric vehicles by 2015.

The problem is the lack of charging stations. Despite the fact you can charge up for free in many places, prospective buyers don’t appear convinced that the network of charging stations is large enough. Meanwhile, investors are wary of pouring money into charging stations until there is a critical mass of electric vehicles on the road.

And there’s another wrinkle: Even if there were enough electric vehicles out there, it’s a tough sell to convince investors that charging stations could actually make money. After all, electric vehicle owners have been spoiled: thanks to all of those schools and hospitals, they’ve gotten used to running their vehicles for next to nothing. And charging-station owners have yet to figure out what their proper business model should be.

"Ultimately, someone is going to be paying for charging services,” says Michael Farkas, chief executive of the Miami Beach, Florida,-based Car Charging Group, Inc., which installs and manages charging stations. "Whether it is the property owner or car manufacturer, we are all here to make money."

So far, it’s been a bumpy road for the charging stations. In October, the clean electric transportation and storage technology firm Ecotality and its 12,560-strong network of charging stations, which operated under the name Blink, went bankrupt. The company’s problems included its inability to get customers to pay enough to keep the firm solvent. The Blink network was later acquired by the Car Charging Group for $3.3 million.

Israeli electric car company Better Place went bankrupt in May. It had tried to pioneer a new model in which electric vehicle drivers would swap out a spent battery for a fully charged one at a network of charging stations.

Traditional filling stations run on a simple logic. "We pay $30,000 to BP for 8,000 gallons of gas,” explains Abel Blanco, a manager at an Arco station near downtown Los Angeles. The station adds 10 cents to the wholesale per-gallon price. On a recent day, that was $3.75. It’s a basic business model understood by drivers around the world.

But for electric vehicles, no such standard arrangement exists. Some stations charge by the minute, others by the kilowatt hour of power consumed. Electricity prices can also vary wildly from state to state, with a kilowatt hour going for as little as 3 cents in Washington state and as much as 17 cents in Hawaii.

Currently, charging station operators have a perverse incentive to charge as little as they can for the service: The more it costs, the less reason drivers have to switch from traditional gasoline-powered cars.

"You need an incentive cost,” says Dimitrious Papadoganas vice president for marketing at Campbell, California-based electric vehicle charging company ChargePoint, Inc. “So if you are going to charge someone the equivalent or more than what gas costs, you are not going to have people buying electric cars.”

Just accounting for the price of power, electric vehicles are considerably cheaper to operate. In Los Angeles, it costs about $3.48 to drive an electric vehicle for 100 miles, while it costs a reasonably efficient gas-powered car around $16.24 (paying $3.75 a gallon) to cover the same distance.

But to the operator there’s more to the cost of a charge than the electricity that powers up the car. The installation cost of a charging station can be anywhere from $50 to $80 a foot, meaning that a single charging station can cost up to $15,000 in some areas. The costs arise from having to dig up concrete and upgrade electrical panels to take on the excess power needed for charging vehicles. The electric panels also need to have space for a 240 volt 40A 2-pole circuit breaker, which ensures that the electrical circuit is not damaged by an overflow. The expense is also due to lower economies of scale: most businesses that purchase electric-vehicle chargers only buy two or three stations per site, while most gasoline retailers install many more pumps.

Even the some of the biggest charging-station operators can’t agree on a business model. ChargePoint sells hardware to customers and lets them set the cost of charging. Car Charging Group charges by the minute. Car Charging Group, Inc. is about to announce a $149.99 monthly all-you-can-eat charging plan in a bid woo returning customers.

And then there’s the free charge issue. Many well-meaning city governments and even some private employers have jumped on the electric-vehicle bandwagon to offer charging stations to their employees at no cost. Shopping malls and big box retailers have also begun to offer free charges as a way of enticing shoppers to linger. In Los Angeles, there’s even a mobile app, Recargo, that informs whether a nearby charging station is free or not.

“If I am a retailer owner, I would make the first two hours of charging free in order to attract customers,” says Charge Point’s Papadoganas.

Leaked Phone Call Offers Not-So-Diplomatic U.S. View Of EU

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 12:53

A pair of U.S. diplomats are heard discussing the merits of various Ukrainian opposition figures. One of them is heard using a profanity directed toward the European Union.

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Another SAC Manager Found Guilty Of Insider Trading

NPR News - Thu, 2014-02-06 12:38

Mathew Martoma, a former portfolio manager at the hedge fund, was found guilty of helping his employer reap hundreds of millions dollars in illegal profits.

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Sochi half-bathrooms: True or false?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-02-06 12:07

We here at Marketplace are never ones to let a good corporate or government fail go by.

BUT.

Some of those viral pictures of half-toilets and Russian menus translated into words we can't say are amusing, but they're not from Sochi, where the Winter Olympics start today.

Sochi appears to be plagued with hotel problems and questions about the safety of some events, but sometimes viral humor just proves a little too good to be true.

Sochi half-bathrooms: True or false?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-02-06 12:07

We here at Marketplace are never ones to let a good corporate or government fail go by.

BUT.

Some of those viral pictures of half-toilets and Russian menus translated into words we can't say are amusing, but they're not from Sochi, where the Winter Olympics start today.

Sochi appears to be plagued with hotel problems and questions about the safety of some events, but sometimes viral humor just proves a little too good to be true.

JFK 1964 and Beatle-mania

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-02-06 12:00

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up Friday:

  • How many folks started off 2014 with a new job? The Labor Department releases its employment report for January.
  • The Federal Reserve is scheduled to release its monthly Consumer Credit Report for December.  
  • And fifty years ago fans screamed their guts out at John F Kennedy International Airport when The Beatles landed on their first visit to the U.S.   

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