National News

Bill That Would Curb NSA's Bulk Collection Of Phone Data Advances In House

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 14:16

The USA Freedom Act would also make significant opinions from a secret court public and would allow challenges to challenges to National Security Letters.

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Compton's Cowboys Keep The Old West Alive, And Kids Off The Streets

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 14:05

The city has seen some positive changes in recent years, including a reconnection with the city's rural past. The pastime has given youth an outlet in a region that's at the center of gang violence.

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He Carried His Mom On His Back For 5 Hours En Route To Medical Care

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 14:05

The epicenter of the quake that struck Nepal was in the district of Gorkha, a few hours drive from the capital of Kathmandu. We're just beginning to see the extent of the damage in villages there.

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Political Story On Breast Cancer Screenings Was Missing Some Science

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 13:16

A story on mammogram recommendations quotes only the opposing views in Congress.

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Investors in Secret to get some money back

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-30 13:00

One of last year’s Silicon Valley darlings has already reached its demise. The social networking app Secret is shutting down. In its less than 18-month run, the company raised $35 million from investors. And early on, it surpassed 15 million downloads.

“It’s certainly been sort of a moonshot, at the speed of the rocket ship ride that is modern internet virality,” says Max Wolff, chief economist at Manhattan Venture Partners, which researches and values tech companies before they go public.

Secret allowed users to blast an anonymous message or picture to friends and connections, to their delight or dismay. Wolff says it was especially popular among high school and college kids.

“There was everything from, “Everyone be careful, there's a dangerous person who's picking fights,’ to ‘Yeah, I have a crush on him or her,’” he says.

But the app quickly ran into issues — cyberbullies took unseemly advantage of the anonymity it offered. Wolff says a redesign made the app look too much like competitors Whisper and Yik Yak. Interest fizzled. Key employees jumped ship.

David Byttow, Secret's co-founder and chief executive, wrote in a Medium post Wednesday that the company no longer matched his vision and he would shut it down.

“I believe in failing fast in order to go on and make only new and different mistakes,” he wrote.

Byttow added that Secret still has a significant amount of capital, which he will return to investors.

“I believe the right thing to do is to return the money rather than attempt to pivot,” he wrote.

Even if Secret had stayed afloat and tried to change course, it would’ve been hard to renew the initial buzz and investor interest, according to Matthew Wong, research analyst at CB Insights, which tracks private company financing.

“The chances of success aren't as high as they definitely were earlier,” he says.

Manhattan Venture Partners’ Max Wolff says successful turnarounds are rare in this start-up app space. He likens the app economy to the music industry, where you might have a hit single.

“And you put together a really expensive tour, and by the fifth week of the tour, you're playing to no one,” he says. “Do you really need to spend all the money you were advanced by the record company and finish the next 20 cities?”


Baltimore, now and then

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-30 13:00

Kim Peace was a young girl in April 1968, when Baltimore erupted after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I seen people looting and tearing stores up and stuff,” she says. “I really didn’t understand what was going on, but now I know.”

Fifty years later, Peace lives in the neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested, and where the violence broke out this week after Gray’s funeral. Afterward, she and her granddaughter helped the cleanup effort.

Today, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake promised justice, even as the wait continues for answers about how the young black man died in police custody. Baltimore police have turned their investigation over to prosecutors, who will decide whether to bring charges in the case.

The turmoil in Baltimore has led to comparisons to the much larger riots of 1968. Some of the same neighborhoods in Baltimore were affected, and in many ways those neighborhoods never really recovered.

The ’68 riots were far more widespread than what happened this week, says Michael Higginbotham, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, but the roots are the same.

“We're talking about high unemployment, we're talking about poverty, homelessness, drugs, crime and hopelessness,” he says. “That’s what were the causes in 1968 and they’re the same causes, and the problem is we haven't dealt with that.”

In fact, Higginbotham says, the 1968 riots only made those conditions worse, because some businesses were reluctant to invest.

Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, who wrote “The Hero’s Fight” about West Baltimore, doesn't buy that fear keeps businesses away. She blames generations of neglect.

“It is because we have not invested in those neighborhoods,” she says. “Those are folks who really do not have a loud political voice.”

One teacher in Baltimore is trying to give his students more of a voice. At Mount Royal Elementary and Middle School, Baba Olumiji’s 7th and 8th graders spent this morning writing letters to their City Council members. Many of the students live in neighborhoods where stores were looted and burned this week.

“We wanted the children to actually start to learn how to positively advocate for their needs,” Olumiji says.  

When school reopened after the unrest, Olumiji used the legacy of the ‘68 riots to teach non-violence.

“We thought it was important for the children to see that neighborhoods don't always get restored,” he says.  “A community has been damaged, perhaps — hopefully not — irreparably.”   

Now, the hope is that West Baltimore won’t be forgotten again.

Microsoft wants to guess your age

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-30 13:00

I know I was a bit rough on Microsoft yesterday, saying they didn't do anything cool anymore.

Well, it's amazing what a difference a day can make, huh? They're working on a new facial recognition tool that lets upload a picture of yourself — or anyone else — and it tells you how old it thinks you are.

I tried it with a couple of pictures of me, and let's just say I really really like the results.

China's new deposit insurance is about systemic change

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-30 13:00

Tomorrow China introduces something the U.S. has had since the Great Depression:  deposit insurance.  You know if a bank goes under, your money stays safe.  It’s reassuring. 

Except in this case, China’s government is trying to reassure people in order to make them more nervous.  Or at least more cautious.

How does that work? Well, many people there don’t need to be reassured. 

“Right now, everybody in China already assumes their deposits are 100 percent guaranteed,” says Douglas Elliott, fellow at the Brookings Institution.  He says everyone knows, and has observed, that “the government and Communist Party believe strongly in social stability.”

This all-but-written-out guarantee is known as an implicit guarantee, and it’s a problem.  Baizhu Chen, professor of clinical finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business, says “the government does not want to have this extra financial burden on them every time the banks have some problems.”

Another problem:  laziness.  If banks know they’ll get paid back by the government, they won’t care as much about what kinds of loans they’re making. 

“When investors think all this stuff is implicitly guaranteed, nobody’s doing credit analysis, nobody’s kicking the tires,” says Jennifer Carpenter, associate professor at NYU's Stern School of Business. This is, it’s worth noting, is not a problem only in China. 

But if people are already too reassured that the government will bail banks out, why have deposit insurance to reassure people that banks will get bailed out?

“The role of deposit insurance is actually to tell people what’s not insured,” says Carpenter.  

Deposit insurance has limits.  Very clear limits.  It only covers bank accounts of the equivalent of about $80,000 or less.  It only applies to real banks.  So deposit insurance is a real thing, not a vague expectation that the government will take care of everything.  And it’s part of something much larger taking place in China’s economy.

“The country is moving towards market-based solutions,” Chen says.

Deposit insurance is just part of China’s policy of slowly taking the training wheels off its financial system.  One closely-watched step has been to relax control over what interest rates banks can offer to account holders.  The Chinese government will most likely relax that control further in the coming years.  That means banks will have to compete over the interest rates they offer to account holders, and they will have to make loans to back them up.   Some may fail.  The introduction of deposit insurance lets that happen with a safety net – just not one that’s too big.    

Ex-Gitmo Detainees In Uruguay Turn To Protest At U.S. Embassy

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 12:46

The men, resettled there after years in detention, say they aren't getting enough asisstance. Camped outside the U.S. Embassy, they are seeking housing and other help reintegrating into society.

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New apps take aim at Seamless and Grubhub

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-30 12:36

In New York City, a town that loves takeout, apps are replacing the telephone and paper menus as a way to place an order.

The biggest app around is Seamless. That company so dominates online ordering that many restaurants feel they’re forced to do delivery by Seamless rules. But that could be changing, as billions of dollars are invested in new online ordering systems.

Seamless, with its partner Grubhub, handles orders for 30,000 restaurants, from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles. Abby Hunt, a company spokeswoman, said that fact alone shows the services are providing value.

“Grubhub and Seamless together process more than 200,000 orders a day," she says. "So we’re able to connect restaurateurs to people who wouldn’t otherwise know that they exist."

While Seamless really is seamless for customers, restaurants pay a high price for the service through commissions that can go as high as 20 percent on each order.

“The problem is that if it doesn't translate into more actual revenue or profit for us, then there’s no upside to us” said Lukus Hasenstab, a co-owner of Penelope, an American comfort food spot in Midtown. “We’re just working harder for less.”

For every abstainer, though, there’s a restaurant that sees Seamless as indispensable. When Burger Heights launched in Upper Manhattan last year, it quickly listed with Seamless and GrubHub.

Co-founder Mike Vinocur scanned a spreadsheet of orders on a recent Saturday night, and quickly calculated Seamless and GrubHub’s impact.

“Maybe a third of our business could be through their service,” Vinocur said.

Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it. That’s how much power Seamless has over New York restaurants.

But Seamless only looks invincible, according to Steven Jacobs. He writes about e-commerce for the website Street Fight.

“The reality is these markets are changing extremely quickly,” Jacobs says, “and as companies like Yelp and Google look at the home delivery and food delivery market, the status quo for Seamless right now could change in a matter of a few years.”

Rosenheim Advisors reports $2.4 billion in private capital flowed into food tech and media in 2014, a 42 percent increase from 2013.

This year, Yelp bought the online ordering company, Eat24, and started taking orders directly through its website. Google is taking baby steps in this direction as well, by giving better results when you search food and restaurants.

And there are smaller upstarts doing weird and wacky things, Like Push for Pizza, which had a hit with a web video, advertising pizza that could be ordered with the tap of a single button.

In time, Jacobs says, one or more of these companies will get popular, and offer real competition to Seamless and Grubhub. And that, in turn could bring down the hefty commissions that only a dominant player can demand.

“I think it’s in a way anathema to the very culture of the internet,” Jacobs says.

How will Seamless and Grubhub respond? The company is already thinking about it. Part of the answer may be re-positioning the company as a true friend of restaurants.

“We actually have an in-house restaurant in our Chicago office and our New York office as well that helps put our employees in the shoes of the restaurateurs,” says spokeswoman Abby Hunt.

It’s hard to say what app we’ll be using to procure our pizzas and hot-and-sour-soups, even a year from now. But one thing’s pretty clear: with more people ordering takeout online, restaurants will have to get used to working with the tech middlemen that now stand between them and their customers.

Documents Show FAA Questioned Mental Fitness of Germanwings Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 12:32

Newly released documents show the FAA initially declined to give Andreas Lubitz a medical certificate for his U.S. pilot's license because of his history of depression.

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The Doctor Will Video Chat With You Now: Insurer Covers Virtual Visits

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 12:27

Medical consultation via video is going mainstream. UnitedHealthcare says it will cover doctors' visits by live video on smartphones, tablets and computers. Will people overuse it and boost costs?

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The Plan To Give E-Books To Poor Kids

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 12:18

Today, President Obama announced a massive effort with major publishers to make thousands of e-book titles free for low-income kids.

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The Transaction: a silver promise

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-30 12:03

Marketplace listener Carol Thompson received a birthday present from her husband Ted – a necklace with the etching “Heaven Has In Store What Thou Hast Lost.” It was a comforting message referring to a daughter who had passed away a few years before. The necklace arrived in the mail just days after her husband died unexpectedly, but receiving the necklace gave Carol a sense of peace.

'Uprising' Or 'Riot'? Depends Who's Watching

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 11:37

West Baltimore protests spark debate over how media portrays conflict.

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Can't Get A Job Because Of A Criminal Record? A Lawsuit Is Trying To Change That

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 11:26

People convicted of minor crimes years ago are suing to overturn a Pennsylvania law that bars them from working full time in nursing homes, locking them out of a fast-growing sector in the economy.

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A warehouse dash with Rent the Runway

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-30 11:24

Wednesday at Rent the Runway’s Secaucus warehouse is its busiest day of the week.  The company offers designer clothing as short-term rentals to its customers, at a fraction of the cost it would take to purchase the item. But since most of their customers are renting for events that take place on Saturday, Wednesday becomes the key day when items that have been rented are returned and need to be sent out again for the following weekend.

“You have to turn it around with essentially a zero day turn around time” says Rent the Runway’s co-founder and CEO, Jenn Hyman.

“If you go into any woman’s closet throughout the United States you’ll see that when you open the doors, most of the closet is black. It’s filled with black dresses and black tops. Why is that? Is that because women’s favorite color is black? No, it’s because it’s the most rational option,” explains Hyman.  “The whole point of Rent the Runway is to leave some of your common sense at home and actually try something printed or pink or sequined or fun, just because you can.”

Tobin Low

And sure enough, printed, pink, and sequined dresses fill the warehouse.

When the pre-stamped envelopes that the company provides to renters for returns begin to filter in to the warehouse, they’re scanned and sorted based on their contents. 

Tobin Low

If an item inside needs to be sent out that same day, it’s put into one bin; if it’s not needed just yet, it goes into another. The urgent envelopes are opened and the dresses and accessories inside are sent to be cleaned.

This is a huge undertaking. Luckily, Rent the Runway’s warehouse happens to be conveniently located near a dry-cleaner: their own. When Rent the Runway opened this Secaucus warehouse late last year, they became the largest dry cleaner in the United States.

Tobin Low

And if a stain or a spot needs to be removed, they have experienced workers like Nick, The Stain Guy, to help out.

Click below to hear Nick, The Stain Guy at work.

Tobin Low

The dresses are dry cleaned, and then sent on to a pool of about 50 seamstresses to mend anything that might be amiss. Some dresses are altered to fit the height of the customer who ordered them.

“One of the key insights that we had when we started the business was that women felt like they had to wear a new outfit for every occasion” says Hyman. She explains, “they had been photographed and that photograph was now up on Facebook and they couldn’t repeat their outfit.”

The company also offers a subscription service similar to Netflix. Users pay a flat monthly fee and receive three items at a time from their queue of dresses, accessories, and jewelry.

Many customers order multiple items – a dress in two sizes, and accessories.  The company’s software helps keep track of what’s missing from an order and when an order is complete, ready to be packaged and sent out. At the end of the day, at about 8pm, UPS picks up stacks of Rent the Runway boxes, ready to be shipped out.

Tobin Low

A large portion of the Secaucus warehouse is vacant but Hyman expects she’ll be expanding in to that area son enough. She has a grand vision for the Rent the Runway’s future.

“I believe that every woman in this country and later every woman in the world should have a subscription to fashion, just like you have a subscription to music or to entertainment and via that subscription, you would be able to just have fun with this amazing industry that we’re in.”

Health System Took Control To Make Joint Replacement More Profitable

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 11:21

Baptist Health System in San Antonio made money doing what used to be industry heresy: reducing patients' use of medical care.

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Why We Can't Take Chipotle's GMO Announcement All That Seriously

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 11:09

Chipotle says providing "food with integrity" means dropping genetically modified ingredients. But critics say the company's new policy is inconsistent and even dishonest.

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Expanding Medicaid Trims Hospitals' Costs Of Caring For Uninsured

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-30 10:46

One aim of Obamacare was to ease the financial strain on nonprofit hospitals that provide medical care to people who lack insurance and can't pay their bills. That plan is working, hospitals say.

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