National News

I submit before the court: Exhibit Smiley Face

Marketplace - American Public Media - 11 hours 48 min ago

Ross Ulbricht is currently on trial for allegedly running the underground marketplace Silk Road. Thus far, there's been a lot of intrigue about who exactly was involved in running the site, and it hasn't been all smiley faces. Well, sort of.

Recently, the prosecutor read a text that ended with a smiley face in court. How would you say that? Well, the prosecutor didn't. Ulbricht's lawyers objected, and the judge agreed that the emoticon was important. 

So should emojis be factored into understanding the intent of communication? Anne Curzan, English Professor at the University of Michigan, certainly thinks so.

Click the media player above to hear more.

New USPS boss faces old problems

Marketplace - American Public Media - 12 hours 18 min ago

The United States Postal Services prides itself on its ability to handle snow and rain and heat – and also “gloom of night,” but it’s had a tougher time with employee pensions and health benefits.

Saturday is Patrick Donahoe’s last day as postmaster general. He has spent his entire career – almost 40 years – with the U.S.P.S., and his successor, Megan Brennan, is likely to push for many of the reforms Donahoe has.

The postmaster general makes about $275,000 a year, but earns it, say people who follow the agency.

“It should come with free therapy sessions,” jokes David Hendel, an attorney with Husch Blackwell, who specializes in Postal Service contracting. “It’s a huge enterprise.  If it was a corporation, it would probably be a top-25 company.”

Bureaucracy may be one of the biggest problems that besets the agency, and presumably the incoming postmaster general knows that. Brennan started out as a letter carrier in Lancaster, Pa.  According to Hendel, the head of the Postal Service has a lot of people to please.

“You have got so many different constituencies, it is just so hard to gather up,” he says. “And couple that with limited powers.”

There are very few decisions you can make without approval, says Gene Del Polito, who heads a trade group called the Association for Postal Commerce. “When you are postmaster general, you really have 535 members of your board of governors – they are all members of the U.S. Congress, and they all think they know your job better than you do.”

In a farewell speech a few weeks ago, Donahue said lawmakers need to find new ways to build consensus. “The narrow interests can’t continue to get in the way of the broader national interest,” he said.

Donahoe singled out retiree healthcare benefits. The Postal Service is required to pre-fund them – something it has not been able to do for years now. And according to Hendel, pensions are a growing problem. “People are living longer and longer lives, and therefore, you can’t really put enough away today for the liability later, or they haven't," he says.

On the one hand, there is this expectation the U.S.P.S. should be run like a business, but Rick Geddes, who teaches policy analysis and management at Cornell University, says the postmaster general’s lack of autonomy has kept the organization from being as nimble as it has needed to be.

“We need to have fundamental postal reform at the legislative level that allows the Postal Service to adapt better to the realities of the communications marketplace,” he argues, predicting that will be something the new postmaster general will push for, just as her predecessor had.

New brands take a chance with Super Bowl ads

Marketplace - American Public Media - 12 hours 18 min ago

More than a dozen brands will run Super Bowl ads for the first time this Sunday. Look for brands like Skittles, Weight Watchers, and Always, maker of feminine hygiene products, to make their game-day debut. That’s the most newcomers in about 15 years.

NBC finally sold out of Super Bowl ads four days before the game. In 2014, Fox sold out two months before kickoff.

“Due to some of the controversy over the past year with the NFL, there were probably some brands that have traditionally been Super Bowl advertisers that decided maybe this was a good year to not get involved,” says David Griner, digital managing editor at Adweek.com.

Watch the Always commercial here:

Silicon Tally: Earthquakes, Made in the U.S.A.

Marketplace - American Public Media - 12 hours 18 min ago

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news.

This week, we're joined by Kyle Wagner, a sports stats fan and a writer at Deadspin.

The online version of this week's Silicon Tally quiz is forthcoming.

Cheap gas could cut into transit ridership

Marketplace - American Public Media - 12 hours 18 min ago

With gas prices as low as $2 in some parts of the country, mass transit providers are starting to worry that their ridership numbers will also dip.  

Use of public transit in the U.S. is at levels not seen since the 1950’s — That’s according to the American Public Transportation Association.

High gas prices are a part of that growth, and now that costs are falling some cities fear a drop-off in ridership.

So far that has not been the case in Chicago, at least.

"In the two months that fuel prices have been well below $3 we have not seen any significant shifts on either the rail side or the bus side," says Brian Steele, a spokesman for the Chicago Transit Authority.

Steele points out that gas is just one cost associated with driving a car, in addition to parking costs, insurance costs, maintenance costs. 

But others question whether public transit use has really gone up as a percentage of population growth.

"Think of it in terms of inflation: has mass transit ridership, in terms of a percentage increased each year, kept up with inflation? No, it hasn't come close to it," says Ray Mundy, Director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Missouri—St. Louis.  Despite increases in ridership, Mundy says transit still only accounts 5 percent of trips in metro areas.

Super Bowl Sunday's MVC: Most Valuable Commercial

Marketplace - American Public Media - 12 hours 48 min ago
2.6 percent

Gross Domestic Product expanded at a rate of 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter, as reported by the WSJ. That puts GDP growth for 2014 at 2.4 percent, a below average rate compared to previous growth periods.

9 percent

That's how far Alibaba's stock tanked Tuesday following a solid, if slightly underwhelming, quarterly earnings report. The fall has much more to do with a government report leaked Tuesday accusing Alibaba of being lax on illegal practices from vendors. Quartz has the full story.

15 years

More than a dozen brands will air their first Super Bowl ads this Sunday, the highest number of newcomers in almost 15 years. Look for brands like Skittles, Weight Watchers, and Always, maker of feminine hygiene products, to make their game-day debut. 

70

Speaking of Super Bowl commercials, 70 is how many ad slots NBC had to sell for this year's game. The ads — which cost about $4.5 million for a 30-second spot — finally sold out this week, AdAge reported. Post-game and digital slots are all filled too, but there's still a little time to buy to a pre-game spot if you have the cash to spare. Here's a roundup of the all the ads confirmed so far.

$37,500

That's what an ad in the first Super Bowl cost in 1967, $266,000 adjusted for inflation. Slate has a retrospective of the most iconic ads over the game's last 48 years.

4,500

The number of users currently on This., a new social network that is, based on its coverage in the New York Times, the new Ello. The invite-only site promises a pared-down social media experience wherein users may only share one link a day and nothing more.

4 purchases

That's how many purchases are needed to ID you, despite anonymous credit card data. As reported by Reuters, scientists at MIT worked with metadata (data that only identifies time and place of purchases), and then looked at public information like non-anonymous purchases and social media to try and match people with their credit card activity. In some cases, it took as little as two purchases by a person to positively ID them.

Could This Virus Be Good For You?

NPR News - 14 hours 1 min ago

Scientists studying HIV and Ebola have noticed another virus hitching along for the ride in some blood samples. Now they're trying to figure out whether the lurker helps the body fend off disease.

» E-Mail This

Russian Economic Woes Hit France's Ski Slopes

NPR News - 14 hours 3 min ago

For the past decade, wealthy Russians have flocked to the fabled slopes in the French Alps. But the drop in the ruble is now keeping them away, and the region's economy is starting to feel the effect.

» E-Mail This

4 Reasons Why It's Veto Season At The White House

NPR News - 14 hours 15 min ago

In his first six years in office, President Obama issued just two vetoes, the fewest of any president going all the way back to James Garfield. But that's about to change.

» E-Mail This

Death Row Records Co-Founder Involved In Fatal Hit-And Run

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 23:32

The attorney for Marion Knight says his client plans to turn himself in to police after he accidentally ran over and killed a friend and injured another man as he fled attackers in Compton, Calif.

» E-Mail This

Arrested For Resisting Arrest — Yes, It's Possible

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 17:07

Resisting arrest is usually a secondary charge against someone already being arrested for something else, but not always.

» E-Mail This

Car Safety Improves: Study Lists Those With Most, And Least, Driver Deaths

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 16:54

For 2011 models through the 2012 calendar year, driver deaths per million registered vehicle years fell to 28 from 48 just three years earlier, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

» E-Mail This

Rise In Measles Cases Marks A 'Wake-Up Call' For U.S.

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 15:21

The latest wave of measles cases and potential infections is in Arizona, where 1,000 people may have been exposed to measles from seven people confirmed to have been infected.

» E-Mail This

Guess everything costs more in New York City

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-29 15:03

We are, as you know, a show about business and economics, so we try to find the money in everything we do. But occasionally we struggle to find an angle.

Take, just for instance, the blizzard earlier this week. I mean ... can you really do a "what's the cost of snow" story?

Turns out, you can.

Over the past 12 years in New York City, snow and ice removal costs have averaged about $1.8 million per inch.

This according to a recent post-storm report from the City Comptroller.

Ebola Cases Plummet In West Africa, As Endgame Begins

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 15:00

Only 99 Ebola cases were reported worldwide last week. That's the lowest weekly count since June. But getting down to zero cases is still a long way off.

» E-Mail This

'Female Husbands' In The 19th Century

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 14:15

In newspapers, magazines and novels, the 'female husband' was a person of great interest.

» E-Mail This

Some Businesses Say Immigrant Workers Are Harder To Find

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 14:10

The president's recent executive actions will allow millions of immigrants to stay in the U.S. But many businesses say those changes aren't enough to help them find and keep all the workers they need.

» E-Mail This

Pro Football Hall Of Fame Tackles Assisted Living Center

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 14:10

Canton, Ohio, has launched an ambitious expansion plan, including assisted living for Hall of Famers. The concept is part business, part nostalgia and part a sense of responsibility to ballplayers.

» E-Mail This

Study Finds Court Fees Also Punish The Families Of Those Who Owe

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 13:51

The Center for Community Alternatives says that formerly incarcerated men and women rely heavily upon family, almost always receiving cash from them.

» E-Mail This

Dartmouth Bans Hard Liquor On Campus

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 13:44

The Ivy League school is also introducing a mandatory four-year sexual violence prevention and education program for students. The steps are part of efforts to reform social life at the college.

» E-Mail This

Pages