National News

How LeBron James is changing how athletes are paid

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:28

There's a huge shift happening this month in the world of sports. We're in the middle of the free agency period, where NBA players are eligible to sign with any team.

And Lebron James, considered the best player in the NBA, is reinventing not only how NBA players get paid, but maybe professional athletes as a whole.

We wanted to explore why, so went down to the legendary West 4th Street basketball courts in New York City to meet up with sports business analyst Keith Reed.

Reed called LeBron maybe "the only truly free athlete in America."

"[LeBron] was an investor in Beats electronics. That just sold for $3 billion. He made $30 million sitting on his couch just from that Beats transaction. And so, when people talk about, 'Why is LeBron opting out of his contract, and what's he going to do?' At that stage of the game, he's made his money."

Brandon Grier is an agent who represents NBA players a little further down in the hierarchy, and sees how contracts go beyond just the single player on the court. "You're dealing with not just an individual's life, but the families that are affected by it as well. A lot of time these guys are the breadwinners as well."

Grier's company Principle Management represents four solid, but not superstar, NBA players. He says the free agency period is important to the average fan — not just the players.

"It affects the product that they consume for their enjoyment. I believe the super teams in big markets are great for the NBA, you either love them or you hate them. But one way or another you're watching. So the better the ratings are for the NBA, the better the business does in general. Because TV is the cash cow now.

And speaking of that cash cow, this weekend's number: 18 million. For 18 million viewers.

That's how many people tuned in to watch the San Antonio Spurs beat Lebron James and his teammates on the Miami Heat in this year's NBA finals, according to Nielsen, up 10 percent from last year.

Fireworks spark up a black market economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:24

California bans anything that flies into the air and explodes. Which isn't surprising -- according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, most states have restrictions on this type of firework. 

For Californians who want to celebrate the independence of our nation by blowing things up, they could head over the mountains to more firework-friendly Nevada, or head into the virtual black market on your computer.

On Craigslist you’ll find listings like "Air shows Disneyland style cheap" and "I HAVE FIREWORKS FOR SALE WHENEVER YOU NEED THEM."

You can find bottle rockets, roman candles, and mortars with just a mouse click and a phone call. But what’s harder to get is an interview with one of these dealers. Which makes sense, because having a large quantity of illegal fireworks is a felony in California, punishable by a year in jail and up to $50,000 in fines. But one firework dealer in Stockton is willing to take the risk.

"It’s not something I prefer to do, you know there’s always that spice of danger that you have to watch out for," he says.

In a well-lit parking lot at night, the young, friendly man lays out some of his merchandise on the hood of a car. What keeps fireworks coming into California are people like him and his business partner.

"I have a buddy of mine who goes down to Nevada and brings back a U-haul truck that’s full and then basically I just help him distribute it," he explains.

Their truck carries about $2,500 worth of product, and he figures they will double their money on resale. This vendor is relatively small time. In other parts of the state, police recently seized stockpiles of fireworks worth more than half a million dollars .

"If it is that profitable enough, then there are big criminal enterprises working in this area- quite professionalized," says Steve Weber, who teaches at UC Berkeley’s School of Information and co-wrote a book on the Black Market Economy of the 21st Century. "The mistake is to think of this as fly by night stuff- these are really serious people and they are as entrepreneurial, innovative and venturous as anyone you’d meet in Silicon Valley."

Actually, there's a hotbed of illegal firework trafficking just south of  Silicon Valley.  The police department in San Jose says the crime ranks low on its list of priorities.  

But Keith Gilless, chair of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, says it’s a major concern. "California is the most flammable place on earth by most people’s reckoning, we can have 400-500 fires a year whose origin is fireworks."

All those fires can cost millions in damage, and millions more to put them out. Something, Gilless says to consider before lighting up this Fourth of July.

Pentagon Grounds All F-35s Amid Fire Investigation

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:03

The Defense Department said the decision was made following a runway fire incident June 23 at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The Air Force is investigating the cause of the fire.

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Calif. Town Thrusts Heated Immigration Debate Into National Spotlight

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:46

As protesters block buses full of detainees from entering a border patrol station, many Murrieta residents say the federal government is the real root of the problem.

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Hurricane Arthur Is No Match For Man In Ocean With Facebook

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:14

Richard Neal, of Mint Hill., N.C., chronicled the storm from his point of view, which was a pretty darn good one.

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Richard Mellon Scaife, Philanthropist, Conservative Donor, Dies

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:13

The heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune revealed in May that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Scaife was 82.

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Hollywood turns to... taxidermy?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:12

On Sunday morning in Downtown Los Angeles taxidermist Allis Markham immediately cuts into her subject for the day: a bird.

She started her studio, Prey Taxidermy, this March and rents her mounted pieces to Hollywood films, television sets, and photoshoots. She recently worked on a shoot for Disney featuring Taylor Swift as Rapunzel.

“I did some combing pigeons for them,” she says. “Bird skin is like working with wet toilet paper with feathers attached. And so it’s this very tedious process where you’re making all these incisions.”

Animals rights groups, including PETA, have criticized Hollywood in recent years after news broke that animals were harmed on Hollywood sets. On the now-canceled HBO show, “Luck,” four thoroughbred horses died during production. According to reports, the horses were elderly, underfed, and possibly even drugged. Due to these alleged abuses, taxidermy businesses are catering to studios who are looking to minimize their legal and safety risks. “If you want to have a tiger on set, it’s a lot safer when it’s dead,” Markham says.

Wayne Carlisi inherited his father’s big game taxidermy collection, and in 2012, he opened ArtKraft Taxidermy in North Hollywood. His company rents out lions, antelope, and rhinos to studios including Warner Brothers and Paramount. Carlisi says, in the special effects ridden world of entertainment, taxidermied animals serve a new purpose.

“They’re [computer graphics animators] able to scan the actual mount into the computer,” he says, after which studios will build rigs and transpose them on the animal’s body. “So from rigs they can make the animals move and perform the way they want.”

Smaller production companies are also vested in mounted animals for its cost effectiveness. David Anderson, an independent filmmaker, says directors like himself often have no choice but to use taxidermied animals.

Renting an animal actor gets expensive when final costs include handlers, insurance, and a representative from the Humane Society. Markham’s larger pieces, like a bear, could can run up to $1,500, while the cost of a live animal can easily shoot into the $8,000 range. Because of all of the additional costs, Anderson turned to Markham for his latest movie.

Yet others in the industry, including set decorator Kristin Peterson, think something is lost when Hollywood productions use mounted animals instead of live animals.

“The taxidermied animals don’t have as much of a personality as the live animal,” she says.

Clashes Erupt In Jerusalem Over Palestinian Teen's Funeral

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 05:25

Palestinians say the 16-year-old was killed by Israeli extremists. His body was found just days after the recovery of the bodies of three Israeli teens in the West Bank.

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Weakened Arthur Heads Up U.S. East Coast

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 04:44

The National Hurricane Center predicted further weakening as the Category 1 storm moved offshore. Arthur knocked out power for about 44,000 people in North Carolina.

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Ex-Editor Gets 18 Months In U.K. Phone Hacking Case

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 04:29

Andy Coulson, the former editor of the now defunct News of the World, was found guilty last week of conspiracy to hack personal voicemails.

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Big Data Comes To College

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 03:38

The exploding field of "learning analytics" raises ethical questions similar to those arising from the recent Facebook revelations.

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Bored On The Fourth Of July? Try These Movies

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 03:03

Action, singing and lots of fireworks — American movies celebrate the Fourth of July.

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Here comes yet another increase in transit fares

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 02:43

Drivers getting out of town on this Fourth of July weekend will pay the highest gas prices since 2008, but transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in major cities like Boston, St. Louis, and Washington D.C.

But even with semi-regular fare hikes, transit systems still lose money. Revenue from fares isn’t enough to cover rising costs, like labor, fuel, expanded services, and infrastructure maintenance, even though ridership in 2013 was the highest it's been in nearly six decades. 

“The actual fare rider could be paying half of the rider cost, sometimes two thirds of it,” says Mitchell Moss, director of the NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

Nationally, fare revenues covered only 33 percent of the operating cost of all transit systems in 2012, according to the National Transit Database.

But raising fares is tricky.

“When you increase fairs, it tends to discourage ridership,” says Steve Schlickman is with the Urban Transportation Center at University of Illinois at Chicago. “If you increase fares too much, you discourage so much ridership that you really don’t have an increase in revenue.”

It falls to cities and states make their transit systems’ deficits. But the Department of Transportation is warning that without intervention from Congress, a critical source federal funds for many transit and highway projects will run out of money later this summer. 

Here's a look at which cities bring in the most revenue from transit fares per rider, and which cities are planning to hike their fares this summer:

North Dakota oil wells drain energy and money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

A defining sight in the booming oil fields of North Dakota is flames flaring from the top of wells -- burning off natural gas that escapes during pumping.

Today oil wells in the state burn about a third of the natural gas that comes when fracking for oil. North Dakota officials estimate that’s like burning about $50 million dollars a month.

The problem is drillers have rushed to extract oil and ignored building pipelines to capture natural gas needed to ship to market. Basically, economist Philip Verleger says ,it’s cheaper to burn money than build pipelines.

“The economics of constructing a pipeline to every one of these large number of wells becomes prohibitive,” he says.

After getting input from industry, this week state officials said that by the fall, wells must capture 76 percent of natural gas or be forced to cut oil production.

Western Environmental Law Center Senior Policy Advisor Thomas Singer says state leaders and industry officials know the current level of flaring is unsustainable.

“They recognize that a gold rush in the Wild West where everybody goes out and starts poking holes is really a very wasteful way to develop these resources,” he says.

Singer says the test now is to see if the state enforces its own rules. 

With credit card debt, not all states are equal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

The average American has more than $3,600 in credit card debt, but that number is falling.

“Not a huge decline overall -- about $27 dollars this year compared to last, but it’s still an improvement,” says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at Credit.com. “It’s a good thing for consumers to carry less credit card debt. It’s good for their credit score and it’s good for their wallets.”

So why do some states owe more than others?

Alan Ikemura, senior product manager at Experian, says people have bigger credit card debt in states that have higher costs of living and where the employment picture hasn’t improved.

“The economy hasn’t picked up as well in certain areas and so there might actually be an immediate need for the utilization of credit," Ikemura says. "On the flip side, [people in states] that have recovered really well, [are] more confident overall in the economy, so they’re just spending more.”

Ikemura says the fact that American’s are paying down their credit card debt is a sign the overall economy is improving. 

Experian Decision Analytics released a list of average credit card debt by state for Q1 of 2014. So which states have the highest average debt?

1. Alaska -- $4,472

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

2. New Jersey -- $4,431

Craig Barritt/Getty Images

3. Connecticut -- $4,351

Elsa/Getty Images

4. Maryland -- $4,214

  Patrick Smith/Getty Images

5. Georgia -- $4,192

 RAYMOND ROIG/AFP/Getty Images

6. Delaware -- $4,165

 Hulton Archive/Getty Images

7. Washington, D.C. -- $4,115

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages

8. Virginia -- $4,068

 Grant Halverson/Getty Images for Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

9. Rhode Island -- $4,056

 Stacy Revere/Getty Images

10. Texas -- $4,047

   Harry How/Getty Images

Silicon Tally: Independence and surveillance

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? This week we're joined by Julia Angwin, author of "Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance." var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "silicon-tally-independence-surveillance", placeholder: "pd_1404443731" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Dance Of Human Evolution Was Herky-Jerky, Fossils Suggest

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-03 23:36

Maybe it was messier than we thought, some scientists now say. Big brains, long legs and long childhoods may have evolved piecemeal in different spots, in response to frequent swings in climate.

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Damming The Mekong River: Economic Boon Or Environmental Mistake?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-03 23:33

Laos' government says it needs the money the two dams will generate. But environmentalists and downstream neighbors say the dams are a major threat to fish migration and agriculture.

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Colorado marijuana dispensaries have nowhere to put their money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-03 16:28

Let’s say you’re a new retail business owner, and you’ve hit the sales jackpot. The product you’re offering is moving faster than snow-cones in the Sahara, and the cash just keeps coming in.

But there’s one hiccup: You can’t deposit said cash into a bank.

That’s the problem recreational marijuana vendors in Colorado are facing. Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, and because that same federal government regulates banks, THC retailers in Colorado are sitting on piles of cash they can’t do anything with. These vendors are keeping the mounds of cash in backrooms, specially designed vaults, and specially created security firms to hold the money. Yet, there are still significant security concerns about keeping all that cash on hand (not to mention the hassle when it comes to paying taxes, bills and fees).

The IRS, meanwhile, is so opposed to the cash payments on federal taxes, that they’ve begun charging penalties to businesses that pay in greenbacks.

So to help fix the problem, the Colorado legislature has created a co-op that would act very similar to a bank. It would allow pot vendors to make deposits, withdrawals and even electronic transfers.

The problem is that in order to have the co-op function fully, it needs to get approval from – wait for it – the federal government.

Mike Elliot from the Marijuana Industry Group says the regulatory hurdle with the co-op has to do with the Automated Clearing House (ACH), the same system used to make direct deposits for employees.

As Elliot explains to Lizzie O’Leary, most people in Colorado’s marijuana industry think the chance of this co-op passing federal muster are about the same as finding one of those snow-cones in the Sahara Desert.

As Ebola Cases Spike, WHO Asks For More Money And Help

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-03 16:19

The deadliest Ebola outbreak in history continues to grow in West Africa. Even as health leaders met to figure out how to stop the virus, the number of cases surged — by nearly 20 percent in a week.

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