National News

11 Atlanta Public School Employees Found Guilty In Cheating Scandal

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 10:12

All but one of the 12 educators charged with racketeering were found to guilty by a Georgia jury. The scandal involved dozens of schools and dozens of teachers who had previously taken plea deals.

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U.S. Creates First Sanctions Program Against Cybercriminals

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 09:15

President Obama signed a new executive order that will allow the administration to freeze the assets of any individual or group involved in "malicious" cyberattacks.

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Water you doing, Jerry Brown?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-01 08:44

Today Governor Jerry Brown ordered a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use statewide.

He made the announcement standing at a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada mountains where there was nary a flake of snow to be seen, a spot at which he said there should be five feet of snow this time of year.

If you're looking for the Marketplace angle, think agriculture, and all the produce the Central Valley produces.

We've done a whole bunch of water coverage lately. Make sure to check out our water series.

Water: The high price of cheap

How discrimination fits into the business model

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-01 08:43

Those signs on business windows that say "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone"? They're legal.

Indiana's law allowing businesses to refuse service for religious reasons is bringing more attention to a separate but related issue: recognizing gender and sexual identity as a protected class, as more than 20 states already do. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce says some members have already suffered business losses.

The reality is this: businesses discriminate against people all the time. Think of someone getting rowdy at a bar who gets booted out. A business owner can do that, says Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

"They can take somebody who comes in smelling and someone who's going to cause difficulty because of some characteristic," Hanson says.

That characteristic can't be race. Federal law prohibits that kind of discrimination at public accommodation places like grocery and hardware stores. As a class, minorities are protected. And Hanson says what's been happening in Indiana might lead to LGBT people being covered as a protected class.

"This fight may well be the rising crescendo to getting sexual orientation covered in the federal law," Hanson says.

For that to happen, Congress would have to act. For now, even under Indiana's extremely controversial law, a business refusing to serve gays and lesbians might not be able to justify its actions.

"You know, it's going to be a lot easier, I think, to make the case under Religious Freedom law that your faith does not permit you to participate in a same-sex wedding than to make the case your faith doesn't permit you to serve gay customers at all," says Ramesh Ponnuru, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute.

Legally, he says, those are very different situations. Nevertheless, excluding customers is baffling to Elliot Richardson, CEO of the Small Business Advocacy Council in Chicago.

"Most of the time you're going to sell to everybody, as long as they can pay for it," Richardson says.

And as some Indiana businesses have already learned, customers make choices as to where they do business, too.

 

The price is right ... or is it? Pricing IPOs is tricky

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-01 08:43

GoDaddy launched its IPO Wednesday, selling its stocks publicly for the first time. It asked for just $20 bucks per share this morning, but by day’s end, that price shot up more than 30 percent. 

When a company goes public it starts with a price that it thinks is fair. When that price then shoots up on the first day of trading, it's called “the pop.”

The pop and fizzle

Jay Ritter, professor of finance at the University of Florida, says the average pop is about 18 percent. It’s true that if there’s a giant pop, a company might have a facepalm moment and regret not pricing higher. The biggest fear for companies is that “they’re not getting as much proceeds as they could have,” says Ritter. 

But think about the opposite of a pop: The fizzle. Let’s say there was a greedy little piggy of a company that priced high to squeeze out every last drop of profit it could. David Menlow, president of IPOFinancial.com, which predicts and researches IPO prices, says a move like that “basically shuts down the pipeline of other people who might want to buy the stock. Investors still need to believe there’s room for more demand on the upside.”

...And the razzle-dazzle

Bill Blais, executive vice president of Loyal3, a registered broker dealer whose mission is to democratize the IPO process, says you need to start with the old 'razzle-dazzle.' “Stocks that don’t pop, that go in the opposite direction, generally have a hard time regaining momentum, and there’s a lot of empirical evidence to back that up,” says Blais.

And don’t forget about the banks. The banks are the ones putting on the whole IPO dog-and-pony show to begin with. They want stocks to jump because that’s how they reward their biggest clients — letting them buy undervalued shares before public trading starts, before the pop. 

“Investors are competing to get the underpriced shares” from banks or underwriters of an IPO, says Ritter. “And one of the ways investors compete is by overpaying on commissions on other deals, so that an underwriter or a stockbroker who’s deciding who to give the shares to, who’s allowed to use discretion ... will give shares to more profitable customers.”

'Girl Drifter' Race Driver Freaks Out Instructors In Prank

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 08:37

Leona Chin stalled her high-powered car in first gear and randomly turned the wipers on — before unleashing the skills she has honed as a professional driver. Havoc, and some panic, ensued.

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The rise of the open-plan office

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-01 08:02

Try to get one simple task at work done, say, updating a line of text on a website. The next thing you know, you're running an anti-virus check for malware and re-installing system software. 

Developers have a name for when one tiny task sets off an avalanche of work, "yak shaving." The idea comes from a "Ren and Stimpy" episode: 

"You'll look up and it'll be five o'clock and you'll have chased down all the minutia but you wouldn't have actually gotten any work done," says Jonathan Hirschman, CEO of PCB:NG, a firm that does electronic assembly for hardware entrepreneurs. 

Small tasks which seem to transform magically into tidal waves of work, says Hirschman, are why he can't work from home, he's too easily distracted. Like the time he was indulging in a favorite morning routine, reading tech journals before leaving the house. 

"Before I knew it I was outlining a schematic and had to stop myself and say, 'Wait a minute, you're not going to create a new piece of electronics. You're going to go into the office and get your work done.'" 

Still Hirschman notes, his current office, a rented desk in the open-plan section of a co-working space, is also problematic. 

"What's the quote? Hell is other people," he says. 

Jonathan Hirschman is not a fan of his open plan co-working office. Hell, he says, is other people.

Sally Herships

But encouraging workers to cozy up to each other is what's hot right now in the world of office design, it's all about the open plan. 

Facebook is planning to put thousands of its workers into one mile-long room, and Samsung is building a new headquarters which includes floors of outdoor spaces, where it's hoping employees from different departments and levels will mingle.

GlaxoSmithKline just paid, it won’t say how many hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions, to design a new 200,000 square foot glass building in Philadelphia which is entirely open-plan. 

The company is so excited, it made a video about it.

"It’s a whole new way of working," says one featured worker's voice. "I’ll admit it," continues another, "at first I was nervous about leaving my old office and cubicle setup. But I love working in the open environment.” 

So are open plan offices the holy grail of office design? Or, are they what Jonathan Hirschman describes as "a kind of purgatory for workers?" Keep your head down long enough and maybe, just maybe, you'll make it to an office of your own with a door that closes. 

GlaxoSmithKline's new building looks and feels a little like a hotel. There’s a coffee shop on the ground floor and a spiral staircase rises out of a huge atrium, whichever way you look you see windows and light. 

But even though the five-floor building holds over a thousand employees, there are no offices, at least not the kind we're used to. 

This is the new non-office office, there are no offices in the building — at least, there are no assigned seats. At GlaxoSmithKline, groups get put in "neighborhoods": Every morning you get your laptop, post-it notes and assorted chargers out of your locker, and decide where you'd like to sit for the day. Every evening, your belongings get stowed away again. GSK has a clean desk policy in place — no detritus please. 

Why not just let workers stick to the comfort of their own desks? 

"Because we’re trying to keep movement in the environment," says Ray Milora, head of design and change management at the company, "we’re trying to keep people moving around." 

Milora notes there are options for workers who need some alone time. There are special chairs that look like they've escaped from "Alice in Wonderland," with large arms and headrests meant to protect their occupants from sights and sounds, are strategically placed throughout the building. There are also quiet rooms, though they have time limits to prevent employees from moving in permanently. 

The big idea, says Milora, is to encourage workers to talk to colleagues they might otherwise never interact with. And at GSK, the plan seems to be working.

Milora says attendance at the company has gone up dramatically. At GSK's old building, which he describes as a traditional American 1980s space, "low ceiling, neon lights everywhere," and he continued, "beige, everything beige," attendance was at 40 percent, but in the new space, it's gone up to "well over 90 percent here." 

Though the new space is beautiful and open, workers are bathed in lots of natural light, and the staircase promotes exercise — the elevators are located in non-encouraging spots — some employees at GSK wear headphones. And that, says Nikil Saval, author of "Cubed, a Secret History of the Workplace," is the "open scandal of the open-plan office trend." 

While open plan offices can be conducive to collaboration, Saval notes that they can also be distracting.

"They're supposed to induce these serendipitous encounters where people run into each other and burst into this flame of innovation and disruption," but Saval says, "that's not what you're doing all the time." 

Besides, says Ben Waber, president and CEO of Sociometric Solutions, a firm which uses Bluetooth and microphones to track worker interactions, happiness and productivity, open plan or office with doors, encouraging employee interaction can be hard to get right. 

Bicycle helmet designer Danielle Baskin prefers to customize her own work space.

Sally Herships

"The amount you talk to other people is never predictive of how productive or happy you are," he says. It's not how much you talk to your co-workers, says Waber, but instead "it's the pattern of communication — do I talk to a lot of people who know each other or do I talk to people in different groups?" 

Waber tells a story about a large manufacturing company whose salespeople sat in cubicles. 

"The company said, 'You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to spend millions of dollars, we’re going to build out a beautiful new open-plan office setting, lots of daylight, it’s going to be great — fantastic.'" 

And they did that, but it didn’t work. Sorry cube-haters — the cubicles, says Waber, were actually better. 

In the old setup, the sales team talked to each other and consequentially learned how to sell more. When the office went open-plan, they also talked more — but to other co-workers, outside of the sales team, instead. 

The problem today, says Waber, is instead of thinking about what specific employees needs are, some companies are too focused on trying to be trendy. 

Of the office-hip, open-plan plan, "isn't it ironic — I started researching these in 1976," says Alan Hedge, a Professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University. "And here we are nearly forty years later — and it's come back into fashion," he says. 

The open-plan office, according to Hedge, is a German idea from the middle of the last century: "Bürolandschaft." "Büro which is the German for office and landschaft which is landscape." 

The original open-plan offices were a flop, says Hedge. Workers were unhappy with the noise and lack of privacy, and today, when headphones — out of necessity — have become the new office door, the same concerns exist. Office design, says Hedge, is like fashion. 

"The latest trend is to say, 'let's get rid of cubicles, let's get rid of private offices, let's create these vast open spaces and life will be wonderful.' Well it won’t," he says. 

When it comes to office design, uniformity can equal failure. 

"Everybody gets the same chair, everybody gets the same desk, everybody gets the same space. That's the kiss of death." 

As is another hot office design trend: The standing desk. "The human body is designed to move," says Hedge, "but not all the time. It is designed to sit, but not all the time. It's designed to stand, but not all the time." 

Instead, says Hedge, workers should find an optimal mix. He offers the following formula: Sit for twenty minutes, stand for eight and move for two. At the very least, your lower back will feel more comfortable. And if you're a worker who's unhappy in his or her office space, there's always another trend to fall back on — grabbing your laptop and heading to the nearest coffee shop.

Pew: 'Smartphone-Dependents' Often Have No Backup Plan For Web Access

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 07:58

People who rely most on their smartphones to get online, often deal more frequently with service interruptions, because of financial hardship and data caps.

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Thailand Lifts Martial Law, But Critics Say Its Replacement Is Worse

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 07:31

The announcement to lift martial law goes into effect immediately. The new law, Article 44, gives coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha sweeping powers over the Thai government.

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Scary Times For California Farmers As Snowpack Hits Record Lows

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 06:28

Much of the state depends on that snow for its water. In the Central Valley, the nation's most productive farming region, that means another year of fallowed fields and emergency water measures.

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Patton Oswalt Tweets In Defense Of Comedy — And Trevor Noah

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 06:26

South African comedian Trevor Noah has been criticized for some tweets that critics say are sexist and anti-Semitic. Among his supporters is Oswalt, who took to Twitter to make his point.

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To Avoid Surprise Insurance Bills, Tell Exchange Plan When You Move

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 06:09

Consumers can face unexpected costs if they don't cancel their insurance plan before they relocate to another state.

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Indiana Law: Sorting Fact From Fiction From Politics

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 05:36

The culture wars are always percolating beneath the surface in presidential politics. And as is often the case in controversies, the facts have become muddled and conflated.

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson Weighs State's Religious Freedom Bill

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 05:30

Lawmakers passed the bill Tuesday. A similar Indiana law sparked a backlash. Critics say it allows businesses to refuse services to gays and lesbians. Supporters say it bolsters religious freedom.

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Musician Joni Mitchell Is 'Awake And In Good Spirits' In Intensive Care

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 05:06

After being found unconscious in her home Tuesday afternoon, folk music icon Joni Mitchell has been hospitalized in Los Angeles.

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World's Oldest Person Dies At Age 117

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 04:28

She was born in 1898. And now comes word that Japan's Misao Okawa has died at age 117. She had been the world's oldest person since 2013, according to Guinness World Records.

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Iran Nuclear Talks: Varied Signs Of Agreement On An Agreement

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 03:43

Diplomats from the seven countries involved are sending mixed signals, one day after the deadline lapsed for reaching a deal on Iran's nuclear program.

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PODCAST: Reverse brain drain in Dayton Ohio

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-01 03:00

The voting is done. Concessions have been made. And a 2-month transition of power in Nigeria is underway. More on that. Plus, all it what you will. Brain drain. Population Death spiral. One of the harsh realities facing many of america's former industrial cities is the loss of residents. But one place in Ohio may be on its way to bucking that trend. 

CEOS Of Germanwings, Lufthansa Visit Crash Site

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-01 03:00

Speaking to reporters, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr did not respond to questions about the co-pilot's medical history.

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Restaurant raises prices and pay, and ends tipping

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-01 02:00

In the national debate about the minimum wage, the city of Seattle is taking the lead. Effective April 1, minimum-wage workers there get a raise, thanks to an ordinance passed last spring. Workers at big companies get $11 an hour, with the minimum wage stair-stepping up to $15 for all workers over the next few years.

However, one local restaurant is jumping to that top rate right away. It’s also raising prices—and getting rid of tipping. 

Ivar’s Salmon House, an iconic room on Seattle’s waterfront, starts using brand new menus on April 1, reflecting a 21 percent price hike across the board. The money will go to raise base wages for the whole staff, including kitchen workers who haven’t gotten a share of tips in the past.

Management tinkered for months with a formula that would fund those "back-of-the-house" raises, while also protecting servers from taking a hit when tips went away.

"We were very nervous when we put it all together, to actually give it to employees and say this is what we’re thinking about doing," says Bob Donegan, the company's president.

He says staff gave the plan a standing ovation—but some people have come up to him since to say they’re nervous.

"We’re all nervous," Donegan says. "We don’t know how customers are going to react to this. We don’t know how staff will react to this."

The move essentially changes the restaurant’s business model.

Others may follow suit, says Anthony Anton, president of the Washington Restaurant Association. 

"Everyone’s talking about it," he says. "It is the conversation among restaurants in Seattle."

The new model may spread beyond Seattle, as other cities adopt higher minimum wage laws, says William Lester, a professor of city and regional planning at the University of North Carolina who studies minimum-wage policy.

"I wouldn't be surprised if that were to become more common, as more cities push the labor standards higher," he says.  

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