National News

Safety Changes Are Small Comfort When Oil Trains Pass

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 12:00

Regulators and railroads have implemented new practices since a runaway oil train destroyed the center of a small Canadian town a year ago. One key improvement, however, will take some time.

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Jerusalem Is Roiled By Violence In A Third Day Of Clashes

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 12:00

Journalist Daniel Estrin reports that dozens of Palestinians and Israeli police were injured in clashes in Jerusalem after the funeral for a Palestinian teenager.

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On July 4, A Celebration Of Walt Whitman's Irreverent Hymnal

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 12:00

For "This Week's Must-Read" poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips turns to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, the man who first heard America singing.

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From Axes To Razors, The Stuff That Makes You Feel Manly

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 12:00

For All Things Considered's series on men in America, we asked you to tell us about the objects that make you feel manly. Answers ranged from handkerchiefs and boxing gloves to typewriters and tools.

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Tests And Tales Of Becoming A U.S. Citizen

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 12:00

Swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens are traditional on Independence Day in America. What does U.S. citizenship mean to those who choose to naturalize?

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Teacher tenure under fire

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 11:38

There's a new challenge to teacher tenure laws in New York. Almost a dozen students -- and their parents -- have filed suit against the city of New York and New York state, along with state and local departments of education.

They argue it's gotten too hard to fire poorly performing teachers and that New York tenure laws violate the state constitution.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of another challenge to tenure laws, in California. In that case, an LA judge said tenure laws, "have deprived students of the quality education they're entitled to."

We Have A Weiner: Joey Chestnut Defends Hot-Dog-Eating Crown

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 11:23

Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., devoured 61 hot dogs and buns in the allotted 10 minutes. Miki Sudo, who ate 34 franks and buns in the allotted time, won the women's competition.

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Fast food just got even faster

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 11:14

The days of waiting in line at your local McDonald's could be over soon.

The fast food chain started a pilot program for an order-ahead app in a limited number of stores around the Columbus, Georgia area -- not to be confused with the "McD App," which offers coupons and loyalty offers in test markets elsewhere in the nation.

"You download it, you place your order, and when you get to the restaurant, you scan in your phone, and at that point the kitchen starts to fire up your meal," says Bloomberg Business reporter Venessa Wong, who adds that the new app is part of an initiative to make things more convenient for customers.

The new app targets the young, tech-savvy customer whose life is, inevitably, tied to his or her smartphone.

"Being able to reach your customers and push out promotions to them on their phone is actually quite valuable," said Wong.

What may be convenient for the customer, however, may be less convenient for the restaurant itself as it may struggle to keep up with the increased speed at which orders are coming in.

"The point is to improve speed and improve service," she said, "but when you have orders coming in from a new and separate stream, the kitchen has to adapt to that."

China levies bribery charges against British drugmaker

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 10:33

A major scandal engulfing the British pharmaceutical company Glaxo Smith Klein has taken another turn. The Chinese government has accused GSK of systemic bribery and corruption. Its top executive in China is under arrest.

And now, a private investigator Glaxo hired -- who's also been detained -- says he believes these allegations of impropriety are credible.

Marketplace's Stephen Beard has been following the story from London, and says Glaxo's executives recieved emails last year from a self-proclaimed whistle-blower claiming that officials with the company had bribed doctors and hospitals in China to buy Glaxo's drugs at inflated prices. Glaxo investigated the claims, and says that while it uncovered some unrelated fraudulent activity, it did not find any evidence of bribery.

GSK also claims it has been the target of a smear campaign.

"And there does seem to be something in that," says Beard, "Someone, for example, secretly filmed the top Galxo executive in China having sex with a woman who was in that classic tabloid phrase, 'not his wife'."

Beard also says that Glaxo is under a deal of pressure from Chinese authorities to push down the prices it and other Western drug companies charge in the country.

Andrew Halper of the international law firm Olswang spoke to the BBC about how non-Chinese corporations in China are vulnerable.

"Foreign companies don't benefit from cover, they don't benefit from connections," says Halper, "They rarely, if ever, will have that sort of thing to protect them; they're exposed."

The twist in the story, however, is that private-eye who turned on Glaxo to say the charges may have merit.

"After recieving the sex tape, Glaxo hired this private eye to find out who was trying to smear the company," says Beard, "He submitted his report, was then in days arrested by the Chinese authorities. But here is, as you say, the latest wrinkle: It's now emerged, having seen some of the whistle-blowing emails, the investigator thinks those bribery allegations are entirely credible."

Since Glaxo only generates about three percent of its revenue from China, it may not suffer a huge amount of damage from this scandal, in terms of its overall business in the region. But the company may be looking at some collatoral damage as British fraud regulators are opening their own investigation. The Department of Justice is rumored to be taking an interest in the case as well.

Germany And Brazil To Face Off In World Cup Semifinals

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 10:20

Brazil ended Colombia's Cinderella story on Friday with a 2-1 win to advance to the World Cup semifinals. On Tuesday Brazil will face Germany, who defeated France 1-0 in the quarterfinal.

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SiriusXM Fires Anthony Cumia, Host Of 'Opie & Anthony,' Over Tweets

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 09:55

The satellite radio network said his "racially-charged and hate-filled remarks on social media" are inconsistent with its values. Cumia's tweets came after he was allegedly assaulted in New York.

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German Held On Suspicion Of Passing Classified Information

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 08:28

News reports say the unidentified man worked for Germany's spy agency and passed secrets to the U.S. Ties between the countries have been affected by revelations the NSA spied on Germans.

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Why do they still have floor traders at the NYSE?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 08:15

Listener John Wang, who dabbles in a little online trading, wrote in to ask this:

“I’ve always wondered why there are still people on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. It always seems kind of strange that they're there, now that we have computers and networks for doing all sorts of trades.”

Most of us have a mental picture of floor traders at the stock market – men in blue jackets, shouting at each other, waving bits of paper, gesturing wildly with hand signals.

“Even though it looks chaotic to people, it's actually very crystal clear what was going on to the people down on the floor,” says Johanna Lee, director of a documentary film called The Pit, about a group of floor brokers at the New York Board of Trade.

The guys in her movie dealt in coffee futures. And they used to do something called open outcry, setting the price right then and there in an open pit.

Lee made the film at an interesting time, back in 2011, just as the New York Board of trade – like almost every other exchange – was going electronic.

So what's it like on Wall Street now?

I went to find out at the New York Stock Exchange: the grand stage of American capital markets. It has an impressive carved stone ceiling, in which you can see the nearly 200 years of history – which is totally at odds with the rows of computer screens that line every single booth in the hall.

On the floor, traders in their blue jackets are everywhere.

“I spent my whole career in this building,” says Kenny Polcari, a trader for O'Neill Securities who represents an institutional investor. “For me it's really all I know.”

Polcari, a fast-talker with a big laugh and sense of humor, says things work very differently today from when he first started out in this job 30 years ago.

“Today it's defined by technology. It's defined by high-speed computers that take the emotion out of investing. Some say it's good. I, on the other hand… Listen, part of what investing was about was the emotion. You come down here 25 or 30 years ago, the emotion blew the roof off the building every single day. It was just so exciting.”

But here's the thing - for all the excitement and history and prestige, the NYSE actually handles a tiny amount of the overall volume of trades in the U.S.

So who does the rest of the trading? Robots.

“Robots now do anywhere between 50 and 75 percent of the trades in the United States,” says Bob Ivry, who works for Bloomberg News and wrote a book called The Seven Sins of Wall Street.

Ivry says the real action takes place in a high-security warehouse in a small town in New Jersey. That's where you'll find computers trading at lightning speed. They're also cheaper and more efficient than humans.

Hooray for robots, right? Not quite.

“They are there when the going is good,” says Ivry. “The minute the prices start plummeting, for any reason, what the robots do is they run for the hills. They're nowhere to be seen when that stock is going down.”

Computers have been known to cause a flash crash – where prices tumble uncontrollably, causing a lot of damage. But the reality is, automated trading has taken over.

So does that make traders like Kenny Polcari an endangered species?

Polcari believes there is still a role for human judgement in the system, especially when the market is fragmented. “You almost have to develop a sixth sense, you have to be able to feel the liquidity,” he says.  “Today brokers use that sixth sense to try and assess supply and demand in a fractured market structure. And I think that’s part of the challenge but that’s also part of the key, that’s how you’re able to represent customers.”

“As far as the nuts and bolts of trading are concerned, they're already gone,” says Ivry. “If you consider there's some theatre involved – and I do – then they have a specific and necessary function. They put a face to the battle of the robots. All those traders down there in their blue smocks and their pins – they put a face on trading, on American capitalism.”

Ivry says we need a narrative to tell us how to invest our money in a way that will help communities. Trading algorithms are “a brutal and souless way of allocating capital,” he says.

Back at the New York Stock Exchange, it's a good thing trader Kenny Polcari is a “Type A” personality.                      

“I think that's fair,” Polcari says with a hearty laugh. “I love being the face of Wall Street.”

PODCAST: European banks leery of Bitcoin

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:53

The European Banking Authority is recommending that banks there keep away from Bitcoin, a virtual currency favored by techies, libertarians, and, sometimes, criminals.

Drivers this summer are paying the highest gas prices since 2008, in part because of the turmoil in Iraq. But mass transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in cities like Boston, St. Louis, and D.C. Some of this is driven by increasing operating costs, but even with these fare hikes, the transit systems will still lose money.

In India poor investment in cold storage warehouses and supply chain infrastructure means that a lot of food is wasted before reaching consumers-- 7 billion dollars every year.

PODCAST: European banks leery of Bitcoin

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:53

The European Banking Authority is recommending that banks there keep away from Bitcoin, a virtual currency favored by techies, libertarians, and, sometimes, criminals.

Drivers this summer are paying the highest gas prices since 2008, in part because of the turmoil in Iraq. But mass transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in cities like Boston, St. Louis, and D.C. Some of this is driven by increasing operating costs, but even with these fare hikes, the transit systems will still lose money.

In India poor investment in cold storage warehouses and supply chain infrastructure means that a lot of food is wasted before reaching consumers-- 7 billion dollars every year.

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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