National News

Good News: More Crops! Bad News: More Plague!

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 13:11

Tiny patches of Tanzanian farmland contain more rats in nearby forests. These rats are more likely to carry the bacteria that causes the plague in humans.

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Jordan's Army Preps For A Bigger Role Against ISIS

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 13:01

After a pilot was burned alive by the Islamic State, Jordanians have become much more supportive of its role in the war against the extremist group.

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In Battered Ukraine, Spirit Of Defiance Lives On In Maidan Square

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 13:00

A year ago, Kiev's central square was the center of the protest movement that ousted Ukraine's president. The square remains a home for free speech, including criticism of the current government.

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Feeding Babies Foods With Peanuts Appears To Prevent Allergies

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 12:38

Babies who ate the equivalent of about 4 heaping teaspoons of peanut butter weekly were about 80 percent less likely to develop a peanut allergy by their fifth birthday. So finds a landmark new study.

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As unions decline, dockworkers still have clout

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-23 12:27

West coast dockworkers and shippers reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year contract Friday afternoon, ending months of labor strife. The effects of the standoff have been felt around the world – car assembly lines without crucial parts, billions in produce lost, and a shortage of french fries in Japan. 

In a time when organized labor is declining, one relatively small union, The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) still has the power to slow down the economy. 

Neither side will reveal details of the new contract, but it’s likely generous.

Shipping companies say dock workers average $147,000 per year. The ILWU says if you take out a few specialized positions, the figure is closer to $80,000. Either way, it is a good salary, especially for non-college grads.

“The ILWU is the American dream,” says Dave Arian, Vice-President of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commission, who worked for 44 years on the docks, and was an ILWU President. “My dad was a longshoreman. My daughter works on the waterfront. My sister retired off the waterfront. There are some families who have five generations and 30 people down here or more.”

Arian is well aware that the dock workers are an anomaly, a throwback to the days when blue-collar workers could routinely join a union and live a comfortable middle-class life, complete with a generous pension and full benefits. Such is the advantage of holding the power to shut down all 29 West Coast ports in your hands, as opposed to the East and Gulf Coasts, where ports aren’t covered by a single contract.

“I don’t believe longshoremen are any more militant than autoworkers were or mineworkers were,” says Arian. “But we have something they didn’t have: A strategic position where you can choke off capital.”

That’s because 40 percent of the goods imported into the U.S. come through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Being a dock worker is great work if you can get it, but the key is getting it.

“The last time we put out applications, 360,000 people put in applications,” said Arian.

The union resorted to a lottery to pick 16,000 so-called casuals. Known as the “grunts of the waterfront,” they only pick up work full cardholders don’t want. And work is very sporadic, sometimes just one day a week.

Graduating to a class-B member can take a decade, but there are lucky ones, like Carol Randolph, who was only a casual for a year and a half.

“I’m kind of embarrassed to say it,” says Randolph. “My son has a casual card now and he’s been there seven years.”

Randolph’s father-in-law and uncles were in the ILWU, and her brother and brother-in-law are still in it now. Both of her sons are casuals, and so is her daughter. She raised all three as a single parent, working at the docks.

“This job has provided me with a decent home, clothes for my kids, food on the table, and they went to college," says Randolph. "We’re not going to Europe on vacation, but we do take vacations.”

But she has mixed feelings about her kids working the docks.

“It is an extremely dangerous job,” said Randolph. “We don’t have small accidents. We have accidents that kill.”

We met for coffee at the end of her nine-hour shift at a diner where, like every other business near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, there were ILWU signs taped to the window.

Randolph worked the docks for years but has enough seniority now that she can have one of the most desirable jobs – a vessel planner.

“We pretty much decide on what order the containers will have to be coming off the shift,” says Randolph. "If you don’t do it right, you can break the ship. Literally break the ship. The dangerous cargo that has hazardous explosives has to be stored in certain positions.”

When I asked Randolph if the union wanted better healthcare benefits, she said no, because how could they get any better? You can see pretty much any doctor you want and pay practically nothing out of pocket.

Randolph understands people not lucky enough to enjoy such gold-plated benefits might be envious.

“I don’t blame them for being jealous,” said Randolph. “This is a nice job.”

There are only about 20,000 dockworkers such as Randolph still working on the west coast, most of them at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Billions of dollars were lost as they negotiated for a contract, and experts say it will take several months to clear the backlog at ports.

Your Soap Has Bacteria In It, But It Still Gets You Clean

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 11:18

Everyone presumes that soap is clean, but manufacturers know it's always got a few random germs in it. Most of the time that's not a problem, but every now and then things can get out of control.

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U.S. Appoints First Ever Special Envoy For LGBT Rights

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 11:15

The State Department said Randy Berry's job will be to "reaffirm the universal human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."

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Closing the digital divide on the inside

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-23 11:02

The Wyoming Girls' School in Sheridan, Wy., is home to 39 young women between the ages of 14 and 18. They’ve all broken the law — mostly non-violent offenses like drugs and probation violations. These girls are among the tens of thousands of kids nationally who have been sentenced to live in secure juvenile justice facilities.

Historically, these facilities have failed kids when it comes to getting them an education.

The Wyoming Girls' School is an exception. On Monday, Feb. 23 Marketplace will explore how the school is preparing its girls to succeed in the 21st century economy.

Check back for an updated version of this story. var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "", id: "education-on-inside-survey-wy", placeholder: "pd_1424380045" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'':'';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Freight Farms: How Boston Gets Local Greens, Even When Buried In Snow

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 09:47

Big metal shipping containers are often used to import food from around the globe. Now, two Boston entrepreneurs are modifying those containers to grow local produce hydroponically, 365 days a year.

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Justice Department Appeals Ruling Blocking Obama's Immigration Plan

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 09:19

The Department of Justice filing says a federal judge lacked authority to issue an injunction on President Obama's executive action on immigration.

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France Seizes Passports Of 6 Allegedly Planning To Join Islamists In Syria

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 08:59

It's the first time the French government has used a measure that was approved in November to limit the number of French citizens joining Islamist groups in the Middle East.

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The magic and misery of compounding

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-23 08:57

The president wants to stop unscrupulous brokers from flogging investments to consumers that kick back fees to the brokerage. These kinds of dodgy investments cost consumers one percent a year, on average. That may not sound like much, but one percent a year is worth a lot to a saver, thanks to a magical thing called compound interest. Pop quiz: Would you rather get $10,000 a day for 30 days or a penny that doubled in value every day for the same 30 days? It’s a question often used to show the often counter-intuitive power of compounding. By day two, Option A yields $20,000, while Option B is a mere two cents. It feels like a no-brainer, right? But by the end of the month, Option B is the clear winner at more than $5 million, compared with Option A’s $300,000. The math is clear, but compounding is often difficult for us to wrap our heads around, says Andrew Meadows with Ubiquity Retirement + Savings, which provides retirement accounts for small businesses. “It’s essentially interest earning interest,” says Stephen Brobeck, the executive director of the Consumer Federation of America. What you earn goes back into your account and now you earn interest on that, plus your initial investment. The longer you leave the money, the more it snowballs. But that snowballing can work against you if you’re in debt and paying interest instead of earning it, cautions Diane Lim, an economist at the Committee for Economic Development. 

The DHS needs a morale boost

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-23 08:57

The latest skirmish in Congress’s never-ending budget battles comes at the end of this week, when funding for the Department of Homeland Security dries up — unless Congress can agree on a compromise to keep it running. 

But even if Congress acts on the budget, DHS has another huge problem: Morale among DHS employees is dreadful. Every year, the federal government surveys its workers, asking if they're recognized for good work, if they respect their leaders, and so on.

“DHS does not stack up well,” says Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, a good government group that crunches the federal survey numbers and ranks morale at government agencies. 

For the past few years, DHS has come in dead last.

“It is redefining the bottom of the rankings for large agencies,” says Stier.

Stier says part of the problem is the way DHS was created after the September 11 terror attacks. Twenty-two very different federal departments and agencies were merged into one gigantic bureaucracy — but they all kept their congressional overseers. Now, more than 80 committees and subcommittees have jurisdiction over DHS.  

Jeff Neal, who headed the agency’s HR department from 2009 to 2011, says he was constantly writing reports for Congress.

“It didn’t really help us run the department," he says. "It was very frustrating. We had other things that were more critical than writing reports."

Now, Congress is causing DHS employees more headaches, and this latest budget skirmish just makes morale worse.

“People are very stressed out," says Nicole Byram, president of the National Treasury Employees Union chapter in Savannah, Georgia and a Customs and Border protection officer. "People are very anxious. Everyone kind of has this feeling of, oh no. Not again.”

Because they know, if Congress can’t agree on how to keep funding DHS, there’ll be a partial government shutdown. But they’re considered essential, so they’d have to work without pay during the impasse. And getting back pay? That takes an act of Congress — a mood crusher sure to keep DHS at the bottom of the morale rankings.

Tooth fairies reimburse an average of $4 per tooth

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-23 08:57

I've got a seven-year-old who's about to lose a tooth — it's just a couple of good wiggles and a twist or two away from coming out. And when it does, I feel pretty safe in guessing that she's going to get about a buck under her pillow.

Turns out, tooth fairies at other houses are a bit more fast and loose with the cash.

A survey by dental insurance company Delta Dental says the national average for American kids is $4.36.

The Original Tooth Fairy Poll

Not in my house, I'll tell you that.

Australia Announces Security Crackdown Amid 'Rising' Terrorist Threat

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 08:45

Under the proposed new measures, Australia can revoke citizenship to any dual national if they travel overseas to fight alongside jihadists.

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Obama Wants Rules That Force Brokers To Put Clients' Interests First

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 08:21

The Obama administration says the current system promotes conflicts of interest, leads to high fees and erodes returns on investment.

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12 Feet: A Soaring New Broad Jump Record Is Set At NFL Combine

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 07:42

If you're ever standing near Byron Jones when he jumps, you might want to stay well back. The cornerback flew more than 12 feet Monday, from a standing start.

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Edwin Land: "The original Steve Jobs"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-23 07:20

 If you wear sunglasses, use a camera or watch T.V. on an LCD screen you have Edwin Land to thank for one of his many innovations: the polarization process. 

According to Ronald Fierstein, author of "A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War," Polaroid founder Edwin Land and Apple's Steve Jobs had a lot in common.

"They were both college dropouts. They both formed and pretty much single-handedly developed tremendous technology companies," Land says. 

But Land and Polaroid would also have to endure a massive lawsuit with American photography juggernaut Kodak. In the end, Polaroid won, says Fierstein. "Kodak had to pay almost a billion dollars in damages... which until a few weeks ago held the record for most damages ever," he says.

Even though Polaroid was able to keep Kodak from capitalizing on its innovations, eventually both companies just stopped innovating. "They both held on to the technologies that made them great. And they held on too long," Fierstein says.

Land's story isn't just the story of Polaroid though. He was also an integral player in a government committee that led wartime scientific research.

"While all of the polarizing stuff was going on at Polaroid and the photography and everything else, Land, in secret, over the course of several decades, worked for seven American presidents," Fierstein says.

So the guy who came up with the Polaroid instant camera? He also "led a committee that came up with the U2 spy plane," Fierstein says. "Even the mini-cam that was on a stick that Neil Armstrong used on the moon, came from that Land Commission, that Land Panel group."


Read an excerpt from Fierstein's book below: 

A Father’s Sage Advice

By Ronald K. Fierstein, author of A Triumph of Genius – Edwin Land, Polaroid and the Kodak Patent War.

When Edwin Land, still in his teens, informed his father that he was dropping out of Harvard before the end of his freshman year to pursue his search for a practical polarizer material, and that he needed the equivalent of seventy thousand dollars to fund his experiments, Land’s father agreed, but gave his son a critical piece of advice that would stand him in good stead for the rest of his career:  when you find your solution, protect yourself so that some big corporation does not come along and steal it from you. 

Land remains perhaps the most important, yet least known, inventor and technology entrepreneur in American history. In many ways, he was the original Steve Jobs.  TheApple founder once hailed Land as “a national treasure,” and modeled much of his own career after the inventor.  Launching his career upon his invention -- at age nineteen -- of the plastic polarizer, Land later imagined and then nurtured into existence the revolutionary “one-step” photographic system that helped build Polaroid into one of the most innovative companies of the 20th century.  Along the way he made critical contributions to top-secret U.S. military intelligence efforts during World War II and the Cold War in the service of seven American presidents.

Polaroid and Kodak had a long relationship that dated back to the early 1930s, when Kodak became the first significant customer for Land’s plastic polarizer material.  Beginning in the early 1940s, when Land began research in photography, Kodak helped at every step of the way, even manufacturing the negative components for incorporation by Polaroid into each of its one-step films.  By the mid-1960s, Polaroid stood as Kodak’s second largest corporate customer – it was truly a mutually beneficial relationship.

But that relationship was soon to change, in a dramatic way.  In 1968, Land showed his Rochester colleagues the prototype for a new generation of Polaroid film. For the first time, the photograph would emerge from the camera and require no further manipulation – one could simply hold it and watch it develop in the light. Land enthusiastically declared that this new system would revolutionize photography, and become as ubiquitous as the telephone.

The Kodak executives listened carefully, and took his claims seriously.  Following the meeting, Kodak conducted marketing analyses indicating that it stood to lose billions of dollars of film sales because of Polaroid’s new system.  This realization changed Kodak’s attitude toward Polaroid and Land forever.  As a result, it demanded that, in exchange for its help in bringing the new film to market, Polaroid allow Kodak to enter the instant photography field with competitive products sold in its iconic yellow boxes.

This was something that the much-smaller Polaroid could not abide.  When Kodak refused to budge on its demand, Polaroid was forced to go it alone.  It built new facilities to manufacture, for the first time, every element of its film.  Finally, in 1972, Polaroid introduced its SX-70 camera and film combination, a system that delivered on Land’s initial intent to give photographers the instant gratification of holding a photograph in their hands seconds after the shutter was snapped.  Time called it “a stunning technological achievement,” and Life declared that it was “a daring challenge to Kodak for supremacy in the $4 billion-a-year U.S. photo industry.”

Kodak executives apparently agreed with this assessment.  The company had already poured substantial time and resources into an effort to develop its own technology that would allow it to enter the instant photography market.  But these efforts completely changed course in 1972 once Kodak finally saw the commercial SX-70 camera and film. Executives declared that what the proud Rochester company had on its drawing boards was “no longer desirable.” 

An urgent effort was immediately undertaken to come up with a more competitive system.  However, after studying the SX-70 camera and film closely, Kodak scientists were unsure about their ability to meet the challenge. Yet, Kodak top executives were determined, and directed that the research efforts continue.  In so doing, a directive was issued that foreshadowed what was to become one of the most important legal battles over technology in the history of the United States. As observed many years later by industry commentators, Kodak, feeling “hemmed in by Polaroid’s vast portfolio of patents,” had indeed “panicked.” In apparent desperation, management directed Kodak engineers to “not be constrained by what an individual feels is a potential patent infringement,” but to consult the patent department.

The litigation over instant photography technology is among the most historic in American legal annals.  Polaroid’s ultimate victory, as a result of which Kodak was forced to remove its instant cameras and film from store shelves, and to pay almost $1 billion in damages to Polaroid, stands as one of the most severe punishments in the patent field ever meted out by a court of law. 

More importantly, the result in Polaroid v Kodak signaled a shift back to a pro-patent era in the courts from decades in which patents had been seen as a potential tool for anti-competitive corporate behavior, and thus had suffered as a means for technological innovators to protect their work.  Inspired by his father’s early admonition, Land had long been a believer in, and a proponent of, the patent system as a tool necessary to encourage innovation, especially among small companies and individual inventors.  His pivotal role in the trial as Polaroid’s star witness, as a defender of the pioneering research he and his colleagues had done, made for a dramatic denouement to his career, and his life-long support of the patent system.

50 Years Of Shrinking Union Membership, In One Map

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 07:04

Union membership has been on a steady decline nationally since the middle of the last century. Watch as membership declines in states across the country.

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As Iran Nuclear Talks Resume, Critics Ratchet Up The Rhetoric

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-23 06:55

U.S. and Iranian delegates are hunkered down in Geneva trying to settle on the framework for an accord on the future of Iran's nuclear program. Not everyone is impressed with this nuclear diplomacy.

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