National News

Israel Resumes Airstrikes On Gaza, As Cease-Fire Chance Slips Away

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 02:56

Israel initially agreed to an Egyptian-brokered deal to stop hostilities, but leaders of Hamas did not support the plan.

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Cellphones as logging detectors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 02:00

Illegal logging has been a worldwide problem for conservationists, as it is often only possible to tell that logging has occurred once it has already happened. But Topher White, CEO and founder of Rainforest Connection, has an innovative solution: use cellphones to listen for the sounds of trees being cut down.

The hardware consists of a black box with the phone located inside. "Petals” located on the outside of the box act as solar panels, maximizing the brief flashes of light in the rainforest bed. The generated power then goes to microphones attached to the phone, which in turn listens for the sounds of trees being cut.

While it might sound daunting to pick out the exact sounds, it is far from impossible.

“With a chainsaw, they do have an internal combustion engine, which turns at about 110 times per second, so we are able to pick out these spikes that occur at very set frequencies,” Topher says.

The sound is then uploaded — even at the edges, forests do have cell service — to the cloud, where it is analyzed, and sent to local law enforcement.

Topher is currently looking to fund an expansion of the project on Kickstarter.

 

Casinos developers take extra steps to sweeten the pot

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 02:00

Boston's new deal with a casino developer will bring the city more than $300 million. That may not seem remarkable, save for the fact that the casino wouldn’t even be in Boston. In a bid to coax casinos into new markets, gambling companies are taking an extra step to sweeten the pot.

In Massachusetts, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority wants to build the next of its “Mohegun Sun” casinos in the city of Revere. It’s paying a dozen surrounding cities and towns, too.

“Fifty million dollars in annual payments to 13 [host and surrounding] communities closest to the city is just amazing,” Mohegan Sun CEO Mitchell Etess says. “We’re good neighbors.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh calls the negotiation with Mohegan developers long but productive.

“They were great in our case. We were basically throwing things on the table,” Walsh says. “They pushed back a bit on it, but everything that we pretty much wanted we were able to achieve.”

All this cash to help neighboring towns pay for better roads and more police is new. Normally, gambling laws carve out a share of casino profits only for the host city and the state. Case in point: Rosemont, Illinois gets no payments from a casino that’s just over the border in Des Plaines. Cezar Froelich, an attorney specializing in casino gambling law, says the state money is supposed to help neighboring municipalities. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

“Part of the problem is, depending on the state’s finances, sometimes it doesn’t get back to the local jurisdiction, as much as the … surrounding community would like,” Froelich says.

There’s no precedent for such payments, such as Mohegan Sun’s deal last week with Boston, which would give the city $300 million in direct investments over 15 years — the largest pact of its kind in the country. Froelich says a lot of Massachusetts cities and towns got greedy.

“Well, you know, if you’re a community and somebody walks up to you says, ‘Listen, you’re a surrounding community. Let’s talk about how much I owe you.’ You’re not going to set the number real low,” he says. “You know, human nature, get as much as you can, I suppose.”

In western Massachusetts, the town of Longmeadow recently failed to reach a deal with a proposed MGM casino in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts. So town manager Stephen Crane went to arbitration and won. Longmeadow would get nearly $850,000 upfront, and $275,000 per year after that.

“Even though we were not victorious, we thought it was a fair process,” says MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis. “At the end of the day, I think we’re a better proposal for it.”

Crane agrees the law worked pretty well. “It gave us a seat at the table, where otherwise we would not have one,” he says.

The extra cash outflows may actually save casinos in Massachusetts. There’s a referendum here on the November ballot to repeal gambling. Some voters might now see those dollars headed to their towns and might not be so concerned about a casino nearby.

Regardless of whether Massachusetts backtracks on casino gambling, the state may have shown the rest of the country a better way forward. Mohegan CEO Mitchell Etess says the Massachusetts gambling law could be a model for new casino developments around the country.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if you see it, because it takes a lot of concerns off the table,” he says.

Highway spending slowed by gridlock in Congress

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 02:00

As the House prepares to vote on a temporary measure to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, the Obama Administration is touting the economic benefits of infrastructure investment.

Paying for roads and bridges is something President Obama is pushing all week. But sometimes, the local road to funding is faster.

Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says states are the ones moving boldly to pay for fixes. He points to places like Wyoming, which hiked its gas tax last year.

“The states are not waiting around for the federal government, because the federal government isn’t doing anything,” he says.

“We see this at the ballot box,” says Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. He says in the last couple years, “about 70 percent of the votes to increase investment on the state and local level passed.”

Puentes says, when it comes to transportation infrastructure, part of the difficulty in Congress is that the federal role isn’t as defined as it was, for example, during the interstate highway era.

“We had a program that was designed to build the interstates, to connect metropolitan areas, to get farmers out of the mud,” he says. “There was a clear understanding of the purpose of the program, there were clear economic connections.”

Without that clarity, he says it may be difficult to get sustained federal investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

 

 

Shlepping bike-share cycles in a giant van

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 02:00

Urban bike-share programs point to a low-carbon, high-tech urban vision. GPS-enabled bikes dock to solar-powered stations, and riders find them with smartphone apps. However, one of the biggest day-to-day expenses for such systems is a gas-guzzling, low-tech operation: Workers driving big vans, shlepping the bikes where they’re needed. 

One June afternoon, I ride along with Caleb Usry, who has been moving bikes around Chicago since the city's Divvy bike-share program started up, about a year ago.  

"OK," he says, as we buckle our seatbelts. "Let's go where the action is."

We get downtown around 4:30 p.m. "You’re  here at a good time, for doing rush hour," says Caleb. "Monday through Friday, this is basically the same every day— I don’t think this changes as long as the weather is warm."

Our first stop: A docking station in the city’s financial district, to drop a load of bikes.

"People who work in those office buildings," Caleb says, "they’ll come out, they’ll empty ‘em out and take 'em to the train stations. Guys in business suits, they’ll put on their helmets and get over there. You can set your watch to it. Over by the stock exchange, that place will empty out three times between five and six-thirty."

Having dropped more than twenty bikes, Caleb heads to the train station, where bikes come in faster than he can grab them and wedge them, artfully, into the van. He's worked out the optimal number that can be jammed in without making them hard to dig out: "Twenty-five," he says. "Twenty-two back-to-back, and then three up the middle. Yeah, this is a great gig if you have OCD, which I do. I keep telling my bosses: 'Hire guys with obsessive-compulsive disorder— it works out great for everyone involved.'"

Caleb Usry loads a Divvy bike as part of his weekly rounds.

(Dan Weissmann/Marketplace)

Caleb estimates that he’ll touch more than 200 bikes before his shift ends. Mostly, he’ll haul them away from the train station to re-stock hotspots like the financial district.

"But at some point around 8:00, when it slows down, we stop going to pick up at the trains, we let ‘em fill up," he says.  "And the morning guys come in at 6:00 a.m., they do the exact opposite of what you and I are doing right now— they take bikes from the loop back to the train, fill it up."

When Divvy started, the bike-haulers — Divvy calls them rebalancers — conferred from the field by text message to make sure they weren’t all heading to the same spots at once. Now, a dispatcher tracks them from headquarters via GPS, and sends out instructions.

"It’s funny," Caleb says. "Even though we’ve got more stations and more people, the system we’re using now is working better than what we were doing last year."

So, even with 3,000 bikes, the system has only about a half-dozen vans in the field at a time. "With six or seven in the city during the week, we can get by OK," says Caleb. "So we don’t have to worry about the day we’re sitting in traffic like this, and it’s all Divvy vans, I guess is what I’m saying. That would be ultimately ironic, I imagine. Nothing but blue vans in the whole city."

Serendivvity shares Divvy ridership data in the style of a dating site, allowing exploration by romantic interest and neighborhood.

  A sample video of "Sound of Divvy," a web app created by Team Magnani that allows users to watch and listen to all the Divvy rides from three stations on a given day. The action starts about 40 seconds in, at 6 a.m. Play with the full app here.

 

The creators of this graphic calculated that “rebalances”—bikes being schlepped by Divvy staff from station to station—represented about one-fifth of all the trips the bikes made in the program’s first six months.

(Courtesy:Taylor Blackburn and Laura Ettedgui)

 

 

Underwater Meadows Might Serve As Antacid For Acid Seas

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 01:37

Marine biologists worry that certain species won't survive the shifts in sea acidity that climate change brings. But research on sea grasses along California's coast suggest marine preserves can help.

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Israeli-Gaza Conflict Squeezes Palestinian Leader On All Sides

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 23:36

The recent violence has increased stress and exposed rifts among Palestinians. Nearly everything Mahmoud Abbas does angers either moderates or hard-liners, making his position almost untenable.

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Kurds May Have Oil To Export, But Buyers Are Harder To Find

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 23:32

Iraq's Kurdish region sits on vast amounts of oil. The regional government says it has the right to export the oil. But Baghdad is blocking those sales, saying only it has the right to sell Iraqi oil.

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Leased Solar Panels Can Cast A Shadow Over A Home's Value

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 23:31

Installing solar panels on a house to produce electricity is expensive. Leasing is one popular alternative, but some homeowners are learning 20-year contracts can complicate a home sale.

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When Work Becomes A Haven From Stress At Home

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 23:30

Moms who worked full time reported significantly better physical and mental health than moms who worked part time, research involving more than 2,500 mothers found.

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Showdown At The UT Corral

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 14:59

In a dispute between the University of Texas president and Gov. Rick Perry, the governor may have lost the battle — but he may yet win the higher education reform war.

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Israel Accepts Cease-Fire Proposal From Egypt

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 13:27

Israel's Security Cabinet has accepted Egypt's proposal for a cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza. Hamas has not yet formally accepted the plan.

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Lindt Chocolate just snapped up Russell Stover

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-14 12:30

Russell Stover, maker of the fabled Whitman Sampler, just got bought out by Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Spruengli, a.k.a, Lindt.

The merged company should hit an estimated $1.5 billion in sales per year.

This made me wonder how companies find each other for these sorts of deals. It would be great if they had to write personal ads the way people do. What is the professional equivalent of candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach? What is the corporate translation of a hardworking, athletic non-smoker?

In the audio player above, I imagine how the Russell Stover/Lindt relationship would start off...

Incidently, to help research this article, I purchased a Whitman Sampler and a bag of Lindt truffles from Duane Reade. After doing my necessary background research, I put these both in the communal kitchen. The Lindt truffles are gone and the only chocolate left in the Whitman Sampler is Raspberry Cream (Thank you, chocolate map).

Also, Russell Stover has a chocolate hack available on its web site.

You won't be sorry. The words "butter fudge" appear.

Hopes And Hazards Of A Cease-Fire: A View From Gaza City

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 12:06

For a Gazan perspective on the prospect of a cease-fire, Robert Siegel talks to Mukhaimer Abu Sada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University. They discuss the Israeli air strikes in Gaza and what must happen before fighting settles.

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Hopes And Hazards Of A Cease-Fire: A View From Israel

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 12:06

Robert Siegel talks to Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., about the Israeli air and missile strikes in Gaza and what would need to happen to bring about a cease-fire.

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Between Hamas And Israel, An End Game Remains Unclear

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 12:06

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on what it might take to forge a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

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Between Hamas And Israel, What Might An Endgame Look Like?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 12:06

Both Israel and Hamas say they are unwilling to sign on to a bare-bones cease-fire. Some say the key to peace may be empowering the moderate Fatah party, but it's unclear who could broker such a deal.

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Over 2 Years Since Its Wreck, The Costa Concordia Floats Again

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 12:06

The Costa Concordia cruise crashed into a reef and capsized over two years ago. On Monday, the most complicated part of the operation to refloat the ship was completed successfully.

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West Bank: Strewn With Broken Glass And Caught In The Crosshairs

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-14 12:06

For the first time, rockets from Hamas caused damage in Palestinian areas of the West Bank. Reporter Daniel Estrin surveys a damaged home and asks Palestinians how they feel about getting caught in the crossfire.

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