National News

New Orleans Bans Smoking In Bars, Restaurants

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 13:50

The smoking ban stems from a law passed earlier this year.

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Court Throws Out Slugger Barry Bonds' Conviction

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 13:44

In 2011, Bonds was found guilty of obstruction of justice but a federal appeals court has just thrown out that conviction.

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9 Months Pregnant, An African Woman Risks It All And Heads To Europe

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 13:30

Tatiana Kanga was nine months pregnant when she paid a Moroccan smuggler $1,290 so she and her toddler daughter could ride on a rubber boat, 14 harrowing hours from Africa to Europe.

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NFL Settlement Over Concussions Is Given Final Approval By Judge

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 13:04

The lawsuit, brought by former players, could cost the league up to $1 billion. The settlement had originally been reached in 2013.

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Slimmer cable bundles rattle media companies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 13:00

Verizon has launched a new pay TV service, with a stripped-down “basic” package and a choice of “channel packs” featuring genres like kids’ programming, news, or sports. The pitch to consumers is, essentially: "How'd you like to build your own TV bundle, with just the programming you want?"

Content companies like ESPN, Fox and NBC-Universal have made an offer of their own to Verizon, which amounts to: “How’d you like a fat lip?” They say Verizon’s plans violate their contracts.  

Content producers typically insist that their channels get included with basic bundles, says Derek Baine, research director at SNL Kagan, which watches the media industries. He says they have two very good reasons: one is ad revenue. "The bigger the number of subscribers you have, the more attractive you are to advertisers," Baine says. "They want access to the whole country."

The other is the licensing fees, which get passed onto consumers in the price of the bundle. Even customers who never watch ESPN —  and never see any ads — pay for the channel. Verizon says it’s offering consumers a way out of that.

The content companies say Verizon can’t do it without violating their contracts, and Laura Martin, managing director at Needham Equity Research, believes them. She thinks Verizon is bound to lose any legal fight.

However, the company may have other goals in mind. "One goal Verizon could have is to tell consumers that it’s not them that’s requiring these bundles, it’s these companies that are suing them," Martin says.

In other words, playing to the crowd. Or maybe, she says, Verizon is working the refs — signalling to regulators that the contracts, which require bundling, deserve scrutiny. 

Congress pushes for cybersecurity overhaul

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 13:00

After a series of spectacular cyber attacks on companies like Sony, Anthem and Target, Congress is pushing forward a bill to increase data sharing about security and hacks between private companies and the federal government.

The proposals address concerns from the business community that sharing data with the government could open them up to litigation from consumers; the companies that share data would be granted immunity.

The bills also address privacy concerns by requiring companies and government to try to scrub personally identifying information from the data. But that doesn't mean all the right information will be scrubbed.

"What we have seen in the surveillance context is the procedures don't actually protect privacy," says Mark Jaycox, legislative analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Matt Blaze, professor of computer science at the University of Pennsylvania, says the focus on data sharing was "baffling" and it would be better to encourage better security practices. "These systems are very weak to begin with," he says. 

And the version passed by the House Intelligence Committee would hand that shared data over to the NSA and parts of the Department of Defense, according to Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology.  

That, Nojeim says, could discourage data sharing because some big tech companies have promised not to fork over users' data writ large to the government. 

That same House Intelligence Committee version also permits data obtained to be used in criminal prosecutions, according to Nojeim. If both the Intelligence Committee and a competing version from the Homeland Security Committee pass, it will be up to House leadership to decide which elements make it into the final version. 

How the humble glass bottle lost its appeal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 13:00

It's Earth Day, but before we talk about recycling glass, Carl Zimring, author of the book, "Cash for Your Trash," suggests we start here: "The first question to ask is, 'how much glass is being produced to be disposed of as a product?'"

Way back when, glass wasn't so much recycled as it was reused, like with bottled milk.

"So that when you were done with the bottle, you would give it back to the dairy, which would wash it and then fill it with more milk," he says. Zimring says in the late 50s, beverage distributors started using bottles that were designed to be used once. Glass bottles were heavy, expensive, and expensive to transport. And they broke. So, Coke in plastic bottles and beer in cans took over.

"And that was absolutely deliberate to change the responsibility from the producer to the consumer," he says.

Zimring says manufacturers from that point on had no incentive to care about what happened to glass once it left their distributors. Some states enacted deposit laws, but he says the beverage industry lobbied hard against more. There hasn't been new bottle deposit legislation in more than 30 years.

Passing the buck — or in this case, the bottle — is just how manufacturers like it, according to Michael Munger, who teaches political science and economics at Duke.

"As soon as they make something, the packaging as well as the product belongs to someone else," Munger says.

Even with recycling, that someone else often turns out to be the landfill.

Soon Amazon will deliver to the trunk of your car

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 13:00

I know this makes it two Amazon finals in a row, but you gotta hear this.

The Financial Times is reporting that Amazon's going to pilot a program next month that will have packages delivered directly to the trunk of your car. The catch is that your car has to be an Audi and you have to live in Munich, Germany and you have to be an Amazon Prime member.

Amazon says a delivery person from DHL, a German delivery company, will get one-time keyless access to your trunk.

In the long term, they'll make the service available to Prime members everywhere.

Senate OKs Human-Trafficking Bill, Paving Way For Attorney General Vote

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 12:49

The human-trafficking measure had been stuck in the Senate because of an impasse over language on abortion funding. That has now been resolved.

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Comcast, Time Warner Push For Merger Approval Amid Opposition

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 12:31

Company officials met with regulators who are considering whether to back the proposed $45 billion merger. A group of U.S. senators say the deal should be rejected, calling it anti-competitive.

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Why NFL teams should think twice about coming to LA

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 12:20

The city of Carson, California approved plans Tuesday night for a $1.7 billion NFL stadium to be shared by the Raiders and Chargers, the second NFL facility green-lit in as many months in Southern California.  In February, Inglewood approved a $1.8 billion stadium for the St. Louis Rams to be built near Los Angeles International Airport.

Almost four million people live in Los Angeles, compared to 1.3 million in San Diego, or 318,416 in St. Louis — but in the NFL, bigger is not necessarily better.

Just ask the Green Bay Packers. Forbes ranks the Packers as the 13th most valuable NFL franchise out of 32 teams, even though they play in the tiniest market.

“It’s actually surprisingly profitable to host an NFL team in small cities,” says Victor Matheson, a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross. "Most of the revenue streams that an NFL team gets are shared equally among all teams in the league, which means a team operating in Los Angeles or New York City gets exactly the same share of the TV rights and merchandising as a team in Jacksonville or St. Louis.”

Tickets are split 60-40 between the home and away team, and all the revenues from jerseys and hats are pooled.

The NFL brings in enormous television rights fees of upwards of $6 billion a year, but all teams get the same cut: an estimated $187.7 million a year. By contrast, the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers are the first and second most valuable franchises in their respective leagues, according to Forbes. That's due, in part, to their lucrative local cable contracts: $122 million a year for the Lakers and $210 million for the Dodgers.

“In other sports, you go to a major market and you can get untold cable riches from having a local cable deal,” says Neil deMause, who edits the sports business site Field of Schemes. “That’s just not an issue in the NFL.”

What is a big issue is public financing, which smaller markets tend to be more generous with. Politicians in San Diego and Oakland are scrambling to come up with plans to keep the Chargers and Raiders in town, and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has proposed extending state and local bonds to provide hundreds of millions in financing to keep the St. Louis Rams from returning to Los Angeles.

“If Missouri comes up and says 'Hey, we’ll kick in half the cost,' that’s going to be awfully tempting,” deMause says.

Los Angeles is not offering public financing, which helps explain why an NFL team hasn’t played here for two decades.

Moving west

In the case of Rams owner Stan Kroenke, moving West could get very expensive. The financing details are murky, but deMause says it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Kroenke would be spending much less than a billion out of pocket — and that’s not even including a relocation fee the NFL charges, which could tack on another billion.

"I’m not saying that Kroenke is absolutely bluffing, but I think it’s safe to assume that when any owner in the NFL says, 'I’m going to move to L.A., and I don’t care if I have to spend my own money,' it’s safer to assume bluff until proven otherwise,” deMause says.

So why would any NFL owner want to come to LA then? For one, there's nice weather, but more important is the ability to sell premium seats and luxury boxes. They're exempt from revenue sharing and have become an important tool to finance stadiums. There, L.A does have a big advantage, says Scott Spencer, President of the Suite Experience Group, a luxury box reseller.

“While the Rams and St. Louis have done a good job selling their suites, you’re going to see it go to a whole new level if they move to Los Angeles,” says Spencer. “Individuals – especially in Hollywood – they want to be in the 'in spots.' They want to be seen on the floor at Staples Center and so they’re going to be in suites in an NFL venue. In St. Louis, it’s frankly a different mindset, and businesses there just don’t have the funds to spend on luxury suites.”

Scott says that means the Rams could double the price of each luxury box if they were in LA, and have twice as many boxes. A nice stadium is important for keeping suites full, but the most important thing? Just win, baby.

Why Do Mosquitoes Like To Bite You Best? It's In Your Genes

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 12:08

Researchers set hungry mosquitoes loose on identical and fraternal twins. They found that inherited genes do play a role in making you a mosquito magnet.

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Man Who Shot Reagan Seeks Release From Mental Hospital

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 12:06

John Hinckley Jr.'s lawyer says he has been in full remission from psychosis and major depression for at least 20 years and should be allowed to live full-time with his elderly mother.

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Acclaimed Australian Wellness Blogger Says She Made Up Cancer Claims

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:35

Belle Gibson's claims that she cured her terminal brain cancer solely through diet and lifestyle spawned a wellness empire, an award-winning app, a recipe book and a large online following.

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Can A Person With Dementia Consent To Sex?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:34

A jury in Iowa acquitted a man who had been criminally charged for having sex with his wife, who had Alzheimer's. Very few care facilities have policies on dementia, sex and consent.

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Turks And Armenians Prepare For Dueling Anniversaries On Friday

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:30

Turkey has moved up a major military celebration by a day this year. Critics say it's a clunky attempt to overshadow the 1915 slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire.

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IBM banks on Watson for progress and profit

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:27

IBM reported profits this week; they still made a pile of money, but it was the 12th straight quarter — that is, three straight years — of falling revenue.

Though known for hardware, IBM wants to be a major player in cloud computing, specifically in what the company calls cognitive computing. Their plan relies on the Jeopardy-winning super computer, Watson.

Marketplace's Ben Johnson visited the IBM Watson building in Manhattan this week. And while you can't see Watson — it's an amalgam of interconnected mega-servers and fans whirring away — its technology could hold great promise.

When Johnson went to visit Watson's human collaborators, he found them in a futuristic glass building in Manhattan, no buttons in the elevators. 

The goal of cognitive computing is simple on the surface: a computer that can hold a conversation. 

It's "the step before you get to artificial intelligence," Johnson says. "Google Now, Apple's Siri, Microsoft Cortana are all part of this idea."

What's not simple for a computer, is the vast amount of data that flows between two humans in even the simplest conversation. However, improving this process could speed up a lot of slow conversations that still take place person-to-person, or the data that we fill out in forms that later has to be entered into computers. 

Sound technical? Let's take this into a frustrating real-world location, the doctor's office. 

"Medical information doubles every three years. And in 2020, it will be doubling every 73 days. Your doctor's not going to be able to keep pace with that volume of information," said Steve Gold, Vice President of IBM's Watson group. "But Watson has a voracious appetite. It reads and understands all this information in context and become this assistant."

Instead of filling out reams of forms at every doctor visit, and waiting on that giant piece of paper in the back office, you could be talking to Watson until the doctor comes in. 

"Then, there's a three-way conversation [with] you, and the doctor, and the computer," Johnson said. "It actually could be really good for helping the doctor understand the full context of the patient, getting a good prognosis and a good way to a cure."

A Young Mother's Death Raises Questions Without Answers

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:09

The official cause of death was an accident. Friends believe her husband had beaten her. Yet no one will speak up — part of the hush that descends over domestic abuse in India.

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Of Fruit Hats And 'Happy Tropics,' A Renaissance For Carmen Miranda

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 11:01

The Brazilian performer was a huge hit with American audiences who loved her outrageous costumes and beautiful voice. But she's been less appreciated in her homeland — until now.

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Google Announces Foray Into The Wireless Business

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-22 10:55

The service will only work on Google Nexus phones, but it could potentially disrupt the wireless industry with its pay-only-for-what-you-use data plans.

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