National News

FCC Extending Net Neutrality Commenting Time After Site Buckles

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 15:28

Heavy traffic to the FCC's commenting site crashed it on Tuesday. That was the original deadline for the public to weigh in on a controversial Internet proposal. You now have until Friday to comment.

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Apple Teams Up With Former Rival IBM On Business Apps

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 15:09

The companies announced a deal Tuesday to sell Apple devices loaded with IBM software to big businesses all over the world

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Temporary Fix For Highway Money Is Well-Traveled Road

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 14:42

If kicking the can down the road were a competitive sport, the championship trophy would never leave Washington. A short-term fix for highway spending is just the latest contribution.

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The Violence In Gaza, Through The Lens Of One Family's Losses

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 14:29

The Gaza Strip has sustained more than 1,500 Israeli airstrikes. A family with no apparent ties to Hamas lost one of two sons last week; the mother and father died in similar attacks six years ago.

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Stroke Rate May Be Declining In Older Adults

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 14:24

Deaths from stroke are dropping too, a study suggests. But don't celebrate just yet. Diabetes, a big risk factor for these "brain attacks," is still on the rise.

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University Of Texas Can Continue Affirmative Action, Court Rules

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 14:10

In a case sent back by the Supreme Court last year, a federal appellate court ruled Tuesday that the university's use of race as a factor in admissions is acceptable. Plaintiffs have vowed to appeal.

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Life as a remover

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 13:19

It takes something very specific to be a remover – the guy who transports a recently deceased body to the funeral parlor. It’s a job that Andrew Meredith describes in his new memoir titled, “The Removers.”

He says his dad, a literature professor and poet who did removals on the side, had the perfect manner for the job.

“He was one of the best at that manner. He was really good at going into a home and making people feel like he was in charge, that everything would be fine, that you’d be hearing from the funeral director in the morning, nothing to worry about, maybe you should go into the kitchen so you don’t see us leave…”

Meredith began his work as a remover after dropping out of college.

“The funeral director would get a call saying so-and-so has died, we need her to be picked up, often at home…so we would get a beep, in 1998, as it were.”

Eventually, Meredith went back to school for his MFA and his working on a novel. But he says he had to write about the experience first.

 “I knew I wouldn’t write about anything worthwhile until I wrote about this.”

A Peacock Murder Mystery: (Pea)Fowl Play In California

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 13:16

The boisterous birds are a familiar sight in an upscale community near LA, but in recent years they've become a source of conflict. Now, someone is killing them — 20 in the past six months alone.

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Killing Archie, to keep his brand healthy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 13:14

Archie Andrews dies on Wednesday. Not Archie the teenager, who will return in future issues of "Archie Comics" and other titles. This is a grown-up version of Archie in a series called "Life with Archie," featuring stories about Archie as a married adult. Each issue features two versions of Archie's grown-up life — married to Betty in one, Veronica in the other. Both die in issue number 36.  

Killing Archie-the-character fits into a strategy for keeping Archie-the-brand alive and relevant.

Archie gets shot defending his friend Kevin Keller, who is gay, married and running for office.

"It’s not your traditional high-school aged Archie," says Jonathan Goldwater, CEO of Archie Comics Publications. "It’s Archie aged-up just a little bit."

And grown-up Archie is a hit. Goldwater estimates the comic sells more than 75,000 copies an issue — a lot more than an issue of "Archie Comics." Just as important as the narrative tweaks, "Life with Archie" comes in a different size and shape — one that goes on magazine racks in supermarkets and bookstores, not just comic shops.

"Basically, the 32 page comic on the newsstand is going away," says Goldwater.  "And most of the sales now on the traditional comics are in the comic-book shops."

The company's other big hit is "Afterlife with Archie"— in which the gang from Riverdale live through the Zombie Apocalypse. (Jughead, ever the hungriest of the bunch, makes a terrifying zombie.)

 Just as important as the content, "Afterlife with Archie" is published as a series of graphic novels sold in bookstores. The latest issue was the biggest-selling graphic novel for June, according to ComicChron.com, which tracks sales figures.

John Jackson Miller, who runs the site, says fans know better than to take the death of a character seriously.  

He credits longtime comics writer Len Wein with the following maxim:  "No one in comics is ever really dead, unless you can see the body. And usually not even then."

Killing a character is also a time-tested way to grab extra sales. Superman died in 1992, and Captain America died in 2007. Both sold lots of comics, and both came back.

"I appreciate in the publishing world that they need to get some kind of event and sensation to get noticed," says Nick Purpura, co-owner of the store JHU Comics in New York. "You’re not calling me because Archie came out every month— you’re calling me because there’s something happening in Archie."

He hopes people come to his shop to find out more. 

What's a comic book death worth?

Killing off its namesake will likely boost sales for Archie Comics, but high-profile deaths (and resurrections) are common in comic books. So with characters meeting their "end" at every turn, what's a comic book death actually worth? We looked back at some recent deaths that made headlines and how they helped – or hurt – sales.

Superman

(Courtesy:DC Comics)

Perhaps the best-known entry on this list, DC Comic's "Death of Superman" storyline found the Man of Steel fighting an alien rock monster called Doomsday, and the image of him dying in Lois Lane's arms became iconic. Collectors snapped up that issue, which sold millions and made headlines around the world.

Of course, it didn't last. Superman returned – with a black suit and a mullet, because it was the '90s – to fight off impostors and resume his post. Fans labeled Supes' death a gimmick, and the backlash arguably helped push the industry into collapse. You can buy the issue, still sealed in cellophane, on eBay for a few bucks.

Spider-Man

(Courtesy:Marvel Comics)

This one depends on your definition of "death," which is already pretty slippery in comic books. To commemorate the 700th issue of "Amazing Spider-Man," Marvel Comics had the wall-crawler swap brains with his dying nemesis Dr. Octopus. During the ensuing battle, Peter Parker died trapped in Doc Ock's body. The issue sold more than 200,000 copies, according to ComicChron.com, making it one of the best-selling comics of 2012. The $8 price tag probably helped.

The decision to have Doc Ock take on Spider-Man's identity divided fans, but a new series about Octopus' exploits debuted with 188,000 copies sold. "Superior Spider-Man" ran for about a year-and-a-half, selling a solid 70,000 to 80,000 copies per issue before Parker returned to his own body this past spring.

Batman

(Courtesy:DC Comics)

Four years before the Dark Knight met his end (sort of) on movie screens in 2012, Batman was killed off in the comic book storyline "Batman RIP." The final issue, in which Batman seemingly died in a helicopter crash, sold a disappointing 103,000 copies, according to ComicChron.com. Maybe that's because Batman survived, only to be killed in an epic battle during a huge crossover series. That issue only sold a little better, but it was another fake-out; it turns out Batman's charred corpse was that of a clone. The real Batman was unstuck in time and ended up back in the Stone Age... you know what? Never mind.

It's worth noting that the conclusion of "Batman RIP" was beat out by the debut of "Ultimatum," a limited series that brutally killed off dozens of Marvel heroes and villains (not to mention thousands of regular folks) in an alternate universe.

Captain America

(Courtesy:Marvel Comics)

As these things go, Captain America's death in 2007 was downright realistic: following a superhero civil war, sniper downed Cap on the steps of a federal courthouse. In the midst of an economic downturn, seeing America incarnate bleeding to death was a poignant image. "Captain America" issue 25 made headlines and became the top-selling comic of the year with over 290,000 copies sold.

Believe it or not, Capitan America's resurrection involved both time travel and brain-swapping. He was back on the job by 2010. In the meantime, Cap was replaced by former sidekick Bucky Barnes, who was himself killed during World War II and resurrected in 2005.

Got all that?

Corporate inversion: an expensive way to save on taxes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 13:14

American drug companies AbbVie and Mylan won’t be American long if all goes as planned. Both are involved in international mergers (worth $53.6 billion and $5.3 billion, respectively) with the ultimate goal of moving their home bases abroad.

It’s a move called an inversion, when companies move headquarters outside of the U.S. to avoid American taxes. And many large American companies are doing it or at least considering it.

“What’s going on now is a feeding frenzy,” says University of California, Berkeley law professor Steven Davidoff Solomon. “Every investment banker now has a slide deck that they’re taking to any possible company and saying, ‘you have to do a corporate inversion now, because if you don’t, your competitors will.’”

The math is simple, but international mergers rarely are. Dealing with legal requirements of a new country can be complex and there are invariably cultural issues to handle. There’s also the potential image hit.

“To shift their profits overseas, to some seems unpatriotic,” says Steve Rosenthal of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “That’s a real public relations concern.”

Members of Congress are stomping their feet about the current wave of corporate runaways, but partisan gridlock means they’re unlikely to change anything soon. There’s an ongoing debate about how to tax corporations here fairly, but more and more companies are basically exiting that argument, and the country itself.

Mark Garrison: AbbVie is offering $53 billion for Shire. It links up with another company, and in the process saves a bundle on taxes. Arizona State accounting professor Don Goldman says moves like this are especially tempting when competitors do the same.

Don Goldman: It’s kind of a no brainer that if you have a transaction that would allow you to do this, you need to be doing it or you’re gonna get left behind.

Big banks are helping convince companies to move abroad, says Berkeley law professor Steven Davidoff Solomon.

Steven Davidoff Solomon: What’s going on now is a feeding frenzy. Every investment banker now has a slide deck that they’re taking to any possible company and saying you have to do a corporate inversion now, because if you don’t, your competitors will.

The math is simple, but international mergers rarely are. Dealing with legal requirements of a new country can be complex and there are invariably cultural issues to handle. And Steve Rosenthal of the Tax Policy Center points out: companies that do inversions can take a real image hit.

Steve Rosenthal: To shift their profits overseas, to some seems unpatriotic and I think that’s a real public relations concern.

Members of Congress are stomping their feet about the current wave of corporate runaways, but partisan gridlock means they’re unlikely to change anything soon. Mihir Desai is a Harvard Law and Business professor who says it’s no longer a given that companies will be meaningfully part of America, or any country.

Mihir Desai: You can have a financial home in New York, you can have a legal home in a tax haven and your management can sit in London. So that notion that firms are of a country, I think is going away.

There’s an ongoing debate about how to tax corporations here fairly. But more and more companies are basically exiting that argument, and the country itself. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

If California were divided into six states...

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 13:14

Direct democracy as practiced here in the Golden State has just shot itself in the foot.

A venture capitalist from Silicon Valley offered a proposal late last year to break California into 6 different states.

It wasn't given much of a chance of going anywhere, but then the venture capitalist in question - Tim Draper - announced yesterday he's gathered enough signatures to get it on the ballot in 2016. 

My colleague David Brancaccio talked to Tim Draper about his plan when it came out.

Two things of note here:

1) Silicon Valley and all its money becomes its own state.

Handy, huh?

2) Central California would instantly become the poorest state in the country by per capita income.

'Stopgap' government frustrates feds and businesses

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 13:14

President Obama gave a speech today on infrastructure and the Highway Trust Fund – a pot of money states use for roads and bridges. If congress doesn’t act, the Department of Transportation says that fund will run out of money next month. So it seems we will see another “stopgap bill” – a “short-term fix,” a “patch.”

After a while, the fiscal crises kind of blend together, don’t they? All the continuing resolutions? The last-minute debt-ceiling deals?

“This is one heck of a way to run a railroad,” says Greg Valliere, the Potomac Research Group’s chief political strategist. “It makes it very difficult for companies to hire, to plan for benefits, to buy supplies.”

According to Linda Fowler, who teaches government at Dartmouth College, short-term legislation is also hard on federal agencies that contract with these companies.

“It makes it impossible to have an orderly bidding process, to get the best price, for people to plan their budgets over the long run, and set priorities,” she notes. “This is just very inefficient and wasteful.”

What could become landmark legislation – immigration reform and tax reform, to name just two examples – falls to the wayside.

“A lot of the issues out there that you think can be solved, and will be solved more easily if they are addressed earlier, as opposed to later, aren’t getting addressed at all,” says Matt Dickinson, who chairs Middlebury College’s political science department.

According to David Canon, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, this dysfunction dates back at least a decade. At first it affected budget issues, and programs like the Highway Trust Fund, which funnel money into both Democratic and Republican districts, were safe. But times have changed.

“Everyone loves building highways,” he says. “And now we can’t even agree on funding that.”

Canon says that, as the government lurches from deadline to deadline, it’s capable of doing real damage.

What's Going On In There? How Babies' Brains Practice Speech

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 13:08

It's not easy to scan a baby brain, so scientists used a kind of scanner that lets the infants wiggle at will. They could see how speech sounds activate motor regions in babies' brains.

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Darkened By A Bloody History, Baltics Hope To Be Bolstered By NATO

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 13:02

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are now members of the EU and NATO, but they have painful memories of the Soviet occupation. The Baltic states are asking for a bigger NATO presence in their countries.

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Captain Ahab's Revenge: Brewing Beer From An Ancient Whale Bone

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:52

Yeast scraped from a 35-million-year-old whale fossil is the key ingredient in a "paleo ale" from a Virginia brewery. Like many scientific innovations, the idea came about late one night over a pint.

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China's fight for cleaner air

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:23

As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

For the people of Beijing in 2008, "it" was air pollution. "Up until then, every day the sky was a shade of gray or cream," says Huang Wei, Director of Greenpeace's Climate and Energy Program in Beijing, "But in the countdown time to the Olympics, the sky suddenly turned blue. Many of us, people of all ages, would stop on the street and marvel at how wonderful it was."

Beijing had shut down factories, restricted traffic, and improved public transportation, all in time for the opening ceremony of the Summer Games to escape international ridicule and embarassment for its perpetual toxic smog that made any athletic endeavor harmful to your health. But after the closing ceremony, Beijing was right back where it started. As the blue sky disappeared behind the familiar veil of smog, the people of Beijing had learned a valuable lesson: "The Olympic Games revealed to everyone - the government and the people - that in terms of solving our air pollution problem, it can be done," says Zhang Jianyu, China Director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

But China still had a ways to go. In response to the global economic crisis that same year, Chinese leaders announced a $586 billion stimulus plan focused on building infrastructure, allowing the pollution to get worse. At the same time, the U.S. embassy in Beijing installed an air monitor on its building and began broadcasting hourly levels of a range of pollutants, including PM2.5 - particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns - tiny enough to penetrate your lungs and enter your bloodstream. “Up to that point, China’s government reported the air quality, but it wasn’t very specific," says Greenpeace's Huang Wei. "If the pollution level reached a certain point, they might publish it as simply 'bad.'”

The U.S. Embassy air monitor, however, spat out numbers. People in Beijing downloaded smartphone apps that recorded the U.S. Embassy’s hourly Air Quality Index and many began to memorize what the numbers meant. 0 to 50 meant the air was good – rarely the case. An average air quality reading in Chinese cities hovered around 150 – labeled ‘unhealthy,’ but sometimes, it climbed into the 300 to 500 range, prompting officials to urge people to stay inside. “When it’s 400, I don’t ride my bike anymore,” says Zhou Xizhou, director at IHS Energy in Beijing. “There is the physical side, you can feel it," says Zhou of Beijing's worst air days, "I do feel it in my eyes, but for a lot of people it’s also psychological. Just being in a gray polluted environment, you feel somewhat suppressed.”

In the winter of 2012-13, pollution levels went beyond the U.S. Embassy’s own index, forcing airports to shut down because pilots couldn’t see the runway. The international press dubbed it ‘the airpocalypse’. That winter in Beijing saw air quality index readings climbing towards 1,000. As a comparison, when the air quality in Paris hit 150 this year, the city instituted a driving ban and offered free public transportation.

But Zhou says there is good news on the horizon. “What’s encouraging being in the energy sector is that we are seeing unprecedented actions and determination to address this issue. A part of me wishes that this will be China’s 'Silent Spring' Rachel Carson moment."

Zhou says China’s way of addressing air pollution is different from the American approach of the 1960s and '70s, the era of clean air legislation and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

China’s government prefers the mandate approach. “For example, issuing a mandate that says every coal fired power station in Beijing will be gone by the year 2016," says Zhou, "You can’t do that in America.”

China’s top-down authoritarian regime may inspire hope that China could clean up its air with a few snaps of its leaders’ fingers. But in China, central power has limits - local governments in China often disregard new mandates and laws handed down from the Beijing because there’s often no funding to implement them. “China’s local governments have no motivation at all to deal with environmental problems unless they make money," says Peking University Professor Xu Jintao. "That’s why I think a pollution tax would work. If some of that revenue goes to fund the local government, they’ll quickly help solve this problem.”

Using London as a model, Beijing has plans next year for a traffic congestion charge on drivers who enter the city. Xu says implementing these kinds of measures now, while China’s consumer culture is still young, is important because it frames a new social mindset. “China’s growth model is based on the idea that natural resources are free," says Xu, "We’ve never considered clean water, clean land, or clean air as scarce resources. But now, in China, they are scarce. Nothing is free. When you go the market, you won’t find free cabbage. You need to pay for it. And now Chinese consumers will need to pay for clean air, land, and water.”

But the Environmental Defense Fund’s Zhang Jianyu isn’t sure Chinese consumers will sacrifice the perks of being a consumer just to save the environment. “Everyone in China now wants a car, and it’s hard to deny them that," points out Zhang. "If China’s 1.3 billion people live like Americans, planet earth is finished. That’s my biggest concern. How can you deprive the Chinese of their right to become consumers and live a modern lifestyle? None of the developed countries have been good models, and we're heading down the same path of consumerism.”

It’s a path the U.S. has already traveled, polluting much of the world in the process, and now it’s China’s turn, says Zhang. If the U.S. and other developed countries don’t help China clean up, he says, the smog that plagued LA in the 1950s will return.

Except this time, it’ll be blowing from across the Pacific.

With A Deadline Days Away, Iran Nuclear Deal Might Get An Extension

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:21

Secretary of State John Kerry is returning to Washington, D.C., after meeting the Iranian foreign minister about nuclear negotiations. The deadline for a deal limiting Iran's nuclear program is Sunday, but it might be extended.

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A Brief Lull Shatters In Gaza, As Cease-Fire Falls Apart

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:21

An attempt at a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has broken down. Hamas rejected the terms of the cease-fire, and Israel renewed its campaign of air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

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Despite Brightening Signs, Fed Is Likely To Stay The Course

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:21

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is on Capitol Hill, delivering her semi-annual economic report to Congress. Yellen expressed concern that labor force participation remains weak and that there's been a lack of progress in the housing sector.

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A Few New Faces Aren't Likely To Satisfy Iraqi Government's Critics

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:21

Iraq chose a new speaker of its parliament today — a small step that the U.S. has been urging it to take toward ending the crisis there. But many say it's far from the overhaul that's needed.

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