National News

Thai Court Removes Prime Minister Yingluck From Office

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 03:02

Saying Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had violated Thailand's constitution, the Constitutional Court ousted the caretaker leader Wednesday, along with nine ministers.

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Flying in a small plane to the edge of the U.S.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 02:34

So here's what I want you to do. Take a look a the video we embedded at the top of this post. It's a little old – last December or thereabouts, I think. But it'll do.

That's Jim Fallows in the left seat doing the flying, me in the right, along for the ride. We're in Jim's Cirrus SR-22, out of Portland, Maine, headed waaaaay down east to Eastport, Maine, which is, for the record, the eastern-most point in the continental United States.

I mention it because by the time this post is up I'll be back in Jim's plane, flying from Birmingham, Alabama, over to Columbus, Mississippi, for another installment of the project we've been working on with Jim, his wife Deb, and the Atlantic Magazine for the past 6 or 8 months, called 'American Futures.'

It's a pretty simple concept: Jim and Deb fly around the country, seeing what they can see from the air, landing at one of the thousands of small airports that're out there, with us tagging along from time to time. We hope that by the end of it we'll have a pretty good picture of what the American economy looks like right now.

Dispatches from Columbus coming soon to a radio show near you – ten days or so. Oh, and be sure to stick with the video 'til about 1:55 or so.

'Converting your pension into a granite countertop'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 02:17

It's becoming harder and harder for consumers to get loans. So they're turning to another money source -- their retirement accounts.

During good times, we contribute to our retirement plans. In bad times, we raid them. The Great Recession threw the raiding into high gear. Many people used their retirement money to stave off disaster.

University of Michigan economist Frank P. Stafford says we spent on "layoffs, unexpected medical expenses." But, some retirement raids were for things like home makeovers:

"Converting your pension into a granite countertop," says Stafford.

The thing is, if you take money out of your retirement plan before age 59 and a half, you pay a 10 percent penalty.

Yet, Stafford says, 5 to 6 percent of us have done that over the past two years.

You can avoid the penalty by just borrowing against your retirement accounts. Plenty of us did so in 2012.

"Basically one out of five employees over the one year period take loans out of their 401k plan and have an outstanding balance," says Joe Ready, the head of institutional retirement at Wells Fargo.

Ready says there is a little good news. Those loans have plateaued, and more people are contributing to their retirement plans.

Retirement Breach In Defined Contribution Plans (from HelloWallet)

Why advertisers care how long a show sits in your DVR

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 02:14

So, how long does it take you to watch all those programs you DVR?

You might not care if you wait a day or two, but you know who does? Network executives and advertisers.

That's because ad deals are based on what's known as C3, a measurement of commercial minutes seen live and over the following three days. Advertisers don't pay for your eyeballs if you watch "Scandal" on day four.

"From the networks' perspective, they're saying, 'Well hey, if someone didn't skip the commercial on day four, why are they worth nothing?'" says Brian Wieser, senior analyst at Pivotal Research Group.

But some ads do get stale. That ad for the Saturday-only sale? Doesn't do much good on Sunday.

So now tell us, how long does it take you to get to the shows you missed?

How long do you typically wait to watch shows on your DVR?

Ditching the single-use water bottle

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 02:14

Every day at a sprawling Arrowhead bottle plant in Los Angeles, a towering yellow robot nicknamed "Apollo" grabs empty 5 gallon water cooler jugs from trucks, and sends them to refill stations under the watchful eye of technicians.

Those large office water bottles get tons of re-use, but most individual plastic bottles are only used once. How do we reduce that waste? San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu wrote legislation to limit single-use bottle sales on public property. 

"People can still purchase single use plastic water bottle at their local grocery store or their corner store," Chiu says. "But what we want to do is really ask residents in our city to think about changing their consumer behavior."

A New York entrepreneur named Nan Harris hopes to change our water drinking habits with a vending machine called WaterStop Carts. After noticing the wastefulness of single-use bottles, she sold her co-op to finance a company to develop a more efficient technology.

WaterStop Carts - First Prototype from WaterStop Carts on Vimeo.

"Bottled water is just easier to find, that's all there is to it," says Harris. "So we developed the concept of accessibility through mobility."

Harris' sleek metal vending machine connects to municipal tap water, then runs it through filters like those at the giant bottled water plants. It also sells reusable bottles that collapse when not in use. Future versions will dispense another life-saving resource: wifi hotspots.

MIT students invented a similar machine called Refresh. It sells new bottles for $1.50, but refills are just 50 cents if you bring your own bottle.

Over in Los Angeles' Koreatown, Richard Chin and his fiancee opened a water store called Alkasource. In a back room that looks like a science lab, they filter regular Los Angeles tap water into a bottle of your choice: plastic, glass, or metal.

"Once we started doing research about how water is sold, how water is produced and purified, we found that there weren't that many resources for great quality water," says Chin. "And so we decided to get into this business to provide the community with a source for very clean water."

The International Bottled Water Association's Chris Hogan acknowledges that lots of new eco-friendly options have popped up lately. "We have no problem with tap water, filtered water, using a reusable water bottle," Hogan says. "The important thing is to drink water."

The end result for consumers is more choice -- from a bottling plant full of robots, to little machines that filter water right in front of you.

Making music for the movies with John Powell

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 01:00

Having scored over 50 films, John Powell knows what a film should sound like. With his latest project, Rio 2, creating the original soundtrack involved a lot of unique sounds; like the swoosh of bird feathers, for example.

It's all part of his meticulous process of recording isolated sound effects and instrumental lines, then putting them together in a final mix. This kind of technological control is huge for Powell.

In fact, he says he wouldn't be the composer he is now without computers. 

Starting with the Atari ST 1080 -- Yes, that Atari ST 1080 -- computers have become an integral part of Powell's composition process.

Yet, in spite of having some of the most advanced recording technology at his disposal, Powell says the most important technological advancement in his process has been having instant access to different kinds of music from around the world: 

"Ultimately it comes down to whether or not you can write a tune. And that really is just about the music you've experienced."

In Ukraine's Corridors Of Power, An Effort To Toss Out The Old

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 23:36

Ukraine's attempt at "lustration" isn't a case of bad translation. It's a political process aimed at rooting out those tainted by the old regime or corruption. But will it work?

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The Changing Picture Of Poverty: Hard Work Is 'Just Not Enough'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 23:34

Many American families living in or right above the poverty line have flat-screen TVs, cars and cellphones — so what does living in poverty mean today?

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Faith Drives A Father To Create A Test For Childhood Cancer

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 23:33

Noah Shaw was diagnosed with a potentially fatal cancer when he was just 4 months old. That didn't shake his father's faith in God. But it did drive him to try to invent an early cancer test.

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Hawaii Releases Video Of Teen Dropping From Jet

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 22:45

Hawaii transportation officials released video Tuesday of a California teen hopping from a jet's wheel well April 20 after stowing away for a 5½-hour flight.

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Settlement Fund Would Compensate 2012 Meningitis Victims

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 22:13

A settlement filed with a federal bankruptcy judge would create a fund of more than $100 million to compensate victims of a nationwide meningitis outbreak linked to a Massachusetts pharmacy.

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GOP Establishment Favorite Thom Tillis Wins Senate Nod In N.C.

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 18:11

Three states held primary elections Tuesday — Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio. It was a good night for incumbents, but not for Tea Party candidates.

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LA Clippers President To Take Indefinite Leave, NBA Says

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 16:07

Andy Roeser will step down effective immediately. His leave comes a week after Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the league for making racist comments.

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What do meteorologists think about climate change?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 13:37

President Obama is sitting down with eight weather people today—from NBC’s Al Roker to local forecasters—to promote the National Climate Assessment. That’s the new report that shows climate change is affecting all areas of the country and economy.  

That makes sense; many Americans trust their local weathermen for all things weather. 

Ed Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, says Obama is smart to use weather people to promote the National Climate Assessment. “Unlike climate scientists, they already have the eyes and ears of the American people,” he says.

According to his research, many meteorologists are climate skeptics. “While almost all of them understand that the climate is changing,” he says, “they’re not all necessarily convinced that human activity is driving the change.” 

And some don’t even go that far. Among the most prominent of the unpersuaded is Joe Bastardi. He spent much of his career at Accuweather and is now chief meteorologist at He goes on shows like Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor often to dispute climate science.

“The weather was far worse in this country in the 30s, 40s, and 50s,” Bastardi says. “In the end, I think this is much ado about nothing. I think it will wind up on the ash heap of history.” 

According to Maibach’s research, a full quarter of TV weather people said they don’t believe climate change is happening, in the most recent survey in 2010. About an equal number said they weren’t sure. 

Some may be skeptical because they see how often their computer models don’t produce accurate short-term forecasts. 

“They translate some of that into having some concerns about using the similar kinds of models to project the climate out for many, many years,” says Keith Seitter, executive director of The American Meteorological Society, which supports the President’s report.  

Obama is now trying to get more TV weather people who believe the long-range forecast to spread the word. 

Can Africans Do A Better Job Of Peacekeeping In South Sudan?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 13:30

The perennially undermanned U.N. "blue helmet" peacekeepers could get a boost from a contingent drawn from neighboring countries.

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UN Committee Grills Vatican Officials On Sex Abuse

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 13:24

A U.N. committee has found that systematic sex abuse by priests in the Catholic Church amounted to torture. At the Holy See's first appearance before the committee, experts on the panel peppered the representative with questions. On Tuesday, the Vatican has a chance to respond.

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In Ukraine, West's New Diplomatic Options May Be Few

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 13:24

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is in Washington Tuesday for a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry that is likely to be dominated by events in Ukraine.

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White House Report Says Climate Change Is Here And Now

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 13:24

A new U.S. government report tells an unambiguous story: The planet is warming, climate change is driven primarily by people and it's already affecting Americans, through more frequent or intense heat waves, downpours and, in some regions, floods or droughts.

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Veteran Horse Trainer Sets Sights On Triple Crown

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 13:24

California Chrome won the 104th Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Melissa Block speaks with Art Sherman, the horse's veteran trainer, about his long career and the three-year-old colt.

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Alibaba IPO Could Be The Biggest Ever

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 13:24

Alibaba is the biggest e-commerce player in China. The Internet conglomerate is filing papers in the U.S. for what could be the biggest IPO ever.

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