National News

Egyptian Court Drops Case Against Ousted Former President

NPR News - Sat, 2014-11-29 03:45

An Egyptian court dismissed murder charges against ousted President Hosni Mubarak. NPR's Scott Simon talks with reporter Leila Fadel about how Egyptians are reacting to the decision.

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For Former U.S. Hostages, A Deal With Iran Also Remains Elusive

NPR News - Sat, 2014-11-29 03:45

Iran is now receiving about $700 million a month in sanctions relief while talks on its nuclear program carry on. That's raising eyebrows among one group of Americans with a traumatic history in Iran.

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In 'Disaster City,' Learning To Use Robots To Face Ebola

NPR News - Sat, 2014-11-29 03:45

A Texas training site prepares first responders to deal with emergencies like earthquakes and bombings. The facility is now turning to outbreaks like Ebola, and smart machines may play a key role.

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Paying For Health Care But Kept In The Dark

NPR News - Sat, 2014-11-29 03:45

Large companies that pay for employees' health insurance often are forbidden from knowing how much providers charge and insurers pay for care. This makes it hard to shop for cost-effective providers.

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Why The ER Doctor Asks Patients What's Happening At Home

NPR News - Sat, 2014-11-29 01:37

Some people would argue that the emergency room isn't the right place to deal with patients' personal problems. But the ills that lead people to seek care are often tied to their challenging lives.

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What Should You Do If A Fly Gets Into Your Anti-Ebola Goggles?

NPR News - Sat, 2014-11-29 01:36

Under ordinary circumstances, you'd swat that pesky fly. But the problems of daily life take on monumental scale in an Ebola treatment unit. Here's a guide to dilemmas and solutions.

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What Every School Can Learn From Preschools

NPR News - Sat, 2014-11-29 01:36

A new report argues that non-academic "skills for success" can and should be cultivated and assessed in older students.

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What Every School Can Learn From Preschools

NPR News - Sat, 2014-11-29 01:36

A new report argues that non-academic "skills for success" can and should be cultivated and assessed in older students.

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Egyptian Court Drops Case Against Ousted President Mubarak

NPR News - Sat, 2014-11-29 00:59

The court dropped its case against Mubarak, his interior minister and six aides on charges of ordering the killing of protesters during the 2011 revolt that removed him from power.

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How social media can divert you around travel hassles

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-28 14:31

According to Brian Kelly, a  little travel tweeting could help you get home on time.  

“A lot of people just don’t know that social media can be such a great tool,” he says.

Kelly is a frequent flier mile ninja and founder of the travel website The Points Guy. He says people can turn to twitter to upgrade seating, find lost luggage or rebook flights.

“I know people don’t want to join Twitter and share everything, but you don’t even need to be an active tweeter to get help on Twitter,” he says.

When Kelly was traveling from Philadelphia to Costa Rica last New Year’s Eve, the American Airlines flight had a mechanical delay and he re-booked via twitter while still in his seat.

“While passengers were running off the plane to get re-accommodated,” he says. “I was able to snag the last seat on the next flight and save a day of my vacation.”

These days, most U.S. airlines have teams dedicated to helping customers via social media.

“It’s critical for travelers to take advantage of social media,” Kelly says. “No app is going to do the work for you.”

Scott Sorenson works in Southwest’s “Listening Center” in Dallas Love Field airport. Along with a team of “social care specialists” he spends his day responding to customers who reach out on Twitter and Facebook.

The most common questions, he says, are about delays.

“So, hey my flight is delayed leaving this city am I going to make a connection in my next my next city?”

Sorenson can reach out directly to dispatchers and often get back via direct message to the customer. Sometimes in a matter of minutes.

So, if you’re looking for a fast response, Sorenson and Kelly say, start by looking up the Twitter handle for your airline.

Here are a few top U.S. airlines' Twitter handles to get you started:

Social media & social justice in the wake of Ferguson

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-28 14:04

If you've consumed media this week, listened, read or watched the news, no doubt you've followed the events in Ferguson, Missouri, where a grand jury declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

The protests that followed that decision and rippled out across the country tell a story about how we consume and communicate the news today.

The Ferguson story was first told on social media, and those same social networks have been a powerful tool — both for sharing, and not sharing, information.

Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, joined Marketplace Weekend to talk about these contradictions. Click play above to hear our discussion.

Mexican TV Icon Roberto Gómez Bolaños Dies At 85

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-28 14:02

The actor, writer and director was a staple of Mexican television comedies and children's programs for decades.

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After The Ferguson Decision, A Poem That Gives Name To The Hurt

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-28 12:51

This week, a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown. Writer Syreeta McFadden turns to Audre Lorde's poetry to make sense of this decision.

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Diversity On 'The Walking Dead' Wasn't Always Handled Well

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-28 12:51

AMC's hit zombie drama The Walking Dead airs its midseason finale Sunday. It's now one of TV's most diverse shows, but critic Eric Deggans says it hasn't always served non-white characters well.

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Ray Rice Wins Appeal, Reinstated By NFL

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-28 11:12

The former Baltimore Ravens running back had been suspended indefinitely after a video surfaced showing him hitting his then-fiancee.

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Time to think about saving for retirement again

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-28 11:00

The end of November doesn't just mean holiday shopping and leftover turkey. For people lucky enough to have jobs with benefits, it also means the end of open enrollment-- time for choices about health insurance, flexible-spending accounts, and how much they plan to invest for retirement in the coming year.

Let’s skip to the hard part: Saving for retirement. Many people have a nagging feeling that they haven't been doing enough. 

They're right, as indicated by the title of Andrew Eschtruth’s new book, written with colleagues at the Boston College Center for Retirement Research, "Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis and What to Do About It.”  

People are living longer, so nest egg needs to last longer. Social Security and Medicare are both headed for shortfalls in the next 20 years — so it would be smart to think about benefit cuts as a risk factor. That leaves savings and pensions.

"Roughly half of current workers are not participating in any kind of employer-sponsored retirement plan at their current job," says Eschtruth.

The average household that’s approaching retirement, ages 55 to 64, has just $110,000 socked away in retirement accounts. He looks up what that would buy you if you bought an annuity — guaranteed monthly income.

The answer: $500 a month. That, plus Social Security, he says, "is all most people have."

And the lower your income, the lower your total savings tend to be — if any.

The Boston College Center for Retirement Research used 2013 figures from the Federal Reserve System's Survey of Consumer Finances to calculate average 401k savings for workers. 

Center for Retirement Research, Boston College

The Center estimates that more than half of everyone will fall significantly short of what they need to have a standard of living in retirement that’s like what they have now.

Andrew Biggs, with the American Enterprise Institute, does the math differently. He concludes that just a quarter of people will fall short. For instance, he says, young adults may have different, but not necessarily unwise, financial priorities — like paying for school.

And if keeping your standard of living is the yardstick, then he says people who are poor today have a different problem.

"Your problem is not that you’re not saving enough for retirement," he says. "Your problem is that you’re poor."

This is what happens when you don't shop for a year

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-28 11:00

What if you didn’t go shopping for an entire year? It would probably save you some money, time and space. Sarah Lazarovic went on a shopping diet and wrote a book of essays and illustrations called “A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy.” 

Lazarovic says the only secret to not shopping is just…well, not shopping. But she does have some tips.

Sarah Lazarovic’s six rules for better shopping:

1. Buy things that will last a long time: “Aim for seven years, hope for ten.”

2. Don’t get rid of something just because you bought another thing: “That said, if you never wear something, pass it on.”

3. Don’t purchase love-at-first-sight items: “Unless it’s the thing you’ve been searching for all your life and it is flying by on a speeding train, never to be seen again. Even then, don’t buy it."

4. Beware the door buster sale!: “Never buy anything just because it’s on sale.”

5. Before buying something new, check to see if you already have it in your closet: “If they are closer than a clog’s length apart, don’t buy the new thing.”

6. So, you’re a conscious consumer?: “It may be a fair-trade, organic leg warmer, but if your legs aren’t cold, it’s still a frivolous purchase.”

The fight for higher wages is strong on Black Friday

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-28 11:00

Black Friday may be known as one of the busiest shopping days, but it’s also one of the biggest protest days.

The fight for higher wages is going strong and is seeing positive results in a few states. But there's not much movement on a federal level.

Marketplace host Lizzie O’Leary talks to Marketplace’s Wealth and Poverty correspondent Krissy Clark to find out more.

Toyota teaches practical skills to future technicians

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-28 11:00

Emily Houston was a good student. Everyone told her she should go to college, so she did. 

“I followed,” Houston says, “I didn’t really ask about any other options.” 

When she got to the University of Kentucky, she didn’t know what she wanted to study. “I just felt like, I have to get a four-year degree. I have to get a Bachelor’s,” she says. She had no idea what she was going to do after finishing her degree, and it was hard to get guidance. Her advisor never seemed to have much time. 

So, at the end of her sophomore year, uncertain where the pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree was taking her, Houston dropped out. But unlike a lot of people who quit college and don’t have a plan, Houston knew exactly what she was going to do instead. She enrolled in something called the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program. 

The AMT program is a partnership between Toyota Motor Manufacturing and Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Students finish with a Bluegrass associate’s degree, but they never have to set foot on the college campus. All classes are held at Toyota’s manufacturing plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. 

Shortage of skilled workers 

At the Toyota plant in Georgetown, cars start as huge balls of steel. Twenty hours later, they’re driven off the line — a new car every 54 seconds. 

One of the reasons Toyota is able to make cars so quickly is that robots do a lot of the work. But robots break down. Finding technicians who can fix them is a challenge. 

“We can’t just go out and throw up some ads and hire some skilled people. They’re not out there,” says Toyota’s Dennis Dio Parker, who helped create the AMT program. 

This isn’t just a problem for Toyota. In a 2011 survey, 74 percent of executives at U.S. manufacturing companies said a shortage of skilled production workers was having a significant impact on their ability to expand operations or improve productivity. 

Toyota’s solution is the AMT program. And it’s not just designed to turn out graduates ready to work at Toyota, 15 manufacturers partner on the program. They’re all in it to get skilled workers. 

“It’s tough to convince young people there are good careers in manufacturing,” says Terry McMichael, a supervisor at 3M, one of the companies that partners with Toyota on the AMT program. They picture factories as “deep, dark, dungeon-type environments,” he says. But modern factories are clean and bright, says McMichael, and the pay is better than you might think. 

The starting wage for advanced manufacturing technicians in this part of Kentucky is about $80,000 a year with overtime. That’s more than the median starting salary for graduates of the highest-earning Bachelor's degree programs in the U.S. 

The Advanced Manufacturing Center 

Students in the AMT program take most of their classes in a 12,000 square foot classroom built by Toyota to emulate a modern manufacturing facility. Signs hanging from the ceilings mark off areas where students learn things like “Machine Repair,” “Fluid Power” and “Motors and Controls.” 

On a Wednesday morning in March, student Dalton Ballard is in the Motors and Controls area, working on the wiring for a switch that could activate a garage door opener. The lesson began with a short lecture from the instructor about how to wire the switch.  

But the learning really begins when the students try to wire the switch themselves. They each have a metal box with a power source and a bunch of blue wires. Ballard leans into the box, grabs a wire, glances up at the big white board in the corner full of diagrams and notes from the morning lecture, and then starts hooking up the switch. He says he prefers this way of learning. 

“I grew up on a farm so the way I’ve always been taught is with hands-on experience,” he says. “I really like it better if I get my hands in there, do it myself, rather then just sit there and read a book.” 

Ballard had a scholarship to get a Bachelor’s degree in music. But he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get a job with a music degree. 

“And if I took this program, there’s so many jobs,” he says. “And not only am I getting my schooling, I’m also getting paid for this. I’ll come out of this with no debt.” 

Most students in the AMT program get paid internships at one of the participating manufacturers. Wages vary. Toyota pays $12 an hour to start, and students earn raises based on their work performance and their grades in school. 

General education 

In addition to taking technical classes, students in the AMT program take general education classes like math, humanities, and public speaking. 

Ballard says at first he didn’t understand why he needed to learn public speaking skills. 

“But I really use them a lot when I’m over at the plant,” says Ballard, who interns at Toyota. “Rather than just ‘ah, that part moves and ah, that one extends a little bit.’ Now I can actually explain it.” 

Students in the AMT program don’t get to choose what classes they take. All the classes are laid out for them by Toyota. “We don’t change the college’s rules for general education,” says Parker. “But within the selections, we will go in and choose what we think is the strongest course to prepare them to be more effective in the work world.” 

Carol Crawford, who is the AMT program coordinator at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, says she has no problem with the fact that Toyota chooses all the classes. She thinks that helps students see a link between academic and work skills. “The general education classes I took [in college], I didn’t see any connection to what I was learning as far as business and organizational management,” she says. “I remember in one of my math classes, I asked the question, ‘How do I apply this to work?’ The instructor, he couldn’t tell me how to do that.” 

The AMT program seeks students who graduate in the upper half of their high school class and score at least a 23 on the ACT math test. But there aren’t enough applicants who fit the bill. 

“We are educationally challenged in the U.S.,” says Parker. “We’re not running with the best in Europe, we’re not running with the best in Asia. Our average is below their average.” 

The AMT program in Kentucky will accept applicants who score as low as 19 on the ACT math test. But anything less than that, and a student would need remedial classes. There’s no time for remediation, says Parker. 

“We’ve got every course selected in this program from day one to day end,” he says. “If they have to have remediation, they can’t start the program.” 

Wherever they’re willing to send me 

Emily Houston says she’s happy with her decision to quit the University of Kentucky and do the AMT program instead. She’s interning at 3M and expects to get a full-time job when she graduates this spring. At $80,000 a year, she’ll be making a lot more than most 22-year olds — especially in Georgetown, Kentucky. 

But Houston isn’t planning to stay in Kentucky for long. “With 3M being a global company, I could get on full time here and then transfer to another plant in California or in France, or wherever they’re willing and able to send me,” she says. 

Being able to travel was always one of Houston’s goals. She used to think getting a Bachelor’s degree would be the best way to do that. But it turns out knowing how to fix robots might be just as good.

A Jackie Chan movie just changed the solar industry

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-28 11:00

It turns out Jackie Chan movies are the key to the solar energy business. Sort of.

Researchers at Northwestern University used the material in a blu-ray disc of Chan's movie "Police Story 3: Supercop" to make solar panels that are 22 percent more efficient than regular ones.

You don't actually need a Jackie Chan movie. Any blu-ray disc will apparently work.

But it's still fun to pretend.