National News

U.S. Offshore Wind Energy Area Would Nearly Double Under New Plan

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-18 05:18

The U.S. Department of the Interior says the new Massachusetts Wind Energy Area would be auctioned off in four leases. It includes more than 1,000 square miles of ocean.

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Fewer Women Are Having Labor Induced Early

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-18 05:03

Government data show that fewer women are having labor induced before 39 weeks for nonmedical reasons. Advocates say that change is good for the health of babies.

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Ukraine's President Announces Plan For Unilateral Cease-Fire

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-18 04:25

The break in action is to give armed separatists time to lay down their weapons, President Petro Poroshenko says.

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Amazon likely to unveil new smart phone

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-18 04:00

The online retailing giant Amazon is expected to unveil a smart phone at a media event in Seattle today, with tech observers buzzing over the anticipated bells-and-whistles-like 3D features.

But many think the phone will largely function as a handheld shopping cart that you can then fill with more of Amazon's stuff.

“They want you to interact with them five, ten times a day, and the mobile phone is a great way to ensure that Amazon is there whenever you might need something,” says James McQuivey, a media analyst with Forrester Research.

McQuivey says an Amazon phone might also include a built-in payment system that could be used with any retailer.

Colin Gillis, senior technology analyst with the brokerage firm BGC Financial, thinks the phone might well be free. Same goes for the data if you're, say, downloading music from Amazon.

“It's the classic razor and blades. You can have the razor for free as long as you keep buying blades from us,” Gillis says.

Even so, Gillis thinks a smart phone won't bust Amazon out of its low profit margins.

The ‘Maker Movement’ heads to Washington

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-18 03:30

Some say that America is becoming a country of paper-pushers; that we aren’t actually making much real stuff anymore. But grassroots designers and fabricators are looking to change that perception. Today these so-called makers are gathering at the White House for a kind of trade fair to promote their businesses and their movement.

Jules Pieri, CEO of The Grommet, who helped shape the event, joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to discuss.

Click the audio player above to hear Jules Pieri in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio

Militants Attack Iraq's Largest Oil Refinery As Sectarian Clashes Spread

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-18 03:30

Iraq's government is using limited air attacks to strike back at the Sunni group known as ISIS, which now controls large areas of northern Iraq.

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PODCAST: Guardians of interest rates

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-18 03:00

In advance of the press conference coming out of the Federal Reserve's two-day meeting, a look at what to expect from Chair Janet Yellen. Plus, more on the debut of the amazon phone. Also, while some criticize the U.S. for not making anything anymore, several fabricators and makers head to Washington, D.C. as part of the 'maker movement.'

Meet New Jersey’s tobacco bonds

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-18 03:00

And now for a fairy tale about tobacco bonds: once upon a time, it seemed like the clouds had opened up and rained money on many states when the great tobacco company settlement of 1998 was struck.

But like many a lottery jackpot, the $206 billion promised  would only get paid out slowly, over time. Impatient and cash-strapped states then figured out ways to get the money quicker by authorizing special bonds. Investors would lend the states their money, knowing they'd get paid back later when the tobacco settlement money trickled in, plus interest. 

Yet in some places -- New Jersey, for example -- some of those bonds ran into trouble and the investors who bought them weren’t so happy. Although state officials are under no obligation to fix the problem, they are proud of their solution.

But Fortune magazine senior editor-at-large Allan Sloan is not proud of his home state’s solution

Click the audio player above to hear Allan Sloan in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio

With Iraq back again, are we just hearing re-runs?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-18 02:00

We did something the other day that I don’t actually think we’ve ever done before. Not on purpose, anyway. 

We re-ran an interview from the archives: Donald Rumsfeld, from a year or so ago, when he had a new book out that he was pushing.

We try real hard not to repeat ourselves. Real hard. Even if it’s the zillionth story on… I dunno…unemployment or something, we’re gonna try to find a fresh angle and tell you something new. 

But as we were putting the show together this past Friday, it dawned on me that we had an interview with one of the key people on what the United States did in Iraq a decade ago and it was just sitting there waiting to be heard.  Okay, re-heard, but you get my meaning. And with what's been happening over there the past couple of weeks, I figured airing it again would be a better service to our listeners than almost anything else we could do.

So we did.

Now, you could argue that an interview about Iraq has no business being on Marketplace. Or that I was rude and disrespectful to a former secretary of defense. Or that he's an unrepentant neo-conservative who should be in jail. All of those things – and more – were said about that interview (in the 100+ comments on our site and the hundreds of shares and links on Twitter and Facebook). Fine. 

And yes, I completely get and agree with the point Jim Fallows makes --  that those who led us into Iraq, or counseled in favor of war, should do the decent thing and stay quiet right now (he also, recommends those who should be listened to right now).

But when you have the opportunity to ask pointed question, as I did with Rumsfeld, and as Erin Burnett did with Paul Bremmer Monday night on CNN, then I think the obligation is to do exactly that and let people make up their own minds.

YouTube changes terms and conditions for labels

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-18 02:00

Digital "Terms and Conditions" are the things we agree to with the click of a box and a tiny prayer that they don’t turn on us. When the same thing happens on a grand scale, it can get pretty ugly.

This week, independent artists and record labels are locked in a staring contest with Google over new terms and conditions for posting music on YouTube -- The artists are names you'd recognize, including Adele and Jack White.

Molly Wood, New York Times Tech Columnist, says, "this is a story of big companies behaving badly.”

YouTube, trying to capitalize on its status as the number one place for streaming music, is starting a subscription music service. However, it is also threatening independent labels with being blocked from uploading to You Tube if they don’t license their music.

Says Wood, "For years, they [content producers] may have been bullied by movie studios, or TV studios, or record lables, and they thought they had found a safe haven in some of these digital startups, and the reality is that the behavior is looking the same."

Fed grapples with rising prices and slow growth

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-18 02:00

The Federal Reserve’s key policy-making body — the Federal Open Market Committee — wraps up its two-day meeting today with a news conference hosted by Chair Janet Yellen, and  projections on economic growth going forward.

Consumer prices were up strongly in May — at around a 2 percent annual rate — for everything from food and gasoline, to rents and new cars. If that keeps up, the Fed might have to raise short-term interest rates sooner than expected, to tamp down prices. That could also tamp down consumer spending and job growth.

“You’ve still got the backdrop of this slow-growth economy with stagnant household income," says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at "Suddenly inflation’s starting to pick up, so you’re taking away what little spending power the consumer had.”

And Bernie Baumohl at the Economic Outlook Group says even though economic growth and job-creation have clearly rebounded since the dismal winter months, there are a lot of wild cards out there for the Fed — like stubbornly low wage-growth in the U.S., not to mention civil strife in Iraq, and soaring oil prices worldwide.

 “The geopolitical pot is really boiling furiously," says Baumohl. "And it really greatly complicates the decision-making process on the Fed, among investors and also among CEOs.”


Report finds low graduation rates, but high federal aid

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-18 02:00

A new report from the Education Trust says over $15 billion a year in federal aid goes to colleges where most of the students don’t graduate. Plus, many of the students -- three out of ten -- have so much debt they can’t repay it.

Not so suprising: most of the schools on the list are for-profit institutions.

There’s some argument in academic circles as to what is a good graduation rate -- some students transfer, some take longer to graduate, and not everyone finishes. Judith Scott-Clayton, a professor of economics and education at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, says while that is the case, it's still easy to spot problematically low rates.

“I think most people could agree that 15 percent is probably too low," Scott-Clayton says.

But over a six year period at a group of schools (many of which are for-profit), the report found that 15 percent is exactly how few students are graduating.

Michael Dannenburg, Director of Higher Education Policy with Education Trust cites the University of Phoenix, a for-profit that he says receives $4 billion a year in federal student aid and has a lot of campuses on the low graduation list. The school points out that many of its students work on top of their studies, so of course it takes them longer to graduate. 

But Dannenburg notes the average college graduation rate from four year colleges after six years of enrollment is 59 percent. He also says you can’t pin low rates on low income students.

Says Dannenburg, "We’ve looked at scores of institutions that are serving similar students with similar characteristics that get very different results. In other words, demography is not destiny in higher education."

Deford: How To Host A Sports Extravaganza That Won't Break The Bank

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-17 23:25

Building new World Cup or Olympics facilities in different cities every several years is just too costly, says commentator Frank Deford. So why not, he asks, try something different?

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Is Collecting Animals For Science A Noble Mission Or A Threat?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-17 23:25

Museums are filled with dead insects, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles meticulously gathered worldwide in the name of scientific discovery. But some researchers now say scientists should think twice.

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Benefit Corporations Look Beyond The Profit Motive

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-17 23:24

A corporation has one core obligation: to make money. But some companies, known as benefit corporations, also promise to create a tangible benefit to communities and the environment.

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Stairs Wobble Under The Weight Of World Cup Fans

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-17 19:43

A video of a staircase used by thousands of fans to get to and from the Maracana stadium shows the structure wobbling unnervingly on Sunday.

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Explosion In Nigeria Hits Gathering Of World Cup Fans

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-17 15:12

There is no immediate word on casualties and no claim of responsibility, but Boko Haram militants who are active in the region have called soccer un-Islamic.

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An ancient animal's blood is a modern medical miracle

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-17 14:58

An Archaic Creature

At night, on the full moon and the new moon in late May and early June, the sands of East Coast beaches host a dance that is a half-billion years old. 

Millions of horseshoe crabs, sensing the highest tides, swim ashore to spawn. The females will lay their eggs (4,000 a night) in the sand, and some weeks later, those eggs will hatch – at just the right time for the next peak tide to carry them out to sea. 

These are strange animals. A large, foot-long shield-like carapace covers most of the crab's body, which sports no less than nine eyes - seven on top and two on the bottom. Their plate-like, spiny abdomen gives way to a long tail lined with photoreceptors. They neither sting nor pinch. In fact, they aren’t actually crabs at all, but more closely related to scorpions and spiders.

These crabs have an ancient history. The current four species of horseshoe crabs go back as far as 200 million years, and people have found fossils of extinct varieties that are 445 million years old. This is a creature that predates the dinosaurs by as much as the dinosaurs predate us.

With primordial powers...

In their long history, they have developed some remarkable abilities.

“They have been exposed to every major lineage of bacteria in the ocean, and they have evolved some degree of immunity to, essentially, all of them,” says Eric Hallerman, Professor of Fish Conservation at Virginia Tech. “They’re invertebrates so they don’t have antibody-based immunity the way we do, they have cell-based immunity, and it’s the widest spectrum of that immunity in the animal world.”

The power of that immunity wasn't completey understood until 1954, when Frederik Bang, a scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachussetts discovered that horseshoe crab blood would clot when it came into contact with gram-negative bacteria – whether the bacteria were dead or alive. The crab blood reacts vigorously, further research would show, with highly resilient toxins produced by this type of bacteria.  

...that touch every corner of modern medicine

Bacterial endotoxins, as they are known, are “extremely potent,” says John Dubczak, general manager for Charles River Endosafe’s Endotoxin Microbial Detection Division. These endotoxins can be found everywhere, particularly in water, and they cannot be destroyed easily. Not even by boiling. 

“Doses as low as one nanogram per kilogram can cause fever, so 70 parts per billion will cause a fever reaction,” he says, if they enter the blood stream. Higher doses cause septic shock and organ failure. 

Horseshoe crab blood is used to create a test to detect these toxins.  The test is called the Limulus Amebocyte Lysate test, and it touches every corner of modern medicine.

“Pharmaceutical manufacturers, vaccine manufacturers, medical device manufacturers,” says Dubczak. “Basically any product that is going to see the blood system directly or indirectly has to be tested.” It’s used to inspect everything from needles and IVs to pacemakers and dialysis machines. The most sophisticated LAL test is so sensitive it can detect bacterial toxins down to one part per trillion.  

Before 1912, there was no test for these toxins, so any kind of intravenous or invasive surgical treatment was extremely risky. Scientists eventually developed a test in 1912 to determine if an intravenous treatment would cause fever or not. They used rabbits, which were injected with a sample and monitored for fever for several hours. Even into the '70s, biomedical firms would have hundreds of rabbits on hand to test devices for fever reaction.  The test was used widely in the medical community, but it wasn't foolproof.

Blue blood and the matrix for crabs

At a facility on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina, Charles River Endosafe extracts the blood from horseshoe crabs. Charles River is one of four companies in the U.S. that manufacture LAL using crabs’ blood.

The creatures are delivered by the truck load, alive, to a loading dock. 

“They’re blood donors, like the Red Cross,” says Dubczak. 

The crabs are inspected -- “we don’t pay fishermen for injured crabs” -- and scraped of their barnacles. They are rinsed, disinfected, and piled into large gray bins. 

One by one, they are strapped into “bleeding racks.” These are stainless steel carts that hold the animals in place, a dozen to a cart. Their abdomens and long tails are tucked under their carapaces.  “It’s their natural defensive  position,” says Dubczak, but it also exposes the membrane of their dorsal cardiac sinus – their primitive analog of a heart. “We’ll penetrate this membrane with a 14 gauge needle and drain the sinus.” Dubczak says this removes about 20 percent of the animal’s blood, “but the animals will have enough blood in their appendages as well as their gills to sustain them.”

The carts, with rows of membrane exposed crabs, are rolled into a hepafiltered clean room on one side of the warehouse space. The room has clear plastic walls and is staffed by teams of workers in scrubs and face masks. It’s reminiscent of a hospital ward. Or a giant bubble. 

The crabs' membranes are swabbed with alcohol and stuck with needles, and blood begins to drip into bottles. It looks exactly like blue Kool-Aid. Oxygen is carried in human blood by iron-based hemoglobin, which colors it red. The crabs' blood uses copper-based hemocyanin.

After 5 to 10 minutes, the needles are removed and the bleeding racks, laden with crabs, are rolled out of the bubble. The animals are removed from their racks, placed in an open air canopy-covered truck, and taken back to the ocean.  

 Most survive. Some do not.

Roughly half of one percent of these crabs die from the bleeding process at this facility, Dubczak says. He says for the biomedical industry as a whole, around 3 percent of horseshoe crabs die from the bleeding process.   

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the agency charged with regulating non-biomedical harvests of crabs, makes a blanket conservative assumption for its population estimates that across the entire biomedical industry, 15 percent of crabs die from bleeding.

Work done 10 years ago at Virginia Tech suggests similar mortality rates -- that 5 to 15 percent of crabs succumb, and “there’s been a more recent study conducted that suggested mortality is much higher, on the order of 28 percent,” says Eric Hallerman. Other researchers suggest that bled crabs may lay fewer eggs. 

“There is a huge debate over whose numbers are more realistic,” he says. The uncertainty of the numbers means “the issue of whether this is sustainable is a current research question.”   

It is a question not just because of a debate over numbers, but because biomedical companies aren't the only people using these crabs.

 The other harvest

Scientists use the crabs on land, fishermen use them at sea. They use the crabs for bait. The ASMFC says 729,100 horseshoe crabs were harvested and cut up in 2012 for use as bait to catch eels and whelks (sea snails).  The same year, the biomedical industry nationwide harvested 610,000 crabs, of which between 31,000 and 171,000 did not survive (depending on your survival rate assumption). By the ASMFC’s estimate, the bait fishery killed 10 times more crabs in 2012 than the biomedical fishery. 

 So...what’s sustainable?

The government stepped in to take the pressure off the horseshoe crab population in 1998, and catch limits and management plans have developed since then.  The 2012 bait harvest was still below what the ASMFC concluded was the maximum acceptable number (1.3 million crabs for that year).

“Currently the horseshoe crab management board is satisfied with the level of harvest in the bait industry,” says Marin Hawke, Fishery Management Coordinator for Horseshoe Crabs at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. She adds that the assessments of what is sustainable also take into account other species that depend on the crabs for food, such as the Red Knot, a shore bird that sustains its hemispheric migration by feeding on horseshoe crab eggs.

But there are some caveats.  First, the ASMFC doesn’t regulate or otherwise limit the biomedical harvest, it only sets quotas for the bait harvest. Nor does it use its estimations of biomedical mortality in determining how many crabs can be killed for bait.  

Secondly, the harvest of crabs doesn’t appear to be sustainable everywhere.

“We just completed a stock assessment update in 2013, and the Southeast Region which is North Carolina down to Florida, the abundance is increasing,” says Hawke. “In the Delaware Bay their abundance is constant, and in the Northeast Region it’s decreasing. We’re currently looking at why that might be happening in the Northeast Region.”

Between bait and blood, a very muddy picture

In South Carolina, the biomedical industry successfully lobbied the state government in the early '90s to ban the harvest of crabs for bait. The horseshoe crab population in South Carolina is increasing. New Jersey also has a moratorium on harvesting crabs.  Some observers wonder whether the New Jersey ban has driven fishermen to poach crabs in New York, driving down that state’s population. 

The ASMFC is finding it difficult to determine why populations are deteriorating in some regions while improving in others. It does not create regional population models based on biomedical harvest data because that data is confidential.  Since there are only four firms manufacturing LAL (and a fifth that bleeds crabs but does not make LAL tests), creating a publicly available model for horseshoe crab population at the regional level that takes into account both the bait and the biomedical harvest would divulge sensitive information that would be traceable to an individual biomedical firm. The ASMFC possesses the necessary data (biomedical firms are required to report it), but it cannot use it in a public, transparent way - so it doesn't. 

So the public is left knowing this: Overall, it looks like the crabs are being harvested sustainably, whether for bait or for blood. But in some places, they are not, and it’s unclear why --  or who is responsible.

SunTrust To Pay Nearly $1 Billion For Mortgage Practices

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-17 14:51

The bank's mortgage-lending subsidiary agreed to pay $968 million and acknowledged that it failed to comply with federal requirements for processing FHA loans.

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How Yahoo's Diversity Numbers Compare With Google's

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-17 14:41

Yahoo has released its diversity figures as the tech industry grapples with a gender gap and low numbers of blacks and Latinos in its ranks.

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