National News

High-Performing Charter Schools May Improve Students' Health

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:43

People who graduate from high school are healthier than people who drop out. To find out why, researchers looked at whether students who got into top charter schools were avoiding health risks.

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4 ideas from Nest CEO Tony Fadell

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:40

Tony Fadell is the founder and CEO of Nest, the company seeking to reinvent household techonolgy. The big idea... is an energy-saving, smart thermostat.

Fadell, a veteran of Apple., founded Nest Labs in 2010, which was acquired by Google earlier this year for $3.2 billion.

There are plenty of ideas floating around in Fadell's head, but here are four that came up in his interview with Kai Ryssdal:

Idea: We give too much power to one little switch.

There are about 250,000,000 U.S. thermostats operating in residential and light commercial buildings. The industry standard, Honeywell thermostat, has been around since 1953.

"When we look at the data," Fadell said, "less than 10 percent of those were ever programmed to save any energy."

Fadell said he was taken aback by how much power we give to the little on-and-off switches on the thermostats common in most homes: "[They're] controlling what amounts to be 50-to-60 percent of your total energy consumption for a year.. . That's really where the genesis of this whole idea started."

Idea: Making products people love matters.

"If you want to change people's behaviors or the way they think about something, you have to change the exterior," he says. "If you look at...thermostats on the wall today, they're ignored. People don't want to program them, people don't really use them." 

Fadell said Nest wanted to make sure the thermostats they were creating were eye-catching and engaging.

Their plan? Get customers "intrigued — that's how you grab them — through something that looks great, and then, ultimately, works great." 

Idea: Nest isn't a quick-hit, one-product company.

Fadell feels like it will take for him ten years to consider Nest (Nest Labs) profitable. And they have plenty of things to work on: Nest not only has the thermostat, but smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The company also they just closed their acquisition of Dropcam.

"We could be profitable if we wanted to stop, but we have very, very big ambitions. This is a ten year kind of investment that we're making."

Idea: The disruption-innovation era isn't over yet.

In response to the idea that innovation and disruption are overrated, Fadell said that's simply not true.

Fadell said one innovation or disruption has the ability to unseat a market leader overnight - think Sony, Nokia and Blackberry.

"Look where Sony used to be just 15 years ago," he said. "These kinds of disrutptive techologies allow us to create all kinds of new businesses and new services. Look at Uber."

He said these kinds of disruptions are innovations that are packaged well enough for consumers to understand and embrace. 

"I think we're only going to see more of these types of changes coming, not less and less." 

Humans make a house for sale feel more like home

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:40

About a year ago, Cora Blinsman’s mom passed away. Needless to say, it was a really hard on her. She started taking stock of her own life. Blinsman had been a full-time, stay-at-home mom for 20 years, and she was feeling burnt out. She needed space.

So she got a lot of it.

Blinsman applied to be a home manager with Showhomes, a nationwide home staging company. Basically, she pays a monthly fee to live in a really nice house for sale in one of the nicest upscale communities in Chapel Hill, N.C. Her latest is currently going for $430,000. It's got four bedrooms, two baths. The kitchen has two cooking surfaces; gas and electric. The backyard has three descending layers of gardens.

The idea behind Showhomes is that when someone lives in a home, it just feels warmer. More attractive to buyers.

"You’ve got your slippers by the bed," Blinsman said. "I mean, I kept it very neat, but you could tell somebody lived there."

Fred Pierson is the franchise manager for Showhomes in the Chapel Hill area. Pierson says the home manager method is the company’s most effective service. Seventy percent of the homes with managers living in them get an offer.

"Buyers are smart. They can tell when they’re walking into a staged home," said Pierson.

These are not always easy homes to sell — they’re often worth more than $1 million. The home Blinsman is in had been on the market a year before she moved in two months ago. Now, she pays $1,100 a month for a home that would normally have mortgage payments two or three times that amount. So, it’s a good deal. But there are drawbacks.

"If home managers are doing this just for the savings, it will not work," said Pierson. "It has to be a lifestyle they are willing to compromise."

For example, Blinsman only lived in her first home for five weeks before it sold. Some managers can move up to five times a year. And there are rules.

"They’re very basic," said Pierson. "You make your bed every day. Towels are not hung up over the shower, they’re placed in the dryer... You know, pick your stuff up and make sure it looks nice... The stuff I was always telling my kids," said Blinsman.

Also, home managers can't keep anything too personal lying around. No religious insignia. No family photos. One of Pierson's homes had a mural of the Dallas Cowboys up on the wall. Showhomes needed to remove it because there's always the chance someone looking to buy a home might love the house, but hate the Cowboys.

Blinsman says the rules haven’t been so bad. On the contrary, she says, being in this kind of home at this kind of time has been really good for her. Living in a wealthy community has opened her eyes to an entirely different lifestyle.

"I can be a part of the community and I can fit in pretty well," she explained.  "But if I had a little broken down car, I could never drive through this neighborhood. I’d be like, 'Oh my God, they’re gonna want to throw me out.'”

This is the real trick behind Showhomes. It’s not just about giving those looking for a home a look into someone else’s life – it’s about doing the same for the home manager. Giving them a chance to be someone else, if only for a little while.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story used the phrase "buyers" to describe situations home managers find themselves as part of their arrangement with Showhomes, as opposed to those looking to buy a home that is on the market. The text has been clarified throughout the story.

EnergyStar keeps consumer trust, despite bumps

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:29

Whirlpool Corporation is reportedly threatening to back out of the EnergyStar program unless Congress grants it— and other manufacturers— immunity from consumer lawsuits demanding compensation for EnergyStar products that don’t measure up. A voluntary program run by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, EnergyStar’s credibility took a hit four years ago, when the Government Accountability Office successfully scammed it into certifying bogus products.

The report was a doozy. GAO investigators submitted an application for a gasoline-powered alarm clock. It got listed. They submitted a “room air cleaner,” and linked to a picture of an electric space-heater with a feather duster attached. That got listed too.

Photo: Government Accountability Office

“Really, EPA wasn’t looking at every application,” says Shanon Baker-Branstetter, an attorney with Consumers Union. “The manufacturers were self-certifying.”

EPA made changes, says Ann Bailey, who runs the EnergyStar products program for EPA. “Since then, we’ve dramatically improved the rigor of the certification process and we’ve instituted third-party certification.”

Manufacturers now submit their products to an EPA-approved lab, like Underwriters Laboratories, which signs off. The third-parties also pull a few products off the shelf every year to see if they measure up to the claims. That led to 62 products getting disqualified last year.

“I think EPA has done a good job addressing the concerns that GAO had,” says Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Nadel thinks the current standards are high enough that he supports the proposed legislation, which would protect companies like Whirlpool from some consumer lawsuits, in cases where EPA has done a review.

“I think consumers tend to trust EPA,” says Nadel. Sales figures collected by EPA seem to back him up. Even in the years after the GAO report, the number of EnergyStar products sold continued to increase.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story gave the incorrect name for the Government Accountability Office in a caption. The text has been corrected.

Tenuous Progress At Jet's Crash Site, As Clashes Flare Close By

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:23

The first investigators have reached the crash site of the Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, fighting flared in Donetsk between separatists and armed groups supporting the government.

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Life Under 'The Islamic State': Order In The Shadow Of Terror

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:17

The Sunni extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State is solidifying its hold on the Iraqi city of Mosul. As it does so, the group is building a track record for how it actually governs. NPR's Leila Fadel offers a glimpse of what life is like under the group's rule.

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By Putting Interrogations On Tape, FBI Opens Window Into Questioning

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:17

The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies will soon begin recording the interrogations they conduct. It's a reversal of decades of policy and, the Obama administration says, a demonstration that agents act appropriately, without coercing suspects. Some big loopholes remain in the policy, though.

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Israel Targets Tunnels, But Hits Elsewhere — Including Gaza Hospital

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:17

As the Israeli military expands its assault in the Gaza Strip, casualty numbers continue to grow. At last count, more than 550 Palestinians — mostly civilians — and 25 Israeli soldiers have died. On Monday, an Israeli strike hit a hospital in central Gaza, killing people in the intensive care unit.

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In Days After Jet's Downing, A Dark Cloud Hangs Over Holland

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:17

Nearly 200 Dutch citizens died in the Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine. To learn about the country's response to the tragedy, Audie Cornish speaks with Thomas Erdbrink of The New York Times.

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In Days After Jet's Crash, A Dark Cloud Hangs Over Holland

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:17

Nearly 200 Dutch citizens died in the Malaysian airliner crash over Ukraine. To find out more about the country's response to the tragedy, Audie Cornish speaks with Thomas Erdbrink of The New York Times.

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Boston Bombing Suspect's Friend Is Convicted On Obstruction Charges

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:17

A college friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been convicted of impeding the investigation into the attack. Azamat Tazhayakov was found guilty Monday of obstruction of justice and conspiracy.

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Obama Signs Order To Protect Against Anti-LGBT Bias

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:17

President Obama has signed an executive order to ban bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees among federal contractors.

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GOP Marks Dodd-Frank's 4th Birthday With Calls For Repeal

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:17

It's been four years since Dodd-Frank Act was signed into law. On the anniversary of this sweeping overhaul of financial regulations, Republicans have released a report that argues the law falls short on one of its main tasks.

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Can The Egyptian Regime Still Play Peace Broker In Gaza Strife?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 12:17

Violence continues to escalate in the Gaza Strip. According to many foreign observers, Egypt must play a key role in any peace agreement between Israel and Hamas. To find out why, Robert Siegel speaks with Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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Same-day delivery gains traction

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-21 11:23

Online shopping's convenience can be tripped up by long shipping times, keeping retailers like Amazon from being the go-to place to pick up ice cream or deodorant.

That's why the online retail giant is experimenting with same-day delivery in a few cities, says Marcus Wohlsen, senior staff writer at Wired. These new trucks would come pre-loaded with items just waiting to be ordered.

"You've got this fleet of trucks that's constantly combing through city neighbords," Wohlsen says. "Lo and behold, somebody orders something that Amazon predicted they or someone in that general vicinity would order and it's already on that truck ready to bring to that person's door."

Amazon's recent interest in drone delivery has also attracted attention recently. Though those trucks "aren't nearly as sexy as a drone," Wohlsen says, they're much more efficent, and give Amazon control over more of the buying process. But filling those trucks and sending them out presents a big logistical problem.

"You can't virtualize that tube of toothpaste; you still have to figure out how to get it there," Wohlsen says. "That said, I think that companies like Amazon and Google are in the best position to make advances in the field of logistics because logistics is a very, very complicated math problem. That's what these companies prioritize. It's how they make money."

For Amazon, Wohlsen says, the move is all about trying to "overtake brick and mortar stores as the main way people buy things. Online retail is still a very small portion of commerce in the U.S. It's something like 6 percent of retail purchases. There's a lot of runway left for Amazon."

Summer fun for future Fed chiefs? Maybe.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-21 10:52

If sprinklers, Slip'N Slides and the other joys of summer aren’t wonky enough for your kids, there’s always Fed camp. The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond runs a summer program for kids in grades K-8. It’s a field-trip destination, with half-day workshops meant to boost children’s basic financial literacy.

Outreach specialist Angela Collier gathers a group of rising kindergarteners around her at the Richmond Fed. They’re four- and five-year-olds in bright orange T-shirts, visiting from Camp Primrose.

In her best ‘this-is-awesome’ voice she tells them, “We’re gonna be talking about goods. And services. And consumers and producers and spending and saving.”

Oh yeah, it’s Fed boot camp.

“Uh, I wouldn’t call it Fed boot camp,” Melanie Rose quickly corrects. She oversees the Richmond Fed’s economic education programs, including its Summer Camp Challenge.

Is she at least scouting for the next Janet Yellen? Or Ben Bernanke?

Well, if we happen to find one I’m sure we would take him,” she says. “But no.”

Really, this is more like Fed-lite. It’s a chance for almost a thousand kids to stop by, play games about personal finance, and build their economic knowledge. But let’s just say you were secretly grooming future Fed chairs. You’d start young, right?

Step One: Establish everyone’s weight in gold.

“Probably all of you weigh about … one and a half, maybe two gold bars,” Collier tells the 40-pound kindergarteners. They’re standing in front of a gold brick that weighs 401.75 troy ounces.

Now that they’ve got the gold standard down, it’s time for Step Two: Master the difference between a good and a service.

A good, Collier says, is “something you can touch and feel and take home. Can you think of anything that would be an example of a good?” she asks.

“Play dough?” suggests camper A.J. Salvatto.

“Play dough is a great example of a good!” Collier cries.

Well done, A.J. Save that kid a space on the Federal Open Market Committee.

Step Three: Practice. The kids turn over cards, with pictures of cars and clocks and waiters. They try to identify goods and services. There are a lot of question marks in their little voices.

“Uh, a service?” asks one.

“A good?” asks a bunch of them.

Camper Tony Cavero nails it. He holds up pictures of firefighters.

“Are they providing a good or a service?” Angela Callier asks.

“A service,” he replies.

Tony Cavero: destined for the Board of Governors.

Now, older kids come through the Fed summer camp challenge too. But these little guys showed so much promise, we asked them about the biggest lesson learned from their day at the Richmond Fed.

Like Skanda Athreya, whose dad is an economist there, they all mention the same thing: the bus ride.

“I learned on the bus, when the driver’s driving, don’t distract your driver, ‘cause it can make him get in a car crash,” Skanda says.

Which in the coded language of Fed-speak says a whole lot about how to manage the economy.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Friend Convicted For Impeding Bombing Inquiry

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 10:04

Azamat Tazhayakov has been found guilty on some obstruction of justice charges, and not guilty of others. He was accused of removing evidence from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's dorm room.

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Could The Conflict In Ukraine Turn Into A Regional War?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 09:53

Nearly 300 people died after a Malaysian Airlines plane crashed near the Russian-Ukrainian border. European security expert F. Stephen Larrabee explains what this might mean for the volatile region.

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Understanding The Basics Of the Conflict In Gaza

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 09:53

Fighting between Israel and Hamas escalated over the weekend as Israeli forces shelled the town of Shejaia in Gaza. Host Michel Martin learns the latest from Zack Beauchamp of Vox.

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From Scratch Or Not? French Restaurant Law Stirs Controversy

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-21 09:51

A French law requires restaurants that sell homemade food to display a label on their menu to distinguish them from places that use frozen or vacuum-packed food. But critics say the law is too vague.

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