National News

Ukraine: International Observers Arrested, More Sanctions Approved

NPR News - Sat, 2014-04-26 04:37

The world's largest economies are poised to punish Russia over its role in Ukraine's crisis with a new round of sanctions. In eastern Ukraine, a team of European monitors was arrested by separatists.

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Come Dance With Me

NPR News - Sat, 2014-04-26 04:03

One song, danced two totally different ways. First, two dancers who sculpt the giddiness, the beats, onto their rhyming bodies. Then a second version, this time, a crazy story. Vive la difference!

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Family Celebrates The Return Of Missing WWII Soldier's Remains

NPR News - Sat, 2014-04-26 03:50

The remains of William T. Carneal were found on the coastline of Saipan last year. After 70 years, Pfc. Carneal was remembered in a ceremony in his hometown of Paducah, Ky.

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Fear Of Addiction Means Chronic Pain Goes Untreated

NPR News - Sat, 2014-04-26 03:50

The FDA's decision to approve a new painkiller has met with fierce opposition. Judy Foreman, author of A Nation in Pain, tells NPR's Scott Simon why pain relief is such a highly polarized subject.

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Syrian Composer-Turned-Activist Asks Americans For Support

NPR News - Sat, 2014-04-26 03:50

Syrian composer Malek Jandali's parents were beaten after he criticized the Assad regime in a performance abroad. Now Jandali is asking American and European audiences to donate to Syrians in need.

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Obama: May Be Time For A Pause In Mideast Peace Talks

NPR News - Sat, 2014-04-26 03:50

After a breakdown in talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, President Obama said it may be time to take a step back from peace talks. An agreement now seems very far off.

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Egypt's Activists Battle Anti-Protest Law — And Protest Fatigue

NPR News - Sat, 2014-04-26 03:50

Thousands have been jailed in Egypt since a crackdown on dissent last November. But most Egyptians are unwilling to risk jail for reform; most wish things would finally quiet down.

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China's Rising Influence Looms Over Obama's Asia Trip

NPR News - Sat, 2014-04-26 03:50

President Obama wrapped up a two-day visit to South Korea, warning Pyongyang that pursuing nuclear weapons will only lead to more isolation. Correspondent Anthony Kuhn talks with NPR's Scott Simon.

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Tech Week: Look At The Cloud, Aereo In Court, Net Neutrality

NPR News - Sat, 2014-04-26 01:28

Where's your digital stuff? These days, probably in the cloud. We explored just what the cloud is and the implications of its growth. Also in the news: arguments over the future of TV and Web traffic.

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Syria Gives Up Chemical Weapons ... But A War Rages On

NPR News - Sat, 2014-04-26 01:27

Syria appears likely to meet Sunday's deadline for handing over its chemical arsenal. But President Bashar Assad hasn't been weakened. His forces currently have the upper hand in the civil war.

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Syria Gives Up Chemical Weapons ... But A War Rages On

NPR News - Sat, 2014-04-26 01:27

Syria appears likely to meet Sunday's deadline for handing over its chemical arsenal. But President Bashar Assad hasn't been weakened. His forces currently have the upper hand in the civil war.

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G-7 Nations Agree To More Sanctions On Russia

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-25 21:33

The United States and other nations in the Group of Seven agreed Friday to "move swiftly" to impose additional economic sanctions on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine.

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Detroit Retiree Panel Reaches Deal With The City On Pension

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-25 16:56

Individual retirees still have to approve the plan, but the deal marks an important step in the resolution of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

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Coal ash = environmental win (when you recycle it)

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-25 14:12
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 16:21 Dan Weissmann

Steve Fleming, technical director for the Chicago-area concrete manufacturer Prairie Materials, stands in front of the concrete-mixing plant at the firm's home office. Prairie Materials uses about 100,000 tons of coal fly ash in its concrete every year.

Coal ash jumped into the headlines this year when a pond maintained by Duke Energy spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina. It fouled the water supply, and brought national scrutiny to what sounded like a huge, and largely unregulated source of toxic waste.

The same week, to much less fanfare, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it endorsed the practice of using coal ash to make concrete. As it turns out, environmentalists largely agree. 

Engineers tend to be advocates. Steve Fleming is technical director for Chicago-based Prairie Materials, a large concrete supplier. And he is a fan of coal ash.

"We add it to our concrete to help with its performance," he says. "Both in its plastic state"— that is, when it’s wet, since coal ash makes concrete easier to work with — "and most important from my point of view, it helps the long-term performance of the concrete as well. It actually increases the strength, and makes the concrete last longer."

As an engineer, Fleming has long appreciated coal ash’s benefits. It took customers longer.

"When I first started, 18-19 years ago, I had a lot of customers who thought that fly-ash was not good," he says. "They said, 'It’s a waste product, and why are you putting it in my concrete?' Now, we have contractors who are requesting fly ash. If we ship them a straight cement mix, they’ll complain."

There are environmental advantages, too. Coal ash has toxins in it: arsenic, lead, mercury. Locking that stuff up in concrete seems safer than letting it sit in landfills or ponds that can contaminate groundwater.

The EPA endorsed using coal ash in concrete after comparing it to the toxins in Portland cement. Turns out, Portland cement is more toxic.

Portland cement is also much worse for the environment. "Portland cement production is one of the major greenhouse-gas sources  worldwide," says Craig Benson, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin.

He explains: Making Portland cement involves applying heat to limestone — which is made of calcium, oxygen and carbon — to get lime: calcium and oxygen.

"That process liberates a lot of carbon dioxide," he says. "That goes right up in the atmosphere."

There are more benefits: Using coal ash means not using resources to dig up limestone. Or burning fuel to heat it up. And because fly ash makes concrete last longer, it also means not replacing the concrete as often.

All of which also means saving money. Benson did a study on that. "It was really remarkable," he says. "Just the economic impact is about $5 billion to our economy."

Lisa Evans, a lawyer for Earthjustice, is reluctant to declare herself a fan of using coal ash for concrete. She’d rather we stop burning coal. Failing that, however, she thinks concrete is a good idea.

"I think characterizing it as a 'win' would be accurate," she says. "If you’re going to make coal ash in the first place, locking it up in concrete is preferable to a lot of the other ways we use or dispose of coal ash."  

But the consensus isn’t perfect. The EPA is currently deciding between two alternatives for regulating coal ash. Evans favors one that would regulate coal ash as hazardous waste, except for designated "beneficial re-uses" like concrete.  

That proposal worries John Ward, a spokesman for the coal-ash recycling industry, who runs a group called Citizens for Recycling First. He thinks the exception would just cause confusion. "How can you call something hazardous on the property of the people who made it," he says, "and expect you to want to use it in your house?"

He thinks that potential confusion could make utilities reluctant to allow recyclers to take coal ash at all.  

Marketplace for Monday April 28, 2014by Dan WeissmannPodcast Title Coal ash = environmental win (when you recycle it)Story Type FeatureSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Jewish Man Who Became Radical Islamist Sentenced To Prison

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-25 14:10

Yousef al-Khattab, who advocated violence against the Jewish community, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison.

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In which Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign faces real backlash

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-25 13:38

In Dove's latest advertisement, "Patches," a scientist prescribes a "beauty patch" to women suffering from low self esteem. Over the course of four minutes, the patch-wearing "patients" move from lines like "If I were more confident, I'd have the confidence to approach a guy, maybe," to "I've defintiely opened up something inside of me to make me feel more... great."

Magic! Except spoiler: There's nothing in the beauty patch. Dove's not selling any patches -- they're selling the story of women finding inner beauty, a.k.a., the Dove brand's strategy since 2004. They've sold creams to slow the signs of aging with messages about being "pro age." They've launched self-esteem programs and campaigns critiquing the whole business of advertising. 

A Dove spokesman told Ad Age they created the "Patches" video "to intentionally provoke a debate about women's relationship with beauty." And what a debate they've started: The "Patches" ad has been called patronizing, garbage and at least one word we wouldn't print on our own site. In just one hour Friday morning, at least 500 people watched this parody video:

Dove grew from a $200 million soap brand in the early 1990s into a nearly $4 billion corporation by 2013, selling everything from deodorant to hairspray. They've sold products -- lots of products -- with the message "You are more beautiful than you think." 

Andrea Learned, a communications consultant and author of "Don't Think Pink," a book about marketing to women, says Dove’s original ‘Real Beauty’ campaign turned selling soap into an important cultural dialogue, helping women embrace their bodies—old or young, fat or thin. 

But she thinks the latest campaign has "lost its way. It kind of creeped me out right from the beginning," she says. She thinks the tactic in the video of misleading the female subjects about the treatment they're getting in order to show that really, you are beautiful if you feel beautiful, will alienate many female consumers. She found herself wondering if the real Dove ad might not just be the parody. “Get out of digging this hole for women—of being these incredibly insecure beings," she says. "That is old news.”

Former ad executive Cindy Gallop agrees that the new Dove campaign is "patronizing" and "not credible." She thinks it's a big misstep for Dove's ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather. But she also thinks any publicity can be good publicity—if the brand embraces the criticism and builds on it.

“The fact that they are stimulating dialogue, that we are talking about this, in whatever context, is terrific," Gallop says. "And it’s all tremendous fodder for them to take the campaign forward in an even stronger way next time out of the gate.”

Gallop has a pitch for Dove’s next campaign: real-life men saying what they like in their real-life women. Grey hair, freckles, curves—things most advertisers never portray in their impossible-to-acheive models of female beauty.

Is all this pushback a sign that Dove doesn't have its pulse on what women think any more? What do you think of the campaign? Tell us on Twitter or Facebook

Why it makes economic sense to send a letter for $0.49

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-25 13:30

Every other week we try to answer some of the questions that you've submitted for our series, I’ve Always Wondered. This week, we are going to answer a question from listener Mark Robbins: "How is it possible that for less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can send a letter halfway across the globe to a remote island in the South Pacific?" 

Marketplace reporter David Weinberg wanted to know, too. And thus his week-long experiment began: 

Monday: The Post Office's spectacular scale.

Tuesday: How postage gets divided among nations (spoiler: not evenly).

Wednesday: Until the 1960s, it didn't matter if the Postal Service made money.

Thursday: Why the USPS doesn't do email

Friday: How else could we get a message to the people of Tanna? (serious question)

Monday: The Post Office's spectacular scale.

Listener Mark Robbins sent us his question via email. He chose, for his example, the island of Tanna, about a thousand miles west of Australia. I found an address for a bar on the island, and before I sent the letter, I called Robbins to ask if he had anything he'd like to say to the people of Tanna.

“Hello from chilly northeastern Pennsylvania. Wish I were there.”

I dropped the letter in the mailbox with a $1.15 global forever stamp. From there, it was taken to the main Los Angeles sorting facility, a 1 million square foot building  where I met Ken Starks, the acting manager of plant support operations.

And herein lies the answer to Mark’s question: The reason you can send a letter across the ocean for less than the price of a cup of coffee is because of the staggering economy of scale of the USPS.

Take, for example this one machine:

This delivery bar code sorting machine processes 30,000-40,000 pieces of mail per hour. The minimum amount of postage required to send a letter is $0.49. So nearly every day, this one machine processes at least $20,000 in postage revenue per hour. And this is just one of several machines in a single sorting facility.

The USPS handles half of all the mail in the world. In 2013 the postal service generated $65.2 billion in revenue. It has more retail locations in the U.S. than McDonald's, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart combined. It's the second largest employer in the U.S. behind Wal-Mart, and the median salary of a U.S. postal worker is about $53,000.

So for every letter that travels across the globe, there are millions that travel much shorter distances. They subsidize the cost of international letters.

Tuesday: How postage gets divided among nations (spoiler: not evenly).

To send our letter to the island of Tanna, I purchased a global forever stamp for $1.15. By the time it arrives it will have traveled on multiple on-the-ground vehicles and airplanes in multiple countries.

This is what the inside of a postal truck looks like.

David Weinberg/Marketplace

So how does that $1.15 get divided among all nations? Here are the steps:

Step 1: Receive Payment for Postage

The origin country of the letter gets to keep 100 percent of the postage revenue. For now…

Step 2: Weight it

The island of Tanna is in the country of Vanuatu, which is one of the 192 member countries of the Universal Postal Union. At the end of the year, every member of the UPU adds up the weight of all the mail it delivered for other countries.

Step 3: Pay Your Dues

The UPU has established a complicated system of terminal dues that countries pay each other for mail delivered outside its borders. So if the USPS delivered 2,000 kilograms of mail from Vanautu in 2013, and Vanautu only delivered 1,000 kilograms U.S. mail from the U.S., then Vanautu will have to pay terminal dues to the U.S. How does that money get divided up among the multiple countries that handle the letter? 

Google Maps

Short answer: It doesn’t get divided for each individual piece of mail. Instead, countries pay terminal dues based on the overall weight of mail shipped between them.

These rates are decided by The Universal Postal Union.

Wednesday: Until the 1960s, it didn't matter if the Postal Service made money.

And now our letter to Vanuatu takes a moment to ask itself the question: "Why am I not an email?"

The Postal Service is, as they know all too well, losing money

Historian Richard John says, this isn't a new story -- it just didn't matter as much in the country's early days. When the Postal Service was established in 1775 -- with Ben Franklin as the country's first Postmaster -- it functioned as a government agency, with no real mandate to break even.

And as the country expanded, the Postal Service did too. They were often at the forefront of new transportation technologies -- think: stagecoaches, motorcycles, railroads, airplanes, and even missiles.

A city carrier in Washington, D.C., gathers mail from a post-mounted collection box using \"The Flying Merkel,\" a belt-driven, two-cylinder V-twin motorcycle, circa 1911. The use of motorcycles for mail collection and delivery in cities peaked in the 1920s. Four-wheeled automobiles and trucks, with their larger capacities, soon became the vehicles of choice. 

Courtesy of the United States Postal Service

"The Post Office was very quick to give contracts to flyers. Charles Lindbergh. And the airlines got an absolutely essential boost from that postal funding in 1920s and 30s," John says. "In more recent period, the 50s, 60s and 70s, optical scaning recognition are technologies the Post Office [supported]."

How'd they manage to pay for all this innovation?

"Congress used to foot the bill when the institution was running a deficit," John says. "Coroporate money doesn't become important til 1900."

And even then, John says, these external funds competed with "a thought experient about how our nineteenth century forbearers believed politics should be conducted with major federal subsidies to make it possible to spread the news, which remained a central mandate. Newspapers and magazines -- LIFE Magazine was a famously important magazine in 1960s -- was more or less destroyed by changes in postal rates. It got more expensive to mail, and it was no longer economical. So it's a remarkable odyssey for an institution a lot of peope cared about." 

Today's assumption that the postal service should break even took root in the early 1970s. Postal worker strikes prompted then-President Richard Nixon to pass the Postal Reorganization Act in 1971, which turned the agency into a semi-independent business -- and as a semi-independent business, money started to matter. The Postal Service hasn't used taxpayer money since 1982, with a few exceptions, such as sending absentee ballots to Americans overseas. Today, the USPS relies on the costs of postage and sales for almost all of their expenses.

Eddie Hubbard (left) and William E. Boeing stand in front of a Boeing C-700 seaplane near Seattle, Washington, after returning from a survey flight to Vancouver, British Columbia, on March 3, 1919. They brought with them a pouch with 60 letters, making this the first international mail flight.

Boeing Airplane Company/Collection of United States Postal Service

Some say the Postal Service stopped innovating because its business model changed, and the funds simply weren't there.

Tomorrow, we'll talk with someone who thinks the story isn't so simple. 

Thursday: Why the USPS doesn't do email

Why isn’t there an @usps.gov email address available to the public -- one that carries with it the same privacy laws that apply to postal mail?

Shiva Ayyadurai asked USPS management that same question in 1997, the year he calls "The Crossover," when email volume exceeded postal mail volume. At the time, Ayyadurai says the USPS did not see email as a threat to first-class mail. And in 1997, there really was no reason to be concerned -- during the three years leading up to 1997, the USPS posted cumulative earnings of $4.6 billion and, First-Class mail was up by 13 percentage points.

Ayyadurai calls himself the inventor of email, a claim that has been widely disputed, says he has a vested interest in the answer. It would take 15 years of criticism, but in 2012 Shiva Ayyadurai  produced a report, funded by the USPS, outlined several ways for the USPS could integrate email into its business model. Ayyadurai says the USPS did respond after he submitted his research.

 

Friday: How else could we get a message to the people of Tanna? (serious question)

 

In all probability, our letter is still on its way to Tanna. 

Which raises the question: How else could we convey Mark's message to this small island nation? What are your ideas, Internet?

Send them to us via Facebook or in the comments below. Or, you know, via snail mail. 

For New York, The '10-Year Storm' Isn't What It Used To Be

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-25 13:23

A new study says the worst floods in the city are both higher and 20 times more common than they were 170 years ago. But climate change is only part of the reason.

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State exchanges going into year two, but slowly

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-25 13:19

At one point, Affordable Care Act architects thought every state would eventually run its own exchange. So far only about a quarter of states – and the District of Columbia – have actually done it. Or at least, they have tried their best to.

Oregon’s exchange voted to have Washington run the IT side of the operation on Friday. That’s after the state received some $300 million in federal funds to get its own of the ground.

There are lots of reasons why states may want to take over their exchanges from the feds sometime in the future. But here are six reasons why they may not be in such a hurry: “Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Vermont,” says Caroline Pearson who tracks state exchanges for consulting firm Avalere Health.

Pearson says technical disasters like Oregon – it’s still processing applications on paper – could scare off most anyone else for the next year or two. But, she says, as states and the federal government work out the bugs, running an exchange will get smoother.

“Once you have something that is working, it will be easier for other states to import that and customize it and tweak it for their own program,” she says.

Map by the National Conference of State Legislatures

Sonya Schwartz with the Georgetown Center for Children and Families thinks states that run their own exchanges may be better able to control healthcare costs, and that could make switching worthwhile.  

“Our health system is expensive. And if we had an ambitious plan to reign in costs, it’s worth it. But if we just create a rinky-dink enrollment system, it’s not worth it,” she says.

Moving forward, some states could take a hybrid approach. Much like Oregon is doing now: letting the feds run technical operations, but managing the types of insurance plans on the exchanges, and overseeing outreach and enrollment efforts.

New rules and systems could make things more complicated for insurers, says PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Ceci Connolly.

“It’s just like, 'How many different languages do you learn, and can you master?” she says.

Connolly says the silver lining in struggling state-run exchanges may be that it forces everyone to standardize -- a great way to keep costs down.

State Exchanges Going Into Year Two

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-25 13:19

At one point, Affordable Care Act architects thought every state would eventually run its own exchange. So far only about a quarter of states – and the District of Columbia – have actually done it. Or at least, they have tried their best to.

Oregon’s exchange voted to have Washington run the IT side of the operation on Friday. That’s after the state received some $300 million in federal funds to get its own of the ground.

There are lots of reasons why states may want to take over their exchanges from the feds sometime in the future. But here are six reasons why they may not be in such a hurry: “Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Vermont,” says Caroline Pearson who tracks state exchanges for consulting firm Avalere Health.

Pearson says technical disasters like Oregon – it’s still processing applications on paper – could scare off most anyone else for the next year or two. But, she says, as states and the federal government work out the bugs, running an exchange will get smoother.

“Once you have something that is working, it will be easier for other states to import that and customize it and tweak it for their own program,” she says.

Map by the National Conference of State Legislatures

Sonya Schwartz with the Georgetown Center for Children and Families thinks states that run their own exchanges may be better able to control healthcare costs, and that could make switching worthwhile.  

“Our health system is expensive. And if we had an ambitious plan to reign in costs, it’s worth it. But if we just create a rinky-dink enrollment system, it’s not worth it,” she says.

Moving forward, some states could take a hybrid approach. Much like Oregon is doing now: letting the feds run technical operations, but managing the types of insurance plans on the exchanges, and overseeing outreach and enrollment efforts.

New rules and systems could make things more complicated for insurers, says PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Ceci Connolly.

“It’s just like, 'How many different languages do you learn, and can you master?” she says.

Connolly says the silver lining in struggling state-run exchanges may be that it forces everyone to standardize -- a great way to keep costs down.

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