National News

The Time A Cartoonist Was Told To 'Lighten Up' A Character

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-20 09:22

Artist Ronald Wimberly uses a cartoon essay to tell us this story: He was drawing a Marvel character who's Mexican and African-American, so he drew her brown. But his editor had different ideas.

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European eclipse sheds light on solar power challenges

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 09:14

For lots and lots of Europeans, the continent's biggest solar eclipse in many years meant excitement.

OMG THE ECLIPSE IS SO COOL pic.twitter.com/NJxvn0IoGY

— Liamthelion☯☮ (@waverider_) March 20, 2015

But for a few Europeans — grid operators and utility workers — it meant distinct unease. Especially in places like Germany and Italy, where solar power has grown to be a significant part of the electricity supply.

Managing the grid when the sun suddenly went away was a serious concern. And it cast light on a big challenge as renewable energy grows: integrating it into the grid.

Of course, it does get dark every single night. But not all at once. Sunset and dusk add up to an hour or so, which gives power producers time to spin up other generators.

The lead time is important, because the big challenge for grid operators is balancing out supply and demand in real time.  

"A fossil-fired generator is not like a stereo," says Anthony Paul, a fellow at the think tank Resources for the Future. "You can’t just turn the volume from five to ten, in an instant."

Generators take time to ramp up. And down. What happens when the sun comes back, and you've still got all that power from your other sources?

Maybe an overload. In Europe, people worried about blackouts.

That didn't happen, but the episode shows why, even with just regular events — night falling, or clouds rolling in — solar means extra work for grid operators.

One big piece of work is accommodating what's called "distributed generation" like rooftop solar. The grid isn't really built for it.

"Traditionally, our grid has been a one-way street," says John Larsen, a director at the Rhodium Group. "You've got all these power generators, and they shove all the power through the transmission lines, down through the distribution network into your house."

Distributed generation like rooftop solar means changing that traffic flow. "You’re turning it into a two-way street," Larsen says.

And the existing street may not be wide enough to handle traffic in both directions.  

For instance, the amount of distributed generation power coming up from parts of Germany's grid is now six times as much as formerly went out to them, says Ben York, a research engineer at the Electric Power Research Institute.

He picks up Larsen's traffic-pattern analogy. "If you had originally two lanes lanes going one way," York says, "you’ve got to add six or seven lanes going back the other way."

He says Germany is looking at a $30 billion investment to create those lanes in the next few years.

Ryanair: We screwed up.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 09:14

At our editorial meeting on Monday, we talked about some reports that the budget airline Ryanair — an airline so budget it once reportedly considered charging passengers to use the lavatory — wanted to expand outside of Europe, where it's based, to fly some transatlantic routes. 

The company confirmed those expansion plans to several reporters.

Well, turns out, that's not going to happen.

The airline issued this one-sentence statement:

"The Board of Ryanair Holdings wishes to clarify that it has not considered or approved any transatlantic project and does not intend to do so."

According to the airline's CEO, there was a "miscommunication."

"We screwed up," he said.

Does net neutrality have a loophole?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 09:14

The simple understanding of the FCC's recent net neutrality regulation is this: it makes it so cable companies can't charge the Netflixes of the world more for an Internet fast lane. 

But net neutrality applies only to the "highway" of data that is the public Internet. The cable companies have three routes into your house: the public Internet, pay TV, and "specialized services." The Wall Street Journal reports HBO, Sony and Showtime are in talks with cable provider Comcast to bring their "Web TV" product to that "specialized services" highway, where fast lanes are allowed. 

Susan Crawford, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, says this could present an opportunity for cable companies to cap bandwidth on the public Internet, and then charge web TV providers for special treatment for products delivered through the "specialized services" pipe.

But Ian Olgeirson, an industry analyst at SNL Kagan, doesn't see, from the details we know now, how this would be a smart business proposition for the cable companies, since it would undermine their pay TV business.

"There's sort of a tradeoff for the operators," he says. "They're giving up a revenue stream — to gain another revenue stream." 

Your Wallet: What are you waiting for?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 09:05

Next week, we explore the economics of waiting.

What are you waiting for? Is it a big purchase? Maybe marriage? Childbirth?

We want to hear from you. Send us an email, or reach us on Twitter @MarketplaceWKND.

What are you waiting for?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 09:05

Next week, we explore the economics of waiting.

What are you waiting for? Is it a big purchase? Maybe marriage? Childbirth?

We want to hear from you. Send us an email, or reach us on Twitter @MarketplaceWKND.

Small town hopes to rescue itself by selling pot

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 09:04

North Bonneville, Washington, is surrounded by forests on one side. On the other is the Columbia River. 

“There is one gas station. There is one restaurant. There is a golf course. And there is the Bonneville Hot Springs Hotel,” says John Spencer, the former city administrator. Now he’s a consultant. And with some exceptions, he’s just described most of the town’s economy.

A few years ago, the town of about 1,000 people stopped watering parks and other public places to save money. And a few months ago, it started turning off streetlights to cut down on its electricity bill.

“The city is on its knees financially. They have run negative numbers in the general fund multiple months in a row because they have no retail sector here,” Spencer says. “This store could very well make a town that is otherwise going to fail.”

The store Spencer is talking about is The Cannabis Corner: the first recreational pot shop in the country run by a government.  

It opened earlier this month. Technically, the city doesn’t own it. Rather, it set up a public development authority to run it.

“In the headlines, everybody wants to say it’s a city-owned pot shop, which, I guess, I leave for the lawyers," says North Bonneville Mayor Don Stevens, who embraces the title of “The Marijuana Mayor,” right down to the personalized license plates he’s ordered for his car that read "MJMAYOR." 

"I guess technically, on some level, it is.” Stevens says there was a strong likelihood of a pot shop opening in the town anyway. So the city decided to open its own store to have more control over how it’s operated.

“Whereas if a private person came in and opened a store and it wasn’t working out in the community’s best interest, we’d have a really long, ugly path to try and straighten that situation out,” Stevens says. He says all the profits from North Bonneville’s pot shop will go back to the community, by partnering the shop with the city on projects.

“While it can’t just deposit its profit directly into our general fund, (it) can as a separate corporation, help us defray costs with law-enforcement contracts, public health and safety programs, any number of things that ultimately will have a positive affect on our bottom line,” he says.

Right now, the city’s annual budget is $1.2 million. Officials think The Cannabis Corner could eventually bring in half a million dollars in profit every year.

That’s big money here. After the timber industry collapsed in the 1990s, tourism became the county’s main industry.

Casey Roeder, the executive director of the Skamania County Chamber of Commerce, says the town’s pot shop adds another reason for people to visit.

“It’s an amenity, in my mind, just as a winery or brewery,” she says. “The cannabis store in North Bonneville just adds to that whole menu of options for folks to come and spend money.”

And Roeder says if people come here and see the region’s natural beauty and lifestyle, they just may want to move here and bring their business with them.

 

Interior Dept. Issues New Fracking Rules For Federal Lands

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-20 09:03

The regulations, which go into effect in 90 days, establishes safety measures for wells and for drilling companies to publicly disclose chemicals used in the process.

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Iran Nuclear Talks On Pause As Deadline Looms

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-20 08:52

With just days left before a self-imposed deadline to reach a framework agreement, stubborn gaps remain on an array of key issues.

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Fun Fact Friday: Much ado about macaroni and cheese

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 08:35

David Gura offered his final Marketplace sign off Friday, but not before he hosted a discussion about the week that was with Leigh Gallagher of Fortune and Sudeep Reddy with the Wall Street Journal. Listen to that above, then read about some of the best stuff we learned this week at Marketplace:

Fun Fact: It can take between $70,000 and $100,000 to keep a kennel full of racing dogs running year-round. This week, Alaska hosted the Iditarod.

We spoke to Alaska's top musher in long-distance sled dog racing history, Lance Mackey, who broke down the economics behind running races like the Iditarod. This large sum includes the cost of fuel, entry fees and food for the dogs, which costs around $5,000 every race season.

Want to run the Iditarod? You'll need a lot of scratch

Fun Fact: Kids take an average of 113 standardized tests by the time they finish high school.

This year, standardized tests are being tied to Common Core education standards, creating a divide between schools and parents. According to a Gallup poll conducted late last year, 41 percent of teachers say they view common core standards positively, vs. 33 percent of parents. Should parents let their kids decide whether to take the Common Core tests? Take our poll: 

Parents weigh the lessons of common core testing

Fun Fact: Kraft is recalling 6.5 million boxes of macaroni and cheese.

The company said numerous consumers reported finding metal pieces in the packages. While it may be too early to determine the cost of this recall, some experts warn it proves that the food-safety system in the United States is inadequate.

Kraft recalls 6.5 million boxes of macaroni and cheese

Oh, one more thing: We already miss David.

'Match Day' is a rite of passage for young doctors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 08:15

Friday was a big day for young doctors across the country. It's Match Day — the day medical students find out where they will spend their residencies.

It's a competitive process. This year, more 41,000 applicants are vying for about 30,000 spots. 

Dr. Atul Grover, Chief Public Policy Officer with the Association for American Medical Colleges, says he remembers his 1998 Match Day well.

"It was really all about the envelopes," Grover says. "We went back to our groups of friends, family, sat down and everybody kind of opened their envelopes on the count of three. And I can just remember, myself, being personally elated of getting my first choice."

But not everyone is so lucky. Thousands will not be placed. A record number of young doctors applied for residencies this year, and while enrollment in medical schools is increasing, funding for residency positions has stayed about the the same, making the process more competitive.

Nigeria's President Hopes To Push Back Boko Haram In A Month

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-20 07:47

Facing reelection in a week, Goodluck Jonathan says he thinks that all the territory seized by the extremist group can be retaken.

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Marketplace asks: Have you cut the cord?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 07:38
In 2014, Time Warner Cable lost nearly 600,000 subscribers. Comcast lost 150,00 subscribers of their own service.

1.4 million U.S. households "either canceled pay-TV over the trailing 12 months or never subscribed," according to Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett.

Are you one of them? Tell us how you watch TV:

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Your Wallet: The economics of waiting

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 06:48

Next week, we explore the economics of waiting.

What are you waiting for in you personal economy? Is it that big purchase? Maybe marriage?

We want to hear from you. Send us an email, or reach us on Twitter, @MarketplaceWKND

Solar Eclipse Wows Parts Of Europe, Middle East And Russia

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-20 06:28

The eclipse, total in some areas far north and partial for many others, lasted about 2 1/2 hours and was visible from South America To Asia.

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On Happiness Day, 6 Nepalis Tell How To Not Worry And Be Happy

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-20 05:19

Nepal is a poor country. Unemployment is high. Politics is a mess. But as one resident puts it, "[We] have the ability to be happy about how unhappy we are."

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Mosque Attacks In Yemen Kill Dozens

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-20 05:12

Suicide bombers struck at two Shiite mosques said to be frequented by supporters of the country's Houthi rebel movement.

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Despite A Wave Of Data Breaches, Fed Says Patient Privacy Isn't Dead

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-20 05:07

Hackers may have gained access to records for 11 million people covered by Premera Blue Cross. It's the latest lapse keeping an obscure government agency that investigates the breaches busy.

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PODCAST: A grande race relations conversation

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 03:00

An announcement from Tesla in the I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it category. More on that. Plus, Starbucks said this week it wanted to use its big retail footprint to foster a conversation on race in America. It hasn’t gone as planned, as critics have panned the effort as ham-handed. We look at ways companies have had success in talking about diversity and inclusion. And women with limited education beyond high school, especially single working mothers, earn less than men. They’re often shunted into minimum-wage unskilled jobs—in the Wendy’s drive-through or behind the register at Rite-Aid. At the same time, the skilled trades are begging for new recruits: electricians, welders, machinists. There are initiatives to bring women into these traditionally male-dominated professions (by labor unions, community colleges, employer groups). But it’s not an easy gig to work—with a bunch of men on a building site or a machine-shop floor.

Michelle Obama promotes girls' education in Asia

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 02:00

First lady Michelle Obama is traveling in Asia this week to promote a new initiative with the Peace Corps aimed at closing the education gap for girls. Around the world, an estimated 62 million girls between the ages of 6 and 15 are not in school. The Peace Corps plans to recruit and train at least 650 new volunteers to help remove the barriers to education in developing countries like Albania, Cambodia, Georgia, and Uganda.

The economic payoff can be significant, says Sarah Lynch, a senior director of the global charity Care, which will help train volunteers. "Investments in girls' education have proven to go further than any other spending in global development," she says.

Click the media player above to hear more.

 

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