National News

In Kenya, A Fraught Return To The Site Of A Massacre

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 13:00

In Nairobi, four men are on trial for assisting the terrorists who stormed Westgate Mall in September in an attack that killed at least 67 people. On Tuesday, the judge and lawyers on both sides left the stuffy confines of the courtroom and took a field trip — back inside the mall itself. The prosecution said that the trip was necessary to understand how and where the attack was carried out. But the trip — and this trial — has also seemed like a search for closure, in a case that four months later still has so many unanswered questions.

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State Of Emergency Raises New Questions In Bangkok

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 13:00

Thailand's government has declared a 60-day state of emergency in an effort to rein in the anti-government demonstrators who are intent on disrupting next month's snap election. The state of emergency means that the Thai authorities can impose curfews, detain suspects without charge and ban public gatherings of more than five people. But officials insist they will not use the declaration to attempt to remove anti-government protesters from the sites they have been occupying in Bangkok.

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Table's Laid And Guests Are Ready: Syria Peace Talks Set To Begin

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 13:00

A peace conference on Syria is due to begin Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland. The start of the conference comes after more than three years of violent conflict and 24 hours of uncertainty over Iran's surprise invitation. But the invitation has been withdrawn, and the diplomats are set to assume their places at the negotiating table.

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Cheese To The Rescue: Surprising Spray Melts Road Ice

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 12:55

Citing definite gains in cost and efficiency, a Wisconsin county used 38,000 gallons of liquid cheese brine on its icy roads last winter. The homegrown product is a "win-win" for a nearby dairy and the county, a transportation official says.

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Whole Foods Bans Produce Grown With Sludge. But Who Wins?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 12:52

Whole Foods recently decided it would not buy produce from farmers who used treated sewage sludge, also known as biosolids, on their fields. But scientists say this is a mistake — the material is safe and benefits the environment in lots of different ways.

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Thai Government Declares State Of Emergency

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 12:44

It's an attempt to cope with anti-government protests that began in November. The measure, which goes into effect Wednesday, will last for 60 days. Anti-government protesters are trying to stop elections, scheduled for Feb. 2.

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Why it's hard to charge $40 for a pork chop

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-21 12:26

I'm in a high-brow part of New York at a high brow restaurant and I'm about to eat... a brow. "This is pig's head. Enjoy," laughs Nick Anderer, executive chef at Maialino restaurant in New York's Grammercy Park neighborhood. Actually, it's half a pig's head, brined, deep fried and served on a salad. Teeth and all.

Crispy Suckling Pig Face has become one of most popular dishes at Maialino ('suckling pig' in Italian). Pig face's popularity surprised Anderer. "I was completely surprised," says Anderer. "I never thought that a dish of a pig's face on a plate would sell as much as this one does."

Part of the push to use more pig parts has to do with pork prices, which hit a 30 year high last year.

"When corn goes up, everything goes with it," explains Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics, an agriculture market consulting firm. Meyer says pigs eat a lot of corn and corn prices have been at record highs. They've dropped a lot recently, so pork prices were poised to plunge, but now a deadly illness from China is hitting pig populations in the US. "Now we're facing some supply challenges caused by a viral disease in baby pigs that might keep them high as we go through this next year as well," says Meyer.

While the supply of pigs might be shrinking, demand for pork has been flying high. "Bacon has been a very big food trend," says brand consultant Debra Kaye, author of Red Thread Thinking. Kaye says our cultural tastes have evolved and we are embracing bacon like never before. "We started to see that sweet, smoky, salty could go together... and what is better salty and smoky than bacon? And that's where it really started to take off."

Case in point: bacon donuts, bacon cocktails, bacon chocolates, bacon-flavored vodka, bacon ice cream, bacon lip balm...

All this new demand + low supply = the price of pork goes up...

Econ 101, right?

Maialino chef, Nick Anderer says it's not quite that simple. "Yes, pork prices spiked," says Anderer. "But we made no price hikes in our dishes because we just didn't feel like the perceived value would be there. Ultimately, pork is a comfort food for me and once you start charging luxury prices for it, it starts taking it into a realm that I don't feel comfortable with."

Restaurants can get away with big mark-ups for beef. Here in New York a fancy restaurant can charge $40 for a ribeye, but pork is kind of the people's meat. It's hard to charge $40 for a pork chop. Restaurants can't *not offer pork, because we're a nation obsessed with bacon.

Faced with this pork pricing puzzle, Anderer's done two things. The first is stretching the pork: "It's such a great seasoning agent that it doesn't need to be the main focus of a dish," says Anderer. "It can just be a few ounces of torn meat with the malfatti pasta and arugula and you've got yourself a great dish."

The other solution is to use more parts of the pig. "We sell a lot more weird pork dishes now than we did before," says Anderer, including charred pig hearts, pig liver crostini, crispy pork skin served with vinegar and, of course, pig face.

Brand consultant Debra Kaye says our deep love of bacon is pushing us to boldly brave new frontiers of pork eating. She agreed to try Anderer's famous pig's face. He offered her the ear, which he says he usually eats first.

"That is so good, oh my god," says Kaye. "The thing I give Figaro, my dog, for dessert every night is a pig's ear. I don't think I want to give it to him anymore they're so good."

The pork puzzle for people may be solved for this year, but the pork puzzle for dogs may be just beginning.

Bernanke's probably thinking about a think tank

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-21 12:16

Think tanks have become more and more prominent in Washington.   They’re attracting big money -- and big names.  There's speculation that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke could end up at a think tank.  

According to tax filings, the top five richest think tanks in the US have more than $1.5 billion in assets.  That’s about the GDP of Liberia.

“Let’s face it.  There’s a lot of money at stake here,” says Peter Metzger, vice chairman of CT Partners in Washington and a a think tank headhunter. 

Metzger says even if you’re not a famous Washington wonk like Ben Bernanke, think tanks pay very well.

“Some in the neighborhood of three-quarters of a million to a million dollars or more depending upon their experience and what they can bring to the effort," he says.

But what do the big names do for a think tank?  Why are they so prized? 

The best known wonks are big moneymakers. They might make an appearance at a fundraiser.  If they make a speech, the think tank can charge admission.  

James McGann, who runs the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, says sometimes just having a really big name on a think tank’s letterhead is enough to get donations  flowing. 

He says, “Those that have a strong brand, which is connected to the rigor of their research, are key.”

Think tank donors include foundations, interest groups, and, increasingly, corporations -- which see the influence of think tanks as a way to pierce Washington gridlock.  Some think tanks have even set up separate arms that can lobby Congress, according to Jack Pitney, who teaches political science at Claremont McKenna College. 

“A lot of the organizations are really conglomerates of different kinds of groups depending on what kind of contributions they’re trying to draw," he says.

But Pitney says, for all the money involved, think tanks aren’t trying to make a profit. They're more interested in the real currency of Washington: power and influence.  

If only we had technology to limit credit card fraud... Oh, wait...

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-21 12:16

IT’S JUST TOO BAD

There was TargetNieman MarcusCitiBank.  Between 2012 and 2013, the number of data breaches involving credit or debit card information increased by 41.2%

It’s really too bad there isn’t some way to use modern technology to dramatically reduce credit card fraud. 

Oh.

Wait.

There is. 

And has been. 

FOR ALMOST A DECADE.

CHIP & PIN

It’s called Chip & Pin technology, also known as EMV, it’s a little cryptographic chip embedded in the card, and unlike those magnetic stripes, it doesn't just hold all your info unencrypted for every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a card reader or hacking skills to copy or scan or download.  And there's the added protection of a PIN.

 “The types of breaches we’ve seen recently would’ve been prevented by the use of this chip and pin technology,” says Chester Wisniewski, senior security advisor with Sophos. “It makes it much harder for thieves, and it’s had widespread use in Europe and everywhere else.”

UM, WE INVENTED THE CREDIT CARD.  WHY DON’T WE HAVE THAT TECHNOLOGY HERE?

There are a few reasons. 

COST 

“One of the big obstacles is the expense,” according to Bill Hardekopf with Lowcards.com, a consumer resource website.  “Retailers would have to get a different credit card processor, probably about a $200 expense per terminal for each checkout lane.”    

Doable for large retailers, less so for small businesses, expensive for everyone.  Card issuers and banks would have to pay to make the more expensive cards too.  Small retailers, according to Wisniewski and other analysts, have been particularly resistant.   Businesses would be laying out money for the benefit of banks, in a sense, since it’s the banks which are often liable for fraudulent purchases.

But that doesn’t explain why we’re behind the rest of the world.  

WE DIDN'T NEED THIS KIND OF TECHNOLOGY BACK IN THE DAY

“There wasn’t really the same demand to address fraud in the United States as there was in other parts of the world,” says Andrew Davidson, senior vice president at Mintel. “Fraud wasn’t as big of a deal as it was in say Europe.”

Old tools used to be enough to deal with the fraud problem.  “Previously,” says Doug Jones, vice president of risk management policy the American Bankers Association, “we were able to depend on our neural networks that looked for unusual transactions.”  It seemed to work, “it didn’t create a difference in terms of the amount of fraud we saw compared to what was seen in other countries.”

Until, of course, it did. 

As other countries have adopted more secure credit card technology, the U.S. has become the fraud basket case.

NOBODY MADE US ADOPT IT. SO WE DIDN’T.

Some governments forced adoption of Chip & Pin, ours didn’t.

“We don’t tend to legislate these requirements,” says Jones.  “That serves our economy well in the long run but in this particular instance it did slow down the process.”   

You’re talking about the largest economy in the world and a large number of financial institutions and retailers that have to make this shift.  A little like herding cats. 

GOOD NEWS! WE’RE GETTING NEW CARDS. SOON. PROBABLY.

“Now is the time that the U.S. should upgrade to chip technology,” says Mastercard’s Senior Vice President for U.S. Product Delivery, Carolyn Balfany. 

Mastercard has been pushing the new technology in the U.S. for several years, and in 2012 issued a “roadmap” for the country to migrate. 

Many credit card companies have started to issue the new cards, in small batches.  “They’ve started with international travelers,” says Balfany, since it can be inconvenient to use the U.S. backwards cards abroad.  “But they’re rolling that out more broadly.” 

On the merchant side, some larger retailers are already installing new cardreaders.  “They’ve been in the process of beginning that for some time now and will continue on over the next couple of years.”

One tool to push the process along is a “liability shift” which will start taking place in October, 2015 for Mastercard, a year later for Visa.  Usually, a bank has to cover a bogus purchase.  But starting in October  2015, a retailer will have to suck it up if it hasn’t changed its card reader. 

“Many of the larger retailers and banks have come out in industry conferences expressing their intent to migrate around that October 2015 time frame,” says Balfany.  “I think we’re gonna see some really good movement.”

Why Bernanke would want a think tank - and why a think tank would want Bernanke

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-21 12:16

Think tanks have become more and more prominent in Washington.   They’re attracting big money -- and big names.  There's speculation that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke could end up at a think tank.  

According to tax filings, the top five richest think tanks in the US have more than $1.5 billion in assets.  That’s about the GDP of Liberia.

“Let’s face it.  There’s a lot of money at stake here,” says Peter Metzger, vice chairman of CT Partners in Washington and a a think tank headhunter. 

Metzger says even if you’re not a famous Washington wonk like Ben Bernanke, think tanks pay very well.

“Some in the neighborhood of three-quarters of a million to a million dollars or more depending upon their experience and what they can bring to the effort," he says.

But what do the big names do for a think tank?  Why are they so prized? 

The best known wonks are big moneymakers. They might make an appearance at a fundraiser.  If they make a speech, the think tank can charge admission.  

James McGann, who runs the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, says sometimes just having a really big name on a think tank’s letterhead is enough to get donations  flowing. 

He says, “Those that have a strong brand, which is connected to the rigor of their research, are key.”

Think tank donors include foundations, interest groups, and, increasingly, corporations -- which see the influence of think tanks as a way to pierce Washington gridlock.  Some think tanks have even set up separate arms that can lobby Congress, according to Jack Pitney, who teaches political science at Claremont McKenna College. 

“A lot of the organizations are really conglomerates of different kinds of groups depending on what kind of contributions they’re trying to draw," he says.

But Pitney says, for all the money involved, think tanks aren’t trying to make a profit. They're more interested in the real currency of Washington: power and influence.  

Rising demand for oil: 'Growth is easy when you've been in the pits'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-21 12:16

The International Energy Agency tracks which countries use how much oil -- and the United States is always at the top of the list.

“Every single day, just over 19 million barrels of oil are consumed in the U.S.,” says Matt Parry, senior oil market analyst for the agency. That accounts for about 20 percent of global oil use. China comes in second, using about 10 million barrels a day.

In recent years, China’s demand has been growing, while demand here has been slouching. But not in 2013. For the first time in more than a decade, demand for oil in the United States grew faster than China’s.

“The strength of it has exceeded everyone expectations,” says Parry.

Why? In part, the answer has to do with the recession. Growth is easy when you’ve been in the pits.

“As the economic activity picks up, there’s a lot more transportation going on,” says Peter Hartley, an economist at Rice University. There are more people driving to more jobs. There are more trucks, delivering more things.

And, the U.S. is drilling more of its own oil and natural gas. Supply is up. Prices are down. “And that’s really stimulating a renaissance of the petro-chemicals in the United States,” says Hartley. Plastics, chemicals, fertilizers. We’re making more of them here now.

But, don’t expect U.S. demand to continue rising. The energy agency says petrochemical companies in this country are pretty maxed out. Our cars are only going to get more fuel efficient. 

“Over time we think that U.S. demand is going to be flat at best, or probably trending a bit down,” says Mark Schwartz, president of PIRA Energy group, a consulting firm. China, on the other hand, likely has a whole lot of growth in its future. More people there are looking to buy cars, to travel, and to consume more like we do here in the United States.

'Hispanic' Or 'Latino'? Polls Say It Doesn't Matter — Usually

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 11:28

As more and more politicians and businesses court the Hispanic/Latino demographic, there's more and more confusion about how to refer to the people who fit into it.

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Preventive Medical Care Can Come With Unexpected Costs

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 11:23

Screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies are supposed to be covered under the Affordable Care Act. But some people are finding that they still end up having to pay for anesthesia and other associated services. And not all insurers are covering all forms of birth control.

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Guess Who's Singing The National Anthem At The Super Bowl?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 11:05

We won't guess what her odds were, but it's superstar soprano Renee Fleming.

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Om My: Chinese Buddha Booted Over Booty

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 10:56

A restaurateur in the Chinese city of Jinan wanted to advertise a dish so good that the Buddha himself scaled walls for a taste, so the owner put up giant sculptures of naked Buddhas climbing over the restaurant. Not everyone was amused.

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Japanese Government Defends Dolphin Hunt As Killing Goes On

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 10:05

The "drive hunt" by fishermen in one village is "a form of traditional fishing," a government spokesman says. Dolphins are trapped. Some are selected for sale to marine parks. Others are killed for meat. Thirty died Tuesday. Caroline Kennedy, the new U.S. ambassador, called the practice inhumane.

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The Davos World Economic Forum: A lot of 'hot air'?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-21 09:56

Some  2,500  of the world’s most powerful  business and political leaders will make their annual pilgrimage to a mountaintop in the Swiss Alps this week. They won’t be seeking a religious experience (well, most of them won't). They’re headed for the small ski resort of Davos for the 44th annual  World Economic Forum -  four days of economic discussion and debate.

Not everyone is expecting many major revelations.

"There will be a lot of bloviating," says David Rothkopf of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  "There are a lot of people there who love to hear themselves talk, that go on at length. That mountaintop in Switzerland each year  is warmed by quite a bit of hot air."

Anthony Hilton, Financial  Editor of the London Evening Standard is another Davos skeptic: "They go on about the 'Spirit of Davos' and how they’re shaping the world. But  they’re not. They’re actually revelling in their own self-importance and smugness. It’s  an exercise in self-preening and group think."

The gigantic agenda seems well-meaning enough. Among the 250 subjects under discussion over the next four days  are:  climate change, the future of healthcare, the nightmare of  youth unemployment and the challenge of scientific innovation.

But some items appear gloriously misplaced in this well-heeled assembly: "One of the big themes this year is – I kid you not – income inequality," points out John Reeves of The Motley Fool financial services group. "It’s ironical: Income inequality is the theme, and you’ve got to pay $40,000 to go there and weigh in." ($40,000 is  the  estimated average cost per attendee– including travel, accommodation, and getting into the event.) 

Forget all that guff about making the world a better place, says Anthony Hilton. Once investment bankers got involved, he claims, Davos went downhill: "They started throwing parties obviously to get business. And it now has become a competition to see who gets invited to the most exclusive parties.  So the whole spirit of it has gone by the board."

But Davos must be doing something right. A thousand corporations keep it afloat, pumping in around $200 million a year. And Martin Wolf of the Financial Times asks: So what if it is a gabfest? He believes that  Davos may have helped the world weather the financial crisis by forging contacts between politicians and businesses people around the world.   With forty heads of state, 20 central bank chiefs, and  numerous tycoons and Nobel Laureates attending this year, maybe Davos is a talking shop we cannot afford to ignore.      

 "I happen to believe that talking is quite a good thing to do," Wolf says.

Sen. Vitter Will Run For Governor In Louisiana

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 09:15

The Republican senator confirmed the news Tuesday. He survived a 2007 prostitution scandal to easily win re-election to the Senate three years later. If he fails in his bid to become governor, he could still keep his Senate seat and decide later whether to seek re-election to that post in 2016.

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Ukraine Tracks Protesters Through Cellphones Amid Clashes

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 09:14

People with cell phones who were in the vicinity of violent protests in Kiev reportedly received this disturbing text message from the government: "Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance."

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Stressed out by the Davos World Economic Forum?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-21 08:58

This week, the who’s who of the...world ... will gather in Davos, Switzerland, to set the economic agenda for 2014.

Now the summit isn't just dull economics. This is the Alps after all, so skiing and partying also seems to be on many agendas during the week. (Though not on everyone's agenda, this year:)

Matt #Damon says he won't be skiing in Switzerland after #Davos2014 as he's a broken collarbone from falling off his mountain bike

— Joanna Partridge (@JoannaPartridge) January 21, 2014

Setting the global economic agenda isn't a small task for a four-day confab.

But when sessions such as "Rethinking Ocean Economies" and "Responding to Global Risks" get stressful, organizers have attendees' backs. For the price of the cost of membership in the World Economic forum -- that's $70,000 -- you can also attend any of the following:

  • Let Goldie Hawn convince you to meditate. She's giving a talk on the ways "neuroscience, mindfulness training and social and emotional learning can change the world"
  • Make jewelry. Attend a workshop on "precision fabrication of unique components, such as jewellery and optics."
  • Hear a special concert by the St Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra.
  • Track how well you sleep. Sign up in advance for a Jawbone "health tracker." Keep track of your rest and exercise. 
  • Meditate with a Buddhist monk. Matthieu Ricard will lead recurring 8 a.m. sessions on how to "learn and experience the benefits of meditation."
  • See a special Screening of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom". Hors d'oeuvres will be served.
  • Muse upon the meaning of happiness. A session entitled "The Importance of Being Happy" promises to answer "Why is the pursuit of happiness so critical for ourworld andthat of future generations?
  • Celebrate with friends "new and old" at the "Jazz and Dance Soirée". Black tie, of course.

Video of Mariinsky Orchestra

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