National News

Humanitarian Worker In Yemen Sees Catastrophe Ahead

NPR News - Sat, 2015-04-11 03:38

Crucial aid shipments carrying much-needed medical supplies have finally reached Yemen. NPR's Tamara Keith talks to Nuha, the humanitarian coordinator for Oxfam in Yemen.

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Family Dispute Tears At France's Far-Right National Front

NPR News - Sat, 2015-04-11 03:38

A family feud is raging in France's far-right political party between party leader Marine Le Pen and its founder, Le Pen's father. NPR's Tamara Keith speaks with French journalist Cecile Alduy.

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The Future of Free Online Courses: New Research From MIT And Harvard

NPR News - Sat, 2015-04-11 03:03

A new study of free, online college courses found a pattern among the people who take them: They're mostly college-educated, including a surprising number of teachers.

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Former Ebola Fighters Feel As If They Get No Respect

NPR News - Sat, 2015-04-11 03:03

Many Liberians who helped battle the virus weren't full-fledged health workers. Now that the outbreak has subsided, they feel forgotten, neglected and stigmatized.

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5 Things You Should Know About Hillary Clinton

NPR News - Sat, 2015-04-11 01:03

She started out as a Republican and hasn't driven a car since 1996. Here's what you may not know or just may not remember about the former secretary of state and first lady.

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Plagued By Smog, Krakow Struggles To Break Its Coal-Burning Habit

NPR News - Sat, 2015-04-11 00:50

Russian gas is expensive, so many Poles still rely on coal. Krakow is one of the most polluted cities in the EU's most polluted country. All that coal is akin to "smoking 2,000 cigarettes per year."

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Weekly Wrap: General Electric and Stock Market Highs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-10 16:12

Joining Kai to talk about the week's business and economic news are Nela Richardson from Redfin and Sudeep Reddy  from the Wall Street Journal. The big topics this week: General Electric's plans to sell off most of GE Capital, the company's financial division, and the reasons behind some countries' current stock market highs.  


How film actors' pay gets calculated

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-10 13:41

When Sony Studios was hacked late last year in connection with the film "The Interview," a trove of internal documents was released online. One of the damaging revelations was that the studio was paying some of its actresses less than their male co-stars.

The revelation generated headlines about women's pay. But, it also brought to light the disparities in what actors are paid, and the complex calculations that go into determining those salaries.

"It's a calculus you go through on each film," says Peter Sealey, former head of marketing at Columbia Pictures, who now runs a marketing firm.

Amy Pascal, the former studio chief at Sony Pictures who was fired in the aftermath of the hack, spoke at a women's conference in San Francisco in February, and said one of the fundamental elements of what determines actors' salaries is, simply, negotiation.

"I run a business. People want to work for less money, I'll pay them less money," Pascal said in a public interview with audience. "I don't call them up and go: can I give you some more?"

Some actresses are definitely not working for less money. They are the rarefied few in the $20-million-and-up-club, like Angelina Jolie and Sandra Bullock. They both can command huge salaries and even percentages of movie profits or revenues.

But there are many other actors who do not have such clout. And yet, Pascal's advice was blunt.

"The truth is that what women have to do is not work for less money. They have to walk away. People shouldn't be so grateful for jobs. People should know what they're worth and say no," Pascal said.

But walking away may be less of an option for most actors, because the salary calculations studios do, Sealey says, which change their formulas based on recent trends.

The calculation of an actor's worth in a film "involves a lot of variables," Sealey says, "but principally it is: how much of a draw will that actor or actress be for your target audience?"

The bigger the audience the studio believes an actor can attract to movie theaters — especially during the all-important opening weekend, which can help determine the long-term earnings trajectory of a film - the higher that actor's salary might go.

But that correlation has a number of additional variables that can affect salary. Among them are the film's budget and what role that film plays for a studio's bottom line. If it's a tentpole film, Sealey says, "where it's important to a studio's long-term health... the price of the actor goes up."

A major tentpole, like the James Bond franchise, is supposed to make so much money that it covers the bombs the studio makes and boosts the bottom line. The last Bond film, "Skyfall," made $300 million in the U.S. and $1.1 billion globally. 

Conversely, non-tentpole films might have lower budgets and lower salaries — no matter an actor's star power. But for the big-budget fare, salaries can reach the heights which Daniel Craig reached in "Skyfall:" $17 million. The film itself reportedly cost $200 million to produce. Craig's salary probably also had something to do with the fact that he had been Bond before.

"If you're trying to get somebody to repeat a past success, obviously you wind up paying them more," says Mike Medavoy, a film producer who headed up Orion and TriStar pictures in the '80s and '90s.

Repeating past successes, if done in a particular genre, can help actors establish a brand and help them boost their salaries, Medavoy says.

"Liam Neeson is a perfect example of that," he says. 

Neeson made $1 million for "Taken," but by the second sequel, with a track record of box office success behind him, Neeson raked in $20 million. The film itself made $300 million, most of it overseas.

"At this point, about 65 to 70 percent of the revenue comes out of foreign and not out of the domestic market," Medavoy says. Which means that an actor with strong appeal in foreign markets can demand a higher salary.

Actors' appeal is also calculated with other revenue streams in mind — home video, Internet, TV, etc. Even an actor's social media presence — whether they have a large Twitter following, for example — can help determine their salary, says entertainment lawyer Jonathan Handel.

"That's something that talent reps can use in arguing for a given salary," Handel says, "How that translates into dollars is probably a dark art." 

While actors can do a lot to boost their worth, Handel says there is a countervailing trend among studios. They're making fewer movies, and relying more on special effects and comic-book characters.

"You know if you're casting a Spider-Man movie, it's mostly about Spider-Man and not about the particular actor," Handel says.

Compare that to the 1990s, when movie budgets ballooned and actors' salaries went up along with those budgets. Handel says the decades since have seen a big shift and "the power that actors and their representatives used to have has diminished."

In aggregate, that's meant smaller salaries, except for the biggest of the big name actors, he says.

Clam Cancer Spreads Along Eastern Seaboard

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-10 13:22

Renegade cells floating through seawater apparently cause the cancer, scientists say. Though people can't catch it, the malignancy might offer clues to how cancer cells spread in the human body.

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Attorney General To Employees: You Can't Solicit Prostitutes, Ever

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-10 13:12

The memo follows an Inspector General report that found Drug Enforcement agents had "sex parties" in Colombia with prostitutes paid for by drug cartels.

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Magic Mirror, At The Store, Should This Top Go In My Drawer?

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-10 13:10

Craning your neck in the dressing room is just part of the shopping experience. But Neiman Marcus hopes a new digital "Memory Mirror" will make it easier to find something that fits just right.

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GE to sell most of its lending business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-10 13:00

General Electric announced today that it’s getting out of the lending business, selling off most of its financial arm, GE Capital, over the next couple of years. First up is a big chunk of its real estate business, which it’s offloading to Blackstone. That leaves GE, the industrial company – a producer of jet engines and other things that go "vrroom."

Historically, GE’s lending business was a very small portion of the company, says Tom O’Boyle, author of “At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit.” That changed when Jack Welch took the helm in the early ‘80s.

“Jack Welch saw bonanza in finance,” says Jeff Madrick, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the author of “Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present.


He says the company realized it could make lots of money in finance with far fewer employees than manufacturing, eventually becoming "a full-fledged mortgage lender and a sub-prime mortgage lender.” Now, Madrick says GE’s getting out of a business it never fully understood. Moreover, the financial industry is more competitive now with lower profits.

It’s not that finance is dying, says Jim Wilcox, a professor at U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

“Instead, I would say the bubble’s popped,” he says. “The damage was done, but now we’re going to have a financial sector that’s going to be sturdier, and it’s going to be sturdier because it’ll be the serious devoted firms that remain.” He adds that the remaining firms are also more heavily regulated. 

Designing watch apps that won't drive you nuts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-10 13:00

Today is the day you can officially pre-order yourself an Apple Watch.

If you are weighing the decision to buy one, you might be asking yourself what, exactly is this thing going to do. It will no doubt be a new home for apps, very tiny apps . These apps will deliver notifications via a very small screen screen and by vibrating your wrist. The potential hazards of badly designed wach aps could drive a person mad. So how exactly do you go about making products for the new era of smart watches?


Your dollar goes a long way at the Masters

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-10 12:53

Twenty-one-year-old American Jordan Spieth is tearing it up at the Masters. He set a 36 hole record today: 14 under par 130 for the first two days.

Augusta National, the home of the Masters, certainly has its issues. But gouging spectators at the concession stands isn't one of them. 

A CBS sports producer took $100 out with him the other day to see how many golf fans he could buy lunch for at the tournament. He was able to feed 17.

Pimento cheese sandwiches — whatever they are — and soda are available for $1.50 each.

Quick update to this story: Dozens of people wrote in to explain what pimento cheese is, and how allegedly good it is.

Okay, now that I know what pimento cheese actually'll pass.

— Kai Ryssdal (@kairyssdal) April 10, 2015

Painting the 'Epic Drama' Of The Great Migration: The Work Of Jacob Lawrence

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-10 12:48

A rare exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art features 60 paintings by Jacob Lawrence about the journey of 6 million African-Americans, who fled the segregated South during the Great Migration.

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Philadelphia 76ers: worst or best NBA strategy?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-10 12:42

The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the marquee franchises of the National Basketball Association. They've won three championships, and some of basketball's greats have worn the uniform: Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley and Wilt Chamberlain. 


But this season they're just terrible. They won just 18 games, while losing 61. Home attendance hovers around 14,000, the worst in the league. 


While every team has rebuilding years, not every front office trades out its veteran players for younger prospects and higher draft picks, banking on an uncertain future.


As Philly native Michael Sokolove put it in the New York Times Magazine, this year's Sixers are "the least capable assemblage of basketball players ever." 


That's by design, he says. While the players work hard for every shot and loose ball, the front office is cycling through the roster as quickly as possible. It's a gamble designed to — eventually — propel the Sixers directly from the lowest ranks to a championship team, rather than steadily building from middling to good. So, are they tanking on purpose?


"It depends on what you consider tank mode," Sokolove said. "The players surely are not tanking. They're trying very hard. Management is certainly tanking. There's not a move that they have made, last year or this year, that has had the intent of giving them a better chance to win the next game."


Sokolove went on the road with the Sixers and found an earnest and loveable group of players, led by a cynical front office. He had quite a few off-the-record conversations with the Wall Street-trained, MBA wielding stats wizards. But, they wouldn't speak about their strategy outright. 


"I think we can intuit the philosophy is, 'We've got a better plan. The rest of y'all out there trying to win right now, and trying to win gradually... look at us,'" Sokolove said. "We've got a plan that's going to work, just wait and see."


Management's pursuit of a calculating strategy for making big leaps is a bit reminiscent of Oakland A's coach Billy Beane, as profiled in Michael Lewis's book, "Moneyball." But that's not exactly right, Sokolove said. 


"If you remember Moneyball, you know, Billy Beane is pacing and going crazy. He's living and dying with each game's result. He's trying to win, and he's trying to win soon." 


Whereas the Sixers don't seem to care about short-term wins. 


"If there's such a thing as sports ethics," Sokolove said, " I think you're supposed to go out there and try to win, and they're clearly not in that mode."


Returning to the players, Sokolove found that winning was the goal, even if not a likely reality. 


"I absolutely love the players because no more than 2 or 3 of them have an assured NBA career," Sokolove said."So these guys are desperate... If they have a bad shooting night, they're in the gym that night, past midnight, practicing their shots. So you want to root for these guys."

#NPRreads: In Defense Of California And Wearing The Same Thing To Work Daily

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-10 12:10

This week, we highlight an Internet confessional of a woman who decided to do like men: wear the same outfit to work every day. We also baseball and fancy food at schools.

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What's Bigger: Yemen Or Virginia? There's An App For That

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-10 12:06

A web site lets you compare countries around the world to your home state. You can check out other stats, too, from lifespan to income to free time.

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Lunch, Not Landfill: Nonprofit Rescues Produce Rejected At U.S. Border

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-10 11:57

Each year, millions of pounds of Mexican produce are rejected just past the border even though they're tasty and edible. Instead of the landfill, they're now going to needy families across the U.S.

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Alleged Mastermind Of 2008 Mumbai Attack Out On Bail

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-10 11:36

Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, accused of plotting the Mumbai attack that left more than 160 people dead, walked out of a Pakistani prison on Friday. The move threatens to strain relations with India.

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