National News

Pain From The Grain: Corn Belt Towns Languish As Prices Drop

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 12:25

Some farmers won't break even this planting season, and may have to tap into their savings. Many Corn Belt towns depend largely on these farmers and businesses linked to farming.

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Britain Unveils A New 1-Pound Coin

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 12:24

The coin has 12 sides and a fresh design. It also has new technology that the Royal Mint says will make it the most counterfeit-proof coin in the world.

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How Much Can Women Trust That Breast Cancer Biopsy?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 12:11

Pathologists are great at spotting cancer, but less so at identifying atypical cells or DCIS, a study finds. That could lead to women getting too much treatment — or not enough.

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Protesters, Police Clash At Opening Of European Central Bank Headquarters

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 12:10

Protesters set fire to burning tires and threw stones at police, who responded with water cannons during a ceremony to inaugurate the $1 billion-plus building in Frankfurt, Germany.

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Janet Yellen isn't ready to raise interest rates

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 12:03

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and Fed policy makers wrapped up a two-day meeting in Washington D.C. today. Investors were hoping Yellen would provide a few clues about when the Fed might raise interest rates.

Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall-Genzer, who attended Yellen's press briefing following the meeting, reports that the Fed is willing to move, but cautiously.  

"If the Fed waits too long you could have undesirable things like deflation kick in that are a lot harder to correct once they’ve started," Genzer says. "On the other hand, you don’t want to do things too quickly because that could throw us back into a recession."   

So, for now, interest rates will stay the same. But what’s the magic unemployment number that might get Yellen to consider an uptick in interest rates?

"…Unemployment needs to be even lower, between 5 percent and 5.2 percent," Genzer says. 

Yellen didn’t completely rule out an interest-rate hike in April, “but she’s really trying not to spook the markets. She refuses to be pinned down on timing,” Genzer says.  

As expected, #Fed drops its pledge to be patient in raising interest rates, but makes it clear it's in no hurry.

— Nancy Marshall (@MarshallGenzer) March 18, 2015

Weak Euro undermines Chanel's China strategy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 12:00

If you’re thinking about planning a vacation to Europe, now would be a good time. The American dollar is worth more now against the Euro than at any point over the past decade.

While the exchange rate may be welcome news for some tourists, the same may not be said for luxury European brands like Chanel or Gucci. Chanel handbags are so much cheaper in Paris than in China that Chinese tourists are flooding Paris shops for luxury bargains. Chanel want them to buy its handbags in China, expanding its market there.

So Chanel will increase prices in Europe and cut them in Asia.

“I think the Chinese consumer will benefit from this, because they will get lower prices and they won't have to go shop in New York, London or Paris in order to get the benefit of those relatively lower prices,” says Milton Pedraza of the Luxury Institute.

But high-end brands in particular need to think long and hard about changing prices from country to country.

"One of the keys to running a luxury business is that the customers understand that the prices don't move all that often, and that you're not waiting for products to go on sale,” says Stifel analyst David Schick.

Schick says long-term profitability for companies like Chanel or Louis Vuitton won’t hinge on exchange rates, but rather on how they are able to compete in a market that is increasingly crowed with competitors — many of whom are perfectly willing to sell you a handbag online, instead of through a shop on the Champs-Élysées.

This Spanish Pig-Slaughtering Tradition Is Rooted In Sustainability

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 12:00

In Spanish villages, townspeople gather at dawn to collectively slaughter a pig, then prepare every last bit as food, even the ears. The ancient ritual, called matanza, is now drawing foodie tourists.

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Teens Say They Change Clothes And Do Homework While Driving

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 11:46

So they do seem to get that texting is dangerous. But putting on makeup and contact lenses at 65 mph? No problem. Researchers in Oregon are trying to train teenagers on the risks of multitasking.

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France Considers A Ban On Overly Skinny Models

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 11:35

Proposed legislation in France would criminalize the use of underweight models and ban online sites that glorify anorexia and other eating disorders.

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Kraft recalls 6.5 million boxes of macaroni and cheese

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 11:19

Kraft Foods says it is recalling more than 6.5 million boxes of its iconic original-flavor "Macaroni and Cheese Dinner." The company says numerous consumers reported finding metal pieces in the packages. The affected boxes have a "Best When Used By" date of Sept. 18 through Oct. 11, 2015, and the manufacturing code “C2” printed below the date.

A company spokesperson told Marketplace via email it is, “too early to speculate about the cost of this action.” Large recalls can run up costs in the tens of millions of dollars for a company — including lost revenue, inventory and production, as well as damage to brand reputation. Some of that cost may be covered by insurance.

The system for food-safety product recalls in the U.S. has changed in the past several years, following passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011. When a food company — like Kraft — receives complaints from consumers or reports of food-borne illness, or it discovers contamination at a production facility in its supply chain, it notifies the FDA and consumers, and voluntarily recalls the product. If a food-safety problem is identified by the FDA and the company does not comply with a request for a voluntary recall, FSMA allows the FDA to order a recall.

 

Mac 'n cheese noodles make great art supplies, but just make sure to check your recalled Kraft boxes for metal first.

Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace 

Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs at the Center for Food Safety, a consumer-advocacy group, says there is still more work to be done to ensure that mass-produced food sold in America is safe.

“The recent announcement (by Kraft) is a reminder of just how fragile our food-safety system is here in the U.S.,” he says. “Increasingly, responses to food-safety concerns are more motivated by PR and marketplace interests, than by public health concerns.”

But industry analyst Jim Hertel at food consultancy Willard Bishop in Chicago believes Americans are generally satisfied with the largely-voluntary system of food-safety monitoring and enforcement. His company does consulting work for Kraft and other food manufacturers.

“There is a level of confidence that the U.S. inspection regimen basically has gotten it right,” he says.

Hertel says most consumers understand that contaminated food does make its way into grocery-store and restaurant food occasionally. But he believes these incidents sow more fear in consumers when they are caused by a microbe or dangerous chemical, rather than (as with Kraft's Macaroni and Cheese) a chip of metal, possibly left by a flaw in the manufacturing process.

“The things that consumers can’t see are sometimes more terrifying than the things they can see,” Hertel says. “When it’s a biological or bacterial agent, I think there’s a lot more fear, uncertainty and doubt that creeps into the consumer’s mind.”

No Charges For Operator Of Drone That Crashed At White House

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 10:39

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the decision followed a Secret Service investigation into the Jan. 26 incident. The FAA is conducting its own review of the quad copter's crash.

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Parents weigh the lessons of Common Core testing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 10:20
In a small brick house in Glen Burnie, Maryland, 9-year-old Thevy Mak sits at the piano, practicing before a lesson.

Small and thin, with long dark hair, Thevy is a little girl caught up in a big fight playing out around the country. This week, her fourth grade class will take the first round of the new PARCC assessment; standardized tests tied to the Common Core education standards. Thevy won’t be joining them.

“I was glad I didn’t have to,” Thevy says. “Sometimes the questions are really hard and I get really confused.”

Thevy's mom, Sheena Mak, tried some sample questions from the test and felt they were beyond Thevy’s grade level. Mak also doesn’t like what she views as corporate-driven school reform. Pearson, a multi-billion dollar education company, helped develop the test. Not that she went into all that with Thevy.

Sheena Mak (center), with daughters Sophia, 7 (left), and Thevy, 9. Thevy is not taking standardized tests tied to the Common Core standards this year. Amy Scott/Marketplace

"As a parent it is my duty, it's my responsibility, to make the decisions for my children that I think are in their best interest,” Mak says.

Thevy is among millions of students who are scheduled this month to take the first round of tests aligned with the Common Core standards.  Depending on the state, the tests have different names and take different forms. They’re all designed to track kids’ progress toward college and careers. And no matter where you live, there are likely to be families who will refuse to let their kids be tested.

As more parents make that choice this spring, they’re wrestling with what it will mean for their kids. After all, the kids are the ones who have to show up and refuse the tests.

“The first thought that came to my mind was, ‘Boy this puts a kid in an awkward position,’” says Joanna Faber, a former teacher who runs workshops about how to communicate with children.

With all the drama about testing — parents shaming each other on Facebook and protesting in front of schools — Faber says kids may feel torn between two authorities: parent and school. She suggests giving children a choice.

“If your child’s very uncomfortable about the idea of opting out, you might tell her, ‘Listen, if you want to just sit and take the test, that’s okay. I can protest in other ways,’” Faber says.

Parents should let their kids decide whether to take the Common Core tests.
Lynne Rigby wanted to opt her kids out of Florida’s new Common Core test. She says it’s taking too much time away from learning. But she worried about how her seventh grader would feel going against the grain.

“He's such a rule follower and I expected him to want to take the test,” Rigby says.

So she let him and his older brother decide.

“I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable, and they’re not here to fight my battle,” she says. “They’re 13 and 14. They’re capable of making those decisions.”

Both boys chose not to take the tests. So did lots of other students at their school, Rigby says, so they didn’t stand out. Other parents worry about how that decision will affect kids later on, though, when they confront other challenges like in college or the workplace.

“I think it’s actually very destructive in a deep way to signal to kids that a test is hard or scary or that they can’t do it,” says Amy Briggs, a mother of two in Brooklyn, New York, a hotbed of the opt-out movement.

Briggs works for a nonprofit that helps teachers implement the Common Core, so she doesn't share the distaste many in the opt-out movement have for the standards themselves. As a mom, Briggs says she’d rather see her kids fail a test than be protected from taking it.

“I feel like my job is to cheer them on,” she says. “I’m not going to remove every obstacle. Tests are part of the deal.”

A lot of parents think they shouldn’t be part of the deal — at least not so many of them — and that test scores shouldn’t play such a big role in how schools are rated, whether get kids ahead, and whether teachers keep their jobs. They say opting out teaches kids a different lesson about standing up for their beliefs.

Public school parents and teachers remain closely divided when it comes to their overall attitudes toward the Common Core standards, split between positive and negative impressions. Kelsey Fowler/Piktochart

Brooklyn Ritter, 9, will sit out testing at her public Montessori school in Baltimore.

“I decided that I didn’t want to take it, because I am no good at tests — especially when it’s being timed,” she says.

Her mom, Elena Ritter, says Brooklyn was so worried about the test she didn’t want to become a third grader. That’s when annual state testing begins. But Ritter says refusing the test is not about saving Brooklyn from something scary.

“I always say ‘90 percent of fear is between your ears,’” she says. But if I can’t get behind the test myself and they don’t want to do it, I didn’t feel like I could push them to do it.

In the end, the lesson a kid takes away from opting out may depend more on the kid than the parents, says Faber.

“If your child feels empowered by it, then it’s empowering,” she says. “If they feel awkward and frightened about it, then it’s not going to be empowering.”

With kids taking 113 standardized tests, on average, by the time they finish high school, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to think about it.

Fed Sends Clear Sign On Raising Rates, But Says Hike Unlikely In April

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 10:06

In a statement, the Federal Reserve dropped a pledge to be "patient" before raising rates.

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Attorney General Holder Jokes Republicans Have 'A New Fondness For Me'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 09:45

The Senate has delayed confirming Holder's successor Loretta Lynch. Sen. Durbin says she's been "asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar."

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Mesa, Ariz., Police Seek Active Shooter

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 09:38

A police spokesman said at least four people have been shot. He said police are looking for a bald white male in his 40s, wearing a gray shirt, black pants or shorts and with a tattoo on his neck.

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Risks Run High When Antipsychotics Are Prescribed For Dementia

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 09:35

Results from an analysis of veterans' health records show a higher risk of death among people taking antipsychotic drugs for symptoms of dementia than has been documented before.

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Video Break: Soaring Through An Immense Vietnamese Cave

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 09:21

American photographer Ryan Deboodt says he filmed Hang Son Doong on his third visit. The world's largest cave features a river and huge "skylights" that have allowed trees and wildlife to flourish.

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Yik Yak, privacy settings and the anonymous economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 09:16

In South by Southwest Interactive’s idea exchange, the goal is often trying to get some pattern recognition. Brands, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, academics — everyone is trying to get a sense of what is happening right now, and what is the Next Big Thing. Right now, data privacy is a huge issue. Over 100 events at Interactive tackle privacy as a topic, from drones to health care.

One of the week’s privacy-focused events was the release of a new login management system from Yahoo. The company is calling it an “on-demand password” system where, every time you want to login, you get a new code texted to your phone. For a company that has been pulling in user data — and fielding “change password” requests — for years this seems to make a lot of sense. But it’s also part of a larger recognition at Yahoo that users increasingly understand the value of data protection and control.

“It’s really important to provide our users with the tools and the ability to control what they share with us,” says Dylan Casey, a VP of products at Yahoo. “And, be as transparent as possible about what we do with it.”

Other people at Southby are here to talk about anonymity. For Yik Yak, one of the hot startups making an appearance at the festival, anonymity is a key feature. The app lets college kids share anonymous comments publicly with the entire campus community. There has been plenty of criticism leveled at Yik Yak for allowing racism, sexism, and worse to be posted without much accountability. Co-founders Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington say they are combating that content by adding filters for certain language. But they tout the app for recently alerting students to a campus shooting nine minutes before the college’s emergency alert system. And their promise of anonymity for users is bringing in cash.

“The company's at about 35 people working on Yik Yak,” Droll says. “We've raised about 70 million dollars and we have a presence at just about every college campus in america.”

Yik Yak is one of many increasingly popular apps that offer anonymity as a big selling point. But many of these startups don’t have to worry about revenue yet. For Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, data is an incredibly valuable resource. Which is probably why those larger companies are trying to offer more general controls and protection--not anonymity.

Is there a way to mine data and offer some anonymity to a growing number of users who don't want their email messages used for marketing ploys, or something worse? Security specialist at the company Rapid7 Nicholas Percoco says it depends on what you really want from your technology.

“By nature of using the device or service,” he says, “the benefit of that is that it’s tracking you.”  

Location based rewards, mapping, recommendations and more convenience based on the data we’re giving up is already here. And even if you do decide you do want anonymity as a user and are willing to do the work to get it, it might be a quixotic quest. Percoco says as time goes on, companies that pull in our data get bought and sold, along with our information. Take a bit from data column A and a bit from data column B, and a company, government or hacker can turn anonymity into your positive ID.

Oh, for the want of a decent copier

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 08:57

A lot of reporters use the Freedom of Information Act — FOIA — to request documents from the government.

Last year, I asked the State Department for copies of some correspondence related to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. And it took me a while to hear back.

I received a response last week. 

Evidently, there's a huge backlog at the State Department in the office that handles requests like mine, and we now know why.

An inspector general looked into the matter and provided an explanation: "The office lacks copy machines that can handle the volume required."

There aren't enough copy machines. At the State Department. In 2015.

 

Dallas Seavey Wins Third Iditarod in Four Years

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 08:44

The 28-year-old Seavey finished the race early Wednesday. He completed the 1,100-mile sled dog race in 8 days, 18 hours, 13 minutes, and 6 seconds.

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