National News

'No Evidence' Snowden Raised Concerns While At NSA

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 15:04

The National Security Agency says it has only one email exchange between the former contractor and the NSA's legal branch — concerning a technical issue.

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How campus safety could affect college choices

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-29 14:05

Campus safety is on the minds of many college-age women these days. Female students were among the targets in the deadly attacks last week near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

But even before then, sexual harassment and assault on college campuses were making headlines.

In the past couple months, the U.S Department of Education has published the names of about 60 schools its Office for Civil Rights is investigating for their handling of Title IX offenses, which involve sexual violence (see the full list here).

And the women's advocacy group UltraViolet has launched ad campaigns against Harvard, Dartmouth and other universities over their handling of campus assaults.

“Where we're coming from is just a place of acknowledging that many colleges have completely failed their students on this issue,” says UltraViolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas.

Thomas believes her group has helped steer prospective student away from Dartmouth. But the school points out that the UltraViolet campaign was launched after the applications deadline this year and had no bearing on a 14 percent decline in applications, which it attributes instead to a host of factors, including demographic changes

Application and enrollment levels rise and fall for all sorts of reasons, according to Peter Lake, director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law. Lake, an expert on campus safety, says it would be difficult to single out the role campus safety is playing.

“Everyone is watching to see just how sensitive consumers of higher education are to safety issues,” says Lake.

Liya Tessima, a high school student in St. Paul, Minnesota, says safety didn’t influence her choice of schools. She’s headed to St. Olaf College this fall. The school is located in a rural part of Minnesota, and Tessima says she thinks she will feel safe there. But that didn’t lead her to choose St. Olaf’s over more urban schools, where crime is more prevalent.

"I never really considered it that way," she says. Tessima notes that St. Olaf’s biology department was its greatest selling point for her.

Annie Baxter

Tessima’s friend Kweh-ley Paw will go to a big urban school, the University of Minnesota. Paw is nervous about campus safety. She says her parents are, too.

“So they're going to let me come home whenever I feel like it,” she says.

Nevertheless, Paw says she hasn't checked out the university's reputation for handling assaults.

Several groups are pressuring college ranking services like the Princeton Review to factor campus safety into their rankings. The Princeton Review says not all that information is public and there would be no uniform way to report it.

Correction: An earlier version of this story failed to note that the UltraViolet campaign began after Dartmouth’s application deadline. The text has been corrected.

The fight for Hillshire, as measured in hot dogs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-29 13:52

Everyone wants a bite of the hot dog.

On Tuesday, chicken producer Pilgrim's Pride began the bidding war for Hillshire Brands with an offer equivalent to $6.4 billion. Hillshire is a brand best-known for their Jimmy Dean sausages and Ball Park hot dogs. Tyson Foods, another meatpacking distributor, relished the opportunity to beat them on Thursday with their own offering of $6.1 billion.

What I wanted to know: What are they offering in... meat? How many hot dogs and whole chickens could Tyson foods buy with that $6.1 billion?

Approx. number of Ballpark Hot Dogs:


Approx. number of Tyson Family Roaster Chickens: 


Tyson's going to need to purchase another 300 million hot dogs if they want to match the Pilgrim's Pride deal. 

Condiment Detente: Sriracha Plant To Stay In California City

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 13:35

After a contentious half-year, Irwindale's City Council and Sriracha-maker David Tran have come to an agreement: His factory stays put and the spicy scent stays in the bottle.

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High-end designers turn to 'alpha-sizing'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-29 13:33

There's a new trend called "alpha sizing," in which designers are doing away with numerical sizes in favor of "small," "medium," "large," "extra large," and the rest.

The reason, according to the Wall Street Journal: Alpha sizing makes manufacturing easier, and it also makes things easier for those of us who shop online.

Consumers won't buy two sizes, then return one of them. It's the athletic apparel approach to designer fashion. 

Recent data suggests men seem to prefer it as well.

Why does everyone want Hillshire these days?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-29 13:30

There is a bidding war afoot for Hillshire Brands Co., which you may know as the maker of Jimmy Dean sausages and Ball Park hot dogs. Meat processor Tyson Foods swept in with a bid of $50 a share Thursday, topping a recent offer from rival Pilgrim’s Pride Corp.

Which has us wondering: Why does Hillshire suddenly seem to be King of the Prom?

1) Diversification. Turns out, meat processors like Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride have one thing on their minds. “The main driver of all these offers that are being made to purchase Hillshire right now is the increasing price for beef, pork, chicken,” says analyst Hester Jeon with IBISWorld. These protein companies are heavily commoditized, with low margins, and historic volatility, according to senior analyst Robert Moskow of Credit Suisse, which has investments in this sector.

2) Moving up the value chain. Hillshire, with its portfolio of value-added prepared foods (like Jimmy Dean Sausage, Egg, & Cheese Croissant Sandwiches) offers a range of products with higher profit margins.

3) Pressure to move fast. Hillshire was planning to acquire packaged-foods company Pinnacle Foods Inc. Its suitors probably want to intervene before that happens, as Pinnacle isn’t an attractive investment for them.

4) Taxes? Hillshire is approaching the two-year anniversary of becoming a new company (it grew out of the old Sara Lee). Long story short, two years after a spinoff there’s less of a threat of tax penalties should the new company be bought.

Economic Upswing Has Fewer Americans Receiving Food Stamps

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 13:30

Last year, about 1 in 7 people in the U.S. were getting food stamps, or SNAP benefits. But the numbers have started to drop as more people find work and better-paying jobs, analysts say.

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The Googlers inventing the future: mainly male, white

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-29 13:28

In the face of mounting pressure, Google has released some data on the diversity of its workforce, after years of claiming the information was a trade secret. The data came with the caveat from the company that "we're not where we want to be when it comes to diversity.”

Google is not alone in its lack of diversity —  the company’s mostly white and mostly male staff, especially among the ranks of engineers and executives, is in line with national trends in the U.S. tech sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

So how does that lack of diversity affect the tech industry? Here’s one story to consider.

Not long after Arielle Zuckerberg was hired last year as senior product manager for Humin, a San Francisco start up, she was in a meeting talking about the design of the company’s mobile app. At the time, Zuckerberg was one of only three female engineers, and the only woman on the executive team.

Zuckerberg says in the meeting, the guys on the team were excited about a new feature in the works that let a user add a contact to a phone, just by knocking on the phone while it was in his or her pocket.

Well, make that—his pocket.

“I brought to the attention of the execs that women don't carry their phones in their pocket—they carry them in their purse,” Zuckerberg recalls. 

It's the kind of obvious but potentially fatal design flaw that could make an app not so exciting to half a company’s potential customers. A segment also known as: women.

For Zuckerberg, this was a painfully simple insight. “But to the execs,” she says, “it was like—‘Oh, wow, I never thought of that.’” 

Innovation "blind spots" are what Catherine Bracy calls these moments. She recruits engineers for tech non-profit Code for America, based in Silicon Valley—a place, Bracy says, with little diversity and many blind spots. 

“You assume that you have all the knowledge you need to solve all these problems, and you don't realize that your world is so small,” Bracy says. “Innovation happens when you have different types of people in a room together having arguments but coming out with better solutions and better ideas.”

There's lots of research showing that diversity helps a company innovate and profit, says Vivek Wadhwa, a tech entrepreneur and fellow at Stanford Law School. He points out that while engineers and executives at google and other tech companies are mostly white and male, their customers are not.

That imbalance raises an important question for Wadhwa: “If technology developers don't understand anything about their audience,” he wonders, “how will they develop better technologies?” 

Why the GDP got revised downward

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-29 13:24

The Bureau of Economic Analysis issued a revision Thursday morning of its estimate for Gross Domestic Product growth in the first quarter of 2014, and the revision made the economic picture look much worse. 

Instead of growing at an annualized rate of 0.1 percent, the bureau announced the economy actually shrank at an annualized rate of one percent. So how do you just not catch an economic contraction until months later?

“When we produced our first estimate last month we didn’t have complete data for the quarter,” explains Brent Moulton, associate director for National Economic Accounts at the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the Commerce Department. 

And why didn’t they have complete data? 

“Most of these data come from surveys of businesses, some from administrative records, but most from surveys ,” says Moulton.  “It takes time to get responses.”

The BEA comes up with more and better estimates over time as it gets more data.

“They don’t get all the pieces of it right away,” says Joseph Gagnon, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.  “So there’s an advance estimate, then a preliminary estimate, then a final estimate, and at each point along the way they get more reports in and more data.”

And that’s not the end of it – GDP can be updated even years later as new businesses report back records. But back to the latest GDP estimate: Why did it shrink when jobs, unemployment, and the stock market didn’t? 

Two reasons.  Over the nasty winter the economy slowed, and that tainted the monthly data early in the first quarter. That dragged the estimate down, even though the monthly data at the end of the quarter showed pretty good numbers overall.  “By March the numbers were coming in strong again, but by that point the weakness was essentially baked into the cake,” says Christopher Low, chief economist with FTN Financial.

Secondly, business investment in inventory – a particularly volatile indicator, says Gagnon – turned out to be lower than expected.  When the BEA did its initial estimate in April, it only had two months of inventory data.  The missing months, when they finally arrived, showed that businesses had cut down – temporarily – on their inventories more than people had guessed.  That dragged down the estimate of GDP growth into negative territory.

It’s also worth pointing out that GDP didn’t actually shrink by one percent; it shrank at a rate that if  continued over the entire year would amount to one percent. 

If you’re curious why GDP shrank but jobs, unemployment, and the Dow didn’t, just remember that “GDP doesn’t answer all questions,” as Brent Moulton with the BEA says.  It measures all economic output – manufacturing, services, exports, imports, all of it.  That can change in the short term without jobs or stocks being created or lost.  GDP remains, says Joseph Gagnon, “our best measure of economic activity.”

Husband Of Woman Stoned To Death In Pakistan Killed First Wife

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 13:12

Mohammad Iqbal, whose wife was killed by angry relatives in Lahore earlier this week, admits he killed his first wife so he could remarry.

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Ready, Set, Spray! Brazil Battles Dengue Ahead Of The World Cup

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 13:00

With more than a million visitors expected for the games, Brazilian authorities are trying to control the mosquitoes that carry the disease and stop a sudden spike of cases in Sao Paulo.

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Hot Sauce Art: LA Museum Honors Sriracha and Tapatio

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:49

For an exhibition called "LA Heat," the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles asked 30 artists to come up with new works inspired by two homegrown hot sauce heroes: Sriracha and Tapatio.

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10 facts about Bitcoin (before it gets boring)

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:46

You can now pay your Dish Network TV bill with Bitcoin.

Andy Schmidt, Research Director with CEB TowerGroup, says one of the biggest knocks against crypto-currencies is that so far they’ve mostly been used for one-time transactions, not standard recurring payments. But, he says, Dish's move to accept dull, normal everyday payments will get more people using these systems more and more often.

Before Bitcoin becomes totally boring, here are five of our favorites – the weirdest/best/most random things you can buy using cryptocurrency:

  1. Space! Billionaire Richard Branson now takes Bitcoin. So hop aboard a Virgin Galactic craft and shoot off into the starry skies in a shiny space rocket. Maybe you'll get lucky and get a seat next to the Winklevoss twins.
  2. Thank god! It's about time. Bitcoin now buys us Beef Jerky. Chew on that. 
  3. Do you really, really love Bitcoin? Make it official.  Let the world know how you feel by proclaiming your love for Bitcoin in permanent ink on your body
  4. Hiding from the Fed? Hacking the NSA? Now you can use Bitcoin to safeguard your privacy in the brick and mortar world by paying for vertical blind replacement slats!
  5. All this mining for coins is exhausing.  Don't you wish you had a squishy pillow nest to sink into after mining for Bitcoins all day? Now you do!  Thanks to you can pay for your new sectional sofa with Bitcoins!

Five alternatives to Bitcoin
If the dark and shadowy world of Bitcoin isn't dark and shadowy enough, here are some alternatives. But, Schmidt says to keep in mind that most cryptocurrencies are basically variations on a theme. There's an algorithm involved and typically only a set number of coins.

  1. DarkcoinThe darker currency that values privacy. Its website says it's secure, decentralized and anonymous.
  2. Zerocash. This currency, still in the works, is a collaboration from MIT, Johns Hopkins and Tel Aviv University. Its makers say that Bitcoin has a privacy problem – payments can still be traced to users and every transaction is publicly available for everyone to see. Stay tuned!
  3. Aurora coin. A currency specifically for the people of Iceland.  It works like Bitcoin, but because Iceland ran into so much  (ahem) trouble during the last financial crisis, it's not allowed to engage in mining invisible currency.
  4. Latium.  The website for this new cryptocurrency says it's a new dawn, plus it's giving away coins free.
  5. Dogecoin. It has a cute dog for an icon and its tagline is "favored by Shiba Inus worldwide." It also has a NASCAR sponsorship.

You can look for more interesting and unusal things to buy and services to book with Bitcoin here.

Those big summer sequels may stop, one day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:28

Wesley Morris has a question: Why does “big summer blockbuster” always mean “big summer sequel?”

“There’s another 'Transformers' movie,” says Morris,  film critic at Grantland.  “Everything is ‘another.’ It is either a sequel or part of a franchise, which is technically a sequel.”

Morris says that gargantuan franchises like Spiderman and Transformers have been safe bets for film studios in recent years. But this summer might see that trend changing.

“I think people are going to be ready for something new. And something original. The [negative] response to "Amazing Spider Man 2" has been really heartening, at least for me. It’s interesting to see moviegoers get a point where they are getting fed up with the idea of being expected to go see something because it’s starring a superhero, or based on a comic book."

The Economy Takes A Dip, But Analysts Look For It To Snap Back

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:28

The latest U.S. report showed growth shrank in early 2014, but talk of a recession is unwarranted, economists say. They blame a harsh winter and say strong consumer spending signals a rebound.

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As Oklahoma Drought Continues, Farmers Prepare For Losses

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:27

As Oklahoma enters its fourth year of sustained drought, some farmers expect the harvest to be so bad they'll end up calling their insurance agents and declaring this year a total loss. StateImpact Oklahoma's Joe Wertz reports that some are calling this the worst drought since the '50s — or even since the Dust Bowl.

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Initial Afghan Elections Went Well, But Worries Rise For Round Two

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:27

Afghanistan's presidential election in April left no candidate with more than 50 percent of the vote. A second-round election will be held on June 14 — during the peak of the Taliban fighting season. There are growing concerns that election day could be a blood bath, and that a close outcome would result in political instability.

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Insurgents In Ukraine Shoot Down Helicopter, Killing General

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:27

Reports from Ukraine say a general was among about a dozen soldiers killed when their helicopter was shot down by pro-Moscow separatists.

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Pakistani Woman Beaten To Death By Her Family As Police Stand By

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:27

Pakistan is reeling from the latest so-called "honor killing." Just feet from a courthouse, a pregnant woman was stoned to death for marrying a man against her family's wishes.

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Old Senate Tradition Lies Behind Controversial Judge's Nomination

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:27

President Obama nominated a controversial Georgia judge — one who once supported the display of the Confederate flag — for the federal bench. The White House says there's a particular reason for that.

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