National News

What Cockroaches With Backpacks Can Do. Ah-mazing.

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-16 12:37

Researchers are developing technology to control the movement of cockroaches. Strapped with electrodes and sensors, these insects we often loathe could be used for disaster relief or surveillance.

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Missed Abortion Language Tangles Senate's Trafficking Bill

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-16 12:20

A bill cracking down on human trafficking was supposed to be an easy one to pass, but that was before Democrats discovered the bill also contained language restricting abortion rights.

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Robert Durst May Face Local Charges In New Orleans, Attorney Says

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-16 12:18

A real estate heir linked to two murders and a disappearance was arrested after an HBO documentary brought renewed attention to a case in which he was involved.

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Why Many Smart, Low-Income Students Don't Apply To Elite Schools

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-16 12:16

A surprising number of academically gifted, low-income students are not applying to the Ivy League universities and selective colleges they're sure to get into.

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Police don't ask: Why are we getting sued?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-16 12:05

Cities across the country have paid out large sums for police misconduct lawsuits. Chicago, for one, paid out more than half a billion dollars over 10 years. However, many cities have not taken a step that seems like common sense: Looking for data that could help them avoid future lawsuits. 

Police liability is Lou Reiter’s turf. He’s a former Los Angeles deputy police chief who trains police officials on “liability management,” and he’s been an expert witness for both plaintiffs and police departments in misconduct cases.

He says police departments rarely ask themselves: What could we have done to avoid this lawsuit?

"Most departments that I’m familiar with simply say, 'Oh it’s that wishy-washy court,'" he says. "Or: 'They don’t understand our problems. We’re not doing anything wrong.'"

So, they don’t ask, for instance:  Is there one group of officers who are getting us into trouble?

In Chicago, law professor Craig Futterman found the answer to that was "yes."

Futterman, who runs the University of Chicago's Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project, has won some cases against police. For one such case, he got the numbers on whether some officers had an unusually-high number of complaints against them.

As it turned out, a relative handful accounted for almost half of all complaints, and they were almost never disciplined.

"There’s a small percent who have been allowed to just do this with darn near impunity," he says. "Despite the bills racking up, and despite all the complaints."  

He also found that the Chicago Police Department had never run the numbers to identify those officers.

UCLA law professor Joanna Schwartz says this is not unusual. In fact, she says, Chicago keeps better records than a lot of places.

For one study, Schwartz asked 140 law-enforcement agencies — including 70 of the biggest ones —  for information about police-misconduct cases. A common answer: We don’t know.

So, she asked the law departments, everybody. Which didn’t always help.

"Eighteen of the largest cities and counties," she says, "and these are cities that include San Diego, New Orleans— counties like Harris County, Baltimore County— they reported that they had no records in any government agency or office reflecting how much they spent in lawsuits involving the police."

One might think they would want to know: What do we even get sued for?  

"You would think," says Schwartz. "And in other kinds of industries— certainly in medicine— there are risk managers who are tasked with doing that very thing."

She thinks if settlements came out of the police budget —  instead of the general fund — departments might be more cost-sensitive.

An environmental movement is awakening in China

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-16 11:51

China’s Premier Li Keqiang said this week the government is serious about cutting smog and will impose harsher fines on polluters. Keqiang's comments came after the online release this month of a groundbreaking — at least, for China — documentary on the country’s air pollution crisis, called “Under the Dome” (video).

The country’s environment minister compared it to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” the book that paved the way for the U.S. environmental movement, but Chinese officials have been silent on the film since — and it’s even been taken offline in the country, presumably by government censors.

Still, China observers say this may be the country’s “Silent Spring” moment.

“The Chinese public has come to believe they have a right to a clean environment,” says Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Wilson Center. 

Like the early U.S. anti-air pollution movement, mothers worried about pollution's health effects have initiated much of the dissent, and big polluting industries are resisting change. Change in China is complicated by the fact that powerful local governments have little incentive to curb the dirty industries that fuel their economies, and often try to skirt the central government’s regulations.

Nancie Atwell Of Maine Wins $1 Million Global Teaching Prize

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-16 11:36

A teacher who instills a love of books and writing has beaten out 5,000 educators around the world for a global honor.

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Some same-sex couples still struggle at tax time

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-16 11:30

Last month, a federal judge made Alabama the 37th state where same-sex marriage is legal. Weeks later, the state Supreme Court put an end to that. Filing taxes as a same-sex couple is also confusing — not to mention costlier.

Eva Walton and Kathryn Kendrick dated for three years. They got married in Washington D.C., and last September, they had a big wedding in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Just a few years ago, there weren't many places where same-sex couples could get married, especially in the South. Since then, gay couples in dozens of states have gained the right to marry, the latest of which was — briefly anyway — Alabama, where Walton and Kendrick live.

“So the marriage equality boom that's happened since we started dating really opened up our options for what marriage would look like,” Walton says.

They had no idea what their taxes would look like. They spent most of last year in Georgia, where same-sex marriage still isn't recognized. They moved to Alabama in December and had one month of income there. Just as soon as she got W-2's in the mail, Kendrick got to work.

“I went onto TurboTax and you know you go through these series of questions, like, 'Have you had any major life events lately? Have you moved states? Gotten a new job? Purchased a house?' And you know, I was just marking yes to all of these things. Then it asked, "Is this a same-sex marriage?' When I selected yes," Kendrick says, “TurboTax said ‘You will need to download this file instead of continuing because you live in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriages.’ But federally you were recognized, and so it was just a separate packet and I couldn't continue doing the online registration.”

And that was the end of simple online tax returns.

“I just felt like it was completely unfair,” Kendrick says, "and I also thought, 'I have to hire someone to do this because I don't know if I'm going to get everything right.'”

It's frustrating, says Robin Maril, senior legislative council at the Human Rights Campaign. “It's been pretty confusing for a lot of folks given the patchwork of marriage laws.”

Federal taxes are pretty straightforward, the government has recognized same-sex marriages since last tax season. Things get muddy if a couple marries in one state, but lives in another where same-sex marriage isn't recognized, or when couples move from one state to another.

And they get even muddier in states like Alabama. The Alabama Supreme Court month halted same-sex marriages this month, just a few weeks after it complied with a federal judge's ruling to allow them.

But even when couples are clear on what to do, it's still a headache. “The biggest hurdle is couples that live in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, they could be looking at filing up to five separate tax returns,” says Cindy Hockenberry from the National Association of Tax Professionals. 

Not to mention the worksheets, doing and undoing their federal returns to arrive at Adjusted Gross Income as singles and as a couple.

“Yup, more dividing more adding, more double-checking your calculations to make sure you didn't transpose numbers, put the wrong income on the wrong return, that kind of thing.”

There's more potential for error and preparing the returns costs more, she says. And figuring out who gets to claim the mortgage interest or the kids as deductions? It’s sound kind of like a divorce.

“It kind of is!” Hockenberry said. ”Because you're going from joint income to separate income.”

Ahead of a close election, Israel's Netanyahu buys bread

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-16 11:26

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have a little trouble getting to sleep tonight.

On the eve of the country’s elections, early reports show him trailing in the polls.

He’s got a long record as a political strongman. He’s touted his foreign-policy credentials for months. And in a last-minute attempt to woo conservative voters, the incumbent today withdrew support for a plan that would have created a separate Palestinian state.

But these Hail Mary attempts to sway the election seem to indicate how out of touch the PM may be. For Israelis, it’s all about the economy, stupid.

“You talk to Israelis privately and many of them will feel that they live from month-to-month on credit-card debt,” says Kevin Connolly, Middle East correspondent for BBC. “You buy something with a credit card in Europe, it’s a one-time transaction. Buy something with a credit card here [in Jerusalem] and you’ll be asked if you want to split the cost of that sweater or new pair of shoes into maybe 10 or 12 payments.”

Connolly says the cost of living is very high in Israel, causing many people to turn to credit just to put food on the table. While economic woes have always been a big political issue, it would seem that Netanyahu got that memo a bit late; he now appears to be changing the tone of his campaign.

“He released some television footage … He was going around one of the big markets in Jerusalem buying bread. The signal was that he gets it on the issues of the economy,” says Connolly.

Still, it’s hard to know what impact this shift will have until Israelis go to the polls tomorrow.

Excitement Over Mexico's Shale Play Fizzles As Reality Sets In

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-16 11:23

Mexico has opened up its oil and gas fields to foreign investors. But they're slow to enter, as low oil prices, drug violence and other challenges trump the lure of a vast and undeveloped shale bed.

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Does Success Of HBO's 'The Jinx' Herald New Form Of True-Crime TV?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-16 11:03

HBO's docu-series The Jinx ended Sunday with murder suspect Robert Durst seeming to admit guilt. NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans says that moment may also have created a TV genre with its own set of rules.

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Obamacare Cut The Ranks Of The Uninsured By A Third

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-16 10:33

The percentage of people without health insurance has dropped to 13.2 percent from 20.2 percent in 2012, according to federal officials. The uptick in coverage has been biggest for Latinos.

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The TARP police are still on call

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-16 10:22

TARP, or the "Troubled Assets Relief Program," was a major part of the bank and automaker bailout that Congress passed in the wake of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.

The government's last major TARP holding — a stake in Ally Financial — was sold in December 2014.

That doesn't mean TARP is entirely over. 

SIGTARP, or the Office of the Special Inspector General for TARP, is headed by Christy Romero. SIGTARP has the legal authority to investigate and prosecute misuse of TARP funds. Dozens of scammers have already been prosecuted, and Romero says that so far her office has recovered $1.57 billion in taxpayer money.

American TP is getting more luxurious

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-16 10:20
662

The number of Chicago police officers accounting for nearly half of the abuse complaints leveled against the 13,500-member force from 2001 to 2006. Turns out, despite the high costs of lawsuits, very few police departments do this kind of number-crunching to avoid them. Many of the largest departments don't consistently track the spending or circumstances around these cases.

$1.4 billion

That's how much Americans spent on quilted, ultra soft, lotioned, scented and other "luxury" toilet paper last year, the Washington Post reported, and that number is on track to eclipse regular and budget TP spending in the years to come. It's an "affordable indulgence" and brands are embracing the trend with all kinds of new varieties and boy band pitchmen.

7.5 fluid ounces

The size of Coca-Cola's mini cans, which several nutritionists and bloggers have pitched in blog posts and articles as a "good snack," the Associated Press reported. Many of the post writers have worked with Coke in the past, or were paid to recommend the smaller-portion sodas. The company likens the practice to product placement, and the AP notes it comes at a time when cola sales are falling in the U.S.

30 years

That's how long ago America Online was just taking shape, reaching a million subscribers a year later. CEO Steve Case left the company more than a decade ago, and now he's a venture capitalist in Washington. Case sat down with Marketplace Tech at SXSW Interactive to talk about Facebook, the state of tech in D.C. and "the third wave of the Internet."

43.4 million

That's about how many digital cameras were sold last year, a 30 percent drop from 2013 and a new low for the decade. On his blog, Gigaom founder Om Malik traces the fall of the standalone camera and charts it along with the iPhone's rise.

American TP is getting more luxuious

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-16 10:20
662

The number of Chicago police officers accounting for nearly half of the abuse complaints leveled against the 13,500-member force from 2001 to 2006. Turns out, despite the high costs of lawsuits, very few police departments do this kind of number-crunching to avoid them. Many of the largest departments don't consistently track the spending or circumstances around these cases.

$1.4 billion

That's how much Americans spent on quilted, ultra soft, lotioned, scented and other "luxury" toilet paper last year, the Washington Post reported, and that number is on track to eclipse regular and budget TP spending in the years to come. It's an "affordable indulgence" and brands are embracing the trend with all kinds of new varieties and boy band pitchmen.

7.5 fluid ounces

The size of Coca-Cola's mini cans, which several nutritionists and bloggers have pitched in blog posts and articles as a "good snack," the Associated Press reported. Many of the post writers have worked with Coke in the past, or were paid to recommend the smaller-portion sodas. The company likens the practice to product placement, and the AP notes it comes at a time when cola sales are falling in the U.S.

30 years

That's how long ago America Online was just taking shape, reaching a million subscribers a year later. CEO Steve Case left the company more than a decade ago, and now he's a venture capitalist in Washington. Case sat down with Marketplace Tech at SXSW Interactive to talk about Facebook, the state of tech in D.C. and "the third wave of the Internet."

43.4 million

That's about how many digital cameras were sold last year, a 30 percent drop from 2013 and a new low for the decade. On his blog, Gigaom founder Om Malik traces the fall of the standalone camera and charts it along with the iPhone's rise.

Ebola Patient Being Treated In Maryland Is In Critical Condition

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-16 09:52

The American patient, whose identity hasn't been publicly released, was taken to the National Institutes of Health's Clinical Center last week, after contracting Ebola in Sierra Leone.

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Canada proposes tougher standards for oil tankers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-16 09:46

North America has seen four oil train disasters in the last month. Trains carrying crude oil have derailed and caught fire. Even before these events, Canadian authorities toughened standards for railroad tank cars. Now they’ve proposed even tighter rules.

Thicker steel walls will be required for tank cars, as well as shields on top and outer thermal “jackets” to protect in case of fire.

Chris Barken, professor and executive director of the University of Illinois Rail Transportation and Engineering Center, says the changes will “make it much less likely to overheat and suffer a thermal tear, such as we’ve seen in a number of these recent accidents.”

Thinner-walled cars were blamed for a Quebec disaster two years ago that killed 47 people. Of the cars that derailed, 94 percent spilled oil that burned.

Canada plans a 10-year phase-in of new tank cars, which strikes some critics as too slow. Critics also say the current oil train safety conversation is too narrow. It’s a complex issue and they want it to include issues of train speed, tracks, bridges, insurance coverage and routes.

 

Sandwich Monday: Bone-In Pork Chop Sandwich

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-16 09:45

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try a Chicago sandwich classic: the pork chop sandwich from Jim's Original. They leave the bone in — for flavor, and for danger.

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A question for the Fed: What inflation?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-16 09:42

The Federal Reserve meets Tuesday for two days, and many market watchers expect more clues about when the central bank will raise interest rates.

But the Producer Price Index released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday suggests that there might not be much inflation to combat. It dropped unexpectedly by 0.5 percent, which could mean that interest rates aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

SxSW Interactive: Robot petting zoos and a bionic man

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-16 09:33

Marketplace host David Gura checked in with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson to get the latest on this year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference.

“Brands come down here to gain visibility among a really large media audience: actors, venture capitalists, music fans,” Johnson says.

It makes sense that established brands — as well as startups — would want to make an impression at SxSW.

“There have been some big things launched here, like Twitter many years back – now a public company with a market cap of $30 billion or thereabouts,” says Johnson. 

According to Johnson, the interactive portion of SxSW is really about “an exchange of ideas.”

What are some of the prominent topics at this year’s SxSW Interactive? Johnson says privacy and virtual reality are getting a lot of attention. And a robot petting zoo

“But one big idea this year is bionics. And more broadly, when and how our bodies will actually merge with technology,” says Johnson. 

Hugh Herr of MIT’s Media Lab Center for Extreme Bionics, presented at SXSW as part of the IEEE's "The Future of Identity" series, and wore what he called the "world’s first powered ankle foot prosthesis."

Johnson says, consumers won’t necessarily see any of the bionics at this year’s SxSW any time soon. But that doesn’t mean big companies aren’t listening to conversations about the future of bionics.

“The more those discussions happen they get closer to reality,” Johnson says.  

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