National News

Snip Decision: Africa's Campaign To Circumcise Its Men

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 14:20

A campaign in Africa to prevent HIV has persuaded 6 million teens and men to get circumcised and aims to sign up 14 million more. To do so, health officials must appeal to male vanity.

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When Colleges Ditch Coal Investments, It's Barely A Drop In The Bucket

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 14:04

Stanford will stop investing in coal companies, but coal is still in demand worldwide and probably will be for many years. As long as that's true, coal companies are likely to find willing buyers.

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Stanford will divest stakes in coal. Will it matter?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 13:38

Stanford will be the first major university to divest itself of carbon-producing fossil-fuel investments - but only coal producers. So how easy will it be for Stanford to cancel out coal-related investments? After all, coal is used widely by utilities and still generates nearly 40 percent of U.S. electricity. 

Kristoffer Inton, an equity analyst with Morningstar, says not investing in coal is as easy as "If you don’t want it -- don't buy it... Clearly if you don't want to invest in coal, you can not invest in the coal miners,” he says.

Companies that mine coal, like Peabody and Consol Energy, are listed individually on the S&P 500 so they’re easy to target, says Inton. But avoiding the energy source gets more complicated if you try to become a coal vegan, even avoiding companies that burn it – like steel manufacturers and utilities.

Inton notes that for investors, institutional or otherwise, not buying coal investments right now is not a hardship. Prices are down.

“Any time there’s been press on potential EPA regulations or anything like that, we’ve always seen a direct impact on coal miners’ stocks,” he says.

But even if more institutions like Stanford stop investing in coal, it’s not likely to have much impact on sellers. David Beard, managing director of energy equity research at Iberia Capital Partners, says look no farther than conscience investing campaigns of the past.

“I don’t see any real economic impact just given how the stock of Coke and Pepsi and Philip Morris have performed over time," he says. "And just because you sell a stock, it really doesn’t affect how much money a company has in their bank account to invest in their business.”

Beard says the bigger risk for energy companies would be a global carbon tax, which would raise the cost of electricity. But in the meantime, he notes, for coal producers, it's business as usual.

“It’s supply and demand, if the price is higher than the cost, people will mine it.”

Stock exchanges want Alibaba, bad

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 13:35

Alibaba is huge. We know that. It received $5.6 billion in revenue in 2013 with $1.6 billion in income, and has a nearly unheard of profit margin of 48 percent. 

You would imagine any stock exchange would be dying for Alibaba to decide to list with it. They do want Alibaba, bad. But not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

It’s not totally about the money. Yes, the stock exchange that hosts Alibaba will receive annual fees for being listed. And an exchange will also receive fees every time a stock is traded. 

But as far as stocks go, those fees are minimal. Listing fees top out at around $500,000 a year, for the largest of companies, and trading fees are on the order of hundredths of a cent per trade.

So why do exchanges care about listing Alibaba? Prestige. The flip side of prestige is advertising. If a huge flashy tech company like Alibaba lists with a certain exchange, that might attract other huge flashy tech companies to do the same.

Alibaba & the exchange windfall

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 13:35

Alibaba is huge. We know that.  It received $5.6 billion in revenue in 2013 with $1.6 billion in income, and has a nearly unheard of profit margin of 48%. 

You would imagine any stock exchange would be dying for Alibaba to decide to list with it.  They do want Alibaba, bad.  But not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

It’s not totally about the money.  Yes, the stock exchange which hosts Alibaba will receive annual fees for being listed. An exchange will also receive fees every time a stock is traded. 

But as far as stocks go, those fees are minimal.  Listing fees top out at around $500k a year, for the largest of companies, and trading fees are on the order of hundredths of a cent per trade.

So why do exchanges care about listing Alibaba?  Prestige.  The flip side of prestige is advertising.  If a huge flashy tech company like Alibaba lists with a certain exchange, that might attract other huge flashy tech companies to do the same.

China, Vietnam Spar Over Oil Rig In South China Sea

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 13:33

Hanoi says two of its vessels were rammed by Chinese ships deploying an oil rig in disputed waters. It comes as the Philippines has seized Chinese fisherman for alleged poaching of sea turtles.

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Stanford Dumps Its Holdings In Coal, With Climate In Mind

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 13:08

Stanford says it will its divest holdings in coal companies over climate change concerns. It's the most prominent of the roughly one dozen colleges that have decided to sell off fossil fuel holdings.

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U.S. Offers Aid In Search For Nigerian Girls, But Is It Too Late?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:50

The U.S. is sending a team of experts to help find the nearly 300 abducted schoolgirls. But the nearly three-week delay means that the girls are likely scattered, making the search that much tougher.

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Telepsychiatry Brings Emergency Mental Health Care To Rural Areas

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:48

Many North Carolina counties have no psychiatrists, so emergency rooms are experimenting with beaming in the doctor on video. The hospital can then provide needed treatment.

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Vermont's GMO Bill Expected To Face Major Legal Challenges

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:43

Vermont gets ready to become the first state to require food producers to label products that are genetically modified, but not without preparing for major legal battles with companies like Monsanto.

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VA Secretary Responds To Call For His Resignation

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:29

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki responds to calls for his resignation, following reports of veterans dying while waiting for treatment.

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From The Ocean Deep To The Courtroom: A Tale Of Sunken Treasure

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:29

When the SS Central America sunk in 1857, it took down tons of gold with it. Gary Kinder, author of Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, tells the fraught tale of shipwreck and recovered treasure.

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After Six Decades As A Staple, 'Jet Mag' Ends Its Print Run

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:29

It's the end of an era, as the Johnson Publishing Company announced plans to cease printing Jet Magazine. The magazine, which started some 63 years ago, was long a staple for many African-Americans.

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Peace Talks On Pause: What Went Wrong?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:29

Middle East peace talks have been officially paused; unofficially, many say they're finished. Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg View and The Atlantic explains how Secretary of State John Kerry's mission fell apart.

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Department Of Education Brings Home A Disappointing Report Card

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:29

The Department of Education has released its latest math and reading scores for 12th graders. The scores offer little good news for educators, with results low and largely unchanged since 2009.

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Kinder Words From Putin, But They Come With A Cost

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:29

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is pulling his forces back from Ukraine's border. He also is calling on separatists in eastern Ukraine to postpone a referendum planned for Sunday. This news might be a breakthrough — or just a head fake.

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Syrian Rebels Cede Stronghold After Over A Year Under Siege

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:29

Syrian rebels have surrendered Homs, the city known as the birthplace of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad. It marks the end of a long siege and a huge blow to the rebels.

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For Many, Farming Is A Labor Of Love, Not A Living

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:29

There are more than 2 million farmers in this country, but most of them have other jobs that bring in the money, retirement benefits and health insurance that they need.

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Shinseki: 'Swift Action' If Problems At VA Hospital Are True

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:26

The Veterans Affairs secretary says he takes seriously allegations that some patients at a Phoenix hospital may have died while waiting a year or more for treatment.

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Legalized pot use vs. employer drug testing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:21

The lawsuit Brandon Coats filed against his former employer Dish Network stemmed from anger.

Coats was angry because Dish Network fired him in 2010 after his random drug test came back positive for traces of pot.

Coats had been upfront about his pot use. As a quadriplegic with powerful muscle spasms that make it hard to stay still while seated in his wheelchair, Coats used medical marijuana to calm his muscles and allow him to function.

“In the part of my body where I'm paralyzed, my body tries to send signals to my head, and it doesn't get through and gets sent back down, and what that causes is for my muscles to flex really hard,” Coats said.

Coats used to take other medications. But he says none worked as well as marijuana with so few side effects. He explained this his employers at Dish Network in 2010, when his random drug test came back positive. But the company decided to fire him, citing the positive drug test as the reason. They told Coats he could reapply for his job, if he could pass a drug test.

But Coats took another path. He sued Dish Network, claiming the marijuana he uses is just like any other medicine. Coats has a medical marijuana card issued by Colorado. His use of marijuana was and continues to be legal in the state.

But Coats lost in state court and at the appellate level, where a three-judge panel ruled last spring that even though Coats’ marijuana use was legal in the state, it was illegal under federal law, so Dish Network had a right to fire him.

The case did not end there. Coats appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which has agreed to consider the case. Legal experts in the state expect the court to hear arguments over the summer and rule by early fall.

“Employers really need to keep an eye on this decision. It’s not just Mr. Coats,” said Vance Knapp, a labor law attorney who advises Fortune 500 companies at the Denver-based firm Sherman & Howard. “If the Colorado Supreme Court were to rule in Mr. Coats’ favor, that sort of decision would help other proponents of marijuana use in other states and other jurisdictions to support their argument that employees should have protections for using marijuana,” Knapp said.

Right now, there are few if any such protections. All 50 states allow employers to restrict marijuana use, and employees are often surprised that even though marijuana use may be legalized in their state, they can still face sanctions or dismissal by their employers if they test positive for the drug, according to Knapp. 

The Coats case in Colorado could prove a test for that precedent because the state has not only legalized marijuana, but also has a law on the books that explicitly protects workers’ lawful activities outside of work.

The question then comes down to whether marijuana use is lawful. The appellate court said it is not enough for the activity to be lawful under state law, it also has to be lawful under federal law.

If the Colorado Supreme Court reverses that ruling, it would create headaches for businesses around the country, which could find themselves with employees demanding protected status for their marijuana use, Knapp said.

Meanwhile, employers in Colorado and elsewhere are not waiting for a resolution to Brandon Coats’ case. They have been ramping up their drug testing ever since the state legalized recreational marijuana in January, according to a survey by the Mountain States Employers Council, a membership organization that helps companies with human resources issues.

Employers are worried about the costs of substance abuse, says Curtis Graves, a staff attorney with the council.

“There’s a great deal of statistics out that drug use and alcohol, cost employers an enormous amount of money, in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year. So, the marketing message is that by drug testing, they can save money,” Graves said, adding that employers are also concerned about potential liability costs if there is an accident and an employee tests positive for pot use.

A government-sponsored survey conducted in the 1990s did find that drug and alcohol use was costing the U.S. economy $276 billion a year. But proponents of marijuana say the drug is being unfairly targeted. Most employers don’t test for alcohol use, for example. And there are questions as to the science and accuracy of drug tests that find inactive marijuana compounds in people’s bodies (such compounds can remain in someone’s system weeks after they last consumed marijuana).

Michael Evans, the attorney who represents Coats, says that goes to the heart of their case. Dish Network did not know when Coats had taken the marijuana before deciding to fire him. All the company knew was that he had taken it at some point in the recent past. And that is not good enough, says Evans.

“It's about giving the [drug testing] laboratory the right instructions,” Evans said. “If they want to fire somebody that is high on marijuana, they can and they should. Just like they should fire somebody that came in drunk as a skunk after lunch, after having too many margaritas.”

But, Evans adds, employers should not fire someone who is taking marijuana in their own time and who is not intoxicated at work. 

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