National News

Will the big profits of 2013 continue this year?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 13:46

Marketplace's Lizzie O'Leary, Leigh Gallagher of Fortune Magazine, and Felix Salmon of Reuters looked back on the huge gains in the stock markets and corporate profits in 2013 and whether we can look forward to workers -- as well as corporations -- sharing in the good fortune this year.

Gallagher says most analysts predict stock prices to continue to rise for at least part of 2014, but it won't all be smooth sailing:

"One thing that has been totally absent in this past year has been volatility. We forgot what it's like to be jerked around so much. Three percent gains, three percent drops -- it was just gone this year, so I think we'll see a little bit more of that."

Salmon agrees that profits will probably continue to rise, but wonders whether the rest of us will see some benefit as well:

"A much bigger proportion of the total economy is corporate profits than we've ever seen before, and so the big question for 2014 is, 'are workers going to get back some of those profits, in which case earnings are going to go down and the stock market will probabaly go down too, or are companies going to continue to make these insane profits?' In which case the stock market is looking perfectly well-placed right now."

The NSA's Quantum Code-Breaking Research Is No Secret

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 13:37

So the world's most clandestine spy agency is working on something called a quantum computer. It's based on rules Einstein himself described as "spooky," and it can crack almost any code. That's got to be top-secret stuff, right? Guess again.

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'Playboy' Gets Pranked: Group Flips The Script On Sex

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 13:29

A Baltimore-based group is working to change the messages companies are sending about sex. So far, it has created convincing, fake websites pretending to be Playboy and Victoria's Secret — but putting an emphasis on consent.

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Let Them Eat Sandwiches: USDA Eases School Lunch Restrictions

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 13:16

Participation in the school lunch program suffered after USDA restricted the amount of grains and protein that could be served to kids at lunchtime. Now school food directors are applauding the decision to allow more of them back on lunch menus.

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California County Pushes Drugmakers To Pay For Pill Waste

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 13:16

An Alameda County ordinance puts the responsibility for drug disposal squarely on the companies that made the medicines. States and the federal government have considered similar measures, but none has passed.

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Saving Babies' Lives Starts With Aquarium Pumps And Ingenuity

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 13:10

Students at Rice University in Houston are finding low-cost solutions to big global health problems. The women running the program are hoping to get these young engineers hooked on helping. One particularly successful device that helps infants breathe has already been tested in Malawi and will be distributed to hospitals around the country.

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Obama Administration Moves To Alter Gun-Buying Rules

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 13:06

Federal agencies are proposing new rules for handling gun buyers' background checks, in changes the White House says will "keep guns out of potentially dangerous hands." The changes include a clarification of rules barring firearm possession due to mental health problems.

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Should we get rid of the NFL blackout rule?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 12:28

Football fans in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Green Bay almost missed the chance to watch their teams compete in the NFL playoffs this weekend, thanks to the NFL's "blackout rule":  When games don’t sell out at least three days in advance, they can’t be shown on local TV.  

Forty years ago, when the Federal Communications Commission approved the rule, ticket sales were the NFL’s bread and butter.  Protecting them from getting cannibalized by TV seemed reasonable.  But times have changed. Just last month, the FCC gave notice that it wants to revoke that ruling.

Allen Sanderson of the University of Chicago was one of nine economists who sent the FCC a memo saying, in effect, "Good on ya."

"If nobody showed up to an NFL game, and we just can Photoshop it in, so it looks like there are people, the NFL would lose a lot of revenue," he says. "But not the lion’s share, because that’s television."

Depending on how you slice it, Sanderson says TV accounts for 70 to 80 percent of the money in pro football. 

And these are not cases of empty stadiums —just a few thousand tickets, so the amount teams would lose is a tiny fraction. In fact, sometimes the football team itself buys up unsold seats so the broadcast can go forward

Another of the economists who signed the memo encouraging the FCC to end the blackout rule, the University of Maryland's Dennis Coates, says the real puzzle is why the NFL even enforces the rule anymore.  Or why the league wants to keep it.

"Honestly, I don’t know why they defended it," he says.  "It didn't make any sense to me, given that the evidence doesn’t show that it costs them anything."

Some Senators have leaned on the FCC to revoke the blackout rule, including Ohio’s Sherrod Brown

But Brown isn’t ready to pick a head-to-head fight—to yank the NFL’s anti-trust waivers over the blackout rule, as his colleagues John McCain and Richard Blumenthal have proposed.

Which prompts a question: Does this mean he thinks Congress is even less popular than NFL owners?

"You could march us down to mid-field and flip a coin," Brown says. "That’s probably a toss-up."

Leaving the ball—to mix sports metaphors—in the FCC’s court.

Look, we have enough bugs. Can we do other things now?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 12:28

Insects and Intentions:  Smithsonian Goes to Court

A SIX LEGGED LAW SUIT

Forty-nine years ago, entomologist and Smithsonian researcher Carl Drake left the Smithsonian Institution $250,000 (which has now grown to $4 million)  to study bugs.  Specifically a type of bug called the hemiptera.  It’s a diverse group of 40,000 species that include stink bugs, bed bugs, and assassin bugs.  Drake also left the institution many of his own bugs.

The Smithsonian now has enough of these bugs, it insists.  It would much prefer to use the money to maintain, identify, and study them – all of them, including the ones that it collected independently of Mr. Drake’s gift.

So, it’s asking a judge to let it get around the requirements outlined in Mr. Drake’s will.  See the petition here, via LegalTimes.

Smithsonian Petition

WHEN NEEDS METAMORPHOSE, AND THE MONEY DOESN’T

This is a common problem in science, according to Michael Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland.  Collecting bugs is relatively easy, “When we sample it’s not unusual to collect tens of thousands of individual specimens.” 

Usually, he says, there’s lots of money floating around for going out into nature and bringing bugs back.  “The real challenge comes in finding resources to identify these things, curate them correctly, they have to be stored in controlled conditions to be preserved for further study and examination  -  this is not a trivial task.”

SWARMS OF SUITS?

A non-profit plays a dangerous game when it seeks to upend a donor’s wishes.  If not done judiciously and in good faith it can easily scare off other donors.  So it’s fairly unusual.  But it’s happening more frequently.

“We’re seeing more interest in doing that as the bad economy has put pressure on non-profits to find various ways to get money from any place they can,” says Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. 

In response, wary donors have become increasingly careful in recent years to line up legally binding agreements explaining what they do and don’t want their money to be used for.  

WISHES DON'T HAVE WINGS OR STINGS

“I was very surprised,” says planned giving attorney Winton Smith, “when I found that in many states donors have no legal standing to go into court and enforce .. a gift restriction” without a will or a binding agreement signed by both the recipient and the donor.

Under common law, that right was reserved for a state’s Attorney General.   Attorneys General, says Smith, have sometimes proven unreliable defenders of the deceased’s wishes.   

While it remains the case that donors and their descendants do not universally enjoy control over the gifts they make, regardless of their wishes,  courts have trended in recent years towards deferring to them where “where they have a special relationship to the gift,” or a vested property interest says Smith.

CRAWLING OUT FROM THE WILLS

Even in the case where a will outlines what a deceased wishes his or her gift to be used for, it can still be modified. 

In such cases, “most courts are pretty conservative about preserving what a donor wanted but a lot of it depends on how clear the donor was,” says the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Stacy Palmer.  “Some times the documents are distinct and other time they aren’t.” 

Institutions, whether an art museum or a scientific institution, must demonstrate two things to successfully change the terms of a gift. 

Under a legal doctrine called cy près, “they’ll have to show that the restricted gift is no longer possible,” says Smith.  For example, if the will said the money was to cure a disease and that disease was cured.  The charity will also have to ask a court for permission “to use those funds for the nearest similar purpose.”

Sometimes an institution will have a compelling case, sometimes they may be stretching it “beyond what’s appropriate.”  With no one to represent the deceased’s wishes, those wishes are sometimes not respected, says Smith.   Such conflicts can become intensely bitter, says Smith.

In the Smithsonian’s case, the museum still wants to use the Mr. Drake’s gift for the same type of bugs as he’d intended - but to maintain them, as opposed to collect more of them.    

 

Snowstorm, pilot's rule change pack 1-2 punch

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 12:28

The weather outside is frightful and airports in stormy states are trying to cope. But tomorrow the aviation industry will have to deal with even more.

That’s because new federal regulations kick in over the weekend -- rules that require more rest for pilots and restricting the hours they can fly.

"Under the new rules you actually have hard stops in which you cannot exceed more than a certain amount of hours on any given duty that you’re at the controls," says Captain Sean Cassidy, a vice president for the Air Line Pilots Association.

Cassidy says because there are so many different kinds of flights the new regulations also take into account the amount of crew on a plane, the time of day pilots start work, and the number of trips they take.

“We fly flights that are as little as 15 minutes and flights that are as long as fifteen hours,he says.

Under the current rules if a pilot starts a trip, but goes over his or her allotted time, it’s up to the pilot whether he or she wants to finish the trip or not.

"Today they're able to go ahead and finish the trip," says Helane Becker, managing director with financial services firm Cowen and Company, "going forward, they won’t be able to."

Longer international flights already have extra crew. Becker says complicated schedules mean in nasty weather, like we’re seeing today, airlines will be much more likely to cancel flights.

"Not only are we going to see actually an increase in flight cancellations because of this. But we’re also going to see an increase in pilot hiring," she says.

“Becker notes that the new rules mean pilots are going from 8 hours of rest to 9. So, if airlines want to achieve the same schedule they’ll need more pilots. She says more cancellations plus more pilots equals higher prices for consumers.

But Don Dillman, managing director of flight operations at Airlines for America, a trade organization representing airlines, isn’t so sure.

"You know I don’t know about that," he says. "What you’re going to find is that the airlines are going to schedule their pilots a little bit differently."

Dillman agrees bad weather and the new rules will pose a challenge. But he says it means airlines will need become more efficient in other areas, like traffic control and scheduling.

Besides, says Cassidy, when it comes to waiting on the tarmac, we’re already used to delays.

After all he says, "that’s something that happened prior to Jan 4 of this year."

2014: The Year We Weren't Shocked That People Of Color Watch Films?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 12:16

The makers of Paranormal Activity are releasing two movies this year. One, which dropped in theaters this Friday, had Latino themes and characters. Does this mark a shift in narratives?

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Bernanke's final speech: economics in verse

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 11:51

This final note as Fed Chair Ben Bernanke took a bow of sorts, giving one of his final speeches, as chair, to an annual gathering of economists.

Bernanke said 2014 potentially "bodes well" for the US economy, but then things got weird when University of Chicago economist Anil Kashyap unveiled this tribute he wrote:

Economists, we love you. But maybe keep your day jobs.

Clay Aiken's Political Reality: Results Mixed For Stars Like Him

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 11:42

The former American Idol runner-up set the political class chattering Friday with rumors that he may run for Congress. He's one in a line of reality stars who have aimed for public office.

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Couples Urge Sotomayor To Deny Utah's Bid To Block Gay Marriage

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 11:34

The couples' response comes three days after Utah officials asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor to block same-sex marriages in the state. Their filing with the Supreme Court calls the prospect of a delay "an intolerable and dehumanizing burden."

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Everyone Poops, But Dogs Do It With Magnetism

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 11:33

After watching dogs do their business several thousand times, Czech researchers concluded that the magnetic field was a significant force when the pooches lined up to go. They suggest this could mean that behavior studies need to take the magnetic field's fluctuation into account.

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Army Takes On Its Own Toxic Leaders

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 11:23

Why have so many soldiers committed suicide in recent years? The Army is looking beyond post-traumatic stress and asking whether bad commanders and destructive leadership are taking a toll.

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7 Political Dates To Watch In 2014

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 10:22

The year ahead offers much more political catnip than 2013. Aside from a full roster of House, Senate and gubernatorial races, 2014 is shaping up as another critical period for the Affordable Care Act.

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Skier Vies For A Spot On Team USA After Breaking Both Legs

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 10:15

Alice McKennis has a metal plate and 11 screws in her leg after breaking it in 30 places in March. She's had other injuries before that, but she says it gives her an edge over the competition. "To make the Olympics is extremely hard," she says, "so it takes a certain kind of toughness."

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Did Kim Jong Un Feed His Uncle To 120 Dogs? Be Skeptical

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 09:58

A gruesome story that first surfaced weeks ago is now whipping around the world. But there are many reasons to be doubtful about the claim that Kim Jong Un had his uncle executed by throwing him to a pack of starving dogs.

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5 Things That Could Alter The Perception Of Obamacare

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 09:53

Insurance enrollment will be a key yardstick for assessing whether the Affordable Care Act is working. Almost as important as the total number of people who get coverage is whether a significant percentage of them are healthy.

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