National News

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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Ford Tops Resurgent U.S. Car Industry, 2013 Sales Results Show

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 09:23

Ford and GM are calling 2013 the best year for U.S. auto sales in at least five years, as they report double-digit annual gains. Chrysler reported an increase of 9 percent, its strongest year since 2007.

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From The Ruins Of A Tsunami, A Rebuilt Aceh Rises Anew

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 09:21

The December 2004 Asian tsunami left nearly a quarter of a million people dead. Indonesia's Aceh province was among the hardest hit. But nine years on, the province is home to a largely successful reconstruction effort, a peace deal between separatists and the government, and economic progress.

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'Cut Food': Take A Peek At The Beauty Inside Everyday Edibles

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 09:07

What happens when you slice foods apart? A whole new world of geometric wonder can reveal itself. The best part? There's relatively little trickery or fancy gadgets involved — so please, do try this at home, say the creative minds behind this photo series.

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The NSA is trying to build the fastest computer in the world

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 08:50

The Washington Post is reporting on another secret National Security Agency project revealed by Edward Snowden. The $80 million project is called Penetrating Hard Targets. It's goal is to build a quantum computer that can break every kind of encryption currently used in the world. Quantum computers are a complicated to explain, but think of a machine that operates under the theoretical laws of quantum physics. It would probably be faster than all of the world's current supercomputers combined, and it could ostensibly gain access to banking records, medical records, and other private data sets. Steven Rich co-wrote the story in The Washington Post, and tells Marketplace Tech more.

AT&T declares war on T-Mobile

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 08:42

The war among wireless providers continues to intensify. AT&T is going after T-Mobile customers, with a new promotion.

If a T-Mobile customer switches to AT&T, AT&T says it will give that customer a $200 credit, and up to $250 more for trading in his smart phone. 

“I think the first thing that hit me was this: AT&T declares war on T-Mobile,” says Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC’s mobile phones team. To be fair, fighting may have escalated. The two carriers have been going at it for a while now.

According to Llamas, “the proof is going to be in the pudding.”

“When people are going to see how much money I am going to save, and how much I am going to end up spending,” he says.

A T-Mobile customer who switches to AT&T could face a penalty for breaking his contract, if he has one, and on top of that, there is the cost of the smart phone. Customers usually pay for that over the life of a contract.

That $450 credit “might not be nearly as much as you think,” says Weston Henderek, principal analyst with Current Analysis.

He says AT&T used to have a leg up on T-Mobile, but today “the differences are much smaller than they’ve been in the past.”

AT&T has had trouble selling customers on higher-end plans, and Henderek says throwing money at them just might help. 

GED was never meant to be second-chance diploma

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 08:23

In 1942, Congress lowered the draft age from 21 to 18. America had been fighting in World War II for nearly a year. The change made an additional 2.25 million young men available for the war effort.

Over the course of the war, about 16 million Americans served in uniform. Some troops were drafted right out of high school, though local draft boards often let them finish their current term.

Don Kruse of Minnesota was an 18-year-old high school junior when he got drafted in June of 1945. The war had ended in Europe but the Allies were still fighting a brutal campaign in the Pacific.

"I thought maybe I could get into the Air Force and be a radio operator on an airplane," Kruse says. "That didn't happen."

Instead, he learned to be a radio repairman on the ground. As his term wound down, Kruse began thinking about college. He wanted to become an engineer. Like many other GIs, Kruse had gotten specialized technical training in the service. But he didn't have a high school diploma.

"You couldn't send 21-year-olds who had been in Germany, in the trenches, back into a regular high school. It just wasn't going to work," says H.D. Hoover, a retired University of Iowa professor and an expert on standardized testing. "The idea came along to say, 'OK, is there some way we can give these people some kind of credential to get them into university?'"

The military turned to an influential group of college and university presidents called the American Council on Education (ACE) to develop a battery of tests to measure high school-level academic skills. The tests were supposed to help returning GIs get credit for what they learned before and during the war. One of the test makers was a University of Iowa education professor named E.F. Lindquist.

Lindquist was the man behind a corn-belt academic contest launched in 1929. Iowa high school students took standardized tests to compete in a "meet" the way track stars and football players competed on the playing field. They became popularly known as the Iowa Brain Derby. Local schools would vie for top state honors.

But Lindquist had bigger ambitions than just creating an extracurricular contest for the studious. He wanted to open the narrow gates of American higher education to more students. His academic tests were designed to reveal areas where students needed extra help so they could work on those subjects until they qualified for admission.

Lindquist and his colleagues devised a series of assessments that would be widely used and imitated by other states: The Iowa Tests of Educational Development. This new set of tests would also be used as a template for the tests the military had asked for -- the GED.

The end of World War II wrought big changes in American higher education. In 1946, the president of the American Council on Education declared that returning veterans had forced "a permanent change in the evaluation of student achievement and competence." Time spent in the classroom had been the standard way to credential students. But ACE president George Zook said returning GIs wanted credit for, "what they are, for what they know and for what they can do," rather than just for time spent in the classroom. The GED was the answer.

Veteran Don Kruse took the GED and passed easily. He used the credential to study engineering at a college in Wisconsin, which led to a long career. "I couldn't have gone to college without the GED," Kruse says.

The ACE calibrated the test to be easy, according to Lois Quinn, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Passing most sections of the test required answering only one or two more questions correctly than if you filled in the answer sheet randomly, Quinn says.

"The sentiment was that every person who served in the war should get a degree," Quinn says. "What the test did, possibly, was to weed out the people who were functionally illiterate."

Two trends converged after World War II to accelerate use of the GED. Millions of returning vets wanted to take part in the generous higher education benefits offered under the recently passed GI Bill of Rights. The government would subsidize their tuition, books and living expenses. Veterans swamped the campuses of colleges and universities; many used the GED to gain admission.

The second trend was the enormous growth in intelligence testing. While mental testing for intelligence and achievement had been going on for decades, the scope of testing hit unprecedented levels in World War II and after. Many education experts of the era held a deep belief that standardized tests could revolutionize how human performance was measured and managed, in school and on the job.

"They were really quite convinced that there was a science of education. That learning could be measured. And that there would be tests to both examine as well as credential people, whatever their place in society," says William J. Reese, a historian of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "The GED has to be seen as part of that larger story of how testing became so fundamental to American life."

Widespread use of standardized tests was made possible, in part, by a technical innovation perfected by Iowa's E.F. Lindquist: the optical scanner. Answer sheets that once had to be scored by hand could be fed into the machine for rapid processing.

"What the optical scanner did was immediately go from being able to score 200 tests an hour to 10 to 20,000 an hour," says H.D. Hoover. That meant millions of people could be tested each year at relatively low cost.

The GED began as a program just for veterans. But in 1947, New York became the first state to allow civilians to take the test. A quarter-century later, all 50 states were using the GED. Use of the GED boomed in the 1960s, fueled in large part by the expansion of social welfare programs under President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Job Corps and a variety of other federal programs in Johnson's "War on Poverty" began promoting GED certification as a way to produce high school graduates. Prisons began encouraging inmates to take the GED. And dropouts could qualify for some government assistance programs by getting a GED. By 1981, 14 percent of all high school credentials being awarded in the United States were GED certificates.

The New GED

A new, more rigorous GED test may make it harder for millions of high school dropouts to get a credential. In response, some states are giving up the GED and opting for other exams.

It may soon get more difficult to get a GED. The GED Testing Service (GEDTS) is launching a new GED in January 2014. Public affairs director CT Turner says the updated test will be more rigorous because the skills required for today's jobs have increased.

"This is about: What is the workforce demanding and what does an adult need to really be prepared and have a fighting shot at getting [a job] that's going to support themselves and their families?" he says.

Turner says the decision to change the test dates back to 2009. The American Council on Education (ACE), an association of college presidents that has administered the GED since its inception, was getting ready to revise the test. The GED had been updated three times before. But those were relatively minor changes compared to what ACE officials were thinking about now.

In 2009, ACE officials were reviewing data that show how few GED recipients go on to college and graduate (only 5 to 9 percent earn an associate's degree; 4 percent earn a bachelor's). They were also concerned that most GED recipients who go to college need remedial classes.

Even students who make it through four years of high school often need to take remedial classes when they get to college. GEDTS studies show that 40 percent of graduating high school seniors could not pass the GED test. (There is some dispute about these studies. The GED is given to a random sample of graduating seniors, who don't necessarily have an incentive to try very hard on the test.)

Still, ACE officials concluded that the current GED is not preparing people for higher education, and higher education is what people need to make it in today's economy.

At about the same time, another group of educators and policymakers concluded that America's K-12 schools needed more rigorous tests, too.

In 2010, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers released the Common Core State Standards, a set of expectations about what all American students should learn in school. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have agreed to adopt these standards, along with new, harder tests that will be used to show how students are performing.

ACE decided that if high school was going to be harder, the GED should be too.

CT Turner says the new GED test will require "higher order thinking." There will be more questions that require written responses and fewer multiple-choice items. For example, in the new social studies section, a test-taker might read an excerpt from President John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech. Turner says the question might ask the test-taker to explain in a paragraph what Kennedy meant by a particular passage. "So people are going to have to think critically and then they're going to have to actually write about it."

Something else that will be different about the new GED: It will be available only on computer. No more paper and pencil tests. According to Turner, scoring the computer test will be faster and more sophisticated. Test-takers will get score reports with detailed information about what they did well on and where they need work. Turner says this will allow people who don't pass to study more effectively before taking the GED test again.

There will be two passing levels on the new GED. One will indicate that a person meets the requirements for a high school credential. A higher passing level will indicate that a person is ready for college.

The new test will cost $120, more than what it costs states to administer the current GED. The amount test-takers pay varies because some states subsidize all or part of the fee. CT Turner says updating the GED required $40 million in new investment. That's why ACE created a partnership with for-profit publisher Pearson in 2011, he says.

The bump in price upset many state officials who oversee GED policy. "Their memo about prices panicked the herd," says Troy Tallabas, a GED administrator in Wyoming, referring to the announcement by GEDTS to raise the test fee.

State officials were also concerned about the decision to require everyone to take the GED on computer.

"We were surprised we were being told this rather than having this discussed with us," says Kevin Smith, the deputy commissioner of Adult Career and Continuing Education Services in New York State. Smith says there are 269 GED testing centers in New York, and none of them have any computer equipment available for testing. He says some centers don't even have sufficient electrical power to turn on dozens of computers at one time.

Smith and other adult education directors say many GED seekers may not be ready to take a test on computer. And they may not be ready for a more difficult test. The changes were too much, too fast, says Smith.

In 2011, Smith and adult education directors from several other states formed a working group to discuss getting rid of the GED and coming up with alternatives.

As of early September 2013, the working group counted 41 states among its members. Six of them have announced that they will no longer offer the GED once the new test is released in January, 2014. Those states include New York -- the first state to offer the GED to civilians back in 1947 -- and Iowa, the birthplace of the GED.

Iowa is replacing the GED with a high school equivalency test being developed by the Educational Testing Service, a nonprofit company that produces other widely used standardized exams, including the SAT and the GRE. New York is working with for-profit testing company CTB/McGraw Hill. Both the ETS test and the CTB/McGraw Hill test will be available on paper, though the goal is for most people to take the test on computer eventually. New York state officials asked that the difficulty of the new high school equivalency test be phased in over time. "We have to give people a chance to get the instruction and the support in order to have a chance to pass the exam," Smith says.

But even with instruction and support, people will still have to pass a test. And even if the test is harder, GED critics say no test can certify that someone has the skills of a high school graduate.

A high school diploma means "we have some smarts and we know some stuff," says Janice Laurence, a GED researcher at Temple University. "But beyond that, it also means ... ways of acting and functioning in society" that a cognitive skills test "doesn't take into consideration at all."

When asked about the new GED test coming in January of 2014, Academy of Hope student Charles Gibson shakes his head. "I'm sorry they came up with that," he says with a nervous laugh. "A lot of other people are sorry about that too."

Gibson doesn't have much experience with computers. He's not sure he could pass a test that's offered only on computer.

The new GED test will create another challenge for some test-takers, too. People who take the GED and fail some of the sections are allowed to retake just the sections they failed. But starting Jan. 2, 2014, when the new GED test debuts, everything resets. If someone hasn't passed all sections of the current test by then, they will have to start over with the new test.

Charles Gibson doesn't think that rule will apply to him anyway. He says he won't be ready to take the test -- at all -- until 2014.

Read the full report from American RadioWorks.

PODCAST: Cheerios to go GMO-free

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 07:57

A look at what happened on the first trading day of the new year.

Soon, you will be able to buy a box of Cheerios that is GMO-free. General Mills says it will use corn and sugar that have not been genetically modified.

Which country gets most of its energy from renewable resources? Take the quiz and find out.

Despite Scandals, Nation's Crime Labs Have Seen Little Change

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 07:42

Last year in Massachusetts, chemist Annie Dookhan was sent to prison for falsifying drug tests. Her misconduct tainted thousands of cases, and was one of the largest crime lab scandals in U.S. history. Critics say it raises a larger question: Do forensic analysts serve the truth, or the prosecution?

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Nuns' Objection To Health Care Law Is Unwarranted, Justice Dept. Says

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 07:39

Religious organizations have objected to the new health care law's requirement that employers include contraception coverage in the insurance plans they offer employees. But the Obama administration says one group of nuns is already exempt and has no standing to object.

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4 Killed As Cambodian Police Fire At Striking Garment Workers

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 07:37

Workers from the sector, Cambodia's biggest export earner, want the country's minimum wage doubled. Protests by garment workers are not unusual, but Friday's violence represents an escalation, and comes amid growing demonstrations against Prime Minister Hun Sen's government.

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Quiz: Which country gets most of its energy from renewable resources?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 07:13

It's international quiz time on the Marketplace Morning Report. Stephan Richter, editor-in-chief of the online international affairs magazine, The Globalist, brings us the question below.

Which country gets most of its energy from renewable resources? 

A. United States

B. Germany

C. Canada

D. Brazil

Scroll down to see the answer and click on the audio player above to hear more about renewable sources.

 

 

 

 

D. Brazil

Cuba's drivers don't have to be stuck in the 50s anymore

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 06:53

In Cuba, there is a genius for fighting automotive obsolescence. Even in 2014, the streets are still lined with 1950s cars, the ones that were there before Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. With some exceptions, imports of new cars were banned since the revolution, but now the ban's lifted and the imports are onsale starting this morning.   The BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports from Havana. Click the audio player above to listen.

Indian PM Manmohan Singh to retire after 10 years

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 06:41

Today, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced his plan to retire after 10 years in power. BBC business correspondent Sameer Hashmi looks at his complicated complicated legacy.  Click the audio player to hear more.

Cheerios goes no-GMO

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 06:31

Soon, you will be able to buy a box of Cheerios that is GMO-free. General Mills says it will use corn and sugar that have not been genetically modified.

Companies that use genetically-modified ingredients maintain they are safe, and the federal government has no problem with them. But some Americans are wary.

“They can shop for organic products that are GMO-free, but this is an expansion of that GMO-free market,” says Julie Caswell, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

General Mills says it is responding to what consumers want. But Alberto Alemanno, a food policy expert at NYU Law School, says there is a reason why the company picked Cheerios, instead of Chex or Wheaties.

“Cheerios contain oats,” he explains. “Oats is not a GM crop. So, it is pretty clear they have targeted this product because it is going to be easier for them to deliver.”

In the U.S., most packaged foods contain ingredients that are genetically modified. Recently, Whole Foods announced it is going to stop selling Chobani Greek yogurt, because the company uses milk that’s not organic. Chobani says there just isn’t enough organic milk available to meet consumer demand.

One Of The Rescue Ships In Antarctic May Now Be Stuck, Too

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-03 05:56

A Chinese icebreaker that helped rescue 52 adventurers from another ship says it may not be able to get back to open waters. An Australian icebreaker — to which the adventurers were evacuated — i staying nearby in case its assistance is needed. So the

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Obamacare backlog: Walgreen's offers month of drugs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 05:53

With the new year come millions of people who will be newly insured under the Affordable Care Act, and pharmacies are among the many companies competing for their business.

This week several drugstore chains offered temporary supplies of medications for those still sorting out their coverage. Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, and Kroger are among the retailers offering to fill prescriptions for people who enrolled in new health plans but don’t have ID numbers yet. They’ll settle the bill later.

“The key is to drive traffic by any means possible,” says analyst Ross Muken with research firm ISI Group.

Once those customers are in the door, drugstores hope to sell them not only pantyhose and bubble gum, but other health care services, Muken says -- like flu shots and even physicals.

“They want to be the place that you think of first when you think of health care,” says Robert Field, a professor of law and public policy at Drexel University. “If they can be friendly for a 30-day bridge period, it’s a small investment to make in terms of that long-term relationship.”

How long-term? Field says customer loyalty isn’t what it was in the days of the corner drugstore. People tend to go to the closest pharmacy their insurance plan allows.

Is the World Bank a victim of its own success?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 05:43

Twenty years ago, if you calculated what fraction of the world’s poor lived where, 90 percent lived in the poorest countries. But today, three quarters of the world’s poor live in countries that have graduated to middle income status -- like India and China. This has complicated things for aid agencies, like the World Bank, which provide billions of dollars of loans meant to help the poor.
 
Every three years it’s graduation time at the World Bank and this year is one of them. That means this is the time when countries find out if the bank is going to move them up from poor to middle income. If residents are living on an average of less than a $1.25 a day, the country is considered poor, but if residents have more -- the country moves up to middle income.  And that’s when the World Bank cuts off the cheapest aid -- like zero interest loans.
 
India just graduated to the rank of middle income, but it still has about 300 million poor residents, which Ravi Kanbur, a professor of economics at Cornell, says could pose a problem.  

“Take two groups of poor who are equally poor. But one group happens to live in a country which is above this cutoff. And another group which happens to live in a country which is just below this cut off. At least from my perspective, I can’t see how we can make a sharp  differentiation between those two groups of poor,” he says.  
 
“The poor,” he says, “are still poor… The poor of course, haven’t moved, it’s just the classification of the countries, in which they live has changed.”
 
According to the World Bank’s current rules Kanbur says hundreds of millions of poor could be cut off from the cheapest aid. India got a reprieve, but  Ghana, Vietnam and Nigeria are heading towards graduation.
 
Laurence Chandy, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, says the rise of these countries are success stories. The poor living in middle income countries, he says, do have some advantages.
 
“They’re living in economies that are moving fast. So even if the poor are poor today, there’s probably fairly good prospects that they won’t be poor in five to ten years time, or their children won’t be poor.”
 
That’s something, Chandy notes, we can’t say about the world’s poorest countries.
 
“Secondly,” he says, “they’re in countries either are able to access commercial markets for finance, or have large domestic resources already. Or maybe both.”

“The problem however, is not so simple,” says Federico Bonaglia, head of policy dialogue for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. A newly-labeled middle country may not have the fiscal resources to take care of its poor.  

“Taxation in many of these countries is very low,” he said, “it’s not easy to reform the taxation system.”

Joachim von Amsberg, vice president of concessional finance and global partnerships at the World Bank, notes that the World Bank continues to provide assistance for countries in the middle income rank.   “It is just a different type of support that’s most useful for those countries,” he says.
 
The funding the bank provides to middle income countries, says von Amsberg, is a “catalyst” for aid from other sources. And he says the criteria that rank a country’s financial status are working well. “We plan to continue using those criteria,” he says, as the rules are “fair and efficient.”
 
Laurence Chandy agrees. “What appears to be the problem,” he says, “is that aid won’t go to those people greatest in need, right?” 

The unstable climates, says Chandy, political or environmental, in countries like Haiti or the Democratic Republic of Congo, can mean lenders are reluctant to make any loans at all. So he says, while middle income countries may pay more interest that means more aid freed up for the poor in the most fragile states of all.

Boeing's Washington workers vote on contract for 777X. Again.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-03 05:29

More than 30,000 machinists could vote today on Boeing’s latest contract proposal. At stake is production of the 777X aircraft, which Boeing threatened to move out of Washington State when machinists rejected the initial labor contract. And while it might sound crazy to potentially vote yourself out of a job, the stakes are high all around.

Under the revised deal, machinists would get an extra bonus and a few other concessions. But Professor Leon Grunberg of the University of Puget Sound says their biggest concern remains: “Losing the guaranteed pension that they had,” he says. “One of the few last remaining blue collar workers in the private sector that have these guaranteed pensions.”

In fact, the local union didn’t push for today’s vote; the union’s international leadership did. It doesn’t want to risk losing thousands of union jobs to a “right-to-work” state.

Aviation industry consultant Scott Hamilton says that’s a definite possibility, though moving is risky for Boeing too. He says that, in its request for proposals, Boeing asked competing sites to basically replicate its Washington facilities, to the tune of ten billion dollars.

“I don’t see any state in the union that has the ability to go out and write ten billion dollars worth of checks to build buildings,” Hamilton says.

There’s also the risk of delay. Boeing wants to bring the 777X to market in 2020, which might not happen if it has to start from scratch.

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