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:

9,779,559,118

 

BallParkBrand.com

Approx. number of Tyson Family Roaster Chickens: 

985,460,420

 

www.Tyson.com

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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