National News

Facebook Courts News Giants Into A Deal To Share Viewers, And Profits

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:56

Nine media organizations, including The New York Times and National Geographic, have signed a deal to distribute their content through a new Facebook feature called "Instant Articles."

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Charities, Locals And Bikers Help Repair Nepal After New Quake

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:56

Nepal was just recovering from the first earthquake when a second one hit on Tuesday. People are fearful but more determined than ever to rebuild their country.

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Smokers More Likely To Quit If Their Own Cash Is On The Line

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:50

A carrot isn't enough — bring on the stick. A study finds smokers are more likely to quit tobacco if they lose some of their own money after a relapse, than if they get a bonus for quitting the habit.

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'Instagram for doctors' is grisly and useful

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:30

Note: This story contains some graphic images.

While you’re on Instagram looking at puppies, artisan desserts and celebrity selfies, some doctors are on a different photo sharing app, looking at gangrene, gallstones and rashes.

First-year emergency medicine resident John Corker has just uploaded a photo. It’s of a fresh red and greenish wound on the top of a right foot.

“What you’re looking at here is a badly infected foot," he says. "It's a commentary on what can happen when patients don’t have good follow up.”

He put this photo on Figure 1 – an app that’s been called the "Instagram for doctors." Sitting on a bench outside of Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Corker scrolls down below the image to reveal it was starred by a number of people, "which means they appreciated the image" he says.

Courtesy of John Corker

It might seem like a strange thing to appreciate, but hundreds of thousands of people have created an account on Figure 1. Most are doctors, like Corker, who join the service to learn about medical conditions and share the occasionally gruesome photo. The x-rays, lesions, tumors and gunshot wounds are categorized by anatomy and specialty. Corker says in the emergency room, access like this is invaluable.

“If I’m able to log on to Instagram or Figure 1 and see a picture of something that I learned about three years ago in medical school that I may see in the future, that’s really helpful for my learning going forward,” Corker says, 

Unlike Instagram, Figure 1 requires users to remove all personal details – faces or birthmarks, for example – from the photos they post.

“The best way to keep a secret is not to have it,” says 34-year-old critical care doctor and Figure 1 co-founder Joshua Landy.

“We give them all the tools they need to remove any potentially private details from the photo," Landy says. "There’s an automatic tool to block out faces, tools that let you block out name, date, tattoos, or other identifying marks that might be in the photo.”

Then Landy and a small team review each image before giving the final go-ahead.

Figure 1

Of course, doctors are supposed to ask for consent before snapping a photo of that amputated finger or bumpy rash, but there’s some variation in what counts as consent.

“We encourage all users to get consent. However, they’re not restricted to using our consent form. They’re permitted to using the consent form from their jurisdiction. Some hospitals require it to be done on paper, and some require it to be using voices instead of just paper.”

Now if you’re thinking all this photo snapping and sharing is new, it’s not.

Classic textbooks are teeming with images of guts and brains spliced and splayed in professional lighting. In some specialties, like dermatology, photos are especially useful.

“We diagnose and treat based on seeing, feeling, and examining the skin. Looking for rashes, abnormalities — and so pictures inherently are a daily part of our practice,” says dermatologist Seemal Desai.

Figure 1

As medical file sharing and photo sharing become ubiquitous, Desai has a few words of advice to doctors about to hit upload: “Always keep in the back of your mind, 'Is what I’m doing in the best interest of my patient?' And, 'Is this going to help outcome of my patient?' And if the answer is no, you don’t need to be involved in it,” he says.

If you want to peruse the archives of Figure 1, you don’t have to be a doctor or a nurse. Lurkers are allowed. In fact, nearly 10 percent of Figure 1 users are not in health care. You won’t be allowed to comment, but you can admire close-ups of busted lips and green glistening gallstones to your heart's content.

House Approves USA Freedom Act, Extending And Revising The Patriot Act

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:18

The USA Freedom Act would extend many parts of the surveillance legislation while also barring the NSA's massive collection of Americans' phone data. The measure's fate in the Senate is uncertain.

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Train Derailment Highlights Amtrak's Infrastructure Needs

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:15

Amtrak was created in the 1970s to allow several private railroads to get out of the passenger business. Experts say that while its safety record is generally good, it needs upgrading.

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Standards For Child Migrants Could Force Detention Centers To Close

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

The Obama administration has detained thousands of immigrant women and children, but that could soon change. A court case is challenging whether it is ever legal to hold children for long periods.

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How human behavior impacts the economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

The problem with many macroeconomic models is that they make predictions that don't account for human behavior. And, as many of us may know, human beings are not always logical.

"In the 1940s, economics started getting highly mathematical," says Richard H. Thaler, founding father of behavioral economics and a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. "It was basically because economists weren’t smart enough to write down models of real behavior, that they started writing down models of highly rational behavior – and they kind of forgot about humans."

In his new book, "Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics," Thaler describes his time trying to convince economists of this. He recalls his time as a grad student: "My thesis topic was 'The value of a human life.' I asked people a question: 'Suppose you had some risk, a one in a thousand risk of dying, how much would you pay to eliminate it?' People would give one-answers and say '$5,000.'

And then I’d say, 'How much would you have to be paid to take an extra one in a thousand risk of death?' And they’d say, 'Well, I wouldn’t do that at all' or 'I would demand a million dollars!' Well, economic theory says the answers to those two questions should be basically the same, and they were like way different. And I said, 'Oh that’s interesting.' "

Thaler’s behavioral research was at first dismissed as irrelevant. Many mainstream economists argued that professionals responsible for making big economic and financial decisions would think rationally. 

A day after crash, a vote to cut Amtrak funding

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

Ride an Amtrak train from Washington, D.C., to New York, and you’ll notice a lot of clickety clacking.  It’s not a smooth ride. In fact, Amtrak says it has a $52 billion maintenance backlog on its Northeast Corridor.

But Congress won't help much with that.

“There was a lot of hand wringing, where they said, 'We all know this is inadequate, but there’s nothing much we can do,' ” says Sean Jeans-Gail, a spokesman for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, who attended the House Appropriations Committee hearing on Amtrak funding today. The committee members said their hands were tied by spending caps.

So, is Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor safe?

“I would characterize it as safe," says Joseph Sussman, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at MIT.  “But there’s also the question of what quality of service is offered.”

For instance, trains are late if they have to slow down to go over rough track. Sussman would like to see not just track maintenance, but more sections of track good enough for high-speed rail.  If you wanted to run high-speed trains along the whole Northeast Corridor, you’d have to spend billions.

“You’d need to invest in it from one end to the other," says Mark Burton, a professor of transportation and economics at the University of Tennessee. "There would almost certainly be no section of track that was unaffected. ”

The entire proposed 2016 budget for Amtrak in today’s House bill?  Just over $1 billion, which is $262 million less than this year.



California drought threatens even oldest water rights

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

California's first come, first served, water-rights system is about to be tested.

State water regulators are expected to issue curtailment orders to the most privileged water users in California – those with so-called senior water rights, claimed before the state established a permitting process in 1914. 

Those lucky enough to be grandfathered in, including corporations, farms and irrigation districts, usually don’t have much to worry about when it comes to water. They’ve been last in line for cuts in dry years, but the drought is starting to chip away at those historic privileges, says Stanford Law School’s Barton “Buzz” Thompson.

“California’s drought has now gone on for a long enough period of time, and it’s bad enough, that it looks like we might actually shut off our senior water rights holders," Thompson says.

Some rural irrigation districts with senior rights may sue over the expected water cutbacks. Jeanne Zolezzi, a Stockton attorney who represents several irrigation districts with senior water rights, says she doesn’t believe the State Water Resources Control Board has the authority to shut them off. If regulators demand a curtailment, she insists, they need to hold a hearing and provide evidence of harm rather than simply issuing an order. 


Most Amtrak long-distance routes are unprofitable

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

It's still up in the air how long Amtrak's going to be out of business — or, at best, running reduced service on that Northeast Corridor. 

But here's a quick hint as to how important that New York-to-Washington run is for the company: Amtrak made $286 million there last year.

All its other long-distance routes? They lost the railroad service more than $600 million (PDF).

Facebook and the need for speed

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

As we are all well aware, there is a great deal of critical information out on the Internet that we must see.  And we must see it AT ONCE.

Up until now, when hapless users of Facebook’s mobile app come across a link or listicle that strikes their fancy, they have had to endure the debilitating process of clicking on said link and waiting – up to several seconds – for that page to open.  Adding insult to injury, some users have had to resort to exiting the Facebook app and opening the link in a different browser, depriving themselves of precious seconds that could be used to stare endlessly into the eyes of a baby sloth. 

 “You really only have about three seconds for a web page to load fully before a person’s gone,” says Sean Work, director of inbound marketing at KISSMetrics, a firm that tracks customer data online for subscription-based websites like Netflix and Hulu.  “For certain businesses it has a profound effect on their bottom line.”

This is one of the drivers behind the deal that Facebook has struck with nine major publishers, including the New York Times and BuzzFeed.  The deal lets Facebook host and publish content from these publishers on its own servers, and display them quickly – very quickly – within its mobile app. 

In Facebook’s case, if someone gives up on an article or leaves Facebook’s app to view it, Facebook misses out on important data.

The important information for advertisers and for Facebook to produce more clickable content is “How long you spent on the article, did you read half of it and go away from it? Did you watch any of the multimedia or the videos?” says Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at EMarketer. If that content is hosted on Facebook servers, “it makes it possible for people to stay in that happy little Facebook universe that Facebook has built,” Williamson says.

So ultimately, getting content in front of people faster keeps people in front of Facebook longer.  

My First Job: Wienermobile Driver

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

Some first jobs are exactly what you'd think they'd be: fry-cook at a fast food chain, sales associate somewhere, maybe a telemarketer.

But not all of them.

Natasha Best worked as a "Hot-Dogger," driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile across the Midwest and giving away whistles.

"We would park somewhere, and we would just get inundated; people wanting to see the inside of it," Best says. "But then I would even have people come up to me and ask me for my autograph or ask to take a photo with me.  They just loved it." 

Hear Best's full story, including how difficult the Wienermobile was to drive, in the audio player above.

Despite insurance, some Americans still struggle with medical debt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

At the Yakima County courthouse in Washington, presiding District Court Judge Kevin Roy walks past a rattling dot-matrix printer and long rows of color-coded folders to a shelf of files awaiting his signature.

“If I was to pull this file,” Roy says, taking one from the shelf. “Yep, Memorial Physicians, PLLC. That’s not just by luck.”

Not luck, because most of these files are for medical debt. The Affordable Care Act has expanded coverage to more than 10 million Americans who were previously without health insurance and provided subsidies to millions more. But it hasn’t changed much for those who have fallen behind in paying for healthcare.

Roy spends a big chunk of his workday signing judgments against people who owe money to hospitals and medical providers. “It’s like the tide coming in every week," he says.

Medical debt affects one of every four Americans and accounts for more than half of all bankruptcies.

At age 60, Scott Cliett says he’s in debt for the first time in his life. Chronic pancreatitis has forced him to stop working, and regularly sends him to the emergency room for a week at a time. He now has free health coverage through the Affordable Care Act, but he’s still struggling to pay off old debt. Missing a single $25 installment landed Cliett in court.

“The Judge did allow me to speak, but the fact that I admitted I do owe them money pretty much cut everything else off,” Cliett says, reflecting on his day in court. “‘You know, I’m sympathetic to your plight, but I have to follow the letter of the law. You owe them money, so therefore I’m granting the judgment.’”

Most of Cliett’s bills were forgiven through the hospital’s charity care program. But he’s barely made a dent in the remainder, like a $4,000 ambulance ride.

 “Let’s see, $4,000 divided by twenty five dollars,” he says. “My grandkids will probably still be working on it when I’m gone.”

Overall, gaps in coverage like Cliett’s are the exception to the rule. The vast majority of people with medical debt have insurance the whole time those costs are piling up. But the bills insurance doesn’t cover can be devastating on their own.

That’s one reason Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, who teaches health policy at City University of New York, says health insurance is often a "defective product."

“People buy it in good faith to try and get medical care and make sure their bills are paid, and then when they get an expensive or prolonged illness, the health insurance doesn’t work,” she says.

Woolhandler says Obamacare has definitely helped. She says even with Obamacare, many policies still have high out-of-pocket costs.

Karen Pollitz, who co-authored a recent study on medical debt for the Kaiser Family Foundation, says, “We see a lot of plans, still, that have 2, 3, 4, 5,000, $6,000 deductibles. That’s still way more than most Americans have on hand.”

The Morning After: Lawmakers Vote to Reduce Amtrak Funding

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 12:48

In Philadelphia, an Amtrak train derailed on Tuesday. But in Washington on Wednesday, transportation supporters still could not get the House on track for providing more funding.

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Senate Reaches Deal To Vote On 'Fast-Track' Trade Bill Thursday

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 11:22

The deal calls for separate votes on bills that Democrats had wanted to move as a single package, with a vote on a customs bill that includes safeguards championed by Sen. Charles Schumer.

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Why Would A Fish Make Its Own Sunscreen?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 11:16

Research suggests that genes that make a natural sunscreen jumped from algae to an ancestor of vertebrates hundreds of millions of years ago. Some animals kept the ability. Others didn't.

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How To Feed A Numbat: Zoo Cookery Aids Endangered Species

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 10:29

Zoo nutritionists these days have to do more than try to keep displayed animals happy and healthy. Sometimes the goal is to bring endangered wildlife back from the brink.

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Vatican Officially Recognizes State Of Palestine

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 10:02

In a treaty between the two sides, the Holy See switches its diplomatic relations from the Palestine Liberation Organization to the State of Palestine. Israel said it was "disappointed."

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