National News

These People Can Make Student Loans Disappear

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 05:14

A group called Rolling Jubilee has "abolished" more than $3 million in private student loans from the for-profit Corinthian Colleges. And it's just getting started.

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Police Hunt For Armed 'Survivalist' In Pa. Trooper Shooting

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 04:32

Eric Frein, 31, has been identified as a suspect in last week's fatal shooting of one state trooper and the wounding of another.

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House Poised To Vote On Arming, Training Syrian Rebels

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 03:32

The expected vote on whether to authorize the Obama administration's plan to arm and train moderate fighters comes as the president meets with military officials at U.S. Central Command.

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PODCAST: Negotiating an independent Scotland

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 03:00

Some of the National Football League's big-money sponsors think the league is not doing enough to grapple with the problem of players who are charged with domestic violence. Last night, the Minnesota Vikings deactivated running back Adrian Peterson while he faces child abuse charges. Plus, California has a new law on its books. It's been dubbed the "Yelp law"--after the online location-aware directory of restaurants and other establishments. More on the "Yelp law," which stops businesses from stopping you from writing bad reviews. And tomorrow, the people of Scotland go to the polls for one of the most crucial political and economic decisions of their lives. They'll vote  on whether or  not they want to separate from the United Kingdom. More on the economic implications of a decision to split.

New law cracks down on businesses that ban bad reviews

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed what some have dubbed the "Yelp Law." It bars the business practice of "non-disparagement clauses": fine print that prohibits customers from writing bad reviews. 

The law was inspired by a case in Utah, in which online retailer KlearGear went after a couple who aired their grievances on the website Ripoff Report. KlearGear responded by calling the husband, John Palmer. His attorney, Scott Michelman characterizes that call: "'Your wife criticized us on Ripoff Report. You now [owe] us a penalty of $3,500."

Michelman and the Palmers ultimately won the case, though it took a lengthy legal battle. Their story inspired the California law, which bans such policies outright and imposes escalating financial penalties if businesses seek to enforce them.

Michelmann added that the law does nothing to restrict the traditional way of dealing with malicious and untrue statements: a defamation lawsuit.

"As opposed to an effort to harass, intimidate and silence its critics," Michelson says. 

Either way, though, the business has to find those critics. Sparks Steakhouse is suing Yelp to find the identity of a reviewer who claims to be a former employee. "I have personally spit my own sal[i]via [sic] into dishes for the passed [sic] 3 weeks now," the review says. 

Across the street from the restaurant, Victoria Miller says that one review would keep her away. "I would definitely avoid that place at all costs," she says. 

True or false, that online critic's best defense is anonymity. 

Scottish independence: the cost of uncertainty

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

On Thursday, the people of Scotland go to the polls for the most important economic decision of their lives. They’ll vote on whether or not they want to separate from the United Kingdom. They’ll also be voting with an unprecedented chorus of warnings ringing in their ears.

More than a hundred companies with Scottish operations have spoken of the perils of independence; five major banks, a big insurance company and one of the UK’s largest investment funds have threatened to pull their headquarters out of Scotland if there’s a "yes" vote; and supermarket chains say it could mean higher prices.

The pro-independence leader Alex Salmond blames the 'No' Campaign for this outpouring of corporate angst.

“I think the problem lies entirely with the 'No' campaign," Salmond told a news conference in Edinburgh. "The 'No' campaigners have been caught red-handed as being part of a campaign of scaremongering."

Salmond claims that those opposed to independence—including the UK’s national government at Westminster—have pressured the companies into speaking out.
But the warnings of turmoil have been widespread and cannot be so easily dismissed. The main concern is acute uncertainty.

Following a "yes" vote, there would be at least 18 months of intense negotiation over some highly contentious issues: What currency would Scotland use? How much of the UK’s national debt would it shoulder? How much of the North Sea oil would it inherit?

Mike Amey of the Pimco bond investment firm says this would create uncertainty which could be economically damaging.

“We wouldn’t know who’d end up with what. As a result you’d find some business investment put on hold during that period, the economy would be weaker," says Amey.

Some economists say that, at a stroke, the UK’s reputation as a global safe haven would be smashed. A survey of foreign exchange traders has indicated that the British pound could fall by 10%, and it would be more difficult for the UK to attract the inward investment flows that it needs to balance its books.

Dire predictions are coming thick and fast. A well-known property website forecasts that if there’s a "yes" vote, Scottish house price could crash, wiping $130 billion of the value of Scottish real estate and rattling Britain’s mortgage banks.

Scottish businesswoman and "Yes" campaigner Michelle Rodger says these forecasts are ludicrously negative.

“A 'yes' vote would send the most positive message to the rest of the world,” she says. “It would be Scotland saying: We’ve taken this opportunity, we’ve grasped it with both hands and we’re going to change Scotland for the better."

No one doubts the Scots would be able to run their own successful economy—they’ve played a leading role in the UK’s political, corporate, scientific and creative life for centuries. But divorce can be messy. Disentangling the 307 year old union with the rest of Britain would be monumentally difficult and costly.

Middle class, but "asset poor"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

We learned from the Census Bureau this week that the federal poverty rate has fallen, albeit slightly, for the first time since 2006. Last year, 14.5 percent of people in this country earned less than the federal poverty line, down from 15 percent in 2012. But a new report out Wednesday says far more families are financially insecure.

Nearly half of households in major U.S. cities are “liquid asset poor,” according to the report from the nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) and Citigroup. That means if they lose their incomes, those households don’t have enough accessible savings to get by for three months at the federal poverty level.

“Liquid poverty tells us that many communities and families that may be middle class really don’t have the cash available, the liquidity available, to respond to unexpected emergencies or needs,” says Bob Annibale, Citigroup’s global director of community development.

Worse off is Newark, NJ, with nearly 75 percent of households considered liquid asset poor. When so many families lack a financial cushion, it takes a toll on the whole economy, says Stephanie Hoopes Halpin, an assistant professor at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark.

“What it means is that a huge portion of your community is struggling just to pay their bills,” she says.

The report is being presented at a conference in Washington, D.C. aimed at helping more low-income families save. Solutions include automatic savings plans “so that people don’t have to think about it every time they need to save a dollar,” says Ida Rademacher, chief program officer at CFED, or helping people pay off debts so that they can begin saving.

Lower-income households can and will save, she says, if given the right opportunities.

How student data improves the lunch line

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

Schools around the country are using student data in all sorts of ways: to personalize education, to figure out which teaching techniques are working, and to make school services more efficient.

One place to actually see student data in action is the modern school cafeteria. 

At Carr Intermediate School in Santa Ana California, sixth graders start school a day early for orientation. Among the lessons they’ll learn: how to use their ID cards to get through the lunch line quickly.

“Part of what we are trying to teach them is technology,” says school principal Ed Bustamante.

Students punch their ID numbers into a keypad. That brings up their names, photos, even food allergies. The cashier greets students by name and sends them on their way.

It all happens very fast. Hundreds of kids grab burritos, mini-burgers, fruit and milk in no time.

Mark Chavez is Director of Nutrition Services at Santa Ana Unified School District. He says the cafeteria software, called Meals Plus, records each child who gets a meal. 

That kind of information can come in very handy if, for instance, a child’s academic performance starts to slip—School administrators can check to see if that child is eating.

The central office can also see exactly how many meals were served in the district, so schools can be sure they are being reimbursed properly by the state.

And, says Chavez, data can help when an upset parent calls because her child came home with a stomach ache: “We’ll say, ‘Mom, sorry to tell you, but they didn’t have lunch today because we didn’t see them at any points of sale.”       

All students at Santa Ana get free meals, so the district only keeps track of whether a child got lunch or not.

But in some schools, cafeteria systems will log exactly what a kid puts on her tray—pizza or a chicken sandwich, juice or milk. 

“The transaction can be rather detailed,” says Joel Reidenberg, a professor at Fordham University and a student data privacy expert. “Over time, that builds a profile of a child’s eating habits.”

Reidenberg says in some schools, cafeteria payment services are run by private contractors.

“Schools have lost control about the information about their children when they start using these outsourced services,” he says. 

Then, says Reidenberg it’s not at all clear how that data will be used.

Not Every Afghan Institution Is Efficient; This One Is

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 00:17

When NPR's Kabul bureau caught fire recently, it came as a pleasant surprise that the fire department in the Afghan capital is good at putting out fires.

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When The Power's Out, Solar Panels May Not Keep The Lights On

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 00:16

With the price of solar panels falling, more municipalities and homeowners are installing them. But having solar panels doesn't mean you won't lose power in a blackout — at least not yet.

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Will Obama's Plan Bring The Ebola Outbreak Under Control?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 00:15

The ambitious scope of the intervention has impressed aid workers, who have been crying for help for months. But the plan will need to be implemented quickly to get ahead of the spread of infections.

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Unregulated Skies: Keeping Watch On America's Vertical Borders

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 00:14

Tens of thousands of private planes fly through U.S. airspace daily. Federal agents at a Southern California air base monitor those flights, looking for drugs or terrorists. Sometimes, they find them.

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'Breaking Bad' Fans Get Their Fix In Spanish

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 00:12

Metástasis, the Spanish-language remake of the AMC series, ends this week on UniMás. The show is set in Colombia instead of New Mexico, but the story of a teacher-turned-drug dealer stays the same.

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Top Scientists Suggest A Few Fixes For Medical Funding Crisis

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 00:11

The answer, this time, isn't simply more cash, says Dr. Harold Varmus, director of the National Cancer Institute. Instead, changing the way research money is distributed might fix systemic problems.

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Vikings Now Say Adrian Peterson Is Banned From Team Activities

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-16 23:05

The change in running back Adrian Peterson's status will require him to stay away from the team while he takes care of legal proceedings regarding child abuse charges.

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You're invited: Come chat about #studentdata

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:52

Since “The Quantified Student” went up yesterday, we have been overwhelmed by the response.

Now, we want to take the conversation deeper, and hear from educators in the community. That means you!

What: Marketplace is  running a series on student data – how it’s gatheredhow it’s used, and, most important, how it is protected.   

Where: We’re hosting a Twitter chat.

When: Thursday (9/18) from 5-6 p.m. PST

Why: Marketplace is  running a series on student data – how it’s gatheredhow it’s used, and, most important, how it is protected

Who: Our handles are @LearningCurveEd@adrienehill (the reporter behind all of this), and @Ariana_Tobin.

How: The hashtag is #studentdata

Even if you can’t make it, we’d still love to hear your feedback before and after – what points you think it’s important for the education community to discuss?

Boeing And SpaceX Win $6.8 Billion In NASA Contracts

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:52

By 2017, the two American companies are expected to take over a job that NASA has relied upon Russia to perform: shuttling astronauts to the International Space Station.

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How the tough economy changes young people's lives

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:50

Young adults face economic challenges their elders never had to contend with.

Unemployment hovers near 20 percent  for 16-19-year-olds. That's higher  than it was before the recession, and student debt loads continue to mount.  Salaries, meanwhile, are lower in real terms for many entry-level jobs than they used to be.

This is causing the so-called "Millennials" (born between 1980 and 2000) to postpone a host of life-cycle and financial decisions, says Paul Taylor, senior fellow at the Pew Research Center, and author of the new book “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown.”

“Looking at some of the traditional milestones of adulthood—getting a job, finding a partner, getting married, having children, buying a house, buying a car,” said Taylor, “every one of those milestones is happening later in life for this generation of young adults.”

Pew recently published a paper showing that compared to their parents and grandparents, today’s young adults are less mobile—they’re hesitant to move out of state for jobs or relationships. And they live with roommates, or with mom and dad and other extended family members more too.

“A lot of this... change,” said Taylor, “is driven by the 20-somethings, and now even the 30-somethings, who are still living with mom and dad because he or she hasn’t found a marital partner, is having trouble getting jobs, maybe is getting an internship or maybe is a barista.”

It’s often described pejoratively as a generation that has “failed to launch,” said Taylor. But Pew’s research shows that parents, and Millennials themselves, don’t necessarily see it that way.

“Look, if there aren’t any jobs out there,” said Taylor, “hanging out with mom and dad isn’t a bad deal, the refrigerator’s usually stocked and you don’t have to put coins in the washing machine. And the generations actually get along pretty well.”

Of course, that’s not always true. Lucas Cook is in his early twenties, and recently moved out of his parents’ home in suburban Portland, Oregon, into with friends. He lived at home while he went to a local college and stayed there after he graduated.

He calls his new roommate-living arrangement: “A music and meditation pad. It’s super-nice, it feels like a new level of freedom.” And what was living at home like? “Super-intense. My parents have very different ideals than I do. And so it was a process of coming away from them ideologically while still being in their house, and that was really stressful.”

Cook plays conga drums and he’s started playing gigs, helping him to move out on his own.

Justine Pope is 28, and she is just now moving into her own place after living with her parents and roommates since college. Pope has held down three of four jobs simultaneously through the recession—law firm assistant, yoga teacher, gardener—and never made much more than $25,000 per year.

“How I live right now is pretty month to month, and I’m fine, I’m not ever struggling, I always make my rent,” said Pope. “But I’m not increasing from there. I don’t have savings, I don’t have a retirement.”

She said buying a home would be “unimaginable to me. When my mom was my age, she had had her first kid, they were on their way to buying a home. And I feel the life that I’m living now, while very happy, is not setting me up for a comfortable middle-aged lifestyle. I really hope to be a stable middle-aged person.”

Bill Emmons, senior economic advisor at the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, thinks many in Pope's and Cook’s generation will eventually catch up with the major financial life-decisions they’ve delayed--primarily, he thinks, because of the bad economy.

“Life expectancies keep rising and by the time Millennials reach their fifties and sixties, they may be looking at another 10 or 15 years of work,” said Emmons. “Maybe everything could be extended. There are some limits on that—childbearing can’t be delayed forever. But buying a house can.”

But other scholars, including Paul Taylor at Pew, think the pattern of young people not making these traditional life-cycle moves could be long-lasting—a reflection of the changing culture, not just the bad economy Millennials have come of age in.

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