National News

Foley's Mother: We Didn't Want Him To Go Back To Syria

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:45

Diane Foley tells NPR that her son, slain journalist James Foley, "could have done so many other things. But he, I think, was drawn to some of the drama, some of the rawness of the conflict zones."

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Texas Law Could Lead To Closure Of Clinics That Offer Abortions

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:39

A Texas law would require doctors' offices and clinics that perform abortions to comply with regulations that apply to ambulatory surgical centers. The change could lead to a loss of services.

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Scentless: Losing Your Sense Of Smell May Make Life Riskier

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:16

Everybody worries about losing eyesight or hearing, but the sense of smell may help people stay safe. People with impaired odor detection are more likely to eat spoiled food or let pans catch on fire.

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With Drones In Flight Over Syria, Questions Of Airstrikes Rise With Them

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:11

U.S. surveillance drones have begun to maintain a presence over Syria, preparing for possible airstrikes against the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State. A mission to expand airstrikes inside Syria raises new questions, though, and critics on both sides ends of the policy spectrum are weighing in.

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Momentum Gathers For The West's Response To Russia

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:11

Lithuania has called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Russia's new incursions into Ukraine. The issue's also likely to dominate an upcoming NATO summit. Since sanctions seem to have failed to change Russia's calculations, the U.S. and its European partners are still trying to find a way to effectively protect Ukraine's sovereignty.

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Rebels Storm Key Border Crossing Between Syria And Israel

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:11

The Syrian civil war has flared up in the south of the country, near the Israeli border. A group of Islamist fighters have now captured a border crossing between Syria and Israel on the Golan Heights.

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Security Vs. Free Speech: India Blocks Film On Assassination

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:11

The 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was followed by a wave of sectarian killings. The government has now stepped in to stop the release of a film about the traumatic episode.

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An auction where you can buy a $1 million oil lease

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 10:53

It happens twice a year at the New Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but it has nothing to do with football. We're talking about a much bigger game, one that's only growing: Offshore oil and gas.

Twice a year "landmen" from energy companies file into the Superdome for an auction. They bid for the right to drill for oil and natural gas under the sea. And who's selling that right? You and me, by way of the federal government.

The first thing you see at the Western Planning Area Lease Sale 238 is the map of what's for sale. There's the familiar curve of Texas along the Gulf: Corpus Christi, Galveston.  A grid overlays 21.6 million acres of the waters off the coast.

"These blocks are generally 3-by-3 miles, " says Caryl Fagot, with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. "The companies are bidding on the right to drill in that particular block. Actually these are, um—"

We're interrupted by an extensive mike check. This is a public auction, after all. Bids must be heard loud and clear.  The feeling in the room is dry-as-a-bone serious. But there's a sign posted that hints at drama. "No masks, costumes with head coverings, props or posters."

"Well, we have had protesters," Fagot says. "We've had someone in a polar bear costume, we've had people come with dollar bills attached to themselves, they want to bring in large signs, and we're conducting business here, so we really can't allow that type of thing in the bidding room."

This is big government business. There are thousands of these 3-by-3-mile blocks to manage. All blocks look the same on paper, blue squares of water, but names of certain areas hint at what's underneath: Alaminos Canyon, East Breaks.

The so-called landmen here, who are from BP, Shell, Chevron and others, know what's under the sea floor, or they hope they do, at least.

"It's somewhat of a gamble," says Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association. "They do it by looking at seismic data, by looking at other blocks nearby that have been producing, so you use your best expertise to guess which areas might contain important geological formations that might contain oil and gas, and then you take a guess at how much that might be worth."

This year marks the return of BP to this auction. The Environmental Protection Agency banned the company from bidding on new blocks as part of the fallout of the 2010 oil spill. BP had been the biggest producer in the Gulf, so there's some suspense around its plans, which aren't known until the auction starts.

"The bids are sealed until they're opened up later today, so it's a little like the Academy Awards," Luthi says. "You open the envelope and see who's bid and how much."

Now, without further ado… "Welcome, and I thank you for attending today's sale…"  No long acceptance speeches. Auctioneer John Rodi with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management moves pretty quick.

"Alaminos Canyon block … a bid by BHP Billiton…3,106,250…a bid by BP Exploration and Production Inc…$2,327,027…"

The oil company landmen are tight-lipped. Most hold up a hand when they see a reporter's microphone, indicating no interviews. But they carefully mark down each bid, and whisper to each other as the prices go public. Each bid is whisked off in a briefcase.

The relatively small sale is all over in half an hour.

The government's own geologists and other experts will make sure the company has paid a fair price for what they think is under the water. If not, the bid gets rejected. Tallied up, this sale brought in about $110 million.

Ben Waring sells data systems to oil companies for offshore exploration. He points to the map and says the sale held surprises. "BP bought everything that wasn't nailed down in this area right here…"

It's an area called Port Isabel. If there's oil worth tapping, it'll take years of development and many millions of investment to get it out. The auction bids are a drop in the bucket of the lucrative universe that is Gulf of Mexico deepwater drilling.

This 20-year-old covers Apple like a pro

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 09:37

Mark Gurman began seriously covering Apple as a journalist when he was just 15.

At 17, he broke news about Siri. At 19, Business Insider named Gurman the "World's Best Apple Reporter."

Gurman says it was a natural progression.

"I've always been interested in Apple and technology," Gurman says. "So, I thought it was a natural intersection to start digging around Apple. And here I am."

Gurman, now 20, is a senior editor at 9to5mac.com — hustling day in and day out to break the next big story on one of the biggest companies in the world.

Oh, and he's also a junior pursuing his bachelor's from the School of Information at the University of Michigan.

"The way I look at it... is that lots of students have jobs," Gurman says. "Some work in restaurants, others work in other places. People make music, they do what they love, and this is just what I like doing."

Despite all he's achieved, Apple does not consider Gurman one of the best reporters on the beat and, as such, excludes him from Apple events and reviewing new products. He says it used to get under his skin, "but then I realized being able to do this all on my own without the intervention of Apple PR has allowed me to do things that otherwise I wouldn't be able to do being under the constant spotlight of not wanting to upset a company."

It's more challenging to find stories, he says, but the outcome is more rewarding.

His paycheck is dependent on page views. But with an exceptional source list and a record of breaking stories, Gurman says he could see as many as hundreds of thousands of clicks a day. Though he would not confirm, some reports have put his salary at six figures.

So, what's next for the superstar reporter who is expected to graduate in two years?

"That is the golden question... To be honest, I'd like to move into something mostly different than what I do now," Gurman says. "Instead of being the person who covers the companies, I'd like there to be someone like me, covering my company."

 

VA hospitals turn to private doctors for help

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 09:26

Ever since Ralph Taylor joined the Navy in 1960, boating has been in his blood.

“You could stick me out in the middle of the ocean, I’d love it,” he says, sitting in his 24-foot pontoon, parked in his Waxahachie driveway.

Ten years ago, Taylor moved to Waxahachie from the coldest city in Texas, Dalhart, because he needed to be closer to the Veterans Affairs facility in Dallas after a liver transplant.

His wife passed away in 1999, so his daughters help him get to and from the hospital for appointments.

“This VA down here is really modern, they take good care of you,” Taylor says. “It’s just they overwhelmed the system.”

The VA North Texas Health Care System is the second busiest in the country. Last year, there were about 1.4 million outpatient visits and although the majority of appointments are made in less than 30 days, new patients often wait a month, even two months on average for a specialty care visit.

So when Taylor started having trouble seeing, the VA turned to Dallas-based Key-Whitman Eye Center.

The Vision For Faster Health Care

Weeks before the Veterans Affairs hospital controversy dominated headlines, Dallas-based Key-Whitman Eye Center received a call from the North Texas VA.

The VA was hoping to expedite eye care services for veterans in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and wanted to establish a formal partnership.

“In the last 80 days, we’ve probably had appointments for 200 patients already,” says Dr. Jeffrey Whitman.

Whitman says it’s an honor to serve the veterans, and he enjoys listening to their stories while helping improve their vision.

“I can have a patient come in with a cataract and within a couple of weeks we probably can have them, with functional vision, back to work,” he says. “And there’s no reason the veteran population shouldn't be able to take advantage of that.”

Dr. Jeffrey Whitman with patient Eddie Carter, a veteran referred to his clinic through the VA North Texas Health Care System.

Key-Whitman Eye Center

Just The Beginning

In the last few months, partnerships with local health care providers have ramped up. Jennifer Purdy, assistant director for Outpatient Services at the North Texas VA, says collaboration is part of a long-term solution to cut wait times.

“We've got to ensure that patients have a way to be seen and that their needs are met,” she says. “So I think we will continue to grow [partnerships] out in the community.”

Purdy estimates more than 30 new health care vendors were added this year.

Finding new partners isn’t always easy. Purdy says private practice doctors in some specialties, like endocrinology and psychiatry, haven’t been able to fit veterans in. Part of the reason could be doctors have to wait longer for VA payments, which Dr. Whitman says can be especially tough on smaller practices.

"Every practice may not be able to do this, but I think practices that know that they’re able to do this should raise their hand and volunteer,” Whitman says. “And it’s a win-win. If we have excess capacity, it’s not completely altruistic, I get to stay busier!”

A Glimpse Into The Future For Veterans

Ralph Taylor was happy to go to Key-Whitman, where he had surgery to remove cataracts in both eyes.

Before surgery, Taylor couldn’t drive, couldn’t fix his boat and he definitely couldn’t see individual leaves on the cottonwood outside his window. He couldn't even see individual stars in the evening sky. 

“But I was out here the other night and it was a full moon, and boy, I just love Texas at times like that,” he says, smiling.

Lauren Silverman

Taylor says the VA, by helping pay for medications and surgeries, has kept him from being, as he puts it, "completely destitute."

Congress is trying to help the VA from going broke and form more partnerships. The $16 billion health care bill signed by President Barack Obama provides money for more partnerships like the one between Key-Whitman Eye Clinic and the North Texas VA.

If providers step up, the second busiest VA system might get some relief. And patients waiting in line might be able to get back to doing the things they love faster.

PODCAST: iPad giant

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 03:00

First up, we talk to Susan Schmidt, Managing Director at Mesirow Financial in Chicago about signs that the U.S. economy is gathering strength. And it's been the man-bites-dog business story of the summer: the company where they employees didn't loath the boss, they liked him to the point they effectively shut down the business after he was ousted in a family feud for control. Today, at the New England grocery chain Market Basket, those employees and supportive customers got what they were looking for. Arthur T. Demoulis is coming back as CEO after his reported $1.5 billion buyout offer was accepted. Plus, how about an iPad the size of a bathroom mirror? Published reports suggest that what may be on the way is a 13-incher, big as a modest laptop. 

Apple bets bigger is better with new iPad

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 02:30

Rumors are swirling that Apple has a bigger iPad in the works. Bloomberg reports that the new tablet's screen would be nearly 13 inches diagonally — as big as some laptops. 

Apple's iPads have been losing market share to cheaper, smaller smart phones, according to the research firm International Data Corporation or IDC.  

“Launching a bigger iPad would help them gain a lot more revenue,” says Jitesh Ubrani an analyst at IDC. 

Ubrani says businesses, schools and government offices increasingly use tablets and might like a bigger iPad screen. He says in the second quarter, 16 percent of tablet sales went to those groups. 

Apple recently announced a partnership with IBM to offer businesses more applications and services. Van Baker, research vice president in Mobility at Gartner Inc., says a bigger iPad might be good for companies that want to put spreadsheets or documents on the device. 

“There are productivity type applications like spreadsheet applications — things more on the content creation side than on the content consumption side — that would make sense to have a bigger screen,” he says. 

Apple couldn't be reached for comment. A bigger iPad would theoretically compete with Microsoft's biggest Surface tablet. But analysts say the Windows system has not been popular on tablets.

Donations flow in to help Detroit water customers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 02:00

The United Way for Southeastern Michigan, which oversees the Detroit Water Fund, is currently helping around 200 households with a payment plan that covers 25 percent of a delinquent resident's bill, while the resident pays the rest. A recent $2 million award from the Michigan Health Endowment will help the fund assist more people. 

"We anticipate we'll be able to help about 6,000 customers," says Doug Plant, the vice president of operations for the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Another campaign, the crowdfunded "Detroit Water Project," is connecting donors directly with people who need help. The project's website says it has 7,000 donors.

Greg Eno, a public affairs specialist with Detroit Water and Sewerage says his office has only one goal. "The theme right now is keep the water on," says Eno. "And whether that's through donations, through our payments plans or through any other source of funding, whatever it takes, that's the mission."

 

NFL and the FCC square off over TV blackouts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 02:00

The Federal Communications Commission is thinking about eliminating what’s known as the "sports blackout rule," which says NFL games can’t be broadcast locally unless they’re sold out 72 hours in advance.

The debate pits government authority against NFL brawn.

The NFL likes things the way they are: The blackout rule fills stadiums, and fans – even teams — will buy up extra tickets to make sure the stadium is full. 

If not, the game can’t be broadcast within a 75-mile radius. 

Hall of Famer Lynn Swann is the NFL’s spokesman in the blackout rule showdown. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl champ says the NFL could move its games to cable TV if the blackout rule were repealed. The rule allows everyone to watch NFL games right now, he says. 

“And it protects a model that allows it to be over the air and free for everyone when the games are sold out,” he explains.

Also on Swann’s side: the Congressional Black Caucus. Caucus members wrote a letter to the FCC, saying minority fans who can’t afford cable rely on free TV broadcasts of games.

“In my view, that argument doesn’t hold water for a couple of different reasons,” says Ajit Pai, an FCC commissioner.

He's on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Pai is demanding that the blackout rule be repealed. He says the NFL is bluffing, and would never take games off free TV because the broadcasts are so profitable.

“Taking the product off the air is simply cutting off your nose to spite your face, ” he says.

Sports economists have been watching anxiously from the sidelines. 

Rob Baade teaches economics at Lake Forest College. He thinks we should use economics to decide the fate of the blackout rule. 

Do the benefits of the rule outweigh the costs? He says no, it’s not fair to require fans to shell out hundreds of dollars to go to a game, and black it out if they don’t.

“And so, $75 a ticket, add to that parking, concessions and paraphernalia, I mean it’s a very expensive family outing,” he maintains.

The FCC could vote on whether to repeal the blackout rule as soon as this fall.

In the meantime, you could just listen to the game on the radio. The blackout rule only applies to TV. 

Harvard hangs up its landlines

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 02:00

If you want to disrupt higher education, you’ve gotta look the part.

So when the team at HarvardX,  the university’s online learning initiative, began setting up its new offices in Cambridge, down came the walls and the cubicles, in came the long tables and shared work spaces. And out went the landlines.

Or most of them anyway.

“The space was developed de novo and it was meant to have a kind of start-up feel,” said Michael Patrick Rutter, a spokesman for HarvardX.

Instead of  traditional desk phones, employees at HarvardX use their own cell phones and collect $50 per month from the university to help cover the bills.

As Justin Reich, a 36-year-old researcher at HarvardX, sees it, they’re just embracing the obvious.

“I think it’s more convenient,” he said. “I probably would have just given people my cell phone number anyway.”

The Great Landline Purge started years ago, when colleges began disconnecting dorm-room phones. Americans have also been ditching their relics. About 40 percent of American households were wireless-only at the end of 2013, up from 10 percent in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

When Harvard’s IT department set out a strategic plan in January, one of its main goals was to reduce use of “legacy phone infrastructure.” (Apparently that’s what we’re calling landlines now.)

“The landline system that the university uses is older and rates are increasing,” said Kevin Donovan, a spokesman for Harvard IT.

Donovan says the university isn’t forcing employees to dump their landlines. It’s already happening. And, true to form, Harvard has collected the data to back it up.

The number of calls from Harvard desk phones dropped 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, from more than 6.5 million to fewer than 4 million, according to the IT department.

Which means that most faculty and staff, should their department choose to follow HarvardX’s lead and dispense with office phones, are likely to respond like Reich did — with a shrug and a monthly expense report.

Matching roommates before sparks fly

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 02:00

As the university move-in season gets into full swing, many freshmen will be meeting their roommates for the first time. At the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the housing department is using a service called Room Sync to streamline the process.

Click the media player above to hear Matt Austin, Associate Director for Resident Life at UMass Lowell, in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

The software asks prospective roommates a series of lifestyle questions, allowing them to filter others by majors and other lifestyle preferences. They can then view other freshmen and choose among a list of possible roommates.  

Students can communicate through Facebook accounts, and send roommate requests similar to “friend requests.”

According to Austin, students that don’t use the site request a new roommate 8% of the time, while those who use it and find a match are only 1% likely to change roommates.

“Students that continue with the same roommate throughout the freshman year are more likely to return to housing in their sophomore year, which keeps them more engaged on campus,” says Austin, also citing statistics showing on-campus students receive higher grades.

While Austin admitted that the software may reduce the chances of students living with a roommate markedly different from themselves, he argued that the makeup of the floors and residences as a whole would still provide the opportunity for that cross-pollination of experiences. 

The dangerous trio of twitch, streaming, and swatting

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 01:00

It is arguably just a synchronicity, but I've been thinking about how two Twitch-related events that happened this week are connected.

The big one is, of course, Amazon's $970 million purchase of the live-streaming video game website, which I chatted about with David Gura.

The second is a smaller event: the shutdown of schools and some buildings in Littleton, Colorado. Littleton may sound familiar because it's near Columbine, where the Columbine High School Massacre occurred in 1999. It's a place where you could probably forgive law enforcement for reacting immediately and intensely to a 9-1-1 caller who claimed to have shot two co-workers and to be holding more hostage.

When that call came in Wednesday, it was taken seriously. But it was apparently fake -- an example of something called "swatting." Swatting is when someone with some technical chops calls 9-1-1 and makes it look like the call is coming from a victim's phone or a location in a building where something has gone very wrong, sending large numbers of law enforcement to a place where they're not actually needed. Hilarious, right?

Admittedly the popular -- get this -- video game streamer and Twitch user Jordan Mathewson, a.k.a. "Kootra" did crack a smile when heavily armed officers busted into his office in search of a shooter. Maybe it was because he realized his Twitch viewers were seeing the whole thing via his live webcam. Or maybe he was actually amused by the irony or meta layers of having your first person shooter video game session be interrupted by actual real life rifles. But Mathewson looks nervous more than anything. Here's the video, where officers burst in on the gamer just after he says "I think we're being swatted." 

Police figured out that the call was fake and luckily there were no injuries. But businesses were evacuated, and parents got a message from a nearby school saying their kids were under lockdown because of an "active shooter situation." Law enforcement now think they've found a Twitter account connected with a person who may have made the phone call. 

Swatting, which is apparently on the rise, is not a good prank. It sends heavily armed law enforcement looking for possible armed resistance to a place where there is none. That's insanely wasteful and dangerous. What is interesting about this case is that people were watching someone's live feed as it all happened.

For a cybercriminal, hacker or troll, the promise of a big live audience via a live streaming website like Twitch could be really attractive. And that might be bad news. 

Deal Reached To Sell Market Basket Chain To Ex-CEO

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 20:23

The New England supermarket chain that has been in turmoil for weeks over a workers' revolt and customer boycott announced that former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas will buy a majority stake in the business.

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