National News

PODCAST: European banks leery of Bitcoin

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:53

The European Banking Authority is recommending that banks there keep away from Bitcoin, a virtual currency favored by techies, libertarians, and, sometimes, criminals.

Drivers this summer are paying the highest gas prices since 2008, in part because of the turmoil in Iraq. But mass transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in cities like Boston, St. Louis, and D.C. Some of this is driven by increasing operating costs, but even with these fare hikes, the transit systems will still lose money.

In India poor investment in cold storage warehouses and supply chain infrastructure means that a lot of food is wasted before reaching consumers-- 7 billion dollars every year.

How LeBron James is changing how athletes are paid

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:28

There's a huge shift happening this month in the world of sports. We're in the middle of the free agency period, where NBA players are eligible to sign with any team.

And Lebron James, considered the best player in the NBA, is reinventing not only how NBA players get paid, but maybe professional athletes as a whole.

We wanted to explore why, so went down to the legendary West 4th Street basketball courts in New York City to meet up with sports business analyst Keith Reed.

Reed called LeBron maybe "the only truly free athlete in America."

"[LeBron] was an investor in Beats electronics. That just sold for $3 billion. He made $30 million sitting on his couch just from that Beats transaction. And so, when people talk about, 'Why is LeBron opting out of his contract, and what's he going to do?' At that stage of the game, he's made his money."

Brandon Grier is an agent who represents NBA players a little further down in the hierarchy, and sees how contracts go beyond just the single player on the court. "You're dealing with not just an individual's life, but the families that are affected by it as well. A lot of time these guys are the breadwinners as well."

Grier's company Principle Management represents four solid, but not superstar, NBA players. He says the free agency period is important to the average fan — not just the players.

"It affects the product that they consume for their enjoyment. I believe the super teams in big markets are great for the NBA, you either love them or you hate them. But one way or another you're watching. So the better the ratings are for the NBA, the better the business does in general. Because TV is the cash cow now.

And speaking of that cash cow, this weekend's number: 18 million. For 18 million viewers.

That's how many people tuned in to watch the San Antonio Spurs beat Lebron James and his teammates on the Miami Heat in this year's NBA finals, according to Nielsen, up 10 percent from last year.

Fireworks spark up a black market economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:24

California bans anything that flies into the air and explodes. Which isn't surprising -- according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, most states have restrictions on this type of firework. 

For Californians who want to celebrate the independence of our nation by blowing things up, they could head over the mountains to more firework-friendly Nevada, or head into the virtual black market on your computer.

On Craigslist you’ll find listings like "Air shows Disneyland style cheap" and "I HAVE FIREWORKS FOR SALE WHENEVER YOU NEED THEM."

You can find bottle rockets, roman candles, and mortars with just a mouse click and a phone call. But what’s harder to get is an interview with one of these dealers. Which makes sense, because having a large quantity of illegal fireworks is a felony in California, punishable by a year in jail and up to $50,000 in fines. But one firework dealer in Stockton is willing to take the risk.

"It’s not something I prefer to do, you know there’s always that spice of danger that you have to watch out for," he says.

In a well-lit parking lot at night, the young, friendly man lays out some of his merchandise on the hood of a car. What keeps fireworks coming into California are people like him and his business partner.

"I have a buddy of mine who goes down to Nevada and brings back a U-haul truck that’s full and then basically I just help him distribute it," he explains.

Their truck carries about $2,500 worth of product, and he figures they will double their money on resale. This vendor is relatively small time. In other parts of the state, police recently seized stockpiles of fireworks worth more than half a million dollars .

"If it is that profitable enough, then there are big criminal enterprises working in this area- quite professionalized," says Steve Weber, who teaches at UC Berkeley’s School of Information and co-wrote a book on the Black Market Economy of the 21st Century. "The mistake is to think of this as fly by night stuff- these are really serious people and they are as entrepreneurial, innovative and venturous as anyone you’d meet in Silicon Valley."

Actually, there's a hotbed of illegal firework trafficking just south of  Silicon Valley.  The police department in San Jose says the crime ranks low on its list of priorities.  

But Keith Gilless, chair of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, says it’s a major concern. "California is the most flammable place on earth by most people’s reckoning, we can have 400-500 fires a year whose origin is fireworks."

All those fires can cost millions in damage, and millions more to put them out. Something, Gilless says to consider before lighting up this Fourth of July.

Pentagon Grounds All F-35s Amid Fire Investigation

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:03

The Defense Department said the decision was made following a runway fire incident June 23 at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The Air Force is investigating the cause of the fire.

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Calif. Town Thrusts Heated Immigration Debate Into National Spotlight

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:46

As protesters block buses full of detainees from entering a border patrol station, many Murrieta residents say the federal government is the real root of the problem.

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Hurricane Arthur Is No Match For Man In Ocean With Facebook

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:14

Richard Neal, of Mint Hill., N.C., chronicled the storm from his point of view, which was a pretty darn good one.

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Richard Mellon Scaife, Philanthropist, Conservative Donor, Dies

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:13

The heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune revealed in May that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Scaife was 82.

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Hollywood turns to... taxidermy?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:12

On Sunday morning in Downtown Los Angeles taxidermist Allis Markham immediately cuts into her subject for the day: a bird.

She started her studio, Prey Taxidermy, this March and rents her mounted pieces to Hollywood films, television sets, and photoshoots. She recently worked on a shoot for Disney featuring Taylor Swift as Rapunzel.

“I did some combing pigeons for them,” she says. “Bird skin is like working with wet toilet paper with feathers attached. And so it’s this very tedious process where you’re making all these incisions.”

Animals rights groups, including PETA, have criticized Hollywood in recent years after news broke that animals were harmed on Hollywood sets. On the now-canceled HBO show, “Luck,” four thoroughbred horses died during production. According to reports, the horses were elderly, underfed, and possibly even drugged. Due to these alleged abuses, taxidermy businesses are catering to studios who are looking to minimize their legal and safety risks. “If you want to have a tiger on set, it’s a lot safer when it’s dead,” Markham says.

Wayne Carlisi inherited his father’s big game taxidermy collection, and in 2012, he opened ArtKraft Taxidermy in North Hollywood. His company rents out lions, antelope, and rhinos to studios including Warner Brothers and Paramount. Carlisi says, in the special effects ridden world of entertainment, taxidermied animals serve a new purpose.

“They’re [computer graphics animators] able to scan the actual mount into the computer,” he says, after which studios will build rigs and transpose them on the animal’s body. “So from rigs they can make the animals move and perform the way they want.”

Smaller production companies are also vested in mounted animals for its cost effectiveness. David Anderson, an independent filmmaker, says directors like himself often have no choice but to use taxidermied animals.

Renting an animal actor gets expensive when final costs include handlers, insurance, and a representative from the Humane Society. Markham’s larger pieces, like a bear, could can run up to $1,500, while the cost of a live animal can easily shoot into the $8,000 range. Because of all of the additional costs, Anderson turned to Markham for his latest movie.

Yet others in the industry, including set decorator Kristin Peterson, think something is lost when Hollywood productions use mounted animals instead of live animals.

“The taxidermied animals don’t have as much of a personality as the live animal,” she says.

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