National News

Saudi King Won't Attend Camp David Summit

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 04:19

A statement by the Saudi foreign minister cited conflicts. The king of Bahrain also said he would not be attending the summit on Thursday.

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Nasdaq experiments with the Bitcoin blockchain

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 03:00

Nasdaq announced on Monday that it's launching an "enterprise-wide initiative" to use the blockchain—the distributed ledger that makes Bitcoin possible.

The first application will be as a service for privately-held companies to allow their shareholders to buy and sell shares on a system based on the blockchain. Instead of the transactions being recorded in the separate ledgers of various lawyers, Nasdaq CIO Brad Peterson says transactions will be recorded in a form that anyone in the market can see. 

"The best argument against using the Bitcoin blockchain is that it's new," says Jim Harper, senior fellow at the Cato Institute. "It's only been around for a few years and hasn't had the real testing that it probably needs." 

Harper says the Nasdaq experiment could be just such a test.

PODCAST: The solution is border collies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 03:00

We look at what happened with German bonds; calm today after a wild ride last week. Plus, we examine the effect Fox's hit show "Empire" has had on the TV advertising game by cutting the amount of commercial time it sets aside per episode. And government contractors come in all shapes, as evidenced by a new effort from the National Park Service to hire border collies to chase geese off the National Mall. 

Storms Leave 2 Dead In Arkansas, More Than 20 Injured In Texas

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 02:46

The small town of Van, Texas, was badly hit and two people died in Nashville, Arkansas, after a tornado raked through a mobile home park.

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Washington's plan for getting the geese off the grass

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 02:17

The National Mall in Washington, D. C., has a fowl problem: Canada geese, and lots of them. These large migratory waterfowl are increasingly non-migratory thanks to relocation and hunting efforts. The roughly 3 pounds of droppings each can produce in one day can cause fish kills in ponds, and could even clog the newly-renovated reflecting pool.

"There's times of the year, when you walk over the Washington Monument grounds, there's not a place for you to put down a picnic blanket without feeling disgusting," says Michael Stachowicz, the National Park Service's turf management specialist.

That's why the government is asking for bids on a contract to have border collies (and their handlers) patrol the Mall. 

Stachowicz used to work for golf courses, and that's where he first witnessed how effective border collies are for humane goose population control. "They go in this crouch," Stachowicz explains, "it's really amazing to watch these border collies transform from a great dog into something that looks really predatory and wolf-like."

That stance, according to Doug Marcks, is called "the eye." The eye is basically the border collies' trade secret. It's part of the whole pantomime these dogs like to play with geese. And play is the key word—border collies are happy without ever actually grabbing the geese. They just enjoy terrorizing them.

Doug Marcks runs Geese Police DC, which is a franchise of the larger Geese Police company, based in Illinois. He and his two border collies Max and Bell drive around the D.C. area every day and make pit stops at clients—usually large, grassy corporate campuses and the like. After enough harassment, the geese fly away at the sight of Marcks's white pickup truck. And eventually they find a new place to live.

The NPS says the dogs will likely become a permanent fixture on the National Mall.

An "Empire" trend for TV ad buyers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 02:00

This week, at the annual "Upfronts," TV networks will be showing off for advertisers. Among other shows, Fox will promote "Empire," which was the breakout hit last season. But "Empire" may get attention for another reason: An unusual advertising strategy. 

There are more than 14 minutes of ads on the average hour of network television. But "Empire" had closer to 10 minutes, thanks to a strategy of "limited commercial interruption." 

Billie Gold, VP of TV programming research at Carat, says this strategy makes the available ads more valuable—especially for launching a new product. 

Why isn't this strategy used more often? 

"Well, you can't do it all the time is the short answer," says Brian Wieser, senior analyst at Pivotal Research. "Because there's only so many advertisers willing to pay so much of a premium."

He says it's like the gold-plated Apple Watch of advertising—and there are only so many companies willing to pay that luxury price. 

Russia and China team up in agriculture

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 02:00

Agriculture makes up just 4 percent of Russian GDP, but that could change, as Russia announced last week the launch of a $2 billion investment fund with China to go toward agricultural projects. The two countries would cooperate on developing big swaths of arable land on each side of their borders. The partnership comes at a good time for Russia, which has been struggling since last year with sanctions from the U.S. and European Union. 

Russia answered sanctions from the West by saying, "Ok. We're not importing any food from Europe or the U.S." Now, Russia's hurtling toward a recession. William Cline, senior fellow with the Peterson Institute for International Economics says Russia’s under a great deal of pressure. 

At the same time, China has more than 1.3 billion mouths to feed. It's also under pressure to diversify its food and energy sources. Will Pomeranz, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, says Russia’s got food and plenty of oil and gas to sell. But to put this deal in perspective, “$2 billion is just not a lot of money,” he says.  

Russia’s agricultural output is more than $100 billion; China’s is more like a trillion. So Pomeranz says at best, this investment is really small potatoes. Or a modest beginning to a stronger partnership down the road. 

 

Debate over sleep holds up new trucking regulations

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 02:00

Nathan Brooks drives all over the country delivering goods as a long-haul trucker, and when I met him at a rest stop just outside of Laramie, Wyoming, he was about to start his favorite drive: back home to Alabama. Brooks has been a trucker for 27 years, and says the job is getting harder than it used to be.

“Everything is more expensive now. There is a lot more traffic on the road. And you are more likely to get caught up in some kind of accident,” he says.

Truckers like Brooks deliver 70 percent of our domestic goods, and there are more trucks on the road now than ever. But truckers only make an average of $38,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and many are paid by how many loads they deliver. There’s an obvious incentive to drive as much as possible—when I asked Brooks how long he’s on the road each day, he hesitated.

“You are going to get me in trouble now,” he says.

Nathan Brooks sits in his truck.

Miles Bryan

Brooks insists he stays under the federal limit of 11 hours of driving time a day, but answers like his make National Transportation Safety Board Chair Chris Hart nervous. Hart says that, since 2009, the number of trucking-caused accidents and deaths has been going up steadily.

“That [trend] is contrary to the general trend in motor vehicle accidents, which has been going down during that same time period,” says Hart.

One reason for that is fatigue—Hart says that fatigue causes 13 percent of trucking accidents, and contributes to more than half of them. In 2013, federal regulators introduced new rules for commercial trucking that reduced truckers’ weekly driving limits from 82 to 70 hours per week. More controversially, they also required truckers to take breaks at night.

“Humans are most likely to experience fatigue during the wee hours of the morning,” Hart says. “So we wanted two periods between 1:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. when drivers would have the opportunity to sleep.”

But those rules were suspended by a Congressional rider last December, thanks largely to the lobbying efforts of the American Trucking Associations, an industry group.

“Government shouldn't be telling people when to sleep,” says Chris Spear, the organization’s chief lobbyist. “That’s just not right.”

Spear claims that keeping truckers on the road at night is a win-win: they get clear roads and quicker delivery times, and we get truck-free commutes.

“It’s just a better time to work, but a lot of people don’t see that because they’re home in bed," Spear says.

The new trucking regulations are suspended until the completion of a congressionally-mandated safety study. Federal officials won’t tackle regulations again until October, at the earliest. In the meantime, truckers can hit the road any time they want. That is good news for Nathan Brooks, who couldn’t get back home fast enough.

“I have more trees in my front yard than there are in the entire state of Wyoming,” he says.

 

 

Pour one out for William Hung, American Idol is over

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 01:56
$2 billion

The value of the agriculture investment fund between Russia and China, which will go towards developing arable land on both sides of the border. But as some analysts point out, $2 billion is kind of small potatoes when considering the agricultural output of each country—Russia's is well over $100 billion, and China's is closer to a trillion.

$4 million

That's how much GlaxoSmithKline will give annually for the next five years to an institute aimed at finding a cure for H.I.V. and AIDS. Created in conjunction with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Qura Therapeutics will be co-owned by the pharmaceutical company and the school, and will have the right to commercialize any findings.

3 pounds

That's about how many pounds of poop a single Canadian goose produces per day. And it's a big problem for any place the geese call home. The grounds of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., for example, have lately been suffering from the negative effects of Goose droppings. Enter the border collie. Companies like Geese Police DC are being hired to patrol the National Mall with the dogs, who happen to enjoy scaring off the Geese without actually physically harming them.

70 percent

That's the percentage of domestic goods that are delivered by truck in the U.S. But as the number of trucks on the road has gone up in recent years, so has the number of accidents. It's why attempts have been made to regulate the amount of rest truckers get before they are allowed to hit the road, as 13 percent of trucking accidents are attributed to fatigue. But the American Trucking Association argues that regulating sleep isn't the answer, as allowing trucks to drive at night means clearer roads during the day.

10 minutes

That's roughly the cumulative amount of commercial time you'll watch during an hour-long episode of "Empire." Fox's smash hit set a new precedent for advertisers, as hour-long network TV shows generally have closer to 14 minutes of ads. The strategy makes ad time more valuable, and consequently, more expensive.

15 seasons

Speaking of shows on Fox, it was announced Monday that singing competition juggernaut American Idol will call it quits in 2016 after 15 seasons of star-making wins, celebrity judge feuds, and (lest we forget) William Hung.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo to South Africans: Stop Attacking Immigrants

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 01:04

There's been a wave of violence against immigrant workers. Now the Grammy-winning singers have joined their voices with Mali's superstar Salif Keita. The message: "United we stand."

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