National News

Death Of Beloved Lion Heats Up Criticism Of Big Game Hunting

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 07:05

The killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe has highlighted big game hunting. Hunters legally kill more than 600 African lions every year. More than half the tourists hunting in Africa are American.

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In Report, Justice Accuses St. Louis County Family Court Of Racial Bias

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 06:03

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division found that the court fails to provide children adequate representation. In addition, it says the court treats black kids harsher than white ones.

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More Previously Uninsured Californians Got Coverage Under Obamacare

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 05:56

More than two-thirds of Californians who didn't have health insurance before the Affordable Care Act took full effect in 2014 have it now. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey documents the changes.

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Tonight, Look For A Rare (But Not Quite Blue) Moon

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 05:22

The modern definition of a "blue moon" has nothing to do with its color.

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Measuring The Power Of A Prison Education

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 05:03

Inmates who took college-level courses while in prison saw a 16 percent drop in their risk of re-incarceration.

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WikiLeaks Docs Purport To Show The U.S. Spied On Japan's Government

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 04:27

The documents also allege that the U.S. targeted Japanese banks and companies, including Mitsubishi.

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Early results suggest an effective Ebola vaccine

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-31 03:01

The world is on the verge of an effective Ebola vaccine — Findings were published on Friday in the medical journal ‘The Lancet.’  

The World Health Organization cautions that more research is needed, but early results are promising. Namely, after administering the vaccine to 4,000 people who were in close contact with Ebola patients, the treatment provided 100 percent protection.

As one epidemiologist put it on Twitter: “Hey science, you really, really inspire me. This is breathtaking news.”

What’s also breathtaking is that the research, development and testing of a vaccine typically takes a decade, and this one took 5 months.

“When there is an urgency to save lives, research and development can be fast-tracked and made to work for the common good,” says WHO Assistant-Director General Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny.

Kieny says the global response, where countries and their regulators worked closely with industry, could serve as a model for future outbreaks.

As impressive as the response was, Boston University Professor Kevin Outterson says there’s an even more fundamental lesson here. 

“The only way you would come up with something that quickly is if the basic research had been done for a decade before,” he says.

Modest funding from Canada, the U.S. and European governments in the early 2000s paved the way for today’s breakthrough, says Outterson.

Moving forward he says even with proposed increases in scientific research spending in Congress, the question is whether it’s a substantial enough investment.

PODCAST: Tuning with the push of a button

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-31 03:00

With another deadline on Monday for Puerto Rico to repay $60 million to bond holders, we take a look at the economic challenges for the commonwealth as tourism dips. Plus, we'll talk about Wall Streets' workout — two major fitness companies are planning IPOs. And a Nashville instrument maker has spent millions of dollars over the course of a decade trying to perfect the self-tuning guitar. But this year, Gibson started making automatic tuners a standard feature on most of its electric guitars.

Beijing Awarded The 2022 Olympic Winter Games

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 02:18

With the selection, Beijing will become the first city to host both winter and summer games. Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Games.

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Oceanliners cruise to better results

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-31 02:00

Royal Caribbean, one of the leading global cruise operators, reported profits Friday that beat expectations. Morningstar reports the Wall Street consensus for earnings per share at 72 cents, contrasted with the company’s earnings of 66 cents per share for the same period last year.

The cruise industry has been through stormy times recently, including the global economic downturn and multiple public relations debacles on the high seas, some of them tragic: the capsizing and sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy, plus tourists stuck on disabled ships without working bathrooms and waves of illness among passengers on ships at sea.

Cruise-industry equity analyst Assia Georgieva at Infinity Research in Boca Raton, Florida, predicts that 2015, by comparison, will be a “stellar” year for leading cruise companies.

“Bookings in the U.S. and Canada are strong,” Georgieva says. “It’s not only the Caribbean and the Bahamas. Alaska is doing well, and at the same time, Carnival and Royal Caribbean have been expanding into China and earning double-digit returns.”

Maritime lawyer Jim Walker, who publishes a popular blog on all things cruise related, is often critical of the industry for its safety and environmental record, and for flagging its ships in minimally regulated countries such as Liberia and Panama.

Walker credits the industry with significant progress cleaning up its image and addressing some egregious consumer issues on board. “Public opinion is a far cry from where it was a couple years ago,” Walker  says. “There was a perception that it wasn’t safe to go on the high seas. We’ve seen new leadership in the industry. The industry is doing well in the minds of the public.”

But Walker warns that another wave of high-profile media-genic incidents at sea — involving illness, sexual assault or poor seamanship — could undermine consumer confidence and make would-be cruise passengers wary again.

Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations wrap up in Maui

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-31 02:00

The latest round of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership are set to wrap up Friday. Ministers from the U.S., Japan, Canada, and nine other countries are gathered at a resort on the Hawaiian island of Maui to try to hash out the agreement’s final details.

The negotiation process has stretched over five years, as negotiators have tried to find common ground across a slew of issues during calls, emails, video chats and periodic in-person meetings.

As TPP negotiations come closer to completion, negotiators must tackle the most contentious issues.

“As anyone who has been in trade negotiations knows, those final decisions are always the most difficult,” Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative, said earlier this week.

While negotiations have taken place in private, the TPP’s final sticking points have included sugar, dairy, state-owned enterprises, and the period of exclusivity granted to the makers of certain types of drugs.

Outside the negotiation rooms, official advisors, congressional staff, trade groups, lobbyists and non-profit advocates roam the resorts’ lobby, using every spare plug to charge phone and laptops, meeting among themselves, and hoping to catch a moment with the delegates, either through official briefings or unguarded moments in the elevator or hotel restaurants.

“I’ve adopted the Starbucks strategy,” says James Love with Knowledge Ecology International, a non-profit organization that focuses on intellectual property issues. “When I see someone come up to get a coffee and I see a blue [identification] badge, I know they’re a delegate.”

He asks them how the negotiations are going, what areas they’re working on, and offers up his perspective on drug monopolies, among other IP issues.

“It’s a bit like that guy who hits on every woman in the bar,” Love admits. “A lot of people don’t like to do it because they feel like they’re being a jerk or it’s a little bit annoying, but I’m willing to do that.”

He’s chosen three issues to focus on as the trade enters its final stages of negotiation, based on where he thinks he can have the most impact. At this point, he says it’s too late for the long shots and focusing on the low-hanging fruit isn’t a good use of time.

“Balance is the key term or catch phrase,” says a weary Auggie Tantillo, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, who’s also prioritizing limited issues as negotiations wind down. He’s accepted that markets will open and has chosen to focus instead on what provisions might be put in place to ease the transition, such as eliminating tariffs gradually over time.

These agreements are “never done until they’re done,” he says.

Cruise lines cruise to better results

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-31 02:00

Royal Caribbean, one of the leading global cruise operators, reports Q2 revenue and profits on Friday. Morningstar reports the Wall Street consensus for earnings-per-share at $0.72, compared with the company’s earnings of $0.66-per-share for the same period last year.

The cruise industry has been through stormy times recently, including the global economic downturn and multiple PR debacles on the high seas, some of them tragic: the capsizing and sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy, plus tourists stuck on disabled ships without working bathrooms, and waves of illness among passengers on ships at sea.

Cruise-industry equity analyst Assia Georgieva at Infinity Research in Boca Raton, Florida, predicts that 2015 by comparison will be a “stellar” year for leading cruise companies.

“Bookings in the U.S. and Canada are strong,” says Georgieva. “It’s not only the Caribbean and the Bahamas. Alaska is doing well, and at the same time, Carnival and Royal Caribbean have been expanding into China and earning double-digit returns.”

Maritime lawyer Jim Walker, who publishes a popular blog on all things cruise-related, is often critical of the industry for its safety and environmental record, and for flagging its ships in minimally regulated countries such as Liberia and Panama.

Walker credits the industry with significant progress cleaning up its image, and addressing some egregious consumer issues on-board. “Public opinion is a far cry from where it was a couple years ago,” says Walker. “There was a perception that it wasn’t safe to go on the high seas. We’ve seen new leadership in the industry. The industry is doing well in the minds of the public.”

But Walker warns that another wave of high-profile media-genic incidents at sea — involving illness, sexual assault, or poor seamanship — could undermine consumer confidence and make would-be cruise passengers wary again.

Transpacific Partnership negotiations wrap up in Maui

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-31 02:00

The latest round of negotiations for the Transpacific Partnership are set to wrap up Friday. Ministers from the U.S., Japan, Canada, and the nine other countries are gathered at a resort on the Hawaiian island of Maui to try to hash out the agreement’s final details.

The negotiation process has stretched over five years, as negotiators have tried to find common ground across a slew of issues during calls, emails, video chats and periodic in-person meetings.

As TPP negotiations come closer to completion, negotiators must tackle the most contentious issues.

“As anyone who has been in trade negotiations knows, those final decisions are always the most difficult,” Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative, said earlier this week.

While negotiations have taken place in private, the TPP’s final sticking points have included sugar, dairy, state-owned enterprises, and the period of exclusivity granted to the makers of certain types of drugs.

Outside the negotiation rooms, official advisors, congressional staff, trade groups, lobbyists and non-profit advocates roam the resorts’ lobby, using every spare plug to charge phone and laptops, meeting among themselves, and hoping to catch a moment with the delegates, either through official briefings or unguarded moments in the elevator or hotel restaurants.

“I’ve adopted the Starbucks strategy,” says James Love with Knowledge Ecology International, a non-profit organization that focuses on intellectual property issues. “When I see someone come up to get a coffee and I see a blue [identification] badge, I know they’re a delegate.”

He asks them how the negotiations are going, what areas they’re working on, and offers up his perspective on drug monopolies, among other IP issues.

“It’s a bit like that guy who hits on every woman in the bar,” Love admits. “A lot of people don’t like to do it because they feel like they’re being a jerk or it’s a little bit annoying, but I’m willing to do that.”

He’s chosen three issues to focus on as the trade enters its final stages of negotiation, based on where he thinks he can have the most impact. At this point, he says it’s too late for the long shots and focusing on the low-hanging fruit isn’t a good use of time.

“Balance is the key term or catch phrase,” says a weary Auggie Tantillo, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, who’s also prioritizing limited issues as negotiations wind down. He’s accepted that markets will open and has chosen to focus instead on what provisions might be put in place to ease the transition, such as eliminating tariffs gradually over time.

These agreements are “never done until they’re done,” he says.

In debt crisis, Puerto Rico's economy is pressured

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-31 02:00

Puerto Rico has debt problems. It's even been called the "Greece of the Americas." On Monday, the Puerto Rican government is due to repay another $60 million to bond holders, and the government is already preparing statements assuming it won’t have the cash.  

It wouldn’t technically be a default. These are what are called moral obligation bonds, so they don’t have legal repercussions for non-payment. But it’s not just banks and bondholders affected.

The "crisis has hit the island pretty badly," said Mariana Giusti, a Puerto Rico native whose family and friends still live there. She spoke from Peru, where she is working on a Ph.D. in Latin American studies. “People are just trying on the day to day to just make ends meet. I think things have been getting progressively bad over the past couple of years. So the news that we have to declare bankruptcy doesn't come as a big surprise."

But Puerto Rico can't file for bankruptcy, even if the commonwealth wanted to. Federal bankruptcy laws block it from that option.

Last week, the Hilton Condado Casino, which had been on the island for 40 years, announced plans to close. But the government is still hoping tourism will save the day. Mario Mercado, who will begin a sociology doctorate at Rutgers, in New Jersey, next year, spoke from San Juan.

“Tourism is actually a hot-button issue," he said. "Since the government and the public funds are running low, they are now depending on private investors to develop basically everything.”

Mario comes from a small town, Arecibo, and he said most of his city is depending on private developers to come in and fund tourist sites. "And through some calculation, they think trickle-down economics will help the Puerto Rico situation," he said. "Tourists coming in, spending money here, and then small business owners will benefit from this."

In other words, the commonwealth and its cities want companies moving in instead of taking off.

Even if Puerto Rico makes a debt payment next week, it’s not out of the woods. Its debt sits at about $72 billion.

Puerto Rico is also in the middle of a historic drought. San Juan, the capital, has been forced to ration water to many residents. Mario says there's also a lot of uncertainty right now because the school term is set to begin. "How do you run a school without water?"

Many Puerto Ricans have left the island for the mainland. Mariana says she would love to return to her native home. "But for personal and professional reasons, I think it's a bit of a long shot," she said. "But I kind of have the hope that at some point it will be possible to go back to the island."

The latest Census projections say Puerto Rico will lose another half a million people by 2050. 

Puerto Rico, saddled with billions in debt, has until Monday to repay about $60 million of that to bondholders. How did it reach this point? Here’s a brief history of economic issues that have plagued the U.S. territory:

  • 1976: Puerto Rico gets a tax break that enables American companies to set up shop in the commonwealth without paying federal taxes.
  • 1996: Congress gets rid of the tax break, phasing it out over 10 years.    
  • 2006: Puerto Rico sinks into a recession, and many businesses leave. Manufacturing jobs drop by almost half.
  • 2007: The Great Recession hits, and three Puerto Rican banks go under.
  • 2015: Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla declares the territory’s debt “unpayable.” Puerto Rico avoids default in July by paying back about $1.3 billion for bonds and loans. 

While my guitar gently tunes itself

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-31 02:00

Gibson has spent millions of dollars over the course of a decade trying to perfect the self-tuning guitar.

But it wasn’t until this year the brand behind the iconic Les Paul started making automatic tuners a standard feature on most of its electric guitars.

With one press of a button, tiny motors twist the tuning pegs and within seconds, the guitar is ready to play. The tuner is a small black box tucked out-of-sight, above the neck at the head of the guitar.

“You know, people see it and they’re kind of taken aback at first,” says Craig Anderton, a long time musician-turned-executive vice president for Gibson. He remembers showing off the device to a longtime guitar tech in Santa Fe. "So I pushed the button and I strummed the strings and I watched it and he goes, ‘I can die now. I think I’m in heaven.’”

Anderton says there’s a common misperception that a self-tuning guitar is only meant for beginners. He says it can save valuable time even for experienced musicians – whether they’re in the studio or on stage.

"Once you try it, you can’t help but get addicted to it,” he adds.

Well, not everyone. Some musicians complain the device is unreliable, and then there are the purists who say Gibson is tinkering with the guitar's timeless design.

George Gruhn’s shop in Nashville sells mainly vintage guitars.

“The 1959 sunburst Les Paul was perfect,” he says. “I’m hard pressed to think of anything that has improved in electric guitars from 1959 to the present.”

Gruhn shakes his head at what Gibson is attempting. And he says there’s no need for it. He pulls an iPhone out of his pocket, sets it on the table and plucks at a nylon string classical while glancing at the screen.

“Anybody who can’t learn to tune a guitar with a tuner app on their telephone isn’t going to learn how to play guitar,” Gruhn says. “This is a non problem.”

The new Gibson models also cost more – up by 30 percent in some cases. But the company says the new technology accounts for only a small portion of that increase.

Despite the critics, Gibson is pushing ahead with automatic tuning. First, electric guitars. Acoustics are next.

McDonald's makes a move on moms

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-31 01:56
5 years

That's how long negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership have dragged on, as negotiators have tried to work out the details of various sticking points, like sugar, dairy and state-owned enterprises. What has been called the final round of negotiations will wrap up Friday in Maui, Hawaii.

100

That's how many moms will be selected by McDonald's Japan to tour its facilities. Some of the winners will even receive trips to the U.S. and Thailand. It's part of a larger effort by the company to combat a dramatic drop in business — the hope is to gain some positive PR from the mothers' perspective, which is "watchful, critical and honest at the same time," in the words of CEO Sarah Casanova. As the Wall Street Journal reports, June saw a 23 percent drop in same-store sales from the same month a year earlier.

30 percent

In some cases, that's how much the cost of a Gibson guitar has increased with newer models in recent years. Part of the reason for the cost increase is a self-tuning mechanism — push a button, and your guitar automatically tunes itself. But some instrumentalists argue that it's an unnecessary technology, as smartphone apps allow for precise tuning without the extra gadget.

96 percent

That's the fatality rate of batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, a fungus, among wildfire salamanders. The fungus has decreased populations of frogs, newts and salamanders around the world, and in some cases, is responsible for the wiping out entire species. As UPI reports, scientists in California have now asked for a ban on importing salamanders until a plan is in place to address the spread of the fungus.

$60 million

That's how much the Puerto Rican government is due to repay on Monday to bondholders — it reportedly is preparing statements saying it will not be able to make the payment. One particular difficulty for the economy of the commonwealth is that it lacks an industry outside of tourism.

Silicon Tally: 99 red internet balloons

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-31 01:53

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? 

This week, we're joined by Aaron Harris, a partner at Y Combinator and host of Startup School Radio.

Click the media player above to play along.

Democratic Candidates Stumble Over Black Lives Matter Movement

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 01:08

"Nobody got the messaging right at the beginning," an activist in the movement said. "They should have known better." Three Democratic candidates are speaking to the National Urban League today.

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Are Donald Trump's Pockets Deep Enough To Fund His Campaign?

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 01:00

Trump says he's rich enough to pay for his own White House bid. But the billion-dollar-plus price tag might be tough, even for him.

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In Cambodia, Rats Are Being Trained To Sniff Out Land Mines And Save Lives

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 00:55

An estimated 4 to 6 million land mines are scattered throughout Cambodia, one of the world's worst-affected places. Rats possessing an exceptional sense of smell are being trained to detect the mines.

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