National News

Have you got what it takes to be a government 'Czar'?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-17 10:43

Our vision of a help-wanted ad for a government czar: 

Requirements:

  • Level-headed, task-driven communicator.  Able to interface with a variety of stakeholders. Must be comfortable translating and explaining government action (or inaction) to the public.  
  • Willing to be a symbol of governmental concern about a specific crisis.  Good at making everyone feel better. Willing  to appear before the press as required.
  • Must be a model of  seriousness, calm and control.
  • Must be comfortable operating behind the scenes and juggling the demands of multiple high-level, ego-driven officials inside government.
  • Comfortable working in a culture of feedback - knows how to take a punch.
  • Willingness to sacrifice sleep and home life.
  • Proven record working with "big personalities" a must.
  • Ability to cut through red tape also a plus. 

 

Citing Previous Rulings, Federal Judge Throws Out Arizona Gay-Marriage Ban

NPR News - Fri, 2014-10-17 10:35

The decision was only four pages long and said the appeals court and the Supreme Court have given clear guidance that bans of this type are unconstitutional.

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Citrus greening is hurting orange growers in Florida

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-17 10:19

Citrus greening was first reported in Asia during the late 1800s, and it has no cure. It isn't a threat to humans or animals, but it has ruined many acres of citrus crops throughout the world, including the United States.

"It’s been problematic and it’s pretty much spread throughout the entire industry now," says Mark Wheeler, a third-generation orange grower and CFO of Wheeler Farms in Lake Placid, Florida.

Wheeler says that although they're seeing elevated fruit prices, the production has been diminished per acre because of the disease.

"It’s all a grower by grower situation and how impacted they are by the disease," says Wheeler. "A grower who is producing 300 to 400 boxes per acre is doing well, but a grower who is producing 200 boxes per acre is struggling to stay in business."

Spike In ER, Hospital Use Short-Lived After Calif. Medicaid Expansion

NPR News - Fri, 2014-10-17 10:02

Previous research found that going on Medicaid increased a poor person's use of costly emergency room visits. Now an analysis suggests that initial spike in ER visits quickly tapers off.

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In Context: The big business of high school sports

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-17 10:01

Illinois based-Paragon Marketing Group is working on a deal to bring high school football to a national audience. The group – which brought LeBron James’s high school basketball games to TV – is currently in negotiations with several states and ESPN to bring some type of high school football playoff to television. ESPN wouldn’t comment on the negotiations, with Paragon saying the talks are ongoing and private.

Yet, at least one contract between Paragon and one of the states it’s working with has been made public: Florida officials have agreed to let two state high schools participate in such a playoff each year.

Paragon Marketing Group will pay the Florida High School Athletic Association $10,000 each year for allowing the state’s schools to participate in a national playoff or bowl series. If two or more teams from Florida are picked to participate by Paragon, the Florida High School Athletic Association would receive $40,000.

Meanwhile, Florida high schools participating in a playoff will receive $12,500 for appearing in the game, and another $25,000 in merchandising fees. Paragon Marketing, the group organizing the event has until October 31st to cancel a playoff or high school bowl series this year, according to the contract the team signed with Florida.

“For the next frontier to be high school football is not a surprise,” says Sports Business Analyst Keith Reed. “You’ve already seen some media properties develop to cover high school football…people pay attention to this.”

Meanwhile, officials in Georgia and Texas have declined to participate – for now. Officials in California have suggested the playoff is a non-starter, citing rules that prohibit high school teams to participate in games after their final state playoff games.

The concern among many officials is that high school players may be exploited at a crucial time in their development.

“They’re at a very integral part of their lives, they’re starting to develop who they really are…who their personalities are, what their identity will be for the rest of their lives,” says St. Francis High School Head Football Coach Rich Carroll of Queens, New York.

Still, Carroll says more money for high school football teams through televised games would be beneficial to programs like his.

“Even though there’s a lot of negative press, the fact that it’s so enjoyable to watch…I think it’s promoting activity,” Carroll says.  “The bottom line is football’s fun.”

 

 

The numbers for October 17, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-17 07:27

Of all the countries that have pledged money to the UN's $1 billion fund to fight Ebola, only Colombia has paid, the BBC reported, bringing the fund total to $100,000. There has been $20 million pledged to the fund, and $400 million given to other UN-affiliated organizations, but the main UN trust fund is bare. 

There was a flurry of other Ebola news Friday morning: President Barack Obama appointed an "Ebola Czar," a Pentagon parking lot was shut down after a woman who had recently traveled to Africa began vomiting and the State Department announced that a healthcare worker who may have come in contact with the virus is on a cruise ship in Belize. We'll have more later today.

Here are some other stories we're reading - and numbers we're watching - Friday.

$200 million

The valuation of anonymous messaging app Whisper, which transmits up to 2.6 million posts each day. In an exploration of deeper journalistic partnership with the company, the Guardian reported that Whisper tracks users' location data, even if they had specifically opted out. The company also reportedly zeros in on potentially "newsworthy" users, following their posts closely and tracking their movements.

10

That's how many new movies based on DC Comics Warner Bros. announced this week, to be released between 2016 and 2020. That's an insane amount of movies, and a very bold bid to out-Marvel Marvel. Grantland has an informative but scathing breakdown of all the characters Warner will be adapting in pursuit of some sweet, sweet "Avengers" money.

120,000 people

That's how many people are currently waiting for an organ transplant—only 8,200 people donated organs between January and July 2014. Bioethicist Sigrid Fry-Revere argues that the current law, which contains strict guidelines about how donors can be compensated for expenses related to their donation, is preventing patients from getting the treatment they need.

A better battery is hard to invent

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-17 07:11

A Michigan battery start-up has been garnering lots of attention lately for a breakthrough. It addresses a key question on many people's minds: why do computer chips in our phones improve exponentially – under what is called Moore's Law – but our batteries die by lunchtime?

"You know, there are actually very few technology areas whose key performance index follows Moore's law," says Ann Marie Sastry, founder of the battery start-up Sakti3. "Do your clothes follow Moore's law in terms of how they last? Does interior paint?"

Building the battery of tomorrow is hard. It's up against certain limits of chemistry.

Sastry quit her engineering professor job at the University of Michigan to take it on. The company produces what are called solid-state batteries. There are no liquids inside to hog valuable space and weight. Just the essentials.

"In a liquid system, the liquid in your battery, or the gel in your battery, is only a highway for the ions to move to the active material," Sastry says. "And that is actually penalizing your energy density."

Energy density is the key concept – how much oomph can you pack in a light, tiny battery package. Sakti3's big moment came when it announced it smashed a key technical barrier: packing 1,000 units of energy – or kilowatt hours -- into one liter of volume.

"We were pretty thrilled because today's battery technologies are hovering around 600," Sastry says.

The upshot: a power source that can last almost twice as long, for half the price or less. Or in car terms, it pushes toward the goal of an electric vehicle with no range issues, at a price of about $25,000.

Right now, it's all potential. Sakti3 has to figure out large-scale production, which could take two years to market. Or more.

"Scientific discovery does not respect your timeline," says clean energy investor Matt Nordan, co-founder and managing partner at MNL Partners in Boston.

Nordan has seen many exciting lab announcements end up in the technology graveyard.

"You can sit down and lay out 'I'm going to do these experiments in this order with this many people over this many months, and I'm going to get to this answer,'" says Nordan. "And you know what, you might get it tomorrow morning, you might get it five years from now. You might get it never."

The notion of tomorrow, as in almost there, has been a tease of electric vehicles for decades.

Sakti3 founder Ann Marie Sastry

Scott Tong/Marketplace

"The EV has been the car of tomorrow for 100 years," says business professor David Kirsch of the University of Maryland, author of "The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History." "It's always been a day away. There have been predictions even in the modern era since the late 1960s about what the coming golden area of electric vehicles."

The key is a more competitive battery, but it's more than that. The incumbent liquid fuel – gasoline – is far more energy dense and some argue always will be. It's a liquid that's easy to transport down a pipeline and pour in your car. For all the carbon pollution minuses, gasoline has lots of everyday pluses.

Still, the challenge is not insurmountable, Sastry argues. She reads history more optimistically.

"When better technology becomes available, it can be adopted with breathtaking speed," Sastry says. "If you just look at the computing revolution, that's clear. Now we're in the cloud and that is revolutionary, and that's clear. Does portable high energy density power change everything? Yes. It changes everything."

Scott Tong/Marketplace

She says her breakthrough battery may first show up in consumer electronics and wearable devices like smart watches.

But automaker GM has already invested in her ideas. And there are whispers Sakti3 is testing a "next-next-generation" product: a new material with even better properties than today's lithium.

 

FBI head concerned over Apple and Google encryption

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-17 07:00

The director of the FBI, James Comey, is criticizing the planned use of sophisticated encryption technology by companies such as Apple and Google. The technology would make data on phones inaccessible to any third party, so the companies couldn’t turn it over to law enforcement even if they wanted to or were served with a warrant. 

Speaking at the Brookings Institution, Comey referred to the problem as “going dark”—where a target becomes invisible to law enforcement. “Those charged with protecting our people aren’t always able to access the evidence we need to prosecute crime and prevent terrorism, even with lawful authority,” he said. With unbreakable encryption, “we have the legal authority to intercept and access information pursuant to a court order, but we lack the technical ability to do that.”

In the past, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt has implied the government has itself to blame, and that government surveillance excesses could cost U.S. companies their customers.    

“It’s clear that the global community of internet users doesn’t like being caught up in the U.S. surveillance dragnet,” he said. 

Revelations stemming from Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified information on government surveillance could cost companies like Google and Apple their bottom line. “Surveillance related consumer concerns could cost U.S. cloud service providers up to one-fifth of their foreign market share...this is going to cost America jobs,” said Schmidt.

Government intrusion is not the only customer concern about tech companies such as Apple and Google. Hackers have already demonstrated they can breach security at banks and department stores as well as at tech companies including Microsoft and Google. 

“Any back door that the NSA or law enforcement builds into an encryption mechanism can also be exploited by hackers in the U.S. and abroad,” says Ginger McCall, Associate Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. 

Comey argues that such security risks should not outweigh law enforcement’s need to protect the public.

Reflecting the current constellation of mistrust and concerns over privacy and security, McCall makes a similar argument: it doesn’t make sense to say we can’t eliminate all crime, therefore exposure of the public is desirable. “One or two outlier criminal cases are not a justification to subvert the privacy and security of the data of the entire nation.”

PODCAST: Travel bans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-17 03:00

It's been a rocky week for investors--One of the worst and most volatile in a while. But markets are up this morning in the U.S. and Europe. More on that. And as two U.S. health care workers who have contracted Ebola continue to receive treatment, several dozen politicians have called for a ban on travel from West African nations stricken by Ebola. Politics aside, there are many Americans who say they'd support some kind of travel ban. But what constitutes a travel ban? And this weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the "National Organ Transplant Act." That created our current organ donation system, and banned the sale of organs. Today, there are more than 120,000 people waiting for a transplant, and that long list has led a bioethicist to call for changes to the law.

Why a travel ban is so tough to pull off

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-17 02:30

Calls for banning travel from West African nations stricken by Ebola grew louder this week. Loud enough that during intense questioning Thursday, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to remind Congress that the CDC doesn’t issue visas.

Politics aside, many Americans support the idea of a travel ban. But what exactly does a travel ban mean?

Aid organizations say it’s crucial that commercial airlines keep flying to West Africa. That’s how volunteer doctors and nurses get there.

“These people are not there for the duration of the epidemic,” says Gilbert Burnham with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He says many stay a month or six weeks, “then they’re likely to rotate out and other people rotate in.”

So is a travel ban a ban on flights, or on people? Logistically, it may seem simple to just cancel incoming flights from Sierra Leone, Guinea or Liberia.

Right now, though, there are no direct flights to the U.S. from those countries, according to John Wagner, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Transportation policy expert Kenneth Button of George Mason University says it can be harder to track people who fly indirectly, if they purchase different tickets for different legs.

“They could actually buy a separate ticket from Guinea or Sierra Leone to Paris and then have a separate ticket from Paris to the United States,” he says, adding they could lay over for a few days in the middle.

That’s part of the reason some lawmakers want to suspend visas for non-U.S. citizens from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, until the Ebola outbreak is contained.  

Do you think there should be a travel ban on countries most affected by Ebola?

Yes

 

No

    pollcode.com free polls

The push to better reimburse organ donors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-17 02:00

Ever since the National Organ Transplant Act was established 30 years ago this month, ushering in our current organ donation system, it has been enshrined in the law and the medical community in the U.S. that we don’t pay for organ donations. 

But bioethicist Sigrid Fry-Revere is trying to challenge that notion, at least a little. 

Currently, there are 120,000 people waiting for a transplant, while only 8,200 people donated organs between January and July 2014, according to statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services.  Most of those waiting need a kidney transplant, which is one of few organs that can be donated both by the living and the dead. 

So, why aren’t there more kidneys? 

Fry-Revere wondered that while trying to donate a kidney to an ailing friend. She wasn’t able to do so, because she would need six weeks to recover and would need $8,000 to hire someone to tend her Virginia farm, she says. 

“My recipient was wealthy enough to pay $8,000 for a farm-hand, but it was against the law for him to do that,” because that would have seemed like she was getting paid upfront to donate her kidney, says Fry-Revere. 

In the end, her friend died waiting on the transplant list. 

Fry-Revere looked around the world to see if the problem was the same elsewhere. She discovered that it wasn’t in Iran, where there is an established practice of paying for organs, and kidneys are available to everyone who needs a transplant. The benefits and cash payments to donors there can total as much as three times the annual income of a typical Iranian, says Fry-Revere, who authored the book  "The Kidney Sellers: A Journey of Discovery in Iran.” 

Fry-Revere wants to bring a version of that concept to the U.S., by paying people upfront for any expenses they might incur from donating an organ. 

Currently, more than half of organ donations come form people who have died. But very few people die in the right set of conditions to allow for organ harvesting. So, in order to get more organs, you have to increase the number of living donors, says Fry-Revere. But that’s hard to do in the current U.S. system, she says, because of strict guidelines about how donors can be compensated for expenses related to their donation. Namely, donors cannot be paid for expenses before they donate, but can sometimes be compensated for some expenses, such as lost wages, after the fact. 

And that’s a disincentive, Fry-Revere says, because most people can’t afford to spend money first and then wait for reimbursement. 

“We have patients that have trouble coming to clinic because they can’t afford the gas,” says Dr. Stephen Pastan, medical director of kidney and pancreas transplant programs at the Emory Transplant Center in Atlanta, Georgia. "Unfortunately, financial barriers, particularly for socioeconomically disadvantaged people, often play a large role in them not being able to become kidney donors.”

Pastan says a lot of his patients are African-American with socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and they are disproportionately affected by the lack of donor kidneys. 

There is a National Living Donor Assistance Program, set up to offer some financial reimbursement to donors. But the current system isn’t meeting the need, Pastan says.  

"What I think we should do is do a better job of paying donors’ expenses, and paying them upfront,” Fry-Revere says. 

The details of Fry-Revere’s proposal are to amend current law so that organ donors can get cash upfront in the form of a pre-paid debit card loaded with as much as $14,000. The money would be use to pay for any expenses such as taking time away from work, childcare, and transportation costs. 

"We want to remove any barriers to people who have come forward to be a living donor,” says Troy Zimmerman, head of governmental affairs at the National Kidney Foundation, "But if it has any appearances of having an incentive to donate, that is something that the kidney foundation is very much opposed to.”

But Fry-Revere says there are no ethical dilemmas in her proposal or dangers that the poor might be exploited for their organs by rich patients. 

In trying to shelter the poor from the possibility of exploitation, Fry-Revere says we have actually created a perverse inequality, in which transplant patients with financial means are better off in the living donor program, “because the system does allow recipients to reimburse the donor’s travel, lodging and lost wages. But that assumes a rich recipient." 

Cable eclipsing broadcast for political advertising

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-17 02:00

If you live in a state with a close race in this year's midterm elections, you know that candidates are carpet bombing the air waves with TV ads. But candidates and campaigns are increasingly airing their ads over cable instead of their local broadcast station, for a bunch of reasons, some specific to this year.   

“There’s just not a lot of competitive House races," says Ken Goldstein, a professor of political science at the University of San Francisco. "We’re sort of in a dead-ball year, in terms of House races.”

And the House races that are close are in big cities, where it’s not efficient to advertise on local TV. Plus, there aren’t as many competitive races for governor, and those are mostly fought on local airwaves. 

But long-term trends also give cable an edge over local TV.

“Now we can do targeting that we couldn’t do before,” says David Karpf, an assistant professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.  

Karpf says local broadcast TV is broad and scattershot. But cable set-top boxes tell campaigns exactly what voters are watching, so campaigns can tailor their ads.

“So that would allow them to deliver an advertisement to one neighbor, and a different advertisement to a different neighbor, ideally,” he says.

For example, voters in one district might like watching re-runs of old shows like Mork and Mindy. Of course that show is from back in the '80s, before cable started taking political advertising away from local broadcasters.   

Don't be mistaken, local TV still rakes in the most cash. But it’s only grown a little from the last midterms, in 2010.

“Local TV’s heyday is over in that these great gains we saw in local TV ad spending for politics, cycle over cycle—probably slowing and eventually will plateau,” says Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president for political advertising at Kantar Media.

Spending for political ads on cable this election, meanwhile, is expected to nearly double. 

Silicon Tally: The one where you watch all of Friends

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-17 02:00

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

This week, we're joined by David Albert, co-founder of Hacker School, a retreat for computer programmers in New York City.

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Dallas Nurse With Ebola Arrives In Maryland For Treatment

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-16 21:01

Nina Pham was flown by executive jet from Dallas to Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Md. From there, she was being transferred to the National Institutes of Health center in Bethesda, Md.

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Walk-Off 3-Run Homer Sends Giants Past Cardinals to The World Series

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-16 19:23

The bash by first baseman Travis Ishikawa gave San Francisco a 6-3 win, sends St. Louis home, and sets up a title matchup with the streaking Kansas City Royals.

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Biden's Son, Hunter, Discharged From Navy Over Failed Cocaine Test

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-16 17:20

Responding to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Hunter Biden said he was "embarrassed" that his actions led to his discharge.

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Obama Says It 'May Be Appropriate' To Appoint Ebola Czar

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-16 16:16

President Obama said that while the highest level of the federal government was taking the Ebola threat seriously, Ebola remains "a very difficult disease to catch."

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When Disaster Strikes, Facebook Lets Friends Know You're OK

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-16 14:28

Facebook's newest tool, known as Safety Check, aims to allow people to quickly alert friends and family that they are safe after a natural disaster.

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