National News

PODCAST: Orange Juice down

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 03:00

It's hardly like World War II or anything, but Americans are increasingly finding ways to go without orange juice. Consumption has fallen to the lowest level since 2002 according to fresh numbers from Nielsen -- we have more on why the breakfast staple is becoming less popular. And as families pack their 18-year-olds for college, they're confronted by the tuition costs. Then there's the cost of text books: one estimate puts the average at $600 for books and materials; another estimate runs twice that. Some students save money by renting or buying textbooks. But others don't get the books at all, which can cause big headaches for the instructors leading their classes. As you've been hearing, two people were shot last night and more than 30 arrested in more confrontations in Ferguson, Missouri. Among the many issues that will be examined is the flow of post-9-11 federal money that critics say has lead to the militarization of American police forces.  And there are calls now for police officers to wear video cameras on the job. But that solution may only lead to more questions.

Professors struggle to adapt as students forego books

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 02:00

On the last day of a pediatric dentistry course offered this summer at the University of Minnesota, adjunct assistant professor Jen Post asked her class a pointed question.

"For the purposes of planning for next year, I'm just wondering how many of you bought the book for this course," she asked. "Anyone?"

Not one aspiring dental hygienist raised a hand.

The $85 textbook was, technically speaking, optional. But Post says even when it was required in years past, few students bought it. They also didn't even try to rent or borrow it.

"Then they didn't know answers on exams. They didn't know where it was coming from," says Post.

Faculty at several other schools report similar problems. In a survey conducted last fall by the National Association of College Stores, nearly a third of students polled said they didn't buy or rent at least one item required for a class, often a textbook. And an equal share of students waited until after the start of school to buy anything.

"They want to make sure that whatever's required of them to purchase or rent or borrow from someone else, that they're going to be used," says Richard Hershman, vice president of government relations for the trade group.

Niki Marinelli, a senior in the dental hygiene program at the University of Minnesota, says she often just relies on study guides or will borrow a textbook from a friend to avoid buying books.

"Sometimes I see how I did on the first test and go from there. I see if I feel a book would've been helpful if I didn't do so well," she says. "Most of the time I'm okay. I'll go in if I have any questions."

Marinelli says loans cover the $10,000 she pays each semester in out-of-state tuition. But book costs come out of her own pocket. And she already works two jobs.

Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, says professors need to be sensitive to textbook affordability. But he says it's shortsighted of students to spend thousands of dollars on tuition and then skimp on books.

"It's a case of students essentially seeming to think they're paying for the credential for the degree but they're not all that concerned about the learning that goes along with it," he says.

Jen Post is concerned about it. Post now filters the textbook content down to 50-minute powerpoint presentations, which are the basis of lectures and exams. It's the best way to ensure students get exposed to the information in the book. Post says if she didn't do this, her students would turn instead to Google and YouTube for answers to their homework assignments. And those answers are often wrong.

"They're just thinking everything's at their fingerstips," she says, "when it might be in the book."

 

Equipping cops with cameras is only half the problem

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 02:00

Civil unrest in Ferguson has put a spotlight on the issue of excessive force by the police. One possible answer: have officers wear cameras while on the job

With video cameras and cloud storage  getting cheaper by the day, it would seem outfitting police with cameras should be easier than ever, right?

Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says taking videos is the easy part - the hard part is managing the data.

“What happens to the data after the fact? How long is it stored for? What’s done with the data after an investigation has concluded?” Lynch said.

Another issue: If the video is being used as evidence, how do you secure it from hackers and establish a chain of custody?

Putting those systems in place takes technical expertise and money, something many police departments are short on, said Jen King, with UC Berkeley’s School of Information.

King says that because of the sensitive nature of the videos, public agencies can’t always use off-the-shelf products.

“It’s not like they can just buy cloud space,” she said.

Some jurisdictions don’t allow public agencies to store information in the cloud and so they have to maintain their own servers - which is another cost.  

Ferguson story highlights Twitter's role as source

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 02:00

The protests that have erupted in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of Michael’s Brown’s shooting by the police have opened another conversation about the role of social media during fast breaking news events.

David Carr, media and culture columnist for the New York Times, sees a similarity to the coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, when police made it difficult for the media to cover the events by pushing cameras out of the area. In that instance, social media became a large part of the eyes and ears of the media. Ferguson is being covered in much the same way, with images of militarized police responding to protesters going viral.

With the evolution of smartphone technology, Carr points to how the delivery of video and pictures has become more discreet than ever:

“Walking around with a camera is like walking around with an 800 pound pencil: you can be a target for either the police or the protesters.” Meanwhile, with a smartphone, one can blend into the crowd and simply record events.

Newsrooms have also been leaning heavily towards Twitter as opposed to other social networks, especially during fast moving events.

A major reason why, Carr argues, is that Twitter is a light piece of infrastructure that can carry info from other platforms, such as embedded photos and short videos, quickly and easily.

You can rent your car out at the airport for cash

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 02:00

If you hate to pay for long-term parking at the airport, would you consider letting someone else drive it while you’re away?

A peer-to-peer company called FlightCar will take your car while you’re out of town and rent it out. Currently, it has offices in Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

“Say for instance you’re going on a 5-day trip. We would wash it. Prep it. Make it look nice and clean. And then we would rent it the whole time you’re gone. And when you do arrive back, you would receive a check for your car being rented,” says assistant manager Kenneth Boyd.

I left my own car with them – a 2003 Honda Civic. For a car like mine, lenders can expect to earn around 10 cents per mile.

But some customers aren’t financially motivated.

“The money is less important than the idea of participating in a sharing economy, and sharing my car with somebody who might need it while I’m not using it,” says Leslie Tamaribuchi, who has left her Fiat with the company six times.

To get the full experience, I also rented someone else’s car: a 2011 Mercedes C 300, which cost me $60 a day – less than half of what competing rental companies charge.

The car’s owner, Brett Hobbs, needed a place to store his Mercedes while he was away for almost four months.

“You get an email every time your car is rented out. And as soon as we left, the emails started pouring in, saying that, ‘Good news. Your car was rented.’ And, I sort of realized: 'Wow. My car really is a rental car now,'” says Hobbs.

If someone crashes the car while it’s being rented, FlightCar will provide up to $1 million in liability coverage.

Someone who rented Hobb’s Mercedes was involved in a fender-bender.

“FlightCar took care of the damage before we got home,” says Hobbs.

In the end, renters put 6000 miles on his car. In return, Hobbs got paid about $1,500.

How does the income compare to the depreciation of the car? Hobbs says, “I think it’s probably pretty close to a wash.”

Hobbs says he’d use FlightCar again, but next time, he’d leave his older car – a 2006 BMW.

In my case, my Honda was rented twice. Within a week, I got a check in the mail from FlightCar for a little more than $5 - enough to cover the cost of driving to and from the airport.

Professors struggle to adapt as students forego books

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 02:00

On the last day of a pediatric dentistry course offered this summer at the University of Minnesota, adjunct assistant professor Jen Post asked her class a pointed question.

"For the purposes of planning for next year, I'm just wondering how many of you bought the book for this course," she asked. "Anyone?"

Not one aspiring dental hygienist raised a hand.

The $85 textbook was, technically speaking, optional. But Post says even when it was required in years past, few students bought it. They also didn't even try to rent or borrow it.

"Then they didn't know answers on exams. They didn't know where it was coming from," says Post.

Faculty at several other schools report similar problems. In a survey conducted last fall by the National Association of College Stores, nearly a third of students polled said they didn't buy or rent at least one item required for a class, often a textbook. And an equal share of students waited until after the start of school to buy anything.

"They want to make sure that whatever's required of them to purchase or rent or borrow from someone else, that they're going to be used," says Richard Hershman, vice president of government relations for the trade group.

Niki Marinelli, a senior in the dental hygiene program at the University of Minnesota, says she often just relies on study guides or will borrow a textbook from a friend to avoid buying books.

"Sometimes I see how I did on the first test and go from there. I see if I feel a book would've been helpful if I didn't do so well," she says. "Most of the time I'm okay. I'll go in if I have any questions."

Marinelli says loans cover the $10,000 she pays each semester in out-of-state tuition. But book costs come out of her own pocket. And she already works two jobs.

Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, says professors need to be sensitive to textbook affordability. But he says it's shortsighted of students to spend thousands of dollars on tuition and then skimp on books.

"It's a case of students essentially seeming to think they're paying for the credential for the degree but they're not all that concerned about the learning that goes along with it," he says.

Jen Post is concerned about it. Post now filters the textbook content down to 50-minute powerpoint presentations, which are the basis of lectures and exams. It's the best way to ensure students get exposed to the information in the book. Post says if she didn't do this, her students would turn instead to Google and YouTube for answers to their homework assignments. And those answers are often wrong.

"They're just thinking everything's at their fingerstips," she says, "when it might be in the book."

 

"Buy the rumor, sell the news"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 02:00

There’s a saying on Wall Street: "Buy the rumor, sell the news."

It can be a nifty way for traders to make money. Here's how it works: Be the first to find out about a big company announcement. Then, buy the stock low, and sell high. 

Bill King is a market strategist at M. Ramsey Securities, Inc. Before that, he was a trader for about 20 years.  

“The smart guys are getting out and they’re looking for the suckers to take their positions off their hands," says King.

By positions, he means stocks, or whatever investment they made to exploit the rumor.

And "buy the rumor, sell the news" can work with some big global events. Traders watch international news closely, looking for trends.

“Is it the beginning of something new? Or is it the beginning of, you know, just a temporary event that's kind of a blip on the screen?” says Doug Roberts, Chief investment strategist at Channel Capital Research.com.

Take the 1973 oil embargo, when members of OPEC wouldn’t sell to the US. People in the know bought before oil prices shot up. But, Roberts says buy the rumor, sell the news doesn’t work all the time. It sounds neat and easy, but it’s just one tool for traders. 

 

 

'Shadow' And 'D-12' Sing An Infectious Song About Ebola

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 01:00

It's said to be the first song about Ebola, written by two up-and-coming Liberian music producers. The message: "Ebola is very wicked. It can kill you quick quick."

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World's Aid Agencies Stretched To Their Limits By Simultaneous Crises

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-18 23:42

USAID's Nancy Lindborg: "What we have now ... are really complex, difficult crises that are fundamentally the result of non-democratic governments."

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Pittsburgh Health Care Giants Take Fight To Each Other's Turf

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-18 23:38

Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center worked together for decades. But tensions have prompted a split and uncertainty in Pittsburgh's health care market.

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Teens And Mall Culture: The Fading Love Affair?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-18 23:36

Teens used to be all over malls, working the registers and wandering the walkways. But now fewer of them have retail jobs and it appears they prefer tech goodies at home to going to the mall.

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Mental Health Cops Help Reweave Social Safety Net In San Antonio

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-18 23:34

Across the U.S., jails hold many more people with serious mental illness than state hospitals do. San Antonio is reweaving its safety net for the mentally ill — and saving $10 million annually.

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Iconic TV Announcer Don Pardo Dies At 96

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-18 21:53

Saturday Night Live announcer Don Pardo died Monday in Tucson, Ariz. He also was the announcer for the original versions of the game shows The Price is Right and Jeopardy.

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U.S. Says Syria's Chemical Weapons Stockpile Is Destroyed

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-18 19:59

President Obama said it was an important step in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, but added that Syria must still destroy its other weapons production facilities.

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Cease-Fire In Gaza Reportedly Extended 24 Hours

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-18 16:37

The previous cease-fire lasted five days and expired at midnight. Unlike other deal extensions, there have been no reports of rockets fired or Israeli action. Talks continue with mediators in Egypt.

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Experimental Vaccine For Chikungunya Passes First Test

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-18 15:12

Using a new technology, scientists have created a vaccine for an emerging mosquito-borne virus. The vaccine was safe and produced some degree of immunity in a preliminary study.

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Where all those charges on your phone bill come from

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-18 14:53

Starting on Sept. 1, Chicago residents will see their phone bills go up, thanks to higher fees collected by their city government. The nominal purpose is to fund 911 operations.

However, the acknowledged goal is to raise money that the city desperately needs to pay for pensions. And the widely-understood rationale among politicians is: If we raised the same amount by hiking property tax bills, people would notice, and complain. But people are used to seeing taxes and fees tacked onto phone bills. Who’s going to notice another few bucks? 

Which raises the question:  What are all those damn fees on your phone bill? 

1.  No matter where you live, some are sneaky taxes from all levels of government.

Experts confirm: Government officials love to sneak taxes and fees into phone bills— and anywhere they can that isn’t an actual tax bill.

"The bias is toward hiding taxes," says David Brunori, a professor at George Washington University and deputy publisher of Tax Analysts. "That is true at every level of government. Politicians would rather have you pay the tax and not know about it."

And yes, wireless phone bills in particular have become a favorite hiding place, says Scott Mackey, a consultant to the wireless industry with KSE Partners. "Really from 2003 to about 2012 we saw sort of a steady upward increase in wireless taxes and fees," he says.

2.  Though in some places, you'll pay more taxes than others.

Mackey publishes a report every couple of years on wireless tax rates from state to state.   The Tax Foundation made a sortable list from his last report.

"Chicago is going to be prominently featured in the 2014 report," says Mackey.  The new 911 fee will make the effective tax on cellphones the country's highest.  

3. A lot of items that look like taxes are just extra charges from your phone company

Chicago politicians are not the only ones who figure they can sneak an extra charge into your bill without you noticing. Your phone company probably does the same thing. Marc-David Seidel is a business professor at the University of British Columbia and the co-founder of a site dedicated to making sense of phone bills.

He says the heading "taxes and fees" on your bill should be a giveaway. 

"The fact that it’s grouped together called taxes and fees, instead of just taxes, is a really high signal that there’s other stuff in there that’s actually not mandated," he says. "It’s just a company-specific fee."

Every company charges a different mix, he says, and they change all the time. If you really want to know what you’re paying— and why— he recommends looking for a consumer-advocate office in your state.

4. And then there's the cramming scam.

The FTC recently accused T-Mobile of bilking customers out of millions of dollars by allowing third parties to place bogus charges on their bills, and taking a cut.  T-Mobile's public defense was essentially:  Hey, we stopped doing this a few months ago—and it's not like the other carriers are better. 

Marketplace recently looked at how those charges end up on phone bills in the first place, and our friends at Ars Technica have been covering the story for years.

Here's an example the FTC says comes from an actual T-Mobile bill:

How police presence in Ferguson shut down one business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-18 13:51

Not far from the Swiish Bar and Grill, business owners are boarding up their windows and preparing for another night of clashes between protesters and police in Ferguson, Missouri. Swiish’s owner, Corey Nickson-Clark, is absolutely certain his business will be safe. The parking lot out front is filled with police vehicles and police officers.

Lindsay Foster Thomas/Marketplace

Nickson-Clark’s popular hangout spot is tucked into one corner of a large, suburban mall in the town of Jennings, just down the road from where the Ferguson protests turned violent. About a week ago, he and his wife got a call from the property owner, who told them the parking lot was going to be used as a command center for the police. In the past week, Nickson-Clark has seen a lot of the police.

“I’ve seen St. Louis County, I’ve seen St. Louis City,” he said. “I’ve seen state troopers. I’ve seen some FBI. I think pretty much every department of the police department has been here.”

Nickson-Clark’s sister, Andra Crawford, who was keeping him company in the silent, empty bar, can barely believe what she’s seen: helicopters landing in the parking lot, tanks being loaded.

Lindsay Foster Thomas/Marketplace

Nobody has been able to tell Nickson-Clark why the parking lot of his small business, with it’s two-for-one happy hours and famous strawberry chicken wings, was chosen as a command center, rather than the Target, Schnucks grocery or Foot Locker that occupy the same mall. Their parking lots are at least partially accessible.

“Those guys are able to open at some point during the day,” he said. “I’m not able to open at all. At least they’re able to get some type of revenue coming in.”

Nickson-Clark guesses he’s lost around $30,000 in the past week. He admits that if he’d purchased riot insurance, he’d be covered, but he asks, with disbelief in his voice, "when was the last time there was a riot here? The 1950s?

Lindsay Foster Thomas and Noel King/Marketplace

The officers outside Swiish don’t know why this part of the parking lot was chosen, either. “That’s above my pay grade,” said Sergeant Al Nothum of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Nothum says he hates to see a small business owner losing money, but the police plan to stay until the situation improves.

“There’s not one of us here that want to be here any longer than we need to,” Nothum said.”We want things to settle down. We want the citizens of Ferguson to know we’re doing the best we can. And that we’re looking for a good resolution to this whole thing here.”

Thus far, though, there has been no resolution. Sunday night was one of the worst nights in Ferguson to date. The National Guard is being sent in... and Nickson-Clark has just found out they’re going to be using his parking lot, too.

Lindsay Foster Thomas/Marketplace

 

Behind the indicators: Job quality vs. job quantity

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-18 13:34

Keil Hubert is a part-time writer and cyber-security consultant.

He is also an indicator. 

He’d rather not be. But he is. 

“Since April of 2013 I’ve applied for 476 positions, not one of which has led to an actual offer for full-time work.” 

Hubert reached the maximum number of years allowable at his government job, and had to retire from public service. But at age 45 he isn’t ready to retire, and finds himself routinely overqualified for many private sector jobs. So, he is left working part time.

“Even with part time and unemployment benefits it’s not enough to get by,” he says. “It’s a little frustrating.”

Hubert is what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls a part-time worker “for economic reasons.” It means that he is looking for full-time work but can’t find it. His situation is invisible if one looks only at the unemployment rate (6.2 percent), but it’s still important because it’s a glimpse into job quality, as opposed to quantity.

“It’s an indicator of job market slack,” says Gary Burtless, economist at the Brookings Institution. “A lot of Americans have been forced to accept jobs in part-time positions when they would prefer to work full time.”

Ten years ago, about 4.5 million Americans fit that bill. Today, around 7.5 million do. That’s up slightly from 7.3 million in January, though the number fluctuates regularly. 

This is tied to the long term unemployed – those out of work for six months or longer – whose levels have also been slower to come down, says Burtless. “That is pushing a lot of Americans to take second or third or fourth or fifth choice jobs rather than the jobs and occupations and levels of hours they would prefer,” says Burtless.

Perhaps one of the most important “quality of jobs” indicators is wages and compensation, says Joe Kalish, Chief Global Macro strategist with Ned Davis Research. “One of the indicators that’s really been getting a lot of attention on the part of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and other members as of late, is what’s going on with wages and compensation.” This, says Kalish, “is where we really haven’t seen much of a pick up at this point,” despite four years of recovery.

Given the state of indicators regarding the quality of jobs and the tightness of the labor market, the Fed is unlikely to put the brakes on and raise interests before June of 2015 by Kalish’s estimate. 

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