National News

How To Take A Nobel Prize-Winning Picture

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 15:22

This year's Nobel Prize in chemistry went to a team that came up with a way to take a closer look at the secret lives of living cells. It could make biomedical research a lot easier.

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Climate Change Worsens Coastal Flooding From High Tides

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 13:47

Flooding from extreme tidal swings was once just a rare nuisance for coastal cities. But rising sea levels have increased the frequency of these nuisance floods as much as tenfold since the 1960s.

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Some Good News: Near Perfect Weather For Most Of The Country

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 13:35

A weather map on Wednesday showed no significant watches or warnings across the Lower 48.

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Drill for the cure

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-08 13:24

October is, as you may know if you watched an NFL game in the past weekend, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Pink whistles, pink cleats — pink everything, practically, makes an appearance in support of the cause.

Also, which we saw in Salon today, courtesy of the oilfield services company Baker Hughes, one-thousand pink drill bits.

Which is great, I guess, but doesn't the pink get scraped off when the drills start drilling?

And, aren't there all kinds of carcinogens in oil?

Apple Says iOS Encryption Protects Privacy; FBI Raises Crime Fears

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 13:17

Apple says its new operating system for the iPhone features encryption so secure that not even Apple has the key to it. But the FBI warns that the software could limit its ability to fight crime.

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Love Pine Nuts? Then Protect Pine Forests

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 12:52

An expensive delicacy among nuts, pine nuts are foraged — not farmed — from distant forests. In some places, the delicate ecosystems that produce the nuts are disappearing.

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Tell us what the economy feels like to you

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-08 12:45

It’s doing better by lots of measurements — but people don’t feel it. Which is part of what Obama is out stumping for through November.

The data says the economy’s doing better — much better. But does it feel better? How’s your economy doing? 

Tell us your story above, and we might include it in the show.

In 'Season Of Mercy,' Will Vatican Rethink Communion For Divorcees?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 12:40

Pope Francis hasn't ruled out changing church doctrine that bars divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving Holy Communion. There are fierce opponents, while others favor simplifying annulment.

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Lawsuit Testing Personhood Of Chimps Gets Its Day At An Appeals Court

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 12:37

A lower court had tossed the case, but an appellate court heard oral arguments today. Lawyers said that Tommy, a chimp in New York, deserves the same rights as Homo sapiens.

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A Strong Voice From The Ebola Front: Lorenzo Dorr

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 12:23

Drugs are in short supply. So is protective gear. Muddy roads may be impassable. But community health worker Lorenzo Dorr continues his efforts to keep Ebola in check in remote parts of Liberia.

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Frack that! Oil tries to own a word that rallies critics

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-08 12:10

Few industries have bigger branding issues than the oil industry with fracking.

Not least of those issues: The word itself, which is short for hydraulic fracturing and near in sound to a four-letter word that's taboo on the radio. Activists have long exploited that connection — the Natural Resources Defense Council’s page on drilling is headlined "Don’t get fracked!" — and industry PR types have advised against using the term at all.

Pennsylvania has been a particularly hot battleground. Drilling has exploded, and so has opposition to the oil and gas wells popping up all over the state — and the pollution and truck traffic they create. 

In the heat of election season, an industry group there has introduced an ad that touts fracking’s contribution to jobs and lower energy costs — and which, in its punch-line, makes an effort to reclaim the word.

"Fracking’s a good word," says a middle-aged man collecting his mail. "Fracking’s a good word," says a woman on her front porch. "Fracking rocks," says a teenage girl on an elliptical machine. 

The ad started running in late September, commissioned by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the beginning of a larger campaign called “Rock solid for PA." 

"Some people will try to use that word in a negative connotation," says the group's president, David Spigelmyer. "All we’re trying to do is shine a light on the fact that there’s a lot of good that comes out of that technology. That’s all."

David Masur has noticed the ads. He's director of PennEnvironment, a non-profit that opposes fracking.  "It’s been highly entertaining," he says.

He thinks it means he and his allies are winning in the court of public opinion. "There’s something funny," he says, "when companies like Exxon Mobil and Shell and Halliburton and BP are saying, ‘Man, we’re just getting creamed by the local non-profit group.’"

But maybe it could work? It did for Obamacare.

"Obamacare is very interesting," says Tim Calkins, author of “Defending Your Brand” and a marketing professor at Northwestern University.  "It did start out as an attack on the program, and now supporters use it just the same as everybody else. In a way, it’s actually very smart."

However, Obamacare had a charismatic, witty spokesman who could get on TV, for free, whenever he wanted. 

Without that, says Calkins, "it's going to take a lot of money, if you're going to get in front of people and get them to re-think a word," he says. "Especially when you've got a word that has such deep-set associations around it."

He gives the industry credit for trying. "I don't know if this initiative is going to work," he says, "but at least they're looking at it, and taking action, and they've certainly got to do that."

A New Museum To Celebrate Southern Food (And You Can Eat The Exhibits)

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 12:03

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans is re-imagining what a museum can be. There's plenty of scholarship, but also taste-testing — and a mission to help budding food entrepreneurs.

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A car with no driver. What could go wrong?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-08 11:56

Wouldn’t it be nice to own a self-driving car? You could skip all of the traffic, read the newspaper and drink a latte on the way to work every morning.

Although, self-driving cars might be the next big thing in Silicon Valley, you won't seem them on roads for another decade or so, says Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson. There's still a lot of work to make them street-ready, and right now they come with a hefty price tag: about $320,000.

"Your average American family can apparently afford to spend maybe about twenty grand on a car, so cost is a problem," Johnson says.

Google's self-driving cars have some GPS problems, but programming the software to respond to changing, unpredictable driving conditions is another issue.

"Software is really good at dealing with stuff that it’s been designed to deal with," Johnson says. "It’s way harder for you to design software to deal with data that it has not predicted yet."

The jobs mismatch

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-08 11:56

Jobs are out there – so why is it taking employers so long to fill them?

"The key reason is that there’s a mismatch in the jobs market going on,” says Robert Johnson, Director of Economic Analysis at Morningstar.

Like trying to pair plaid with polka dots — there are many patterns to follow. First, while there are jobs, some are part time and workers may be holding out for the real deal of a full-time gig. Next,  some industries may be looking for skilled workers who don’t exist.

“There definitely is a shortage in the labor market right now – everybody is experiencing it in construction," says Kristen Ripmaster, sales and operations manager at Constructionjobs.com. There are jobs on the site says Ripmaster, but applications are down or nonexistent.

Construction, notes Ripmaster, took a hit during the downturn and so the flow of young people choosing to go into the industry stopped. Furthermore, anyone still in the market is already working because of the boom in the industry.

But Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy research, has another take on the mismatch. “It doesn’t seem that skills are the issue,” he says.

The biggest disconnect, he says, between available jobs and how long it takes to fill them, is in the retail and restaurant industries.

"It’s a little hard to believe that the reason restaurants and retail stores have all these openings that are going unfilled, is because they can’t find qualified workers," Baker says.

DiceHoldings, a company that tracks how long it takes to fill jobs, says both employers and workers have been getting pickier about what they want – which makes it harder to find a match.

But if employers need workers, Baker says, they’ll have to begin offering higher salaries.

"We all understand that if you want a really good quarterback, you’re willing to pay $20 million a year to get a really good quarterback" he says. "And you’ll get a really good quarterback."

IMF offers mixed economic picture, all eyes on Europe

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-08 11:52

The IMF has revised its view of global economic growth prospects: It’s a mixed picture, leaning towards poor.

The U.S. will have grown 2.2 percent by the end of this year, the IMF says. That's not stunning, but still 0.5 percent higher than the fund’s previous prediction.  The U.S. is expected to grow 3.1 percent in 2015.

The IMF reduced its prediction for growth in Europe from 1.1 percent to a mere 0.8 percent.  Europe is still struggling with an 11.5 percent unemployment rate (the U.S. rate is 5.9 percent).  The continent is precariously close to deflation - a form of economic stagnation that can last decades, as it did in Japan.

China’s growth is slowing and will continue to slow, says the IMF.  It will decelerate from 7.7 percent growth in 2013 to 7.4 percent in 2014 and 7.1 percent in 2015. 

“The U.S. is the one eyed man in the country of the blind,” says Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.  “The U.S. is the only one that seems to be turning in the other direction.”

Kirkegaard credits both the aggressive response of the U.S. Federal Reserve and the underlying “flexibility and dynamism” of the U.S. economy: “The U.S. is an economy that is able to absorb shocks far more rapidly than certainly the European countries but also Japan and it is an economy where simple entrepreneurship plays a much bigger role.”

“The U.S. is once again the rudder that’s going to keep the world steered in the right direction I hope,” says Ross DeVol, Chief Research Officer at the Milken Institute. The rising dollar and increasing consumer appetite in the U.S. will spur the export sectors of other economies around the world.

The modest success of the U.S. may also pose a challenge to the rest of the world. When the U.S. was in crisis, investors shifted money to developing and emerging economies. Now that the U.S. is getting back on its feet and interest rates may rise in 2015, the reverse is happening, says Stephen Kaplan, assistant professor of international affairs at George Washington University.

“It might be more difficult for governments and firms abroad to borrow in an environment where more capital is going to be dedicated to the United States,” he says.

The larger source of concern for many economists however is the situation in Europe.

“Europe is avoiding a technical recession but will get so close to one that you won’t know the difference,” says DeVol. “The global cycle is out of balance.” 

Europe not growing at all, or very slowly, is not good for anyone in the world, says Matthew Slaughter, professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Europe all together has the largest economy in the world. A weak Europe is less likely to import from the U.S. or China which is also slowing down. Slaughter says its problems – like an 11.5 percent unemployment rate and a not fully resolved sovereign debt problem – run deep.

“Those problems have been layered on top of what for many countries, even before the crisis, was this no growth in population, slow productivity growth environment they were already in,” Slaughter says.

Demographically, Europe is aging, Slaughter continued: “In many countries the labor force growth will be zero and there’s not much inflow of immigration so that dynamism from a young and growing population is not there.”

The European policy response to the recession has not been as aggressive or effective as responses elsewhere in the world. 

“The combination of fiscal and monetary policy has just been too firm,” says Peter Fisher, senior fellow at the Center for Global Business and Government at Dartmouth.  “It’s partly because they’ve been fighting a multiple front war – they’ve had to hold the euro together in addition to stimulating economy and that’s both a political challenge and an economic one.”

The IMF says Europe has a 38 percent chance of slipping into a recession again, double the odds in April.

CDC's Ebola workers find funding is strapped

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-08 10:41

The death Wednesday of the Dallas Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan underscores the high stakes around controlling the spread of the disease. To that point, the federal government has announced it would soon screen air travelers coming from West Africa to see if they have temperatures.

Separately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more than 1,000 people working around the world to contain Ebola. On-the-ground work involves risk and problem solving, where staff must do everything from collecting blood samples, to tracking the sick, to hiring workers to pick up the dead. 

It’s a difficult job, says Dr. Bridgette Gleason, who turned 30 this week. Gleason says she’s seen tragedy every day since Sept. 13, the day she arrived in Sierra Leone.

“Being surrounded by death, it’s obviously overwhelming if you really focus on that,” she says. “To really make a difference you have to focus on what you can do.”

That attitude gives a sense of the men and women who parachute into these communicable disease hot spots. Staffers are expert trouble-shooters. But with the Ebola spreading in West Africa, CDC folks like Peter Kilmarx – who is leading the operation in Sierra Leone — must do something outside the norm: think about budgets.

“We are not fully meeting the demand and it’s stressful. It’s a very challenging situation,” he says.

For the past 20 years, CDC field staff has depended on the non-profit CDC Foundation for money when it would otherwise take too long going through bureaucratic channels at the agency.

The outbreak has gotten so big so fast, so that’s changed.

“There is simply not enough money at this time to meet the needs that CDC is sending our way,” says the Foundation's executive director, Charlie Stokes.

Stokes understands putting a crimp in this financial lifeline is actually a matter of life and death. That’s why the foundation launched an emergency fund back in August to address Ebola.

“We initially thought $30 million would be enough," he says. "What we are seeing in terms of needs in the field tells me it’s going to be considerably more than that.”

To put that figure in perspective, that’s what the foundation spends on all of its programs in a year. Stokes estimates Ebola needs $50 million alone.

If the foundation falls short, Stokes knows he’ll have to level with the CDC docs.

“We are either going to have the money and send it, or we are going to have to say, 'you are going to have to prioritize,'” he says.

Stokes admits it’s easy to feel overmatched by this epidemic, but – much like Gleason in Sierra Leone –he says he’s going to focus on what he can do. 

World Bank Says Ebola Could Inflict Enormous Economic Losses

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 10:36

In 2013, Sierra Leone and Liberia ranked second and sixth among countries with the highest GDP growth in the world. But that growth has stopped because of the deadly Ebola virus.

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Texas Officials Say They Will Cremate Ebola Patient's Remains

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 10:20

As relatives grieve, public health officials are setting in place a plan to safely care for the remains of Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan. Cremation or burial are both acceptable, the CDC says.

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Steel's slow, grinding growth

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-08 10:08

The economy is growing at 4 percent per year. Unemployment is down. But that's not always how the economy feels, day to day.

Lisa Goldenberg is the president of Delaware Steel Company of Pennsylvania, where she has a front-row seat to how the economic outlook is making life easier — or harder — for businesses. In a July interview, Goldenberg lamented that things weren't going as well as she had hoped. She has that same grinding sense of progress today.

"We should have had a stronger September. We're doing okay, but okay isn't good enough. It's a struggle," Goldenberg says.

The bright spots: construction, energy and cars.

"For the steel business, construction is a good thing," Goldenberg says. "People go out, they need washers and dryers made out of steel."

But are things better than July? No, she says. People have a little more money to spend, but not enough to pay off debts from the past few years. And definitely not enough savings to buy a house.

"It's painful to live through slow, even, deliberate growth," Goldenberg says. But even so, "it's the best way, in my opinion, to build a solid economy."

We Don't Know A Lot About Dogs And Ebola — But We Should

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-08 09:55

The story of Excalibur, whose Spanish owner has Ebola, raises many questions. Can dogs catch the virus? How would we know if they did? Could they infect humans? We asked a specialist for answers.

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