National News

Urban Farms Build Resilience Within Singapore's Fragile Food System

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 03:17

Tiny Singapore imports almost all of its food. From gardens on deserted car parks to vertical farms in the vanishing countryside, a movement is afoot to help boost its agricultural production.

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Urban Farms Build Resilience Within Singapore's Fragile Food System

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 03:17

Tiny Singapore imports almost all its food. From gardens on deserted car parks to vertical farms in the vanishing countryside, a movement is afoot to help boost its agricultural production.

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If You're Born In The Sky, What's Your Nationality? An Airplane Puzzler

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 03:03

Suppose two Chinese parents get on an Australian airplane and, while flying over U.S. territory, they have a baby on the plane. Can that baby be an American citizen?

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Uber launches home delivery service

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 02:39

Uber — the company known for on-demand taxi rides — is getting into the on-demand delivery business. Its foray into the delivery world is in Washington, D.C., where it has unveiled an experimental delivery service it calls Corner Store. 

Here's how it works: Say my baby is sick, and I need some infant cold medicine.

Uber will send one of its drivers out to pick up whatever I need. 

“Just think about a mom who’s at home with a sick kid and she doesn’t want to leave the child alone. It’s the perfect opportunity,” says Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at Retail Systems Research.

Rosenblum says Uber is competing with lots of other companies who are experimenting with on-demand delivery: Google, eBay, Walmart. And, of course, Amazon.

How can Uber compete with the likes of Amazon? Think of Amazon as a bus, and Uber as, well, a taxi.

“Amazon is going to have the low-cost delivery because of all those passengers on the bus, whereas Uber is going to have one package on the taxi, ” says Rob Howard, founder and CEO of Grand Junction, a company that provides software for shippers.

Uber is offering its Corner Store delivery service for free at first, although you have to pay for the products you order. If Corner Store becomes permanent, it'll have to charge for delivery.

While Uber may not be able to match Amazon’s low prices, but Howard says consumers may be willing to pay more to get stuff fast. 

More housing starts don't mean more first-time buyers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 02:36

Home builders are having a party, thanks to a host of new numbers suggesting the backhoes and construction workers are busy. Home construction rose 22 percent over last year. Building permits are up 7.7 percent. And a measure of builders’ confidence has exceeded expectations.

But first-time buyers are largely absent. According to the National Association of Homebuilders, new buyers historically purchased around 30 percent of newly built homes. Now it’s around 16 percent.

“Underwriting criteria are tighter now,” says David Crowe of the association. “And that’s the age group that usually falls out if you are restrictive in terms of credit scores.”

Young buyers also face job instability, lower incomes, and increased down payments. One brokerage found the median down payment for starter homes rose from around $6,000 in 2007 to more than $9,000 last year.  

But first-timers are a key to unlocking the whole housing market. Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate at the Wharton School, says at some point, lots of first-timers will buy existing starter houses.

“When they come in the market, that’s going to give a boost to existing home sales,” Wachter says, “which will allow those who are in their homes, still not getting the price they want, still underwater, they’ll be able to sell. Then they’ll be able to buy the new homes, which tend to be trade-up homes. New homes are trade-up homes generally.”

It’s a cascade effect. And right now, new demand has to flow in.

Can Barnes & Noble find success with Samsung?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 02:00

Samsung has unveiled a partnership with bookseller Barnes and Noble to create a new version of the Nook tablet, in a bid to compete with Amazon and their Kindle device. To get a read on whether such a device would work, we spoke to New York Times tech columnist Molly Wood.

Wood described the prospects for the partnership as uncertain at best.

“I would say that moderate non-failure is the best we can hope for right now,” Wood said.

However, she also noted that Samsung can make media and publisher deals that would bring more attention to the Nook, as competition in the tablet market is no longer is about the hardware.

Samsung and Barnes & Noble could even take advantage of the tension between Amazon and other publishers to negotiate deals, but this would likely lead to higher prices for consumers. 

Reporting On Ebola: An Abandoned 10-Year-Old, A Nervous Neighborhood

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 01:03

The boy was found naked on the beach in West Point, a slum in Liberia's capital city of Monrovia. At first no one would take him in. People — and even a nearby clinic — were afraid he had Ebola.

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With Ferguson, Obama Forced To Confront Race Yet Again

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 23:36

President Obama has carefully avoided taking sides following the shooting of Missouri teen Michael Brown, disappointing some African-American observers.

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A Tale Of Two Polls

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 23:34

Two surveys claim to capture the public's view of the Common Core State Standards. But they tell very different stories.

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Gay Rights Movement Tackles Cultural Battle In The Deep South

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 23:33

Same-sex marriage activists are working to win hearts and minds in the Deep South, where they've met the strongest resistance. One strategy is to host informal conversations.

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Ex-Microsoft CEO Ballmer Steps Down From Company's Board

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 21:54

Steve Ballmer, 58, on Tuesday resigned from the software giant's board because of other time consuming commitments including his new ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers.

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Renewed attention on Terms of Service agreements

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 15:30

With the recent controversies over both Facebook and Google apps and their use of user data, Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson joined Kai Ryssdal to talk about the power we give tech companies when we use their services.

Google’s location tracking data, for example, is key in the ongoing conversation about what permissions we give to apps.

“Depending on the app permissions and settings you've agreed to," Johnson says, "I could track your every move for any day you've had Google Maps running on your phone.”

This discussion has resurfaced because of Google’s Location History feature, which lists all location data the company has collected from your account. The good news is you can delete all that data by clicking on a link there.

Apple manages application permissions differently from Android; Google has the user accept conditions before downloading, while Apple uses “just-in-time” permissions, which allow the user to accept or deny permissions as one begins to use the app.

Terms of Service — a legal document which a consumer must agree to simply to use a website or service, let alone the mobile app — are another issue. Facebook's alone is is 4,500 words long. A recent study said it would take six weeks to read privacy sections in the terms of service for online services.

Ferguson Update: Holder Writes Op-Ed; City Calls For Nighttime Calm

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 15:00

Attorney General Eric Holder, who will go to the St. Louis suburb Wednesday, wrote that the Justice Department's investigation of Michael Brown's death would be full and fair.

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Gov. Perry Gets Booked At Texas Courthouse After Indictment

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 14:23

Following allegations of abuse of power, Rick Perry maintained that he had done nothing wrong. He told a crowd outside the courthouse he would "fight this injustice with every fiber of my being."

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Torrential Rain Swamps Phoenix, Strands Drivers

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:59

Monsoonal rainfall caused massive flash flooding in Phoenix on Tuesday, turning roads into raging torrents. One area recorded 1 inch in 14 minutes.

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Health records are an easy target for identity thieves

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:46

Community Health Systems, a large hospital operator, got hacked. The word is Chinese hackers stole some 4.5 million health records from the company.  The files included everything from patient Social Security numbers to birth dates and addresses, a veritable goldmine of information for identity theft.

Healthcare providers have been digitizing our records to make everything from treating patients to filing for insurance more efficient. But in their rush towards efficiency, cyber security has gotten lost, says Stephen Cobb, a security researcher at ESET.

“I think a lot of the problem is cultural,” says Cobb. “Doctors and nurses get up and go to work everyday to help people" -  not to protect people from criminals, he says. “An example would be, 'how many hospital systems have chief security information officers'?”

His answer: not many. Plus, he says, many computer systems were put in place before cyber crimes became a real threat, and so a lot of those systems have holes.

Protecting medical records is more difficult than say, protecting your banking records, because they’re constantly being shared and transferred online, says Mac McMillan, CEO of CynergisTek.

“If you look at the average number of people who have access to your information in a hospital encounter, the number I’ve heard is around 150 people,” McMillan says. Each of those people are potential security threats.

Complicating cyber security even further is the "Internet of Things," says Michael Coates, director of product security at Shape Security. He says almost everything in a hospital is wired these days - from printers to “imaging devices or tablets being used by doctors on the wireless network."

Coates says many of these devices aren't secure, and if hackers can break into one device, they can potentially break into the whole system. 

The big business of tear gas, explained

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:40

Tear gas may be one of the most ubiquitous images on the news looking back over the past several years. White clouds - and people running from them - appear in newsreels depicting uprisings from Ferguson to Cairo. 

Nonlethal weapons are a $1.6 billion-a-year business, according to Visiongain, a market research firm. 

“Seventy percent of that is anti-personnel,” says Michael Emery, defense editor and analyst. Anti-personnel weapons means something used to immobilize or incapacitate people without – ideally – killing them.  This could include rubber bullets and stun-guns. 

“Tear gas is possibly the second most important element after Tasers,” he says, largely because it’s so effective and less lethal. “A few canisters of tear gas can be used to disperse a hundred people, whereas a Taser is one-to-one.”

The science is still out on the long term effects of tear gas, says Sven Eric Jordt, professor of anesthesiology at Duke University School of Medicine.  It can be dangerous for children, the elderly and people with breathing problems, but its general effects aren’t conclusively known. Still, tear gas is less lethal than other options. Rubber bullets, though designed to be sub-lethal, have killed people and water hoses have maimed them.  

The largest consumer of non-lethal antipersonnel weapons, including tear gas, is law enforcement, says Emery, overwhelmingly in the United States.  “The U.S. is by far the largest market for nonlethal systems and due to that there’s a concentration of companies within the U.S.”

Wyoming-based Defense Technology (part of Canadian firm Safariland) appears to be the source of at least some of the tear gas used in Ferguson, Missouri.  Other U.S. companies include  the Pennsylvania-based Combined Systems Inc. and Non Lethal Technologies Inc.  There's also AmTech Less Lethal in Florida.  Another major producer, Condor Non Lethal, is based in Brazil.

Between 2013 and 2014, sales of nonlethal anti-personnel weapons grew 2.2 percent globally.  It’s a moderate number, tempered by security spending cuts.  But Emery says he expects future growth to be much higher.  One reason is that after so many uprisings from Tunis to Rio to Ferguson, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that lethal force makes things worse.

But another reason is that police departments and citizens are getting inured to seeing such weapons deployed, including tear gas.  “The [increased] massive use world wide has decreased the threshold in western countries to deploy tear gas,” says Jordt.

The question is how law enforcement will strike a balance between using it more, and using it well.  

Man With A Knife Fatally Shot By Police In St. Louis, Officials Say

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:33

The shooting appears to be unrelated to the ongoing protests in neighboring Ferguson, Mo. Police say the 23-year-old, suspected of stealing items from a convenience store, was "acting erratically."

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Amid The Chaos In Ferguson, Another Police Shooting

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:29

Robert talks to St Louis Public Radio reporter Stephanie Lecci about Tuesday's police shooting in St Louis. Authorities say officers shot and killed a man brandishing a knife.

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