National News

When Detecting Land Mines, The Nose Knows — Or, In This Case, The Trunk

NPR News - Sat, 2015-07-25 01:27

In Angola, elephants avoid leftover land mines by using their prodigious sense of smell. The U.S. Army took notice — and now it's hoping to learn from elephants how to develop a better detector.

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California Judge Throws Out Lawsuit On Medically Assisted Suicide

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 17:08

The superior court judge says questions raised in the case should be decided by legislatures or voters, not the court. The terminally ill plaintiffs say they'll appeal his decision.

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Convicted Spy Jonathan Pollard Is Eligible For Parole In November, Could Be Released

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 14:10

"Under the laws in place at the time [of his sentencing], Pollard is eligible for parole unless he's acted up in prison or likely to commit another crime," NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

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New Study Finds Many Veterans Live With War Trauma Throughout Their Lives

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 13:21

The study says that 40 years after the Vietnam War ended, hundreds of thousands of those vets struggle with mental health problems linked to their battle experiences.

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Sports + Fans + Selfie Culture = Business Strategy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 13:15

When the LA Galaxy’s newest star, former Liverpool player Steven Gerrard, scored his first goal for the team, the crowd exploded.

And up near the roof of the stadium, cameras were clicking away.

They were focused not on the goal or on Gerrard, but on the ecstatic, high-fiving, scarf-waving fans. Some 20,000 of them were having their picture taken in just seconds.

"We capture the moment, so you don't have to, so that you can enjoy the experience without being on your phone and trying to take a picture of yourself," says Mike Peterson, an intern at Fanpics, a San Diego tech startup that partners with sports teams to take photos of celebrating fans. Tonight, Mike's job is to trigger the cameras at the big-deal moments.

Courtesy:FanPics

Reporter Adriene Hill (center, in the black and white dress) demonstrates how Fanpics sometimes works— and sometimes doesn't.

Fanpics is a free app. You download it, plug in your seat number and you get a set of photos on your phone of game highlights, like that Gerrard goal, and your reaction to them.

"So now when something memorable happens, we have a picture that proves we where there," says Galaxy season ticket holder Andrew Rivera. He usually winds up with a photo or two from each game that he like enough to share on his Instagram account.

That’s free publicity for the stadium and the team, which is part of the reason the Galaxy — and next season the L.A. Clippers and L.A. Kings — will use Fanpics.

"At first, we were a little nervous about how people would react that we are taking your picture," says Katie Pandolfo, the general manager of the StubHub Center, where the Galaxy play.

All the stadium’s entrance gates have a Fanpics disclosure. So far, she says, there haven’t been any complaints. About 15 to 25 percent of fans at games check in to the service.

"It’s important to bring new technology, show our fans that we are keeping up with all the other stadiums, and give them an experience they don’t’ have at another facility," Pandolfo says.

Fanpics and teams get something else out of the arrangement: data.

"We’re saying, 'Here’s this awesome content of you that’s never before existed,'" says Marco Correia, one of Fanpics co-founders. "In exchange for that, we can find out who they are, where they sit, how many times they go to the games, who they are with."

Fanpics and stadiums are still figuring out the best way to make money off all this information, from the easy stuff, like selling prints and tchotchkes with your photo on them, to the not so obvious, Correia says. "We've got a mobile platform where there are a lot of fans using it, so how are we able to monetize that?"

Struggling Greek Businesses Choked By Money Controls

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 13:08

They're facing a double whammy. Not only do customers have less money to spend, but businesses can no longer pay their foreign suppliers for goods and raw materials. Many fear they'll have to close.

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How Amazon can be worth the same as Wal-Mart

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 13:00

Amazon.com stocks rocketed up 10 percent Friday after the company reported quarterly profits to the surprise of many analysts’ expectations. Amazon’s market value – the price if you wanted to buy the whole company – is nearly that of Wal-Mart, even though Wal-Mart makes 35 times the profit of Amazon today.

Investors, though, are betting on what happens tomorrow. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster figures Amazon added 20 million Prime members this year; those are the website shopping addicts who pay $99 for a year’s free shipping and other perks.

“When you make that $100 investment annually into Prime, it changes how you behave online,” Munster says. “And it makes you think ‘I’ll check Amazon first’ because you’ve invested that into Amazon.”

Prime members buy three times as many goods as non-members, Munster says.

Wal-Mart has a free online shipping club too. But the expectations there are far different.

“Both Wal-Mart and Amazon are making major changes in their companies,” Brian Reynolds, chief market strategist at New Albion Partners, says. “But equity investors aren’t buying it from Wal-Mart. That stock is on the verge of a breakdown, while Amazon just had a breakout.”

Amazon stock does reflect sky-high expectations, but they’re somewhat proven expectations. Last quarter, the company went from losing to making money. And at this rate of growth, Amazon’s profits could eventually match those of Wal-Mart’s.

“Do I think 20 years from now it’s conceivable that Amazon could have as much or more earnings than Wal-Mart? Sure,” says former investment banker Michael Goldstein, who now teaches finance at Babson College.  “Do I think that makes the two equally worth value now? Me personally? No. But it’s not nuts.”

He says Amazon is no pets.com, the firm that famously went bust in the 2000 bubble. Its business plan to sell dog food and other items online failed. Today, that same plan seems to be succeeding at Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Wrap: Hillary Clinton, mergers and commodities

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 13:00

Joining us to talk about the week's business and economic news are the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell and Cardiff Garcia of FT Alphaville. The big topics this week: Hillary Clinton's speech on the "tyranny" of quarterly earnings reports, healthcare mergers and a decline in commodities' prices. 

Converse unveils a revamp of the classic Chuck Taylors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 13:00

Converse’s Chuck Taylor All Stars are iconic. They’ve been around for almost a hundred years and haven’t changed all that much. Now Converse is releasing a revamped version called Chuck Taylor IIs.

Converse didn’t want to overhaul the look of the shoe. The big change is that it's using Nike technology for the first time in the sole of the shoe. It’s a foam called Lunarlon which has been used in basketball shoes. Don’t worry, there won’t be a swoosh on the outside.

“The move to make them more comfortable seems like a no-brainer. If you’ve ever worn Chuck Taylors in your life, you’ve probably had the same feeling I did.…Yeah, I remember them not being the most comfortable shoe,” says Matthew Townsend of Bloomberg Business. He wrote a piece about the change called "After a Billion Sore Feet, Converse Wants Chucks to Feel Like Nikes."

Chuck Taylor IIs won’t replace the originals entirely, so if you’re a die-hard fan, you can still purchase the classic shoes.

Click on the media player above to hear the interview.

 

Gamers' new challenge: a urine sample

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 13:00

"Video games as sport" is finally entering the big time — and it's a little depressing.

The Electronic Sports League says it's going to start a performance-enhancing drug testing program. 

Before you pooh-pooh it, you should know e-sports (as its known) is a quarter-billion-dollar-a-year business, with an estimated a fan base of more than 100 million. 

The performance-enhancing drug, by the way?

Not steroids or anything like that. It's Adderall. 

Sports + Fans + Selfie Culture = Business Strategy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 13:00

When the LA Galaxy’s newest star, former Liverpool player Steven Gerrard, scored his first goal for the team, the crowd exploded.

And up near the roof of the stadium, cameras were clicking away.

They were focused not on the goal or on Gerrard, but on the ecstatic, high-fiving, scarf-waving fans. Some 20,000 of them were having their picture taken in just seconds.

"We capture the moment, so you don't have to, so that you can enjoy the experience without being on your phone and trying to take a picture of yourself," says Mike Peterson, an intern at Fanpics, a San Diego tech startup that partners with sports teams to take photos of celebrating fans. Tonight, Mike's job is to trigger the cameras at the big-deal moments.

Courtesy:FanPics

Reporter Adriene Hill (center, in the black and white dress) demonstrates how Fanpics sometimes works— and sometimes doesn't.

Fanpics is a free app. You download it, plug in your seat number and you get a set of photos on your phone of game highlights, like that Gerrard goal, and your reaction to them.

"So now when something memorable happens, we have a picture that proves we where there," says Galaxy season ticket holder Andrew Rivera. He usually winds up with a photo or two from each game that he like enough to share on his Instagram account.

That’s free publicity for the stadium and the team, which is part of the reason the Galaxy — and next season the L.A. Clippers and L.A. Kings — will use Fanpics.

"At first, we were a little nervous about how people would react that we are taking your picture," says Katie Pandolfo, the general manager of the StubHub Center, where the Galaxy play.

All the stadium’s entrance gates have a Fanpics disclosure. So far, she says, there haven’t been any complaints. About 15 to 25 percent of fans at games check in to the service.

"It’s important to bring new technology, show our fans that we are keeping up with all the other stadiums, and give them an experience they don’t’ have at another facility," Pandolfo says.

Fanpics and teams get something else out of the arrangement: data.

"We’re saying, 'Here’s this awesome content of you that’s never before existed,'" says Marco Correia, one of Fanpics co-founders. "In exchange for that, we can find out who they are, where they sit, how many times they go to the games, who they are with."

Fanpics and stadiums are still figuring out the best way to make money off all this information, from the easy stuff, like selling prints and tchotchkes with your photo on them, to the not so obvious, Correia says. "We've got a mobile platform where there are a lot of fans using it, so how are we able to monetize that?"

CFO's rise beyond the balance sheet

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 13:00

The job of chief financial officer has expanded dramatically over the past 15 years — they’re not just accountants anymore. 

Not that CFOs are complaining.

“Thank goodness I’m not just sitting behind a desk with a calculator,” says Vincent Burchianti, CFO of Firehouse Subs

When Burchianti started his accounting career in 1991, CFOs just did the books, but now they’re also involved in strategy. Burchianti works closely with Firehouse’s CEO Don Fox.

“I jokingly say we’re BFFs, because we work hand in hand almost on a daily basis,” Burchianti says.

One reason the CFO role has expanded: companies are getting rid of their chief operating officers, the COOs.

“So the CEO and CFO then fill this vacuum of change as the COO role has diminished," says Peter Crist, chairman of the executive search firm Crist/Kolder Associates.

Some CFOs are also being groomed to become CEOs, so they have to be able to do more than just crunch numbers. 

John Percival wonders if too much is expected from them. He’s a retired adjunct professor of corporate finance at the Wharton School, who now runs seminars on the expanding CFO role.

“I’m still concerned about CFOs having to be Renaissance people," he says. "And I think there are some CFOs who probably are capable of doing that, but I think there are some that are probably not ever going to be able to do that.”

Percival says technology can help CFOs balance the books, so they may not have to work as hard on that. 

Still, he says, there are only so many hours in a day.

El Niño: Be careful what you wish for

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 13:00

Lots of people along the West Coast are hoping that predictions of a strong El Niño this winter will prove correct, because a season of hard rain is needed.

But even if a season of rain does provide some relief for western states, banking on El Niño to fix what amounts to a four-year drought is problematic for a lot of practical reasons.

Based on estimates from 2014 satellite data, California may be facing a groundwater deficit of some 63 trillion gallons. So it seems natural that folks out there are crossing their fingers and hoping for a long rainy winter. But there’s a problem.

“We don't know what to do with rain in places like Los Angeles,” says Hadley Arnold, Arid Lands Institute co-director. “We know it as flood, we know it as threat, we know it as waste and we get rid of it as fast as we can.”

Arnold points out that much of the water infrastructure in the West is designed for water coming from mountain snow pack, which melts gradually into rivers and reservoirs. Rain, by comparison, requires a completely different system.

Moreover, rain accounts for just one part of the supply side of fresh water. Frank Marsik, a climate researcher at the University of Michigan's Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, says making headway against the California drought requires policies to curb demand, beyond simply “praying for rain.”

“You know they might have helped with an El Niño, for instance, in an area that has been seeing some very dry conditions," Marsik says. "But that’s certainly not something you can count on every year. What you can count on are your habits.”

Even if an El Niño does materialize, its effects could vary significantly. 

“You might fill up your reservoirs in one year, but you're not likely to recharge groundwater," says Mike Halpert, a director at the Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "So this is a drought that I wouldn't expect to end even with a good rainy and snowy winter."

Looking beyond this year, many climate researchers predict drought might actually become an increasingly common condition for large parts of the globe.

A dim law? Imagine Times Square without billboards

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 13:00

If you had to classify the streets that run through Times Square — Seventh Avenue and Broadway— what would you call them? Streets? Avenues? "Principal arterials," perhaps?

Onlookers take photos in Times Square.

Isaak Liptzin / WNYC

If you guessed the last answer, you must be up on your transit taxonomy.

The name matters because how city streets are classified has big implications in the eyes of the federal government. When the federal law called Moving Ahead for Progress made "principal arterials" into highways, Broadway and Seventh Avenue became highways. And that in turn puts most of the billboards in Times Square, at least technically, in violation of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. By law, the city could lose federal funding if the billboards don't come down.

But city, state and federal officials say they're looking for a solution to keep the billboards.

New York University professor Mitchell Moss calls it a "bureaucratic hiccup."

Flouting The Law, Some New Yorkers Won't Register Guns

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 12:52

The state passed a tough gun law in 2013, but the people "have repealed it on their own. They're just ignoring the law," says the head of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.

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Salt Is Slowly Crippling California's Almond Industry

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 12:33

California's ongoing drought has forced many almond growers to use groundwater on the thirsty crop. The problem: That water is high in salt, and it's killing almond trees.

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Retracing Ralph Waldo Emerson's Steps In A Now 'Unchanged Eden'

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 12:28

A century and a half ago, the poet and philosopher headed to New York's Adirondack Mountains with some notable pals. Today, we follow his journey with a new crew, the help of a painting and a book.

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Vietnam War Study Raises Concerns About Veterans' Mental Health

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 12:28

A federally mandated study shows that almost 300,000 Vietnam veterans still struggle with daily health problems linked to the traumas they experienced more than 40 years ago during the war.

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Dark Pluto Bares Its Heart

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 12:18

NASA's probe to Pluto has revealed stunning new pictures of the distant world. They show evidence of glaciers moving across the surface.

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Obama Greeted Warmly On First Presidential Trip To Kenya

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 11:11

The visit has a personal resonance for the president, whose father was born there. He is expected to discuss trade and security issues.

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