National News

ISIS Video Purports To Show Killing Of Jordanian Pilot

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 12:06

A gruesome video from the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, released on Tuesday purports to show the killing of the Jordanian pilot who was captured in Syria in December.

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Standard & Poor's To Pay Over $1 Billion In Legal Settlement

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 12:06

Standard & Poor's has agreed to pay more than $1 billion to settle charges that it gave false ratings to mortgage-related securities in the years leading up the financial crisis.

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U.K. Lawmakers Allow Scientists To Attempt 'DNA Transplants'

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 12:06

The British Parliament has voted to allow scientists to attempt to do "DNA transplants" on women's eggs to try to help them have healthy babies. Doctors want to do this to help families carrying devastating "mitochondrial diseases." But opponents question whether transferring DNA from healthy eggs into the eggs of women carrying these diseases is safe, and whether it would open the door to "designer babies."

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Arrest Warrant For Argentine President Found In Dead Prosecutor's Home

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 11:31

The prosecutor investigating the death of Alberto Nisman denied the arrest warrant existed. She changed her story today, adding further proof of a tense relationship between the president and Nisman.

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Love Hot Sauce? Your Personality May Be A Good Predictor

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 11:04

Personality seems to play a key role in our lust for heat in our food. Research has found that thrill seekers tend to like the burn of a spicy meal, and the lure is different for men and women.

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RadioShack's long road to bankruptcy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-03 10:38

RadioShack is preparing to shut down amid bankruptcy.  The chain has over 4,000 U.S. stores, but they have been struggling for quite some time. Things finally came to a head as the 'Shack lost about 90 percent of its value over the past year, and shares sunk Monday.

"One of the most common sentiments I heard when I first started making phone calls for this story was 'I can’t believe it’s taken this long for this to happen to RadioShack,'" says Josh Brustein of Bloomberg.

Sprint and Amazon have separately been in talks with RadioShack about acquiring some stores and closing the rest.

"For the last couple of months, RadioShack has really been kind of circling the drain," says Brustein. "It’s been clear that the most likely outcome was bankruptcy – that doesn’t mean that it would disappear altogether. But basically, what has to be sorted out in bankruptcy is what happens to all these stores."

UPS and FedEx increase fuel surcharge – because they can

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-03 10:07

UPS handed investors mixed news when it announced 2014 earnings. Shipping volumes were way up, but profits were down. The company made big investments to meet the 2014 holiday rush – including about 100,000 temporary hires— but didn’t get quite as much revenue out as it had wanted.

Still, don’t feel too bad for UPS. CEO David Abney said the company would start tacking on extra holiday charges. And these are in addition to fee increases by both UPS and rival FedEx that include hikes in fuel surcharges, even though the price of fuel is down. 

FedEx has actually raised its fuel charge, from 5.5 percent to 6 percent. The UPS formula is more complicated: The company has changed how it calculates the fee for ground shipments, so the surcharge doesn't reflect a drop in fuel prices.  

"The price of a gallon of fuel is down a buck," says Jerry Hempstead, a consultant who works with shipping customers to help them get better rates. "You would think: "Oh, the fuel surcharge could even go away.' Well, no."

He thinks it’s the opposite of a price war. First UPS had higher rates. FedEx bumped. Now it’s UPS’ turn.

"They did it because they could," he says.

The price of sending a package includes a bundle of smaller charges, many of which have gone up. The “base rate” just saw annual increases of about 5 percent from both carriers. There are also bumps in “accessorial charges"— like extra fees for delivering to remote locations.

The biggest increase comes from a new way of charging for smaller packages. Instead of charging by weight, shippers now also count the size. That change alone raised shipping prices by an average of 17 percent, according to an analysis by Shipware LLC, another company that helps shipping customers negotiate with carriers.

Not all companies will feel that cost the same way, says Rob Martinez, Shipware's president and CEO. A company that makes microwaves and refrigerators, for instance, wouldn't necessarily take a hit. 

"Other shippers, it is literally doubling some of their costs," he says, meaning companies that ship lightweight items in bigger boxes. 

Martinez thinks FedEx and UPS can impose these fees because they’re the only two national companies in the business.

"It’s great for UPS and FedEx investors," he says. "But lack of competition is bad for shippers."

Some of his customers are giving the U.S. Postal Service another look. "Their 'Priority Mail' product is actually a pretty good product," Martinez says.

The what-ifs of net neutrality

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-03 10:06

This week, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to propose reclassifying how Internet service providers are regulated, treating them treated like utilities. The idea is to foster net neutrality, so all data flowing across the Internet is treated equally.

What would the new regulation mean for consumers?  

Internet service providers don’t like the idea of being regulated like a phone company. They say that would pave the way for more taxes on consumers, like those that appear on phone bills. But Congress has prohibited state and local governments from collecting new Internet taxes. So what about federal taxes?

“We don’t know which way the FCC is going to go on any particular provision,” says Jodie Griffin, a senior staff attorney for the consumer group Public Knowledge. The FCC could add a universal service fee to your Internet bill, she says. The fee already appears on phone bills and is used in part to extend phone service to high-cost areas at reasonable rates. But Griffin says the total amount collected might not change. 

“So there will be some people who are not paying now who would be paying something, and there will be other people who are paying now who will be paying less,” she says. 

Other consumer advocates say the FCC could delve into the issue of Internet privacy.

“We’ll have a lot more privacy tomorrow than we do today,” says Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.  The FCC could use its new authority to prevent tracking on the Internet, he says, but the key word is "could."

Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of law and computer science at Harvard University, says: “Everybody can keep powder dry.  I don’t think there are any immediate changes."

FCC officials seem to be just focusing on net neutrality, Zittrain says. “These are not wild-eyed radicals somehow wanting to blow up the system,” he says.

Zittrain says these are all things the FCC could do, if it wanted to – and that’s a big if.

Curious about what net neutrality means?

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What's changed in the credit ratings business?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-03 10:05

Quick refresher: When mortgage-backed securities and derivatives suddenly collapsed into a black hole of toxic assets in 2008, people immediately asked why credit ratings agencies had listed them as good investments.

And then people sued the credit agencies.

Standard and Poor's, one of country’s top ratings agencies, just settled $1.38 billion in lawsuits with 19 states and the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice and the California Public Employee Retirement System. Last month, the agency paid $86 million to settle charges with the Securities and Exchanges Commission and several State Attorneys General. And now, it’s Moody’s turn to be probed by the Department of Justice.

Has anything changed since 2008 in how credit ratings agencies do business?

“The whole industry and certainly Standard and Poor’s has been transformed over recent years,” says Adam Schuman, chief legal officer of S&P Ratings Services. The SEC has expanded regulatory oversight, with an entire department focused just on ratings agencies. 

Standard and Poor’s says it now has a governance board that includes SEC-certified independent board members to oversee how the firm manages conflict of interest risk, and that S&P conducts investigations into the quality of its ratings and compliance by its employees. Schuman also says those employees are evaluated for their adherence to company rules designed to protect the quality of ratings. 

But critics are still strident, arguing that no matter how conflicts are managed, the incentives to inflate ratings still exist. "The fundamental conflict of interest that has led to this litigation and massive settlements still exists," says Daniel Drosman, an attorney with Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd who has successfully sued ratings agencies. "You have ratings agencies being paid by the institutions whose bonds they are grading."

Bill Harrington, an independent researcher and former Moody’s employee, goes further. He says the problems don't stop with ratings agencies but extend among the many other parties to any complex financial instrument. “It’s the credit rating agencies, the bank underwriters and the counsel looking at a deal’s merits, and the auditors ... none of them gets paid unless the deal closes with a triple-A rating.”

How Fish Could Change What It Means For Food To Be Organic

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 09:37

The USDA is considering a set of rules for certifying farmed fish as organic. But some consumer groups say the recommendations don't go far enough to meet the strict standards of other organic foods.

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Life In The 'New' Washington: In Your Face! No, In YOUR Face!

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 09:35

The 114th Congress so far has displayed all the dominant traits inherited from its parents – the 113th and 112th congresses. It's all about honoring past promises and settling old scores.

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Pope Declares Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero A Martyr

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 09:02

The Archbishop was an outspoken voice against human rights abuses during the Salvadoran Civil war. He was killed while giving mass in 1980. The Pope's decree sets the stage for beatification.

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Not Just Monopoly Money: Some Games Ship With Real Cash In France

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 08:50

While one Monopoly box will include the equivalent of about $23,500, Hasbro says 79 others will include hundreds of euros mixed in with the game's colorful money.

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ISIS Video Appears To Show Jordanian Pilot Being Burned Alive

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 08:31

Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh has been held by the group since his capture in December. Jordan had said it was prepared to trade Kaseasbeh for an Iraqi militant.

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Justice Dept. Settles S&P Lawsuit

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 08:26

Standard and Poor's is expected to settle a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department over the quality of the firm's ratings during the years before the financial crisis.

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In First Photos Since August, Cuba's Fidel Castro Meets With Student Leader

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 08:07

They came just weeks after rumors surfaced yet again that the former Cuban president, now 88, had died.

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Quiz: Saving college savings from taxes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-03 08:06

President Obama backed away from a proposal to tax 529 college savings accounts, which 3 percent of Americans use.

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Harper Lee Plans To Publish A New Novel Featuring 'Mockingbird' Hero

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 07:50

More than 50 years after the release of her classic — and only — novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee plans to publish a second. The newly unearthed book, Go Set a Watchman, will be published in July.

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New York State Clamps Down On Herbal Supplements

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 07:38

State's attorney general asks four major retailers to pull pills because they don't contain what they claim. Tests show supplements are often filled with cheap ingredients, including houseplants.

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A Rise In The Civilian Death Toll As Ukraine Fighting Increases

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 07:34

At least eight civilians have been killed in the past 24 hours and 22 wounded in fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk.

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