National News

Some Google Street View Cars Now Track Pollution Levels

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 17:28

Google's already tested three of the pollution-sensor equipped cars in Denver, and is currently trying them out in the Bay Area.

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Debris In The Indian Ocean May Have Come From Vanished Airliner

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 16:14

A source tells NPR a piece of wing found on an island appears to be from a large passenger plane. Other media say sources link it to a Boeing 777 like the Malaysian jet that disappeared last year.

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Michel Platini Is Running For President Of Scandal-Plagued FIFA

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 15:40

Currently the president of European soccer's governing body and a FIFA vice president, he is considered a heavy favorite. The presidential contest follows a major corruption scandal.

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Trade negotiations continue in Hawaii

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 14:37

In Maui, Hawaii, negotiators from 12 Pacific Rim countries are in the last stages of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The White House has been working on the deal for years, and with Congress' passage of a fast track bill, negotiations are reaching an end — the deadline is Friday. In Maui, trade negotiations are going on in hotel conferences rooms. Lobbyists, media and advisers are taking over the usually tourist-filled area to work out the kinks: Canadian milk trade, drug patents and labor law are among the last sticking points.

There's huge pressure to wrap up negotiations this week; the longer they last, the more likely they are to impact the upcoming election cycle and fall apart. 

Tracey Samuelson reports from Maui on how the trade negotiations are progressing and what's left to work out. 

Click on the media player above to hear more.

Tom Cruise embarks on another Mission Impossible

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 14:23

The fifth installment of the "Mission Impossible" franchise, "Rogue Nation," opens Friday.

Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt in a role that's been a consistent win for the aging action hero. Even amidst a rocky decade, this iteration of the franchise was a strong point for Cruise.

Wesley Morris, who writes on film for Grantland, says that Cruise "is a man who would honestly die for you," and it comes across in the "Mission Impossible" films. Cruise, who does his own stunts, is hanging from planes and holding his breath again in "Rogue Nation." 

Morris says the latest movie holds up — it's fun without poking fun at a dedicated audience.

"People like Cruise in this part," Morris says, even if the role has become a way for him to prove himself as a still-capable action hero. 

Morris has faith in Cruise and his latest film. "It does not feel like a cash grab the way that another 'Star Wars' saga feels like a cash grab," he says.

Click on the media player above to hear more.

SpaceShipTwo 'Pilot Was Thrown From The Vehicle' High In Atmosphere

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 13:24

SpaceShipTwo broke apart soon after it reached supersonic speeds and an altitude of around 50,000 feet. Its pilot says his parachute opened in a "gentlemanly" fashion, after he had fallen for a while.

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Europe's Taste For Caviar Is Putting Pressure On A Great Lakes Fish

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 13:12

Scientists say lake herring, a key fish in Lake Superior's food web, is suffering because of mild winters and Europe's appetite for roe. Some say the species may be at risk of "collapse."

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From The Silents To Millennials, Debt Burdens Span The Generations

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 13:10

The silent generation is still paying off mortgages and baby boomers aren't done with student loans. A new study by The Pew Charitable Trusts also shows fewer millennials are taking on mortgages.

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Migrants risk all to get into Britain

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 13:00

A man died in the French port of Calais as hundreds of migrants tried to enter the Chanel Tunnel to cross illegally into the United Kingdom. The 20-year-old from Sudan was thought to have been crushed by a truck. He’s the ninth person to die attempting the crossing this summer. Several thousand migrants are camped out in Calais, and every night some of them try to jump on a truck or train and smuggle themselves through the tunnel into Britain.

This so-called “migrant activity" has caused massive disruption in trade and traffic between Britain and Europe, and it’s raised big questions about migration and asylum.

Why are so many migrants desperate to settle in Britain? Why – if they are genuine refugees – do they not claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, like Germany or France?   And why have the French not done more to contain the crisis in Calais? 

Click on the media player above to hear more.

Amazon's vision of a drone highway in the sky

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 13:00

What will Amazon’s drone highway in the sky look like? 

Probably not a drone highway. Amazon unveiled a proposal where low-level air space would be carved out for drones: 200 to 400 feet would be reserved for high-speed transit drones. Below, there would be space for low -speed local drone traffic, and above would be a no-fly buffer zone to keep drones out of manned-vehicle air space, aka flight paths.

“It’ll be far enough above that you won't have a constant stream of noise or a visual blight, but low enough that it would not worry pilots,” says Ryan Calo, professor of law at the University of Washington. 

Amazon shipping drones would share the space with drones doing other tasks like taking air samples, scanning railroad tracks and taking aerial video of a birthday party. 

Amazon's proposal


Calo says we'll still be able to see the sky. "I think it’s going to be sporadic. I don’t think drones are suddenly going to darken the skies,” he says.

NASA’s Safe Autonomous System Operations Project has been working with businesses like Amazon to lay the groundwork for unmanned drones to navigate the skies safely. Parimal Kopardekar manages SASOP and describes how drones would collectively consult with a cloud-based source of flight rules.

“You connect into our system and see all the constraints on flight:  geo-fencing, airports, wildfires, temporary flight restrictions," he says. "We show all the weather-related things or community-related concerns like noise.” NASA's system would also let users create their own trajectories.

Kopardekar says you won’t necessarily see structured lanes or corridors in the sky unless demand becomes so dense there is no other way to manage. 

“It’s not a fixed structure,” he says. “You may see a vehicle that may go over some parts of air space one day, a different airspace the next day, depending on application and demand.”

Drones will need to clear some technological hurdles before such a system can become operational. They'll  need to be able to sense and avoid one another, buildings and things being thrown or shot at them. They will need to cope with weather or unexpected changes in airspace rules.

“That technology is underway,” says Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal affairs for drone maker DJI. “But all those more sophisticated technologies are something the [Federal Aviation administration] has put off for now because they don’t quite know how to regulate that.”

In fact, the FAA’s preliminary rules on drones don’t allow for unmanned drones at all, let alone an unmanned system to manage them.

 “It would be a shame if we had to wait another 10 years” after all the technology and capacity is in place because the FAA hadn’t kept up, Schulman says.

Shareholders' review of Yelp? Not five stars.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 13:00

Shareholders of the consumer review site Yelp are none too happy with the company's performance in the second quarter of 2015. Yelp announced today it lost $1.3 million. That follows equally disappointing losses the quarter before that. Truth is, there are now plenty more places people can go to find the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia or the hottest tapas place in San Francisco. And the competition for Yelp is only getting stiffer.

Neeru Paharia, who teaches marketing at Georgetown University, opens the Yelp app on her mobile phone. Her query? Simple enough: restaurants in Washington, D.C.

"It's sorted by best match, which, you know is ... like, what does that even mean?" she says.

What does that even mean? Critics of the site claim that Yelp filters search results based on its advertisers. The restaurants and businesses that buy ads get reviews closer to the top, they say. In reality, Yelp bases its results on what it knows about you, says John Byers, a computer science professor at Boston University.

"So are you a four-star diner?" he asks. "Are you somebody who wants to do something more casual?"

Yelp's algorithms do suppress a significant number of reviews, Byers says — the ones that it thinks are fake.

"Those algorithms are imperfect, so they do make mistakes," he says.

Another company that loves algorithms? Google. Which brings us to Yelp's other problem, according to Ben Edelman, who teaches tech strategy at the Harvard Business School.

"When you type in the name of a restaurant, it's by no means guaranteed that Google will send you to the Yelp page about that restaurant, nor for any other local business," he says. "Indeed, these days Google likes to send you to its own page."

Yelp has the traffic. Every month about 83 million users visit Yelp from their mobile devices.

"But how does that translate into actually making money, into selling ads, into convincing advertisers to pay or into something else?" Edelman asks.

He said those are details Yelp has yet to figure out, along with almost every other social media startup.

Looking for the bright side in Bakken's bust

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 13:00

Thousands of workers moved to rural North Dakota to take jobs in the Bakken oil field. Now, with global oil prices half what they were a year ago, there are fewer rigs, fewer trucks on the country roads and fewer jobs. Don Williams, who lives and works in Ross, says the bust could have at least one positive aspect.

Click the media player above to hear the interview with Don Williams.

Todd's series, "Black Gold Boom," is an initiative of Prairie Public and the Association for Independents in Radio.



A rural town hates the coming of high-speed trains

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 13:00

California's high-speed rail project will pump billions of dollars into the state. While cities like Palmdale welcome the bullet train and its economic benefits, some neighboring towns hate the planned rail project. Consider the small town of Acton.

Within Los Angeles County, you can't get closer to cowboy country than Acton. It's up in the foothills. A town of 10,000, Acton has two groceries and an equal number of stores that sell feed for horses.

"If they're coming to Acton, they're willing to forgo a Wal-Mart and a shopping mall," said Pam Wolter, who has been a real estate agent here for 25 years. "They're coming here for the peace and quiet and for the rural lifestyle."

All the homes in Acton have big lots — at least one acre. Wolter says the average price for a three-bedroom, two-bath house is about $500,000.

She says the proposed routes for the high-speed train scare away prospective buyers and make current residents think about selling.

"There [are] a lot of changes that are going to happen to Acton," she says. "And people are already getting concerned. If they're close to retirement age, and thinking they should move on now, while they can. So we see, as the real estate industry, a serious decline in property value."

Wolter drives me out to visit the actress Tippi Hedren. She's most famous for starring in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." Now she runs the Shambala Preserve — a sanctuary for rescued big cats, like Zeus, the 500-pound lion.

"Zeus was living in Texas," Hedren says. "The son was graduating. And the parents said, 'We'll either get you a Lexus or a lion. One of the two.' And he said, 'I'll take the lion.'"

When Zeus grew too big for the Texas family, he moved here.

Hedren says one of the proposed routes for the high-speed rail would cross her property. "If it came through here, we couldn't be here because of the noise level," she says. "The Shambala preserve would not be able to exist here."

I asked if it wasn't fair to ask people along the planned train route to make a sacrifice for the sake of the environment, since the project would likely reduce the number of people driving in cars. But Hedren doesn't think consumers will really switch.

"Californians are not train riders," she says. "We're really not. When we go to San Francisco, we fly."

Hedren thinks the bullet train is obsolete before it's even been built.

Down the road, Ray and Elizabeth Billet grow peaches and pears. Her grandfather homesteaded here back in 1891. Sometimes they rent the property to movie producers.

"I had another one yesterday who wanted to film in August, and I says, 'Nothin' doin'," Elizabeth says. "Because we'll be picking peaches."

One of the proposed routes for the high-speed rail would cut across the Billets' property. Ray says they had planned to develop some of their land, which is zoned for small houses on 5-acre lots.

"That's gone," he says. "Nobody's going to want to live next to a damn railroad that's going 220 miles an hour."

And because almost everyone relies on wells, Ray says construction of the high-speed rail will ruin the town's drinking water.

Elizabeth says the project doesn't make economic sense for the state. "They don't have the funding for it."

After hearing so many complaints about the cost of the project, I turned to Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. He expects the final funding will come from the private sector through a partnership with the state, and that the price tag could be less than the projected $68 billion.

"The bid prices are coming in considerably below our estimates," he says. "I'm confident that we're actually going to be able to drive down the cost of delivering this program."

Morales said the state's population is growing, and it needs more infrastructure.

"When you do a comparison, the cost of building more roads and more airports is about two to three times what the cost of high-speed rail will be," he says.

That argument doesn't carry a lot of weight around Acton.

The state won't make a final decision about the route for high-speed rail for at least a year. So, residents still have time to persuade officials to move the train's tracks somewhere else.

Uber will tell you your passenger rating now

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 13:00

I'm at the same time appalled and embarrassed.

The good people at Quartz — whom we produce a podcast with, by the way, called Actuality — noticed Uber has decided to let you know your user rating if you ask for it.

You know how users can rate drivers? They rate you, too.

Which gets me to the appalling and embarrassing part.

Turns out I clock in as an Uber rider at a mere three and a half stars out of five.

Uber will tell you your passenger ranking now

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 13:00

I'm at the same time appalled and embarrassed.

The good people at Quartz — whom we produce a podcast with, by the way, called Actuality — noticed Uber has decided to let you know your user rating if you ask for it.

You know how users can rate drivers? They rate you, too.

Which gets me to the appalling and embarrassing part.

Turns out I clock in as an Uber rider at a mere three and a half stars out of five.

Once Outlaws, Young Lords Find A Museum Home For Radical Roots

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 12:55

Inspired by the Black Panthers, the Young Lords were formed in New York City by a group of Puerto Rican youth in 1969. Their history is now on display in a new exhibition.

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One Point Of View On How Lions Can Earn Money For Africa

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 12:53

Cecil the lion died in an apparently illegal hunt in Zimbabwe. But legal trophy hunting can bring in big bucks for Africa nations. Our interviewee thinks tourism is a far more profitable venture.

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Birkin Bag Is Fine But Namesake Actress Wants 'Birkin Croco' Rebranded

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 12:51

After seeing a video that PETA published on the treatment of crocodiles, Jane Burkin asks Hermes to remove her name from the line's crocodile-skin version.

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California's Drought Spurs Unexpected Effect: Eco-Friendly Development

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 12:38

In the state's agricultural Central Valley, planning is under way to transform peach and plum fields into Kings River Village, a solar-powered community that will send wastewater back into an aquifer.

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Politics Overshadows U.S. Tech Firms' Hopes For Entering Iran

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 12:38

With a young, well-educated population, Iran has the potential to be a boom market for tech. But sanctions and negative political implications for doing business there seem to limit prospects.

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