National News

Let's give a hand to the X-ray

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-26 11:08

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up Thursday:  

  • In Washington, the Labor Department releases its final fourth-quarter gross domestic product report.
  • President Obama continues his spring trip with a visit to Vatican City where he's scheduled to meet with His Holiness Pope Francis.
  • The National Association of Realtors releases its February pending home sales index.
  • And speaking of homes, Graceland, home to Elvis Presley, was declared a national historic landmark eight years ago.
  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee discusses "Strengthening the Federal Student Loan Program for Borrowers."
  • On March 27, 1998, the FDA approved Viagra.
  • Lastly, physicist and Nobel Laureate Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was born on March 27, 1845. While working with electromagnetic radiation he took a picture of his wife's hand revealing her bones. Fortunately, they weren't broken. Voila, the first X-ray!

New Dwarf Planet Found At The Solar System's Outer Limits

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-26 11:01

The tiny world is a pink-hued ball of ice in an area of space once thought to be relatively empty. But the new findings hint of other small objects — and perhaps an unseen planet bigger than Earth.

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Movie theaters move beyond the ticket price

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-26 10:50

The president of the National Association of Theater Owners, John Fithian, just announced plans to test the idea of offering discounted movie tickets one day a week. He said he is working with one state in particular -- but wouldn't name it. Box office attendance is on the decline in this country, and yet, at the same time, box office revenue hit an all-time high in 2013.

The simple explanation is that fewer people are going to the movies, but they are paying more for their tickets. Mostly we're talking about 3-D movies, which are more expensive. But higher ticket prices aren't necessarily great news for theater owners. Theaters have to share box office revenue with studios, says business professor William Greene of the Stern School of Business at NYU.

So it's not always in their best interest to raise ticket prices. And for the most part they haven't. When adjusted for inflation, seeing a movie today isn't much more expensive than it was decades ago.

"Most of the revenue theater owners make is through concessions and ancillary revenues," says *Abraham Ravid. That ancillary revenue includes money that theaters are now charging studios to show trailers for upcoming films, like Divergent.

 

Because tickets are already relatively cheap, a discount day probably would not raise attendance dramatically, but it could be a good marketing strategy. Ravid says: "Nevertheless, you would expect the decline in theater attendance will continue as more ways of delivering movies become available."

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Abraham Ravid's name. The text has been corrected.

For movie theaters, the price of a ticket really isn't the point

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-26 10:50

The president of the National Association of Theater Owners, John Fithian, just announced plans to test the idea of offering discounted movie tickets one day a week. He said he is working with one state in particular -- but wouldn't name it. Box office attendance is on the decline in this country and yet at the same time box office revenue hit an all-time high in 2013.

The simple explanation is that fewer people are going to the movies, but they are paying more for their tickets. Mostly we're talking about 3D movies, which are more expensive. But higher ticket prices aren't necessarily great news for theater owners. Theaters have to share box office revenue with studios, says business professor William Greene of the Stern School of Business at NYU.

So it's not always in their best interest to raise ticket prices. And for the most part they haven't. When adjusted for inflation, seeing a movie today isn't much more expensive than it was decades ago.

"Most of the revenue theater owners make is through concessions and ancillary revenues," says Abraham Rabid. That ancillary revenue includes money that theaters are now charging studios to show trailers for upcoming films, like Divergent.

 

Because tickets are already relatively cheap, a discount day probably would not raise attendance dramatically, but it could be a good marketing strategy, Rabid says "Nevertheless, you would expect the decline in theater attendance will continue as more ways of delivering movies become available."

Are college football players employees?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-26 10:45

In a decision by the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago, football players at Northwestern University are now recognized as employees of the university and are able to hold union elections.

Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago explained the ruling in a statement:

 "The record makes clear that the Employer's scholarship players are identified and recruited in the first instance because of their football prowess and not because of their academic achievement in high school."

Ohr gave the rationale that the players are employees because they receive compensation in the form of scholarships. He said the players are subject to the employer's control in their performance, which directly benefits the university.

This is consistent with the history of the NCAA, which didn’t start paying players until the 1940s, according to sports economists.

"At the beginning of the NCAA, in 1905, they stipulated no scholarships at all because scholarships were a form of compensation," said Andrew Zimbalist at Smith College.

Zimbalist said that the ruling only applies to private colleges, so it doesn't apply for the majority of schools in the highest levels of college football, since most of those institutions are state universities.

Zimbalist said that if the players at Northwestern do unionize, then the NCAA will disqualify them on the grounds that college athletics are amateur. However, he said the possibility of unionization comes with other benefits.

"Say they want a cost of living adjustment or they want to have catastrophic injury insurance for those players who are injured and can't go on to play in the pros," said Zimbalist. "Then they could stay within the NCAA rules and presumably they could then trigger other universities that are private to unionize and asks for the same thing."

Northwestern has announced that it will appeal the ruling to the entire National Labor Relations Board in Washington.

The Sometimes Tricky Relations Between Popes And Presidents

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-26 10:35

For decades, U.S. presidents have sought an audience with the pope, and President Obama will have one Thursday. But this wasn't always the case, and often there have been political differences.

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A 'Silent Killer' Returns: Live Chat With Filmmaker On Fighting TB

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-26 10:32

PBS traveled to the epicenter of a terrifying epidemic. We're chatting with the film's maker to learn how the world can stop drug-resistant tuberculosis.

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Map Warns Of Patches Susceptible To Landslides

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-26 10:30

The deadly mudslide in Washington occurred in an area that was seen as vulnerable. The U.S. Geological Survey maintains data on areas at risk of landslides.

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U.S. is running low on some basic medicines

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-26 10:25

The drip, drip of IV fluid at hospitals, the drug doctors give people having heart attacks and medicines for cancer patients are all in short supply.

“On any given day we’re tracking usually 300 drug products that are in shortage,” said Cynthia Reilly with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

She says, right now, the shortage of IV fluid is at the top of everyone’s critical list.

“It’s almost, really like not having access to water,” Reilly says. 

 “When we run out of absolute basics, like we’re running out of now, that’s when things get really frustrating,” said Erin Fox, director of drug information at the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics.

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the number of shortages tripled between 2007 and 2012. Sixty percent of the shortages are generic drugs, which are cheaper drugs.

“Drug manufacturing, in the U.S., is a business,” Fox says. “No company has an obligation to make any product, no matter how essential it is for patients.”

The FDA reports the number of new shortages has been falling since new rules went into place in 2012. But, says Capt. Valerie Jensen, associate director of the drug shortage program at the FDA, “some shortages are just not able to be avoided.”

Basic drug shortages are hard to fathom in a wealthy country like the U.S., but some of these drugs are produced by only one or two companies.

When a manufacturing line shuts down, or demand goes up, supplies run low.

Therapists' Apps Aim To Help With Mental Health Issues

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-26 10:20

There are lots of apps out there that claim to improve your mental health, but precious few have actually been tested to see if they work. Psychologists are starting to give that a try.

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Is Facebook just a big venture capitalist?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-26 10:18
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 17:00 JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

A big logo created from pictures of Facebook users worldwide is pictured in the company's Data Center, its first outside the US on November 7, 2013 in Lulea, in Swedish Lapland.

Facebook is buying Oculus VR for $2 billion. A Virtual Reality company.  Really? 

Yes. Not because Facebook thinks people are thirsting to experience their status updates in a more ‘realistic way’, but because it thinks Virtual Reality is going to be the next big thing. 

 “They’re really trying to become a  holding company if you will,” explains David Rogers at Columbia’s School of Business. “They want to own a key stake in all the major platforms for social connection.”

That’s “all fine well and good,” says David Nelson, chief strategist at Belpointe Asset Management. Fine, if Facebook wants to treat its acquisitions like a venture capitalist. But Nelson – like the many investors who sold shares of Facebook on the news – wanted Facebook to give him hard numbers:  future earnings, monetization, anything with a $ sign at the end of it. 

“They’re not able to do that. They’re just saying trust us this is going to be amazing,” he says. “And we’re looking five six seven even ten years out for the return, I think that’s too far. At least for me. I sold my stock after the what’s app deal.

This not uncommon reaction may involve a difference in culture between Silicon Valley and Wall Street as far as innovation is concerned.  Victor Hwang, CEO of T2VentureCreations, a Silicon Valley Venture firm puts it this way:  “On Wall Street, the biggest fear is missing the numbers, not making earnings.  In Silicon Valley, in the startup world, the biggest fear is obsolescence.  Because obsolence is the equivalent of death.” 

He says looking only at a future earnings stream misses the fact that in an environment where industries are routinely disrupted and transformed, the foundations of earnings streams are vulnerable.  There are existential costs to not innovating – something that can happen to any company, no matter how dazzling it appears at the moment. 

“It wasn’t that long ago that Microsoft was the cool company, now it’s a dinosaur,” says Hwang.  Even Google is losing its sheen, he says.  “I think Mark Zuckerberg asks himself every morning: how do we not become a dinosaur?” 

All of that said, an investment of two billion dollars is no small gamble.  Unfortunately, hindsight is the only way to see if it pays off.  As Hwang put it, Facebook’s gamble with Oculus is “either extremely visionary or extremely foolhardy, and that’s the thing about innovation – you won’t know until later.”

Facebook's VC shopping list 

by Tobin Low

With a host of high profile acquisitions in recent years, Facebook has become that friend who has to own the coolest, most expensive thing before anyone else. With multibillion dollar purchases of Instagram, WhatsApp, and now Oculus VR, the social media giant has been putting its money towards buying the newest "it" thing. That doesn't mean they purchase only sure-bets, though. Facebook has acquired a lot of companies over the years, some of which offer very similar services and use very similar technologies to the big name companies already in their shopping cart. Always a bridesmaid, sighed MySpace. 

Here are a few other companies that Facebook has purchased over the years.

Beluga - Group Messaging

Long before the purchase of WhatsApp made your jaw drop with its $19 billion price tag, Facebook acquired Beluga - another mobile messaging service - in May of 2011. Unlike previous acquisitions where they essentially bought the talent but not necessarily the technology, Facebook stated that they wanted to make use of Beluga's product in addition to adding its designers to their team. Later that year, Beluga was shut down after its design was integrated into Facebook Messenger.

Lightbox Photo Sharing App

Even after its $1 billion purchase of Instagram, Facebook purchased another mobile photo-sharing service called Lightbox. The app allowed android users to filter photographs and then share them to social media. Sound familiar? Though the Lightbox team and Facebook alike made it clear that the aquisition was more about working on engaging Facebook mobile users as opposed to maintaining Lightbox as a separate entity. The app was shut down shortly after the acquisition.

American Farm Bureau Federation FB.com

This one's a little strange. Back in February of 2011, Facebook purchased the "FB.com" domain name from the American Farm Bureau Federation so that internal emails could be anchored to Facebook.com. What wasn't made immediately clear was that the purchase price was $8.5 million dollars. That little fun fact was revealed by a not so subtle announcement at the Farm Bureau's annual meeting in Atlanta.

Marketplace for Wednesday, March 26, 2014by Sabri Ben-AchourPodcast Title: Is Facebook the biggest VC in the game?Story Type: News StorySyndication: Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond: No

PODCAST: Facebook buys Oculus, and its headaches

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-26 09:53
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 10:26 ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Attendees wear Oculus Rift HD virtual reality head-mounted displays as they play EVE: Valkyrie, a multiplayer virtual reality dogfighting shooter game, at the Intel booth at the 2014 International CES, January 9, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Orders for expensive, longer-lasting things went up briskly last month with durable goods up 2.2 percent. That's a nice enough sign, but it might not be more than that. David Kelly, the chief global strategist with JP Morgan-Chase joined us to discuss.

Meanwhile, Facebook shelled out $2 billion in cash and stock for a company that makes a headset that lets users look around digital environments. The 20-month-old company, Oculus, is viewed as a potential leader in the virtual reality gaming industry. Some users though, report an issue with Rift that could impact its growth: motion sickness.

Plus: Where’s the beef? As a nation, we might really need to know that. For the first time in more than a century, Americans are eating more chicken than beef. Why is poultry taking flight?

Marketplace Morning Report for Wednesday, March 26, 2014by David BrancaccioPodcast Title: PODCAST: Facebook buys Oculus, and its headachesSyndication: All in onePMPApp Respond: No

Syrian aid that hits home

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-26 09:15
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 11:44 Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Refugees from Syria collect blankets and supplies from the UNHCR as they arrive at the Za’atari refugee camp on January 30, 2013 in Mafrq, Jordan.

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The war in Syria has sparked one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Millions of people have fled their homes and are in need of assistance.

Humanitarian organizations say raising money for victims of a complex conflict can be a challenge, particularly when compared to a dramatic natural disaster.

"In the case of the Haiti earthquake, Oxfam America was able to raise over $30 million from the American public," said Noah Gottschalk, a senior humanitarian policy advisor with Oxfam. "Most recently, with Typhoon Haiyan, we we've raised over $6 million. In the case of Syria, we've raised less than $1 million."

Syria's conflict, by the numbers

2,551, 712 | refugees registered with the UNCHR

221,791 | refugees in Iraq

587,308 | refugees in Jordan

135,451 | refugees in Egypt

985,346 | refugees in Lebanon

6,500,000 | displaced inside of Syria

9,300,000 | in need of aid inside Syria

100,000+ | killed (Mar '11 - Sept '13) The UN stopped updating the death toll in Syria in September, 2013, citing difficulties with obtaining accurate numbers.

3 million | living in hard-to-reach areas inside of Syria

240,000 | living under siege

Some aid groups have begun a new approach: attempts to "bring the conflict home" to donors, by asking them to imagine if it was them -- or their children -- who needed help.

Save the Children released this video, of a young girl whose life is shattered by war. She is British, not Syrian, and it is set in London, not Damascus. The video has 26 million views so far, and donations to Save the Children's peer-to-peer network more than quadrupled upon its release.

SOS Children's Villages, meanwhile, saw a video produced by the organization's Norwegian chapter go unexpectedly viral. "Would you give Johannes your jacket?" the video asks, and shows strangers interacting on hidden camera with a shivering boy alone at a bus stop on a winter day in Oslo. The video was intended for Norwegian viewers, but to date it has 13 million viewers from across the world. What was expected to be a small, local appeal has instead raised more than $350,000.

Marketplace for Wednesday, March 26, 2014by Noel KingPodcast Title: Syrian aid that hits homeStory Type: FeatureSyndication: Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond: No

Photo: Pothole Tries To Eat Pothole Repair Truck

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-26 08:50

Winter weather that doesn't seem to want to end has done its damage to roads across much of the nation. In Michigan, one road-repair crew saw its truck sink into one tough pothole.

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Syrian aid that hits home

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-26 08:44

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The war in Syria has sparked one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Millions of people have fled their homes and are in need of assistance.

Humanitarian organizations say raising money for victims of a complex conflict can be a challenge, particularly when compared to a dramatic natural disaster.

"In the case of the Haiti earthquake, Oxfam America was able to raise over $30 million from the American public," said Noah Gottschalk, a senior humanitarian policy advisor with Oxfam. "Most recently, with Typhoon Haiyan, we we've raised over $6 million. In the case of Syria, we've raised less than $1 million."

Syria's conflict, by the numbers

2,551, 712 | refugees registered with the UNCHR

221,791 | refugees in Iraq

587,308 | refugees in Jordan

135,451 | refugees in Egypt

985,346 | refugees in Lebanon

6,500,000 | displaced inside of Syria

9,300,000 | in need of aid inside Syria

100,000+ | killed (Mar '11 - Sept '13) The UN stopped updating the death toll in Syria in September, 2013, citing difficulties with obtaining accurate numbers.

3 million | living in hard-to-reach areas inside of Syria

240,000 | living under siege

Some aid groups have begun a new approach: attempts to "bring the conflict home" to donors, by asking them to imagine if it was them -- or their children -- who needed help.

Save the Children released this video, of a young girl whose life is shattered by war. She is British, not Syrian, and it is set in London, not Damascus. The video has 26 million views so far, and donations to Save the Children's peer-to-peer network more than quadrupled upon its release.

SOS Children's Villages, meanwhile, saw a video produced by the organization's Norwegian chapter go unexpectedly viral. "Would you give Johannes your jacket?" the video asks, and shows strangers interacting on hidden camera with a shivering boy alone at a bus stop on a winter day in Oslo. The video was intended for Norwegian viewers, but to date it has 13 million viewers from across the world. What was expected to be a small, local appeal has instead raised more than $350,000.

Fewer People Are Getting Infections In Hospitals, But Many Still Die

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-26 08:01

More than 70,000 deaths a year are caused by hospital-acquired infections, a CDC survey of U.S. hospitals finds. The numbers are improving, doctors say, but not fast enough.

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Bogus Pills Found In Bottles Of Weight-Loss Drug In 7 States

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-26 07:58

The bottles that appear to have been tampered with contained tablets and capsules in various shapes and colors, rather than the turquoise capsule used for the over-the-counter medication alli.

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The Changing World Of Tech Requires A Woman's Eye

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-26 07:45

Tell Me More wraps up its "Women in Tech" series looking at the new ideas women are bringing to tech, and how they're encouraging young girls to get into the field. What lessons have been learned?

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Polygamy May Seem Like A Man's Dream, But Kenyan Women Are Not Happy

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-26 07:45

Kenyan lawmakers recently passed a bill that legalizes polygamy without a wife's consent. Member of Parliament Annah Nyokabi Gathecha explains why she walked out of the voting session.

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Walter Mosley: To End Race, We Have To Recognize 'White' Doesn't Exist

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-26 07:45

Walter Mosley's writing inspired Hollywood filmmakers and a generation of black writers. He's now being honored at the National Black Writers' Conference. He talks about the award and his new book.

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