National News

Not So Happy Hour For Beck's

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 18:12

A class action suit charged the brewer hid its true roots, in St.Louis. A court agrees and orders payments to customers — larger ones ones to people who kept receipts.

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Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns Is No. 1 NBA Draft Pick

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 16:28

Towns was widely expected to be chosen first. He and the other top two picks each played only one season in college.

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Univision Cuts Ties With Trump After Comments About Immigrants

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 16:12

Unvision is severing its relationship with Donald Trump following Trump's comments during his presidential announcement speech that immigrants from Mexico were 'rapists,' among other things.

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Supreme Court Thwarts Efforts To Put Obamacare On Life Support

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 14:58

Thursday's court ruling upheld subsidies nationwide under the Affordable Care Act. And unlike the court's previous Obamacare ruling, the majority was unified and the tone was broad.

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Lawmakers Put Brakes On Resolution To Ban Mississippi Flag From Capitol

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 14:02

The measure, proposed by Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, would authorize the removal of that state's flag on the House side of the Capitol complex.

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Oxford English Dictionary Adds New Words, Offers Clarity On Old Ones

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 13:58

The OED unveils some modern coinage and explains a Supreme Court justice's choice of words.

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Farewell, Low-Fat: Why Scientists Applaud Lifting A Ban On Fat

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 13:58

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report that came out in February contained some pretty game-changing advice that's largely been overlooked: Don't worry about the total amount of fat you eat.

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U.S. Army Begins Training Ukrainian Soldiers

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 13:50

The U.S. won't give the Ukrainian army lethal weapons to fight Russian-backed rebels, but it has sent 300 trainers to help the beleaguered, bedraggled Ukrainian military.

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Federal plan to rate colleges fizzles

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-25 13:00

After a long wait and an earful from critics, the Obama Administration has scaled back its plans to rate colleges on measures like how much money students earn after they graduate, and how much debt those students take on. Instead, education officials plan to put out a website later this summer, and let consumers compare colleges on their own.

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief on college campuses.

“Today’s announcement gives us optimism,” says Marvin Krislov, president of Oberlin College. “We still want to see what it looks like, but we think the government’s going in the right direction and we’re encouraged by that.”

After putting colleges “on notice” in his State of the Union speech in 2012, President Obama has backed away from plans to punish colleges that fail to keep costs down for students. The original proposal was not only to rate colleges on value, but to cut off federal dollars to those that didn’t measure up.

“We think the ultimate accountability is a kind of public accountability that’s created by a marketplace of really good information,” says Ted Mitchell, U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

He wouldn’t say exactly what information the new consumer tool will provide. According to a "framework" proposed late last year, possible metrics include employment and earnings data, as well as graduation rates. A lot of information on costs and graduation rates is already out there, on the department’s College Navigator website and a newer tool called the College Scorecard.

Rachel Fishman, with the New America Foundation, has been studying how students make college decisions. In a recent survey she shared with Marketplace, just 16 percent of students said they’d ever used those websites.

“There’s no guarantee that the students that are most vulnerable in their decision-making and who don’t have enough good information to make that decision are actually going to find a website from the Department of Education useful,” Fishman says.

Mitchell said the Department plans to do outreach so students know about the new tool. It’ll also share its data, whatever that turns out to be, so that others can experiment with how to present it. The federal government isn’t exactly known for its user-friendly websites.

Without some sort of ratings attached, the value of the new site could be limited, says Kim Clark, who writes about education for Money Magazine, where she developed her own college value rankings.

“Most people don’t think about this stuff all day like I do, and they don’t know which numbers they should be looking at,” she says. “Without expert guidance, all of these extra numbers might just be more noise and more confusion.”

Then again, she says, there’s a whole college rankings industry out there that profits from giving that kind of guidance. With this new data, she says, those rankings might get better.

 

 

Ex-convicts struggle to find work in Baltimore

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-25 12:59

In 1994, Baltimore won a federal contest aimed at alleviating poverty. Six cities received federal funds totaling $100 million and a slew of tax breaks for businesses and employers. Baltimore invested the money in job creation and job training for unemployed and underemployed people in the poorest neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods were called Empowerment Zones.

Pete Sevison remembers that about 15 years ago, his father took advantage of a small-business loan made possible through the Empowerment Zones. Sevison runs Petro Express, a fuel delivery company located in Baltimore's industrial Fairfield area. Sevison is exactly the type of job creator Baltimore hoped to retain. He has 22 employees, and says he starts his drivers at about $15/hour. Baltimore's minimum wage is $8/hour. Still, last winter Sevison had trouble finding seasonal help. He says the primary issue was that his company delivers to government buildings, so drivers must have clean records.

In cities across the country, having a criminal record can be a barrier to employment. Baltimore drew national attention in April, when protests erupted following the death of a young man named Freddie Gray in police custody. A study released in February by The Justice Policy Institute and the Prison Policy Initiative found Sandtown and neighboring Harlem Park have the highest number of incarcerated people in Baltimore. Every year, Maryland spends $17 million to jail people from Sandtown and Harlem Park.

A Marketplace analysis found the unemployment rate in Sandtown-Winchester is 22 percent. Nancy La Vigne, who directs the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center and who has studied prisoner re-entry in Baltimore, finds some laws governing where former inmates can work to be antiquated.

"In many jurisdictions the formerly incarcerated are unable to hold positions as barbers," La Vigne says. "Even though it's something they've trained for behind bars. Because as a barber or beautician you're wielding a sharp object." She finds the rules puzzling, in part because in her capacity as an expert, she sometimes gets calls from employers who are actively seeking employees who have served time.

"In truth, they have found that people with criminal records are really motivated to make good," La Vigne says.

Other Baltimore businesses have made it part of their mission to hire former inmates. GD Laminates in East Baltimore manufactures things like countertops and cabinets. The company was located in the city's Empowerment Zone, and owner Greg Dively got tax credits for his employees through the federal program. Another program offered him tax credits for hiring people who had served time. Over the years, he says, the results have been clear. 

"I've had better success hiring ex-cons then I did with people coming out of the neighborhood," Dively said. "They have to come to work every day. And they appreciate what I do for them. And at the same time I appreciate what they do for me."

Dively portrays these hiring practices as pure business pragmatism.  He's become particularly close to one employee, Kevin Parker, who started working at GD Laminates in 1999, after a long stint in prison.

"I would go to war with [Parker,]" Dively says. "He would go to war with me. I've made money with the guy. He's happy. He means something to me. He's got a wife, got a car, got a kid, got a house. It's a partnership between me and him."

The professional loyalty runs both ways. "He was patient with me, prior to learning," Parker says. "He could have said, 'Hey, you don't know that.' But he didn't. He said, 'try it again.'"

Parker keeps the first dollar he made working for Dively in his locker at GD Laminates. It is faded from years of contact with sawdust and chemicals. Parker says it represents the thing he needed most when he left prison: a good place to start.

With Obamacare upheld, health care firms exhale

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-25 12:59

Thursday's 6-3 Supreme Court vote upholding a major tenet of the Affordable Care Act means health insurers and health care providers are breathing a sigh of relief — this is the outcome they wanted — but that doesn’t mean they can rest. They're still in the process of figuring out how to thrive in this still-new health care environment.

Hospital stocks jumped eight to 15 percent as the ruling came down, a rare occurrence, says Jason McGorman, a healthcare analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

“The last time I’ve seen over 10 percent move for hospitals was back in 2012 when the Supreme Court last had the Affordable Care Act,” he says.

McGorman says Wall Street smiled on insurers and managed care companies today, too. It shows how this industry – one of the country’s largest – is "all-in" on Obamacare.

Drug makers, device manufactures, doctors and nurses have spent the past several years learning the ropes in this new era where they get paid based on better health, says PricewaterhouseCoopers' Ceci Connelly.

“I know it’s become a cliché, we’re moving from volume to value, but is the accurate shorthand,” she says.

As easy as that is to say, few really know how to provide more value. Insurers are trying to figure out how to price these new insurance policies they sell on the exchanges. Hospitals are trying to figure out how to treat more patients in outpatient clinics and in their homes. As these titans grope for answers, we are seeing many mergers — hospitals, physician practices, and recently, lots of talk about insurers merging.

“It tells me the industry is reorganizing itself,” says Leemore Dafny, a health care economist at Northwestern. “My concern is, is it reorganizing itself in a way that is likely to benefit us, the consumer? Unfortunately the evidence we have to date suggests that most consolidations are associated with higher prices,” she says.

Dafny says companies hope being bigger will help them navigate these new waters, and if not, at least shore up market share. And while more consolidation could mean higher costs, Dafny says this push toward value  —as hazy as it is — leaves her optimistic consumers will one day get more for their money.

There's an appetizer for that

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-25 12:56

You are what you eat, and so is your smartphone... or something.

CNBC reported on a new study from NPD group that breaks out the types of food bought by iPhone and Android users.

Apple fans are far more likely to order soup than Android users, who make up a large share of roast beef sandwich orders. 

Chicken strips? They're about equal. Check out the rest of the data here.

Making electricity demand match the supply

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-25 12:49

The grid control room at Østkraft, on the Danish island of Bornholm, is a mix of old and new. On one side of the room, huge computer monitors detail the flow of electricity throughout the system. On the other, printed circuit diagrams hang on 60s-era control boards with dancing needles. Lounging at a desk in a grey jumpsuit and thick eyeglasses, engineer Erik Malmkvist jams to early 90s dance music, while explaining that his job is to do as little as possible.

“When I shall do anything, it costs us money," he says. 

Malmkvist works for Østkraft, the utility on the Danish island of Bornholm. He's one of the engineers responsible for keeping the island's grid in balance.

Doing as little as possible has gotten more difficult in recent years though, as Bornholm has stepped up its share of renewable energy. It’s much easier to balance a system that relies on coal than on fluctuating power sources, like wind and solar. Malmkvist grabs a graph printing out of one of the analog machines on the wall.

“You can see here the wind, it goes up and down all the time," he says.

Bornholm gets half of its power from wind and solar. But of course,that power supply is intermittent, and doesn’t always match the times of day when people are using the most electricity. Malmkvist grabs another printout.

“All days look alike," he says. "You can see, people get up in the morning, about half past 5, and then they go to eat, then don’t do anything anymore.”

Right now, when demand spikes and the wind isn’t blowing, utilities like Østkraft ramp up production at their coal or gas plants, but Denmark is planning to be fossil-fuel free in its power sector by 2030, which means soon, that won’t be an option.

The main Østkraft power plant on the island of Bornholm, powered by coal, biomass and biogas.

So, instead of making supply meet demand, Østkraft is testing what it would take to make demand meet supply.

“Demand response has nothing at all to do with energy savings. It has to do with using the energy when it's there,” says Maja Bendtsen, who works for the utility and is in charge of a project called EcoGrid EU.

The project has been testing so-called demand response with roughly 2000 households on Bornholm for the last few years. But Bendtsen's first introduction to the idea of demand response came when she was a kid. Her family had a wind turbine and when the wind was blowing hard, they turned up all the radiator valves in the house.

“Because it was was windy and the wind turbine was spinning anyways, the energy was free and abundant,” she says.

The idea behind EcoGrid is the same: use electricity when there’s plenty of cheap, renewable power, and cut back when there isn’t. The project focuses on heating and cooling, which are among the biggest electricity users, but unlike when Bendtsen was a kid, the EcoGrid project automates it, so no one has to run around opening and closing radiator valves.

“As a participant in the project, you say which temperature do I want," Bendtsen says. If you want your house to be between 68 and 72 degrees, for example, the utility controls your heating to keep it within that range.

For the utility, that’s valuable: being able to temporarily shut off hundreds or thousands of heaters or air conditioners can keep the electricity grid in balance without having expensive, polluting power plants on standby and without building thousands of miles of new transmission lines.

“We are over-investing because we are not utilizing the energy we produce in a smart way," says Jørgen Christensen, the chief technology officer of Dansk Energi, the Danish energy association. He says it will be too costly to reach the country’s renewable energy goals without demand response. But convincing customers that there are benefits to allowing someone else to control their heating or electric car charging takes time.

“If it’s totally new for you, you say, ‘let’s wait and see what the neighbor does,'” Christensen says.

That might be the biggest barrier to demand response in Denmark, but what about elsewhere?

In the United States, there are residential demand response projects, but none of them use automation, which limits their potential benefit to the overall grid. Start talking about controlling people’s heating systems in a fiercely independent place like Wyoming, though, and well -- you can imagine how the conversation would go.

This reporting was supported in part by a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation. 

After Ben Affleck Scandal, PBS Postpones 'Finding Your Roots'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 12:49

The show came under fire after leaked emails revealed that the actor pressured show staff to hide the fact that one of his ancestors owned slaves.

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The Cycling World May Soon Bow Down Before Nairo Quintana

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 12:37

In 2013, a newcomer from Colombia passed almost everyone else and came in second in the Tour de France. This year, many think he'll take home the winning yellow jersey.

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After Sandusky, A Debate Over Whether Sex-Abuse Law Goes Too Far

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 12:30

Professors in Pennsylvania are upset over a new law that requires them to be fingerprinted and undergo thorough background checks. The law came in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.

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Funny or Die trying

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-25 12:17

It’s been almost eight years since Funny or Die's first viral video, “The Landlord,” took the Internet by storm. Over these years, they’ve dealt with a recession and a $600,000 movie flop, all while handling an enormous viewer following. They sat down for our series, Conversations from the Corner Office, to discuss how staying true to comedy allowed them to stay ahead of the curve.

CEO Dick Glover says Funny or Die isn’t just a name, it’s their business plan.

We live by the mantra: the creative drives the deal, not the deal drives the creative. Have I said that 5,000 times? We make what we hope is funny, great product. Period … And we will sink or swim on how good that is.

Just a year after they launched, the recession hit, and Glover says the company barely survived. In fact, a presentation by Funny or Die’s investor, Sequoia Capital, predicted that the company was doomed.

"The recession hit in 2008," Glover says. "[We got] the famous Sequoia Capital ‘Rest in Peace Good Times’ business presentation … I sat through [it] and wanted to throw up."

Funny or Die downsized, but made sure to stay true to their content and business mantra. Despite the tough economic climate, they were able to grow an enormous following. Glover credits part of this success to maintaining a “start-up” mentality.

I would be very concerned if we ever lost that sense that "Hey, we’re a start-up." And that’s what I learned at ESPN. ESPN, as it became this huge, huge company, I mean huge company … never lost the sense that it’s a sports fan. If a company can be … a person, you know, ESPN’s the guy that you’re wanting to tweet about the game with last night, or in the old days, stand next to the water cooler and talk to. So we want the same thing. We want to make sure this culture does not change as, hopefully, we continue to get bigger and bigger.

President of Production Mike Farah says it's because they aren't afraid to fail, that they can learn, grow, and succeed.

"I've messed up a lot," he says. "I cost us $600,000 on a movie that didn't happen. But what can you do? You just move on."

Often, Glover adds, it's this risk-taking that attracts talent to their studios in the first place, and is what will allow them to create innovative content in the future.

We’re not afraid to fail. We do tons of videos that people don’t like. In fact, one of our selling points to A-list talent is: ‘You’re in an environment that by and large does not tolerate failure…with us if you do some crazy idea and it doesn’t work, who cares? But if it works it gets as much attention as anything else you’ve done.'

Study Reveals What Happens During A 'Glacial Earthquake'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 11:54

Scientists have figured out how massive chunks of ice trigger these seismically-detectable events when they break off a glacier. The findings could help researchers track ice loss from glaciers.

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California Law To Curtail Vaccine Exemptions Clears Hurdle

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 11:33

If the bill passes out of the Legislature, the bill would then move to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown. He hasn't indicated whether he'll sign the bill.

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California Lawmakers Vote To Remove Vaccine Exemptions For Schoolchildren

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 11:27

A similar bill, which eliminates all but medical exemptions, has already passed the Senate. Gov. Jerry Brown has not said if he will sign it.

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