National News

Lunch With Monet, Dinner With Jackson Pollock

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 08:55

Two new books focus on the culinary lives of these two artists. Turns out, their approaches to food provide a new way of thinking about their two very different approaches to art.

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Pine Beetle timber boom could soon bust

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-23 08:51

When you hear the word “boom” in the West, you usually think of the energy industry, but in the last 15 years, a timber boom has taken over.

Thanks to the mountain pine beetle, a tiny ravenous bug that’s now chomped its way through over 40 million acres of forest in the U.S., forest managers have turned to the timber industry to clean up all that dead wood, leading to a surge in jobs and enterprise. 

But now, the bugs have almost eaten up all the host trees. And that raises the question, what’s next for the industry?

Hank Lucido looks just like a lumberjack out of a fairy tale with the big burly beard, the stocking cap and the boisterous laugh. Today, the company he manages, West Range Reclamations, is harvesting beetle-killed ponderosa pines on the Colorado-Wyoming border. He gives a holler and a log loader’s giant metal claw starts grabbing up several logs at a time and stacking them on a logging truck to ship for processing — even smaller branches and rotting logs.

“With a lot of our byproduct, we grind it up and we make the colored bark mulch. Then there are other places, such as dairies and horse barns that like to have wood shavings. We sell that product too,” Lucido says.

Lucido's company also supplies wood for products never before manufactured in the region, like pellets for heating stoves and biofuel for the energy grid. Timber industry jobs in Wyoming have increased by 25 percent in the last 10 years, but Lucido says all this work could soon come to an end. That’s because the quality of the wood available to the industry is deteriorating, fast. The pine beetle has killed all its best host trees and what’s left is rotting from the inside out.

Standing next to a pile of wood, Lucido jabs his finger into the pulpy center of one log.

“Some of this, when it gets this red rot to it, if you were to grind that, it would turn to dust. When you go to grab it and it crumbles, it’s not worth anything to us.”    

And it’s not worth anything to other businesses that depend on the lumber from pines, either, like Rich Arbour’s. He manufactures rustic furniture and sells it in his store, Mountain Woods in Laramie, Wyoming. He used to sell lots of dining tables and bunk beds made from blue stain, a unique-looking wood made from beetle-killed trees.

But now?

“We only have one, and it’s a particularly nice piece, and that’s this entertainment center here.”

He points at the streaks of reds and blues on the cabinet’s door.

“The beetles have infected the wood,” Arbour says, “the tree is trying to preserve itself, and it’s emitting enzymes. And the enzymes are what makes that color in the wood. It makes for pretty woods.”

He says when the pine beetle was a big deal in the news, people couldn’t get enough of blue stain furniture. But with the epidemic on the decline, he says, “The interest in it has waned, in a big way.”

It will likely continue to wane as the forest turns green again. And timber manager Mark Westfahl says the U.S. Forest Service will likely manage that next generation of young trees with a tight fist until they’re mature enough to harvest.

“How long will we be offering traditional timber sales?” Westfahl asks. “That’s kind of to be seen. It really depends on how long the trees continue to stand.”

Westfahl is the guy issuing the Forest Service contracts to loggers like Hank Lucido, but with fewer and fewer trees left, Westfahl says they’ll have to start weighing the health of the timber industry against the health of the forest.

Logger Lucido says that means the timber industry is running out of time to harvest what’s left.

“If we don’t get into this wood in the next five years, it’s going be blown over or burned up. And once it falls onto the ground, it’s done,” says Lucido.

But he says, when the pine beetle boom is over, he trusts the timber industry will still have a role to play, managing a healthier forest less prone to such epidemics in the future.

Giovanni Lo Porto, Slain Italian Aid Worker, Loved Pakistan And Its People

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 08:48

Lo Porto was kidnapped in January 2012 soon after he arrived in Pakistan. President Obama announced today that the Italian aid worker was inadvertently killed in January in a U.S. strike.

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Tidal's wave is breaking

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-23 08:15
$1.7 billion

That's the budget for a planned NFL stadium, approved by the city of Carson, California Tuesday. Similar plans went through in Inglewood earlier this year. There are a few franchises weighing a move to Los Angeles after about 20 years with no NFL presence in the city. While a team could make a killing on luxe suites and skyboxes, moving to LA is a big expense, and teams in smaller markets like Green Bay enjoy devoted fans and healthy profits.

$56 million

That's what Jay Z paid for Aspiro and its streaming music service Tidal. Despite the massive star-power behind it and a promise to pay artists more than rival services, Tidal seems to be failing after about a month, the Guardian reported, dropping off the top-700 App Store chart. Meanwhile, Spotify and Pandora are still going strong.

September 10, 1963

The date Marvel Comics published Avengers #1, and the world first met the super-team. Before "Avengers: Age of Ultron" hits theaters next week, the Wall Street Journal has analyzed 50 years of Avengers comic book covers, showing how color palettes, technique and printing technology have evolved. 

$1.5 trillion

That's the estimated buying power of Latinos in the U.S., and big brands are taking notice. Target has begun reaching out to millennial Latinos with a new campaign called "#SinTraduccion," focused on words and ideas that don't always translate.

8 million

That's how many taxpayers were disconnected from the IRS phone lines this season, up from 360,000 last year, the Washington Post reported. Agency officials say budget cuts and additional expenses from enforcing the health care bill were to blame. According to a report by House Republicans, the IRS spent $134 million less on customer service this year, all told.

Thoughts Can Fuel Some Deadly Brain Cancers

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 08:13

A doctor-scientist's long quest to help children with a rare form of brain cancer has led to the discovery that high levels of brain activity can make glioma tumors grow faster.

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Warren Weinstein, American Killed In U.S. Operation, Was Veteran Aid Worker

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 07:44

The USAID contractor was kidnapped in 2011 from his home Pakistan just days before he was scheduled to leave the country. He spent much of his career in some of the world's toughest places.

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7 Lost American Slang Words

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 07:03

Remembering cool words that are no longer cool — or even used much.

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Germany's Largest Bank Fined $2.5 Billion In Rate-Fixing Scandal

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 06:58

At least 29 employees of Deutsche Bank are thought to have participated in manipulating the Libor rate from 2005-2009.

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Feeling Blue? Share A Laugh With Archbishop Desmond Tutu

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 06:05

When he chuckled at a conference last week, the world was definitely a happier place. And when he spoke, he reminded us all how little moments can have a big impact.

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U.S. Operations Killed Two Hostages Held By Al-Qaida, Including American

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 05:48

Two Americans who worked for al-Qaida were also killed in the counterterrorism operations in January, the White House said. The two hostages killed included an Italian who had been held since 2012.

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EU Leaders Close To Agreement To Deal With Influx Of Migrants

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 05:41

Days after 900 were feared drowned, the European Union is struggling to forge a new policy to combat the flow of people setting off mostly from Libya in overcrowded boats.

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Video Of Volcano Erupting In Chile Is Amazing In Time-Lapse

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 05:03

It's been more than 40 years since the Calbuco volcano erupted. But now it's done it twice — generating striking images and concerns over the effects of both the lava and a mammoth cloud of ash.

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To Get More Students Through College, Give Them Fewer Choices

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 04:03

A new book recommends simplifying community college pathways to help more students graduate.

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Gen. David Petraeus Will Be Sentenced Thursday Over Secret Notebooks

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 03:31

Under the terms of a plea deal, the former CIA director will avoid jail time. Petraeus, 62, admits to having retained notebooks full of classified information and showing them to his biographer.

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Saudi Airstrikes Target Houthi Forces In Yemen, Despite Talks Of Peace

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 03:04

It's now very unclear when peace talks that were mentioned earlier this week might occur. Warplanes have been hitting areas under Houthi control Thursday.

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PODCAST: A huge quarterly loss for Brazilian oil company

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-23 03:00

Gas is cheap, but what about the cost of putting a roof over your head? We look at the trend towards skyrocketing rent. Plus, Petrobras, the government-run oil company in Brazil today posted the worse quarterly loss in its history. We'll talk to the BBC's South America business correspondent Daniel Gallas from Sao Paolo, Brazil, to find out why. And by one estimate, the buying power of U.S. Latinos is three times what it was in the year 2000: that's $1.5 trillion. Big retailers are trying to keep pace. Target says Hispanic millennials are now their core demographic. And now, they've got an ad campaign to go with the shift.

 

Michael Brown's Family Will Sue Ferguson Over Police Shooting Death

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-23 02:38

The lawsuit will be filed at the St. Louis County Courthouse Thursday morning. It's not yet known whether it will include Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, 18.

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In a sharing economy, labor laws fall short

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-23 02:01

When it comes to the future of the growing “sharing economy,” things are far from clear. Two California juries are set to decide cases that could have wide-ranging implications on the industry that has grown up around Uber, Lyft, and other car-hire services.

Plaintiffs allege that the companies treat drivers as independent contractors even though they should be considered full employees, which would require Uber to provide sick days, health insurance and other benefits. Judge Vince Chhabria, who is presiding over the Lyft case, wrote that the jurors “will be handed a square peg and asked to choose between two round holes.”

Chhabria wrote that because he believes the labor laws, which employ legal tests to determine whether a worker is a contractor or an employee, are outdated.

For some workers, it’s clear.

Drew Bathe drives for Uber in Richmond, Virginia. He’s an EMT, and he’s usually in his car. “Uber was just a perfect opportunity to continue to use my car,” Bathe says. He says he can “sign on when I want and sign off when I want.”

He usually drives around during periods of high demand, in what's known as “surge pricing.” Bathe says he can make about $40 an hour. But other workers use Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit and Mechanical Turk much more frequently, and they more closely resemble full time workers.

Wilma Liebman, former chair of the National Labor Relations Board, says that’s because “we now have work opportunities that no one would have thought of a few years ago.”

“Back when the labor laws were enacted,” Liebman says, “what we generally saw were large, vertically integrated corporations that did all aspects of the work.” Think Standard Oil and U.S. Steel.

Applying the employee/contractor test back then would yield clear results. The person who paints your house is an independent contractor. They have control over the tools, the means to do the job, how the complete the job. Employees are subject to employer-imposed restriction dress, appearance, tools and so on.

In recent years, some corporations have been accused of deliberately miscategorizing their workers as independent contractors in order to avoid the costs of hiring an employee, such as social security and payroll taxes, as well as health benefits. Fedex is appealing a Kansas supreme court ruling that said its drivers are actually employees.

Robert Reich, who was Labor Secretary during the Clinton Administration, says it’s a trend that's been going on for years.

“As I looked on a case-by-case basis, it was clear to me that some employers were doing it purely to save money and they were doing it as a way of circumventing all of these labor laws,” Reich says.

But what’s going on with sharing economy companies is a bit different, according to Elizabeth Kennedy, a professor of law at Loyola University Maryland.

She agrees with the statement by Judge Edward M. Chen, who is presiding over the Uber case, that it “strains credulity” for Uber to argue it is a tech company and not a car company. But, Kennedy says, it’s important to remember that apps like Uber started out small.

“How do we find this middle ground that recognizes the economic reality of the worker performing the service and also recognizes these businesses can scale up and reach a point where that relationship perhaps changes over time,” she says.

But there might be another way. Back in 2005, Kennedy wrote about how other countries had dealt with this pool of workers who fall between clear-cut employees and independent contractors: a third way, called “dependent contractor.”

 

In a sharing economy, labor laws fall short

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-23 02:01

When it comes to the future of the growing “sharing economy,” things are far from clear. Two California juries are set to decide cases that could have wide-ranging implications on the industry that has grown up around Uber, Lyft, and other car-hire services.

Plaintiffs allege that the companies treat drivers as independent contractors even though they should be considered full employees, which would require Uber to provide sick days, health insurance and other benefits. Judge Vince Chhabria, who is presiding over the Lyft case, wrote that the jurors “will be handed a square peg and asked to choose between two round holes.”

Chhabria wrote that because he believes the labor laws, which employ legal tests to determine whether a worker is a contractor or an employee, are outdated.

For some workers, it’s clear.

Drew Bathe drives for Uber in Richmond, Virginia. He’s an EMT, and he’s usually in his car. “Uber was just a perfect opportunity to continue to use my car,” Bathe says. He says he can “sign on when I want and sign off when I want.”

He usually drives around during periods of high demand, in what's known as “surge pricing.” Bathe says he can make about $40 an hour. But other workers use Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit and Mechanical Turk much more frequently, and they more closely resemble full time workers.

Wilma Liebman, former chair of the National Labor Relations Board, says that’s because “we now have work opportunities that no one would have thought of a few years ago.”

“Back when the labor laws were enacted,” Liebman says, “what we generally saw were large, vertically integrated corporations that did all aspects of the work.” Think Standard Oil and U.S. Steel.

Applying the employee/contractor test back then would yield clear results. The person who paints your house is an independent contractor. They have control over the tools, the means to do the job, how the complete the job. Employees are subject to employer-imposed restriction dress, appearance, tools and so on.

In recent years, some corporations have been accused of deliberately miscategorizing their workers as independent contractors in order to avoid the costs of hiring an employee, such as social security and payroll taxes, as well as health benefits. Fedex is appealing a Kansas supreme court ruling that said its drivers are actually employees.

Robert Reich, who was Labor Secretary during the Clinton Administration, says it’s a trend that's been going on for years.

“As I looked on a case-by-case basis, it was clear to me that some employers were doing it purely to save money and they were doing it as a way of circumventing all of these labor laws,” Reich says.

But what’s going on with sharing economy companies is a bit different, according to Elizabeth Kennedy, a professor of law at Loyola University Maryland.

She agrees with the statement by Judge Edward M. Chen, who is presiding over the Uber case, that it “strains credulity” for Uber to argue it is a tech company and not a car company. But, Kennedy says, it’s important to remember that apps like Uber started out small.

“How do we find this middle ground that recognizes the economic reality of the worker performing the service and also recognizes these businesses can scale up and reach a point where that relationship perhaps changes over time,” she says.

But there might be another way. Back in 2005, Kennedy wrote about how other countries had dealt with this pool of workers who fall between clear-cut employees and independent contractors: a third way, called “dependent contractor.”

 

Coke and Pepsi face headwinds

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-23 02:00

Despite the fact that consumers are consuming sodas less frequently after lots of headlines about sugary drinks and the obesity epidemic, Coca-Cola managed to post better-than-expected earnings on Wednesday. 

But the celebration may be short-lived if Coke and its main rival Pepsi focus heavily on promoting their namesake soda brands. 

Consumer analyst Nik Modi of RBC Capital Markets says soda sales have been declining industry-wide, and among the reasons why is "the mom veto."

"Mothers are not buying these products for their kids, like the prior generation," says Modi, adding that consumers are not only paying more attention to the number of calories in the products they consume, but also to the number of ingredients and kinds of ingredients. 

He says one way Coca-Cola has combated this trend is by selling smaller cans of its sodas. "If you give a child an 8-ounce can of coke, that's much more tolerable than a 12-ounce can or a 20-ounce can," says Modi.

Coke has also raised prices and cut costs by doing things like laying off 1,800 employees. But industry consultant Tom Pirko is pessimistic about the future for both Coca-Cola and Pepsi, because the majority of sales for both companies come from foreign countries.

"Brazil, the rest of Latin America, Europe, Russia: the economies are in trouble and this is all directly affecting Coca-Cola," says Pirko, adding that both Coke and Pepsi should focus more on promoting and selling their non-soda brands.

Coca-Cola recently even got into the milk business.

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