National News

The Outhouse — And Other Rooms — Get A 21st Century Makeover

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-02 07:11

Some people are spending more time in their backyard — in living rooms, entertainment centers, even bathrooms.

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Bank of America gets back to normal... with a twist

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-02 05:00

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan is getting another title: chairman of the board. 

This is Bank of America’s way of saying, "Hey, we’re back to business as usual." It’s unusual for a bank’s CEO to not also be its chairman. 

During the financial crisis, CEOs of the biggest banks were stripped of the chairman title when shareholders didn’t like the way they handled the crisis. 

In 2009, Bank of America shareholders voted to take the chairman role away from then-CEO Ken Lewis. They were punishing him for his decision to acquire Merrill Lynch at the height of the crisis, and then give bank executives huge bonuses. 

But there’s going to be somebody looking over Moynihan’s shoulder. 

Jack Bovender will become the bank’s lead independent director. The bank’s press release announcing Moynihan’s promotion describes Bovender’s role in great detail. He’ll approve information sent to the board, and he will plan the board’s agenda with Moynihan. 

So, it’s back to normal, with a few checks and balances.





CEO tries to reset General Motors' brand

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-02 02:00

General Motors CEO Mary Barra is trying to change the conversation. This year’s ignition switch recall, and the hearings and lawsuits that followed, have weighed heavily on the automaker. Barra is now focusing on a new strategy, pledging to boost profit margins, cut costs and grow the company. She’s aiming to achieve pretax profit margins of 10 percent in North America by 2016.

GM’s plan includes new factories in China and streamlining global production. It also focuses on what customers want: new, quieter vehicles, broadband and even a hands-free driving option called "Super Cruise."

Jeremy Acevedo, an analyst at the car-shopping site, says the strategy is an opportunity for Barra to reinvent the GM brand. “She’s allowed to repaint GM as a new, customer-focused brand, whereas before, it just kind of looked like the old GM that was so interested in driving profits.”

Of course, strong profits are exactly what Barra ultimately wants to achieve. “Our strategic plan,” says Barra,“ is a pathway to earn customers for life and create significant shareholder value in the process.”


How the president might tout the economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-02 02:00

President Barack Obama is set to deliver remarks on the economy on Thursday at Northwestern University in Illinois. While unemployment has fallen to 6.1 percent, many people still feel uneasy about the recovery.

So we asked a couple of economic thinkers: What could the president say to tout the economy?

“In particular, you would want to point to the labor market,” says Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG. He says job gains have been steady for months.

“I think there’s this misconception that we need to see 300 or 400 or 500,000 jobs created every month,” he says. “In the context of where the economy currently is, the numbers we’re getting, which are around 200-and-change-thousand a month, are pretty good.”

Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner says things don’t seem better because of the quality of jobs being added, many of them part-time or in low-wage professions. Take New York City, for example.

“There are more than a quarter million more jobs in New York City today than there were prior to the financial crisis,” Vitner says. “But the total amount of income earned from working in New York City is less today than it was prior to the financial crisis.”

Vitner says the lack of improvement in income growth is the driving factor behind the country’s economic worry.

Why companies really want you to use an app for that

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-02 02:00

There's an app for that. So stop using the website.

This is the message companies are trying to drum into users. Mobile is, as we know, convenient and personalized—but there is more to it than that. Apps let companies mine far more of your personal data than websites. That is a major incentive to get you to make the switch from web to mobile.

If you try to use the real estate website Zillow on your phone, you are bound to run into a full-screen ad for one of its many apps.

“Now,” says Jeremy Wacksman, who leads mobile strategy for the company, “Zillow can be present in your pocket when you're touring open houses, when you're driving around the neighborhood, when you're laying in bed at night checking something.”

With all its apps, Zillow can keep you company day and night. Wacksman says two-thirds of Zillow's traffic is now on phones. The company has also partnered with Google Now, an app that gathers information from places like a user's web browser, phone GPS and other Google products. Zillow wants to use that data to show people ads for houses before they even know they want them.

Mobile data opens up all kinds of possibilities for companies. For instance, your contact list can help Instagram connect more user accounts; LinkedIn can learn about your social network from your calendar. And, of course, advertisers will pay a pretty penny for that kind of data.

Every year Appthority releases a report rating the security and privacy of top apps. Company co-founder Domingo Guerra says there is so much more information on mobile than web.

“You have the GPS location, so exact coordinates maybe 24-7,” he says. “And then there is access to cameras, microphones, calendars, address books, even vibration of the device.” That is powerful data he says can be sold or leaked to third parties.

Even if your data is not distributed, Domingo says it is uncertain what companies will do with it all. Many of those companies don't know themselves.

“The more data they collect now,” he says, “the more uses they can find for it later.”

If you do switch from a website to its mobile app counterpart, it may not be obvious what information about yourself you are giving up.

"It's not standardized and it's not regulated," says Susan Grant from the Consumer Federation of America. "So the only way you can tell is by looking at the privacy policy. If it's not clear to you what information is being collected, then don't use that app.” Often, she says, it's not clear.

In any case, some companies do not leave consumers much of a choice. On Facebook, for example, mobile users can only send messages by downloading its new messenger app, which, by the way, has been criticized for gathering all sorts of personal data. 

PODCAST: Nosy apps

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-02 02:00

By tomorrow, we'll know the government's official count of people with and without jobs for the month just finished, September. We talk about what we can expect from the Jobs Report for September. Plus, Bank of America's CEO Brian Moynihan is getting another title: chairman of the board. The bank announced the promotion while praising Moynihan for simplifying the company. And now to the campaign to push customers away from websites and into the more circumscribed universe of apps. Among the reasons we are often begged to use the app instead: The app lets companies get far more info about you.

Grand Slam Helps Giants Shutout Pirates In Playoff Game

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-01 20:51

The San Francisco Giants decisively beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0 in the National League wild-card game Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

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Man Convicted In 2010 Oregon Bomb Plot Sentenced To 30 Years

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-01 16:27

Mohamed Osman Mohamud was convicted in January of 2013, but his sentencing was delayed after the government revealed it had attained evidence from secret NSA electronic surveillance.

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How small financial setbacks can derail college plans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-01 15:58

A year ago Jan Escobar was working part-time as a bank teller and going to school full-time at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland. Then his boss started asking him to work more. Escobar needed the cash and didn’t want to jeopardize the job.

“When you’re in a tight situation with your money, it’s harder to say no to extra hours,” he says.

Escobar, the son of working-class immigrants from El Salvador, thought he could manage the workload. It turned out he couldn’t.

“The way I planned it out, everything had to fall perfectly into place, and that’s really not likely at all,” he says. “It didn’t work out.”

Escobar ended up dropping a class—after the deadline—and wound up owing the school almost $500 for credits he never got. He couldn’t re-enroll until he’d saved enough to pay off the debt. The whole thing set him back a year.

“What you can see is that a few hundred dollars, a thousand dollars, can really derail a student’s success,” says Mike Wasserman, Massachusetts executive director for Bottom Line, a group that helps low-income students get in to college and then make it to graduation.

Situations like these are one reason low-income students are much more likely to drop out of college than wealthier students. One study from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education found that only 11 percent of low-income, first-generation students (those whose parents didn’t finish college) had earned a bachelor’s degree in six years, compared to 55 percent of more advantaged students.

Colleges will often be flexible about things like an add/drop deadline when an emergency comes up, Wasserman says, but students may still have to give back their financial aid.

“Often families are using a student’s financial aid to keep the family going,” he says.

So even when the school doesn’t charge for dropped classes, students may have to return their financial aid, Wasserman says. If the money’s already been spent on rent and food, students have to find a way to pay it back.

Other times students just lose track of what they owe. A couple of overdue library books and an unexpected charge at the campus health center can add up.

Angel White had to take some time off from Western Illinois University to work at Wal-Mart so she could pay off a few hundred dollars she owed the school. After she returned, a financial aid snafu left her owing $1,300 she couldn’t pay.

When she tried to transfer to a less expensive community college, White says Western Illinois wouldn’t release her transcript. That meant she couldn’t transfer even the credits she’d paid for. She had to take several classes over again.

“The whole experience set me back a lot, seeing as though right now I’d be a senior in college instead of a sophomore,” she says. “It’s a very discouraging process.”

When you don’t have parents who can bail you out or help navigate the system, small mistakes and emergencies can carry a high price, says Nancy Leopold, executive director of CollegeTracks, which works with low- and moderate-income students in Montgomery County, Maryland.

“In many ways what they really lack is the slack that their more affluent counterparts have, that sort of room to maneuver when the unexpected happens,” she says.

Many believe colleges aren’t doing enough to help those students manage the almost inevitable financial challenges.

“Many colleges now have opened the doors wider to admitting low-income students because they are interested in a more diverse student population, but they haven’t addressed the problems of keeping those students in school,” says Marvin Hoffman, who helps advise disadvantaged students from Chicago in a program called AIM High.

More colleges are turning their focus to retention. Some schools offer emergency loans or grants. Others have stepped up their advising to help students avoid pitfalls in the first place.

Jan Escobar went back to Montgomery College with the help of a mentoring program called Future Link. His mentor made him a deal: Future Link would pay half the debt as long as Escobar got more involved with the group.

“We’re in touch like twice a week,” Escobar says. “They’re always checking up on me to see if I’m doing my work.”

So far he is, he says. He found a job with more flexible hours, working as a host at a restaurant. He’s hoping to finish his associate’s degree in business administration next year and then transfer to a four-year college.

One Picture, Of 35,000 Walrus, Shows One Effect Of Global Warming

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-01 15:28

The picture shows the walrus huddled up on an Alaskan beach. Usually, they would spread out on sea ice. But this year, it's all melted.

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That's no moon... it's all the money 'Star Wars' made

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-01 14:49

In his day job, Chris Taylor is deputy editor of the news site Mashable. But recently he’s been able to combine his love of journalism and “Star Wars” to pen the ultimate behind-the-scenes biography about the storied franchise.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe” sets the record straight on rumors, and offers a few spoilers from the upcoming “Star Wars: Episode VII," due to hit theaters in December 2015. Here are the three big “Star Wars” facts Kai discovered when he sat down with Taylor:

The first movie came dangerously close to being scrapped.

Several major production companies dropped “Star Wars” because they believed it would be a huge flop. The movie studios—and George Lucas himself—believed it was going to be a children’s movie; the average children’s movie at that time grossed about $12 million. 

It's near-impossible to find someone who has never heard of "Star Wars."

Taylor traveled to Window Rock, Arizona, for a "Star Wars" screening — it was the first movie to be translated into the Navajo language. One tribe elder told Taylor he’d never heard of "Star Wars," but remembered seeing "wild birds in space” on television once. After talking to the man some more, Taylor realized he had actually caught a glimpse of the movie's X-Wing fighters. So the search continues.

The franchise has made about $42 billion (so far).

Taylor estimates "Star Wars" merchandise has raked in $32 billion so far. Ticket sales? A measly $4 billion, and another $6 billion on home video. But there's far more money to be made. Since buying Lucasfilm for more than $4 billion in 2012, Disney has announced at least five more films and a new TV series.

On The Alert For Ebola, Texas Hospital Still Missed First Case

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-01 14:40

Diagnosing and treating Ebola isn't so hard, health workers say; hospitals across the U.S. should be ready. But initial symptoms, such as fever and headache, can look the same as other illnesses.

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Nuclear warheads aren't going anywhere because... asteroids

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-01 14:05

From the Wall Street Journal, this item, in which the phrase "planetary defense" features prominently:

The U.S. has apparently fallen behind on its timeline for getting rid of old nuclear weapons. One reason we're hanging onto them, according to the GAO: Disposition is pending, and "senior-level government evaluation of their use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids."

I feel much better now.


Obamacare's First Year: How'd It Go?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-01 13:43

It has been a year since Obamacare launched with a difficult start. Now, supporters are confident about the program's future. But critics say it's too early to gauge its success.

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Movement Against Female Genital Mutilation Gains Spotlight In U.K.

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-01 13:39

The U.K. tended to treat the issue as a practice from a foreign culture that did not demand attention. But it has become a central focus for police, doctors, and even the British prime minister.

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Michael Dunn Found Guilty In Florida 'Loud Music' Shooting

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-01 13:33

The case, which ended in a mistrial earlier this year, drew national attention because of its racial overtones. Dunn, a white man, said he shot a black teen because he felt threatened.

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Long-Term Birth Control Works Best For Teens, Pediatricians Say

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-01 13:08

When given their choice of contraceptives for free, almost three-quarters of sexually active teenage girls chose long-acting options like the IUD or hormonal implants, a study finds.

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When Can A Big Storm Or Drought Be Blamed On Climate Change?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-01 13:07

Scientists wince when people blame every big tropical cyclone, heat wave or drought on a shifting climate. But now some are trying to figure out just what the evidence for such a link would be.

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Facebook Apologizes For Name Policy That Affected LGBT Community

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-01 12:56

The social networking site will not change its requirement for people to use "real" names on their profiles, but it will adjust how alleged violations are reported and enforced.

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