National News

Experts still puzzling over bird flu

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-25 02:00

New cases of bird flu appear to be on the wane, after costing U.S. poultry farmers more than 48 million birds. 

But even as outbreaks taper off, experts still are puzzling over why the virus wreaked such havoc, upending the livelihood of farmers like Becky Bruns.

About a month ago, Bruns thought she was going to dodge the bird flu crisis at her pullet farm in Danube, Minn. She thought if she could just make it to June without the virus hitting her farm, the chance that her flocks would get infected would drop dramatically. Experts believed the virus wouldn't survive in warm weather.

Meanwhile, Bruns ramped up biosecurity measures on her farm, like spraying her barns' air inlets with disinfectant.

“Every week we had a meeting, we had our little pow-wow session to say: ‘What are we doing? What are we missing? What more could we do? Where could it get in that we're not thinking of?’” she says.

An egg production company owns the birds. Bruns cares for them from the day they hatch until they're old enough to lay eggs. She says she loves the baby birds.

So she was devastated when bird flu did hit on June 1st, the point at which she thought she'd be in the clear. The USDA deployed crews with equipment to euthanize her birds.

“To have it come in after that much work was just heartbreaking,” she says. “And it just felt like such a huge failure on our parts.”

What should Bruns have done differently? Experts don't have clear answers. Much about bird flu still stymies them.

They think waterfowl brought the virus to the Midwest. But was it wild birds? Domestic ducks?

“A few months ago, I thought by this time I'd be able to tell you that. It's more of a mystery today than it was before, except that we know it's one of the species,” says Carol Cardona, a bird flu expert at the University of Minnesota.

Epidemiologist are looking at not just what introduced the virus, but also what spread it and sustained it. 

“Each one of those might be a very different source. And therefore we're going to have to understand all of them,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Just last week, the USDA published a report on bird flu, pretty much saying, “Still working on it. Got some theories. Nothing definitive."

It said the virus might travel on people or trucks that move between farms. Wind might blow the virus from one farm to another.

“What I think is also possible is that the air, when it leaves the facility, it contaminates the surrounding of the facility,” says Montse Torremorell with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota.

Torremorell says the dust or equipment the virus particles land on might then ferry the virus elsewhere. 

"Do we need to make these buildings much more airtight and the air be filtered? That in fact could be a possibility,” says Osterholm.

Osterholm expects bird flu will reappear, a pattern in other countries. That prospect is unnerving to Becky Bruns. She's trying to figure out if it makes sense to keep her family business going in light of future threats. They've raised chickens for 35 years.

“Is this going to stop?” she asks. “Am I going to be bringing birds in just for them to get sick again?"

States see potential opportunity in court ruling

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-25 02:00

The King v. Burwell case before the Supreme Court is a challenge to the health care law, saying health insurance subsidies should only go to people who bought insurance on state-run exchanges. A decision is expected in days, and if the Court rules against the Obama administration, people in states using the federal insurance marketplace would lose their subsidies.

And they might just turn to Connecticut for help. Connecticut succeeded in launching its own insurance marketplace, or exchange, that worked even as the federal government and other states struggled. 

Now Connecticut is getting calls from states on the federal exchange, who might want to use Connecticut’s software if they have to set up their own marketplaces, says Jim Wadleigh, CEO of Access Health Connecticut, the Connecticut exchange. 

“We’ve probably gotten over a dozen calls from other states," he says, estimating that 90 percent the calls were from officials in Republican-led states. Wadleigh won’t say which ones, "because it would create quite a political maelstrom that I’m trying to stay out of,” he says.

Wadleigh sends interested states to Carolyn Quattrocki for a reference. Quattrocki is executive director of Maryland’s exchange, the Maryland Health Connection, which started using Connecticut’s software last year.

“It’s really worked tremendously well,” Quattrocki says.

Maryland switched to Connecticut’s software after Maryland’s own exchange failed. Quattrocki says Maryland got Connecticut’s software for free, because it was developed with federal money. Since then, Connecticut has paid to create new products that it can sell, like a mobile app. 

Maryland isn't interested in that feature yet, but Quattrocki says when they are ready, they’ll look for the best deal, as would other states. 

“I think it becomes a purely financial question of what kind of IT system to use,” says Sabrina Corlette, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

Corlette says Connecticut has a very good reputation, but will have to compete with private companies offering their own exchange blueprints, just in case the Supreme Court ruling sends states scrambling to set up their own insurance marketplaces.  

Harper Lee a best-selling author once again

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-25 01:58

That was the split of the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to maintain federal subsidies through the Affordable Care Act. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the opinion. As reported by the New York Times, Roberts wrote, "“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them."

369,000 copies

That's how many hardcover and trade paperbacks of "To Kill a Mockingbird" have been shipped by HarperCollins Publishers between early February and the end of May. That's up from the 59,000 copies shipped during the same period last year. Why the sudden uptick in sales? As the Wall Street Journal reports, with news of author Harper Lee's newest novel, "Go Set a Watchman," the public has shown an increased interest in her best-selling classic as well.

89 percent

That's the portion of packaged foods the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found to be mislabeled at Whole Foods. The agency is levying fines for overcharging at the city's stores. According to NBC New York, DCA staff said it was among the worst cases they had seen.

48 million

All told, that's about how many birds U.S. poultry farmers were set back by the recent outbreak of bird flu. Becky Bruns of Danube, Minn. took special care to try and protect the chickens on her farm. But even so, her brood of chickens had to be euthanized when the outbreak hit her farm. What could she have done differently? The problem is, experts don't know.

10 percent

By some economists' calculations, that's how much earnings decline for a graduate who leaves school during a recession. And that decline could stay with said graduate for 10-15 years. 

2nd Prison Worker Arrested In Connection With Helping Escaped Killers

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 01:09

Authorities say veteran corrections officer Gene Palmer is accused of providing illegal contraband to the inmates. Civilian prison worker Joyce Mitchell has also been charged with aiding the men.

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For Online Video Stars, YouTube Is No Longer The Only Stage

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 01:02

Online video is such a huge and lucrative market that a lot of companies are trying to lure some of the biggest stars away from the current king of medium — YouTube.

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The Devil Wears Nada

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-25 00:52

This week, Actuality slips on metallic jeggings to examine the dubious record of former American Apparel CEO Dov Charney, how jerk bosses thwart business success, and why women get tasked to clean up the mess. Plus, the best time to buy German erotica.

Teens Make Film In Broken English To Explain Why They'll Fail English

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 00:49

Three high schoolers in Zanzibar have won a prize for a film tackling a fierce debate in African classrooms: Should the teacher instruct in English or the mother tongue?

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As Flags Drop, Scrutiny Turns To Memorials To Confederacy And Its Dead

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-25 00:38

Dozens, if not hundreds of Confederate memorials dot the South and beyond. Even in Union state Missouri, two memorials have become flash points.

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2nd Prison Worker Arrested In Connection With N.Y. Inmates' Escape

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-24 20:52

A prison guard who delivered frozen meat with tools hidden inside to 2 inmates before they escaped was arrested on Wednesday. Employee Joyce Mitchell also has been charged with helping them escape.

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Bobby Jindal Puts His Kids On Hidden Camera

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-24 16:13

The Bobby Jindal for President campaign got off to an awkward start, with this must-see video.

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'You're In My House': Obama Shuts Down Heckler At White House

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-24 15:43

A pro-immigration advocate repeatedly interrupted the president during an event on same-sex marriage in the East Room of the White House. She was escorted out.

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New York Agency Says Whole Foods Overcharged Customers In City

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-24 15:20

Overcharging ranged from 80 cents for a package of pecan panko to $14.84 for a package of coconut shrimp, the Department of Consumer Affairs said. Whole Foods called the allegations "overreaching."

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Bernie Sanders Walks A Fine Line On Gun Control

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-24 14:48

"I think that urban America has got to respect what rural America is about, where 99 percent of the people in my state who hunt are law-abiding people," the 2016 hopeful told NPR's David Greene.

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Obama Administration Acts To Ease Family Detentions

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-24 14:22

Families detained after illegal border crossings will be allowed to post bond, but that doesn't please either side of the immigration debate.

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Texas Abortion Curbs Go Into Effect Soon, Unless Supreme Court Acts

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-24 14:09

A controversial 2013 law, which will likely leave just nine clinics open in the state, is set to go into effect July 1. Abortion rights supporters have asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

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Dynamic Duos: How To Get More Nutrition By Pairing Foods

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-24 13:51

Adding eggs to salads helps us absorb the beneficial pigments like beta carotene in the raw vegetables, a new study finds. Here are other foods that, when eaten together, pack a more nutritious punch.

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Greece's tax collectors face public hostility

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-06-24 13:05

The deal that is now under discussion between Greece and its creditors would involve the country paying a lot more tax.

That’s bad news for Maria Papadopoulou. She’s a tax official and would be required to collect more revenue — no easy task when you consider what she and her colleagues already face from the reluctant taxpayers of Athens.

“Physical threats, swearing, spitting and sometimes they even try to grab you. We have that on a daily basis." she says. “They threaten you, your mother, your family. This is their way of expressing their anger and their depression.”

Papadopoulou describes her job in Greece’s tax collection agency as “underpaid and difficult.” So why do it?

“Two reasons,” she says. “For the medical insurance and a steady paycheck.”

Hari Theoharis

Stephen Beard

Antagonism towards the tax collectors in Greece is aimed at the humblest officials — and the highest. Hari Theoharis became the Greek equivalent of the head of the Internal Revenue Service in 2013 with a mission to crack down on evasion, and soon his office was getting some menacing phone calls saying: “You know, it would only cost 5,000 euros to have his legs broken.”

Today, he plays down the threat. 

“The police always assessed it as not an organized thing. Nobody will come round and break my legs. Hopefully,” he says.

Nevertheless, only 17 months into a five-year term, Theoharis quit the agency after intense political pressure to lay off investigating well-connected individuals and to lighten the crackdown ahead of an election. 

Aristides Hatzis

Stephen Beard

“Those things increased more and more, and instead of doing my job, I would have to deal with pressure of that kind on a daily basis.” he says. “I was relieved to get out.” His departure from the tax office led to a new career in politics and he now represents the centrist To Potami party in the Greek parliament.  

 The fate of Theoharis was no surprise to Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. 

Cronyism and corruption have further undermined the willingness of millions of ordinary Greeks to pay their taxes.  “The problem with Theoharis was that he was very good at his job, so his behavior annoyed a lot of people — especially economically and politically powerful people,” Hatzis says.  

“I understand their reluctance," says tax collector Papadopoulou. But I don’t condone it.”  

Under pressure from its creditors, Greece raised an extra $1 billion in revenue last year, but it’s estimated that more than $50 billion is owed in unpaid back taxes. The tax collectors will have their work cut out for them. 

Netflix sale nets investor $993 million

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-06-24 13:01

There's a reason people pay so much attention to Carl Icahn — the corporate raider/activist investor, depending on how you want to characterize him. It's because he knows what he's doing.

On Wednesday morning, Icahn tweeted out that he'd closed his position in Netflix, that is, sold off the last of his stock.

Sold last of our $NFLX today. Believe $AAPL currently represents same opportunity we stated NFLX offered several years ago.

— Carl Icahn (@Carl_C_Icahn) June 24, 2015
He bought 10 percent of the company three years ago at $58 a share; it topped $700 a pop this morning.

Icahn walked away with $993 million from Wednesday's sale, but is estimated to have earned about $2 billion total over the past three years from his investment in Netflix

Not all food company mergers are equal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-06-24 12:57

A federal judge has put the brakes on Sysco's planned acquisition of US Foods, which the Federal Trade Commission challenged for anti-trust reasons. Analysts don't expect that regulators will get as worked up over a merger between the European grocery chains Ahold and Delhaize, which both generate a big chunk of their sales in the U.S. 

If Sysco and US Foods teamed up, critics feared that restaurants, hotels and hospitals would have a harder time price shopping for supplies. The combined firm would dominate more than half of the food distribution market, according to Brian Buhr, a professor of applied economics at the University of Minnesota. Buhr says Sysco and US Foods are already dominant market players, operating far more distribution centers than their competitors, but it’s a very different picture with grocery chains. 

“There are more of them and they are equally sized,” he says. 

Ahold operates the Stop & Shop and Giant chains in the U.S., along with the online grocer Peapod. Delhaize runs Food Lion and Hannaford. Mike Paglia, director of retail insights with Kantar Retail, says the Ahold/Delhaize tie-up will likely boost profitability through cost-cutting. But he doubts the combined firm will have any greater success differentiating itself in a competitive marketplace. 

“One of the defining characteristics of the food landscape in the U.S. is this enormous level of fragmentation,” he says. “Ahold and Delhaize and their banners don’t do anything remarkable to stand out.”

Senate Passes Fast-Track Trade Legislation 60-38

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-24 12:50

The vote is a victory for President Obama, giving him final approval of legislation that enhances his power to negotiate trade deals.

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