National News

Top Stories: Crisis In Crimea; Search Continues For Missing Jet

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-19 05:11

Also: Israel fired on military targets in Syria after bombings in Golan; Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen prepares for her first news conference; Toyota reportedly reaches $1.2 billion settlement.

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Toyota To Pay $1.2B To End Safety-Related Probe

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-19 04:45

The automaker recalled more than 10 million vehicles in 2009 and 2010 because of complaints about unintended acceleration. But prosecutors say it misled the public and tried to cover up the problem.

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'Saint Death' Now Revered On Both Sides Of U.S.-Mexico Frontier

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-19 04:45

Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, used to be an underground folk saint in Mexico. Now she's also popular in the U.S. So popular, in fact, that the Vatican has denounced her.

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Ukraine Says It's Preparing A Plan To Withdraw From Crimea

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-19 04:05

Russia has moved to take Crimea from Ukraine. Tuesday, a Ukrainian officer was shot and killed. Wednesday, men thought to be part of a Crimean "self-defense force" stormed another Ukrainian facility.

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Borderland: A Journey Along The Changing Frontier

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-19 03:16

Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border to explore how the two countries are linked — and how they are separated.

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Missing Jet's Mysterious Turn May Have Been Plotted Early In Flight

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-19 03:15

There are reports that it appears someone programmed a new course into the navigation system before the cockpit's routine-sounding last voice message. That adds to evidence of a deliberate act.

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PODCAST: The dual mandate

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-19 03:10

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen can expect questions about interest rates and unemployment when the Fed wraps up its two-day meeting. The Fed had promised to keep interest rates near zero, at least until unemployment hit 6.5 percent. Unemployment is currently at 6.7 percent and dropping (and the Fed has said it will likely look at other factors, too). 

Yellen is known as a proponent of transparency – but she’s expected to say as little as possible  about what those other factors might be

Plus, April 8 is the last day that Microsoft will offer technical support for its 12 year-old operating system, Windows XP. Much of that support means fixing bugs. So after that date, any computer running XP will be considerably more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. But who is still using Microsoft XP? Lots of us apparently: 20 percent of computers worldwide use XP. It's the second most popular operating system behind Windows 7.

 

First ladies and U.S.-China relations

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-19 01:49

Michelle Obama lands in China tomorrow, where she’ll meet with Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan in Beijing before touring the country to speak about education. She’s not traveling alone. Her daughters and mother will accompany her on the visit, a detail sure to draw praise in a country that values filial piety.

The two women may have more in common than their husbands do. Both Obama and Peng are passionate education advocates, both are known for their fashion sense, and both have daughters. The trip will be a much-needed break from tense visits between officials of the two countries in recent years – Obama plans to focus her events on cultural exchanges between the two nations instead of discussing thorny topics like human rights or trade disputes. The trump card, however, will be who Obama is bringing with her. “The fact that she has two pretty daughters coming to China is a big sell,” says education reformer Jiang Xueqin, “the fact that she’ll be hanging out with the first lady is a big sale. The fact that she’s a rag to riches story – through hard work and schooling, she went to Harvard Law school and became first lady of the United States – that’s a message that’s very sympathetic in China.”

Obama will visit schools in Beijing, Xi’an, and Chengdu in her week-long visit. She aims to talk about the value of an American education, something the Chinese already understand. Most Chinese recognize the shortcomings of their test-based education system and those who have the means are sending their children to universities in the US in droves - there are now more than 200,000 Chinese students studying in the US, and US universities are establishing campuses all over China to meet a rising demand.

95 percent of U.S. ATMs run on Windows XP

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-19 01:00

April 8 is the last day that Microsoft will offer technical support for its 12 year-old operating system, Windows XP. Much of that support means fixing bugs. So after that date, any computer running XP will be considerably more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

Who is still using Microsoft XP? Probably your aunt, your grandparents and probably your parents.

20 percent of computers worldwide use XP. It’s the second most popular operating system behind Windows 7.

Your kid almost definitely uses it. A recent study by AVAST  found that 96 percent of schools still use XP. 

Your uncle who works at Hill Air Force Base probably uses it. 10 percent of Federal government computers, including some classified military networks, still use XP. 

You use it all the time: 95 percent of all U.S. ATMs still run on XP.

Every week, Microsoft employees look for vulnerabilities in their software. When they find them, they create what’s called a patch to fix it. After April 8, Microsoft will stop offering patches for XP.

“Therefore, anybody running an XP system could fall prey to someone who is trying to exercise one of those vulnerabilities,” says Eugene Spafford, executive director of The Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security at Purdue University. He says XP users had more than six years to prepare for the end, but not everyone has been proactive.

ATMs that haven’t been updated could be hacked in a number of ways. They could be programmed to spit out cash, keep cards or any other “mischief,” says Spafford.

Several major banks including JPMorgan have agreed to pay Microsoft for extended customer service on the outdated software. The good news is that customers will likely not be absorbing those costs, says Doug Johnson of American Bankers Association.

“I don’t see any pricing power in terms of trying to very directly pass off these costs to the consumer at the ATM."

Sony Pictures To Lay Off Interactive Group

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-19 01:00

Sony Pictures Entertainment will reportedly lay off its entire interactive marketing team — more than 200 employees. It's part of a cost-cutting trend by the major film studios.

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Is Organizing For Action Too Close To The White House?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-19 01:00

Organizing for Action, the social welfare group formed out of President Obama's campaign organization, has stumbled over its own fundraising rules. Now it's trying to clean things up.

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Potential Charges Against Incumbent Throw D.C. Mayor's Race Up In Air

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-19 01:00

The possible indictment of incumbent D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has turned what many expected to be a routine election into a referendum on whether voters trust him.

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There's A Reason They Call It Madness

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-19 01:00

As March Madness gets underway, commentator Frank Deford wonders if Americans just have too many teams to root for.

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For Pro Sports, Public Relations Going High-Tech, Real Time

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-19 01:00

The NFL, NASCAR and others have built social media command centers to engage directly with fans during live events.

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The danger of crowdsourcing the search for Flight 370

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-19 00:07

As the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, millions of people have turned to the internet to try to contribute to the search. Tomnod, the online crowdsourcing website that asks users to help identify objects in satellite imagery, has seen a huge bump in traffic from those looking to find the missing plane somewhere amongst the site's collected photographs. Gideon Lichfield, an editor at Quartz, admits that there are benefit in having human eyes involved in the process.

"I think the issue is that you have a vast area of sea, and algorithms just are not good enough to reliably identify places where there is or is not debris. It’s very hard to tell what you’re actually looking for and program an algorithm to do that."

According to Lichfield, the problem with attempting to find Flight 370 on a site like Tomnod is the sheer size of the search area. Tomnod has images available for about 24,000 square kilometers surrounding the missing flight, which is just a tiny fraction of the 7.7 million square kilometers that now comprise the expanded search area.

Lichfield also points out that the technology isn't developed enough yet to be of any service - Until higher resolution photographs can be produced, the search for debris will continue to be very difficult. Still, he is impressed by the potential of the technology and the enthusiasm of its users.

"The benefits potentially are there. Tomnod says that something like 3 million people have used it. If that’s accurate, that’s actually a huge amount of processing power."

 

 

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the editor at Quartz. He is Gideon Lichfield. The text has been corrected.

 

Repairing the Washington Monument with private money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-19 00:02

More than two years after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake damaged the Washington Monument, the U.S. National Park Service is readying to reopen it to tourists this spring.

“If you had a high-powered lens on your camera, or a set of binoculars to see up at the top, there were some very visible cracks,” says Brian Hall, a public information officer with the U.S. National Park Service.

Examining and, where needed, repairing the monument’s more than 30,000 stone pieces cost $15 million, but that work is being paid for in a novel way. The government split the tab with billionaire David Rubenstein.

“Increasingly, I think people should give money to things the federal government used to be able to do, but probably can’t do,” says Rubenstein, co-founder of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm headquartered in Washington. He has given tens of millions of dollars to government institutions. 

According to Jim Ferris, who heads the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy at the University of Southern California, the wealthy used to shy away from this kind of philanthropy, but that is starting to change.

“Increasingly, people see opportunities to actually work with government,” Ferris says, noting there is a federal task force to encourage agencies to partner with donors. “The extent to which we’re trying to engrain it, institutionalize it I think is new.”

Gene Tempel, the dean of the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, says there is a call for philanthropy to do more. During the most-recent government shutdown, hedge fund billionaire John Arnold and his wife, Laura, gave $10 million to Head Start, to keep it from closing.

Tempel says philanthropists like Rubenstein and the Arnolds are doing noble work, but he warns there could be a danger to this kind of giving: “That is the government can think that this is the way that it has to be done.”

Tempel says we’re not there yet. Indiana University keeps track of gifts worth a million dollars or more, and so far, Tempel says, less than one percent of those has gone to the government.

Why the Federal Reserve is vague about interest rates

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-19 00:00

 

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen can expect questions about interest rates and unemployment when the Fed wraps up its two-day meeting later today.

The Fed had promised to keep interest rates near zero, at least until unemployment hit 6.5 percent. Unemployment is currently at 6.7 percent and dropping (and the Fed has said it will likely look at other factors, too). Yellen is known as a proponent of transparency – but she’s expected to say as little as possible  about what those other factors might be.  Here's why:

1. Players in the stock and bond markets always want to know exactly what the Fed will do next.  Even when the Fed can’t say for sure.  

"They’re trying to figure out 'What is the Fed telling me about, what are interest rates going to do?'” says Ann Owens, a Hamilton College economics professor and former Fed economist. "There’s a real incentive to figure that out before everybody else does. Because if you can do that, then you can make a profit."  

2. The Fed wants to give some guidance about what it’s thinking, without boxing itself in. Williams College economics professor Kenneth  Kuttner, who also worked for the Fed, says the Fed is like a college professor—with market players as grade-grubbing students.

"You hand out the grading rubric, and some kid says, 'Oh, look, I did X that’s on your grading rubric. Why didn’t I get an A?'" he says.  "You need to be specific enough that they know what to do in the paper, but vague enough that you can say, 'There are these other things I’m taking into account as well.'"

Because if those students get too unruly, it can cause trouble for the whole class.

 

Israeli Airstrikes Target Syrian Army Sites

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 23:41

The Israeli military said Wednesday's strikes were in response to a roadside bomb that hit an Israeli patrol and wounded four soldiers the day before.

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Rauner Wins GOP Nomination For Illinois Governor

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 20:19

Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner advances to a November matchup with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. "It's a choice between failure of the past and a new day," he said in his victory speech.

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Rauner Wins GOP Nomination For Illinois Governor

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 19:48

Rauner wins GOP nomination for Illinois governor

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