National News

Sex discrimination suit set to start in Silicon Valley

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-02-25 02:00

There’s a civil suit set to go to trial this week. Ellen Pao, a former employee at Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is suing the company, saying  she was discriminated against. The case is drawing attention to an industry where women are still struggling. 

“It’s a boys’ club,” says Susan Duffy, executive director at the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson College.

A decade ago, 10 percent of venture capital decision-makers were women, according to a study published by Babson last fall. “And now in the United States only 8.6 percent of those decision-makers are women, and globally only 6 percent, so we’re actually going in the wrong direction,” Duffy says. 



Adjunct faculty demonstrate for better conditions

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-02-25 02:00

Like many part-time college instructors, Basak Durgun doesn’t have an office. She often meets students or other faculty in the food court on campus.

“My office is my backpack,” she says.

That’s a problem, because Durgun has nowhere to meet privately with students in her Cultural Studies classes. Last semester, she says, serious issues like mental health and plagiarism came up.

“All of these intense moments I had to have right in front of the classroom in public,” she says.

On Wednesday, thousands of adjunct faculty and their students around the country are planning demonstrations to demand better working conditions. More than half of college classes are taught by temporary and part-time instructors, often for low pay and no benefits. Organizers are calling it National Adjunct Walkout Day. Given the precarious nature of the job, it’s not clear how many will actually leave their classrooms.

In Virginia, it’s illegal for public employees to walk off the job. So adjuncts at George Mason are planning a teach-in to talk with students and faculty about their working conditions. In addition to private space, they want to be paid for the time they spend prepping for classes, and a cancellation fee when classes are cut at the last minute.

On the other side of the country, Larry Cushnie and his fellow adjuncts are planning a walkout. Cushnie teaches political science at Seattle University, where he says adjuncts make up more than half of the faculty. Adjuncts there have been fighting to form a union.

Cushnie has a PhD and this year is making $48,000 teaching full-time. Next year, though, he has no idea what and where he’ll be teaching. Nationally, a typical adjunct makes about $2,700 per course.

“What life is like is kind of just scrapping quarter to quarter, year to year, to put together a schedule that will kind of meet your needs of basic income,” he says.

The administration at Seattle University declined to be interviewed. At George Mason, Provost David Woo says the university relies heavily on adjuncts not just to save money. Because it’s close to Washington, D.C., he says, George Mason can take advantage of local talent. Many instructors have other careers at, say, the State Department or Lockheed Martin, he says.

“The vast majority of our faculty are working professionals,” Woo says. “A relatively small percentage of them are actually doing adjunct teaching as their primary occupation.”

Career adjuncts make up a growing share of the faculty on campuses, though, many of which charge students $50,000 a year. According to the American Association of University Professors, more than three-quarters of instructors are not on the tenure track.  If all of them were to walk out today, activists say colleges would grind to a halt.

Campbell's Soup tries a new recipe for success

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-02-25 02:00

Campbell Soup Company reports its second-quarter earnings on Wednesday, and it's already warning it expects those numbers to be down given the strong dollar.

The company recently announced a restructuring aimed at cutting about $200 million in annual costs over the next three years. Campbell will use that money to invest in new product lines, moving away from its iconic soup, whose sales have thinned over the past few years.

Campbell is trying to capitalize on consumers’ interest in organic and fresh foods. In 2013, it acquired Plum Organics, maker of organic baby food. Erin Lash, senior equity analyst at Morningstar, says organic baby food has a lot of growth potential.

“A lot of times parents are willing to pay up for products for their kids while pulling back spending in other areas,” she says.

Campbell also acquired Bolthouse Farms a few years ago. Its products include baby cut carrots and smoothies.

“There seems to be a slow but steady shift towards fresh consumption,” says Darren Seifer, the food and beverage industry analyst at the NPD Group.


The best part of waking up ... is no longer Folgers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-02-25 01:30

That's how many episodes "Parks and Recreation" aired over seven years, wrapping up Tuesday night with an hour-long finale. The critically acclaimed sitcom was never a ratings giant, but it enjoyed a long run thanks to a combination of factors unique to the television business. Vulture has a good case-study.


That's how much adjunct professors in the U.S. make on average per course taught. Thousands of adjunct faculty—often part-time, and underpaid without benefits—are planning demonstrations on Wednesday as part of National Adjunct Walkout Day. The American Association of University Professors says as many as three-quarters of professors in the U.S. are not on a tenure track.

$312 million

That's the reported second-quarter profit for Campbell Soup Company, which is down from the reported $361 million in profit from the same period a year ago. Campbell's has seen sales of traditional soups slip in recent years. It's why the company is exploring other products like organic baby food.

138,324 percent

That's how much coffee pod sales increased in the past ten years, about 30 percent annually these days. The pods, popularized by Keurig's single-cup coffeemakers, are leading a surge in low-end coffee sales both at home and in cafes, the Washington Post reports.

Washington Post $4.7 billion

Whole Foods Markets' sales last quarter, a four-year record. The upscale grocer may be pulling out of the sales slump and stock price tailspin its seen in recent years, Quartz reported, thanks in large part to lowering its prices.

85 countries

That's how many countries Gemalto, a Dutch SIM card maker, operates in. As reported by the BBC, the company says that the NSA and GCHQ likely did hack into it systems as alleged by the documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Elaborating on two specific attacks, Gemalto said fake emails were sent to a customer that appeared to come from an employee, and a hacking attempt was made to spy on messages sent between workers in their French office.

'Torture Report' Reshapes Conversation In Guantanamo Courtroom

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 23:57

Last year's release of a Senate report on CIA interrogation practices means lawyers for the accused Sept. 11 plotters can now discuss in court the treatment they say their clients endured.

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D.C. Bible Museum Will Be Immersive Experience, Organizers Say

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 23:53

Just three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, construction is underway for the Museum of the Bible, which will hold about 40,000 biblical artifacts from the family of Hobby Lobby president Steve Green.

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Recruiting Better Talent With Brain Games And Big Data

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 23:50

Some companies are using surveys or brain games to assess what kind of workers candidates are. Employers say the tests can help reduce turnover and surface talent recruiters might otherwise overlook.

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Guilty Verdict Returned In 'American Sniper' Murder Trial

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 18:44

Ex-Marine Eddie Ray Routh was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing former U.S. Navy Seal Chris Kyle, whose bestseller autobiography became the award-winning movie, and a friend.

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Faces Runoff In Re-Election Bid

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 18:26

The one-time White House chief of staff will face off against a longtime county commissioner in April.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Rebuffs Senate Democrats' Meeting Request

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 17:01

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin had invited Benjamin Netanyahu for a closed-door meeting during his trip to Washington next week. Netanyahu was invited to speak to Congress by Republicans.

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Even Pickaxes Couldn't Stop The Nation's First Oil Pipeline

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 16:20

The debate over Keystone XL is nothing compared to the battle over the nation's first commercial oil pipeline. It transformed how energy was transported forever — but not without sabotage and threats.

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Tables Have Turned As Senate Barrels Toward Homeland Security Deadline

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 15:22

In many ways, nothing has changed from past funding deadlines. Except this time it's the Republicans howling at the Democrats for being the obstructionists.

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In Boston, just getting to work is a job in itself

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 14:18

Just in case you haven’t heard, Boston has been getting pounded with snow.

Roads are so clogged that some two-way streets have temporarily been designated one-way. Like a lot of other institutions in the city, Boston’s mass transit system – the oldest in America -- broke down under the strain. Trains and buses are running late, if at all. Exasperated Boston residents agree it’s tough to get anywhere these days.

Kenneth Williams, 65, takes the bus to his job as a detox counselor and over the past few weeks has regularly been an hour late.

“The management looks at me like what’s up, again? Again?” he says.

Williams’ bus ride takes twice as long because traffic on snow-constricted roads moves at a crawl. The trains are no better – many of the above-ground lines aren’t running. Punishing weather has broken so many parts of the archaic transit system that officials say it’ll take a month to recover.

It’s all made for “total frustration on the part of both employees and employers,” says Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. The economic research firm IHS estimates that the Massachusetts economy is taking a $265 million dollar hit every day the situation continues.

“Some employers have allowed their workers to work from home – those particularly who have technology that allows for that,” Guzzi says.

But, of course, technology doesn’t help the many businesses that need employees on-site. Kevin Long, executive chef of the restaurant Red Lantern, says challenges have been overwhelming for businesses like his. Like many employers whose workers get paid by the hour, Long sats when his employees don’t show up, he can’t pay them. But he’s trying to be flexible and understanding.

“We’ve put employees in Ubers and taken care of taxis and carpooled, picked people up, dropped them off,” he says. But that hasn't always worked.

“Obviously we’ve had some days that we’ve had to close. We hate to close – you hate to shut the doors to people that might be trying to get out.”

While there’s no law against laying off people for not being able to get to work, Professor Tom Kochan of the MIT Sloan School of Management said if employers go that route, it might backfire.

“I think these are times that are testing the bonds between employers and workers,” he says. “I think in the majority of cases it is strengthening those bonds. But in some cases it may fray them if one party or the other thinks the other one is taking advantage of the situation.”

These times are also testing the bonds between businesses and their customers. Bright Horizons Family Solutions -- one of the state’s largest employers – provides back-up emergency childcare for employees of places like hospitals and law firms. CEO David Lissy says to keep that service going over the past few weeks, Bright Horizons had to find  alternatives to public transportation for its own workers. 

“Times like this really are times for us to shine and really engender a lot loyalty with our clients,” he says.

And for those companies that can’t shine just now, they’re soldiering on with the hope that winter will soon end.

Priority Bicycle's quest to build a better bike

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 14:12

Dave Weiner, founder of Priority Bicycles, quit his job running a tech company to reinvent the bicycle. Why?

"I had this desire to bring my knowledge of supply-chain technology and bicycles together to build a simpler bicycle," Weiner says. 

For Weiner, that meant rethinking every part of the bicycle, from the tires to the handle bars.

"The most noticeable feature on our bike is the belt-drive. That was the hardest part of the engineering," he says.

But Weiner had to deal with more than just engineering challenges.

"The big bike manufacturers want to work with the big well-established companies," Weiner says, so he had to go all over the world sourcing parts for his bike.

With a background in the bicycle industry, Weiner was confident in his ability to build a better bike, but he needed funding too.

"And that's where we went to Kickstarter and said 'Does our idea make sense? Do you like it as much as we do?'"

According to Weiner, the Kickstarter campaign was a success. "We had over 1,500 backers back us for bicycles. They all received their bicycles on time or early. And they're all happy."

Gerbils Likely Pushed Plague To Europe in Middle Ages

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 12:53

Shifts in climate in the Middle Ages likely drove plague bacteria from gerbils in Asia to people in Europe, research now suggests. Rats don't deserve all the blame.

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Here's Where Emoji Skin-Tone Colors Come From

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 12:42

Apple will be rolling out with a more diverse set of emojis with browner — and yellower — skin tones. Here's the science behind how they come up with the colors.

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Little-Known Laws Help Sex-Trafficking Victims Clear Criminal Records

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 12:38

"I'm not ever going to forget what I've done," says a woman once convicted of prostitution. "But, at the same time, I don't want it thrown in my face every time I'm trying to seek employment."

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Younger Women Hesitate To Say They're Having A Heart Attack

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 12:26

Even when women suspected they were having a heart attack, they didn't report it because they feared being called hypochondriacs, a study finds. That may contribute to women's higher death rates.

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Jordan's King Balances Threats Abroad And Critics At Home

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 12:24

Jordanians are now supportive of the military campaign against the Islamic State. But King Abdullah still faces domestic opponents, religious and secular, who chafe at restrictions they face at home.

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College? Career Tech? In Nashville, Teens Do Both

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 12:16

Vocational education is enjoying a renaissance in many U.S. schools. In Nashville, all high schoolers, regardless of college plans, are encouraged to take three career training classes.

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