National News

Legendary Vermont Bakers May Stop Selling Beloved Sourdough Bread

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 12:13

The bread that Jules and Helen Rabin have made in their fieldstone oven for four decades has a cult following in central Vermont. But this may be the last summer they sell it at the farmers market.

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Gaza Violence Tests Once-Unshakable Allies U.S. And Israel

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 12:11

Both sides have traded barbs and criticism over the other's policies. Some believe the public feud stems from a personal animosity between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Same-Sex Marriages On Hold In Virginia After Supreme Court Weighs In

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 11:35

The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked an appeals court ruling that would have allowed gay marriages to begin in Virginia tomorrow.

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Why Vegetables Get Freakish In The Land Of The Midnight Sun

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 10:57

Long summer days in Alaska help cabbages, turnips and other vegetables grow to gargantuan sizes. These "giants" are celebrated at the annual state fair, which kicks off on Thursday.

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How can you be sure a medical app actually works?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 10:53

Your smartphone will see you now: the wild west of medical apps

If you take a virtual stroll through the iTunes store or Google Play, you will find nearly a hundred thousand health apps – everything from fitness trackers to blood glucose monitors. Out of all these apps, only about 100 have been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration. Some lawyers are calling for more regulation.

Nathan Cortez went to law school in Silicon Valley. He wears a black Fitbit bracelet and his iPhone is stocked with apps like WebMD. But some apps scare him.

“I’ve got an app that you can use to record your heartbeat or bowel sounds,” he says. “And it spits out a diagnosis. Just the thought you can hold your cell phone up to your chest and receive a serious diagnosis of a heart problem is a little mind blowing.”

Scary diagnoses

Cortez is a law professor at SMU in Dallas. He outlined the potential dangers of medical apps in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. And while Cortez talks about hypothetical dangers, he has real life examples of malfunctioning apps.

For example, a rheumatoid arthritis app created by Pfizer in 2011: “It was basically a calculator,” he says, “trying to calculate a score for how severe your rheumatoid arthritis is.”

And it wasn’t working.

“In that case, you may have seen treatment decisions made based on erroneous calculations.”

The blood glucose app from drug company Sanofi was recalled because it miscalculated insulin doses.

Right now the FDA categorizes apps on three levels of risk. It only has jurisdiction over the riskiest products, and does not even review all of those.

Why? Cortez says it’s mainly politics, and a fear of stifling innovation.

The FDA is sensitive to accusations of over-regulation. This month the agency announced even more exemptions for mobile health products that allow users to track, log, trend, and share data with doctors. New rules clear Apple’s product HealthKit, an app to track everything from blood pressure to lung capacity, from regulation.

The regulatory hurdle 

In the past decade, the FDA has confirmed the medical claims of roughly 100 apps, or .1 percent of what’s out there. One app that has been cleared is called My Vision Track.

MyVision Track App 

MyVision Track

“We believe that a regulatory approved medical app costs you about 10 times as much and takes about 10 times as long as doing one that’s not regulated,” says creator Mike Bartlett, with Richardson-based company Vital Art and Science Inc.

Bartlett had to organize multiple months-long clinical studies to prove that My Vision Track can monitor the progress of retinal diseases such as macular degeneration. But he’s not upset about the expensive, arduous process.

“I would be very cautious about using something that’s unproven,” Bartlett says. “And we know that there are vision tests that absolutely don’t work.”

Regulators walking a fine line

Regulators are walking a fine line between letting snake oil salesmen roam free and discouraging legitimate developers.

Chuck McCoy, head of North Texas Angels Network, says so far he hasn’t heard complaints from investors about too much red tape.

“The FDA over regulates in many areas,” he says, “but if you are going to make clinical claims about a device, there has to be some scientific basis for those claims.”

So far, the FDA has taken a fairly lenient view of the medical app ecosystem, says Dr. Chandra Duggirala, a physician with the San Mateo Medical Center. Last year, he made an experimental device for Type 2 diabetes with promising early results. But he wasn’t able to secure funding that would have brought it to market. Duggirala says the lenient stance could change once people start using medical apps that don’t just track, but also diagnose health conditions.

“So far, not many medical apps are hugely popular in a way that would attract FDA attention," he says. "Once that happens, I’m sure there will be some regulatory hurdles for everybody to cross."

Most entrepreneurs agree the FDA over-regulated medical devices. Now, the question is whether they’re under-regulating mobile medical apps.

The business of pop music

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 10:52

It's hard to think of a side of the music industry Linda Perry hasn't seen; from playing out of a coffee bar in San Francisco to producing music to having her own VH1 reality show. It's a career path some might call unstable, even with all of her successes.

"I've lived out in a park sleeping on the grass with no place to go, I've not eaten, I've been there," says Perry. "There's nothing you could do to me, nothing you could take away from me that would make me feel like I wasn't going to be all right. I would just start all over again."

But even when she's had success, Perry doesn't feel she's actually tasted it.

"Honestly, I don't feel ever very successful because I haven't had a hit in a while, because I don't search for them," Perry says. "To be where I am now, I love it -- I love writing songs, but I don't want to write the songs everyone else is asking me to write. I'm waiting for when people want the real thing again, and that's when you'll start hearing my hits again."

Part of the reason music has become so big, she says, is because of the business that drives a sort of endless cycle.

"Things get greedy, music gets s***ty, movies start losing the plot, we complain, independents show up, there's going to be a girl who's going to sell a million records out of the trunk of her car, you know what I mean?" she says. "And then the next time it'll be even bigger."

The business of pop music

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 10:52

It's hard to think of a side of the music industry Linda Perry hasn't seen; from playing out of a coffee bar in San Francisco to producing music to having her own VH1 reality show. It's a career path some might call unstable, even with all of her successes.

"I've lived out in a park sleeping on the grass with no place to go, I've not eaten, I've been there," says Perry. "There's nothing you could do to me, nothing you could take away from me that would make me feel like I wasn't going to be all right. I would just start all over again."

But even when she's had success, Perry doesn't feel she's actually tasted it.

"Honestly, I don't feel ever very successful because I haven't had a hit in a while, because I don't search for them," Perry says. "To be where I am now, I love it -- I love writing songs, but I don't want to write the songs everyone else is asking me to write. I'm waiting for when people want the real thing again, and that's when you'll start hearing my hits again."

Part of the reason music has become so big, she says, is because of the business that drives a sort of endless cycle.

"Things get greedy, music gets s***ty, movies start losing the plot, we complain, independents show up, there's going to be a girl who's going to sell a million records out of the trunk of her car, you know what I mean?" she says. "And then the next time it'll be even bigger."

Beheading Video Sets Off Debate Over How — Or Whether — To Portray It

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 10:52

A video that shows an American journalist being beheaded by extremist militants has sparked outrage, along with arguments over whether the images should be restricted online.

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The Ice Bucket Challenge And Other Good Causes: Do Stars Really Help?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 10:48

When Tom Hiddleston and Lady Gaga take the Ice Bucket Challenge, it makes a big splash. But do stars really make a difference in fund-raising and public awareness when they endorse a charity?

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Got a tax credit you can't use? You can sell it

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 10:04

States spend billions on tax incentives for all kinds of business activity. Here’s one example of the growth in state tax credits: In the year 2000, only four states gave film tax credits. Now, almost 40 do.

Still, lots of businesses never rack up enough of a tax liability to actually use the tax credits states give them. Perhaps they’re an out-of-state film company with a low tax bill, or a nonprofit or start-up with none at all. One way for states to entice those groups is with transferable, or sellable, tax credits. So the secondary market for those credits is growing too.

To show you how sophisticated the market for buying and selling state tax credits is getting, let’s follow the path of an incentive named Betsy.

Okay, it’s actually "BETC", which stands for Business Energy Tax Credit – but it’s pronounced Betsy.

BETC is from Oregon. The state said to businesses there: "Invest in renewable energy or energy conservation, and you can get this tax credit."

Our BETC’s story starts at the Port of Portland, an economic hub that relies on a dredge, called  the Dredge Oregon, to clear navigation channels along the Columbia River.

The dredge was getting old.

“It wasn’t particularly environmentally friendly,” says Tatiana Starostina, the Port’s senior finance manager.

So the Port undertook a $20 million project to overhaul the Dredge Oregon’s engine, pump and generators. The Port says the overhaul will reduce the dredge’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent.

To help pay for all this, the Port got a BETC from the state. But there was a wrinkle: “Well, because the Port is a government entity,” says Starostina, “obviously we cannot use the tax credit to its original purpose.”

The Port doesn’t pay taxes, so a tax credit doesn’t do much good unless it can monetize it.

“Monetize means we literally sell it,” says Starostina – at a discount, of course. Then the company that buys BETC gets to apply the full credit to its state tax bill.

“It would be like a Groupon,” says Rob O’Neill, the man the Port asked to sell BETC.

O’Neill is a partner with Moss Adams, an accounting firm that’s helped facilitate the transfer of over $500 million in state tax credits since 2007. He says the firms that buy larger tax credits, those worth more than $1 million, are typically Fortune 500 companies.

He also says the secondary market for tax credits is growing.

By some estimates, there are up to 200 state tax credits that are transferable or directly cashable (called refundable). Companies are selling their unused film credits, credits for historic preservation, job creation, renewable energy, even farmworker housing.

But O’Neill says, until now, the market’s been a bit of a black box.

“A lot of people were calling tax directors, and CFOs, and people they meet on the golf course, and try and sell them a tax credit,” he says. “And no one really had transparency with respect to the market.”

Now, O’Neill was preparing to list BETC on a new digital exchange, kind of like a Craigslist of tax credits. Buyers and sellers would be able to log in, click on Oregon, and then see BETC’s listing: a $647,190 credit available for 73.6 cents on the dollar.

Then, at the last minute, BETC sold the old fashioned way, off-exchange. O’Neill got a call from “a large, public, transportation equipment manufacturer.”

He described the buyer on the condition it not be named.

Still, O’Neill wants to nudge more tax credit business online. Moss Adams is one of at least half a dozen companies starting private exchanges through a platform called The Online Incentives Exchange, which also hosts a new public exchange.

“What’s critical is to bring the tax credit market into the modern era,” says OIX’s co-founder Danny Bigel.

Rob O’Neill agrees. “Everything’s moving to the web, and so I think it’s just a matter of time before the business community starts to accept that this is the way credits will transfer in the future,” he says.

Meanwhile a company with almost $2 billion in revenue gets a deal on a state tax credit. The Port of Portland gets to use BETC’s proceeds for its dredge project. Oregon achieves its energy efficiency goal, although it does lose more than half a million dollars in tax revenue from a business that might not need public help.

That’s all from the path of one little tax credit in a market of incentives worth billions.

Got an Oregon tax liability? This $2.6 million credit is available for 25 percent off.

President Obama Says Militants Who Beheaded American Are 'Cowardly'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 09:17

The extremist group that carried out the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley engages in "cowardly acts" and "has no place in the 21st century," President Obama said Wednesday.

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Photographing An Ebola Riot: Put Your Fear Aside And Go Forward

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 08:51

Covering protests over an Ebola quarantine, NPR photographer David Gilkey found himself in the middle of a riot. He says he doesn't know what was scarier — the bullets or the health risks.

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D'oh! FXX will air 552 episodes of The Simpsons

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 08:00

In a crowded cable marketplace, FXX is trying to make a name for itself with a little help from Homer Simpson. 

The fledgling cable channel bought the syndication rights to The Simpsons, and on Thursday, it kicks off a 12-day marathon of 552 Simpsons episodes.

In September, FXX will run the episodes regularly, except for those getting their first run on FOX. FXX will also launch an app with special digital access to Simpsons shows.

“For FXX, it's almost like a coup to help them to create an identity early on,” says Tuna Amobi, Equity Analyst with S&P Capital IQ.

Amobi says The Simpsons' move to cable was highly anticipated and likely drew lots of bids. FXX, the winner, is another unit of the same parent company, 21st Century Fox. Amobi says the deal, whose terms were not disclosed, probably cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Jonathan Taplin, Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, says the average person watches nine cable channels and has 400 to choose from, so FXX faces big odds.

But he thinks the Simpsons could give FXX some legs. And its digital presence could pull in revenue.

“They can attach a lot of advertising to it,” he says.

Taplin says it remains to be seen whether The Simpsons will compel viewers to stick around and watch other FXX shows.

Sam Craig, Director of the Entertainment, Media and Technology program at New York University, agrees.

“If the Simpsons can't do it,” he says, “it's a question of what else is out there that can.”

Economic lessons according to "The Simpsons"

In more than 20 seasons of "The Simpsons", there are more than a few lessons about business and the economy. So many, in fact, that the show has inspired academic papers on ways to use the show in the classroom and a new book, "Homer Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics." We scoured the web to find a few clips featuring lessons on business and the economy.

Lesson: Mobs shouldn't determine public spending

In this classic clip, a smarmy Harold Hill type, played by Phil Hartman, tries to convince the residents of Springfield to spend their unexpected surplus on a monorail. The song is a wry comment on mob mentality and public spending, as Marge points out there are many other places the town's resources could be used.

Lesson: Always consider opportunity cost

Speaking of trade-offs, Homer and the members of the local 643 (part of the International Brotherhood of Jazz Dancers, Pastry Chefs, and Nuclear Technicians) make one when they nearly give up their dental insurance for a keg at every meeting. Assuming Mr. Burns is being honest about his funds, this could be a lesson in opportunity cost. But of course he's not.

Lesson: Sometimes, a monopoly has advantages

Speaking of Burns, he looks for further expand his energy empire by blocking out the sun. Joshua Hall, editor of "Homer Economicus," writes that Burns' plan presents an opportunity to discuss the nature and advantages of a monopoly.

(Courtesy:MySimpsonsBlogIsGreaterThanYours.tumblr.com)

Lesson: Don't let other business determine your prices

On a much smaller scale, Bart learns some business basics when he tries to severely undercut bars by selling stolen beer at a nickel a cup. Had Homer not come home and wrecked the scheme, Bart would have soon run out of supplies and jacked up prices anyway.

Lesson: The law of demand always matters

Finally, for the advanced "Simpsons" economist, R. Andrew Luccasen and M. Kathleen Thomas write in their paper "Simpsonomics" that this clip illustrates — and bends — the law of demand.

Homer is sent to hell for his gluttony and the devil forces him to head "all the doughnuts" as punishment. The marginal benefit should drop into the negative over time, but Homer, of course, is no ordinary glutton.

PODCAST: Macy's settles profiling charge

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 07:40

After the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown and the recent clashes in Ferguson, Missouri, racial profiling has returned to the national spotlight.

That department store chain Macy’s reached a $650,000 settlement Wednesday with the New York Attorney General’s office over racial profiling practices shows how deep the issue runs. This is the second settlement since 2005 for Macy’s, and the deal comes about a week after a similar agreement was reached with the Madison Avenue luxury store Barney’s.

Plus, the Dow could pass $17,000 again by labor day, but amid geopolitical crises all over the world, how is that possible?

And finally, British pubs have been closing at a rate of 31 a week, and that rate is accelerating. The Campaign for Real Ale is warning that a world-famous British institution is in danger of severe decline. The group has called for urgent measures to save the pub and preserve a valuable piece of the fabric of British life.

Liberia Blocks Off Neighborhood In Ebola Quarantine, Sparking Riot

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 07:30

Residents of the capital's West Point neighborhood woke up to learn no one can enter or leave the area for 21 days — the time it takes to determine whether someone exposed to Ebola was infected.

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Macy's settles up in profiling case

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 06:55

After the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown and the recent clashes in Ferguson, Missouri, racial profiling has returned to the national spotlight.

Department store chain Macy’s reached a $650,000 settlement Wednesday with the New York Attorney General’s office over racial profiling practices, which shows how deep the issue runs. This is the second settlement since 2005 for Macy’s, and the deal comes about a week after a similar agreement was reached with the Madison Avenue luxury store Barney’s.

The most recent investigation has found that African-American and Hispanic shoppers were detained at  “significantly higher rates” for alleged shoplifting than white shoppers.

Retail researcher Paula Rosenblum says racial profiling is frequently an afterthought in the industry.

“They mostly advise their store associates to watch out for people who look suspicious,” she says.

Milton Pedraza, founder and CEO of the Luxury Institute, says retailers have every incentive to train front-line and security staff so every customer feels welcome.

“Even if you didn’t have moral clarity on the issue, at least you should have economic clarity on the issue,” he says.

Pedraza says stealing a shirt is insignificant compared to the additional sales that come from building a reputation as a kind and generous merchant. 

For its part, Macy’s has agreed to make several changes, including an effort to improve its anti-shoplifting practices and plans to distribute an anti-racial-profiling memo to workers.

Simma Lieberman, who works with retailers on diversity and what she calls "cultural intelligence" says employers should know profiling is often unconscious. Lieberman trains her clients to monitor their own personal biases. Often, she says, shop clerks are quick to make assumptions, and “they don’t get to behavior, they just look at what somebody looks like.”

The danger, says Lieberman, is in our rush to judgment, when we “assume someone is going to have a certain behavior, which they may not have.”

Israel's Netanyahu Vows 'A Continuous Campaign' Against Hamas

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 05:56

The comments come a day after a truce collapsed, leading to the resumption of rocket fire against Israel and Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip. At least 20 Palestinians have been killed since then.

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Ferguson Killing Inspires Young Black Activists

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 05:56

Activists around the country say Michael Brown's death and the police response have strengthened their resolve to fight injustice.

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What Kids' Drawings Say About Their Future Thinking Skills

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 05:23

There's a link between how children draw at age 4 and how well they perform on intelligence tests at age 14, researchers say.

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