National News

Thank Your Gut Bacteria For Making Chocolate 'Healthy'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 10:31

Dark chocolate may help the heart and waistline. Now scientists have figured out one reason why: Bacteria in the gut turn cocoa into compounds that lower inflammation and make us feel full.

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Top Democrat Insists Party Will Hold Senate — But Turnout Is Key

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 09:43

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz says the Republican Party hasn't changed at all since its 2012 losses and continues to alienate "huge swaths of voters."

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Wal-Mart will buy your used video games now

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-18 09:00

Starting next week, you can take your old video games to Wal-Mart and get store credit for them. According to Carl Howe, Vice President of Research at the Yankee Group, it's a smart move for the superstore.

"I think what the retailers have found is that there’s a very robust secondary market for games. They’re expensive enough and the demographic that buys games is young enough that they’re pretty cost sensitive."

The used game market in the US is worth more than $1.5 billion, which is not great news for game publishers. Companies like GameStop and Best Buy, however, have deep roots in the used game market.

Wal-Mart does have size on its side. Its hired an outside company to handle refurbishment of the old games that come in, and plans to start selling them at Wal-marts by the end of the year.

Opting Out Of Your Insurance Plan's Network Can Be Costly

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 08:53

People who choose to go to unapproved doctors and hospitals for care may find themselves with unexpected out-of-pocket expenses and copayments for services that would otherwise be free.

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Chechen Leader Known As 'Russia's Bin Laden' Reported Dead

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 08:25

A separatist website says Doku Umarov, who has claimed responsibility for several high-profile attacks in Russia, has been "martyred." However, this isn't the first time his death has been announced.

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Three floods in three years? Yeah, we'll buy your house

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-18 08:17

Don Garboski loves his big open kitchen, and the pool out back where his grandkids play in the summer.

He’s lived in this house nearly 50 years, but in a few months, Garboski will pack up his belongings and hand the keys to the state of New Jersey so they can demolish it. He’s already stopped fixing problems as they arise in the house.

“This door knob that's broken,” says Garboski, “I refuse to have it replaced because we’re leaving. Why fix it?”

Instead, a piece of duct tape covers the latch. Garboski tells guests not to bother taking their shoes off, despite having replaced all the floors and carpet after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“I don't care if someone comes in with ice skates,” he shrugs.

Garboski lives in Sayreville, N.J., east of New Brunswick along the Raritan and South Rivers.  His neighborhood has severely flooded three times in the last three years. Following Sandy, the state wants to buy his house and some 1,300 other homes for their pre-storm value and demolish them. It's part of a $300 million “Blue Acres” program, funded with federal Sandy aid. The state of New York has launched a similar program.

Sixteen months after Sandy, more than 400 deals are in the works in New Jersey, but only 50 have closed so far. The first home was demolished just last week.

One cause of the delay is that Garboski and many of his neighbors feel they've been low-balled by the state.

“The assessment process is a very sore subject with me," says Garboski, noting that he believes his offer was at least $20,000 short. “Some people made out better than others. Some people, pardon the expression, got screwed.”

Rich Boornazian runs the Blue Acres program. He agrees some of the appraisals were too low, and encouraged those homeowners to appeal. But that adds time to the process.

Other delays have arisen from the surprising number of homeowners owing more on their mortgage than the house was worth before the storm.

"What we didn't expect was the thirty percent rate of people that were 'underwater' on their mortgages," says Boornazian. "So that's a tough one. The state doesn't have extra money to pay more than the appraised value." 

The state is now negotiating with banks to see if they will accept less than full repayment of a mortgage.

Now, the state has to wait for a second round of federal funds to be released before it can make more offers.

But perhaps the largest factor in these buyouts and a common cause for delays are all the emotions that come with leaving a long-time home.

Some families have requested to stay until the end of the school year, says Boornazian.

"There's some people that come to us and say, 'I want to die in this house,'" he adds. "It's not all logical. It's very gut-wrenching emotional decisions that people have to make."

After all the work Zigmunt and Mary Dombrowski put into their house and the 49 years of memories they have there, the couple says they simply can't move – they can't imagine where they'd go.

“I did everything myself except this boiler,” says Zigmunt, proud of his post-Sandy repairs and the bargain furniture finds from Goodwill that he and Mary used to restock the house after the storm.

The Dombrowskis have lived next door to the Garboskis for nearly five decades. But unlike their neighbor, Zigmunt and Mary have decided to turn down the state’s offer. They don’t have to sell if they don’t want to. 

"Why would I want to leave now?" Zigmunt asks. "When we came here there were only two or three houses. If they all leave, that's fine with me. I'm used to that. That's the way it was before."

The Dombrowskis say even if the state offered him more money, they still wouldn't sell.

VIDEO: Flames Spread After Helicopter Crashes In Seattle

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 07:59

At least two people were killed and one was injured when a news helicopter came down on several cars. Witnesses say it may have tumbled from atop a nearby building.

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The year the big screen came to the little screen

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-18 07:49

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up Wednesday:  

  • The House Natural Resources Committee takes a trip to Fresno, Calif., for a field hearing on the Golden State water crisis.
  • The Federal Reserve wraps up a two-day meeting on interest rates.
  • And sixty-one years ago the Oscars were televised for the first time.

WATCH: Physicist Gets 'Smoking Gun' Proof Of His Theory

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 07:30

Andrei Linde, one of the founding fathers of cosmological inflation, answers the door to the news that his theory appears to have been confirmed.

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Kids Think The Darndest Thoughts

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 07:11

Children believe all sorts of things growing up, but kid logic isn't that different from adult logic.

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Feminism Is Fashionable For Nigerian Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 07:00

Adichie might be Africa's best-known young writer, and she's making a big mark on this side of the Atlantic. She talks about feminism and fashion and the possibility of filming with Lupita Nyong'o.

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Here Are The 24 Heroic Stories Behind Today's Medals Of Honor

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 06:35

At the White House, the nation's highest honor for valor in action will go to 24 men — three of whom are still alive. Most were Jewish or Hispanic and had been unfairly passed over.

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Yes, It's A Headache. No, You Don't Need A Brain Scan

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 06:28

In 2010, 15 percent of people who went to the doctor for a headache got a brain scan, even though the vast majority of headaches aren't symptoms of something seriously wrong.

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More Theories But Still No Sign Of Missing Malaysian Jet

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 04:30

As the search for Flight 370 and the 239 people on board continues, investigators are pursing many possibilities. One question: Was the crew overcome by smoke?

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A mixed outlook for the housing market

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-18 02:49

New home construction took another hit last month, according to the latest figures from the Commerce Department. Housing starts slipped for a third straight month, though applications for building permits rose more than 7 percent.

In parts of the country relentless winter storms have slowed down homebuilding, but the fragile housing recovery is up against more than bad weather.

In a typical recovery, young people would be the first time buyers flocking to model homes. But analysts say Millennials have been slower to move out of their parents' homes and form their own households - held back by a tough job market and soaring student loan debt. For people who do want to buy, higher mortgage rates and rising prices have also made housing less affordable.

The National Association of Home Builders says members are pessimistic about the next six months, as they face higher materials costs, and shortages of skilled labor and ready-to-build land.

West Is Ruled 'By The Gun,' Putin Says As He Annexes Crimea

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 02:45

The Russian leader has approved legislation to draw that part of Ukraine into the Russian Federation — over the objections of the new leaders in Kiev and despite Western sanctions.

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PODCAST: Stress tests and more political ads

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-18 01:49

 The guardians of interest rates and stimulus are in the first session of a two day meeting today in Washington. It's also a big week for the Federal Reserve in its role as bank supervisor.  This is the first round of stress tests for banks and it is supposed to help prevent the government having to bail out the banks as happened five years ago. 

The mid-term congressional elections happen later in the year.  But the Republican National Committee is launching a six-figure ad campaign this week, with a chunk of the money going toward ads on cable.  And the spending comes as campaigns realize fewer people are tuning in, at least the way they used to. 

Plus, these days, it seems that every industry has a trade show.  The American Feed Industry Association met in Las Vegas last week. So did the American Membrane Technology Association. So it stands to reason there is a trade show for trade shows. A convention convention. It’s very meta. Six thousand people attended last year’s Exhibitor convention. 

Frowny faces help conserve water

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-18 01:04

To encourage people to consume less water and energy, conservationists often turn to taxes, rebates, or advertising.  But there may be a more cost-effective tool out there: peer pressure. A public utility in drought-stricken California is getting people to conserve water with some good old neighborly competition.

Giri Seshagiri is proud of his new low-flow showerhead, because it uses far less water than the old one. He installed it after his local utility, East Bay Mud, started sending him reports that compared his monthly water usage to that of his neighbors. He saw that some similar-sized households were using less water, so he began taking steps to cut back.

The water reports Seshagiri receives come with simple bar graphs and “empathetic gauges,” a fancy name for these emoticons shaped like big water droplets. Do better than most neighbors each billing period, and your water droplet is happy and smiling. Do worse, and your water face is anxious and concerned. At the bottom, the report has simple recommendations on how to conserve water and improve the mood of your emoticon.

Peter Yolles is the CEO of WaterSmart Software, the start-up that generates the reports. He says the easy-to-understand bar graphs and emoticons compel customers to change their behaviors. “In a way,” he says, “it's like looking at a mirror of yourself.” And that reflection can have powerful effects.

Yolles says households in Seshagiri's pilot program reduced water consumption by five percent last year. WaterSmart Software found that the primary reason customers cut back on their usage wasn’t conservation or monetary savings. It was the peer pressure. In the program, Yolles says, “eight out of ten are motivated because they want to keep up with the Joneses.”

The peer pressure has worked like a charm on Seshagiri. He now cleans all his dishes with the dishwasher, which the water report told him was more efficient than washing by hand. He is currently planning to replace his lawn with drought-resistant plants. And that, he says, should make his household more water efficient than most of his neighbors.

Peer pressure is becoming a common conservation tool. The company Opower creates similar comparison reports for people's energy use. As with water, Opower has noted that people use less energy when they are shown how their consumption compares to neighbors.

MIT professor Alex Pentland describes this kind of “keeping up with the Joneses” tactic “as a sort of passive social pressure.” He is studying more active forms of peer pressure that could have even more potential to change consumer behavior.

Pentland and his graduate students have run studies where participants get rewarded whenever their friends cut back on energy use. In some cases they found this kind of “buddy motivation system” up to sixteen times more efficient than individual incentives like taxes or rebates.

“The key thing,” Pentland says, “is you have to think of using the social fabric rather than the individual.” It is a new way of thinking, he says, and it is proving to be very effective.

Pentland says we are already seeing this kind of peer pressure have an effect on things like personal health. He thinks it has promise in areas like education or finance, but that would be a bit trickier. When it comes to those subjects, he says, people are more reluctant to share the necessary data.

But with water and energy usage, the public utilities already have the information. All companies have to do is show consumers how they stack up against their neighbors.

New political spending in changing TV landscape

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-03-18 01:00

November’s congressional elections are still months away, but the Republican National Committee is launching a six-figure ad campaign this week. It’s spending a chunk of the money on cable ads, even though people aren’t  glued to live TV like they used to be. 

“Nearly 30 percent, so almost one in three voters, said they watched no live TV other than sports in the past week,” says Julie Hootkin, with the Democratic polling firm Global Strategy Group which released a survey last week of voter viewing habits. Robert Blizzard, of the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies, is a co-author, and says even if live TV viewership is in decline, "that’s where a bulk of the campaign voter contacts should go."

"But you can’t ignore that other 30 percent anymore because that’s the number that’s growing,” he says.

Maybe that's why there’s a digital component to the new RNC ads.

Businesses Help Guide Workers Down Path To Citizenship

NPR News - Tue, 2014-03-18 01:00

Silicon Valley companies have launched a drive to provide citizenship services on-site to employees holding green cards. The belief is that such employees become more valuable workers.

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