National News

How The Islamic State Smuggles Oil To Fund Its Campaign

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 23:42

As Islamic State militants have marched across Syria and Iraq, oil smuggling has been a major part of their strategy. They have targeted oil fields and refineries and work with a range of middlemen.

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Size Matters: Why Apple Is Expected To Unveil A Bigger iPhone

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 23:34

Pushed by rivals like Samsung, Apple is likely to announce bigger iPhones on Tuesday. Users of bigger-screen devices say they prefer their larger images and the ability to see multiple apps together.

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More Than Half Of U.S. Bird Species Threatened By Climate Change

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 23:33

A new Audubon report shows how climate change could affect the ranges of 588 North American bird species by the end of the century. Bald eagles, loons and orioles are among those facing major threats.

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Following Ferguson, Senate Weighs Use Of Military-Grade Equipment

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 23:31

After police in Ferguson, Mo. were seen using military-grade equipment, the Senate is holding a hearing on the militarization of local police and whether closer supervision is needed.

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U.S. Science Suffering From Booms And Busts In Funding

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 23:03

The federal budget for bioscience has undergone big swings since 2000. Some scientists are now out of work and others are abandoning the ambitious, creative ideas that fuel discovery.

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Home Depot Confirms Data Breach At U.S., Canadian Stores

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 22:37

Home Depot said its payment systems have been hacked in a data breach that could affect millions of shoppers who used credit and debit cards at its more than 2,000 U.S. and Canadian stores.

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NCAA Lifts Penn State's Postseason Ban, Restores Scholarships

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 22:27

Penn State football got out from under the most severe on-field sanctions imposed on it two years ago over the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. The NCAA made the surprise announcement on Monday.

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Marin Cilic Wins U.S. Open, Sealing An Improbable Journey

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 15:11

The Croatian defeated Roger Federer to get to the final. He denied Kei Nishikori, himself a huge underdog, the title in three sets on Monday.

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Harvard Study Says Economy Is 'Doing Half Its Job.' Guess Which Half.

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 14:52

An alumni survey by the school found much more optimism about the future of America's companies than that of its workers. More than 4 in 10 think employee pay and benefits are set to shrink.

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Floods Hit Phoenix In Area's Wettest Day Ever Recorded

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 14:30

The more than 3 inches of rainfall already recorded in the Phoenix region Monday represents more than a third of its normal annual total.

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Time To Send A Message To Pregnant Women Who Use Tobacco

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 14:03

For the first time, there's data on tobacco use by pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries. The news is not too bad. But there's still a need for messages about the risk to an unborn child.

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Making Fatherhood An Insider's Game: Becoming A Dad, Again, At 49

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 13:53

More men are having kids later in life — and some are having babies, for the second time, in middle age. That means they're changing diapers while their peers are sending their own kids to college.

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Americans never stop working

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 13:51

A new research paper from the OECD entitled "Long Workweeks and Strange Hours" sought to highlight some characteristics of the American workforce this week.

According to the study, the average workweek in this country for full-time workers comes in at 47 hours, just about the same as it was ten years ago.

More interesting, perhaps, is that 29 percent of American workers say they do some paid work on weekends, and a quarter of them work at night.

Most American workers are working for the weekend. Nearly 1/3 of Americans are working on it http://t.co/Zuhn9O1LA9 pic.twitter.com/wf2kmYSCZI

— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) September 8, 2014

Americans, you work too much: http://t.co/WUTjrzpmmv says @_cingraham pic.twitter.com/m3GRr9PkrC

— Wonkblog (@Wonkblog) September 8, 2014

Should we know how much stores take in from food stamps?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 13:51

In recent years, the U.S. has spent more than 70 billion taxpayer dollars annually on food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP dollars go to millions of low-income Americans, who spend the money to buy food at stores across the country.

Big-box discount stores and large supermarkets take in the most food stamp dollars. At the same time, most of their employees earn little enough to qualify for food stamps themselves. The nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, told investors it takes in about 18 percent of all SNAP spending, which would amount to an estimated $13 billion last year.

But the government has never disclosed how much individual companies take in from food stamp dollars.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the food stamp program, has long argued it is required by law to keep the information private, because it amounts to a retailer’s trade secret. Now, the USDA is reconsidering.

Monday was the last day of a month-long public comment period set up by the USDA. A few hours before the deadline, nearly 500 comments had poured in from a range of voices in the food retail industry and beyond. Input has come from owners of large-supermarket franchises, gas station convenience stores, health food stores, farmers market managers, anti-hunger and nutrition advocates and private citizens.

You can read them all here. Below is a sampling:

I throw my full weight into supporting the release of retailer data concerning food stamps. As a publicly-funded support service, citizens deserve total transparency in what happens to that money, and especially if there's the possibility that companies are profiting from the program. From the reports I've heard concerning Wal-Mart in particular, their employees who receive food stamp support are not only encouraged to then purchase products from Wal-Mart, their very employment at such low wages is made possible by receiving supplemental support.

This latter point mirrors the corporate welfare loophole that also occurs with health care coverage i.e. employees not making enough to have health insurance so they resort to publicly-funded emergency room treatment.

Wal-Mart's only defense to releasing the data seems to be that they are afraid competitor companies could exploit said data to better target the market base in the area. So what's on the scales here is, on the one hand, Wal-Mart's business interest and on the other, the entire public's interest. 

Please side with democracy, transparency, and fairness, not the corporate favoritism that is going to erode our great country.

 
— Lisa Roiter, New York, NY

 

 Seven-Eleven Hawaii is adamantly opposed to sharing our store SNAP sales information for various reasons.

1. Sales information of any type and for any company should be proprietary and not shared with other competitors or the general public.

2. The disclosure of SNAP sales or any sales information to our competitors would provide them with information that they are not entitled to have nor have they worked to build the clientele for the related sales.

3. All companies work continuously to increase their competitive advantage in the marketplace and should not be required to share their corporate intelligence with the competitors or the general public.

— Greg Hanna, Seven-Eleven Hawaii, Inc, Honolulu, HI

 

Aggregated annual/monthly SNAP redemption data at the individual store level is indeed confidential. Release of this data will harm the small stores in the following ways.

The big box store could use this data to target areas of potential growth. Studies have shown that when a big box store (Wal-Mart, Lowes, Home Depots, etc) I placed in a neighborhood the small businesses in the area goes out of business.

Small stores are already overburden with the amount of regulations that they have to report and follow. This is reporting requirement will add more cost to the small businesses. This cost will eventually be past down to the consumer. Small retailer in comparison to big box stores are already operating will slim profit margins. They do not need the added burden of this requirement.

For transparency, I would have no problem with the release of this data at the state level. This would protect the small retailer from the big box stores using this data to target their growth. The burden will also shift to the local FNS offices. They already have the data at hand and the small retailer do not have to worry over additional reporting requirements.

My store have been a SNAP authorized retailer for over twenty (20) years. Small retailer are the back bone of this country. It is the small retailer that hires the most people in comparison to the big box store. It is the small business that will have the greatest harm because of this requirement.

— Xavier Gallon, Carolina Market, Philadelphia, PA

I'm not as concerned about the public seeing this info as if anyone cares, but big competition could use that info to target smaller competitors like us as if we don't already have a target on our backs.

— Randy Jackson, Rockdale Grocery, Conyers, GA

 

If retailers SNAP transparency impedes their business, that's a problem they have to deal with internally. Tax payers support SNAP to aid their fellow citizens in need, not to aid SNAP authorized retailers make their bottom line. Their business models should not be reliant on SNAP benefits in the first place. 

I think data per store is most useful. It's always best to be as detailed as possible and there's no reason to withhold details from the tax payers funding the SNAP program. Aggregated sales at all stores within a state or nationally should be provided in addition to per-store data. The public has a right to know where SNAP benefits are being spent at every level. How else would we be able to make informed decisions when we vote or reach out to our representatives about changes we'd like to see in SNAP benefits. Transparency is the only thing that can empower the public to make informed decisions. 

I think it's crazy  this information was ever not available to any citizen who was interested.

— Bri Kapellas, Private Industry

 

The New York City Coalition Against Hunger stands in support of the United States Department of Agriculture in providing greater transparency in the release of data related to retailers and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The New York City Coalition Against Hunger agrees that the retail data that the USDA requests to be released to the public in the Food and Nutrition Act should be less restricted for transparency purposes.

In general, releasing of data and increasing transparency is in the interest of the public. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger supports the USDA as it strives for the production of more information that can be used to hold government accountable to the public, increase the trust between the government and public, allow the citizenry to be more educated, and allow the government to make better decisions about the peoples well-being, both at elections and at all other times.

Aggregated annual SNAP redemption data at the individual store level should not be considered confidential business information. 

The amount of money that is spent by SNAP recipients is a sizable share of our economy. In 2013, alone, $76 billion were allotted to SNAP beneficiaries. Currently there are approximately 47 million Americans who spend an average of about $133 per person each month in SNAP benefits at grocery stores throughout the nation. While statistics are available for the demographics of the recipients of those SNAP benefits, the public does not have information on where the benefits are spent. 

It is essential to understand and manage our food systems. There have long been links between poverty and obesity, and lack of access to affordable, nutritious food. If we know what people are purchasing with their EBT cards and where, we can link subsidies to healthy food to make it affordable and more accessible through the use of programs such as New York Citys HealthBucks which is used at farmers markets. Purchases can also be tracked, tabulated and linked to the USDAs food desert map so that tactics can be developed to bring more nutritious, affordable options to those who lack them.

In addition to those individuals whose diets are subsidized, stores that sell food products and accept EBT transactions profit directly from SNAP. The public has a right to know which corporations are the beneficiaries of this government money. When many grocery and other stores that accept SNAP have employees who earn wages that are low enough to be eligible for the government food assistance that they and their customers spend, it is in everyones interest to know the facts.

— Lisa Levy, NYC Coalition Against Hunger, New York, NY

Disclosing all benefits utilized in a retail establishment should be no problem. For the retailers that administer the program/benefits correctly and legally they have nothing to hide.

Complete transparency with regards to the SNAP benefits is encouraged as far as I am concerned.

As well as everyone receiving benefits should have to pass a random drug test to get or continue getting benefits.

— Roy Johnson, CJ’s Quick Stop, Jacksonville, TX

What, exactly, Alibaba does

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 13:51

The Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba aims to hit a Wall Street milestone later this month: biggest IPO ever. Today, the company started what Wall Street calls a "road show" — nonstop meetings with potential investors, in an attempt to raise more than $24 billion. Analysts say the company’s likely to raise at least that much.

But all of the hype leaves open a basic question: What is Alibaba? Is this just a version of Amazon from China?  

No. Alibaba’s not a retailer. One of its biggest branches is a virtual shopping mall called Tmall, where consumers buy stuff from retailers and directly from commercial brands. Alibaba makes its money there much the way Google and Facebook do: by charging businesses for access to consumer eyeballs.

Jeff Papp, an analyst with Oberweis Asset Management, gives an example: “I go to Tmall, and I’m interested in buying bananas, and there’s 100 vendors of bananas,” he says. “So, [if] you’re a vendor of bananas and I am, too... I may pay more for my product to be listed first.”

Alibaba has two other major arms, one of them an eBay-like site called Taobao. The other, the company’s original site, Alibaba.com, does something that barely exists here: helping businesses find suppliers.

Charlene Li, founder of the tech consultancy Altimeter Group, says she once used Alibaba.com to research laptop manufacturing. “The fact that I could put out a bid, and talk to complete strangers in parts of China... that I had no idea where these people were,” says Li. “You think about: ‘I could actually do this at scale.’”

Alibaba has lots of other, smaller business lines — and recently it has made investments in U.S.companies like ShopRunner.com and the ride-share startup Lyft. The scale of those investments is small for a company that pegs its own value above $150 billion.

“I think what they’re trying to do with some of these investments is to better understand the U.S. markets,” says R.J. Hottovy, a tech analyst for Morningstar, “and the differences between its home market... China... and the U.S.”

In other words, this is R&D spending, not an attempt to take on Amazon directly.

What you could buy (on Alibaba) for $155 billion

As the massive Alibaba IPO approaches later this month, we've been trying to wrap our heads around the $155 billion valuation for the Chinese e-commerce company. As it happens, Alibaba lists a number of unique items on its online marketplace that could help put things in perspective. Here's a list of some interesting items you could buy on Alibaba, and how many of them you could get with $155 billion.

15 million silicone life-size Paul Walker statues

 

Image courtesy of Alibaba.

Are you still mourning the untimely loss of your favorite movie star? Maybe you could take the edge off by purchasing a silicone model of his exact likeness. You could buy not just one, but enough to populate a small country. If you want to mix things up, you could even throw in some wax models of other celebrities like Pierce Brosnan, Michael Jackson, or even the pope.

375 million pairs of breast implants

 

Image courtesy of Alibaba.

Alibaba apparently sells all sorts of medical equipment, even down to supplies for specific implants. For the old standby of cosmetic surgery, you are required to make a minimum order of 100 pairs, so you can't exactly get them on the cheap, but the breast implants probably wouldn't be much use without a surgeon anyway. With $155 billion, you could buy enough to stock the world's largest plastic surgery practice.

5 million worm-shaped amusement park trains

 

Image courtesy of Alibaba.

Planning to open the world's creepiest amusement park chain, but can't decide on what rides will best frighten children? Look no further than the "Popular! big worm amusement park electric train." With $155 billion, you could afford to buy a 300,000-kilometer track for your worm-themed attraction.

3.3 billion packs of human hair

 

Image courtesy of Alibaba.

We've reported before on how you can sell your own hair for a decent amount of money, and it seems Alibaba is the place to go to see the other side of that transaction. You can even pick out varieties like Brazilian, Peruvian or Malaysian for your wigs or extensions.

7.1 billion cases of whiskey

 

Image courtesy of Alibaba.

With $155 billion, that bar you've always thought about opening could be stocked well enough to serve a glass of whiskey to everyone on the planet for at least of couple of weeks, all thanks to Alibaba's surprisingly large selection of wholesale alcohol.

56.6 billion kilograms of spandex

Image courtesy of Alibaba.

Need more material for spare "Star Trek" uniforms for you and your friends after the old ones got a bit ripe at the last convention? Alibaba has got you covered, and with $155 billion, you could probably even manage to outfit Starfleet for real.

What $500 million buys for the Syrian opposition

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 13:51

President Barack Obama is renewing his call for Congress to authorize another $500 million for pro-Western rebels in Syria. There is growing pressure on the president to combat ISIS, also known as the extremist terrorist group Islamic State, and to help topple the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

But what does $500 million buy in this scenario?

When the president first proposed the aid back in June, the money was expected to train and arm 2,300–2,500 Syrian rebels. That’s less aid than Assad's opposition wants.

“You’re talking about everything from Kalashnikovs to rocket launchers and grenade launchers,” says Andrew Tabler, a Syrian expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The real question is does that include anything close to an anti-aircraft weapon?”

The administration is worried about funding those kinds of weapons because they can easily fall into the wrong hands. A new report indicates that anti-tank weapons once owned by Syrian rebels are now in the hands of Islamic State militants.

Haim Malka, deputy director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the problem is figuring out exactly which groups to give money to.

“Many of them may share U.S. objectives of fighting the Islamic State or fighting the Assad regime today, but we’re not sure exactly what their agenda is going to be tomorrow.”

Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy predicts the U.S. will get more deeply involved in the Syrian conflict.

“We were naïve to think we could get out of it,” says Tabler. “What happens in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the Middle East.”

Iraqi Parliament Approves New Government Led By Abadi

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 13:28

After months of uncertainty and political wrangling, Iraq finally has a new government, led by Shiite Haider al-Abadi. He replaces Nouri al-Maliki.

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Could Great Lakes Fisheries Be Revived Through Fish Farms?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 13:15

This summer, Michigan's aquaculture industry took a step forward. And that has touched off a debate over whether the Great Lakes are an appropriate place for fish farming.

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Your Wallet: The cost of elder care

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 13:14

The cost of elder care continues to rise, along with the number of people who need it.

Are you taking care of an older relative? Or planning to?

Tell us on Twitter @MarketplaceWknd or email us, we'd love to hear your story.

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