National News

U.S. Forces Tried To Rescue Foley, Other Hostages In Syria

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 15:01

The mission earlier this summer, based on intelligence from released hostages, "was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location," the Pentagon reported.

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How the Fed became a Central Superbank

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 13:55

On Thursday, central bankers from around the world will converge on Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the annual Economic Policy Symposium. At issue this year is whether the central banks in this country and elsewhere should continue with aggressive action, or take their feet off of the gas.

It'll be something of an existential discussion about the role of central banks, which changed a lot during the recession. The Federal Reserve is the most radical example; going from, you might say, a mild-mannered Clark Kent to an ultra-proactive SuperFed.

"Its job was fairly narrowly defined to focus on inflation," says Edwin Truman, Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "But in the crisis, they ended up using tools that had not been used since the 1930s - and inventing a whole bunch of new tools."

Tools like quantitative easing, wherein the Fed started pumping $85 billion into the economy every month.

"I do think that the bank is fundamentally changed," says economist Jared Bernstein, former member of President Barack Obama's economic team and Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Bernstein says the central bank went from reactive to proactive.

He says it’s now looking like it will get even more proactive under Federal Reserve Chief Janet Yellen, even stepping into an oversight role. "When chair Janet Yellen says, 'I don’t think the Fed has the luxury of ignoring bubbles in financial markets,' that’s different than either of her last two predecessors," says Bernstein.

Even if Yellen wanted to retire the red cape, she’d find it hard, says Truman.

"You’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle... It creates what the economists call a moral hazard. If things get in trouble, the Federal Reserve will ride to the rescue."  

Truman says now that the central bank has flexed its monetary muscles to save the U.S. economy and maybe even the world, no one will ever look at the mild-mannered Fed the same way again.

Obama campaign operative's surprising move to Uber

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 13:55

Uber, the ride-sharing app and tech company that has up-ended the taxi industry, has a new vice-president and strategist. He is not from the world of tech, but rather the world of politics: former Obama campaign operative David Plouffe.

At first glance, this seems like a surprising alliance. After all, Uber has been unabashed in its fight against various transportation regulations and taxi driver unions -- things you wouldn't think a longtime Democratic strategist would be embracing.

In fact, in recent weeks, Republicans have been doing the most vocal cheerleading for Uber. The RNC recently sent out an email petition with the headline, "Why We Need Uber." It touts the company as a perfect example of GOP free-market ideals, and casts the challenges Uber has faced in some cities as a case of “unions and liberal government bureaucrats…setting up roadblocks, issuing strangling regulations and implementing unnecessary red tape to block Uber from doing business.” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune making a similar point.

So on Tuesday, when Uber announced it was hiring a top Democratic strategist, there was a lot of head scratching at GOP headquarters.

“I think we were a little shocked,” says RNC Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski.

Jeff Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University, was not shocked. He points out that Plouffe will join a company venture capitalists recently valued at more than $18 billion dollars.

“Ka-ching! There's a lot of money that David Plouffe is going to make as a strategist,” Berry says.

Aside from the money, there are strategic reasons the Democratic Party might want to be associated with a tech start-up like Uber, he says.

“This actually gives the Democrats an opportunity to identify with a deregulatory environment, one in which entrepreneurs are free to develop new ideas and new businesses.”

The alliance could alienate some local taxi driver unions, taxi company owners, and people like Ramzi Reguii, an Uber driver in San Francisco who leads a network of Uber drivers pushing for tighter regulation of the company and better worker protections.

“That's what the Democrats ought to do and that’s what the Republicans ought to do. You can support Uber, but you can also make it right at the same time,” Reguii says.

 Meanwhile, in this era of partisan bickering, it finally seems that some Democrats and Republicans have found something they can agree on: they love Uber.

The NFL wants artists to pay to perform at the Super Bowl

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 13:55

There are three finalists for next year’s Super Bowl show at halftime: Katy Perry, Coldplay and Rihanna. According to the Wall Street Journal, the NFL has asked the artists if they'll pay to play.

“I think it probably is worth it to be honest with you," says Bill Werde,  an entrepreneur at Guggenheim Digital Media, and former editor of Billboard Magazine

"The only thing that comes close is arguably the Grammys,  and that’s only if you have a Norah Jones kind of night – you perform, you do an amazing job, you win a bunch of Grammys and it’s just, kind of, your night. Then you’ll see the kind of sales spikes and lifts that are associated with a Super Bowl performance,"  he says. "Even when you’re an established artist, the lift that you get from playing this halftime show is undeniable.”

After playing halftime, notes Werde, you can raise ticket prices, and get bigger and better brand sponsorships worth millions.  

Victor Matheson, a professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross, says even if this year’s finalists won’t pay up, the NFL could still ask other musicians to – after all, it has a monopoly on halftime.

“You can come up with a list pretty quickly, of other folks who might be willing to pay a little bit of money to have their act featured on a show that over 100 million people are watching," he says.

But, points out Russell Scibetti, founding editor of industry blog The Business of Sports, maybe fans shouldn’t get to watch the NFL’s negotiations.

"The way that they went about it maybe wasn’t the best. They could have had those conversations privately with the artists," says Scibetti about the NFL's requests.

A different approach, says Scibetti, like the NFL asking artists to help promote it through charity work, would have been better received.

Notes Werde, musicians want their music in the spotlight – not their negotiations.

“I promise you that there are people in the head office of the NFL on a witch hunt right now, trying to figure out how this news got out there,” he says.

Had the negotiations taken place in complete secrecy, says Werde, "These artists would all be considering what it’s worth to them and what part of that value they should be willing to share with the NFL – out in the public it takes on a very different patina."

Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

Your money's worth more in Mississippi

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-20 13:55

The Tax Foundation, a Washington think tank specializing in tax policy, has created a map that shows just how much stuff you can buy for a $100 in each state, as compared to how much stuff you can buy for $100 as a national average. 

When adjusted to reflect how prices differ state by state, you could get $100 worth of goods in Washington, D.C. at a price of $84.60, and in Hawaii at $85.32.

On the other hand, it's worth most in states like Mississippi at $115.74, and Arkansas at $114.16.



Tax Foundation

No. 1 Most Expensive Coffee Comes From Elephant's No. 2

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 13:48

A coffee entrepreneur claims his brew is different — and better — than the trendy civet poop coffee. And it starts with the idea that elephants, unlike humans or civets, are herbivores.

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From A Father And Son, What It Means To Be A Military Man

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 13:45

Enlisting has been a rite of passage for men in the Pierce family since the Civil War. And as America has changed, Mark Pierce and his son Jeremy explain, what it means to serve has, too.

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Supreme Court Steps In To Put Hold On Va. Same-Sex Marriage Licences

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 13:28

The Supreme Court has stayed a Virginia court's ruling which ended the state's ban on same-sex marriages.

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Many Seek Justice In Ferguson, Mo., But Will Have To Wait Awhile

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 12:59

Demonstrators want an indictment of the police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown earlier this month. But investigations — one of them a federal civil rights case — can take weeks, if not months.

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SeaWorld Won't Appeal Ban On Trainers Performing With Orcas

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 12:44

The theme-park company received a citation in 2010 after a whale named Tilikum killed a trainer. Since then, SeaWorld has planned upgrades to its facilities and training. But it still faces criticism.

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In Syria, The U.S. Weighs A Range Of Unpalatable Options

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-20 12:17

The U.S. could aid moderate rebels. It could bomb militants of the Islamic State. Or it could sit on the sidelines as the war plays out. There are many choices, but none appears promising.

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EPA Wades Into Water Fight With Farmers

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

The EPA wants to "clarify" the scope of its oversight of water under the Clean Water Act. Big farm groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation call this a power grab that would place every ditch and mud puddle under federal regulation, forcing farmers to get permits for small trenches around the farm.

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Remembering James Foley, A Journalist Who Made His Life In War Zones

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

American James Foley, who was executed by Islamist militants, had been working for GlobalPost when he disappeared in 2012. GlobalPost CEO Phil Balboni speaks about about Foley and his work.

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Militants Behead American Journalist, Leveling New Threats At U.S.

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

The group known as the Islamic State has fired its first violent salvo against the U.S. The group declared that the beheading is a retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

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In Liberia, An Ebola Quarantine Descends Into Riots

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

After the Liberian government ordered a quarantine of one of the poorest neighborhoods in its capital, Monrovia, residents there woke up to find themselves cut off from the rest of the city by security forces. By midday, the neighborhood was in riot.

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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.

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