National News

How to change company boards: the Stringer solution

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-07 02:00

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer wants to bring a kind of direct democracy to corporations.

He’s teaming up with institutional investors, including some of the country’s largest public pension funds, to lobby 75 companies to allow shareholders to nominate directors for election to their boards.

The investors will have to hold more than three percent of the company’s stock for more than three years to qualify but even so, David Nadler, a principle at Nadler Advisory Services, thinks companies will resist.

“The cost and the time and distraction of potentially dealing with contested board elections, I think, is not good for the enterprise,” he says.

Nadler consults with boards and executives on leadership and corporate governance issues and thinks, on the whole, companies have become more responsive to their shareholders in recent years. He doesn’t think these changes would be worth the hassle they’d cause.

Stringer disagrees.

“The old boys' network is still in place,” he says. “You know, 'a friend of a friend of a friend' is serving on these corporate boards, but we need certain expertise. We need more diversity. If you put more women and people of color on boards, studies show that the company does better.”

If companies don’t agree to Stringer’s changes, shareholders would have to vote to approve his proposal next year. Even then, companies wouldn’t have to adopt it. But Stringer says he and his pension fund allies will just keep coming back. 

Free trade on the agenda for Obama's Asia trip

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-07 02:00

President Barack Obama will be in Asia starting Monday with an itinerary that includes attending the APEC CEO Summit, a state visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.

Among the top items on the agenda is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-country free trade agreement that has proven difficult to hammer out between the U.S. and Japan before being presented to the other 10 countries, says Derek Scissors, an Asia scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

"There are a lot of really contentious issues,” says Scissors. "Can American farm goods freely enter the Japanese market? The Japanese have resisted this for years. Can Japanese autos freely enter the American market? The United States has resisted.”

If the U.S. and Japan were to settle their differences, that would be a major success story coming out of this latest trip, says Scissors. 

For a president that may be looking at a tough road ahead on his domestic agenda, it makes sense to switch focus to foreign policy, says Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia.

"Towards the end of the term, when presidents are thinking about legacies, they do become focused on places abroad, where they feel like they can make a difference,” Riley says.

The timing may work out for the president, as a recovering economy offers the U.S. a renewed leadership role in global trade.

“We’re the only one doing well,” says Scissors. “So everyone is looking to the United States for wise economic policy, which we don’t always deliver…And the TTP is a good step in that agenda.” 

Silicon Tally: So many penguins

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-07 01:14

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Ashkan Soltani, newly appointed Chief Technologist at the FTC.

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Donor Gives Los Angeles Museum Art Worth $500 Million

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 16:19

Billionaire Jerry Perenchio will donate works by masters such as Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, René Magritte and Pablo Picasso.

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Rubik's Cube, Bubbles And Green Army Men Join Toy Hall Of Fame

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 15:10

Four well-loved toys are inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, beating out fellow nominees such as the Operation skill game and Fisher-Price Little People.

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Drummer And Tuba Player Work To Stay Sharp For Band And College

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 14:06

In May, we shared the story of a New Orleans high school marching band. Two students earned scholarships to play for Jackson State University's marching band, the Sonic Boom of the South.

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Beyond Cat Videos: YouTube Bets On Production Studio 'Playgrounds'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 14:04

The online video giant has just opened a gleaming new production studio in Manhattan. It's part of an effort to attract new viewers — and ultimately compete with companies like Netflix and Hulu.

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Gay-Marriage Bans Are Upheld In 4 States By Circuit Court

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 13:57

Bans on same-sex marriage in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee were confirmed by a federal court Thursday, reversing lower courts' decisions.

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Alaska Station Sets Dubious Record: Most Senate Campaign Ads

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 13:51

The Center for Public Integrity calculates that KTUU in Anchorage ran more U.S. Senate ads this cycle than any station in the country.

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Jet Fuel Is Down, But Not Enough For A Thanksgiving Fare War

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 13:31

Airlines say they expect an uptick in Thanksgiving travel. This November, jet fuel prices are down, but carriers are using the saved money to upgrade equipment and software rather than cut fares.

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Flu Season Brings Stronger Vaccines And Revised Advice

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 13:20

Health officials estimate that every flu season, 1 in 5 Americans will get the bug. This year, changes in flu vaccines and in federal guidelines could help those most susceptible to the virus.

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Amazon Wants To Put A Listening Speaker In Your Home

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 13:18

Are you ready to bring an eavesdropping device that's connected to the cloud into the privacy of your abode? Amazon thinks so, as it introduces Echo, a speaker that takes your questions and commands.

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Harvard Secretly Photographed Classrooms To Monitor Attendance

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 12:31

Some students and faculty are upset about the surveillance, but lots of colleges do this kind of thing all the time.

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Brooklyn Prosecutor Could Be Nominated Attorney General In Coming Days

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 12:20

Loretta Lynch, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, could be nominated to lead the Justice Department in the coming days. She'd be the first African-American woman to hold the post.

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Astronomers Glimpse Distant Planetary Nursery

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 12:01

Images produced by a giant radio telescope array in Chile's Atacama desert show a nascent star and what's thought to be its solar system in the process of being born.

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Catalonia's President Makes His Case For Independence From Spain

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 11:57

Catalonia's President Artur Mas is seen as a savvy leader who has appealed far beyond his home borders for Catalan independence. But Spain says there's no way it will cut Catalonia free.

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New Star Wars Movie Is Called 'The Force Awakens,' Disney Says

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 11:41

Before today, it was known only as Episode VII. Set decades after Return of the Jedi, the new installment will feature some of the same cast as the 1983 film.

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How Boy Bits First Came To Be

NPR News - Thu, 2014-11-06 11:34

Certain birth defects in male children are on the rise, and nobody knows why. Scientists say basic research into how external genitalia evolved in reptiles and rodents might offer a few clues.

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A losing battle

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-11-06 11:14

There's a little-known Army panel whose decisions can have an enormous impact on the lives of current and former U.S. service members: the Board for Correction of Military Records. The Board is supposed to correct errors or injustices in a service member’s records, like a discharge that denies a vet medical benefits or forces a soldier out after reporting a sexual assault. It’s there to keep the Army honest, but a Fusion investigation found it's doing anything but.

We found that when service members file appeals that could lay blame on the Army or result in significant benefit payments to the veteran, the default answer is often no. Fusion analyzed thousands of Board decisions, reviewed hundreds of internal documents, and conducted nearly 50 interviews and found a system that’s so impenetrable and the results so often negative, that many veterans have given up hope for justice.

“Each case has its own outrage,” said Michael Wishnie, a professor and deputy dean at Yale Law School. “They routinely ignore the evidence, the medicine, the rules and the law to deny veterans benefits.”  

The Army Board says it grants relief in about 41 percent of cases it reviews. Most of those cases involved requests to correct clerical errors, and other purely administrative matters.  We analyzed publicly available decisions for veterans appealing three common discharges between 2001 and 2012 that disqualified them from receiving Army medical benefits. We found that only about 2 percent were granted a medical evaluation, which would be just the first step in getting medical benefits from the Army.

Veterans and lawyers say the system is broken. Board members spend an average of about three minutes and 45 seconds per application, even though some are hundreds of pages long. In most cases they rubber stamp draft decisions prepared by Army staff. While the Board’s decisions can be appealed in federal court, that only happens in an estimated 1 percent of cases, lawyers say.

Discovery's new show: Watch a snake eat a guy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-11-06 11:00

Step aside, Nicki Minaj, there's a new anaconda in town.

The Discovery channel will debut a new series called "Eaten Alive" in December.

Apparently, on the premiere episode a guy will be swallowed alive by a giant snake after covering himself in pig's blood while wearing a custom-built suit. Seems suspicious.

Is it animal abuse? Is it criminal stupidity? Is it possible?

Whatever, just don't watch.

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