National News

What a $6 billion anti-terrorist campaign amounts to

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:41

Among the defense-contractor set, there’s an expectation that the war against extremist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria will cost an extra $6 billion next year. That would pay for things like warplanes, drones for surveillance, listening to enemy phone calls and training rebels.

The corporate winners among defense contractors include familiar names. “Boeing and Raytheon make smart munitions,” says Guggenheim Securities aerospace and defense policy analyst Roman Schweizer. “Lockheed Martin or ATK are certainly also in the mix. Northrup Grumman and General Atomics are the two primary drone manufacturers.”

For context, this is war on the cheap. Put the $6 billion estimate next to a defense and war budget of around $560 billion, and it’s a rounding error. Or, consider the price of one laser-guided JDAM smart bomb dropped on an ISIS target.

“The unit price of those is $25,000–$40,000,” says Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners. “Now, that’s the price of a car. But in the context of companies that may have revenues of anywhere from $25–80 billion, you have to drop an awful lot of those to really start impacting the bottom line.”

The bigger impact of all this may be political. The current budget environment of strict spending caps — remember the term “sequestration”? — squeezes all contractors. But now, with a new enemy, the appetite for spending on war could grow.

“I think the calculus may be starting to change,” says Yair Reiner of the investment firm Oppenheimer. “With the rise of ISIS, Americans — and I think not just the political class — may be willing to contemplate intervention.”

Further on, winning this fight could mean winning the peace: soldiers, body protection and armored vehicles. Down the road, if the mission creeps, that would be real money.

 

From a defense perspective, $6 billion could seem like chump change, but this graphic by Marketplace's Marlena Chertock puts the number in perspective:

Souls Tumbling In The Light

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:30

Every fall, birds head south and, around Sept. 11, New York sends two beams into the sky. When birds and lights collide, that could mean trouble — but New York is surprisingly gentle.

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Underneath Stonehenge, 'A Map Of What Was There In The Past'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:26

Researchers from Birmingham University used high-tech equipment to map 17 ritual monuments in the area. That's in addition to the iconic circle of stones that has stood there for thousands of years.

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Suicides Rise In Middle-Aged Men, And Older Men Remain At Risk

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 12:50

Researchers don't know why middle-aged men are increasingly likely to kill themselves. But they say it shows that efforts to reduce the toll of suicide should be focused on men.

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Cell carriers are getting creative with phone plans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 12:40

The iPhone release schedule has grown pretty predictable over the past seven years. Usually, the latest phone goes on sale for $199 with a two-year contract, the old model’s price gets cut in half to $99 and the (now ancient) model from two years ago is thrown in the trash offered for free.

But as Apple has started introducing multiple phones each year and the smartphone market becomes more competitive, that pricing structure has been upended. At its announcement yesterday, Apple provided an offer similar to those in previous years: With a two-year contract, you can get an iPhone 6 for $199 or the larger iPhone 6 Plus for $299.

On Wednesday morning, as the reality distortion field cleared, major carriers were all clamoring to buy old iPhones and get a leg up on each other with some interesting deals.

Let’s take a look at what carriers are offering as of Wednesday afternoon:

Sprint: An iPhone for "life"

The cost: $70/month for a new phone every two years

(Courtesy:Sprint)

Sprint wants you to lease a phone like you would a car, with no money down and an extra $20 per month on top of their $50 unlimited plan. Every two years you can trade up for the new iPhone “for life.”

(Or as long as iPhones actually exist — keep in mind the original iPod was discontinued Tuesday after 13 years.)

All of this means you’ll pay $480 for a phone every two years, and if you break it, you buy it. If you don’t want to lease, you can still buy the iPhone 6 from Sprint for $199, with that same unlimited plan costing $85 per month.

Overall, the lease is cheapest in the short-term, but the long-haul winner is Sprint. Plus, if you own your phone, the company is already offering to buy it back for up to $300, claiming to match any other buyback offers. If they keep that up, leasing is really a bad deal.

T-Mobile

Cost: Matching trade-ins plus an extra $50; $50–80/month for plans

(Courtesy:T-Mobile)

The self-proclaimed “un-carrier” — which also insists on calling smartphones “superphones” — is also offering to match any of its competitor’s trade-in offers, but it’ll throw in another $50.

That said, T-Mobile’s plans are more expensive, with their $50 plan capping 4G LTE use at one gigabyte. Getting everything unlimited will cost about $80.

Verizon

Cost: Trade in a phone and a get an iPhone 6 for free; $60/month for a plan

Courtesy:Verizon

The most straightforward deal comes from Verizon, who will give you an iPhone 6 for free when you trade-in your old phone and sign a two-year contract. So there’s no opportunity to make a little extra money off your trade-in, but there’s also no haggling or pitting other carriers (or “un-carriers”) against eachother.

The other compromise is that while Verizon’s single-line plan is pretty cheap at $60, they’ll cap your data no matter what.

Overall, each plan will end up costing almost the same over two years, depending on your data needs, and with nearly everyone (including Wal-Mart and Target) offering comparable trade-ins, the whole thing ends up being a wash.

Welcome to the hypercompetitive world of superphone smartphone shopping.

Boosting student achievement with video games

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 12:40

Hey, teachers, do you have low-performing students who have trouble paying attention? The solution could be video games.

That’s according to a survey of nearly 700 teachers* who use games in the classroom, conducted by the Games and Learning Publishing Council. (Potential self-interest noted). Forty-seven percent of teachers said that low-performing students were the main beneficiaries of gaming in the classroom, and 28 percent said students with emotional or behavioral issues benefited most.

Also from the survey of teachers:

  • 55 percent use gaming in the classroom at least once a week; 9 percent use it daily.
  • 55 percent said the games were most valuable as motivators of low-performing students and special education students.
  • 30 percent have students use games individually; 20 percent have kids work in small groups; and 17 percent play as a class.
  • Teachers rely most on other teachers for game recommendations.
  • Why aren’t more teachers using games?  Most cited not enough time. But cost and lack of tech resources were also popular answers.
  • The Games and Learning Publishing Council  is a coalition of game developers, industry leaders, investors, scholars and education experts focused on expanding game-based learning.

The survey doesn't make game recommendations, but one blogger and teacher recently listed his favorite options here. There is an even longer list at the techlearning.com website.  

Among the options that appear on both lists is Minecraft, a game that has more than a few teacher devotees. A whole library of Minecraft-based learning games created by enthusiastic educators can be found here.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of teachers who took the survey. Nearly 700 teachers participated. The text has been corrected.

A New Brand Of Paul Gains Support In Iowa

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 12:30

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has already made significant inroads in Iowa as he explores a presidential bid. Supporters say it's because he builds on his father's work but stays his own person.

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This Is Your Brain. This Is Your Brain On Music.

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 12:28

A new study suggests that learning to play a musical instrument helps improve the brain's ability to process language. That means music lessons could give kids from low-income communities a big boost.

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In Strange Twist, Kenyans March For Police Officer Accused Of Murder

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 12:19

In a land where police have a reputation for corruption and violence, Titus Musila is a rare officer who is popular. Now that he's accused of a vigilante killing, residents have rallied around him.

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On that three-day congressional workweek

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 12:17

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan stood behind a podium outside the Capitol and unveiled legislation that would make Congress do something radical: Stay in Washington five days a week.

Nolan first served in Congress from 1975 to 1981. More than three decades later, the Minnesota Democrat ran again — and won.  

A lot has changed since then on Capitol Hill. For one, political pros now tell members of Congress they need to spend 30 hours a week raising money when they’re in Washington. Nolan says they never had to do that before — they were in Washington Monday through Friday.

Now, Nolan says, members breeze in for just three days, usually Tuesday through Thursday.                                   

“With everybody flying in and flying out for three nights and a day and a half of work, I mean, it’s an absurdity,” he says.

There is no shortage of important business in Washington right now: Lawmakers are weighing what to do about the militant group known as Islamic State, how to keep the government funded come October 1 and whether to keep the Export-Import Bank up and running. And that doesn't even count the other big stuff, like immigration or tax reform. It's a lot to tackle in a short workweek.

But some members of Congress say those long weekends at home in their districts are necessary for holding meetings with constituents. 

Deb Detmers, the district director for Congressman John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois, says sometimes, when she’s driving the congressman around the district, they listen to talk radio and roll their eyes.

“You’ll hear something on the radio about, you know, 'these guys are the do-nothing Congress,' or 'they’re back home on vacation,' and you picked him up at 6:30 that morning and it’s 7 o’clock at night,” she says.

Nolan says district work is important, but why not come to Washington for three weeks straight, then take a week in your district?

If Congress were a company with these types of conflicts, it would turn to someone like corporate efficiency expert Daniel Markovitz, president of Markovitz Consulting. Markotvitz says if Congress were his client, “I would throw up my hands in despair.”

But after he gets over the shock of imagining the government as a corporation, Markovitz has a recommendation: more face-to-face time for warring Republicans and Democrats.

“If I were running a business that had two factions — whether it’s the East Coast and the West Coast office — if I were trying to bridge a divide like that, I would think that face-to-face time is absolutely essential.”

Markovitz says maybe members of Congress could even socialize with each other.  

Nolan says he did go camping and hunting with other representatives back in the day, but he doesn’t have anybody to hang out with now.

“You hear people say, 'The members of Congress need to go out and have a pop or a beer together,'" he says. "Hell, we just need to come and work together, to start with.” 

But you have to remember, the writers of Congress’ corporate charter  — the constitution — didn’t want Congress to be efficient. They wanted Democracy to be messy and slow, with lots of debate — not exactly what a lean corporation needs. 

Women Who Eat Fish Twice Weekly Cut Their Risk Of Hearing Loss

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 11:48

Something as simple as eating fish can help lower the risk of hearing loss, researchers say. All types of fish helped. And since many people don't eat fish at all, there's an opportunity here.

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A flood washes away one Colorado town’s infrastructure

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 10:47

One of the hardest-hit centers following the 2013 Colorado flood was the 2,000-person town of Lyons. Key pieces of the town's infrastructure, like sewer, water and gas lines, were severely damaged. Fast-forward a year, the town is still working on a list of 87 projects ranging from park and riverbank repair to bridge rebuilding.

You wouldn't be able to tell by taking a walk down Main Street. In the town's busiest corridor, you can barely see signs of the flood. But almost everyone in town has a story — including Connie Sullivan, owner of the St. Vrain Market.

"We essentially lost nearly 100 percent of our inventory," said Sullivan, who either lost or gave away food from the St. Vrain Market during the flood.

When the water receded, she found a foot of mud in her shop. With destroyed roads, water and sewer lines, many residents couldn’t even return home for two months. Sullivan said that put a wrinkle in her recovery plan.

"You didn't have electricity and then you had to figure out when your customer base is going to be returning, and what types of products you would be able to sell even once they did return," she said.

One big change? Lyons lost about 20 percent of its available housing — and Sullivan’s business now looks different. The town has made a big push to have more people visit and boost sales tax revenue. Her sandwich sales to the increasing number of tourists are up. Sales through Colorado’s Food Assistance — or food stamp — program are down.

"We served that niche of the community," said Sullivan. "It's sad to see that those customers are some of the ones that haven't returned."

Those residents have moved to nearby towns like Longmont or Berthoud. Some moved to outlying counties, while a few left the state.

The housing shortage in Lyons becomes apparent a few short blocks from Main Street in the Confluence neighborhood. Nearly every home on one block of Park Street is in the midst of repairs or demolition.

Lyons mayor John O'Brien points to a pile of rocks and debris. “You can see this cobble; you can see where the stream was. During the flood this became really another rivulet,” he explained.

Nearby are the remains of a home that's expected to be bought by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Hazard Mitigation Grant program. O’Brien said it’s too dangerous for the homeowner to move back.

"… because we know when the next big flood comes, it's going to come right through here," O’Brien said.

In the weeks immediately after the flood, the first priority was to repair downed sewer and water lines. But O’Brien said the work is still far from complete, with work still needed to repair parks, streams and bridges.

One year after the flooding, Colorado's Chief Recovery Officer Molly Urbina said it will take homeowners and businesses many more to rebuild.

“It’s not really a sprint. This is a marathon for a recovery,” she said.

While both federal and state agencies have pumped millions into repairs, Urbina said there will still be a shortfall for some communities.

“There was way more damage than there is going to be for grant funding. So the local communities have to look at their own budgets and see how this all fits. You know: What’s the gap and how do we get there?” said Urbina.

The gap in Boulder County is expected to be $56 million. To soften the financial blow, the county is asking voters to approve a Flood Recovery Sales and Use tax this November.

While there is a long list of repairs ahead, Mayor John O’Brien said a key concern is the lack of affordable housing.

“We’ll be concerned with replacing the housing that we lost — that 20 percent which was substantially damaged,” he said.

The town lost both of its two trailer parks, which held about 50 homes.

 “It’s going to be difficult. I mean, because Lyons is the last best place in Boulder County it means that housing values continue to rise,” said O’Brien.

Town officials expect to hold public meetings on when, where and how to build affordable housing in the coming months. But completing the project will take years. O’Brien said flood recovery won’t be complete until everyone who wants to move back to Lyons can return home. 

'Ask The White Guy' About The Hawks

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 10:46

Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson's email about the diversity of the team's fans could end his run in the NBA. But were his comments really out of bounds?

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The Comeback Of The Endangered Colorado Orange, An Apple

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 10:00

The Colorado Orange is no orange; it is an apple, with a unique texture and citrus taste. There's a new effort to bring it and other endangered Colorado apples back from the brink of extinction.

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Putin: Russia To Upgrade Nuclear Forces In Response To West

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 09:41

The Russian president also accused the West of staging the crisis in Ukraine in order to "resuscitate" the NATO alliance.

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Islamic State Was Fueled By 'Epic American Failure In Iraq,' Reporter Says

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 09:37

The New York Times Baghdad bureau chief Tim Arango has been reporting from Iraq for five years and has watched the rise of the Islamic State militants. He gives Fresh Air his take on the situation.

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Why Microsoft wants 'Minecraft'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 08:52

There's more to buying "Minecraft" maker Mojang than just putting the game in the Microsoft store.

Though playable on multiple platforms — including Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Xbox One — "Minecraft" has yet to be made available on Windows 8. 

Which, says Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson, gives Microsoft the excuse they need to diversify their company offerings, and could potentially take the company in a new direction.

"When [Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella] first took the helm, we heard a lot about cloud computing, business software, enterprise — areas where Microsoft is really still pretty important. But like any big tech company that publishes stuff, Microsoft needs to be diversified," Johnson says. "Buying a company that makes a game like 'Minecraft' might help Microsoft sell people on the Windows Phone, for instance."

Microsoft's track record with buying gaming companies has been mixed. After they acquired Lionhead Studios, the company went on to create games from the "Fable" series exclusively, which garnered positive reviews. But their acquisition of Rare in 2002 was a disappointment; once known for landmark Nintendo titles such as "Banjo-Kazooie" and "Donkey Kong Country", Rare failed to live up to expectations in the years following the acquisition, and was restructured in 2009.

If the acquisition goes through, its success depends on how Microsoft reconciles company culture with Mojang, Johnson says.

"The big question is, how much is Microsoft going to interfere with what [Mojang] does, how much it can continue doing its indie-gaming stuff without Microsoft interfering? Maybe if Microsoft lets this company continue to exist and lets it do what it does best... it might be a pretty sensible partnership."

Why Microsoft wants 'Minecraft'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 08:52

There's more to buying "Minecraft" maker Mojang than just putting the game in the Microsoft store.

Though playable on multiple platforms — including Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Xbox One — "Minecraft" has yet to be made available on Windows 8. 

Which, says Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson, gives Microsoft the excuse they need to diversify their company offerings, and could potentially take the company in a new direction.

"When [Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella] first took the helm, we heard a lot about cloud computing, business software, enterprise — areas where Microsoft is really still pretty important. But like any big tech company that publishes stuff, Microsoft needs to be diversified," Johnson says. "Buying a company that makes a game like 'Minecraft' might help Microsoft sell people on the Windows Phone, for instance."

Microsoft's track record with buying gaming companies has been mixed. After they acquired Lionhead Studios, the company went on to create games from the "Fable" series exclusively, which garnered positive reviews. But their acquisition of Rare in 2002 was a disappointment; once known for landmark Nintendo titles such as "Banjo-Kazooie" and "Donkey Kong Country", Rare failed to live up to expectations in the years following the acquisition, and was restructured in 2009.

If the acquisition goes through, its success depends on how Microsoft reconciles company culture with Mojang, Johnson says.

"The big question is, how much is Microsoft going to interfere with what [Mojang] does, how much it can continue doing its indie-gaming stuff without Microsoft interfering? Maybe if Microsoft lets this company continue to exist and lets it do what it does best... it might be a pretty sensible partnership."

Covering Ebola: Fear And Love In Liberia

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 08:44

NPR producer Sami Yenigun went on assignment with excitement and trepidation. To protect himself from infection, he did not touch anyone. Yet he was deeply touched by the people he met.

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Heavier Teen Pot Smoking Linked To Problems In Young Adults

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 08:00

Daily smokers are less likely to graduate from high school or college and are at higher risk of suicide, according to an analysis of three long-term studies of teenagers in Australia and New Zealand.

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