National News

A Sad End For A Beloved Kitten

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 07:59

Peat the kitten had become the face of the Glenturret Distillery in Scotland. He died this week, apparently after being hit by a car.

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The numbers for September 10, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 07:39

380 days. That's how long ago President Barack Obama first weighed airstrikes to "deter and degrade" Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. Wednesday night, hours before the 13th anniversary of 9/11, Obama will outline plans for "degrading and ultimately destroying" extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria through airstrikes in the region.

As we wait for Obama's address, here's what we're reading — and the numbers we're keeping an eye on — Wednesday morning.

$2 billion

The initial valuation of Mojang — the company behind the cult megahit Minecraft — as Microsoft nears an acquisition deal, according to The Wall Street Journal. The game's fan base is reportedly flabbergasted. The game has sold over 50 million copies, spawned a toy line and even worked its way into the classroom

5 percent

The portion of college and university assets that are invested in energy and natural resources — or, about $22 billion. Schools across the country are facing mounting pressure to divest from fossil fuels, and the University of California system is the latest institution mulling it over. The Wall Street Journal has a breakdown of several schools' endowments and their decisions on divestment.

$90 billion

The mobile payment market is expected to quadruple by 2017. With the announcement of its own mobile payment system yesterday, Apple is angling to get in on that action. The tech giant has secured deals with partner banks, Bloomberg reported, giving Apple a cut of the so-called "swipe fees" from each Apple Pay transaction.

Britain's Cameron Pleads With Scots To Stay In U.K.

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 07:24

The prime minister says he'd be "heartbroken" if Scotland voted to separate from the union in a Sept. 18 referendum.

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How Far Will President Obama Go?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 05:48

The president has spent most of his tenure scaling back the U.S. military role in the Middle East. Now he appears poised to broaden an operation that will bring with it substantial risks.

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Government To Drop Background Check Firm USIS

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 05:24

The Falls Church, Va.-based private contractor conducts most of the government's background checks and was the target of a cyberattack last month that breached thousands of personnel files.

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Coakley Will Face Baker In Massachusetts Governor's Race

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 05:20

Attorney General Martha Coakley begins with an advantage in the Democratic state, but polling shows a majority views Republican Charlie Baker as a strong enough leader to be an effective governor.

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How Could A Doctor's Death From Ebola Possibly Be 'Good'?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 04:42

He giggled, he swore, he was afraid of Ebola. This summer, he was infected by a patient he treated. Two colleagues remember Dr. Samuel Brisbane's good life — and reflect on the idea of a good death.

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Ukrainian President Offers Limited Autonomy For Rebellious Region

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 04:12

Petro Poroshenko is offering a bill to grant special status to parts of the country's restive east, but he reiterates that there will be no concession on sovereignty.

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Kerry Seeks Iraq's Support On Move Against Islamic State

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 03:24

The secretary of state's visit to Baghdad comes ahead of President Obama's speech tonight to outline a plan to combat the militant group.

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Your Favorite Sites Will 'Slow Down' Today, For A Cause

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 03:03

Websites including Foursquare, Netflix and WordPress are taking part in Internet Slowdown Day to make a case for unfettered access to the Internet. The slowdown will only be symbolic, not real.

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Questions raised over bullying in the gaming community

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 02:30

There's a fight underway that's tearing apart the community of people who play, write about, enthuse and obsess over video games. Earlier this month, the ex-boyfriend of game designer Zoe Quinn took to the Internet to publicly accuse her of infidelity. He said she'd cheated on him with a gaming journalist. Some gamers seized on the allegation and said a reporter and a gamer, whose work he might review, shouldn't have a relationship.

It seemed like an allegation of journalistic misconduct, but what followed was a flood of threats aimed at Zoe Quinn online.

To help us understand what led to all this, we reached out to Jennifer Hale. She's a member of the gaming community, an actress who does voice-over work for many video games.

There seems to be, in this response, some real misogyny — possibly even dangerous misogyny — in this community of people who play and write about video games. What have you experienced?

I had several friends advise me against even coming in here and doing this interview, because there's a segment of the game community — it's small, but it's vicious — that is bullying. It's giving the gaming community a bad name.

Some of the threats that were made against Zoe Quinn: People threatened to kneecap her, people threatened to give her brain damage if they could find her in person. Does the gaming community deserve to have a bad name?

The community does not. These people within the community do. We need to police ourselves. I don't know how to do that, because the members of our community that have called out to these people to stop doing what they're doing are being then themselves threatened.

At the same time that Zoe Quinn is facing this torrent of abuse, a feminist media critic named Anita Sarkeesian releases a video criticizing the way that women are treated or portrayed in video games. She calls them background decoration, victims, prostitutes, then she gets pilloried for what she said. You've worked in the video game industry. You've done the voices for some popular characters. Does Anita Sarkeesian have a point? 

I myself would love to see more equal representation of women in games, more empowered roles. Let's remove gender from casting everywhere we can and play around with it. Let's do the same with race. Let's go on and create the next level. We can't do that right now. I'm nervous about what this piece of the community is going to do to me for speaking up about anything, and that's not OK. We can't do anything until we deal with that.

Given the attention this back-and-forth has received, do you think we've reached a kind of tipping point moment where this conversation is bound to happen?

I hope so, because games are an incredible art form. I've used a couple of games to learn another language or recover from breaking my foot, things that would have stymied me. I think it is time for this part of the industry to fully step into [the idea that] we're not fringe anymore. We can, without losing the awesome, kid parts of ourselves, grow up and become leaders in a really cool way. And this is hopefully creating a crisis that will help us do that.

PODCAST: The spinning wheel of death

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 02:00

First up, after the Dow fell 97 points yesterday, what accounts for the cautious stance of some market participants in recent days? And when you click on a website today, you might have to endure a spinning worm of waiting. It may not be your internet connection to blame. Today, some big companies are deliberately slowing down their systems in an organized protest against ending what's called Network Neutrality. Plus, Saying the word "Minecraft" to many people produces a similar delighted glow about the eyes as produced by saying the word "Lego." It may have something to do with the videogame's low-fi graphics or open-ended invitation to creativity. Well, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times are reporting that Microsoft is in talks to buy Mojang-- the Swedish maker of Minecraft--for perhaps $2 billion.

Small-business confidence is up, but owners won't hire

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 02:00

The National Federation of Independent Business’ Optimism Index was up modestly in August 2014 to 96.1, the second-highest reading since the recession began in late 2007. (The index peaked post-recession in May 2014 at 96.6.)

Harold Jackson is executive chairman of Buffalo Supply, a medical supply company in Lafayette, Colorado, outside Denver, with approximately 20 employees.

“I’m cautiously optimistic [about the economy]," Jackson said. “We’re not going to have the kind of growth that we had seven years ago, but it’s going to be a slow, plodding process.” Jackson works with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and he says other business owners he knows generally feel the same way.

Jackson hired several new workers earlier this year. But now — also consistent with the NFIB survey — he is holding tight on more hiring, to see if business gets better. Overall, small-business owners’ job creation plans fell slightly in the August survey.

Economist and entrepreneurship expert Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution says geopolitical developments may dampen small-business confidence and hiring further in coming months.

“The headlines are scary — and you don’t have to read The New York Times to realize that the world’s looking a lot more like 1914 than 2014,” said Litan. “I think it is somewhat surprising and perplexing that the economy continues to chug along. But then, consumers, like businesses, may be just discounting it, and saying, ‘Well, these are problems in faraway places. They don’t affect us.’”

Some websites are slowing down today to make a point

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 02:00

When you click on a website on Wednesday, you might see a spinning wheel. It’s that familiar symbol signaling your Internet connection is sluggish, though it may not mean your webpage of choice is slow to load: More likely, you've stumbled onto an online protest designed to get people to support net neutrality. 

Oh, yeah, net neutrality. What's that again?

That can be a frustrating question to answer, said Evan Greer, the campaign manager for Fight for the Future, the nonprofit organization behind today’s protest.

“Net neutrality activists have had the experience of trying to talk about the issue, and as soon as they start saying words like 'tiered systems,' people’s eyes glaze over,” Greer says.

Today’s action is in protest of a tiered system, which the Federal Communications Commission is considering implementing. That system would allow websites to pay more in order to receive faster access to your home. But what about websites that can’t pay? Netflix, Reddit and thousands of smaller websites claim the result will be the "spinning wheel of death" on their sites. Net neutrality advocates are pushing for a more level playing field that will keep a small number of internet providers from building — and setting prices for — those tiers. 

Santa Clara University marketing professor Edward McQuarrie says if companies make users wait as part of this protest campaign, they risk turning them off.   

“You’re going to get this delay and you’re going to say, 'Oh, crap. Is there a problem with my internet service again?'” he says.  

And people will just click onto another site that’s not protesting. McQuarrie predicts the wheel of death won’t be understood as intended because, well, so few people understand what net neutrality is. 

 A visual guide to the net neutrality debate

Net neutrality is not a new issue; and if it were ever straightforward, the debate has been clouded by years of arguing between activist groups, internet service providers and tech companies, as well as a million public comments sent to the FCC, which has over time changed its approach to an open internet. We've collected a few of the best charts and tools from around the web to help make sense of the recent conversation surrounding net neutrality. 

Wednesday's slowdown protest comes five days before the second round of comments are due to the FCC. (Disclosure: Marketplace's distributor, American Public Media, filed a comment in favor of net neutrality.) The deadline for the first round had to be extended because the crush of traffic crippled the FCC's servers. Here's a look at that response hour-by-hour:


Once that first round of comments was made public, many news organizations tried to make sense of it all. The Verge started by counting common phrases like "Comcast" and all variations the f-word, for example. But the very best visualization came from analysis firm Quid, which was commissioned by the Knight Foundation to cluster responses by their overall message and shared language. The resulting chart, originally published by NPR, is beautiful to look at. 

Courtesy:Quid, NPR


But where are these comments coming from? The Verge published a tool that allows you to look up how many comments were submitted from your zip code, along with a ranking of the cities and neighborhoods that have filed the most comments with the FCC. The most came, unsurprisingly, from Washington, D.C. and the Bay Area. 

Finally, Netflix is one of the highest-profile sites participating in the slowdown protest, and they've been one of the loudest voices in the net neutrality debate overall. The company says they were strong-armed into deals for faster service with internet service providers after their streams were choked, and they lost customers as a result. The company recently filed a lengthy statement to the FCC opposing a proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which includes a chart showing the spike in complaints about poor service last fall.

Courtesy: Netflix

Even more striking is Netflix's streaming speeds after it signed agreements with Comcast for faster speeds. Netflix makes all of that data public, and the Washington Post collected it here:

The death of #NetNeutrality, in one chart. With @MaxEhrenfreund

— Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) April 25, 2014

Cheap produce and $60,000 bottles of cognac

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 02:00

Fifteen minutes east of Marketplace’s Downtown Los Angeles studios is Hawaii Supermarket, a modest Chinese grocery store where one can buy eight pounds of watermelon for a dollar — or a bottle of cognac for $60,000.

You read that right. One bottle, at $60,000, is more than a lot of annual salaries.

But for Hawaii Supermarket’s wealthy shoppers from China, high-end liquor is its own kind of currency.

“Gift-giving is very important — fundamental, if you will — to most relationships in Chinese society,” says Sage Brennan, co-founder of the consulting group China Luxury Advisors.

Brennan says gift-giving is just part of doing business among the Chinese. But if you’re going to give a gift — say a French Bordeaux — it better be real.

“Otherwise, the fashion police will come get you,” Brennan explains.

However, since counterfeit booze is so rampant in China, getting ahold of authentic wine and spirits isn’t easy — which might explain why Moutai, a liquor that’s actually produced in China, is one of Hawaii Supermarket’s top sellers among Chinese visitors. Not only is high-end alcohol sold in America more likely to be genuine, but chances are it’s going to be cheaper, too.

“In terms of most luxury goods, you’re probably saving 40, 50, 70 percent just by shopping here in the U.S.,” says Brennan.

That’s because luxury goods in China face extremely high taxes. So Chinese consumers seeking the finer things in life know to buy abroad — which, in East Los Angeles County, means business for one humble Chinese grocery store.

Ferguson's Plan To Cut Back On Court Fees Could Inspire Change

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 01:03

The council in the Missouri town met Tuesday for the first time since the shooting of Michael Brown. A plan introduced would address one source of tension: heavy collection of court fines and fees.

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Obama To Push Military Campaign Against Islamic State Militants

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-09 23:49

Experts say it's not so much the American people that the president has to convince, but the Middle East leaders he's counting on for help.

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Veterans' Care Emerges As A Key, Bipartisan Issue In Campaign Ads

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-09 23:29

"We don't see foreign policy events, the crisis in the Middle East, even border security here at home appearing in campaign ads to nearly the same degree," says one political ad expert.

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Dogged By Controversy, A Jewish Sect Is On The Move Again

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-09 23:28

Members of Lev Tahor left Canada with trail of allegations of child abuse. Then leaders of the Guatemalan village where they settled asked them to leave. The sect is again looking for a new home.

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