National News

Obama Says U.S. Exports Have Room To Run In Africa

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 13:37

The White House says U.S. exports to Africa have jumped 40 percent in five years. But the administration says growth can be even faster. "I want Africans buying more American products," Obama said.

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Can you sue GoPro if you crash your bike?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 13:10

There’s this pretty amazing YouTube video featuring Rafael Dumon at Lake Garda, Italy.  Dumon attempts a self-proclaimed world’s first: using a wingsuit to jump off a mountain, gliding onto the lake far below.

“I’m not going to be using my chute, and I will end up skimming on the lake. And instead of bouncing, I will hope to kind of glide in at a trajectory, similar to a plane,” Dumon says.

Believe it or not, he does it, capturing the feat with a GoPro camera:

But what if something had gone wrong? Could GoPro be held liable? After all, the company has its own YouTube channel for users to share extreme videos.

“Well, I would say that they’re certainly at risk for a lawsuit, but not necessarily at risk for losing a lawsuit,” says Jim Underwood, a law professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

He says for GoPro to lose, the plaintiffs would actually need to prove there was something wrong with the camera that caused the accident. 

Underwood says another possible lawsuit would be for a plaintiff to blame the risky behavior on the company’s marketing, "and that they failed to provide adequate warnings of those dangers.” 

But in the same breath, he says the courts have ruled that when the danger is clear, there’s no need to spell out it.

“In fact, that’s why these videos are so popular - because the danger is so obvious and sometimes shocking,” Underwood says.

Even though it may be difficult for GoPro to lose one of these lawsuits, the company wants would-be investors to know they could be sued.

On page 34 of GoPro’s IPO filing with the Securitites and Exchange Commission under a section entitled “risk,” the company writes:

“Consumers use our cameras and accessories to self-capture their participation in a wide variety of physical activities, including extreme sports, which in many cases carry the risk of significant injury. We may be subject to claims if consumers are injured while using our products.”

GoPro may have reason to be concerned. The workout app Strava, which lets cyclists and runners compete virtually, has been criticized -- and even sued -- for encouraging dangerous biking in busy cities.

“Trial lawyers will never miss an opportunity to try to open a new avenue for litigation. Certainly the world of apps is one of those," says Bob Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute.

He says unless laws start to change, the way litigation works in this country -- lawyers are actually encouraged to file a lawsuit against everything and everyone involved in an accident. Even a GoPro camera.

Spurs Hire NBA's First Female Full-Time Assistant Coach

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 13:08

"I'm just thrilled for the opportunity to coach these unbelievable athletes," WNBA star Becky Hammon says at a news conference announcing her hire by San Antonio.

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Obama Calls On Business To Bridge Divide Between U.S. And Africa

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 12:48

President Obama capped the U.S.-Africa Business Forum in downtown Washington, D.C., with a speech to the collected leaders and business people at the conference.

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Murdoch Withdraws Bid To Buy Time Warner

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 12:32

Instead of buying Time Warner for a reported $80 billion, Twenty-First Century Fox will buy back $6 billion worth of shares of its own stock.

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The secret life of food stamps might get less secret

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 12:31

Should the public know how much money Wal-Mart, or that convenience store down the street, takes in through the federal food stamp program? Or does that amount to a retail trade secret? Those are the questions at the heart of a request for public comment announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the food stamp program.

Here’s the background: Last year we spent $76 billion tax payer dollars on the food stamp program (officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). That money goes to about 47 million low-income Americans, who use it to buy food at more than 250,000 retail stores across the country.

But, as I have reported here before, exactly which stores and which companies benefit most from those food stamp dollars is something the federal government has never disclosed. Officials have long argued they are required by law to keep the information secret, in order to protect retailers.

A few years ago the Argus Leader, a newspaper in South Dakota, sued the USDA, arguing the public has a right to see this data. The issue is still tied up in court. Last spring, when I interviewed Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon about the issue in March, he told me that in his opinion, greater transparency would be a good thing.

“I think personally it’s in the interest of the American public,” he said. “These are public benefits that are moving through the economy.”

Yet when I asked him if he would push his agency to disclose the information he said he needed to “talk to the lawyers.”

Judging from the USDA’s announcement Monday, the lawyers have been consulted.

In the press release announcing the agency’s request for public input, Concannon said: “Our goal is to provide more transparency so that people can have access to basic information about the amount of SNAP benefits that individual grocery stores and retailers are redeeming. We hope that this public comment period will be informative as to how we can do that in the most thoughtful and appropriate way possible."

The USDA will take public comment until Sept. 8. As for what kind of comments might come in over the next month, we have some clues already.

When I asked Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar last spring about how much revenue his company took in from food stamps, he told me it was proprietary information.

“We don’t provide our market-share data on any categories like that,” he said, pointing out that knowing how much a particular Wal-Mart in a particular location makes in food stamps could be helpful to competitors. “I think any information that a retailer shares about how they’re serving customers and how they’re going to market would be interesting to lots of other retailers.”

It’s worth pointing out that aside from being the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart likely takes in the most food stamp dollars, an estimated 18 percent last year, according to leaked comments from a company vice president at a private dinner last fall, which Walmart later confirmed. That sum would amount to $13 billion, or about 4 percent of Wal-Mart’s total U.S. sales.

Wal-Mart is also one of several retailers that have a significant number of employees who make little enough that they rely on food stamps to get by. In Ohio, up to 15 percent of Wal-Mart’s workforce uses SNAP, based on our analysis of state food stamp enrollment data.

Outside the retail community, there are voices advocating for making the data public, arguing that it could help citizens and policy makers better understand which stores profit the most from food stamps, what kinds of foods they promote and sell, and what their business practices are.

“It could be used to improve SNAP and make it more accessible to poor families,” writes Stacy Cloyd, the Senior Domestic Policy Analyst at Bread for the World Institute, an anti-hunger organization. Knowing which stores attract the most SNAP customers would “allow hunger advocates to learn from successful businesses and share best practices. It would also help them identify the highest-volume vendors so that they can offer the stores information and recommendations on how they can supply a variety of nutritious foods,” she writes.

As Jonathan Ellis, the South Dakota journalist who sued the USDA to make food stamp data public, points out: “Typically, if a business participates in a government program, you can get a copy of their contract and find out how much they’re being paid.” 

That’s how it works when the government pays a construction company to build a bridge, or a defense contractor to build a fighter plane.

But that’s not how it works when the government reimburses retail companies that participate in the federal food stamp program, at least for now.

Gunman Kills American General In Shooting At Afghan Facility

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 12:17

A U.S. Army major general was killed and another 15 other soldiers — including a German brigadier general — were injured when a man dressed in an Afghan military uniform opened fire on them. The attack took place in Kabul City, Afghanistan.

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Player In Baseball's Steroid Scandal Surrenders To DEA

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 12:17

Federal prosecutors have formally charged the owner of an anti-aging clinic with distributing illegal steroids. Anthony Bosch surrendered to federal agents, and he has been cooperating with investigations. Last year, Major League Baseball suspended a dozen players, including Alex Rodriguez, with ties to Bosch and his clinic.

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Border Bloodshed: Murder Rate Rises Along Texas Oil Routes

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 12:17

Another kind of border security issue is afoot in Texas, where the region's network of pipelines has seen a steady rise in the number of murder victims in the past decade. Joe Carroll of Bloomberg News explains the situation.

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Shadow Events Hope To Skim Some Attention From U.S.-Africa Summit

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 12:17

While the U.S.-African Leaders Summit has aimed to facilitate meetings between American companies and African leaders, it's also provided an opportunity for smaller investors to make contacts and for human rights workers to try to get their voices heard.

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As Moscow Beefs Up Its Border Presence, What's Driving Putin?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 12:17

NATO estimates that some 20,000 Russian troops have massed along the border with Ukraine, just days after the U.S. and EU ratcheted up sanctions on Russia. Melissa Block asks David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, about the possibility that Russia will invade Ukraine.

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As Gaza Settles Into Cease-Fire, U.N. Takes Stock Of Damage

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 12:17

Audie Cornish talks to Robert Turner, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, about what the organization is calling a "health and humanitarian disaster" in Gaza.

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In Quest To Harpoon A Comet, A Spacecraft Stalks Its Prey

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 12:17

The European Rosetta mission arrives at its target comet Wednesday morning. In the coming months, its lander unit will harpoon the space rock.

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Ukraine Forces Near Rebel City As Russia Escalates Border Exercises

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 11:13

Government troops and separatists have been fighting for months for control of eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian leaders say Russia has been supplying the separatists — a charge Moscow denies.

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Health Law Calls For Automatic Enrollment Of Some Workers

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 10:56

As early as 2015, firms with more than 200 employees may have to automatically enroll their workers in a company health plan. Though workers can opt out, some still find the provision patronizing.

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Wasn't the US going to start using the metric system?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 10:37

There was a point not all that long ago when schools taught the metric system because it was "just a matter of time" until the United States ditched pounds, miles and inches.

Well, this adaptation has yet to happen, and who knows if it ever will?

"One thing that shocked me was that the first measure that was completely decimalized was the U.S dollar," says John Bemelmans Marciano, author of "Whatever Happened to the Metric System?". "And we largely have Thomas Jefferson to thank for that."

President Jefferson suggested the use of a decimal currency in 1782.

"It took about 100 years for decimals to catch on for everyday transactions," says Bemelmans Marciano. 

Hear the full conversation in the audio player above.

How To Cross 5 International Borders In 1 Minute Without Sweating

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 10:26

Nations need borders for security, for revenue, for defense, for identity. But for fun? Introducing borders that giggle.

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Why Fat Grizzlies Don't Get Diabetes Like We Do

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 10:20

Before hibernating, grizzly bears get fat fast — but they don't get metabolic problems like diabetes. Understanding how fat bears stay healthy could lead to better treatments for humans.

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Those little Intel microchips were famous, somehow

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 10:10

In the early 2000s, Intel was named the most valuable manufacturing company in the world. 

Michael Malone, author of the book, "The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove Built the World’s Most Important Company", told us "at one point, Intel was one of the best known brand names in the world, which is insane if you think about it... this is a company wasn’t selling to consumers, it was selling chips to go onto motherboards, to go into somebody else’s personal computer, to be sold at Costco."

Intel has since been overshadowed by newer tech companies. Malone says techology has become so pervasive, the  microprocessors fueling daily lives are taken for granted.

"For most of the 21st Century, it’s been all about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and apps. And we forget, because we are so used to them now, that all that stuff rests upon hardware," says Malone. "Without the hardware, devices, chips, and especially the microprocessors it all grinds to a halt."

Doritos Inventor's Grandson Sees Dollar Signs ln Healthful Food

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 09:24

Tim West's grandfather was an executive for Frito-Lay, and the 30-year-old entrepreneur grew up on junk food. But he now wants to shake up the food system with healthful, sustainable eats.

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