National News

U.N. Security Council Unanimously Passes Anti-Terrorism Resolution

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:45

The measure targets travel of militants abroad as well as recruiting and funding for extremist groups. It was adopted at a meeting chaired by President Obama.

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Grieving But Grateful, Ebola Survivors In Liberia Give Back

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:44

After living through their own nightmares, Ebola survivors are still mourning the loss of their loved ones. But they're giving back by working at the treatment centers and caring for children.

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Cribbing from the Netflix playbook

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:30

Netflix dominates streaming media in a lot of ways. It has 50 million subscribers, some well-regarded original series, enough clout to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Comcast and Verizon and it accounts for a jaw-dropping 34 percent of web traffic. 

Netflix may have a virtual monopoly, but there are plenty of competitors lining up. Amazon, Hulu, Playstation Network, Xbox, Yahoo and others are all throwing around a lot of money to break into original programming.

"The problem is, at a certain point there's going to be too many of these services and they're not going to be able to sustain themselves," television critic Alan Sepinwall says.

An expensive cable bundle helps all channels subsidize each other, he says, but "there's no equivalent of that for streaming and I don't think there will be."

Here's the recipe Netflix's competitors are following to try and break in to this hot new market.

Step 1: Don't wait for the audience to find to you

How can people watch your shiny new original content if they don't know about your service? That's not really a problem for streaming-centric companies like Netflix and Hulu, but for other established brands it's a surprisingly tough nut to crack.

"Most of the time when I go to Amazon it's just listing 'Here are items you've viewed, maybe you should order those!'" Sepinwall said. "So you don't inherently think of Amazon as a streaming business. Whereas with Netflix, that's the only reason you go."

In fact, a study from earlier this year showed about a third of Amazon Prime customers have never used the video streaming service included in their membership.

Yahoo's Screen service has faced similar problems. At TechCrunch Disrupt, CEO Marissa Mayer noted that Yahoo! had produced 86 different series over the past year, "None of whom you've ever heard about because it was sort of a failed branding exercise."

Only "Burning Love" — a "Bachelor" parody with literally dozens of big names attached — got any traction, and Yahoo Screen kept lagging behind until it suddenly made headlines in July.

Step 2: Buy yourself some credibility

Cult hit "Community" had barely hung on at NBC over five seasons of firings, rehirings, behind the scenes drama, cast changes and sinking ratings before finally being cancelled. But "Community" was exactly what Yahoo needed.

"The more players there are, the more you need to do something big to sort of stand out and seem like you belong on that same playing field," says Vox culture editor Todd Vanderwerff. "I think a lot of this is just purchasing credibility."

It's the same reason Netflix resurrected Fox's "Arrested Development" last year. A niche flop on traditional TV could be a huge hit for a new company if the audience is willing to follow.

There are a few other ways to close the credibility gap too. Amazon paid through the nose this spring for the right to stream old HBO shows, and Hulu has built up a respectable catalog of foreign shows along with a just-announced Stephen King adaptation.

Step 3: Make a word-of-mouth hit (and stack the deck with a good gimmick)

It's tough to make a hit from scratch, but there are a couple ways to tip the odds.

Sepinwall points to "House of Cards." The show isn't that good, he says, but but gets by because it looks like a so-called prestige cable drama — the way it's shot, the anti-hero, the high-profile cast — and people like binge-watching it.

"I remember when "House of Cards" season one was released ... I would watch my Twitter feed and it turned into a race," he says. "Even if [the show] is not that great, but it has some sense of forward momentum, it becomes easy to go forward and you feel like [you're] on the ground floor of something special."

When the show's second season debuted on Netflix all at once, the explosion of social media conversation seemed to prove the show's success.  Netflix doesn't make its streaming numbers public, Sepinwall notes, so it's impossible to know how many people actually watched.

Amazon has turned to crowd-sourcing, letting subscribers see user-submitted pilots and vote on their favorites. The process has its flaws, both said, but after a few tries Amazon may have its first big hit in "Transparent," which will debut all at once Friday.

Step 4: Wait for the industry to shake out

Vanderwerff compared streaming to the early days of home video, predicting we'll see a lot of media companies come and go or change hands as the industry adjusts.

"I really think we're on the precipice of everyone in Hollywood trying to get in this game, and it's going to come down to the same companies you've always heard of."

The player to watch is HBO. Their streaming service is still bundled with cable, but when they break from that model and embrace streaming, Vanderwerff says, many more companies will follow.

Streaming services are still tied to traditional TV in other ways. They have no restrictions on time or content, but they don't stray far from what the networks are offering.

"There's no reason an episode has to be 30 or 60 minutes," Vanderwerff says. "That is an artificial constraint placed on us by the early gods of television that we have now evolved past, we just haven't realized it yet." 

The full possibilities of streaming TV — the niche ideas, the crowd-sourcing, the binging and more — might not come to fruition until the format has become more standardized, and that could take some mergers and acquisitions.

Research Institutions Will Have To Identify 'Dual-Use' Pathogens

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:11

Scientists are deeply divided on whether lab-made flu viruses are legitimate medical research or national security threats. A new federal policy asks institutions to evaluate those risks early on.

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Some iPhone 6 Plus Users Find An Unwanted Feature: It Bends

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 10:47

Some owners of Apple's new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are discovering that their superslim glass and aluminum devices aren't holding up well in an environment that's usually safe: their pockets.

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The Gefilte Fish Line: A Sweet And Salty History Of Jewish Identity

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 10:41

Gefilte fish can be a hard sell even in its standard savory form. But some European Jews like it sweet, a preference that, surprisingly, overlaps exactly with a geographic and linguistic divide.

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Hollande: French Hostage 'Assassinated' By Algerian Extremists

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 09:38

The group calling itself Soldiers of the Caliphate released a video purportedly showing the beheading of kidnapped mountain guide Herve Gourdel.

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Here's how we'll cut down on greenhouse gases

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 09:11

This is Climate Week in New York City. About 300,000 people marched to call attention to global warming Sunday. On Tuesday at the United Nations, President Obama and more than 100 heads of state gathered to push for a low-carbon future, to combat global warming. The balance of the week is conferences and public events up and down Manhattan.

But let's be honest: Raise your hand if you have climate fatigue. Again with the parts per billion, the Arctic shelf, the guilt.

Business types in New York are trying to change the way we talk about climate change. So we will, too. Make it less about selflessness and altruism. More about investments, markets and dare we say, greed.
 
So, you may have asked yourself, what can I do on climate change? Bike to work? Eat locally grown food?
 
"When people ask me that question, and they do, my response is always the same," says Robert Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard. Be prepared: his answer stings.
 
"What you will be able to accomplish or contribute through your solo actions," he says, "is so small it is lost in the noise."
 
The problem is too big. Stavins says you need scale, preferably for the lowest possible cost, to reduce the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere. Environmental bang for the buck.
 
One big bang is coal power. That's 44 percent of world emissions right there. Cleaner alternatives are solar, wind and natural gas.
 
"One of the most important opportunities for reducing CO2 emissions is to make sure that gas is replacing coal in electricity generation," says Helge Lund, president and CEO of Statoil, the Norwegian energy giant..
 
But in order to speed it up, Lund says, "You have a significantly higher CO2 price."

That's the "buck" part. Here's the idea: Fossil fuels pollute. So policymakers can take that environmental cost and add it to the price of fossil energy. That is, raise the price. That makes low-carbon technology more competitive.
 
Which ones would deploy? Natural gas? LED lights? Solar? Coal plants that bury emissions underground? Stavins says governments don't have to pick. Investors and customers will.
 
"That's the virtue of a carbon pricing mechanism," he says. "It will automatically draw to the fore those technologies, those practices which are lowest cost."
 
For instance, if solar is the cheapest best option for household power, consumers will pick that. Solar-panel seller IKEA thinks they will. Here's President and CEO Peter Agnefjall.
 
"I think we'll halve the installed cost over the next 10 years of solar," he says. "So it's great sense to do it today. It will be unthinkable not to do it in 10 years' time."
 
Could he be wrong? Perhaps more money will pick wind energy. In certain places, it's cheaper, says Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
 
"So if you look at the Great Plains in the U.S., you look at Brazil," Liebreich says. "You look at Australia, you look at India, you look at China. If you want really cheap electrical power, you build a wind farm now."

Now, on the other hand, he says, "You've got some very expensive technologies people would like to believe are part of the solution. Offshore wind is being done, but it's expensive. But then you can go up to wave power and then, always, on transportation, fuel cells.
 
Of course, down the road fuel cells may get cheaper. But the point is, customers and investors have no interest in overpaying. With a carbon price, the low-cost, low-CO2 products win.  An efficient, shall we say cheapskate, road to a low-carbon future.

The U.S. Bombing Campaign: Is It War Or Counterterrorism?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 09:11

President Obama has been reluctant to call it a war, yet the administration and the Pentagon boast of a 40-nation coalition and warn of a military operation that could last for years.

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Vatican Arrests Defrocked Archbishop On Sex Charges

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 09:01

Former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who was defrocked earlier this year, has been accused of paying for sex with children while he was papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

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When Cigarettes Cost More, People Drink Less. Except For Wine

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 08:46

If you raised the price of Don Draper's cigarettes, would he have cut back on the whiskey? Probably not, but it works on most beer and spirits drinkers, a study finds. Wine drinkers, not so much.

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PODCAST: Paula Deen goes digital

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 03:00

First up, it may only be September, but we're getting our first holiday retail forecasts. These offer a glimpse into what analysts think we'll be spending this holiday season, and perhaps more importantly, reflect how we're feeling about the state of the economy. Plus, we've reporting this week on the Obama Administration's new crackdown on inversions. But what about what you might consider an "inversion" at the state level: moving headquarters across state lines to get a tax break. In those cases, it's often the government that's doing the bidding. And Southern cook Paula Deen is trying to make a comeback, launching a new online network of cooking shows today. Deen was one of the biggest names in food television until offensive remarks she made off screen became public last year. Her show was then canceled and she was dropped by sponsors. We take a look at her attempts to rebuild her brand.

Smart and Final goes public

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 02:00

The west coast grocery chain Smart and Final aims to raise $100 million in an IPO today. The company plans to expand a line of stores that combine elements of warehouse-club outlets and traditional grocery stores; something like Costco without appliances or membership fees. The company wants to grab a piece of a business that's changing dramatically, and getting more competitive.

Once upon a time, we bought groceries in supermarkets. Then came Walmart, which is now the nation’s biggest grocer. And then came everybody else; Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, for example.

"If you look at the past ten years, conventional supermarkets have lost almost 15 percent market share to all these other channels," says Phil Lempert, editor of Supermarket Guru. "Whether it’s drug chains—and if you take a look at CVS and Walgreens, they're building stores that are 50 percent food—we’ve got dollar stores, we’ve got warehouse clubs, we’ve got almost everybody who wants to sell food. Even folks like Bed Bath and Beyond."

Now, Amazon and Uber want to deliver your bananas and milk. So, what makes Smart & Final think consumers need yet another place to buy groceries?

"That’s a really hard circle to square," says William McKitterick, a retail analyst with Ibis World. "It seems like all the signs are pointing toward this being a terrible industry to enter."

Even so, everyone wants in. And McKitterick won’t rule out the idea that there’s room for Smart & Final in a highly-fragmented sector.

Paula Deen buys back rights to her Food Network show

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 02:00

Southern cook Paula Deen is attempting a comeback by launching a new online cooking network on Wednesday.

Deen was one of the biggest names in food television until racist remarks she made off screen became public last year. As a result, the Food Network cut ties with her and she was dropped by sponsors. 

But before her racist remarks, Paula Deen was best known for her artery-clogging recipes, like the Lady’s Brunch Burger: a burger paddy stacked with a fried egg and bacon, sandwiched between two glazed donuts for buns. She gleefully described it as “over the top – even for me!”

Viewers eager for access to Deen’s old shows with said gems, plus some new content, can sign up to pay $8 to $10 a month for access to her new online network, launched by her Paula Deen Ventures with the backing of private investment firm Najafi Companies.

“About 15 percent of Americans do look up recipes online,” says Jerry Power, with the USC Marshall School of Business, adding the cook book market is also sizable. “So it’s a fairly stable and good sized market that she’s going after.”

But getting people to subscribe—controversy aside—could be a tough sell, since there’s already so many free sources of cooking shows and recipes, says Max Dawson, director of national television and video for Frank N. Magid Associates.

“Paula Deen’s audience, the sort of people who really love her, they’re not early adopters,” explains Dawson. “They’re not experimenting with new content distribution paradigms.”

Those who do could pay a similar amount for service like Netflix and getting lots more variety.

Paula Deen is far from the first celeb to start her own website. Here's a few other examples:

Preserve

Created—or "edited"—by Blake Lively, Preserve is like Etsy run through an Instagram filter and marketed to a much higher income tax bracket. It's structured like a lifestyle magazine and proceeds go to Lively's charity.

Funny or Die

Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's video site has expanded into a media empire. Its big hits like "Billy on the Street" and "Drunk History" have been adapted for TV, and "Between Two Ferns" won an Emmy after an appearance from President Barack Obama.

Goop

Gwenyth Paltrow's lifestyle site also boasts recipes, a store and a blog, which made the news in March when Paltrow and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin used the site to announce their "Conscious Uncoupling" (some call that a divorce).

Sarah Palin Channel

Another subscription service, the Sarah Palin Channel charges $9.95 a month or $99.95 for the year, but you view a national debt ticker and a countdown of Obama's days left in office for free.

Hello Giggles

Zooey Deschanel's site offers entertainment and lifestyle writing aimed at women, but everyone can enjoy their various live feeds of kittens, puppies, cicadas, owls and more.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Paula Deen's name in the headline. The text has been corrected.

#Scandal heads to #Twitter

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 02:00

Even if you don't watch the wildly popular television drama Scandal, you'd probably know of its popularity if you spent some time poking around Twitter. Aside from a huge television audience, the show is a favorite of the blue bird. With the season premiere coming Thursday of this week, we talked with Darby Stanchfield, better known as Abby Whelan on Scandal. And for the record, she has her very own hashtag: #SassyAbby.

Tell me about the community of Scandal fans on Twitter.

They’ve named themselves Gladiators. They’re super passionate. They’re smart. They’re funny. There’s not a thing that doesn’t get by them.

What’s an example of something that fans have caught that surprised you?

I used to have this signature coffee mug that I would use in my scenes, and one time I grabbed one of the company mugs that was in the kitchen area, and I think someone was like, “Wait a minute, where’s Abby’s mug that matches her hair?” Granted, every single series regular, and usually the creator, we’re all live-tweeting, whether we’re on set or we’re not working or at home.

Part of the contract.

You know it’s not, actually. We’re not paid to do it. Actually, Kerry Washington–it was her idea–and she talked to [series creator Shonda Rhimes] about it, and Shonda sent out this email that said we all needed to sign up on Twitter. We all did it, because our boss was asking us to, but it ended up being the most effective, grass-roots way to help the audience discover this crazy political drama called Scandal.

You have your own hashtag, #SASSYABBY.

One of the ways that I differentiate myself from the other cast-mates is I basically go into character during the live tweeting. And the way you know is I put my caps lock on and I just make snarky comments from Abby’s point of view.

How has the way that you think about being an actor changed because of Twitter? And how is your understanding of your own character shaped by the technology around you, even when you’re not on the set?

Twitter almost has the effect of a live theater event. You have an immediate interaction with the audience. You know when something lands and when it’s funny. When I’m on Twitter, there’s a visceral reaction immediately with the flood of tweets that come in about any given moment in my performance. And it’s as close as you can get to live theater with a television show. But in terms of my creative process or how I think about my character, I would say that’s still very traditional. I have my point of view, and I always find a way to love my character and tell that story.

The interstate tax break battle

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 01:30

Since 1962, Forbes Magazine has been headquartered on 5th Avenue in New York City, behind a limestone facade with Ionic columns. But by the end of the year, it's moving a twenty-minute train ride away to a glass tower in Jersey City.  

For decades, companies in New York City have moved offices across the Hudson River, to the city that has been dubbed New York's "sixth borough."

"You can look not too far away and see Manhattan, you’re on the water, and the rent’s a lot lower," says Gordon MacInnes, president of local policy watchdog New Jersey Policy Perspective. 

For many of those companies, there has been another, bonus factor: Tax breaks. Forbes has been approved for $27 million in tax credits by New Jersey's Economic Development Authority. It's a small example of a growing practice in the state, which has pledged tax incentives of $1.6 billion in the last ten months—more than in the first ten years of the millennium. 

"It’s the only thing that New Jersey’s doing to crawl out of the great recession," says MacInnes. "And so if this is the only thing you have, do a lot of it."

New Jersey's incentive programs have meant a spate of calls from New York City businesses to Lee Winter, director of incentives at Grant Thornton LLP. "There’s a certain back and forth, but right now I’d say New Jersey is winning that battle," says Winter.

But how does bringing a company from New York City to Jersey City affect the regional economy? 

"No one thinks in terms of the region, they just think of their state," says Winter. "So, you know, if a company moves from New York to New Jersey, those really are new jobs—to New Jersey."

While this interstate arms race isn't new, the recession made it more fierce according to Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First, a long-time monitor and critic of tax incentives. 

"States and cities are spending more than $70 billion a year for economic development, and that number’s been steadily up in recent years," says LeRoy. "There’s less money available to build infrastructure, to retrain workers, to keep classroom sizes small. Those are things that benefit all employers. And instead we’re putting lots of eggs in a few corporate baskets."

Seth Pinsky, former president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, defends the use of tax incentives for specific projects, such as grocery delivery company FreshDirect, which was granted  more than $100 million by his agency. But he also says they were "not the optimal form of government investment," and emphasized instead the important of long-term investment in workforce training, infrastructure and basic research.

"Tax incentives are easy to explain to people," he says. "They’re easy to explain to businesses. They're appealing to politicians. Long term investments are harder. Unless and until the American public itself starts thinking long term again, it’s going to be hard to turn economic development officials back towards thinking long term as well."

Dire Predictions On Ebola's Spread From Top Health Organizations

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-23 15:00

The World Health Organization warns of more than 20,000 cases by early November if help doesn't arrive quickly in West Africa. The CDC projects 1.4 million cases by late January.

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General Motors adds insult to injury for Detroit

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-23 13:54

General Motors is trying to re-establish the luxury bona fides of the Cadillac brand, by moving Cadillac's global headquarters to New York next year.

High end consumers in a global city – it makes sense. Still, one wonders what Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac – the guy who founded the City of Detroit – would think if he were still around.

NIH gives $10.1 million for gender-balanced research

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-23 13:53

The National Institutes of Health want to end a long-standing bias in biomedical research, towards men. It turns out when researchers do what are called pre-clinical studies, most of the time they’re using male animals and male cells. Today the NIH announced that it has awarded an extra $10 million to help bring more balance into the lab.

Researchers have long preferred male animals and cells, partly because they thought the female menstrual cycle introduced too much variability. That’s not true, says Janine Austin Clayton, director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the NIH. This additional funding encourages researchers to study both sexes, she says.

“We’re really looking to transform how science is done, and in order for us to do that, we have to help scientists understand the methods and the benefits of studying both sexes,” Clayton says.

By not studying both sexes, Clayton says we may be missing out on discoveries that could help both men and women. One grant will help look at why women have higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease, for example. Other studies will look at sex differences in stroke, lung disease and alcohol abuse.

But is $10 million enough to change science?

“It will hopefully spill over,” says Kathryn Sandberg, director the Center for the Study of Sex Differences in Health, Aging and Disease at Georgetown University. Researchers will present their work at meetings, and others may become interested, she says.

“I think it’s a good first step,” Sandberg says.

The money won’t just bring more female subjects into the mix. Sarah D’Orazio, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, has a grant from the NIH to study the immune response in mice to the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The extra $100,000 in supplemental funding will help her buy male mice. Each one costs $24, she says, plus shipping and lodging.

“They’re very well cared for here at the University of Kentucky. So I have, basically, a hotel bill that I have to pay for the mice while they’re here during our experiment,” she says.

D’Orazio says she had done small studies with both males and females in the past.

“We had an observation all along that female mice were much more susceptible to the infection, and we just didn’t really have the funding to follow up on that observation,” D’Orazio says.

If she can prove there is a difference, D’Orazio says she could get more funding to study why and develop treatments to help women.

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