National News

What Qatar doesn't want you to know about the 2022 World Cup

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:11

BBC journalist Mark Lobel and his team recently traveled to Qatar at the invitation of the country’s prime minister.

Lobel was invited to go on a tour of new and improved migrant worker facilities that would address Qatar’s reputation of laborer mistreatment. With Qatar getting ready to host the 2022 World Cup, there’s been an influx of migrant workers to house.  

But Lobel quickly found that he would not be allowed to complete a balanced report of Qatari labor camps.

 “Eight cars drove us off the street, and we were taken in by intelligence officers, treated like spies if you like,” Lobel says.

After two nights in jail, Lobel was released. But he says he worries about what this will mean for future World Cup coverage.

“The fact that we were dealt with by security officers is the beginning of what I think could be a very worrying trend,” says Lobel.  

Listen to the full interview by clicking play on the media player above.

The dark side of online education

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:06

Online education is the new thing, but there’s a dark side to it. The New York Times Pakistan bureau chief Declan Walsh wrote about a company in Pakistan that’s making millions of dollars by selling fake credentials to whoever wants them. His piece is called "Fake Diplomas, Real Cash: Pakastani Company Axact Reaps Millions." 

What’s the problem with Axact?

Our reporting has indicated that these websites are posing as universities, often giving the appearance of being in the United States, or high schools also in the United States. Their customers have been both in the United States and in many other countries around the world, particularly in the Middle East.

They have very cleverly and purposefully crafted the brand identity of these schools to cater to different audiences. Some of them will have names that hue very closely of those of famous American universities. Other universities will appeal to customers, perhaps in the Middle East…within the company, these fake universities are treated as brands to be created and marketed for specific customer basis. 

How do they get people to sign up?

They have a whole range of techniques that starts off by paying companies like Google and Facebook for advertising space, so that if you type in a search for online education, one of their sites will come up prominently. Secondly, they have promotional tools. They place stories on the CNN iReport, which is a citizen-journalism website. They create promotional videos using paid actors posing as staff and students. So, they have a whole range of tools to draw people into the website and to give them an appearance at least of legitimacy that allows them to maintain the fiction that these are genuine education institutions, as opposed to what they are, which is a diploma mill.

Why have they gotten away with it?

 It has very cleverly taken advantage of the sort of freedoms and anonymity that the Internet can allow you to do business. It has set up a whole web of off shore companies in places like Cypress and the British Virgin Islands to both take in the money that it receives and to pay the vendors. It has engaged in often quite aggressive legal tactics against people who would either investigate it or criticize it in public, so newspapers and other media groups in Pakistan and in other countries, including the U.K., have come under strong threats from the company’s in-house lawyers. 

Amazon's Echo lets you order something by saying it out loud

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

Amazon moves us one step closer to ordering something just by thinking it. 

People who use Amazon's voice-activated speaker system Echo can now order something just by saying it out loud.

I'd offer some thoughts here, but chances are Amazon already knows what they are.

'Pitch Perfect 2' leaves 'Mad Max' in the dust

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

"Pitch Perfect 2" made $69 million in U.S. movie theaters over the weekend, beating the action film" Mad Max: Fury Road."

"This was a huge surprise, I mean earth-shaking," says marketing strategist Peter Sealey, who was the head of marketing at Columbia Pictures in the 1980s.

The movie, about a group of young women in a singing competition, trounced the big summer action movie, which traditionally attracts a male-skewing demographic.

That demographic, boys and young men under 25, is what studios have traditional gone after, says Sealey. "It's just, you know, kind of a knee-jerk reaction."

But the 75 percent female audience that carried "Pitch Perfect 2" is evidence that the paradigm is shifting, says box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Rentrak.

"We have a lot of movies that we're seeing where women are driving the story. That they're the center of these movies. And, we're going to see more of that," Dergarabedian says, pointing to recent films such as the "Twilight" series, "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "Cinderella."

But Pitch Perfect hasn't been just a female-centric franchise. The first film, which was released in the fall of 2012, has attracted a broad audience on home video.

"And I have to say, when adult straight men say that they loved the movie, I find that extremely satisfying," Kay Cannon, the films' screenwriter, told Marketplace in an earlier interview.

"Often, there's a big preamble before: My wife made me watch it, none of the other channels on the television worked, I couldn't find the remote," says Cannon.

To reduce the need for a preamble this time around, Universal Pictures marketed the film broadly, even during the Super Bowl.

"Over time . . . given all those marketing efforts," says Dergarabedian, the film "could build more of a male audience" than the audience in its opening weekend.

Pitch Perfect 2

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

"Pitch Perfect 2" made $69 million in U.S. movie theaters over the weekend, beating the action film" Mad Max: Fury Road."

"This was a huge surprise, I mean earth-shaking," says marketing strategist Peter Sealey, who was the head of marketing at Columbia Pictures in the 1980s.

The movie, about a group of young women in a singing competition, trounced the big summer action movie, which traditionally attracts a male-skewing demographic.

That demographic, boys and young men under 25, is what studios have traditional gone after, says Sealey. "It's just, you know, kind of a knee-jerk reaction."

But the 75 percent female audience that carried "Pitch Perfect 2" is evidence that the paradigm is shifting, says box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Rentrak.

"We have a lot of movies that we're seeing where women are driving the story. That they're the center of these movies. And, we're going to see more of that," Dergarabedian says, pointing to recent films such as the "Twilight" series, "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "Cinderella."

But Pitch Perfect hasn't been just a female-centric franchise. The first film, which was released in the fall of 2012, has attracted a broad audience on home video.

"And I have to say, when adult straight men say that they loved the movie, I find that extremely satisfying," Kay Cannon, the films' screenwriter, told Marketplace in an earlier interview.

"Often, there's a big preamble before: My wife made me watch it, none of the other channels on the television worked, I couldn't find the remote," says Cannon.

To reduce the need for a preamble this time around, Universal Pictures marketed the film broadly, even during the Super Bowl.

"Over time . . . given all those marketing efforts," says Dergarabedian, the film "could build more of a male audience" than the audience in its opening weekend.

Georgia landowners fight eminent domain over pipeline

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

We’ve heard a lot about the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline over the last year or so. There are already more than two million miles of pipeline in the U.S., carrying natural gas, petroleum products and chemicals, right under our feet.

Now, a fight is raging over a new pipeline proposed for the Georgia coast. The company that wants to build the pipeline needs private land to do it, and it is asking the state for the right to use eminent domain.

That’s not sitting well with many landowners in the region, like Eddie Reddick, who owns a tree farm near the South Carolina border.

Eddie Reddick at his family's tree farm in Screven County. He says Kinder Morgan surveyors damaged some of his crop.

Molly Samuel/WABE

“This tree will eventually die,” he says, picking up a small crooked tree by its trunk on his family’s 845-acre property in Screven County. A few weeks ago, surveyors for the energy company Kinder Morgan came out here, and Reddick says they drove over some of his young pine trees.

See, there’s a nice vigorous growing seedling, about 7-foot tall, that’s been run over,” he says. Now that tree and others in its row are bent over sideways, like long grass on a windy day. They’re all pointing in the same direction, toward a wooden stake with a pink ribbon fluttering at the top.

Here’s the first stake, and it says, 'proposed pipeline,' ” Reddick says .

Surveyors have begun laying out the route for the proposed pipeline.

Molly Samuel/WABE

This marks where the Palmetto Pipeline would travel through Reddick’s land.

It continues in a southerly direction through this young pine plantation, till we get to a wetland branch several hundred feet on down the line,” he says.

The energy company Kinder Morgan wants to build this 360-mile pipeline along the Savannah River and then down the coast, to Florida. It would split off from another bigger pipeline the company owns that carries gas from Gulf Coast refineries to the Northeast.

A map showing the route of the proposed Palmetto Pipeline. 

Courtesy of Kinder Morgan

Reddick says he thinks the pipeline would take about 4.5 acres of his farm permanently out of production. That’s a small amount of land for Reddick, but he says it’s the principal of the thing. 

“As a private landowner, [you] feel like you’re being run over,” Reddick says. 

But Allen Fore says this is about planning for the larger community’s needs. He’s a vice president with Kinder Morgan.

We’re looking at not just service now and what the needs are now in Georgia, but we’re trying to look at the next 20-30 years,” Fore says .

Savannah’s fuel comes from ships or trucks; Fore says a pipeline would be cheaper and more reliable.

Savannah in particular is one of the few areas that doesn’t have direct pipeline capacity,” Fore says.

It would cost a billion dollars to build the pipeline, and it would eventually carry about 150,000 barrels of fuel a day. Fore says all of the gas is for domestic use, not for export, and that Kinder Morgan will only use eminent domain where it has to.  

“Our use of that, if granted, is extremely rare,” Fore says. “Over 98 percent of properties are acquired by amicable resolution to the satisfaction of landowners. So we’re talking about a small, very small number.”

But a lot of landowners are upset about the idea. At a public hearing earlier this month, a couple hundred people turned out. There were environmentalists concerned about fragile wetlands, but the most vocal opponents were people angry about a private company taking their land.

Most people at a public hearing in Waynesboro, Georgia, in early May opposed the use of eminent domain to build the Palmetto Pipeline.

Molly Samuel/WABE

“My mama’s people, and my daddy’s people, been here since the 1700s,” said Jeff Mallard. “I don’t agree with eminent domain.”

But eminent domain serves a purpose, explains Peter Appel, law professor at the University of Georgia. The government uses it to build highways, post offices and parks. And, yes, states can grant it to private companies, too.

“People want to say this is my property, and you can’t have it, and the fact of the matter is, that’s not true,” he says. “A pipeline, similar to a railway line, is almost a classic case for when eminent domain makes sense.”

That’s because it’s going to serve the public by delivering gas, he says, and a pipeline’s route isn’t very flexible. Kinder Morgan can’t twist and turn around every landowner who doesn’t want to sell. But Appel says just because the pipeline is a good candidate for eminent domain doesn’t mean Georgia has to grant it.

It really is up to the government to decide, 'Are we going to put our power behind this project?' ” he says.

Gov. Nathan Deal came out against the plan earlier this month. But under Georgia law, it’s the commissioner of the Department of Transportation who makes the decision. The deadline for that decision is Tuesday. If the commissioner gives the green light, the project will then need to go through an environmental review.

Target zeroes in on food, glorious food

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

Target, long the “cheap chic” destination for clothing and home furnishings, is trying to spruce up its grocery business at the expense of some of its big processed food suppliers by capitalizing on consumers’ growing preference for organic and natural foods over packaged foods.  

“Natural and organics has been growing mid-teens now for eight to 10 years,” says Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with Edward Jones. “And the center of the aisle, the cereal, the chips, the cookies, the crackers, the soups of the world — they’re barely seeing volume growth at all.”

A Wall Street Journal report says Target will do less to promote packaged foods suppliers such as General Mills and Campbell Soup Company. That may mean less space on shelves and in circular ads.

Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder would only confirm the accuracy of quotes from CEO Brian Cornell. He told the Journal that mac and cheese isn’t getting eliminated altogether, "but clearly assortment is being shaped around what consumers are looking for.”

Sean Naughton, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, suspects Target shoppers might see more items like craft beers or specialty organic foods.

“I think they would like to create a little more uniqueness inside the store,” Naughton says.

Doug Waxson of St. Paul, Minn., already sees more appealing products at his local Target.

“My wife's noticed they're starting to carry some things she ordinarily gets at Whole Foods or a co-op, like some higher-quality lunch items and frozen items,” he said. “It seems like something that they've started to get better at recently.”

Analysts caution that Target won’t be dumping packaged foods altogether. But they say it probably will nudge out some of the big food companies’ products in favor of its own private label brands.

Yarbrough says the situation will make things harder on big food companies, whose sales are already suffering.

“Once they shrink the shelf space,” he said, “it's going to pressure sales for the next year.”

 

 

 

Federal money talks — kind of

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 13:00

Now that the president's Task Force on 21st Century Policing has proposed its recommendations, the White House is offering grants to encourage local police departments to adopt some suggestions, like having officers wear body cameras and using a new federal tool kit to train them. 

The grants make the medicine go down a bit more smoothly, but the White House’s reach is limited. 

“On a day-to-day basis, the president of the United States does not control the way police officers interact with citizens,” says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police, says local authorities were already buying cameras, and local police will make the key decisions about how to use them, such as “who’ll be wearing them, and for how long, and under what circumstances they go on and off.” 

This isn’t the first time President Obama has dangled money in front of local officials to try to bend them to his will.

“I think it works,” says Robert Shapiro, a professor of political science at Columbia University, pointing to funding for states to expand Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act. “They’ll take the money," he says. "And I think a good case in point is what we’ve seen on Medicaid.”

President Obama also tried to get states to change the way they educate children with his Race to the Top grants. He’s hardly the first president to try buying a little local control. President Nixon handed out grants encouraging local police to get tough on crime. 

Elian Gonzalez Says He Would Like To Visit U.S. As A Tourist

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 12:59

Now 21, Gonzalez was seized 15 years ago from his relatives in Miami by U.S. officials who returned him to his native country. His mother died trying to reach the U.S. His father wanted him back.

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Here's What People Are Saying About The Waco Shootout And Race

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 12:54

People are contrasting media and police reaction to the Texas shootout with their reaction to the recent protests in Baltimore and Ferguson.

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Cellphones Or School? What Makes Kids Around The World Happy

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 12:14

Whether they're rich or poor, kids around the world are generally happy with their lives, an international study finds. But when it comes to liking school, poor children come out on top.

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Cheap And Fast, Online Voter Registration Catches On

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 11:55

Twenty states have implemented online voter registration and seven are expected to follow. It has Republican and Democratic support, but but some still worry about cyberthreats.

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How Machines Destroy (And Create!) Jobs, In 4 Graphs

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 11:36

For hundreds of years, people have been talking about machines taking jobs. Less often discussed: machines creating new jobs.

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Google Wins Copyright And Speech Case Over 'Innocence Of Muslims' Video

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 11:00

A federal appeals court has reversed an order that forced Google-owned YouTube to take down a trailer for a controversial anti-Muslim video last year.

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Labor Groups Blast Working Conditions In Qatar Ahead Of World Cup

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 10:03

Their call comes on the same day the BBC said a reporting crew spent two nights in a Qatari jail for trying to film migrant workers who are building the infrastructure for the sporting event.

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President Gets His Own Twitter Account: 'It's Barack. Really.'

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 09:39

Obama's bio on @POTUS says he is "Dad, husband and 44th President of the United States."

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Supreme Court Calls Maryland Income Tax Law 'A Tariff'

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 08:35

The court says Maryland unconstitutionally raised the cost of doing business in more than one state, by letting local governments tax money that was earned — and taxed — in other states.

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Does A Foreign Accent Mess Up Our Memory Of What's Said?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 07:47

It can be hard to decipher what a non-native speaker is saying. But that might not always be a bad thing when it comes to understanding or remembering, scientists say.

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How We Store Food At Home Could Be Linked To How Much We Eat

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 07:33

Could keeping food out of sight be a way to keep it out of your mouth? A new study points to a possible tie between how food is stored, how visible it is in the home and obesity.

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2 BASE Jumpers Die On Wingsuit Flight In Yosemite

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 06:43

The world of climbing lost a daring innovator Saturday when Dean Potter died during a wingsuit flight. He was killed along with Graham Hunt as they tried to soar above California's Yosemite Valley.

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