National News

Ruling On Gay Juror May Cause Ripples In Same-Sex Marriage Cases

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

In a dispute involving two drugmakers, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an attorney can't dismiss a potential juror because of that juror's sexual orientation.

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FTC Investigates Herbalife, Following Claims It's A Pyramid Scheme

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

Herbalife shares dropped on news the Federal Trade Commission is investigating the company. After shorting Herbalife's stock, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman's been lobbying politicians to investigate.

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Obama Rolls Out White House Welcome Mat For Ukrainian Prime Minister

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is visiting the White House Wednesday. The meeting comes days before a vote in Crimea over whether to secede from Ukraine.

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A Very Special Proposal Anniversary For The World Wide Web

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of a big tech moment: A physics researcher first proposed the idea of the World Wide Web. Aarti Shahani of KQED speaks with Tim Berners-Lee about his big idea.

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In Oscar Pistorius Trial, All Eyes Turn To A Battered Door

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

Robyn Dixon has been covering the trial of former Olympian Oscar Pistorius for the Los Angeles Times. She explains the latest details, as well as what's different about South African trials.

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Would-Be Shoebomber Testifies Against Bin Laden's Son-In-Law

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

The Osama bin Laden's son-in-law is on trial in New York City, accused of complicity in a shoe-bombing plot. Benjamin Weiser, who is covering the trial for The New York Times, explains the latest.

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President Obama Moves To Expand Overtime Pay

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

President Obama is asking the Labor Department to begin a rule-making process to expand the number of workers who are eligible for overtime pay. It's part of his effort to address income inequality.

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Government's Empty Buildings Are Costing Taxpayers Billions

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

Taxpayers are footing the bill for the upkeep of 77,000 empty or underutilized federally owned buildings. And a faulty database means the government doesn't know just how many properties it owns.

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A 19th-century invention to keep your ears cozy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 11:46

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up Thursday:  

  • In Washington, the Senate Finance Committee discusses "Innovative Ideas to Strengthen and Expand the Middle Class."
  • Is the middle class spending money? The Commerce Department reports on retail sales for February.   
  • And it's the anniversary of earmuffs. That stylish and highly-functional accessory was patented by teen inventor Chester Greenwood on March 13, 1877.

FTC Launches Civil Probe Into Herbalife Ltd.

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 11:45

After the company revealed the ongoing investigation, its stock plummeted. The nutrition company has been accused of running a pyramid scheme.

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Confusion Reigns In Search For Missing Airliner

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 11:39

There's no word on what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 or the 239 people on board. What has emerged is a pattern of contradictory information — but this is to be expected.

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Obama pushes for more overtime pay

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 11:28

What’s in a name? A lot, if you’re talking paychecks. Names - or job titles this case - are at the center of a new push President Obama is making to get overtime pay to more workers. He’s challenging ru:les put in place a decade ago that allow companies to avoid paying certain workers overtime if they classify them as executives or professionals. 

"Misclassification is a big one," says Heidi Shierholz, labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute. She says there are a lot of ways companies have been keeping wage costs low, like classifying people as executives or independent contractors. "Even though they’re technically employees, if they’re classified as independent contractors, the employers don’t have to pay workers' comp [or] unemployment insurance, they don’t have to pay minimum wage or offer overtime."

Shierholz says incidents of so-called wage theft have also been on the rise. "An example of this is when you work at a fast food restaurant and it’s 2 in the morning and your employer says: 'Clock out and then clean up.' That happens a lot."

This isn’t just a post-recession trend. These wage workarounds have been on the rise since 2000. "I think the labor market has tilted the labor playing field in the direction of employers," says Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at Georgetown University. "There’s just a lot more ways for them [employers] to get the work done that they need to get done."

Namely, technology and outsourcing: Employers use technology to replace a lot of jobs and can go overseas for cheaper labor.

The weak labor market has only made things worse for workers. "When you have three workers for every available job, that enhances employers' leverage to lower the norms and the treatment of their workers -- and that’s what they’ve done," says Michael Hillard, professor of economics at the University of Southern Maine.

But Hillard says wage stagnation isn’t entirely good for companies. When workers get paid less, they have less to spend -- which limits long term growth for many firms.

Fracking: 27 tons of dirty, radioactive socks per day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 11:21

Today's news that an abandoned gas station in North Dakota was found piled high with radioactive material taught us something about fracking: It produces 27 tons of dirty socks a day. Those are "filter socks," used to collect solids from the water that gets pumped into wells.

What else? The socks contain NORMs-- short for Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials.

Here's an oilfield joke (as cited here): Dope comes in five gallon buckets, joints are 30 feet long, with a pusher on every rig.

Hilarious, right? Here are more terms to, er, grease the wheel:

Pusher: Short for "tool pusher"-- the boss on a rig, the guy who keeps everything moving. 

Dope: Also known as "pipe dope"-- goop that lubricates the threads when screwing two pipes together, and creates a water-tight seal.

Joint: A length of pipe.

More fracking fun:

Pigs: Do not bust pushers. They are tools for cleaning pipes.

Escort services: Drilling equipment arrives at oilfields on trucks... as an oversize load. Escort services provide extra vehicles to accompany the trucks like a motorcade, making sure they get plenty of room on the highway.

Fishing: Not for recreation. When something gets dropped down the hole in a well, it's called a "fish." Guys with good fishing tools can make a good living in the oilfields.

Find more in the oilfield glossary compiled by the oil-production services company Schlumberger

Fracking produces 27 tons of dirty, radioactive socks per day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 11:21

Today's news that an abandoned gas station in North Dakota was found piled high with radioactive material taught us something about fracking: It produces 27 tons of dirty socks a day. Those are "filter socks," used to collect solids from the water that gets pumped into wells.

What else? The socks contain NORMs-- short for Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials.

Here's an oilfield joke (as cited here): Dope comes in five gallon buckets, joints are 30 feet long, with a pusher on every rig.

Hilarious, right? Here are more terms to, er, grease the wheel:

Pusher: Short for "tool pusher"-- the boss on a rig, the guy who keeps everything moving. 

Dope: Also known as "pipe dope"-- goop that lubricates the threads when screwing two pipes together, and creates a water-tight seal.

Joint: A length of pipe.

More fracking fun:

Pigs: Do not bust pushers. They are tools for cleaning pipes.

Escort services: Drilling equipment arrives at oilfields on trucks... as an oversize load. Escort services provide extra vehicles to accompany the trucks like a motorcade, making sure they get plenty of room on the highway.

Fishing: Not for recreation. When something gets dropped down the hole in a well, it's called a "fish." Guys with good fishing tools can make a good living in the oilfields.

Find more in the oilfield glossary compiled by the oil-production services company Schlumberger

Do you tip your barista?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 11:17

Who to tip? How much?

These are questions that go back generations.

At the end of the 19th century, it was a huge controversy.

"There was probably not a newspaper you could pick up or a magazine that you could pick up, in the late 19th and early 20th century, and flip through it for a few pages, and not find an article about tipping," said Andrew Haley, a history professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, and author of "Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the American Middle Class."

Middle class diners wrote editorials against tipping. They boycotted. Some places outlawed it.

"Six states passed anti-tipping laws in the early 20th century," Haley said, "and at least four other states were considering similar laws.”

Over time, Americans got used to tipping and settled on some basic rules.

"The norm is very clear," said Mike Lynn, a marketing professor at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, "you tip 15 percent to 20 percent to waiters and waitresses." That, he says is pre-tax, and it includes beverages and wine.

As straightforward as it is, a third of folks don’t know it.

"There are norms for tipping other service providers," Lynn said, "but they are even less well known than the restaurant norm."

So, what's the norm for a coffeehouse like Starbucks?

Lynn paused. He sighed. "I don’t know," he said.

Everyone does something a little different -- no tip, tip all the time, tip when they get food.

Marketplace has a poll, too. Of the nearly 550 responses so far, most don't tip. Those who do, tend to tip $1. Ten people said they'll just drop whatever change they get back into the tip jar.

It's possible the Starbucks app could start to set a norm.

Some of that will depend on how the app works, said Holona Ochs, a professor at Lehigh University and co-author of "Gratuity: A Contextual Understanding of Tipping Norms From the Perspective of Tipped Employees." If the app asks you how much you want to tip, with suggestions, like the screens in the back of cabs do, "then it’s a signal that you are required to tip, even if the service was poor."

The more people are encouraged to tip, the more likely they are to give one.

But, should customers be tipping baristas at all? Why are hair dressers tipped, but not mechanics? There are a number of theories out there.

"Economists would say we tip those service providers where it is more economically efficient for the customer to monitor and reward employee behavior than for the firm to do it," Lynn said. Different customers want to be treated differently; people tip in circumstances where the customer is in the best position to determine who did a good job.

Anthropologists have a different theory about who gets a tip.

"We tip to avoid envy," explained Lynn. "My car mechanic doesn't envy me because I had a broken car."

But the server might. "When I go out to eat, I'm having a good time," said Lynn. We don’t want to be the subject of envy. So we give a tip to say "don't envy me, have a drink on me later."

Lynn says the small amount of data that exists suggests a third explanation: people tip more when they think there’s a greater income disparity between server and the customer. And when they have more personal contact with the person they’re tipping.

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Man Exonerated, Freed After 3 Decades On Louisiana's Death Row

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 11:04

Glenn Ford, 64, was convicted in 1984 for first degree murder and given a death sentence. New evidence proves he wasn't at the crime scene.

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Preparing for China's urban billion

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 10:33

Imagine close to the entire population of the U.S. picking up and moving somewhere else.

That’s the scale of China’s urbanization campaign: 250 million farmers moving to the city over the next 15 years. For those Chinese nervous about how this will transform – well, everything - in their country, Premier Li Keqiang told his countrymen this week not to worry: "We will strive to enable everyone has equal opportunity, regardless of whether you come from the city or the countryside," Li said, during his work report at the opening of the annual National People's Congress.

These soothing words – echoing the government’s "Chinese Dream," the theme of leader Xi Jinping’s new China – haven’t made believers of everyone.

In Southwest China, the city of Chongqing is being used as a test case for transitioning rural Chinese to change their residency status to urban residents. The government is persuading millions of farmers there to move to the city. When I ask a group of them, "How’s it going?" I get an earful - dozens of people speaking in the sweeping tones of the Sichuanese dialect yell over each other, complaining in unison.

The voice of Tan Congshu rises above the rest. "In the countryside, we grow our own vegetables and slaughter a pig when we want to eat," she says. "Here, everything costs money. Electricity, water, rent, food…everything!”

Tan just moved from her farm in the village of Wanzhou to this low-rent urban housing project near Chongqing's airport. She says if this is part of a national test, it’s already an epic fail. Dozens of curious onlookers nod in agreement. We’re standing in the shadow of a more than a dozen gray towers, each thirty stories high. The city built them to house more than 50,000 transplants from the farm.

Above the courtyard hangs a red propaganda banner. In white Chinese characters, it reads: “Deepen reform and unleash the power to realize the Chinese Dream!”

It’s sandwiched between banners warning residents about gas leaks and stray dogs.

Many here say they’ve forfeited their farms to the government in exchange for urban residency status, which provides health, retirement and education benefits for their children. But others, like Mrs. Tan, refused to give up their land – Tan's apartment here belongs to her son.

"The government offered me $200 to change my status from a rural to urban resident," Tan says. "They said it would be good for me and that they wouldn't take my land, but I didn’t believe them.”

Chongqing’s government is willing to give rural Chinese access to urban schools and health care, for a price – in many cases, the government wants their land. Many, like Tan, are refusing to part with their land, putting a kink in China’s urbanization plan.

"The issue now is whether or not this can be implemented, and I have a lot of doubts," says Kam Wing Chan, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes his research on China's urbanization campaign.

He says China’s government will have to give better incentives to rural Chinese to persuade them to move to the city – he says the future health of China’s economy depends on this.

"China’s been talking about creating domestic consumption," says Chan, "And now it’s harder because the urban population replacement rate is actually now negative.”

Chan says China’s plan for an urban consumer-based economy is at risk. And even if farmers are persuaded to move to the city, they may not become model consumers.

In the Chongqing district of Xinqiao, I ask another group of urbanized farmers how they like life in the city. Again, a chorus of screaming. It seems everywhere I go in this city, this question causes a social disturbance. Within minutes, two dozen people crowd around my microphone to complain.

Their apartments are older - resident Wang Xueying says they’re in terrible shape. She says most of the farmers haven’t found jobs in the city and do nothing but sit around. “After the local government took our land and demolished our homes, they put us here – but we still had to pay money," complains Wang. "They told us the value of our old homes wasn’t enough to cover the cost of these tiny apartments.”

The Xinqiao government refused interview requests from Marketplace. But the displaced people here say local officials who sold their farmland made a killing. They say the money was embezzled so that party officials could buy luxury cars and fancy apartments. "If this is what urbanization is like," screams one elderly resident, "I’d prefer to leave China altogether."

Healthier Patients May Have To Wait For Costly Hepatitis C Drugs

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 10:24

Private insurers, as well as those serving Medicaid patients, are wrestling with how to cover the new drugs. Many say they will require prior approval and may be limited to the sickest patients.

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer Will Not Seek Another Term

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 10:21

To run for another term, it would have required a legal battle to challenge the state's term limits. Brewer completed the final year of Janet Napolitano's term. She won another four-year term in 2010.

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The life of a stolen passport

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 10:19

3.2 million passports have been lost or stolen from U.S. citizens since 2004.

That’s a lot of passports!

When a passport is stolen, it can make a circuitous loop around the world via underground criminal markets. Here's how it happens:

STEP 1:

The Passport is taken.


JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

          

STEP 2:

The Passport makes its way from the petty thief to a wholesale warehouse. There, it will sit in a stack of other stolen passports. 


Flickr: UKhomeoffice

          

STEP 3(A):

A passport forger calls the warehouse to say, "I have someone who needs an American passport, got any?"

STEP 3(B):

The warehouse man rummages through the stack, pulls out a passport, and sends it to the forger.


PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

STEP 4:

The forger will, if necessary, adulterate the image on the passport. He'll run it through a chain of people possibly 10 links long, until it makes its way to the client.


Flickr: Hc_07

STEP 5:

Someone will buy the fake passport for $200-$7,000. It could be used to get a job, to open a bank account, to launder money, or to get on a plane. As is clear from the Malaysian Air mystery, border patrol does not always check against Interpol lists of stolen or flagged passports. 


Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

STEP 6 (optional):

The stolen passport can be used to glean identification information that can then be used to apply for brand new passports – with a criminal’s photo and biometric information attached.  


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

 

 Instructions for reporting your passport as lost or stolen are available here (for local) and here (for abroad).

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