National / International News

Cell phone dead zones bring call for more towers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-11 12:22

On the afternoon of May 20, 2014, travelers driving through Oak Creek Canyon on their way to Sedona’s famous red rocks noticed a plume of smoke. Since they couldn’t get a cell signal, they kept driving the windy road until they reached the fire station 10 minutes away.

“I was very, very worried,” says lodge owner Mary Garland. “I just thought this fire was moving so fast. I really thought the lodge was going to be burned.” Garland watched the blaze devour hundreds of trees and come right up to her property line.

First responders actually kept the flames from reaching the lodge and all of the other homes and businesses in the canyon, but the blaze burned 21,000 acres of the canyon.

Minutes are crucial,” Sedona Fire Chief Kris Kazian says. “Seconds are crucial. Quick access makes the difference in our business.”

Residents say the fire could have been extinguished much sooner had there been a cell phone signal. “Cell phone service is the key to living in modern society,” says canyon resident John David Herman.

Herman worries about all of the potential emergencies you could have in a 12-mile-long cell phone dead zone. “You drove here,” Herman says. “You could’ve had a flat tire. You could’ve gone off in the road. A million things could’ve happened and you’d still be there.”

There are hundreds of places around the country like Oak Creek Canyon. If you look at a map of a cell phone provider’s service, there are large swaths of the country that have no cell signal.

The solution seems simple: Erect more cell towers. But Verizon and AT&T say the rugged terrain in Oak Creek Canyon makes that too difficult. Sprint says erecting towers in places with few people is just too expensive. The cost to install a cell phone tower is about $25,000, and that’s not including the necessary permits.

None of the carriers are going to do what we want them to do for the sake of 50 families in this community,” Herman says.

But, carriers might put in cell towers for the thousands of travelers who drive through the popular canyon every day, says Mike Keeling, a cell phone engineer turned lawyer. That traffic is a determiner for the operators of cellular companies as to where they put their towers,” Keeling says.

Keeling says a long unpopulated stretch of highway between Phoenix and Las Vegas, for example, has cell towers because it’s so heavily traveled by their subscribers.  

If there were lots of folks there, then the return on investment would be available for a Verizon, or AT&T or Sprint,” Keeling says.

The federal government is working on a $7 billion program called First Net, which would get all first responders on the same cellular frequency that would put cell towers in those dead zones. But that program is still in its design phase.

So for now, Fire Chief Kris Kazian is making do with an old emergency siren.

"Just a siren that notifies you,” Kazian says. “There’s no voice and there’s no means to tell you what to do once that siren’s activated. Everyone just run and panic.”

People often come to Oak Creek Canyon to get away from technology like cell phones. But as John David Herman says, it sure would be nice to have the option of turning that cell phone on to dial 911.

Common Core Reading: 'The New Colossus'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-11 12:16

The Common Core State Standards have led to big changes in the way many teachers approach reading instruction.

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Regulators Ban Cod Fishing In New England As Stocks Dwindle

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-11 12:16

The federal government is shutting down cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine for the next six months. But fishermen, who now face an uncertain future, dispute the government's cod counts.

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Arctic blast hits Canada and US

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-11 11:36
Parts of Canada and the US Midwest get their first blast of winter, sending temperatures plummeting by as much as 22C (40F) in days.

Comet's Rugged Landscape Makes Landing A Roll Of The Dice

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

Researchers admit their estimates that the comet was "potato-shaped" were way off. Luck may now be the deciding factor in the attempt for a soft landing early Wednesday.

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Ford's new assembly line jobs: less middle class

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-11 11:00

In Dearborn, Michigan this morning, Ford’s brand new F-150 truck rolled off the line. What’s new? The body. It’s aluminum instead of steel. That sheds 700 pounds, or 15 percent,  from its predecessor. They call it lightweighting.

Ford boasts 850 new jobs on the truck line. Are they good jobs? Think of them as lightweighted, too.

New workers at Ford – as well as GM and Chrysler – start at around $18 an hour. That’s generous relative to other sectors. But put that next to $30 an hour. That’s what auto workers hired before 2007 make.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

This is the new, two-tiered economy of auto workers.

“The people who are bearing the brunt of the adjustment to a more competitive world are the new hires,” says University of Michigan economist Don Grimes. “And they don’t get nearly as good benefits.”

On the shop floor, the high and low paid workers often do the same job.

“It would be interesting how the employees are getting along,” Grimes says. “I mean the guy working right next to you may be making a third less than you are.”

For new hires, life comes with lots of "if"s.

You can retire well, if your investments grow. Get a raise, if the company profits. It’s all in the new contract between the Big Three and the United Auto Workers union.

It worked out well last year.

“The workers went home with lots of money in their pockets,” Kristin Dziczek at the Center for Automotive Research says. “The profit sharing payouts at Ford were $8,800 last year. But, you know, if Ford makes no money this year, they don’t get that.”

So goes the brave new industrial world. U.S. automakers have to be lean to compete. More factory work is done by technology instead of people.

IBIS World

And the United Auto Workers has lost leverage. Back in the 1970's, the UAW set wages that Toyota and Honda plants in non-union states felt compelled to match.

No longer. The bottom came with the 2009 auto bankruptcies.

“A provision of those bankruptcies was that the automakers would become cost competitive with the internationals in the United States,” Dziczek says. “So that was a complete turn of the books. The internationals set the wage and benefit package for the auto industry.”

How important is a CEO to a company's success? It depends.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-11 11:00

The question of how much a CEO has to do with a company’s success became critical in an Oklahoma divorce case this week.  Lawyers for the multi-billionaire who runs Continental Resources, Harold Hamm, argued that other factors  – including luck – had more to do with the oil company's success than the CEO himself.

The judge in Hamm's divorce case ruled otherwise on Monday. He said the CEO - credited with leading Continental's acquisition of fracking sites in North Dakota and neighboring areas - played a central role in his company’s success, and awarded Sue Ann Hamm $1 billion, the largest divorce settlement in U.S. history.

Since the ruling concluded that Hamm's wealth - a reported net worth of $17 billion - had been earned due to his efforts or skills, Oklahoma law mandated that it would have to be shared with his ex-wife.

Continental's expansion began in the mid-1980s, when Continental was an Oklahoma-centric natural gas and oil company. Over the last three decades, the company’s value has increased 400-fold.

“The record is pretty clear that Continental made a whole series of decisions that were timely, and shrewd and courageous,” says Joseph Bower, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business school who taught management for 51 years.

Bower says when a company changes course, like Continental did, the CEO is the pilot. But while a visionary CEO can set the course for a company’s future, it doesn't usually happen that way: The trajectory the company is already on has a greater impact on its future success or failure, says  assistant professor of management at the University of Georgia Timothy Quigley, who co-authored a study on the impact CEOs have on companies.

Quigley’s research shows CEOs account for up to a quarter of a company’s success or failure, while trajectory accounts for as much as a third.

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“If we were to put my mom in charge of Wal-Mart tomorrow, Wal-Mart would probably still outperform Kmart for the foreseeable future," he says. "The point is: The trajectory that the company is on matters."

While the impact of chief executives may be limited in the U.S., it’s even more so in much of the rest of the world. In the U.S., CEOs have more power and discretion, according to assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame Craig Crossland, who has studied international business culture surrounding CEOs.

In societies where CEOs are given more discretion, "we’re more likely to see big hits and big misses,” says Crossland, giving the U.S. and UK as two examples.

Western Europe and Asia differ, he says, because in those countries collectivism is more important than individualism, so CEOs are less empowered and decisions are more often made by consensus.

"And the places we tend to see CEOs being given least discretion is in East Asia. So societies like Japan, like South Korea,” Crossland says.

How crab fishing was made safer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-11 11:00

The dangers of the Bering Sea crab fishery have been made famous by the reality TV show "Deadliest Catch." But in the last 15 years, that industry has become much safer, in large part thanks to collaboration between industry, scientists and regulators. Are there lessons that the oil and gas industry could learn from the crab industry’s safety gains?

We started on the docks in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, with skipper Rip Carlton. He described one of the most memorable close calls during his nearly 40 years as a crab fisherman. “I saw a guy get ripped off the side of a boat right in front of me by a huge sea,” he recalled. “He was on the side of the stack, probably 25 feet up and the wave came up and took him right off. And I could not believe what I had just seen.”

The crew managed to get the man back onto the boat -- and then almost killed him again. “He’d been in the water I don’t know, two or three minutes. He was definitely hypothermic,” Carlton said. “First thing we did is take his clothes off, throw him in a hot shower, and give him a shot of whiskey. That’s exact opposite of what you should do!”

In the 80s and 90s, safety wasn’t so much an afterthought as an absent thought for the crab fleet. “Back then we had no safety training, we didn’t have life raft drills, some boats didn’t even have survival suits that can help you stay alive if you go into the water,” Carlton said.

All of that contributed to the Bering Sea crab fishery’s fatality rate in the 90's of 770 per 100,000 fishermen. “Which is astronomical,” said Mary O’Connor, the deputy director of the Alaska Pacific division of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH. By comparison, the worst oil and gas fatality rate in the nation right now, in North Dakota, is 10 times lower.

It was clear something had to be done. So, NIOSH tried what’s called the public health approach. The first step was getting information. For commercial fishing, NIOSH asked the Coast Guard to share detailed reports about vessel accidents.“They found that at least eight of the twelve vessels that were lost en route from the crab grounds were loaded,” O’Connor said. Overloaded, to be precise -- with too many crab pots. In freezing spray conditions, that was causing vessels to capsize and sink.

So, then came step two: intervention. NIOSH isn’t a regulatory agency, but it shared the information with the Coast Guard, which started mandating dockside safety inspections. “If they were compliant, that was all good and well,” O’Connor said. “If they weren’t compliant, then they weren’t allowed to leave the dock.”

The results were dramatic. While 73 Bering sea crab fishermen died in the decade prior to the safety checks, 12 have died since then. Although there are other factors that also played a role, Rip Carlton, the skipper, says having more information and more people looking over the industry’s shoulder changed the culture of safety aboard vessels. “You’re at the dinner table and you talk about the danger -- what’s out there, what you guys should be looking at. So the guys keep being reminded about safe practices and things to do and not to do,” he said.

But can the public health approach - information followed by intervention -  be successfully applied to oil and gas? The short answer, according to Kyla Retzer, the head of NIOSH’s oil and gas safety program, is yes. But there are complicating factors. Unlike for the fisheries, there’s no Coast Guard for the oil and gas industry, collecting fatality information.

“Sometimes there’s very, very little information about the event,” Retzer said. “So, in order to use data and use this public health approach, we have to figure out a way to get more information about the circumstances.” Not only is data limited -- so is access. Retzer points out that it’s harder to get onto drill sites than fishing vessels. Anyone could walk onto a harbor and talk to commercial fishermen,” Retzer said.

Still, Retzer and her colleagues are working on developing an approach for oil and gas that follows the Alaska model -- and she’s hopeful that it will work. “People in this industry work really hard in dangerous environments with heavy equipment. And they deserve the right to have every step taken to keep them safe.”

This is the last article in a series, "Dark Side of the Boom," produced by Inside Energy, a public media collaboration focused on America's energy issues.

Let's do the numbers of Obamacare enrollment

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-11 11:00

The Congressional Budget Office  thinks a total of 13 million people will be insured through the heath care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act in 2015.

The Department of Health and Human Services says, no, it’ll be in the 9 million range.

One reason for the discrepancy: The CBO assumes lots of employers will shift more workers from company insurance plans, to the exchanges next year. But in reality, they may not be in any rush.

“The technical problems in the first year of the Affordable Care Act may have given employers some pause about putting their workers in these marketplaces,” says Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

And,  it’s going to be a lot harder to sign people up this year.  There's only a three-month enrollment period, versus six months last year.

But also, people who were most interested in getting insured signed up last year.   

The people left are harder to reach. Some are healthy and don’t think they need insurance.

Or they’re immigrants - worried about deportation. 

“Even if the individual is here legally maybe they have family members that aren’t," says Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow in the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center. "And that creates anxiety about interacting with government programs.”

So, if fewer people sign up for coverage next year, what does that do to premiums?  Does it jack them up?  Maybe.

That's because if you have more people on the exchanges, you could get a better mix of healthy people. If you have too many people needing lots of care, premiums go up.

“You’re going to be left with people who have higher health needs," says Sabrina Corlette, senior research fellow at the Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reform. "They’re going to end up costing more money.  And that’s going to come out in the premiums.” 

However you crunch the numbers, Corlette says, higher numbers are better. 

Things we now know about Mormons

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-11 10:52
The Mormon church seeks to dispel some of its most enduring myths

England winger Rokoduguni ruled out

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-11 10:45
England winger Semesa Rokoduguni is ruled out of Saturday's autumn international against South Africa with a hip injury.

VIDEO: Inquiry into prison call monitoring

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-11 10:41
The justice secretary apologises and orders an investigation into the possible monitoring of phone calls between prisoners and their constituency MPs.