National / International News

How bank stress tests are like restaurant inspections

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:11

The results of the Federal Reserve's annual stress tests resulted in a failing grade for European banks Deutsche Bank and Santander, a pass — after some extra credit — for JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, and a do-over for Bank of America.

The grades are a bit like those handed out to restaurants by health inspectors. 

One difference is that banks know when the inspectors are coming. But Kent Smetters, professor of business economics and public policy at Wharton, says this isn't a problem, because banks can't easily change — and then change back — the basic riskiness of their balance sheets. 

This years' tests did ding Bank of America for "certain weaknesses" in its processes and controls.

"It would be similar to going to a restaurant and saying the food tastes good, the service is fine, and then you walk back in the kitchen and you see somebody is using their hands with fingernails that are unclean," says Mike Mayo, bank analyst at CLSA.

But while these kinds of offenses might shut down a local restaurant, Simon Johnson, professor of entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management, says that because banks are so systemically important, regulators tend to treat them with "kid gloves" — but that complexity also means their risks are very difficult to accurately "grade."

In surgery, practice makes perfect

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:10

From today's file of statistics that will scare you, a patient-safety organization called The Leapfrog Group finds survival rates for some high-risk surgeries can swing by as much as 23 percent depending on the hospital a patient visits.

In all, The Leapfrog Group looked at four risky surgeries including esophagectomy, replacing the aortic valve in the heart and removing some or all of the pancreas.

Dr. Tom Varghese, a surgeon at the University of Washington, often performs esophagectomies. He says there’s good reason why a patient dies during a procedure that involves removing some or all of the esophagus. The patient is often weak and malnourished. That patient has often gone through chemotherapy and radiation, and then, Varghese has to cut him open to perform a tough procedure.

“So you take out the esophagus, then you have to reconstruct the replacement which is most of the stomach. And then you have to make that stomach, which is a big sack, make it into a tube. Then you have to stretch it back up to reattach in the neck,” he says.

Varghese says he performs maybe 15 of these surgeries every year. The study found in general the hospitals that performed these procedures the most tended to have the best outcomes. That’s no surprise says Dr. Bob Wachter at the University of California, San Francisco.

“There’s clear evidence that practice does make perfect. The more cases you do in general the better you are,” he says.

Wachter says the hospital matters, too. Questions like: Does the facility report their mortality and readmission rates? Do members of the staff wash their hands? Do nurses feel comfortable calling a doctor at 3 a.m.? All play a role in patient quality.

The trouble has been it’s hard to find reliable information. Consumers in need of care today still must rely on a patchwork of sources. Wachter says for certain procedures, like transplants and some hearts surgeries there’s decent information.

Patients can also turn to Consumer Reports, U.S. News and World Report and other rankings. Ultimately though, Wachter says people are “stuck with sitting down and meeting with the [physician] and looking them in the eyes and seeing if this is a person I can trust,” he says.

But Leapfrog’s Erica Mobley says change is coming.

“Healthcare hasn’t really been held to the standards of other industries, having to publicly report information the good and the bad,” she says.

When Leapfrog began its hospital survey in 2001, only 200 hospitals responded. This year, 1,500, or one-third of all hospitals nationwide participated. And consumers are a driving force behind better quality information.

In a recent survey, Mobley says consumers said what disturbed them the most was not high infection rates, nor even when surgeons left an object inside a patient. It was when hospitals withheld information and failed to report data. And it appears hospital executives are listening.

Quiz: School lunch specifics

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:55

A school-cafeteria study published in Childhood Obesity finds students wasted less food after USDA lunch standards were implemented.

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80% 'learn less' with supply teacher

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:42
More than 80% of pupils in Wales say they learn less when they are taught by a supply teacher.

VIDEO: Sit on it

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:32
The bus stops which double as a public library

Supermarket price war hits Waitrose

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:25
Waitrose has posted a drop in profit for 2014 as competition for market share in the UK grocery market continues to hit supermarkets' bottom lines.

PODCAST: Courts could upend Uber's model

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:20

First up: The ride services Uber and Lyft failed to convince a pair of U.S. judges on Wednesday that their drivers are “independent contractors” rather than regular employees. Class-action lawsuits – brought by drivers of both companies – will now go to jury trial, the results for which could have important consequences for the sharing economy. Then, Google is getting into "cold storage," taking on the masses of old data businesses like to squirrel away and making it available to them at a moment's notice. Finally, New Yorkers have been enjoying excellent ski conditions for most of this winter, but in Lake Tahoe, the slopes are bare and warm. We look at how small ski areas are scraping by while the bigger resorts are looking for new ways to turn a profit.

No inquiry into Tornado crash deaths

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:20
The Crown Office says a fatal accident inquiry will not be held into a collision between two RAF Tornado jets in 2012.

France investigates IS killing video

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:17
France investigates an Islamic State killing video which features a French-speaking man said to be related to the 2012 Toulouse gunman, Mohammed Merah.

Cole Harden wins World Hurdle

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:17
Cole Harden wins the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival after leading from the off under jockey Gavin Sheehan.

Terry Pratchett, Prolific Fantasy Author, Dies At 66

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:17

The Discworld series author had for years struggled with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Pratchett amassed a devoted following over four decades of writing — and dozens of novels.

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Cameron school in admissions row

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:12
The state school in Westminster chosen by the prime minister for his daughter Nancy to attend may have breached the admissions code.

Ferguson police shooting 'heinous'

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:09
The shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, was a "heinous assault" that could undermine police reforms, says the US attorney general.

Before The Gas Is Passed, Researchers Aim To Measure It In The Gut

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:04

As people's health waxes or wanes because of stress or disease, their intestinal ecosystems change, too. It may be possible someday to diagnose disease by analyzing the gas the microbes make.

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In Vietnam, a cemetery kicks out the living

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:54

Some of the world's fastest growing economies are in Asia. With more cash flow, more jobs, more people, Asian cities are getting a lot bigger. Some are overflowing.

In Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, it seems as if little can stand in the way of urban sprawl — not even the dead. The city's biggest cemetery is slated for demolition, with plans to use the space for a shopping mall, apartments and parks.

Moving 70,000 tombs is one challenge. Here's an even trickier one: What to do about the hundreds of people who work and live inside the cemetery? 

The cemetery, Binh Hung Hoa, is a relatively quiet place — to lay flowers, light incense at a loved one's grave, even say a solemn prayer.

And hey — before you leave, grab a massage. 

"Oil, full body, hand, head… everything! Very cheap!" a masseuse named Man says with a laugh. She says she's offering oil, full-body, hand, and head treatments for less than $5 an hour.

It's kind of a steal — if you're okay with a rubdown among nearly two hundred football fields worth of above-ground cement tombs.

Man says her customers couldn't care less. Many local people who have colds, the flu, or fever often come here. There's been a big community living here for years and years, since before the early 1960's, when a much smaller cemetery first opened. After the U.S. war ended, the whole place just got bigger. More graves, and today, hundreds of people.

Thi Cuc Nguyen and her husband live here, where they work sweeping and looking after nearly 1,000 tombs.

"Are you scared of ghosts?!" Nguyen asks, laughing. "No ghosts here, only bodies. Their spirits are up in heaven already. So I feel totally peaceful living here."

The Catholic Church hired the couple almost 25 years ago. Nguyen says this gig sure beats her old job selling produce.

"Visitors often thank me, as they see that I am taking care of their families' tombs," she says. "I make $100 to $150 a month. And I have more freedom. I really enjoy taking care of the graves."

There are other ways to earn cash here. Some rent out rooms to day laborers, others run makeshift speakeasies. Want to order a whole roasted pig? One of the temple caretakers will hook you up.

Hoa Binh runs a small stand at a crossroads in the cemetery, where she sells sweet iced coffee, plus flowers and incense for the graves. Things have been tough for her since 2011, when the district People's Committee closed the cemetery to new burials. Families came and started emptying the tombs.

Since then, she says, business, well, it's been kind of like a graveyard around here.

"As soon as they started removing the tombs, the number of visitors dropped a lot," she says. "There used to be 500 tombs in this area. Sometimes there would be a line of cars here, just to visit one tomb, you know? But it's getting quiet. Very quiet!"

Quiet? Not exactly. The cemetery sits just two miles from Ho Chi Minh City's very busy international airport. This is where it's all supposed to happen: luxury apartments, a shopping mall, maybe a park, all by the year 2020.

Partly, yes, it's about sprawl, but there are public-health issues, too, says Yale anthropologist Erik Harms, who's written about urban redevelopment here.

"There's been stories about people drinking water from wells there," he says. "That's pretty nasty, right? To drink water from a well in a cemetery where corpse juices are dripping into the well, right?"

Some of those who live here are embracing the new plans. Harms says that with projects like this one, people often imagine a more comfortable way of life.

"They say, 'Yeah, it would be nice to live in a nice house or an apartment building with air conditioning, clean sewers … good schools for the kids.' That's in some ways preferable to living in a cemetery."

But the local government hasn't said what it's going to do for the residents. It's tricky in part because many people don't have any legal claims to the land.

One thing is clear: Soon, they'll have to pack up and move on, as this old graveyard gets set to start a new life.

The Micro Bit - can it make us digital?

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:49
The BBC plans to give a million children a tiny computer called the Micro Bit.

NHS Scotland staff get 1% pay rise

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:47
Health workers in Scotland will receive a 1% pay rise for the second year in a row, the Scottish government confirms.

Boy in Robin Williams death mishap

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:46
A teenager died accidentally after trying to work out how actor Robin Williams had killed himself, an inquest hears.

Teachers' pay rise 'will spell cuts'

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:45
Teaching unions react angrily to the latest pay deal, under which top teachers in England could get rises of up to 2%.

Army helicopter makes forced landing

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:39
An Army Apache attack helicopter makes a forced landing on a school sports pitch after developing a technical fault.

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