National / International News

Joss Whedon explains Twitter absence

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-06 02:11
Director Joss Whedon denies deleting his Twitter account over feminist criticism of his latest movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Adebayor reveals issues on Facebook

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-06 02:04
Tottenham and Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor has used Facebook to write about his personal family issues.

Chicago Set To Create Reparation Fund For Victims Of Police Torture

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-06 02:04

Officers on the South Side are believed to have brutally abused hundreds in the '70s, '80s and '90s. The council vote will set aside $5.5 million for the victims and provide education and counseling.

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Disney vs movie theaters in the next box office fight

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

Hollywood is buzzing about a reported battle between Walt Disney Studios and theater owners over "Avengers: Age of Ultron." The recently released film has already pulled in more than $400 million. Theater owners say Disney has been trying to boost its cut by taking a bigger share of the box office and restricting matinee hours. 

Barry Blaustein, Chapman University screenwriting professor, says theaters make money by getting people in the door to buy those overpriced, $5 boxes of Raisinets.

"Basically, movie theaters are in the candy selling business," he says.

Sam Craig teaches marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business. He says historically, theaters and studios typically split box office receipts 50/50. But Disney reportedly wants 60 percent of the box office for the Avengers sequel — and that could add up.

"Studios need theaters. Theaters need films to make money," he says.

If Disney keeps churning out big hits, the studio could have even more power over theaters, and other studios might follow Disney's lead. 

"It's likely to gross over $500 million, so now we're talking $50 million," Craig says.

Disney pricing power

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

Hollywood is buzzing about a reported battle between Walt Disney Studios and theater owners over Avengers: Age of Ultron. It's barely been out for a couple weeks and has already pulled in more than $400 million dollars. Theater owners say Disney has been trying to boost its cut by taking a bigger share of the box office and restricting matinee hours. 

You might think movie theaters are in the movie business, but you'd be wrong.  Barry Blaustein teaches screenwriting at Chapman University. Blaustein says "basically movie theaters are in the candy selling business." What he means is that theaters make money by getting people in the door so they can buy those $5 boxes of Raisinets.

Sam Craig teaches marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business. Craig says historically, theaters and studios typically split box office receipts 50/50. But Disney reportedly wants 60 percent of the box office for the Avengers sequel. And that could add up. "Studios need theaters. Theaters need films to make money." 

If Disney keeps churning out big hits, the studio could have even more power over theaters. And other studios might follow Disneys lead. "Over its run it's likely to gross over $500 million. So now we're talking $50 million," Craig adds. 

The green movement heads underground

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

The “green” movement is headed underground — to the grave, that is. More and more cemeteries around the country are offering burial options that use fewer materials and less energy; some are landscaped with native plants and trees. These simplified burials can also be cheaper, but there’s often a catch.

At a dedication ceremony for the St. Kateri Preserve at Calvary Cemetery in Dayton, Marge Devito and her husband Bill watch as a priest blesses the site. Bill has a terminal illness—and they love the idea of burying him in a nature preserve.

“This is exactly what Bill wanted,” says Marge. He had been planning to be cremated and have his ashes scattered, because he wanted something simple, but their kids insisted that he should have a grave site they would be able to visit. When they came to Calvary and learned about the planned nature preserve, Marge Devito says they jumped on it and bought two plots. “It’s just perfect."

Right now the preserve actually looks like some bulldozed dirt on a construction site, but Judy Pavy, who sells plots for the cemetery, says she can picture it. “It’s going to have the wildflowers and native Ohio grasses, and I just envision butterflies and birds visiting.”

The preserve won’t require expensive vaults or underground liners—in fact, those will be forbidden, along with formaldehyde embalming, so the cemetery can get a certification from the Green Burial Council as a green cemetery. For those who want headstones, there will be boulders, as well as a stone wall near the path where people can have their names engraved.

But just like the conventional side of the cemetery, a green plot comes at a price—or a range of prices, actually. A meadow spot is the cheapest, but it gets no marker, and you can’t visit the exact grave site. For a spot by the path or the lake, patrons of the St. Kateri Preserve will pay more. A boulder or a stone engraving is another charge.

Of course, price differentials and upselling are standard in the funeral industry. What’s new is branding the options as “green.”

“What we call green burial is what our ancestors about 130 years ago called burial,” says Josh Slocum, the head of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a national watchdog group. He’s concerned that green funerals will become an overpriced industry of their own—that people will be encouraged or even pressured to purchase natural embalming fluid and expensive biodegradable coffins as boutique items, showing a commitment to the environment. “Whereas really, it’s charging just as much money for fewer services and fewer products.”

Slocum’s not opposed to simplifying the burial process—if anything, he says pricing needs to be more transparent. Taboos around death sometimes make it hard to talk dollars and cents, especially in times of crisis. His advice to would-be funeral consumers? Do what feels right—and ask to see a price list. 

"The flash crash" five years later

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

May 6, 2015, marks the five-year anniversary of the so-called ‘flash crash’ on the New York Stock Exchange. That day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted more than 1,000 points, before regaining much of its ground by the end of the day.

The causes of the ‘lash crash are still debated, but certainly included a combination of civil unrest and market volatility sparked by the European debt crisis, plus high-frequency trading. Another key factor is now thought to be market manipulation by a single rogue trader in London, who was allegedly ‘spoofing’ S&P futures (in particular, the S&P 500 E-mini contract). That trader, Navinder Sarao, 36, was charged last month in the U.K.

Similar cases have followed.  

On May 5, 2015, in Manhattan federal court, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, working with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, filed civil charges against two traders in the United Arab Emirates. They allegedly spoofed the gold and silver markets from February to April 2015.

University of Maryland law professor Michael Greenberger, a former director at the CFTC, says "embarrassment" over the 2010 flash-crash revelations seem to be galvanizing securities regulators to identify and track down alleged market manipulators. But he says the Obama Administration’s prosecutorial approach isn’t helping, as it has favored civil over criminal charges in most securities-fraud cases since the financial crisis.

“The cleanest and clearest way to stop people from doing these things is the real possibility of ending up in jail,” says Greenberger. When traders and their firms face only civil charges, Greenberger continues, “they pay penalties. Penalties are a cost of doing business. Spending time in prison is the most effective deterrent to the fraudsters.”

Greenberger also believes part of the blame for lax enforcement against spoofing and other attempts to manipulate market prices lies with the equity and futures exchanges themselves. He charges that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, for instance, has dueling incentives—to ensure market integrity, but also to generate profits from higher trading volume, which high-frequency trading provides. Greenberger also says members of Congress, acting to help financial firms that are also big campaign contributors, have not adequately funded federal securities regulators like the CFTC and SEC.

Karen Petrou, a banking analyst at Federal Financial Analytics in Washington, D.C., believes that since the flash crash in 2010, the problem of market manipulation by participants with sophisticated technology for super-fast online trading has only gotten worse—in U.S. markets and overseas. She cites recent examples in the past year, including flash crashes on the German and Swiss markets and in the U.S. bond market. Petrou attributes much of the problem to under-regulated high-frequency traders.

“In its algorithm, in a nanosecond, a liquidity or temporary market phenomenon will give the high-frequency trader a teeny-tiny advantage,” says Petrou. “And if you do that a lot, very, very fast, you can make a lot of money.”

All of that rapid-fire computer-driven and -executed trading increases volatility and systemic financial risk, she says—not just for investors, but also for big banks.

“We are seeing flash crashes in the equity, treasury, foreign exchange and bond markets,” says Petrou. “We should be very scared. I know regulators are. But they’re not acting.”

A multi-agency plan conceived after the 2010 flash crash to monitor and prevent attempts to manipulate the markets has so far been mired in technological complexity, corporate rivalry and regulatory delays. 

 

 

Green burials

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

The “green” movement is headed underground—to the grave, that is. More and more cemeteries around the country are offering burial options that use fewer materials and less energy; some are landscaped with native plants and trees. These simplified burials can also be cheaper, but there’s often a catch.

At a dedication ceremony for the St. Kateri Preserve at Calvary Cemetery in Dayton, Marge Devito and her husband Bill watch as a priest blesses the site. Bill has a terminal illness—and they love the idea of burying him in a nature preserve.

“This is exactly what Bill wanted,” says Marge. He had been planning to be cremated and have his ashes scattered, because he wanted something simple, but their kids insisted that he should have a grave site they would be able to visit. When they came to Calvary and learned about the planned nature preserve, Marge Devito says they jumped on it and bought two plots. “It’s just perfect."

Right now the preserve actually looks like some bulldozed dirt on a construction site, but Judy Pavy, who sells plots for the cemetery, says she can picture it. “It’s going to have the wildflowers and native Ohio grasses, and I just envision butterflies and birds visiting.”

The preserve won’t require expensive vaults or underground liners—in fact, those will be forbidden, along with formaldehyde embalming, so the cemetery can get a certification from the Green Burial Council as a green cemetery. For those who want headstones, there will be boulders, as well as a stone wall near the path where people can have their names engraved.

But just like the conventional side of the cemetery, a green plot comes at a price—or a range of prices, actually. A meadow spot is the cheapest, but it gets no marker, and you can’t visit the exact grave site. For a spot by the path or the lake, patrons of the St. Kateri Preserve will pay more. A boulder or a stone engraving is another charge.

Of course, price differentials and upselling are standard in the funeral industry. What’s new is branding the options as “green.”

“What we call green burial is what our ancestors about 130 years ago called burial,” says Josh Slocum, the head of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a national watchdog group. He’s concerned that green funerals will become an overpriced industry of their own—that people will be encouraged or even pressured to purchase natural embalming fluid and expensive biodegradable coffins as boutique items, showing a commitment to the environment. “Whereas really, it’s charging just as much money for fewer services and fewer products.”

Slocum’s not opposed to simplifying the burial process—if anything, he says pricing needs to be more transparent. Taboos around death sometimes make it hard to talk dollars and cents, especially in times of crisis. His advice to would-be funeral consumers? Do what feels right—and ask to see a price list. 

PICS: 3120 The St. Kateri Preserve at Calvary Cemetery in Dayton is dedicated to the Catholic church's first Native American saint.

 

3117 A stone wall under construction at a green burial site in Dayton will become a place for engraved names and memorials, in place of the traditional headstone.

For-profit prison companies adjust to new era

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

The factors that drove double-digit growth for prison companies are largely in the past — like the ever-harsher sentencing laws that bloomed in the 1980s and 1990s. 

The prison population has actually declined slightly since 2009, according to data compiled by The Sentencing Project.

"With the recession, it became quite clear to governors of both political parties that prisons had become very expensive items in state budgets," the project's director, Marc Mauer, says.

The Corrections Corporation of America has adjusted. Kevin McVeigh, managing director with Macquarie Research, watches the company.  "While it’s still a very healthy industry," he says, "the rate of growth isn’t what it had been historically. And as a result of that, they started to generate meaningful amounts of free cash flow."

Meaning: The company made money operating existing prisons, but it didn’t have new projects to invest that money into.

So, in 2013, it re-organized into a different kind of entity: A Real Estate Investment Trust— or REIT for short.    

Carl Takei, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, sums up the reasons: "It comes with a lot of tax advantages," .

A REIT pays out most of its earnings in dividends, which can result in a better tax deal for both investors and the company.

Typically, REITs own rental properties— the income comes from occupants. In CCA’s case, it's essentially still collecting rent— just not from the occupants themselves.

Takei thinks the arrangement may not last.  "Because mass incarceration and sentencing reform are major topics of discussion, the private prison industry's future is uncertain," he says. Criminal justice reform has become a rallying cry among Republicans as well as Democrats.

UK services growth at eight-month high

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-06 01:55
The UK's services sector saw its fastest growth in eight months during April, a survey indicates.

An election that really matters

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-06 01:54
Why this is the most important election in a generation for the UK's economic and cultural future.

Merkel offers to testify in spy row

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-06 01:51
Chancellor Angela Merkel offers to give evidence to MPs amid reports that German intelligence helped the US spy on Germany and its neighbours.

ENO scoops prestigious music award

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-06 01:10
The embattled English National Opera is among the winners at this year's prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society awards

Panera Is The Latest To Drop Artificial Ingredients From Its Food

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-06 01:03

Panera Bread says it's dropping artificial colors, preservatives and additives from many menu items. But while it says that includes artificial sweeteners, it's leaving sodas with them on the menu.

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Celebrating an infamous anniversary

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-06 01:00
5 years

 That's how long it's been since the infamous "Flash Crash" in the U.S. stock market. Regulators wanted to set up a monitoring system to prevent drastic market swings. Consolidated Audit Trail, or CAT, was conceived as a way to mitigate any crisis situation. However, organizations responsible for establishing CAT, including Nasdaq, have been slow to make real progress in building and funding the project, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

80 hours

Some high-powered lawyer, bankers, and consultants claim to clock this many hours each week, but it turns out that schedule doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. The Upshot reported on a study that found about 30 percent of men at one consulting firm set themselves up with a far less stressful schedule while letting others believe they were totally slammed. Turns out the "fakers" had about as much success as people who were actually putting in 80 or 90 hours a week. Women were more likely to ask for an easier schedule up front, the study found, and their performance reviews suffered.

999,000+

This is how many followers British Prime Minister David Cameron has on Twitter. Thursday is the British election, and according to the Guardian, this is the tightest race the country has experienced in years. The leader of the Conservative party faces off his Independent and Labour opponents in a final day of campaigning today. And all candidates have employed social media to reach out to their constituencies. 

$187.7 million

This is how much the Marvel film "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" took in over the weekend in North America. Riding the success of its superhero franchise, Walt Disney studio has been trying to boost its cut by taking a bigger share of the box office and restricting matinee hours. This move is only adding tension to the tug of war between studios and movie theaters. 

18 percent

The portion of Microsoft developers and engineers who are women, according to CEO Satya Nadella. Marketplace Tech's interview with Nadella, split up over two days, touched on the pay and representation gap facing women in tech, as well as Microsoft's cloud computing business and plans for expansion in Nadella's native India.

250

At least that many businesses were damaged or completely destroyed during riots in Baltimore last week. A few of them were CVS stores, which are now slated to reopen after, in some cases, being torched and looted. CVS and other drug stores fill an important role in low-income communities like West Baltimore, offering fresh produce and other healthy food in place of larger grocery stores, which have moved to the suburbs.

Huckabee Hopes Evangelical Voters Are Tying Yellow Ribbons For Him

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-06 01:00

Mike Huckabee is back on the campaign trail after finishing second for the GOP nomination in 2008. In his latest run, he's hearkening back to an even earlier time, with 1970s icon Tony Orlando.

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UN troops killed in Congo ambush

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-06 00:59
Two Tanzanian peacekeepers with the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been killed in an ambush near the city of Beni, the UN says.

Miliband: Voters will get it right

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-06 00:57
Labour's Ed Miliband goes into the final day of campaigning saying voters have a choice between a prime minister who will put working people first - and one who favours the rich.

Cameron: We can still win a majority

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-06 00:57
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron says he still believes he can win a majority in Thursday's election and warns of the "danger" of a Labour minority supported by the SNP.

Bawdy British show for Biennale

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-06 00:55
Artist Sarah Lucas says there is nothing "particularly offensive or rude" about her provocative show at the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

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