National / International News

McMadness: Activists Pile On At McDonald's Shareholders Meeting

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 14:07

From workers calling for higher wages to teachers blasting McDonald's for marketing to kids in schools, a bevy of critics have descended upon the company's headquarters in Illinois this week.

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Can social media save water?

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:57
Outing water cheats in California

Synthetic high hospitalises students

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:35
Five Lancaster University students are in hospital, two of them in a critical condition, after taking a synthetic cannabis substitute.

FDA Wants To Pull Back The Curtain, Slightly, On Farm Antibiotics

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:28

The Food and Drug Administration wants to know which farm animals are getting treated most heavily with antibiotics. But the FDA's proposal still falls short of the best European data practices.

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Airbus warns about UK exit from EU

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:28
One of the UK's big manufacturers, Airbus, warns that the UK should remain inside the EU to guarantee future investment.

Often The Butt Of Jokes, S.C.'s Giant Peach Is Ripe For Renovation

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:26

The South Carolina landmark that's both loved and lampooned has gained national celebrity. But the peach's bright paint has soured over the years, so it's getting a makeover — to the chagrin of some.

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'Why criticise Sterling's ambition?'

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:10
Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling should not be criticised for being ambitious, says ex-Blackburn striker Chris Sutton.

France 'kills key jihadists' in Mali

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:07
French special forces kill four jihadists, including two leaders, in a raid in northern Mali, the defence ministry says.

Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:02
Sunderland secure Premier League survival after securing a battling point against Arsenal, who remain third in the table.

Currency control sits uneasily in trade deal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

Congress is debating whether or not to attach some new rules about what countries can and can't do with their currencies to a pending "fast track" trade bill, which would allow Congress to vote on free trade deals but not filibuster or amend them. 


“What I think we’re trying to do here is to create a playing field on which international trade will take place now for years to come,” says Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former member of President Obama’s economic team. “So you want labor standards, you want environmental standards and you also want currency standards.”


If countries are able to devalue their currencies to make their exports cheaper relative to other countries, Bernstein says that means the playing field isn’t level anymore. ­­


However, the Obama administration has opposed adding currency rules to pending fast-track legislation or a 12-country trade deal in the works, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned Tuesday that adding these currency rules could open to door for other countries to challenge Federal Reserve policies.


“It’s a pretty fine line between actual intervention in the foreign exchange market and alternatively, using monetary policy, that is printing more money or reducing interest rates, in order to make the currency cheaper in value,” says Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University.


While Bernstein thinks spotting currency manipulators is straightforward, Alan Sykes, a professor at NYU School of Law, says countries always have other explanations for their actions.


“They’re promoting development, they’re maintaining a stable value of their currency, or in the case of the United States, we need low interest rates to stimulate the economy in the face of a serious recession,” he says. “So there’s always a story.”


The Senate is expected to vote on a fast-track bill later this week. 

My First Job: Video dating service

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

Melissa O’Neil’s first job was working the front desk for a dating service, but this was before the days of sites like eHarmony or

“Back in the day before the internet, they would actually take videos of people doing all the things they do in the online forms now,” O’Neil says.

According to O’Neil, sometimes customers’ dating videos had outtakes.

“The guys very much got in trouble and had to be edited for saying things about what they were looking for … and women were more on the side of saying things about themselves that they shouldn’t have said.”

But O’Neil says she was able to learn something from the mistakes of all those video daters looking for love.

“Seeing how people presented themselves and the kind of things they could do that would shoot themselves in the foot taught me a lot about how to present myself – obviously in the dating world – but more specifically in the work world,” says O’Neil.  

Rate rigging in London affects U.S. consumers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

The Justice Department says five big banks have agreed to plead guilty to manipulating foreign exchange markets: Barclays, Citibgroup, JPMorgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS. UBS also pleaded guilty to skewing a benchmark rate called LIBOR.

LIBOR, the London Interbank Offered Rate, is what big banks charge each other for loans. Lots of consumer loans with variable interest rates are based on it, such as adjustable-rate mortgages, private student loans and car loans.

“There are important amounts of borrowing for car loans and for credit cards that are absolutely tied to a variable rate, and that variable rate is often LIBOR,” says Simon Johnson, a professor of global economics and management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Adjustable-rate mortgages are also tied to the LIBOR, and its manipulation has unsettled the mortgage market. 

“It undermined the whole credibility of an index for mortgages that supposedly was above board in terms of how it adjusted – either lowered or raised your payment,” says Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance.

Consumers were also affected by the currency manipulation, although more indirectly. U.S.  companies with business aboard might have lost out because of the skewed currency market.

“And when that happens, they have to pass on the costs somewhere, and they may well pass them onto consumers,” says Hillary Sale, a professor of law and management at Washington University in Saint Louis.

So the next time you yawn at someone manipulating a market far away that you’ve never heard of, just remember, you could be the one who pays.




The job application for Al-Qaeda

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

On Wednesday, the U.S. government declassified a whole bunch of documents it found in Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

Lots of fascinating stuff — among them a job application to join Al-Qaeda, which will sound familiar to anyone who's ever filled out any job application.

These are all quotes:

  • "Please write clearly and legibly."
  • "Have you ever been in jail or prison?"
  • "List your previous occupations."
  • "Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?"
  • "Who should we contact in case you became a martyr?"

Northwestern professor is a real 'Survivor'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

Max Dawson has always been a fan of the long-running reality television "Survivor," so much so that in 2012 he taught a class about it at Northwestern University. “The class was called “The Tribe Has Spoken,” says Dawson, now a Los Angeles-based media consultant. “I wanted to teach these students … about the industry they were going into. And what better way than using a case study of a show that really defined reality TV and redefined what American television is all about?”

Dawson’s class soon caught the eye of recruiters for "Survivor" and he was offered a spot on the show. “First, I thought I was being pranked by a friend or a student, but when the idea was planted in my head, it suddenly seemed really logical,” he says.

After getting the invitation, Dawson spent nearly two years preparing for the show. He did everything from putting in time at the gym to reading books about psychology in order to get ready. When it finally came time to make his debut, he felt ready. But he quickly realized that he may have been a bit too prepared.

“I was voted off in the second week,” Dawson says. “I came to the harsh realization that not everyone loves a know-it-all.”

This season of "Survivor" also had contestants broken into one of three groups: The white collars, the blue collars and the no collars. Dawson was put into the white collars, which he doesn’t think did him any favors. “White collar is synonymous with the 1 percent, the oppressor, the man,” he says. “To me that was putting a target on our backs.”

Even though some would say that reality television represents a degradation of entertainment TV, Dawson says that the genre goes beyond that.

“I see it more as a great sociological experiment that not only allows us to be entertained, but forces us to think about really tough issues, to confront things that we might not otherwise want to confront or that our entertainment might otherwise allow us to avoid.”

How many jobs does $100 million get you?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

Like many cities, Baltimore is dotted with the ghosts of industry: businesses, large and small, that have moved elsewhere or closed altogether.

There's the old FMC Corp. campus in Fairfield, its the lawn still neatly trimmed, but the parking lot is empty, and the property is ringed by fences and "No Trespassing" signs. FMC left Baltimore in 2008, part of a cost-cutting move.

The Globe Screen Printing building is on Hollins Street, right across from St. Peter's church, where Babe Ruth was baptized. Globe Screen, a family business, closed about 12 years ago.

A Bank One check-remittance center on East Fayette Street has been turned into Baltimore City Health Department building. It closed several years ago, primarily because people stopped writing so many checks.

What these businesses have in common is that each of them was located within one of Baltimore's poorer neighborhoods, which, in the '90s, were part of a citywide and federal effort to turn disinvested neighborhoods into "neighborhoods of choice."

In December 1994, Andrew Cuomo, then an assistant secretary with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, stood at a podium to announce the names of six cities that had been chosen to take part in an ambitious federal push to alleviate inner-city poverty. The Empowerment Zone program awarded a $100 million block grant and a package of tax credits for businesses and employers to the six. Seventy four cities applied, but Baltimore put on a show, dispatching a caravan of school buses and a marching band to Washington to deliver Charm City's application.

The winning cities, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit and Philadelphia-Camden, had some leeway in how they'd use the funds, which were to be spread out over a decade. For Baltimore, job creation and job training in the poorest neighborhoods (called Empowerment Zones) were priorities. Twenty years later (and 11 years after the program ended) Baltimore's effort offers both successes and failures.

The money was dispersed with an eye to getting people to work. Thirty-five million went to workforce development, including career centers and job training. About $27 million went to job creation efforts, including small business loans. Another $13 million focused on quality of life rather than jobs, financing home improvements and cleaning up lead paint.

Baltimore kept detailed records of how the money was spent, and in 2005, researchers at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute tallied up the number of jobs created within the Empowerment Zones. In total, the report says 5,777 jobs were created. Over time though, many of those jobs have left Baltimore. Small businesses, listed as the recipients of tax credits or loans in HUD reports, have shut down. Some larger industries have moved their operations overseas.

Some areas of the city, though, have been transformed. In 1997, Sylvan Learning Systems relocated its headquarters to the Harbor East neighborhood, which at the time was industrial and largely empty. Today, Harbor East is a vibrant area of retail and restaurants. Sylvan, now Laureate Education, is still there.

But in the poorest neighborhoods, job creation has remained elusive. Unemployment and poverty rates remain high.

Sandtown-Winchester drew attention earlier this month as the blight-ravaged home of Freddie Gray, a young man who died in police custody, sparking protests that grew violent in some places.

A Marketplace analysis of census data shows that during the decade of Empowerment Zone funding, the unemployment rate in Sandtown-Winchester was 18 percent. In 2013, data, which includes the recession years, shows an unemployment rate of 22 percent.

Diane Bell-McKoy, the CEO of Associated Black Charities, was chair of the Empower Baltimore Management Corporation, the nonprofit entity set up to distribute the federal money. She sees some successes, but the failures haunt her.

"I can tell you factually, by looking at wage record data, that people benefited," Bell-McKoy says. "I can tell you factually that people that got loans [from] us for homeownership, that they still own their homes. I can tell you factually that there are some businesses that survived. I can tell you all that factually. But I can tell you that wasn't enough."

The boarded up homes and lack of stores in Sandtown-Winchester would seem to attest to that. Still, the Empowerment Zone money did lead to a personal transformation for one Baltimore individual. 

Antoine Bennett, a 44-year-old lifelong Sandtown-Winchester resident, had just finished up a three-and-a-half year stint in prison when the Empowerment Zone funds were made available.  The zone joined with other community development efforts. Bennett took advantage of them, finding a job at a youth center, taking college courses, feeling the pride of being called Mr. Bennett instead of a prison number. He hasn't missed a paycheck since. He considers neighborhood transformation a full-time job — his.

Bennett is now an outreach minister at New Song Community Church in Sandtown-Winchester.

"Our goal is to build up strong men of character in this community," Bennett says. "That the world can look and say, 'In that community, it is easy for them to go from ex-con to icon in a very unique way. It's the evidence that the ill-fated are truly illuminated in that community.' "

Technology meets advertising, with you as the target

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

Advertising used to look like this: People went out to lunch, drank a lot, had some great ideas and put them on television. But these days, advertising is all about mobile, all about digital and all about machines.  

Doug Fleming heads up programmatic ad sales at Hulu, the TV streaming service. Along with thousands of other advertising and marketing executives, Fleming has decamped to San Francisco this week for the Adtech conference. It’s two days of, well, everything thats means anything when it comes to advertising and technology.

Fleming is giving a talk at the conference about the way things work now. Here’s a preview:

“It is absolutely imperative that a publisher has their technology stack in order. Their content management system is talking to their database, their consumer marketing team is tied in with their advertising team, who are tied in with all facets of the inner-workings of the machine.”

Translation: Digital advertising is on a tear. It's expected to hit $50 billion this year, and a lot of that is thanks to automation. Buying, selling, targeting and placing ads is all being done by computers, and it needs to be a well-oiled machine to work properly.

Here’s what that looks like: Say you load a YouTube video on your smartphone. An ad often pops up first. But before it does, there’s a tiny pause. And during that pause, “in nine-one thousandths of a second, there’s a mini bidding war that takes place to see who’s going to win that impression,” says Kenny Day, who runs political ad sales for Yahoo! and is a veteran of the ad tech business. Day is describing what’s known as real-time bidding. It was introduced by Google back in 2009, when it bought the ad-tech company Doubleclick and invented computerized ad auctions.

But ad tech really took off when the power of buying and selling in a fraction of a second was combined with the mounds of data companies collect on consumers. That combination has fueled a spate of acquisitions in the past two years. And it’s what is behind Verizon’s $4.4 billion offer for AOL, which has a solid ad tech business.

“There are all these data companies that are dropping pixels on you. They're cookie-ing you. They know that you are female, between the ages of 30 and 54,” says Day, adding that they know where you live, your political leanings and the products you buy.

And when you log into Facebook or Google or surf on your phone, those little trackers follow you everywhere.

Everyone's sort of tagged with these IDs that we carry with us. It's called a long tail, Day says.

The data is anonymous, but computer algorithms compare your activities to millions of people doing the same things you are doing online and determine what types of ads people similar to you might like. And the more data that gets fed into the mix, the more precise the targeting and the bigger the potential payoff for advertisers.

So when that ad pops up on the video you’re about to watch, and it’s for a product that you may actually be interested in buying, there you have it: the cross-device, behaviorally targeted, real-time bidding, technology stack in action.

And who said ad tech was hard to understand?  

Maine Bill Aims To Make Abuse-Deterrent Painkillers More Affordable

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:58

Expensive versions of prescription opioids that are tougher to cut, crush and inject are less likely to be abused, legislators hope. But some doctors call the bill well-meant, but ill-advised.

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Immigrant Family's Hope On Hold After Promises From The President

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:56

Six months ago, President Obama announced executive actions that would protect millions of immigrants who are undocumented from deportation. But those actions are on hold pending a lawsuit.

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An Author Of Paper About Changing Minds On Gay Marriage Seeks Retraction

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:51

The paper, published in Science, suggested conversations could increase support for same-sex marriage. Researchers who tried to replicate the study say the data were not collected as described.

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Rangers 2-0 Hibernian

BBC - Wed, 2015-05-20 12:45
Rangers earn a hard-fought victory over Hibernian to take a two-goal advantage into the Premiership play-off semi-final.