National News

The Life Of The Man Who Died Fighting For ISIS

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:09

Douglas McAuthur McCain has earned a dubious distinction, as the first American to die in Syria fighting for the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State.

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A fracking story too good to be true

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:03

Producing oil and gas by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, takes lots of water. One Houston company claims to have a new technology that requires none of it. If it sounds too good to be true, the Securities and Exchange Commission thinks so, too - they have sued the company for fraud.

What’s alleged is called "pump and dump," in a very risky investment space known as the over-the-counter market. Two years ago, Maryland retiree Darleen Allwein invested in an oil and gas company called Chimera. The firm advertised a water-free fracking innovation.

“I had a friend who gave me the tip on this stock and it was gonna do well,” Allwein says. “And I had read some other stuff about this, what is it, fracking, or something?”

Allwein invested $10,000 in Chimera, during what the SEC considers the "pump" stage: the company issued 30 press releases, loaded with key Google search terms. It advertised on the websites of Marketwatch and the Wall Street Journal.   

The problem: petroleum engineers know waterless fracking is not a proven technology.

“Companies can fracture using oil and other petroleum substances,” says law professor Hannah Wiseman of Florida State University. “But as you might expect, they’re also not necessarily environmentally popular.”  

Investment professionals were wary of Chimera’s claims as well. Still, the over-the-counter stock market attracts lots of non-experts. Enough of them bid up the Chimera stock, at which point company creators executed their “dump.”

According to the SEC, they sold shares and pocketed $4.5 million in profits. Then the stock cratered, and Darlene Allwein lost everything.

To the feds, Chimera was simply a shell, a good story in the midst of a fracking boom.

“It’s sort of like a modern-day California gold rush,” says attorney John Hanger, a former Pennsylvania environment and utility regulator. “So it’s created a tremendous psychology of money to be made, that may make some people vulnerable.”

The SEC wants a jury trial, though the firm could settle.

We tried to call Chimera, but no one answered.

Producing oil and gas by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, takes lots of water. One Houston company claims to have a new technology that requires none of it. If it sounds too good to be true, the Securities and Exchange Commission thinks so, too. The SEC has sued the company for fraud.

What’s alleged is called pump and dump, in a very risky investment space known as the over-the-counter market.

 Two years ago, Maryland retiree Darleen Allwein invested in an oil and gas company called Chimera. The firm advertised a water-free fracking innovation.

“I had a friend who gave me the tip on this stock and it was gonna do well,” Allwein says. “And I had read some other stuff about this, what is it, fracking, or something?”

Allwein invested $10,000 in Chimera, during what the SEC considers the Pump stage: the company issued 30 press releases, loaded with key Google search terms. It advertised on the websites of Marketwatch and the Wall Street Journal.   

The problem: petroleum engineers know waterless fracking was not known to be a proven technology.

“Companies can fracture using oil and other petroleum substances,” says law professor Hannah Wiseman of Florida State University. “But as you might expect, they’re also not necessarily environmentally popular.”  

Investment professions were wary of Chimera’s claims as well. Still, the over-the-counter stock market attracts lots of non-experts. Enough of them bid up the Chimera stock, at which point company creators executed their “dump.”

According to the SEC, they sold shares and pocketed $4.5 million in profits. Then the stock cratered, and Darlene Allwein lost everything.

To the feds, Chimera was simply a shell, a good story in the midst of a fracking boom.

“It’s sort of like a modern day California gold rush,” says attorney John Hanger, a former Pennsylvania environment and utility regulator. “So it’s created a tremendous psychology of money to be made, that may make some people vulnerable.”

 The SEC wants a jury trial, though the firm could settle.

We tried to call Chimera, but no one answered.

There's A Big Leak In America's Water Tower

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 11:53

Peaks around Glacier National Park store water that irrigates a large section of North America. But a warming climate is shrinking that snowpack, with ominous consequences for wildlife and people.

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A personal shopper, via data and algorithms

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 11:11

There are people who enjoy shopping for clothes, and there are people who don't.

If you're in the "don't" camp, you could always just shop online. However, in the depths of the internet, you lose the assist you sometimes get from a person who knows the inventory, and who knows how to put this or that piece together with another one.

Enter a company called Stitch Fix, which takes the personal shopper model and runs it through an online algorithm or two.

We talked with Katrina Lake, founder and CEO, about the intersection of online retail and big data. Listen in the audio player above.

It's Not Whisky, But Everyone In Scotland Drinks It By The Bottle

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 10:35

Irn Bru is a neon orange soda that inspires passion and may help explain the strong independent streak in Scotland as it prepares to vote Sept. 18 on whether to break away from the United Kingdom.

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As Cease-Fire Takes Hold, Big Question In Gaza Becomes What's Next

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 09:43

Some semblance of normal life returned to Gaza, after Hamas and Israel accepted an open-ended cease-fire. People returned home and markets opened. What the future holds, however, is far from certain.

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Lizards And Worms Should Not Be On The School Lunch Menu

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 09:19

India wins praise for providing free lunches to 120 million of its poorest children. But lax supervision has led to lapses that have sickened and even killed youngsters.

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Hate-Crime Convictions In Amish Beard-Cutting Case Thrown Out

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 09:08

An appeals court in Cincinnati ruled that it was interpersonal disagreements rather than religious beliefs that sparked the attacks.

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Iraqi Christian Village: From Sanctuary To Ghost Town In 2 Months

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 08:08

Villagers in Al-Qoush opened homes and schools to Iraqis fleeing the advance of the Islamic State. But that was June. Now it's a ghost town, as silent as it's 6th-century monastery.

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Back Home, Freed American Journalist Says He's 'Overwhelmed By Emotion'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 07:24

Peter Theo Curtis was released by a militant group shortly after another group, the Islamic State, beheaded the American journalist James Foley.

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High inventory and low sales cut gun makers' profits

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 07:00

Gun maker Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. cut its revenue and profit outlook for the fiscal year. The company now expects per-share earnings to be about a third lower than previously projected. The downward revision was driven by high inventories and a slowdown in long gun sales following a previous surge in demand.

Here’s what happened. After the Newtown school shooting in December 2012, gun enthusiasts worried the government would ban or severely restrict certain types of weapons.

“A lot of consumers rushed to stores and bought every assault rifle off the shelf that they possibly could,” says Wedbush Securities equity analyst Rommel Dionisio. “That caused a near-term demand surge, but it also pulled forward a lot of future sales.”

The surge in demand lasted months. Retailers faced shortfalls, and then stocked up on inventory in response. 

But Dionisio says now, that person who’d normally be in the market for a modern sporting rifle probably already bought several of them.

“The demand for firearms returned to more normalized levels this year in 2014, and so it kind of just is catching up with manufacturers right about now,” says Andrea James, a vice president and senior research analyst with Dougherty & Company.

She says demand for long guns has plummeted, while demand for handguns is following a ten year upward trajectory. In a research note, James says she still likes Smith & Wesson long-term, but is downgrading its stock rating to neutral.

Smith & Wesson isn’t the only company weathering this return to what James calls ‘historical norms.’ She says one gun maker compared the gun-buying binge to eating a huge Thanksgiving meal: Just because you’re not hungry the next day, doesn’t mean you’ll never eat again. 

PODCAST: ACA reins in executive pay

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 07:00

Is America's economic recovery getting long-in-the-tooth? Does it have presbyopia and hair its ears? The S&P 500 remains above 2000 at this moment, in part because big companies have the profits to buy back their own shares, in part because investment overseas is a relatively risky bet.  We take a look at the market psychology. Plus, a new report says a little known provision in the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare, some call it -- could help rein in pay for executives at health insurance companies. Critics charge this is wrong-headed and could push up health care costs. And now a report on the business of lesbian bars. They're a place to grab a drink or a meet a friend but they're more than that. Some lesbian bars are a kind of community center; venues for public events or political organizations. But some of these businesses are disappearing -- We take a look at why that is, and what it could mean.

 

 

 

Rice Bucket Challenge: Put Rice In Bucket, Do Not Pour Over Head

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 06:44

Water is scarce in India, which is a good reason not to do the Ice Bucket Challenge. A journalist came up with another option — give a bucket of rice to a hungry person. Her version is going viral.

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U.N. Says Assad Regime, Islamic State Are Committing War Crimes In Syria

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 06:25

The report paints a grim picture of a country besieged by a ruthless civil war. All sides are indiscriminately killing and torturing civilians.

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Fashion Retailer Zara Pulls Kids Shirt Resembling Concentration Camp Uniform

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 05:12

The company said the shirt's design was meant to look like a sheriff's star from classic Western films. But after popular uproar, Zara decided to pull it from shelves.

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French Prosecutors Put IMF's Lagarde Under Investigation

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 04:01

Christine Lagarde said the allegations of "simple negligence" stem from her days as finance minister under former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

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Science Crowns Mozzarella The King Of Pizza Cheese

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 03:31

Why do some cheeses melt and caramelize better than others? Researchers used high-tech cameras and special software to figure it out.

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Both Afghan Candidates Pull Observers From U.N. Audit Of Votes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 02:48

The latest twist in the already contentious election process throws it further into crisis. It's looking likely that a new president won't be inaugurated by Sept. 2, as had been the plan.

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Affordable Care Act provision targets some exec pay

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 02:30

A little-known provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could help rein in executive compensation at health insurance companies, according to The Institute for Policy Studies

Corporations can deduct the costs of doing business from their tax bills, including the compensation of a firm’s top four executives. The deductions are capped at $1 million for each of those executives.

The Affordable Care Act made the limits stricter for health insurance companies, which stood to gain business as more Americans became insured under the law.

“Members of Congress were concerned that executives could use increased profits from their new customer base to line their own pockets,” says Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.  

Anderson says the ACA capped insurance companies' pay-related deductions at $500,000 per employee, per year. It also eliminated loopholes for performance-based pay.

She says the new rules generated $72 million in taxpayer savings from the top 10 publicly traded health insurers alone.

But critics charge the limits are arbitrary and focus unfairly on the health care industry.

“It's a bad[ly] thought out experiment that will not change compensation,” says Kevin Murphy, finance professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.

Murphy says insurers might just boost premiums to keep paying their employees' high salaries.

To prevent crime, predict it

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 02:00

The potential that data provides for government is, in many cases, still only just becoming apparent. For the police, data can help them respond to crime before it happens. The technology has promise, but also a dark side.   

“Predictive policing is the application of statistics and big data to the challenge of figuring out where or how to deploy police assets in advance of crime trends,” says Patrick Tucker, technology editor at Defense One.

He cites both New York and Memphis as examples of how the system has been used.

In Memphis, a researcher partnered with the police to pre-deploy resources to neighborhoods where they expected crime, and in their efforts discovered that being in public housing increased the chances of crime victimization, but not likelihood of committing crime, which to a change in strategy.

In New York, one component of predictive policing was the” stop and frisk” program, which, according to Tucker, was not a good use of the statistics because it did not substantially reduce the crime rate and was later found to be illegal. 

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