National News

Mourning In Riyadh: Obama Visits New Saudi King To Offer Condolences

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 05:45

President Obama has stopped in Saudi Arabia on his way home from India. He's meeting with the new Saudi king. Steve Inskeep talks to NPR's Scott Horsley, who is traveling with the President.

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Am I Responsible If The Insurance Exchange Flubs My Subsidies?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 05:28

Mistakes are made. If the health insurance marketplaces screw up in calculating subsidies for consumers, it's the individual who is likely to be on the hook for repaying the excess.

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It's Been A Hard Road To 12 Step For Zanzibar's Heroin Addicts

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 05:04

On an island with one of the world's highest addiction rates, a 12-step program faces special challenges. The Muslim populace is uneasy with its Christian concepts. And women are seen as beyond hope.

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It's Been A Hard Road To 12-Step For Zanzibar's Heroin Addicts

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 05:04

On an island with one of the world's highest addiction rates, a 12-step program faces special challenges. The Muslim populace is uneasy with its Christian concepts. And women are seen as beyond hope.

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Gamesmanship Or Cheating: A History Quiz

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 05:03

Whatever happens with the investigation of Deflategate, there is sometimes a blurry line between gaining a competitive advantage and downright cheating.

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Boston Copes With Its Deepening Blanket Of Snow

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 04:52

The snowstorm hitting the northeast is having a major impact in Boston. Steve Inskeep checks in with WBUR's Anne Mostue for the latest on how residents and local officials are handling the storm.

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Gunman Opens Fire At City Council Meeting In Minnesota

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 04:46

Two police officers were injured and the gunman was killed. The officers had just been sworn in to the New Hope police force.

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LOOK! The Asteroid That Flew Past Earth Tuesday Has Its Own Moon

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 04:01

In celestial terms, asteroid 2004 BL86 buzzed the Earth, coming within 745,000 miles. Scientists were able to get a close look and capture some stunning imagery.

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PODCAST: Preparing for a power outage

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 03:00

Warnings about company profits put a tremor into the stock market today. More on that. Plus, two big steel companies revealed their profits today. So, how is the industry looking? We'll also talk about how more and more Americans are making their own power, either by installing solar panels, or in areas with frequent storms, backup home generators.

Winter Storm Skirts New York City, But Still Walloping Northeast

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 02:49

The forecasts had called for up to 30 inches of snow for the city, but the historic storm failed to materialize. By early morning, however, parts of Massachusetts had gotten more than a foot of snow.

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Mortgage program rates due to reset this year

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 02:00

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners who got a break on their mortgages during the financial crisis are about to see their monthly payments start going back up.

Known as the Home Affordable Modification Program—or HAMP—the government project provided relief for struggling homeowners by reducing monthly mortgage payments for five years. HAMP was rolled out in 2009, but really took off in 2010. Participants reduced their mortgage rates to as low as 2-percent, shaving hundreds of dollars off their payments.

Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst for Bankrate.com says as HAMP begins to sunset, incomes and wages remain stagnant and many of those same people are still strained.

"For a lot of people their situation hasn't changed drastically in the last five years to the point where they're now able to handle those higher payments as the payments normalize," says McBride. 

Still, others don’t see the end of HAMP driving up foreclosures. For one thing, home prices are much higher in 2015, meaning fewer people are under water.

"Nobody wants to necessarily throw money at a depreciating asset,” say Mark Munzenberger, Director of Housing for GreenPath Debt Solutions, in Metro Detroit, “fortunately about 90 percent of homeowners in the United States do have some positive equity." Munzerberger also points out that the rate increases are capped at a one percent per year, meaning most people will initially only pay around $50-75 more on their monthly bills (each year).

U.S. steel makers face challenges to profits

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 02:00

Three big steel companies report earnings Tuesday; Nucor, AK Steel and U.S. Steel.

First, what’s good for American steel makers: the strong U.S. economy and car sales, says Benjamin Liebman, chairman of the economics department at St. Joseph’s University. But, “the other side is that you have a surge in imports. And that is putting down pressure on prices,” he says.

The other challenge? Plunging oil prices. Thorsten Schier, steel editor at American Metal Market, says that means oil drillers are doing less drilling. And drilling uses lots of steel pipe. 

Click the media player above to hear more.

HAMP rates due to reset this year

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 02:00

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners who got a break on their mortgages during the financial crisis are about to see their monthly payments start going back up.

Known as the Home Affordable Modification Program—or HAMP—the government project provided relief for struggling homeowners by reducing monthly mortgage payments for five years. HAMP was rolled out in 2009, but really took off in 2010. Participants reduced their mortgage rates to as low as 2-percent, shaving hundreds of dollars off their payments.

Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst for Bankrate.com says as HAMP begins to sunset, incomes and wages remain stagnant and many of those same people are still strained.

"For a lot of people their situation hasn't changed drastically in the last five years to the point where they're now able to handle those higher payments as the payments normalize," says McBride. 

Still, others don’t see the end of HAMP driving up foreclosures. For one thing, home prices are much higher in 2015, meaning fewer people are under water.

"Nobody wants to necessarily throw money at a depreciating asset,” say Mark Munzenberger, Director of Housing for GreenPath Debt Solutions, in Metro Detroit, “fortunately about 90 percent of homeowners in the United States do have some positive equity." Munzerberger also points out that the rate increases are capped at a one percent per year, meaning most people will initially only pay around $50-75 more on their monthly bills (each year).

Is your medical information safe at Target?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 02:00

More and more healthcare is happening outside the hospital. Often, that means patients are getting basic care inside big retail stores. Kaiser Permanente recently opened four clinics inside Target stores across Southern California.

The Target clinic in San Diego is tucked away towards the back of the store, far past the registers and a few aisles down from the cafe serving pizza and popcorn. Through a door next to the pharmacy, shoppers find a quiet reception area and a pair of exam rooms where they can see a nurse practitioner.

Dr. Paul Bernstein, Kaiser's medical director in San Diego, says these clinics offer patients maximum convenience. He says you could be at Target buying some diapers, "And if your kid happens to have an earache at the same time, instead of thinking, 'Ugh, do I have to go to urgent care, or go somewhere else?', you just walk a couple aisles over." 

Patients can even see a doctor — at least one on a screen. They have the option to videoconference with someone like Dr. Heidi Meyer, a Kaiser family physician who spends part of her time on call from an office about 15 miles away.

Kaiser says telemedicine works for these clinics because remote doctors are looking at the same electronic files as nurses in the clinic.

But shuffling digital files between hospitals and big box stores has its risks, according to Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). According to the ITRC's tally, healthcare reported the most data breaches of all industries in 2014. 

"They have struggled," says Velasquez, who worries about healthcare companies joining forces with retailers; especially a retailer like Target. She says the ITRC fielded a huge spike in calls back in 2013, when millions of Target customers had their credit card data compromised.

"Those vulnerabilities that they each had individually have now expanded," Velasquez says. "Here's a healthcare entity that now has, potentially, the same vulnerabilities as a retail entity and vice versa."  

Kaiser says it remains tasked with keeping medical information secure, but defers to Target on any breach that might happen in its payment system. It's a balancing act security experts will be watching as retail clinics expand. Kaiser is hoping to open more clinics in California Targets later this year.

 

The movie (literally) in my mind

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 02:00

The annual Sundance Film festival kicked off on Monday and for the first time, the line-up will include a film made with the help of virtual reality technology or VR. The movie was made by Story Studio, a division of Oculus VR. The company has said is wants to produce original VR content as well as work with Hollywood to make more films using VR. We spoke with CEO Brendan Iribe to find out more about Oculus’ plans.

We have been hearing a ton about virtual reality. But the biggest hurdle to reaching consumers seems to be about content and you guys are hoping to change that.

Well there've been a number of hurdles. We needed to create a product which would be really comfortable for people. Whether it was gaming or cinema, you wanted to be able to enjoy that for five, ten, twenty, thirty, sixty minutes and feel good in it, take it off and want to go back and do it again. And then want to go do it the next day. Now that we've started to get over a lot of those challenges - the elephant in the room of nausea and discomfort - we’re starting to really get close to having that pretty well addressed for some forms of content. Of course, developers can make people feel whatever they want so it’ll largely be up to content developers. But now that it’s getting really close, we’re starting to work with content developers to get ready for the consumer launch.

What would Oculus movies made by former Pixar employees look like?

We have one group up in Seattle that's been working on different tech demos for games.  They are a group of former game developers. We have another group, which we are going to be talking a lot about at Sundance. They are working on the cinema side. We are all about games. We are all about putting you in the game, and as we created those made-for-VR experiences internally, they started to look a lot like cinematic experiences. So as we showed different people, a number of people said, has Hollywood seen this yet? One or two directors came down and tried it, and they turned and said, I want to make a movie with this. This is awesome. How do we get started? We’re looking that these incredible directors, and we are saying, I don't know how to get started. You're the cinema expert. We are the game guys. We’ll need to come back to you. The last thing I want to do is to make a movie with you and screw it up. So we put together this story studio group to figure out how to do VR cinema. And then educate and inspire the community, and provide these samples to directors so that they can be successful with VR cinema.

Is it harder to make a movie or game for VR technology than it is to make a Hollywood film?

I wouldn’t say it’s harder or easier ... it’s so new and so innovative that just by nature of it being so new, there are a lot of challenges. It's unknown whereas traditional film is a very mature medium. VR Cinema is this completely rich, 360 environment where you can lean in and out,  you can interact with the environment and with characters. It's a brand-new medium that Hollywood and even game developers haven't been working with yet. We've been dreaming about it but we haven't been creating content. So, yes, there a lot of challenges to how new it is. But the same time, there's a huge amount of opportunity to be a pioneer and to be one of the first developers to get it right and to start proving how to do it.

Is this medium, in some ways perhaps a future or a near future threat to the movie business, or perhaps the theater business?

I don't think so. Just like the traditional film business that we know of originally wasn't a big threat to the stage. That's the way everybody was experiencing entertainment - you go to the theater and watched somebody perform on a stage and then as we started to capture frames and get movies going, you started to have this new medium that took a while to get going. It took a long time to get sound and color. And then to get to at a real kind of mass-market adoption to get to the TV. These things took a pretty long time and even today still have players. But now you have movie theaters and TVs and it's a big, big medium where we see that same kind of leap from traditional 2D content to real true VR where you are getting that magical sense of presence, where you actually feel like you're in the movie. I am dying to be in gravity, in space, looking out over the entire world and a new universe and Earth, but it's going take a while to fully be realized. And I don't think it's going to necessarily disrupt traditional 2-D medium for quite a long time.

Let's talk a little bit about Facebook as a parent company. How are you going to navigate that as your company progresses; just avoiding some of these things that people don't actually like about Facebook?

Well, it's important to understand the kind of partnership we formed with Facebook. We were given the independence and autonomy to continue down the path that we are on. That was really important to this acquisition and to the relationship. Mark and the Facebook team didn't want to disrupt what we were doing. They did this with instagram. It turned out to be a huge success since Instagram didn't get disrupted in any way and they stayed on their mission. The same with Whatsapp. It's really up to the Whatsapp team to decide what to do. Even more so with Oculus, given how different we are as a platform, and as a company, developing our own hardware and building out this virtual-reality platform. If anybody would've been potentially affected it would have been something that was a lot closer to Facebook like Instagram or Whatsapp. For Oculus, It's like hands-off, help them as they need it and just do whatever we can to accelerate and make them a bigger, better, faster company, especially getting a consumer product out.

I get that the way this is set up offers you guys a lot of freedom set up but if that's the case then why was Facebook interested in buying you guys? What is the win for them there?

Well you you have to ask Mark himself to get the full details. But when we sat down and we talked about where we wanted to go and the vision that we had for VR, the idea was that this is the only platform that can give you this magical sense of presence. It will begin with games, start in games and always be rooted in a 3D gaming engine at the core, running in real-time that you're moving around inside. But the different applications of where this would eventually go were so broad and so exciting. The potential to be courtside and watch a game or have a social experience where you're able to talk to other people and truly believe other people are face-to-face with you, in the room with you, and yet they could be hundreds of miles or thousands of miles away. It has the potential to make the world a much more connected and smaller place. With VR, long-term, we are going to be able to give people this view where they really feel present like they went to London or they went to Barcelona or they went to the moon or to Mars and that is the potential that VR has and no other platform has. Mark got very excited about the future of virtual reality and augmented reality and Oculus is the pioneer and leader on the VR side.

Are you worried at all about the fact that the technology you're working with really cuts the viewer off from the environment? In the end, we might find that people might be more interested in augmented reality?

No, we are not worried about that at all. VR and AR are very different user experiences. In VR, you are totally immersed, you’re teleporting to another environment, whether that’s somewhere on earth or somewhere in a fantasy environment. You're really in this new place and there can be other people there with you. You're not going to get that in AR. We’re not looking at people walking around all day, every day in VR glasses. We’re looking at it as being largely an entertainment platform where you're getting you are going into the rift. Whether its 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes or two hours, you are going to get an entertainment experience,  a social experience. But you’re not going to wear VR glasses and walk across the street and look both ways and I wouldn’t recommend that for anybody for a really incredibly long time. In AR, that is the goal. How successful is AR going to be unless we’re all wearing these glasses all day long, every day? That's the dream of AR  - to complement and in many ways replace the cell phone. That’s going to take a really long time. I haven't seen anything - whether it's Hololens or Magically - that is even remotely close to being able to replace my prescription glasses that I wear today and have me walk around the office or my house or even outside and cross the street. We are really far from that. Google tried with glass. It was awesome for them to take a huge risk and go for it. I think it was very early and we’ll see a few attempts at this and it’s anybody's guess how long will it take to get down to that form factor, and that user experience.

You guys were early as well and I think that's been really good for you. You’re the most talked about company in VR right now. That comes with a little bit of responsibility to make an argument that this thing is really useful. I know that people have used this and have been really impressed by it. But do you feel the pressure to make that argument in a way that Glass failed perhaps?

I think we try to set expectation. It's incredibly important to who we are as a company, how we got started on kickstarter, working with our backers, and our community, setting expectation right from the beginning at what we're making, how it was going to work, how well it was going to work in the beginning. It's easy to dream about AR and this holographic reality we could walk around in. It's easy to dream about VR and teleportation and social experiences. You also have to back up to where we are today right now, what works, what doesn't, and set expectation with consumers. We’re delivering VR and it’s going to be amazing. It's not going to be for everybody, and it's not going to be that perfect VR we are all dreaming of, for a while. It's going to evolve incrementally and Oculus has done a pretty good job at trying to really be honest and transparent with where we are - putting out developer kits, taking feedback, not shipping a consumer product until we feel like the technology and the platform and everything was at a place where consumers could embrace and enjoy.

I know, you're killing me … I'm waiting for the consumer version. Can you help me out? When is that going to happen?

I am waiting for it also. I'm really excited. We’re not there yet. We are getting close, and at this point we have said the Crescent Day feature prototype that we've been showing is really, really close to the consumer we won on the Rift side. Gear VR on the mobile side is also very close and on the PC rift side we are very close with Crescent Bay. So it's not going to be too much longer, but there are things that we still want to get right. There are things we are still fixing. It's been pretty well known that I'm the most sensitive in the company. I want to be able to use this thing for 30, 60, 90 minutes comfortably, enjoy it every time I use it, take it off, and want to go back in quickly the next day, or later that day. We are really close. We are not quite there but it’s going to be worth the wait.

What are the ethical questions you're concerned about?

We’re very concerned always about health and safety. So we’re doing a lot of user testing. We’re looking at all the different aspects of health and safety. We put the warnings out there, even though none of us love those warnings out there. We are trying to really make sure that consumers and everybody is aware of this being a very new platform, a very new technology. It's early days. There's a lot of unknowns to this that we’re working on as fast as we can to find out more information about. So a lot of uncharted territory, which is super exciting, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility and we are taking that very seriously. Facebook is also helping us take that seriously. They have a number of different teams here on different kinds of policy. So they've really dug into help us on this. At the same time on the ethical side, VR can be used or has been in the past used for a lot of good. It's been offered as therapy on the psychological side of things. You can simulate vertigo or claustrophobia, there's all these things you can do in VR when you can suddenly make people feel present in an environment they are not really in. You can start stimulating a lot of things and learning a lot. Right now are really just focused on video games so we’re not out there actually engaged too deeply with all the different research centers that are doing that. We leave that up to them to use our product just like they could use an iPhone or a tablet. So we’re excited to see where this all goes and how it applies to other places beyond games and cinema. But right now that (games and cinema) is where we are focused.

Aging power grid has more turning to generators

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 02:00

The infrastructure behind America’s power grid is in pretty bad shape, and has more and more Americans turning to backup home generators.

Generac, the largest U.S. maker of backup home generators says about 7 percent of all new homes have one pre-installed. Unlike the pull-start gasoline models of the past, these new models hook up to your propane or natural gas. When the power goes out, the generator starts itself up and flips the home's electricity to generator power. It all takes about 20 seconds, and they can run for days.

Backup home generators require zoning, take a while to install, and cost at least $5,000 to set up. But for many Americans, living at the mercy of Mother Nature isn’t worth it.

Tony Vacarro, co-owner of OJ Mann Electrical Services in Cheshire, Connecticut, says a freak snowstorm in October 2011 "truly brought New England down to its knees." The Nor'easter knocked out electricity to millions, killed dozens, and marooned many more in cold, dark homes for days.

Vacarro's company installs generators, and after that storm, his phone was ringing off the hook.

“Little did we know how emotional the sale of a generator would be,” Vacarro said. “You have people on the phone literally sobbing in desperation because their husband or wife is on dialysis.”

Christie Holland, of nearby Bethel, got her first home generator for medical reasons: a family member needed a breathing machine. But now, she wouldn’t give it up for anything.

“Having a generator is one of the things that will absolutely spoil you. And once you have it you don’t want to not have it,” she said.

Is the dollar's strength a drag on tech earnings?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 01:50

Apple and Yahoo, among many other tech and internet related companies, are reporting earnings today. Some investors are already starting to look for signs the strengthening U.S. dollar might be hurting expected profits. More significant for the companies themselves: the reasons for the dollar's strength. 

Click the media player above to hear more.

Uber's blizzard pricing: 'Snow' laughing matter

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 01:30
40 minutes

Facebook and Instagram went down for 40 minutes Tuesday morning, leading some to question if a widespread hack was at fault. Facebook, however, claims it was the fault of its engineers. As reported by the BBC, Tinder was also down during this time.

$50-$75

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners who got a break on their mortgages during the financial crisis are about to see their monthly payments start going back up. Known as the Home Affordable Modification Program – or HAMP – the government project provided relief for struggling homeowners by reducing monthly mortgage payments for five years. But those rates are about to reset. Since rate increases are capped at a 1 percent per year, most homeowners will initially only pay around $50 to $75 more on their monthly bills (each year).

$889 million

What the Koch Brothers-backed Freedom Partners hopes to raise for the 2016 election, the Washington Post reported. It's about half of what the network of conservative advocacy groups spent during the 2012 presidential election, and it could give the organization a war chest rivaling those of the two major parties. Spending could start as early as the GOP primaries.

2.8x

What Uber will cap its surge pricing at during what's been dubbed Winter Storm Juno in New York City. Since a state of emergency has been declared, the company also says 20 percent of its profits will go to the Red Cross.

29,256

The number of retweets Denny's racked up, as of Monday night, for its September tweet "hashbrowns on fleek," a phrase that was being bandied about the Internet regarding a side dish at the restaurant chain. The tweet was a "masterstroke" of a very specific kind of real-time marketing, in which a brand works to build a social media voice as hip or irreverent as its young perspective customers, the Wall Street Journal reported.

hashbrowns on fleek

— Denny's (@DennysDiner) September 30, 2014

The strategy is being used by a growing number of brands, though actual financial benefits aren't clear and missteps can be cringe-inducing.

$468 billion

How much the U.S. budget deficit will decline this fiscal year, according to the the Congressional Budget Office. As reported by Business Insider, this marks the "end to an era of dramatically falling deficits."

2 percent

How much more valuable houses on named streets are than houses on numbered streets in the U.S., on average. In some cities, those houses are 20 percent more valuable, according to a New York Times column. A large set of real estate data reveals other interesting patterns in the way street names correspond to cost, and the Times has a tool that allows you to see how the name of your street might affect the price of your home.

$1,265

As a child, you may remember eating "ants on a log" – raisins and peanut butter on celery sticks. As an adult, you may find yourself eating literal ants on a shrimp so fresh it's still quivering. And according to Quartz, you'll also pay $1,265 for this delicacy at one of the world's top restaurants.

Uber's blizzard surge pricing is Snow laughing matter

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 01:30
40 minutes

Facebook and Instagram went down for 40 minutes on Tuesday morning, leading some to question if a widespread hack was at fault. Facebook, however, claims it was their own engineers' fault. As reported by the BBC, Tinder was also down during this time. So, resume swiping everyone!

$50-$75

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners who got a break on their mortgages during the financial crisis are about to see their monthly payments start going back up. Known as the Home Affordable Modification Program—or HAMP—the government project provided relief for struggling homeowners by reducing monthly mortgage payments for five years. But those rates are about to reset. So how will homeowners be affected? Since the rate increases are capped at a one percent per year, most people will initially only pay around $50-75 more on their monthly bills (each year).

2.8x

That's how much Uber will cap its surge pricing at during Winter Storm Juno in New York City. The company also says that because of the declared State of Emergency, 20 percent of its profits will go to the Red Cross.

$468 billion

That's how much the U.S. budget deficit will decline to this fiscal year, according to the the Congressional Budget Office. As reported by Business Insider, this marks the "end to an era of dramatically falling deficits."

$1,265

As a kid, you may remember eating "ants on a log" - raisins and peanut butter on celery sticks. As an adult, you may find yourself eating literal ants on a shrimp so fresh it's still quivering. And according to Quartz, you'll also pay $1,265 for this delicacy at one of the world's top restaurants.

Pentagon Identifies World War II Veteran Featured In NPR/ProPublica Investigation

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 01:18

After a long legal battle waged by a family member, the remains of Pvt. Arthur "Bud" Kelder have been identified by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.

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