National News

Progress For Bill To Bolster Medicare Patients' Hospital Rights

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 06:58

Even when some Medicare patients stay overnight in the hospital, they are are being classified as outpatients under something called observation status. It sounds innocuous but can trigger big bills.

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Migrant Dies In Calais As Thousands Try To Use Channel Tunnel

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 06:22

Since Jan. 1, French officials have intercepted more than 37,000 migrants who were hoping to jump on trains or trucks heading to Britain via the Channel Tunnel.

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On Wyatt Cenac, 'Key & Peele,' And Being The Only One In The Room

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 06:10

Wyatt Cenac's much-publicized confrontation with Jon Stewart says a lot about the pitfalls of being The Only One In The Room. But turns out there's some interesting social science behind it, too.

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Tom Brady Calls NFL's 4-Game Suspension 'Unfair'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 05:17

Brady said he only destroyed his phone after his lawyers told the NFL his device would "not be subjected to investigation." Brady said he was "disappointed" in the NFL's decision.

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Afghan Government Investigates Reports That Mullah Omar Is Dead

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 04:02

Reports of Omar's death have swirled for years. The Afghan government is said to be investigating claims that the Taliban's spiritual leader died two or three years ago.

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Healthcare expenditures are picking up again

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 03:00

When it comes to healthcare, it’s generally understood we have a spending problem. Namely, we spend too much.

A new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services suggests expenditures are picking back up after a recent historic slowdown.

But even with the uptick, these numbers suggest the nation is making progress.

Cornell economist Sean Nicholson says he can see some good news tucked into this economic forecast.

“We should take some solace that we are seeing 5 percent projected increases,” he says.

In the 30 years running up to the Recession, the nation saw a 9 percent annual increase on average. According to this new report, over the next decade, we’re talking a 5.8 percent average.

So what’s changed?

Vanderbilt health economist Melinda Buntin says slow economic growth, higher insurance deductibles and new incentives that pay doctors and hospitals for valuable care rather than volume all are at play.

“What’s going on is that all of these things together are combing to create a climate in which different types of decisions are being made by thousands of decision-makers in the healthcare system,” she says.

This slowdown has gone on long enough that “I think we are seeing a new normal in healthcare,” says Buntin. “We can see it as evidence of a fundamental shift in the healthcare system.”

That said, the report points out prescription drug spending projections have risen sharply at more than 12 percent, the highest jump since 2002.

Evidence to Buntin that this shift will only last as long as the country keeps trying to control spending.

Texas Authorities Release More Jailhouse Video Relating To Sandra Bland Case

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 02:45

Officials in Waller County, Texas, say the videos prove many of the conspiracy theories being batted around the web are not true. Bland's death is still being investigated.

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Could President Obama Win A Third Term?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 02:03

Four U.S. presidents have completed a second term since that became the limit, and three of them might well have had a shot at winning again: Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

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Should law schools pay if students don't get jobs?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 02:00

Law school doesn't look like a great deal for many students. Tuition keeps going up, which means bigger loans to pay off.

But the job market for lawyers remains weak. At lower-tier schools, less than half of students end up with jobs as attorneys, according to a recent report from an American Bar Association Task Force.

Steven Harper, author of "The Lawyer Bubble," argues that those schools should be held accountable. The ABA task force proposes less-dramatic measures, like giving students more information about their prospective debt load. 

Click the media player above to hear more.

Poultry industry seeks ways to prevent more bird flu

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 02:00

Poultry industry groups and government officials continue a two-day convocation on bird flu in Iowa on Wednesday, trying to understand caused an outbreak this spring to reach such a dramatic scale that it cost Midwestern poultry farmers 48 million birds. They’re also evaluating how to mitigate a potential outbreak this fall when migratory birds, the virus carriers, take wing.

One of the tools poultry producers may consider is a vaccine. “We have a seed strain that appears to be fairly successful with reference to chickens," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a Congressional hearing last week. "It's now in the process of being tested for turkey.”

Another focus is biosecurity on farms. That might mean disinfecting delivery trucks that service multiple facilities, or keeping wild birds out of barns.

“These were all things that were done on paper, and whether or not they were done in practice is debatable,” says ag consultant Tom Elam of FarmEcon LLC.

Elan said producers may have gotten sloppy about biosecurity measures because they had gone so long without problems.

Elam doubts an outbreak in the fall would be as extensive as the spring outbreak. But he’s nevertheless glad the USDA is planning for a “worst case scenario” of managing 500 bird flu detections simultaneously — double the amount in the spring. The agency is adding 450 temporary workers in case of a large-scale fall outbreak.

Elam says the agency was too slow this spring to euthanize birds and to clean up infected facilities.

“Perhaps we saw those houses that weren't cleaned up properly responsible for spreading the infection to nearby farms,” he says.

The government response to bird flu is the subject of a Congressional agriculture committee hearing Thursday.

A low energy solution for drying clothes faster

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 02:00

Clothes dryers in the United States use about as much energy each year as the entire state of Massachusetts, according to an estimate from EnergyStar — which is part of the reason the Department of Energy is trying to develop more efficient home appliances.

Among those making significant progress is Ayyoub Momen, a staff scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Like most Americans, he owns a dryer. But he says he hates using it. He knows it's an energy hog, and it takes so long to dry anything.

Then, one day, he was thinking about ultrasonic humidifiers — a kind of portable room humidifier that uses high-frequency vibrations to turn water into steam without getting hot. And Momen thought: What if I use the same technology on a piece of wet fabric?

“The result was so amazing. It was like mind-blowing," he says. "In less than 14 seconds, I could dry a piece of fabric from completely being wet. If I wanted to do the same thing with heat, it’s taking somewhere between 20 to 40 minutes."

Momen’s current prototype looks nothing like a conventional dryer. It's basically a small circle of metal called a transducer that he plugs into a battery. He then douses a small piece of fabric in water and places it on top.

Ayyoub Momen's current prototype only dries a small circle of fabric. As soon as the transducer is plugged in, the fabric starts sizzling without getting much hotter.

Emily Siner

The fabric sizzles and steams, and in about 20 seconds, it's dry. Momen says it uses barely any energy.

"This dryer technology has the potential to save somewhere [around] 1 percent of the overall energy consumption of the United States," he says.

Venkat Venkatakrishnan, director of research and development at GE Appliances, calls the technology a "big breakthrough."

"It is not very far-fetched, not very difficult to do," he says. "But it is not an idea that everybody thinks of, because there is a lot of science that goes into it.”

GE has partnered with Oak Ridge to help put the ultrasonic dryer on the market. They still have to test this technology on bigger batches of clothes and build a more sophisticated prototype. But, he says, "I think we are about four years away from being able to buy this dryer at a Home Depot or at Lowe’s or any appliance retailer.”

He doesn't know how much they'll cost yet, and people might not run out to buy what could be an expensive purchase. Still, Venkatakrishnan thinks consumers will be willing to pay more to dry their clothes much faster — and, of course, save money on their electricity bill.

 

A toilet for all techies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 02:00

There's really no other way to describe them — the toilets of Japan are fabulous, and, high tech.

"Let's say you don't want to lift up the lid yourself, because it's dirty," explains translator Kaede Kawauchi. "Then you can just use the remote control to press a button and then it just kind of lifts up."

In Japan, toilets come with remote controls.

Toto has customers work with "advisers" to help figure out which product is right for them. (Sally Herships/Marketplace)

And at the Tokyo showroom of Toto, one of Japan's largest toilet manufacturers, you can have your pick. If Apple built a toilet store, this is what it might look like — white and shiny, but cleaner. Nariko Yamashita, who works in public relations for Toto explains a complex looking remote control — one with 22 buttons. 

Sally Herships

She presses one and a tube appears from under the seat spraying water. Not only do these toilets have built in bidets, you can also, says Yamashita, adjust the water temperature, get a water massage, or choose a specific flushing option depending on how much toilet paper you require.

But most U.S. consumers haven't been to Japan and don't know there's a whole wide high tech toilet world out there — The high tech toilet is something that has to be tried to be really appreciated, says Bill Strang, president of operations for Toto in the Americas.

So why haven't high tech commodes taken off in the U.S. yet? In Japan, Toto had a big leg up, says Strang. The Japanese love having options and Toto's Washlet is probably the best known model. It's a toilet seat with features like a drier for your nether regions and the option to play sounds in case you need some sonic camouflage for your toileting activities.

Sally Herships

The average price for a Washlet is around $600 but you still need a toilet and a tank. In Japan you can end spending as much as $2,700 on your toilet, and spend consumers do. Since Toto launched the Washlet in 1980 the company has sold 36 million units. Says Yamashita, 76 percent of Japanese households own one.

Even before the company went high tech it already was in the business of making toilets so consumers were familiar with the brand.

"I can tell you how this Washlet will work. I can tell you about the spray wand and how it's going to use a warm water wash to clean you off and how it will oscillate and pulsate and how if it doesn't hit the right spot you can move it around and get it to hit the right spot with that spray rinse ... I often say that I can tell you about the Washlet, but until you can actually test drive it and understand that experience you will then be able to say in your heart what it really brings to you in way of value," he says.

Says Strang, Toto's U.S. sales are increasing by 20 percent a year, so it's possible his pitch is working and that American consumers are now more carefully considering their commodes.

High-tech clothes dryers ... and toilets

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-29 01:23
48 million

That's how many chickens were taken out by the last bout of bird flu that swept the Midwest. And now, poultry industry groups and government officials have been meeting in Iowa to prepare for the next possible wave of the disease, as migratory birds, the virus carriers, will take wing in the fall.

22

That's how many buttons can be found on the remote control in Japan for ... a toilet. High-tech toilets have become popular in that country, but have yet to find a market in the U.S. But that may be changing. Toto, a popular brand, reports that U.S. sales are increasing 20 percent a year.

20 seconds

That's how quickly Ayyoub Momen, a staff scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, can dry a piece of cloth with his protoype for a clothes dryer that utilizes high-frequency vibrations to turn water into steam. The technology is being developed for a full-fledged appliance and has the potential to save 1 percent of energy consumption in the U.S.

$75,000

That's how much Baltimore resident Michael Ghebru says he lost in liquor and food when his store, Doc’s Liquors, was looted during the riots surrounding the death of Freddie Gray. Some 50 rioters, including customers that Ghebru recognized, tore through his store in April. And due to laws about liquor stores in residential neighborhoods, he would also be out of luck when it comes to collecting insurance for his business from the city of Baltimore.

Beam Me Up? Teleporting Is Real, Even If Trekkie Transport Isn't

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 01:00

Teleporting from one place to the next looks so fun on the big and little screen. But physicists who actually can do something like that with single atoms say teleporting people would be much messier.

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'Location Is Everything' In Tribal Casino Dispute

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 00:59

The dispute between two Native American tribes comes down to historical claims on a casino's proposed site — and also business.

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Deford To Hollywood: Ban Boxing Movies

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 00:58

Commentator Frank Deford isn't crazy about the new boxing movie Southpaw. He says its shortcomings are typical of Hollywood's depiction of boxing.

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Some Youths Find Probation More Challenging Than Juvenile Detention

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-29 00:57

Nationwide, juvenile incarceration has dropped by half since 1999 — but the probations that have replaced it hold teens to sometimes subjective standards and often include electronic monitoring.

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Mexico Soccer Coach Loses Job After Allegedly Punching Reporter

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 16:08

The altercation came just two days after Mexico's soccer team won the Gold Cup over Jamaica.

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Investigation Underway Into Killing Of Cecil, Zimbabwe's Best Known Lion

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 14:23

The killing of the beloved lion, hunted for sport, has been condemned by wildlife conservationists. A conservationist in Zimbabwe says a ban should be imposed on the hunting of endangered animals.

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Lebanon copes with garbage crisis and sustainability

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-07-28 13:52

Something stinks in Lebanon. For a week, 3,000 tons of garbage per day have piled up on the streets, left to rot in the heat wave while Beirut sorts out problems with waste disposal.

The trash crisis prompted demonstrations and protests, and some residents burned garbage in the cans, sending toxic fumes into the already reeking city.

The government has reportedly come to an agreement to start picking up trash again, but even the solutions seem unsustainable. Waste is carted to new locations, shifting trash problem from place to place. 

Behind the week of stench in Beirut is a road closure blocking Lebanon's Naameh  landfill — an overflowing disposal ground that was initially supposed to be a temporary solution. 

Brooke Anderson, a Beirut-based reporter for the BBC, says that part of Lebanon's trash problem is rooted in other systemic issues, including a lack of clean drinking water and a real recycling program. 

"The tap water doesn't taste good enough to drink, so everyone drinks bottled water," Anderson says. "The bottles pile up.... It piled up very quickly."

Combine the extra-high amount of waste with a lack of a well-running recycling program, and the garbage problem grows and overflows into streets, slowing traffic and disrupting business. 

For now, government-contracted Sukleen is back on the streets picking up the heaps of trash and carting it to undisclosed locations, but people in Lebanon are eager to find more permanent and sustainable solutions to an ongoing problem.

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