National News

Suzuki recalls 19,000 cars because, spiders.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:32

Warning: this is not for the arachnophobes among you.

Suzuki has had to recall 19,000 of its mid-sized cars because of spider webs in the fuel lines.

It turns out spiders are attracted to gasoline vapors. They build webs in gas tank vent lines. Those lines get blocked. Gas tanks get damaged.

And oh,  by the way, THERE ARE SPIDERS IN YOUR GAS TANK.

Is Snapchat really worth $10 billion?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:32

Venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers made a pretty breathtaking bet today. It agreed to invest in a deal that values Snapchat at nearly $10 billion. Snapchat is a social network where people share photos that self-destruct within 1-10 seconds. 

It seems like things go this way. One day, you're a struggling start-up, making no profit, paying people in stock options...

 and the next...

Someone is telling you’re worth almost as much as the GDP of Iceland.

James McQuivey is an analyst at Forrester Research. I asked him what exactly Snapchat’s 100 million users share with the service.

"Among my children, it's really just 'this is what my face looks like in response to something that I just read or heard or saw or a song that I’m listening to.' It’s a way of expressing emotions… think of it as a live emoticon."

But can Snapchat be a face that launches 10 billion real dollars?

"Not even... It’s about $9 billion too much," says tech analyst Rob Enderle.  Enderle says Snapchat doesn’t know how it plans to spin its 100 million users into money yet. Still, he says, in today’s overheated tech sector, the nuts and bolts of the business plan take a backseat to the buzz.

"There’s two ways you can value a company: One of them is legitimately based on how much money they’re returning to investors and the other is based on screwy math largely based on the hopes and dreams of those that think that social networks every place should be made of gold and honey."

The question now is whether Snapchat has the makings of a social media Cinderella…or will end up being an ugly stepsister.

Enderle says it’s all about where Google and Facebook drop their magic. Messaging service WhatsApp had no profit plan and only 55 employees, and Facebook snapped it up for $20 billion.

We'll just have to wait and see how the story ends for Snapchat.

In Settlement, Homeland Security Agrees To Reform 'Voluntary Departures'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:20

The Department of Homeland Security is settling a lawsuit with the ACLU, which deals with immigrants who were improperly pushed to leave the country.

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Freemasonry Still Alive And Well, And (Mostly) Men-Only

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:10

The Freemasons are arguably one of the world's most famous men's organizations. Membership has been falling in the U.S. since the 1960s, but millennials are now showing an interest in the fraternity.

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Nashville tries to boost civic pride with an investment fund

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:57

CNBC called it a “wacky” idea when it launched a year ago: a fund that invests in companies solely because they’re based in a particular city — in this case, Nashville. The Nashville exchange-traded fund has beat the odds, but maybe not for long.

Having a single share of this exchange-traded fund, or ETF, is like buying stock in all the public companies headquartered in Nashville. It’s heavy in health care, with hospital chains like HCA. There are also companies like Dollar General and Cracker Barrel in the mix. The pitch to locals was “invest in companies you know.”

“You can say you are investing in Nashville,” says financial advisor Stephen Frohsin of Woodmont Investment Counsel. “There’s a story that goes along with that, that people can understand a little bit easier.”

Frohsin attended the first annual shareholders meeting Thursday. Personally, he is trying out the ETF. He says his clients are dipping their toe in the water as well.

Shareholders range from community leaders and politicians who see it as an exercise in civic pride. One woman said she asked for a few shares for her birthday.

Analyst Paul Britt says he’s got a soft spot for the concept because it’s got a real “support-your-community” feel. He also says it probably won’t last.

“The short answer is yes, I am surprised it’s still with us,” says Britt.

Britt’s company ETF.com has a rating for funds, and by its estimate, the ticker symbol NASH may not last long on the New York Stock Exchange. A year in, the fund has fewer than $9 million in assets. Many investors won’t touch an ETF with less than $50 or $100 million.

Without more money in the fund, there’s not enough trading volume for big investors to be able to sell on a moment’s notice, which is supposed to be one of the selling points of an ETF and trading volume creates fees to operate the fund.

“We see [Nashville ETF] as a high risk for fund closure right now,” he says.

Currently, the Nashville ETF is operating at a loss, but founder Beth Courtney says that’s not unusual for any one-year-old start-up business. She says she knows there’s some proving left to do.

“You know, we’re the first in the country. I think that there were obviously people who wanted to take a closer look at it and watch it,” Courtney says. “And they might continue to watch it and see the performance and that will speak for itself and the fund will grow.”

While the fund is still tiny, investors aren’t complaining. They earned a nearly 20 percent return for year one.

Life After Ice Buckets: ALS Group Faces $94 Million Challenge

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:43

The ALS Association has raised more than $94 million in recent weeks via its online ice bucket challenge — compared with $2.7 million this time last year. Now what?

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Before Leaving Afghanistan, U.S. Troops Must Declutter

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:41

American troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by year's end. So the military is sifting through 13 years of accumulated stuff to see what will be scrapped, given away or sent home.

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Staring Down Famine, Agencies Hesitate To Use F-Word In South Sudan

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

The "famine" label will bring an influx of aid to South Sudan from foreign countries — but why do donor organizations wait for that F-word before getting involved?

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Chicaco Greets Little League National Champs As Returning Heroes

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

Chicago has gathered for a parade to celebrate the Jackie Robinson West baseball team, which won the U.S. championship at the Little League World Series. Chicago Public Radio's Natalie Moore reports that this all-black team has helped to unify a city reeling from North and South Side segregation, as well as renewed attention on the city's violence.

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As BK Takes Tim Hortons, Canadians Stay Loyal To Their National Icon

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

The takeover of Canada's Tim Hortons by Burger King is causing quite the stir in the great white north. Melissa Block talks with Ian Hardy, editor-in-chief of Inside Timmies, a fan site devoted to Tim Hortons, about the Canadian existential crisis over one of the country's cultural icons being taken over by an American corporation.

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Mapping Out The End Days Of The Midterm Campaign

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

The end of August heralds the start to the final phase of the 2014 election season. As primaries wrap up and candidates ready themselves for November, NPR's Charlie Mahtesian lays out the political landscape.

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When Do Food Shortages Become A Famine? There's A Formula For That

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

The U.S. government has a detailed and technical system for determining a famine. But conditions in South Sudan make it extremely difficult to assess just how dire the situation is.

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Chicago Greets Little League National Champs As Returning Heroes

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

Chicago has gathered for a parade to celebrate the Jackie Robinson West baseball team, which won the U.S. championship at the Little League World Series.

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Surfers Flock To The Water, As Huge Waves Hit The West Coast

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

High surf is hitting the Southern California coast, much to the delight of surfers and the worry of lifeguards.

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In Fixing Recalled Cars, GM Dealers Hope To Wow Customers

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

General Motors has recalled 29 million autos in North America this year. Dealers replacing the faulty parts aren't just fixing cars. They're repairing customers' relationships with the automaker.

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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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