National News

25 Years On, Mothers Of Tiananmen Square Dead Seek Answers

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 09:36

A bullet to the head killed Zhang Xianling's son near Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Since then, she has led a group demanding the truth and accountability for those deaths.

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Poll: Yes To Medical Marijuana, Not So Much For Recreational Pot

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 09:24

Almost half the states have passed laws easing access to marijuana for medical or recreational use. But most Americans have reservations, especially when it comes to access by young people.

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Meet Happy! The unsettling new Happy Meal mascot

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 09:14

One thing that has fascinated me for a long time is how huge, multi-billion dollar companies can make really obvious mistakes, mistakes that even a child could see.

Do people lose touch with the hoi polloi when they've been enjoying the perks of the executive cafeteria for too long?

Is it a product of the 'yes man' corporate culture, where some out-of-touch CEO has a shower epiphany which rips unchecked through vice presidents, middle managers, and teams of consultants to be broadcast nationwide?

Take what happened today: I'm looking at a photo of one of the biggest, most expensive branding decisions McDonald's has made in a long time. Happy, the new mascot of the Happy Meal.

This is an updated version of the old mascot, which was a Happy Meal box with a yellow smile drawn on it. Simple. Classic. Totally solid mascot. It seems logical, obvious, even, to give that old tried-and-true mascot an update. Bring it to life: add arms, legs and a face. What could possibly go wrong?

Crazy Eyes. That's what.

Happy looks crazy. Not evil, serial killer-crazy (which would actually, I think, be better) or even evil genius crazy... it's a desperate, deeply-needy, sad kind of crazy.

Happy's eyes say: "Hi! I'm Happy! Will you be my friend? Please? I have a lot of trouble reading social cues! Oh my God, I'm so lonely!"

Happy has the kind of expression on his face that you sometimes see on an internet date or a person you are sitting next to on a transatlantic flight. The kind of expression the person in the aisle wears that makes you think, "How much time can I spend in the bathroom before it becomes rude to the point of cruelty?" Shortly before ordering the strongest possible drink as fast as you possibly can.

In its press release, McDonald's says Happy will serve as "an ambassador for balanced and wholesome eating... and will encourage kids to enjoy fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and wholesome beverages such as water or juice."

Happy accompanies a new yogurt option (alternative to french fries) in the Happy Meal. So, Happy is telling kids to eat their fruits and vegetables.

Kids.

Kids, who will take one look at Happy and know that if they sat next to Happy in the lunch room, their social life would be over until they went to college. If you thought kids hated eating their fruits and vegetables before, now those fruits and vegetables are associated with being a social outcast... which makes me think that maybe, just maybe, Happy isn't the marketing snafu it first appears to be.

Maybe Happy is ACTUALLY a piece of marketing genius.

Consider this: McDonald's serves burgers, sodas, fries, Filets-o-Fish, McRibs, Egg McMuffins and basically everything that is bad for you and can fit inside of a sesame seed bun. McDonald's might SAY it's embracing healthy eating, but it's not.

If everyone in the world started eating what their doctor told them to, McDonald's would go out of business inside of two weeks. So what does McDonald's do? It rolls out a mascot for healthy eating, to tell kids how great "fruits, vegetables and wholesome beverages" are; a mascot that is so deeply unsettling to look at, any child who sees it will probably never want to go within 100 miles of fruit, vegetables or wholesome drinks ever again.

You know what doesn't have any fruits or too many vegetables? Burgers. Fries. Filets-o-Fish. McRibs. Egg McMuffins and basically everything else McDonald's serves.

McDonald's has not rolled out a messed-up mascot, it's invented the anti-mascot. Happy is reverse-psychology marketing in action.

Children, highly impressionable children, will now forever associate "balanced and wholesome eating" with the kid who sits alone in the corner of the cafeteria and brings his cousin to the Homecoming dance.

Sure, Happy might have crazy eyes... but I would submit that they might just be crazy, like a fox. Crazy like a fox that will spend the rest of its life thinking trans-fats are what the cool kids are eating.

Well played, McDonald's.

How much help do rural schools in your state need?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:30

The Rural School and Community Trust has released its "Why Rural Matters" report for 2013-2014, tracking the conditions of rural education in each of the 50 states. Using a combination of measurements, including student diversity, socioeconomic conditions and educational outcomes, the nonprofit organization categorizes in its report the overall need for support of rural education in each state.

In particular, the report highlighted the fact that rural schools, which serve 20 percent of U.S. schoolchildren, are experiencing higher growths in enrollment rates compared to non-rural schools. Rural schools also serve an increasingly diverse demographic and a growing percentage of students live in poverty, according to the report.

NPR To End 'Tell Me More,' Eliminate 28 Positions

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:28

The moves come as part of the network's effort to eliminate budget deficits. Tell Me More host Michel Martin will remain with NPR.

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This is your brain on a phone

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:00

There is word that Britain's National Health Service has just commissioned a big study to see what mobile phones are doing — if anything — to our kids.

This is one of the biggest stories I'v seen so far while broadcasting this week from London, and yet it has received very little coverage outside of these isles.

Here is the part that stopped me in my tracks: Researchers say this is not something that has been studied much. It should be said that perhaps there are no significant health, cognitive or developmental effects of young people using cell phones the way they do. But until this new research starts bearing fruit in a few years these will remain open questions.

The study will recruit parents and children at about 160 middle and high schools around London. They have to agree to let a special app monitor the phones of children as young as 11. The app will track how the phone is used, as a speaker phone, via headphones or how often it's held up against the ear.

Researchers, coordinated by the Imperial College London, are interested in any effects of radio waves emitted by the phones but also how the regular use of mobiles might change the way kids think or remember information. It's not just the effects of phones they are interested in, but other digital devices such as tablets as well. Alarmist nonsense? It is being noted here that the World Health Organization has said there is an urgent need for this kind of research with youngsters.

It is interesting that for a while now the National Health Service over here has had guidelines urging that phones should only be used by kids for "essential purposes." If you have ever seen a kid stuck in that praying mantis pose with a phone in hand, you know that is not always the case. That is to say kids have been known to use smart phones for more than just calling home for a ride or checking if the teacher had sent an email.

The lead investigator in the new British study is quoted by the BBC saying, "As mobile phones are a new and widespread technology central to our lives, carrying out the study is important in order to provide the evidence base with which to inform policy and through which parents and their children can make informed life choices."

What I am wondering is where they are going to find kids for the study's control group: the kids who never use phones are becoming a very rare breed.

G.M. Recalls 2.42 Million Vehicles Over Four Different Issues

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:42

The American auto company has faced intense criticism over its failure to recall more than 2 million vehicles with ignition switch problems linked to at least a dozen deaths.

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E-Cigarette Users May End Up Paying More For Insurance

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:33

Tobacco users often have to pay higher premiums for health insurance, and it's not clear if switching to e-cigarettes will help them escape that fate. A lot depends on what federal agencies decide.

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Third Of French Are On Psychoactive Drugs, Agency Says

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:29

Too many French citizens are regular or occasional users of prescription drugs such as antidepressants and sleeping pills, a government health agency says.

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Waiting At VA Hospitals: A Matter Of Life And Death

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:19

The Department of Veterans Affairs is under scrutiny after reports say it makes patients wait too long to see doctors. NPR correspondent Quil Lawrence discusses what happened and the possible fallout.

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Fashion soared as the economy faltered in the 1930s

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:15

Despite dismal economic circumstances, fashion made great technological and aesthetic advances in the 1930s, says Patricia Mears, co-editor of the book "Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s". Mears is the deputy director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Madeleine Vionnet orange cotton cutwork dress, circa 1932, Paris, gift of Genia Graves.

© Eileen Costa

Even amongst the poorest people, she says, there was a strong effort to dress well.

"America was probably the best-dressed country in the world because we were so innovative in ready-to-wear," says Mears. "That sense of occasion that really drove the need to wear a suit...and the fact that you didn't have a lot of resources, so you really wanted to put your best self out there, I think was very important."

It wasn't just the economic downturn in the '30s that sparked a wave of fashion innovation, however.

"It sat very closely after World War I, which was a very revolutionary period that really upended culture and society," Mears explains. "Also, there was a lot of technical innovation going on in things related to clothing, namely with textiles -- the innovation of very lightweight, much more flexible, and larger and longer lengths of woven fabric were available to dressmakers and couturiers." 

Madeleine Vionnet black chiffon dress with pintucks, circa 1930, Paris, lent by Beverley Birks.

© Eileen Costa

Hollywood, naturally, influenced the style of the era in its own way--particularly thanks to one Fred Astaire, who would dance up and down the hallways to make sure his clothes fit properly.

"The fact that he was a dancer and that movement was so important--and that he was on the big screen, he understood the importance of properly-proportioned garments--I think was one of the reasons his style has such resonance today," Mears says. "He was one of those men who could wear a white tie and tails the way that other men wore pajamas. There was that sense of ease about the way he dressed."

PODCAST: London's stock ambitions

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:05

There's news that the London Stock Exchange may be the leading contender to buy Russell Investments of Seattle with a purchase price something near $3 billion, according to the Financial Times. We check in with Julie Niemann, the analyst at Smith Moore and Company, to discuss.

And we check in with Brixton Market, in South London. It's a fragrant place, specializing in African and Caribbean produce.

Meanwhile, that leading light of management theory, Peter Drucker, figured companies would be wise to pay their CEOs about 20 times the typical salaries at the company. In recent years in the U.S., that ratio has run 350 to 1. This has been noted in the US, but here in Britain, complaints about executive compensation have risen to a clamor. As part of our coverage of London as a global financial center this week, we bring in Deborah Hargreaves, founding director of what's called the High Pay Center here in Britain.

Hero Or Villian? Historical Ukrainian Figure Symbolizes Today's Feud

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 06:45

More than a half-century after his death, Stepan Bandera is a deeply divisive figure in the current battle. Ukrainian nationalists put up posters of him while pro-Russian separatists burn his effigy.

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Hero Or Villain? Historical Ukrainian Figure Symbolizes Today's Feud

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 06:45

More than a half-century after his death, Stepan Bandera is a deeply divisive figure in the current battle. Ukrainian nationalists put up posters of him while pro-Russian separatists burn his effigy.

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Following Abuses, Medicare Tightens Reins On Its Drug Program

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 06:39

Medicare gives itself the power to ban doctors if they prescribe medications in abusive ways. The action follows a ProPublica series that found inappropriate prescribing, waste and fraud.

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What To Watch In Tuesday's Elections

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 06:03

One of the biggest political questions of the year will be answered: Can Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell withstand a Tea Party challenge?

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Chipotle Tells Its Customers Not To Bring Guns To Its Restaurants

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 05:52

The request is similar to the one made by Starbucks back in September and comes after a the group Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America launched a national campaign.

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CIA Says It Will No Longer Use Vaccine Programs As Cover

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 05:45

Answering health experts' complaints that using vaccination programs for spying had hurt international efforts to fight disease, the CIA says it has stopped the practice.

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The 25 Most Promising Graduation Speeches Of The Year

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 05:40

Cristina Negrut has read more than 1,000 commencement speeches over the past eight years. She lists the speeches she's most looking forward to in this year's roster.

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Are London's CEOs earning too much?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 05:23

How much more should a CEO earn than his or her employee? The rates vary around the world, showing little consensus. 

In recent years, U.S. CEO's have seen their pay rise to 350 times that of the average worker. In the U.K., levels of pay aren't far behind, but the conversation concerning executive compensation is far ahead. 

Deborah Hargreaves, founding director of the High Pay Centre in London and a leading voice in that conversation, joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to discuss executive pay and what levels are best for business and the economy. Click on the audio player to hear more.

 

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