National News

PODCAST: Revisiting history

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-06-03 03:00

The payroll company ADP released numbers today, showing that 201,000 more people were on private sector payrolls in May. We'll talk about the implications of that number. Plus, was Richard Fuld, former CEO of Lehman Brothers, re-writing history with his first public history since the collapse of his firm? Washington Post columnist and Marketplace contributor Allan Sloan stops by to weigh in. Plus, Jurassic World is coming out June 12th—and it’s expected to dominate the box office. It’s also an opportunity for Natural History Museums to educate…and maybe raise some money.



Americans Think Money In Politics Is A Problem, But Just How Big?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-03 02:03

A new poll shows Americans think the rich have too much influence and that the political money system needs an overhaul, but they rate it low on the priority list.

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Offering treatment, not punishment, to veterans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-06-03 02:00

Five years ago, Erik Castro came back from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder and an alcohol problem, though he wouldn’t admit to either.

“I don’t want to ask for help,” he says. "I wanted to do what I know how to do. Violence. Drinking. In the Marine Corps, it was just drinking a lot.”

It’s a combination — PTSD or other mental illness and substance abuse problems — that has landed a disproportionate number of veterans in the criminal justice system. In response, more than 200 jurisdictions have opened veterans courts. Modeled on drug courts, they offer defendants an alternative to jail or prison time, and proponents say, save counties and states money in the process.

Castro ended up in the veterans court in Orange County, California, after he got drunk and beat up a worker in a Subway restaurant. He says he doesn’t remember much of what happened, but he woke up the next morning in jail facing a bunch of felony charges.

The veterans court wasn’t his first choice, he says, but it seemed better than prison. And when he started the program, he was pleasantly surprised to find that it felt familiar.

“It was like being in the Marine Corps again,” he says. “They’re watching you ... they’re on you.”  

The program is modeled on drug courts, so the emphasis is on treatment and recovery rather than punishment. In this case, the court connects clients to existing services, mostly through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and then forces the vets to make use of them or go back to jail.   It’s intense: there’s substance abuse treatment, group therapy and individual therapy, plus regular check-ins with the judge and probation officer at court.

“They make you get those demons out,” Castro says. “They make you work, work, work.”

But it’s also supportive.

“What makes this unique,” says Joe Perez, the presiding judge, “is we’re all getting together, trying to figure out what’s the best way to keep this person from coming back.”

In Orange County, one of the ways they try to keep people from coming back is to make court feel like the military. The judge makes references to the military, sometimes addressing clients by their rank.

Every participant is assigned a mentor — themselves all combat veterans — to help them figure out how to cope. At the beginning of each court session, the mentors introduce themselves by name and branch of service. The courtroom responds with a cheer.

Perez says keeping people like Castro out of prison has all kinds of benefits, but “the bottom line: it’s saving lives and money.”

The court estimates the program has saved the county more than $2 million in jail and prison costs since it started five years ago. But it’s still small. There are just under 40 people in it today; about 100 others have either graduated or been asked to leave.  

Douglas Marlow, who is an expert on these kinds of alternative courts, says it’s too early to say how well veterans courts work. “But comparing it to what the success rates are in the justice system in general,” he says, “we have good reason to believe we will have substantial impacts above and beyond what’s happening currently.”  

In other words, veterans fare so poorly in the regular criminal justice system, these are almost guaranteed to have better outcomes.

Roth's reporting on mental illness and the criminal justice system was supported by a Soros Justice Fellowship.

Big dinos mean big opportunities for museums

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-06-03 02:00

Palentologists have to do a lot of digging to tell a story.

But it didn't take much to unearth the news that lots of natural history museums are hoping to capitalize on "Jurassic World,"  when it makes it ways into theaters next week.

"We felt like Jurassic World was a great opportunity for us to sneak in a little promotion," says Randall Gann from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. The museum will have a booth in the lobby of one of the biggest theaters in Albuquerque on opening day, with staff, brochures and a Tyrannosaurus rex skull.

The Museum of the Rockies, in Bozeman, Montana, is holding a fundraiser where the movie will be screened before it opens in theaters. Tickets, which cost between $35 and $75 sold out in hours.

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia recently screened the first three Jurassic Park films and held a dino-themed dance party.

The Morrison Natural History Museum in Morrison, Colorado, will also try to raise money with a special screening.  

But, the bigger goal, says Morrison Director Matthew Mossbrucker, is education. "We're going to be able to take movie monsters and use them to generate conversation about real animals and real science," he says.

For one, Hollywood dinos are inappropriately large. "I've seen many times people stand in front of the skull of a T. rex and wonder if it's a baby," Mossbrucker says, "even though it's as big as a washing machine."

The goal is to turn fans of Hollywood’s supersized prehistoric creatures into fans of the real thing.


In drenched Texas, the drought may be over ... or not

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-06-03 02:00

May's heavy rains have raised Texas reservoirs to 83 percent full, compared with 66 percent a year ago, according to the Texas Water Development Board. On the surface, that is good news for Texas, which has struggled with severe drought for years. But water experts say what looks like the end of a drought might just be the middle of one. 

As of this week, more than 1,000 Texas public water systems were enforcing water restrictions. The good news: about 70 percent of Texas is now drought free, and the three-month outlook shows drought improving or ending in August.

But it’s tough to know when a drought starts and when it ends. John Tracy, president of the American Water Resources Association, says in the short term, Texas has more water than it can deal with.

“But when you look out a month or two, if the rain completely shuts off and they go back into low precipitation for the rest of the summer,” he says, “you can find yourself back in a drought pretty quickly.”

Tracy says drought is simply when you have a hard time meeting water needs. And if groundwater and reservoir levels are any indication, there’s still a lot of uncertainty. Paul Block, who teaches civil and environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says record-breaking rains have bolstered many Texas reservoirs, “but they are by no means full yet.”


When medical procedures outpace inflation

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-06-03 01:57
10 percent

That's about how much the average sticker price for medical procedures rose from 2011 to 2013, according to new government data, far outpacing inflation. The New York Times notes a couple of the highest-earning physicians are fighting charges related to alleged shady billing practices. 


That's how many jurisdictions have opened veterans courts. Like drug courts, they offer treatment options in lieu of prison time. With veterans often suffering from some combination of PTSD and mental illness, the courts can offer much needed help that officials say saves the state money in the long run.


As of this writing, that's how many retweets the Vanity Fair cover debut of Caitlyn Jenner — formerly Bruce Jenner —  received. It was a massive scoop for the magazine, and keeping the story and first photos of Jenner after her transition from leaking wasn't easy. Mashable learned that the whole package was produced on a single computer that wasn't connected to the internet, then stored on a flash drive overnight while the computer was wiped each day.

$35 - $75

That's how much a ticket will cost you to a screening of the forthcoming "Jurassic World" at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. Sensing a marketing goldmine, many museums with dinosaur wings (both literal and figurative) are getting in on the potential for blockbuster fundraising.


That's about what it costs for horses to fly "business class." Yes, there are several businesses that will fly your prized horse around the country if need be, but they don't come cheap. As with human air travel, extra legroom is going to cost you.

Classes Canceled, 1,300 Quarantined In S. Korea's Scramble To Stop MERS

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-03 01:00

Additional confirmed cases of the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, have led to more than 200 school closures and a minor public panic in South Korea.

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Why Jeb Bush Can't Bank On Faith Like His Brother Did

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-03 01:00

Bush, who is likely running for president, is a firm Catholic. But that might not be enough for evangelical Christians in Iowa who see him as moderate and are looking elsewhere.

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Free Online Test-Prep For The SAT

NPR News - Wed, 2015-06-03 00:58

The College Board has announced a unique partnership with Khan Academy to make prep materials for the SAT college-entrance exam available.

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Most Commuter Rails Won't Meet Deadline For Mandated Safety Systems

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 23:48

Most commuter trains are several years away from implementing Positive Train Control system to prevent derailment. With Americans taking 490 million commuter rail trips last year, the stakes are high.

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A Taxi App Aims To Build Trust Where Crime Is High

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 23:47

In Nairobi, people don't like getting into cabs driven by strangers. They prefer to call drivers they know or who their friends recommend. A new app assigns drivers a trust score based on social ties.

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Emergency Rooms Crack Down On Abusers Of Pain Pills

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 23:46

Hospitals in some states have begun tracking the names of patients who show up repeatedly seeking opioids. Denying these patients pills saves hospitals money, but some doctors question the ethics.

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Are The Vaccine Court's Requirements Too Strict?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 23:45

Before awarding compensation, the court wants a "preponderance of evidence" that a vaccine caused the injury. Some years the nearly $4 billion fund earns more interest than it pays out in claims.

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Coming Soon: More Ads On Instagram, And a "Buy" Feature On Pinterest

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 16:04

Pinterest will launch an in-app "buy" button, and Instagram will soon target ads using demographic data from Facebook.

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Pro-Warren Group Disbands, As Senator Splits Again With Obama

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 15:06

A group pushing Elizabeth Warren to run for president moves on and "declares victory" in advancing her positions. But Warren is already on to new fights.

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Grass Gourmands: A Herbivore Food Mystery On The African Savanna

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:20

A new study sheds light on a longstanding ecological question: How do so many species like impalas and elephants co-exist when they're all feeding on the same limited foods?

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A Boeing 747 pilot writes a love letter to flight

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

Mark Vanhoenacker is a commercial pilot who flies a Boeing 747 from London to major cities all over the world. Although he has been flying planes for years, Vanhoenacker is still mesmerized by the wonder of flight. He poetically shares his experiences in his first book, "Skyfaring: A Journey With a Pilot."

On the scale of travel:

Pick a city on the front of the globe and a city on the other side, and imagine the distances between them are geographic but also historical and linguistic and cultural. The plane connects them. It takes people and ideas and goods and awareness between those places. That world of possibility is built into how we think of the planet. It’s built into modernity itself, but that doesn’t mean we should take it too casually or take it for granted.

On the idea of “place lag”:

Place lag is the best term I could think of for the kind of experience we have when we take a long-haul flight. There’s a kind of shock. When I fly to Singapore, the last hour of the flight is quite busy, and then we go through customs and immigration and get our bags. And suddenly we’re on a bus. I’m suddenly off duty for the first time in 16 hours, and I look around, and it’s just a regular afternoon in Singapore. Everybody’s going about their business. It’s all these people doing all these things that they would have been doing if we hadn’t flown there.

There’s this sense that planes show us that the whole world is going on at once. When we fly between places, we’re confronted with that. It’s a kind of wonder. Like jet lag, I think it’s something that we won’t ever get used to. And that’s probably a good thing for retaining that sense of magic.

On kids reading his book:

I’ve had a whole bunch of letters from kids, and I didn’t expect that. I wasn’t writing the book for children specifically or for early teenagers. I think that kids love looking up at planes or down from them, and the things that amaze children are usually a good guide to what we, as adults, may want to rediscover.

Purchasing items on Pinterest is now a pin away

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

Say goodbye to your bank account. Pinterest just announced what it's calling "buyable pins," which is, basically, the option to instantly buy the pretty things you see on the app.

Ordering items on Pinterest's new purchasing service. (Courtesy Molly Wood)

The feature will be coming to iOS (sorry, Android fans) sometime in June, according to co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann. He said shopping on Pinterest was the No. 1 request of "pinners" who fill the app with photos of clothing, cars, curios, furniture, shoes and much, much more. 

Silbermann said Pinterest is partnering with retailers big and small, like Macy's, Nordstrom, Cole Haan, Poler Stuff and others, and will have a catalog of 2 million items available to buy when the feature launches. Buyable pins are tailored for mobile shopping, and you'll be able to check out with either a credit card (that will then be stored in the app for future shopping) or by using Apple Pay.

Navigating buyable pins. (Courtesy Molly Wood) 

If an item on Pinterest is available to buy, you'll see the usual red button (Pin It) or a blue button that says "Buy It." And you can search for buyable items by tag (like "jacket") or by a sliding price filter.

Freshly re-elected Sepp Blatter leaves FIFA

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

Sepp Blatter was re-elected as the president of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, last Friday. It looks as though, however, the ride is almost over for Blatter: he announced Tuesday that he will resign his position. To say it came as a surprise is something of an understatement.

Daniel Roberts, a sports business writer for Fortune magazine, says the reasons why Blatter decided to resign is unclear.

"My bet though is that it was the [New York] Times report, which came out Monday night, and that fingered a top lieutenant of his, Jérôme Valcke, as having personally handled $10 million in bribery money. I think that’s what did it," Roberts says.

Blatter’s departure from the organization might reopen the battle to host the next two World Cups. Qatar fought hard to win the voting and host the 2022 tournament; the United States finished second. However, Roberts does not think the location will change.

"It would be a bigger shock if they manage to get this World Cup out of Qatar’s hands," Roberts says.

Insurers grapple with keeping premiums stable

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

Around the country, major health insurers are proposing to increase monthly premiums by 26 percent to 51 percent. This, predictably, has reignited the political debate over the Affordable Care Act. But there’s something more important going on, and it’s happening in the belly of the insurance industry.

Insurers are grappling with new rules to bring price stability to their businesses.

Before the ACA, insurance premiums were crazy. In one year, sick people buying their own insurance could see a 39 percent spike, but if you were young and strong, almost nothing.

Insurers can’t divide customers like that anymore, says industry veteran Jay Silverstein. Now they set one price for everyone on the individual market.

“When you have one big pool, you have to price towards making sure you are retaining your book of business and attracting new people in,” Silverstein says. “So ultimately you have to be very good at managing cost."

The better a company manages those costs, the more stable the premium.

But it’s tricky. Companies must factor in expensive new medications and new customers that come along, and Silverstein says consumers have more choices.

“If a company comes out and says, 'We have a 20 percent rate increase,' I have the chance to shop and enroll with a new carrier,” he says.

Under Obamacare, any company looking to increase premiums by more than 10 percent must post that publicly.

Joel Ario, a former insurance commissioner in two states, says public scrutiny pushes insurers to find a middle ground.

“When I was the Pennsylvania commissioner, I told carriers that I would want to hold a public hearing on rate increases over 10 percent,” he says. “And I got mostly rate increases less than 10 percent.”

Ario says eventually insurers will figure out how to run their businesses with more price stability. He shrugs.