National News

Health Law Calls For Automatic Enrollment Of Some Workers

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 10:56

As early as 2015, firms with more than 200 employees may have to automatically enroll their workers in a company health plan. Though workers can opt out, some still find the provision patronizing.

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Wasn't the US going to start using the metric system?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 10:37

There was a point not all that long ago when schools taught the metric system because it was "just a matter of time" until the United States ditched pounds, miles and inches.

Well, this adaptation has yet to happen, and who knows if it ever will?

"One thing that shocked me was that the first measure that was completely decimalized was the U.S dollar," says John Bemelmans Marciano, author of "Whatever Happened to the Metric System?". "And we largely have Thomas Jefferson to thank for that."

President Jefferson suggested the use of a decimal currency in 1782.

"It took about 100 years for decimals to catch on for everyday transactions," says Bemelmans Marciano. 

Hear the full conversation in the audio player above.

How To Cross 5 International Borders In 1 Minute Without Sweating

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 10:26

Nations need borders for security, for revenue, for defense, for identity. But for fun? Introducing borders that giggle.

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Why Fat Grizzlies Don't Get Diabetes Like We Do

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 10:20

Before hibernating, grizzly bears get fat fast — but they don't get metabolic problems like diabetes. Understanding how fat bears stay healthy could lead to better treatments for humans.

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Those little Intel microchips were famous, somehow

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 10:10

In the early 2000s, Intel was named the most valuable manufacturing company in the world. 

Michael Malone, author of the book, "The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove Built the World’s Most Important Company", told us "at one point, Intel was one of the best known brand names in the world, which is insane if you think about it... this is a company wasn’t selling to consumers, it was selling chips to go onto motherboards, to go into somebody else’s personal computer, to be sold at Costco."

Intel has since been overshadowed by newer tech companies. Malone says techology has become so pervasive, the  microprocessors fueling daily lives are taken for granted.

"For most of the 21st Century, it’s been all about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and apps. And we forget, because we are so used to them now, that all that stuff rests upon hardware," says Malone. "Without the hardware, devices, chips, and especially the microprocessors it all grinds to a halt."

Doritos Inventor's Grandson Sees Dollar Signs ln Healthful Food

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 09:24

Tim West's grandfather was an executive for Frito-Lay, and the 30-year-old entrepreneur grew up on junk food. But he now wants to shake up the food system with healthful, sustainable eats.

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Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads Across Southeast Asia

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 09:21

The most effective drug we have against malaria is losing its potency in Southeast Asia. Doctors can still cure most forms of the disease, but it takes longer and more medications.

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In A Video, A Frank Back-And-Forth Between 'DREAMers' And Congressman

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 09:17

The conversation was a vivid illustration of the tough questions posed by current immigration debate.

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Why U.S. Hospitals Are Testing People For Ebola Virus

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 07:30

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ordered health care providers to test recent travelers at risk for Ebola virus. So far none of those tests have come up positive.

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Book News: George R.R. Martin Will Republish Children's Book From 1980

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 06:34

Also: The queen's former press secretary is reportedly writing a book about the royal family; Sheila Heti interviews Joan Didion.

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Fighting Genital Cutting Of British Girls: A Survivor Speaks Out

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 06:15

Her family said they were going on a vacation. But Nimco Ali was taken to a woman who performed genital mutilation. Now Ali is helping the more than 100,000 girls in the U.K. possibly at risk.

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U.S. Major General Killed By Insider Attack In Afghanistan

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 05:17

An attacker wearing an Afghan military uniform shot at service members from the NATO-led coalition. A U.S. official says one service member was killed and 15 were injured.

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Making An All-American White House Dinner With Some African Flair

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

After Tuesday's African summit sessions, the White House is preparing to host the 50 heads of state and the chairman of the African Union for dinner. What goes into preparing a formal dinner for 400?

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Following Industry Trend, Gannett Will Split Newspaper, Broadcasting Divisions

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 04:33

Gannett said the move will give the two new companies more "flexibility" to "pursue growth." Time Warner and Tribune Co. have made similar moves.

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In U.K., A Cabinet Official Quits Government Over Conflict In Gaza

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 03:49

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi was the first Muslim member of the prime minister's cabinet. She resigned over what she said was the U.K.'s "morally indefensible" position on the conflict in Gaza.

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States raise transportation taxes after federal cuts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 03:00

On Tuesday, Missouri voters are headed to the ballot booth to decide on whether to increase the state’s sales tax. The additional revenue would be used to fund the maintenance and construction of roads and bridges.

The state of disrepair of the nation’s transportation infrastructure has been a known problem for quite a while now. What isn't known is who's going to pay to fix it.

Phil Oliff, who researches infrastructure issues for the Pew Charitable Trust, says traditionally, “states get a lot of money that they spend on highway and transit infrastructure from the federal government.” Most of that money comes from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, but the fund is running out of money, and Congress has been doling out funding in short-term increments. That's bad news for states, who need more certainty about their financial situation when they commit to long term projects. Many states are taking it upon themseves to raise the money independently.

That could mean tolls on roads and bridges. It could mean borrowing from the bond market. In Missouri, lawmakers are proposing a three-quarter-of-a-cent increase in the sales tax.

Tom Shrout, of the advocacy group Missourians for Better Transportation, says says the tax is unfair to locals.

“Big trucks passing through Missouri, they would be asked to pay nothing while a senior citizen who doesn’t use the roads much will be asked to pay more,” he points out.

As Missourians head to the polls, the Associated Press says nearly a quarter of the states have already instituted similar taxes, fees or fines to pay for infrastructure projects.  

PODCAST: Food stamp transparency

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 03:00

Last week was a pretty crummy stretch for stocks, and today doesn't look much better. So how is the stock market really doing? Plus, does the public have the right to know how much a retailer takes in through the federal food stamp program, or is it a trade secret? More on that debate. Also, Missouri voters are headed to the polls today to decide whether to increase sales tax. Money raised would be used to fund roads and bridges. We tell you why your state might be next.

As Truce Takes Effect, Israel Withdraws Troops From Gaza

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 02:46

The move may not mean the end of the current conflict. The Israel Defense Forces said its troops would maintain a defensive position and respond to any attacks.

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Call center jobs are coming back to the U.S.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 02:00

If you’ve ever called a customer service line, you’ve likely talked to someone in India, the Philippines, or Mexico. Now, some U.S. companies are bringing their call centers home and changing the way they do business.

Have you ever been stuck in a phone tree so long you just lost it and started ranting on Twitter?

“In a call center, somebody’s calling to talk to you. In social media, somebody is talking about you,” says Paul Stockford, research director at the National Association of Call Centers.

Stockford says the industry has been growing in the U.S. since 2008, and more than half of contact centers here now have social media programs.

Kymberlaine Banks is a social media program manager with Telvista, which runs contact centers in Mexico, but also in Texas and Virginia. Her "small but mighty" stateside social media crew monitors the web for complaints. 

“They’re reaching out to people who are saying, ‘You suck, you failed, you whatever,’" she says. "It is not a happy thing.” 

She says social media representatives need more writing and problem-solving skills than people who answer phones. It’s a different skill set because they also respond to positive comments.

“If someone says, ‘I love you,’ we say, ‘We love you, too,’” Banks says.

General Motors brought back a number of customer service jobs from Argentina last year.

Just don't call them "call center" jobs. Now, the catch phrase is "customer engagement."

Tackling urban blight with a paintbrush

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 02:00

Terri Still has lived in Camden, New Jersey since she was in second grade. But these days, as she walks around her neighborhood, she tries not to look around her to avoid seeing the blight that surrounds her. 

“It’s depressing seeing it all constantly,” she says. “You try not to think about it.” 

Across the street, Christopher Toepfer pokes around inside an abandoned warehouse. There are stacks of broken palettes and scattered food wrappers, evidence of squatters. The building used to house a porta-potty company, but it’s been vacant for several decades.

“We call [these] ‘abando-miniums’ in the vacant building business,” he says.

But outside, the warehouse is getting a facelift. A small crew is painting the exterior dove grey, covering up years of graffiti. They're employed by Toepfer’s nonprofit, The Neighborhood Foundation, and the warehouse is one of about 40 buildings the Foundation has boarded up and painted in Camden this summer. Across the country, they’ve done about 1,500 similar projects, focusing primarily on residential buildings in 21 different cities.

Local officials who have to deal with large tracts of vacant and abandoned buildings often resort to one of two options: fix 'em up or tear 'em down.

Toepfer represents middle ground. His foundation paints the boarded-up buildings to look as though they have real, working windows and doors. Occasionally the painters even draw plants or pets in the window.

“Sometimes, we even do facades of trees, like silhouettes of trees, to cover graffiti,” he says.

Once an urban area falls into decline, there is a spiral effect. Abandonded houses fall into disrepair and are often used by vagrants or criminals. That depresses the value of occupied homes and makes the neighborhood less desirable. Property values decline, the remaining residents sell up or move out, and landlords find it difficult to rent the housing stock. Those houses fall into disrepair, and the downcycle continues.

The idea is that a makeover, even one that’s just skin deep, can stop this spiral and stabilize a neighborhood. The Neighborhood Foundation charges $500 to paint and secure a house or $2,500 for a larger commercial building. It's a lot cheaper than a renovation, or even a demolition, which could cost $10,000 or $15,000.

It's not just that a paint job can have a beneficial economic effect; it can raise peoples' spirits, too.

I think when they fix things up, it gives people more encouragement,” says Terri Still, the Camden resident. “It makes them want to take pride in where they live.”

Beautification does work, agrees Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate and finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Small investments can have large returns."

It’s a strategy realtors and developers have long used. 

“In the 'burbs, when you’re selling a property that hasn’t been lived in for a while, the first thing the realtor will say is 'mow the lawn',” says Wachter, adding that simple fix can boost property values as much as 20 percent.

 Of course, securing and painting a property isn’t a permanent solution — it’s a Band-Aid, literally plastering over the wounds of a city.

But hopefully, that Band-Aid gives it the chance to heal.

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