National News

MOOCs 2.0, the corporate edition

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-02 02:00

One of the top online course providers, Coursera, holds its annual conference Monday and Tuesday. Coursera offers a long list of mostly free, massive open online courses, or MOOCs.   

The latest trend? MOOCs designed for workers to sharpen their skills. Some corporations are now requiring them. 

About half of the people taking MOOCs on Coursera are trying to upgrade their job skills. Some corporations have started paying for Coursera’s certificate programs.

MOOCs are especially useful for new fields like analyzing big data for things like credit scoring.

“Since it’s a brand new field, nobody studied it in school," says Rick Levin, CEO of Coursera. "Anybody over 30 never even heard of it when they were in school.”

So, their employer tells them to take a MOOC.   

Jeanne Meister is founding partner of the consulting firm Future Workplace. She expects corporations to start demanding more.

“Custom MOOCs to fill particular skill gaps," she says. "That’s where it’s going.”

Meister surveyed 195 HR executives about MOOCs a year and a half ago. 

70 percent wanted to use MOOCs for training. But there weren’t enough MOOCs on the subjects they wanted. 

Their complaint now? Too many MOOCs to choose from.

Advertising is built into 'House of Cards'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-02 02:00

Netflix has released the new season of “House of Cards." If there’s been one criticism of the show, it’s that it’s too heavy on product placement.

One plus for brands: viewers can’t fast -forward through product placement, says John Murphy, who teaches advertising at the University of Texas at Austin.

“It’s part of the story line, and therefore it’s potentially much more valuable exposure than a traditional 30-second spot,” he says.

The brands are definitely making money. But the shows? Unlikely, says Abram Sauer, founder of the Annual Product Placement Awards at

“I would be shocked, personally, to learn that any money was paid to Netflix in any form,” he says. 

Sauer says a lot of times brands pay with props instead of cash. Like, if there’s a bar scene, the brewer will bring in everything needed to make it look like a real bar. For a show, that can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.


What's pushing family homelessness to record levels?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-02 02:00

Jenny Blahowski is trying to be a normal mom. On a recent afternoon she fetched two of her boys at a bus stop in a Minneapolis suburb.

"How was school?" she asked, cheerfully.

But things are not normal. The kids pile into her minivan, which is filled with stuff you’d probably keep in your home, if you had a home. Blahowski and her kids have been homeless since December. Blankets, clothes and toys fill the back of the minivan. 

Jenny Blahowski greets her boys Leon, 6, and Daniel, 9 at a bus stop outside the emergency shelter they stayed at for nearly three months in the Minneapolis suburb Shakopee.

Annie Baxter/Marketplace

They’ve been staying at an emergency shelter run by the nonprofit Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative. Blahowski says that's helped a lot. But her six year-old, Leon, has been way more emotional lately. Crouched in his car seat, he peers out from under a purple ski cap with the word “LUCKY” emblazoned on it, and he begins to wail. His mom's not sure why. His crying jag lasts about half an hour.

There are now 2.5 million homeless kids in America today, according to the National Center for Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research or AIR.

“These are the highest numbers on record. It's truly epidemic levels that we've reached,” says John McGah, senior associate at AIR.

AIR came up with its number based on data from the U.S. Census and the Department of Education. The latter counts kids as homeless if they're on the street; in a car or a shelter; or if they're doubled up temporarily with friends or relatives. It’s a broader definition of homelessness than the one used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Experts say even doubling up can have bad consequences for kids. Wilder Research in St. Paul, Minn. has found that kids who are doubled up miss more school than kids in shelters, as shelters may provide transportation to school.

McGah and other experts say efforts to reduce homelessness among veterans and the chronically homeless have been successful in bringing their ranks down. But McGah says homeless kids and their families haven't gotten the same political attention.

At the same time, rents are rising. A lot of people are priced out of the rental market. And HUD’s Section 8 housing voucher program, its largest housing subsidy program for low-income people, isn't keeping up with demand.

“Everywhere you go, it's either there's a long, long wait-list or you can't even get on the wait-list because there are so many people on the wait-list,” says Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy with the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Jenny Blahowski says her six year-old son Leon has been more emotional than usual during the three months they’ve spent in a homeless shelter in a Minneapolis suburb.

Annie Baxter/Marketplace

Jenny Blahowski says she’s tried to get onto several section Section 8 wait lists to no avail. Beacon Interfaith is helping her on that front.

But she also faces another issue in today’s tight rental market: landlords are extra picky. Blahowski says she's been sober for four years but her past includes drugs and theft. Ditto for her husband, who's now in rehab. That all puts their family at a big disadvantage.

“You don't realize how far it will follow you even if you've been sober for so many years,” she says.

Still, a county program is helping Blahowski get out of the shelter and into transitional housing with three of her four kids. Her ex has custody of her oldest boy. Once her husband’s out of rehab, they’re both working, and the family has more permanent housing, Blahowski hopes to have all four boys under one roof.

“I want them to be someone that they're proud of,” she says. “So I try my hardest to find a home for them and make sure they’re going to school and doing what they have to do.”

Live Long and Draw my Image on $5 Bills

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-02 01:30
$11.8 billion

That's how much NXP Semiconductors will pay for Freescale semiconductor in what will result in a huge chip maker for all sorts of devices and industries. As reported by the NY Times, the merger will also benefit companies looking to simplify their list of suppliers for products like smart cars and mobile phones.

2.5 million

That's how many homeless children live in America today—the highest number on record—according to the National Center for Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research or AIR. Some say this demographic and their families have received less attention than homeless veterans and the chronically homeless. 


In honor of the late Leonard Nimoy, The Canadian Design Resource called for a revival of "Spocking fives," the practice of drawing Spock's iconic hair, eyebrows, and pointy ears over the image of Canada's seventh prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier on $5 bills. As Quartz reports, defacing currency may be illegal, but it doesn't stop the $5 from being legal tender.

399 yuan

That's the price of Xiaomi's recently released Go Pro-like camera, as reported by the BBC. The device costs half as much as a Go Pro, and comes with certain features that its competitor lacks. It cannot, however, withstand some of the rough and tumble action related to filming oneself out in the wild.

$3 billion

For all you House of Cards fans, this is your official Spoiler Alert. Over at Vox, they've broken down a key element of the most recent season's 5th episode: the Stafford Act, which allows the President to allocate funding to what is deemed a national emergency. In the show, what President Frank Underwood attempts to pull off under the Stafford Act is met with intense skepticism. Turns out, real life isn't that different from television, with Congress worried that Presidents have started to abuse that power over time. There's even a theory that Presidents declare more states of emergency during election years. Though, with only a couple election years to compare since the act was passed, available data isn't conclusive, as you can see from Vox's chart:


Nurse Treated For Ebola To Sue Texas Hospital

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 01:09

Nina Pham, 26, who contracted Ebola after caring for a patient, tells the Dallas Morning News that she will file a lawsuit Monday charging the hospital in Dallas lacked proper training and equipment.

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People With Low Incomes Say They Pay A Price In Poor Health

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 00:05

People with household incomes of less than $25,000 a year say in a new poll that the lack of cash really hurts their health. Low-quality food and dangerous housing are two reasons why.

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Poll Finds Factors Large And Small Shape People's Health

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 00:03

Health is not just about trips to the doctor, according to a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Housing, stress and abuse are factors.

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Liberia's President: Ebola Re-Energized Her Downtrodden Country

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 00:02

In an exclusive interview, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf remembers how Liberia was "the poster child of everything that could go wrong." But people lived up to the local proverb: "Go fix it."

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Supreme Court To Weigh Power Of Redistricting Commissions

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-02 00:02

Although the court has viewed gerrymandering of legislative districts as a practice that deprives citizens of fair representation, it's also thrown up its hands when it comes to policing the practice.

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A Nearly Recession-Proof City Is Not Slowing Down

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-01 23:58

The unemployment rate in Lincoln, Neb., is one of lowest in the U.S., thanks to a well-educated workforce. The focus now is on finding workers and keeping young people from leaving.

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Minnie Miñoso, Major League Baseball's First Black Latino Star, Dies

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-01 16:40

Miñoso, known as the Cuban Comet and Mr. White Sox, was a seven-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glover whose major league career spanned five decades.

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'Battle Creek' Tries To Shake Up CBS' Cop Show Formula

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-01 16:37

CBS' new cop show Battle Creek is based on a 12-year-old script by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. It's among three new network shows that aim to reinvent old TV concepts.

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How Pittsburgh's Freedom House Pioneered Paramedic Treatment

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-01 13:19

The groundbreaking ambulance service was created in the 1960s as the city struggled with racial tensions and poor medical transport. It trained African-American men to provide crucial emergency care.

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A Standout Student, A Star At Goldman Sachs — And Undocumented

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-01 13:19

Julissa Arce was a stellar student and an even better financial analyst, but she was scared to go to work every day. "Maybe today's the day someone's going to find out," she feared.

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The Brother Went To Fight Ebola. So Did His Sister. Mom Was 'A Wreck'

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-01 13:19

He's an epidemiologist. She's a nurse. And both of them felt compelled to head off to West Africa to battle the virus.

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Kerry Tries To Calm Tensions Over Netanyahu Visit

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-01 12:31

The Secretary of State said the Israeli prime minister is welcome to speak in the U.S. and that the White House does not want to see his address to Congress become "a political football."

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Avalanches Kill Nearly 250 In Afghanistan

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-01 10:59

The latest avalanches, in the Panjshir Valley north of the capital, Kabul, have cut off villages in the area for almost a week.

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6 In 10 Young Republicans Favor Legal Marijuana, Survey Says

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-01 09:23

A Pew Research Center survey shows that 63 percent of Republicans under the age of 34 favor legalization.

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Venezuela Cuts American Embassy Staff, Restricts U.S. Travel

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-01 07:10

President Nicolas Maduro accused Washington of "gringo" meddling and placed several individuals, including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Marco Rubio on a list of people banned from the country.

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ISS Spacewalkers Perform Tricky Cable, Antenna, Installation

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-01 05:00

Two American astronauts at the Space Station are outside the craft for the last of three jobs aimed at paving the way to receive a new generation of crew modules beginning in 2017.

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