National News

Weeks Later, More Questions Than Answers In W.Va. Chemical Spill

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 00:02

State officials in West Virginia say they can no longer detect any MCHM, the industrial chemical that spilled recently, in most areas. But other public health specialists say they don't trust those assurances.

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Super Bowl Ads Go Healthy: Selling Yogurt With A Steamy Kiss

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 00:01

Advertising during the big game is traditionally the realm of beer, chips and soda. But better-for-you foods will also make a play for viewers' wallets this year. Expect clever ads pitching nuts, yogurt and whole grain cereals.

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Commuting To Distant Oil Fields: Good Money, At A Price

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 00:00

With thousands of oil-related jobs in western North Dakota, some of the region's new workers are putting down roots. But many more commute from states where jobs are hard to come by — and that can mean being separated from spouses and children for weeks at a time.

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Yahoo Email Account Passwords Stolen

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 23:09

Usernames and passwords of some of Yahoo's email customers have been stolen and used to gather personal information about people those Yahoo mail users have recently corresponded with, the company said Thursday. Yahoo didn't say how many accounts have been affected.

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Global currency traders may be fixing the '4 p.m. Fix'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-01-30 17:24

Unlike the stock market’s closing bell at the end of the day, the trade in currency operates around the clock. And since there’s no end-of-the-day benchmark, the foreign exchange market draws a line in each day’s trading at 4 p.m. London time.

Joe Marston, a small-time, retail foreign exchange trader, says whatever exchange rates happen to be within a 60-second window become what’s known as the "4 p.m. Fix."

"The 4 p.m. Fix was devised so everybody around the world knows what the price is at 4 o’clock," says Marston. "So that’s the benchmark."

It’s an important benchmark. Multinational companies and pension funds use it as a price to make enormous foreign currency deals.

And regulators suspect traders may have rigged the 4 p.m. Fix to make more profit.

Here's how it works:  On a quiet trading day, Marston shows on his computer screen that the Euro hovers at about $1.35 in U.S. dollars.  But just moments before the 4p.m. Fix was set, the numbers on Marston’s screen start to tick upward.

"It’s moving up a little bit," says Marston. "Sometimes the market can actually move quite violently a few minutes before."

That movement has attracted the attention of U.S. and European regulators.

"Round about exactly 4 p.m., there appear to be jumps in the exchange rate that disappear after a few minutes," says Mark Taylor, a former currency trader who's now dean at Warwick Business School. Taylor says if you look at the 4 p.m. Fix over several months, you see a very suspicious pattern. 

"What it suggests is that people are deliberately trying to manipulate the market around that time."

Traders at some of the world’s largest banks are suspected of collaborating through online chat rooms with names like "The Cartel" and  "The Bandits’ Club," and they’re believed to have conspired to combine billions of dollars in trades to shift the 4 p.m. Fix. It’s what’s known in trader-speak as "Banging the Close".

"It suggests that you’re banging something in order to move it," says Taylor. "And you’ve only got to move the market a small amount for a small period of time for that to translate into literally millions of dollars of profit."

Taylor says the concern is that banks make their profits by charging clients the higher 4 p.m. Fix rate, while really putting currency trades through at a lower price once the market settles down. Richard Payne at Cass Business School says, for the moment, these are just allegations. But this is possible, he says, because the global currency market is largely unregulated, and concentrated among a handful of players.

"There are only a few big banks that control the vast majority of currency trading on the planet, says Payne, "and we can all name them – Deutsche Bank, Barclays, UBS."

That list includes Citigroup and JP Morgan. No bank would comment for this story. But many have already suspended their top currency traders as investigations continue.  And any proof of wrongdoing could bring steep fines.

Beer Drone Can Buzz The Skies No More, FAA Says

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 17:15

Lakemaid calls itself the fishermen's lager. It had been testing using drones to deliver beer to anglers in thousands of ice shacks, from the frozen northern lakes' combination bait and beer shops.

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Peyton Manning's New Jersey tax bill

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-01-30 16:38

Writing at Forbes, a tax lawyer has pointed out that Peyton Manning -- who will have played twice in New Jersey this season -- will owe the Garden State tax man about $46,844 dollars for the slice of his paycheck he gets for working there.

Catch is, the loser's check from the game is $46,000 even. So if the Broncos lose (...which they won't...), Manning would be paying to play.

Of course, he makes something like $15 million a year. So.

Advice for Janet Yellen

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-01-30 15:35

When you're in a position of power, you get no shortage of unsolicited advice. Bearing that in mind, we wondered what sort of advice people might have for Janet Yellen, as she becomes the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, after Ben Bernanke's term ends today. We took a sampling, not just from those who know the Fed, but from some regular folks, too.

DONALD KOHN, Former Vice Chairman, Federal Reserve

Dear Janet,

Better you than me. May the force be with you.

Your friend,

Don Kohn


ED MORALES, a tourist from California we caught up with near the Fed building in Washington

Dear Janet,

Treat others as you would want to be treated.  Obviously going in and talking with your coworkers... Give them the respect that you would want, and obviously you would receive the same respect in return. And it would make for a better work environment.


Ed Morales


SUSAN TENDALL, of North Potomac, Md.

Dear Janet,

If I were to give advice to my four grown children on the first day of their jobs, I would tell them to try and find somebody they can mentor with. Take lots of notes, review those notes every night until you know what you’re doing, and keep a smile on your face and to not give up.


Susan Tendall


JOHN MAKIN, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

Dear Chairman Yellen,

Congratulations on your appointment as Fed chairman. One of the things that's important to remember is that the usual problem the Fed faces – rising inflation – is no longer present. In fact, deflation is a primary threat to a stable and growing economy. As you proceed with deliberations with the FOMC, I hope that you will put a higher priority on avoiding deflation.

With very best wishes for success in what I’m sure you know is a challenging job,

John H. Makin

Russia's Love Affair With Vodka Lures Many To An Early Grave

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 15:35

Russia has a big problem with vodka, which is a key factor in the country's abysmal life expectancy, researchers say. But measures like banning vodka sales at night have had an immediate effect on a young Russian man's chances of living to age 55

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Small Cuts To Food Stamps Add Up To Big Pains For Many Recipients

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 14:58

The proposed farm bill would cut nearly $1 billion a year from the food stamp program, known as SNAP. While it's far less than what Republicans had originally wanted, the proposal will affect roughly 850,000 households, many of which are still struggling from cuts made only three months ago.

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The 5 steps of snow day acceptance

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-01-30 14:43

Where are the Nannies Without Borders when you need them? For  working parents who have already blown through their repertoire of "fun things to do with kids when you're stuck inside!" -- and also their patience and vacation days-- this winter has been particularly cruel.
And it threatens to get worse. In Boston earlier this month, on the same day that school was cancelled, yet again, an assistant professor at the Harvard Kennedy School unleashed a pro-snow day study. It concluded that snow days don't, in fact, have a negative impact on learning -- a finding that threatens to embolden superintendents to err on the side of cancellation.  Talk about kicking parents while they're down.

Psychologists have yet to name the combination of despair and bitterness a snow day can trigger, but it's not unlike the famous five stages of grief described by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
Based on interviews I've conducted with house-bound would-be working parents, they are:
Stage One: Denial

  • "It doesn't look like it's accumulating."
  • "The meteorologists are always wrong."
  • "If they were going to call a snowday, they would have called it already."

Stage Two: Anger

  • "I stayed home last time -- my husband/wife is staying home tomorrow."
  • "Let my boss spend the day with a two-year-old and see how easy it is to get work done."
  • "When I was a kid they never cancelled school."

Stage Three: Bargaining

  • "If they don't cancel school tomorrow, I promise I will: a) chaperone a field trip; b) get off my phone when my son is at bat; c) be better about making sure my kids floss, and not just the morning of the dentist appointment."

Stage Four: Depression

  • "That brown-noser in accounting is going to make a play for my job."
  • "I'm going to be stuck at home with a toddler and a kindergartner, and they're going to want to go sledding."
  • "I am powerless over the hot chocolate and brownies I bought in a pathetic attempt to make the day seem festive."

 Stage five: Acceptance

  • "My children are going to spend eight hours playing Madden."

Utah School Draws Ire For Taking Kids' Lunches; Debt Cited

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 14:04

Anger and frustration followed an incident Tuesday, in which up to 40 students had their lunches taken away from them at the cashier's station in an elementary school cafeteria. The food was thrown away; the students were told their accounts had no credit on them.

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U.K. spat over women's pay in the financial sector

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-01-30 13:48

On Saturday, Janet Yellen becomes the first woman to head the U.S. Federal Reserve, an honor which has brought her top billing in a British poll of the world’s ten most powerful female financiers. Eight of the women – including Yellen – combined their glittering careers with a family and children.

This may come as a revelation to Nigel Farage, head of the fast-growing U.K. Independence Party. Farage has just caused a storm of protest with some outspoken comments in London’s financial centre – the City as it’s known – on the subject of maternity and work. To quote:

"If a woman broker who has a client base, has a child and takes two or three years off work, she is worth far less to her employer when she comes back than when she went away," said Farage, claiming that said woman's clients will have drifted off, and her contacts will have dwindled.

"This helps explain why female finance workers in Britain earn on average 30% less than men," he said.

Should Nigel Farage know what he’s talking about? He spent more than 20 years working as a commodities broker before he became involved in politics.

"He’s talking absolute rubbish!" declares Louise Cooper – a former stockbroker and a mother of two. "You don’t get two or three years off to have a baby. The maximum amount of time you get off is 12 months. And many women choose to take four, five, or six months. That is usually much less than gardening leave," says Cooper.

"Gardening leave" is the time that city workers – having quit their jobs – must stay away from work before they are allowed to join a rival company. In London, it usually lasts six months to a year.

Cooper asks: "Why is six months or so of maternity leave more damaging to a company than twelve months of gardening leave?" 

Kirstie Ayre – an employment expert with the Pinsent Masons law firm - said the notion that women are "somehow intrinsically worth less to financial institutions because they might leave to have a family is laughable."

"These days when an employee leaves, the company does not automatically lose clients. Those contacts are usually shared between teams of employees," she said.

Others complained that Nigel Farage’s comments were harmful to working mothers.

"We found his remarks very disappointing. This will make life so much more difficult for the many women who are doing a very impressive job of balancing their work and family responsibilities," said Rosalind Bragg, director of the charity Maternity Action.

Bragg is afraid that Farage’s comments will fuel further prejudice against working women, already a major problem.

"Since the economic downturn began, the rates of pregnancy discrimination in the U.K. have grown dramatically, and that’s true of the finance sector as much as it is of the wider labor market. In 2006, 30,000 women lost their jobs as a result of pregnancy discrimination, and now the figure’s risen to about 60,000 a year. That’s roughly 1 in 7 pregnant women in the workforce," she said.  

Obama To Nominate Vice Adm. Michael Rogers As NSA Chief

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 13:46

Rogers, the current head of U.S. Cyber Command, is a cryptologist by trade. If confirmed, he'll take over the spy agency at a crucial time in its history, when its activities have come under close public scrutiny.

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Amanda Knox Guilty Verdict Reinstated By Italian Court

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 13:42

The appeals court in Florence found Knox and her ex-boyfriend guilty of the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher and sentenced her to 28 1/2 years in prison. Knox currently lives in Seattle, and the sentence is likely to set up a long battle over her extradition.

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Report: Syrian Government Has Demolished Entire Neighborhoods

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 13:31

Human Rights Watch says neighborhoods in the capital, Damascus, and the city of Hama were targeted by the government because they were opposition strongholds.

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Small Cinemas Struggle As Film Fades Out Of The Picture

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 13:25

Paramount became the first big studio to distribute a major film in the U.S. only in digital, and others will probably follow. Small cinemas are struggling to raise money for the transition. Despite resistance from some major directors, the end of film is almost upon us.

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Scarlett Johansson's Middle East Flap ... Over Soda

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 13:22

The American actress has stepped down as a goodwill representative for Oxfam International. She came in for criticism after agreeing to serve as a spokeswoman, and appear in a Super Bowl ad, for an Israeli company that produces at-home soda-makers in the occupied West Bank.

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Changing Climate In Argentina Is Killing Penguin Chicks

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 13:00

The world's largest breeding colony of Magellanic penguins is seeing unprecedented deaths among young birds. A scientist who has spent 30 years studying the penguins says that climate change is to blame — triggering, among other things, more heat waves and wetter storms that kill fledglings.

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As States Close Prisons And Cut Crime, Feds Lag Behind

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 13:00

Federal prisons are chronically overcrowded after years of "tough on crime" policies. But a new report finds that a majority of states cut their imprisonment rates and saved millions — while keeping crime down.

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