National News

Yellen Becomes Fed Chair, And Bernanke Heads To Think Tank

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 08:11

Ben Bernanke, who saw the country through a recovery from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, will join Brookings' Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy.

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6 Odd College Courses In America

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 08:11

On the surface, certain academic pursuits may seem trivial, but sometimes odd courses can be instructive and illuminating.

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10 Places Where Health Insurance Costs The Most

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 07:56

Some of the priciest markets for insurance include rural counties in Georgia and the areas around ski resorts in Colorado. While many people in these places will receive government subsidies to help pay for premiums, the portion that they pay will still be higher than what they would have to foot elsewhere.

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Joe Namath's Fur Coat: Nothing New, But It's A Talker

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 07:53

The legendary quarterback showed up for the coin toss at Sunday's Super Bowl in one of his trademark coats. Social media went nuts. Older fans, though, knew that it would have been bigger news if Broadway Joe didn't come wrapped in a fur.

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PODCAST: Matchmaking in Mexico

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 06:48

Today, the new Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker will lead her first trade mission abroad. Over the next few days, Pritzker visits Mexico along with business leaders from 17 American companies. And what are some metrics for judging whether one of these trips is worth the money?

Plus, if the lopsided Super Bowl didn't fill your sports needs, just wait a few days. The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, kicks off Friday. Athletes are pumping themselves up, but so is law enforcement, including those in Russia doing counter-terrorism.  Beyond that, the international crime-fighters at Interpol have a $20 million deal with the International Olympic Committee to crack down on dopers, match-fixers, and corrupt betting schemes.

Meanwhile, if you think your internet bill is high, try paying to keep 680,000 computers online. As schools try to make sure that every student has a computer or a tablet at their disposal, one often overlooked cost is access to the network itself.  The country's second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, is learning the real costs of connecting students to the world of data. 

Al-Qaida Says It Has No Ties With One Syrian Rebel Force

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 06:42

In a message posted on jihadist websites, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri distances the terrorist network from one of the groups fighting in Syria. There have been rebel vs. rebel clashes there.

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South Africa hosts major mining conference amid labor strife

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 06:05

The big money business in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa is mining, and that industry's annual conference is playing out today against a back drop of labor tensions in South Africa. The BBC's Lerato Mbele joined us from Cape Town to give perspective on how exploration for minerals and other resources is drawing prospectors to the continent.

"Explorers are very busy prospecting and looking for opportunities in countries such as Ivory Coast, inj Mail, in Tanzania, in Ghana," says Mbele, "Those who are looking for oil are in Sudan, Angola, and other such areas."

China, Mbele says, is an increasingly big player in the region as it consumers more and more African resources.

"Never before has mining and the story of commodities been more relevant for Africa's growth and development than it is now," she says, "Unfortunately on the downside, labor unrest has really been the blemish on the prospects and opportunities that exist."

Today's conference, in fact, happens against the backdrop of a strike by platinum workers in South Africa.

"They are saying, 'We go deep below the Earth's surface to mine this resource, it sells at premium prices internationally, the least you can do is pay us what is decent,'" Mbele says, "Unfortunately plantinum mining is a distressed sector."

The economic downturn, among other things, has hurt global demand for platinum, making it difficult for companies to meet the workers demands. But for many of the workers, Mbele says, the issue is one of social justice as well as economics.

VIDEO: Obama And O'Reilly Hit Harder Than Denver And Seattle

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 05:20

The Super Bowl was a super bore if you prefer close contests. Seattle trounced Denver, 43-8. The president's pregame interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly was a much more contentious affair.

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The real cost of connecting a school to Wi-Fi

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 04:36

As more schools move equip all students with a computer, one cost is often overlooked - getting those computers connected to the network grid.

The L.A. Unified school district is planning to spend over $500 million to upgrade servers, pull wire and connect antiquated schools to a data grid - a necessary part of its huge effort to supply 700,000 students and teachers with an iPad.

The price tag is high, says Joe Monaley, a network engineer at Caltech, because costs start far from the building, out on the street.

“A lot of the pipes going through the city or between cities, those have been built, those have been built,” Monaley says. “The problem is, how do you get from the middle of the street to house, and how do you do that for everybody in city and or everybody in the county?”

It’s not as simple as plugging in a modem and router for a home connection: it's a challenge just to get high-capacity classrooms wired, much less connect whole schools directly to the grid.

L.A. Unified will have to pay to lay cable at the street level or lease it from a utility such as AT&T or the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which like many utilities ended up with loads of extra cable after the dot-com bust.

Putting L.A. Unified online is like putting a whole city online. There are more students in the school district than there are people in Seattle or Boston.

The federal government is shelling out a $2.22 billion through its E-Rate program so schools can get more students online.

Often, the districts will pair the federal funds with local issued bond money to pay for the upgrades.

Rosemary Sea, a student at Diego Rivera Learning Complex in South L.A. said as long as the Internet remains spotty, teachers are reluctant to plan iPad lessons.

Last time, she was in the middle of crafting a slideshow for her chemistry teacher when the Wi-Fi dropped out.

“The images wouldn’t come up, but he gave me an extension until my Internet was working,” Sea says.

"The Wi-Fi seems to be shutting down from time to time,” says Robert Sandoval, a freshman at the school. “Since we are all signed into LAUSD [network], they all shut off.”

125,000 iPads are scheduled to arrive at schools as the district continues its push to supply all 680,000 students and teachers with a device.

So construction for wireless upgrades also needs to ramp-up. The district has 486 of its approximately 800 campuses scheduled for modernizations before the end of 2014 with an average sticker price of $736,000.

Why do we have a debt ceiling, anyway?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 04:19

The history of the debt ceiling is a little bit like a piece of classical music.  It starts out softly.  Kind of like one of Richard Wagner’s operas. 

Congress used to approve borrowing – project by project. 

 “Wars or projects like canal building and expansion of the navy, etcetera," says Fred Beuttler, a congressional historian at Carroll University. 

He says eventually that incremental budgeting got too cumbersome.  So the modern debt ceiling was born in the 1930s. 

And then the tempo of our debt ceiling ditty changes.   Debt limit votes become a verdict on overall federal spending. 

“It’s really like a stick that Congress uses to beat up on the executive with," says Joseph Thorndike, a historian with Tax Analysts.  "And who doesn’t like to have a stick?” 

The debt ceiling debate first crescendoed in the 1940s and 50s.  As Congress faced off with presidents Roosevelt, and Eisenhower.   There were debt ceiling fights in the 90s.  But the most serious threat of actual default came in 2011.

That’s where Mark Patterson enters the picture.  He was Treasury chief of staff from 2009 until just last May.   He blames the crescendo of debt ceiling rhetoric on the polarization of the country as a whole.  He can’t even remember how many debt ceiling cliff hangers there were while he was at Treasury.

He says, “They are something of a blur to me at this point but we had about a half a dozen of them during the time that I was there.”

I want to jog Patterson’s memory.  So I persuade him to brave the cold and take a brisk walk to the Treasury building.  Patterson remembers 16 hour days.   And lots of takeout food. 

“By the time it gets there it’s always cold though, because the secret Service guards our building," he says.

I ask Patterson where we are now in our musical debt ceiling journey.  Patterson says we’re in an interlude.  He hopes we won’t get so close to defaulting again.   Whatever happens, he says, we’ll survive.  He remembers thinking that on the darkest days of previous debt debates.  As he left the Treasury building late at night. 

“We’ve gotten through worse than this and hopefully these debt limit crises will subside into history, too, he says.  "At least that’s what I’d try to tell myself at night as I got in the car to drive home.”

Then, for further inspiration, Patterson would crank up his favorite debt ceiling musician.  Not Wagner -  Jimi Hendrix. 






Box headed for IPO

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 04:08

Some of the newer high-valued companies in Silicon Valley these days are more focused on sharing with your business partners than sharing with your friends. Example: Box helps people and businesses share documents and other data on the cloud. And the young company privately filed for an IPO a few days ago.  Eric Schurenberg, editor in chief of Inc Magazine, joined us to help explain.

Click play on the audio player above for the interview.

Budweiser's 'Puppy Love' Ad Wins Super Bowl Viewers' Hearts

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 04:00

The game didn't go as predicted, but the ad war did. For the second year in a row, Bud won over viewers, using a cute puppy and photogenic Clydesdales to sell beer.

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Facebook launches Paper app

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 03:06

Today Facebook releases a new mobile application called Paper. It doesn't really look a lot like Mark Zuckerberg's crowded, blue social network. But, it is part of his empire, and it might help the company keep building engagement by not looking like ... Facebook.

Slate Tech blogger Will Oremus has been reporting on the app and joined us to tell us more.

"This is a really slick-looking app that Facebook just introduced today," says Oremus, "It's a new way to read Facebook, combined with a sort of news reader."

Paper should help filter out much of the distractions found on the main Facebook service: "It's trying to appeal to the people who want less of the random updates about their friends cats and babies, and maybe more of what their friends are talking about that's in the news or what's happening today that's in their area of interest," Oremus says.

With Paper, Facebook is showing that it recognizes that a portion of its userbase is becoming tired of its flagship social network, and the new app is just the latest alternative the company is offering to the original service.

"They've already got Instagram, and they've kept that as a separate entity," says Oremus, "They've built Facebook Messenger, and now they've got Paper, and Mark Zuckerberg on an earnings call that there will be more in store in the years to come."

And speaking of earnings, Facebook has been exceeding expectations recently, thanks to their ability to draw in advertisers and to get users to click those ads. The obvious implication for Paper is its potential as yet another advertising platform.

Global crimefighters on edge at the Olympics

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 00:50

Athletes from around the world are pumping iron and psyching themselves up.

And so are the cops. Not just Russian security forces, on watch for terrorist threats in the restive region of Southern Russia, where the Sochi games kick off on Friday. But also, the international crime-fighters at Interpol, which has penned a $20 million agreement with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to help with security, as well as crack down on dopers, match-fixers, and corrupt betting schemes.

Interpol, based in Lyon, France, functions as an information clearinghouse to assist national police forces around the world.

The IOC is backing the effort to guarantee the integrity of athletic competition (at both the Olympics and Youth Olympic Games) after doping scandals like the disqualifications and medal-strippings of star sprinters (Canadian) Ben Johnson after the 1988 Seoul Olympics and (American) Marion Jones after the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Professional sports such as cycling and baseball have also seen major scandals involving banned performance-enhancing substances in recent years.

Last year, the IOC set up a $10 million fund for research into new techniques to identify and detect banned substances. Developers of these drugs are often one step ahead of the World Anti-Doping Agency and other policing bodies for individual sports and from individual countries. The IOC is also setting up a working group to look at the economic legacy for host-cities of Olympic spending and infrastructure-building, amidst concern over Russia’s $50 billion pricetag for the games, and widespread allegations of corruption, waste and fraud by Russian companies and government agencies in the Olympic build-out.

Sports economist Andrew Zimblast at Smith College says the Olympic brand is valuable. So the Olympics’ reputation, as well as that of brands that associate themselves with the Olympics as sponsors, are vulnerable to scandals involving doping or match-fixing, as well as extravagance and over-spending.

“The Winter Olympics, with television and ticket sales and sponsorships and so on, typically generate around $3 billion,” says Zimblast. “To spend $20 million on Interpol to improve their image—it’s worth it.”

University of Oregon sports-marketing expert Paul Swangard agrees that $20 million is a small price to pay to convey the message that the IOC is dead-serious about ensuring the integrity of the athletics; that clean athletes can compete on an even playing field; that judges aren’t influenced or manipulated by bribes or for political reasons; and that matches aren’t fixed by organized crime syndicates.

“There has been concern about match-fixing in tennis, in soccer matches around the globe,” says Swangard. “And Interpol is in many of those markets.” Interpol is helping to implement a new IOC program called the Integrity Betting Intelligence System to detect irregularities.

Swangard says the Olympics have mostly avoided scandal in the past—doping disqualifications like those of Ben Johnson and Marion Jones, and revelations of widespread athlete-doping by the former East Germany notwithstanding. But he and Zimblast agree that poorly-paid athletes in underexposed sports offer a vulnerable target for bribery and gambling schemes.

When doping is exposed (and medals or championships overturned), however, the disrepute and opprobrium tends to stick to the accused athlete(s), rather than to the brands they endorse or even the sports they compete in, says John Horan, publisher of Sporting Goods Intelligence . In the case of the Olympics, that’s especially true, since evidence of doping is rarely detected and exposed until long after the games are over and the pomp and circumstance has faded to distant memory. In fact, the IOC is just now subjecting blood samples saved from the 2006 Turin Olympics to improved steroid detection testing, and medal disqualifications could still proceed if evidence of previously unidentified doping is found.

'After Midnight,' And The Cotton Club Is Swinging Again

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 00:30

The legendary Harlem nightclub and the artists and music it's synonymous with are being celebrated in a new Broadway revue. Jeff Lunden talks to cast members and the creators about the pleasures and perils of paying homage to a place with a problematic history.

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What's Good For Baby Camels Could Be Good For Human Skin

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 00:29

A Jordanian woman brought her camel's milk skin-care line — and a biotech startup — to Missouri. Her company is studying how the long-acting antibodies in camel's milk can help clear up acne.

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Most Teens Aren't Active Enough, And It's Not Always Their Fault

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 00:28

Only one quarter of young teens are getting enough exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Organized sports often aren't enough to meet that hour a day goal. But parents can help by building more activity into family life.

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Young Athletes Risk Back Injury By Playing Too Much

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 00:27

Sports medicine doctors say they've seen a rise in overuse injuries among kids who train long and hard.

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The Games Are A Great Party, But Not A Great Investment

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-03 00:26

Despite the enormous cost of hosting the Olympics, many former venues are languishing away unused.

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Government operates as 'matchmaker' for U.S. business in Mexico

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-03 00:16

Today Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will lead her first trade mission abroad. Over the next few days, she'll visit Mexico along with business leaders from 17 American companies.

For business leaders visiting Mexico or other countries, it's a huge advantage to have the U.S. government make introductions to local companies.

"In a lot of countries around the world, it's important for them to think that you are somehow linked to government. And so that enhances your credibility," says Jock O'Connell, an international trade advisor at Beacon Economics.

Richard Brent has taken one of these trips before.

"The best way I can describe it is a little bit slower than speed dating," says Brent, who is CEO of Louroe Electronics, which manufactures audio monitoring equipment. "The Department of Commerce and our commercial offices in posts around the world do a marvelous job of match-making," he says.

Matches made on the last trip helped boost Louroe Electronics' sales in Mexico by 1,200 percent.

This time, Brent is paying the commerce department $8,000 to tag along on the trade mission. Add in his expenses, and he's looking at $12,000. Brent says, "We consider this an investment, rather than a cost."

But even if all 17 companies see huge bumps in sales as a result of the trip, that new trade won't exactly tip the economic scales.

"While it might be beneficial for the individual companies on this trade mission, the ability of this trade mission to move the numbers -- in terms of US-Mexican trade – is pretty minor," says Jock O'Connell.

Mexico exports more goods to the U.S. than we export to Mexico, to the tune of $60 billion in 2012. That leaves plenty of room for U.S. trade to Mexico to grow.

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