National News

Pro-ISIS Messages Create Dilemma For Social Media Companies

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 12:54

Facebook, YouTube and other sites are being asked to do more to stop terrorists. Yet they are also being asked to let some of the propaganda remain to help officials track jihadis.

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U.S. Report On Spending In Afghanistan Classified For First Time

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 12:51

The latest quarterly report on U.S. spending in Afghanistan was released on Thursday. Conspicuously missing were figures on how more than $50 billion is being spent on training and equipping Afghan military and police forces. Those figures have been classified for the first time in years of such reporting and the general who ordered keeping them secret says it's to keep enemies from sharpening their attacks. Key senators disagree.

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Woman Held By Jordan Has Close Ties To Islamic State

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 12:51

Jordan has indicated that it is willing to swap a convicted terrorist for a Jordanian pilot held captive by the so-called Islamic State. The terrorist is a woman named Sajida al-Rishawi. She and her husband conducted a suicide attack at a Jordanian hotel. Her belt did not detonate but dozens of people were killed. ISIS has demanded her release in part because she has longstanding ties to the group.

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Girls Get Good Grades But Still Need Help. As For Boys ... SOS!

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 11:42

A study shows that girls do better in math, science and reading than boys in just about every country. So boys clearly need help to success in school. But so do girls.

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British Fighters 'Escort' Russian Bombers Near U.K. Airspace

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 10:35

A pair of Russian "Bear" bombers flew alarmingly close to British airspace on Wednesday. London has asked Moscow to explain the incident.

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Gunman Reportedly Kills 3 U.S. Contractors In Attack At Kabul Airport

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 10:02

Three Americans who were working as contractors in Afghanistan died in a gunman's attack at Kabul's international airport complex Thursday, according to the AP.

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Value of a dollar in Indiana's Medicaid expansion

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-29 09:54

A deal between Indiana and the federal government to expand Medicaid provides a telling glimpse into how flexible the Obama Administration is willing to be to get more people on the healthcare insurance rolls. Under the agreement reached this week – which could serve as a model for other states – monthly premiums will be at least $1.

Doesn’t sound like much, right? But that dollar is enormous to people who are philosophically opposed to the Medicaid expansion. It’s also huge to those whose incomes are staggeringly low.

Penalties on the way for the uninsured under Obamacare

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-29 09:53

According to the new numbers from the Department of Treasury, 2 to 4 percent of taxpayers will owe a penalty for not having health insurance last year. That's approximately 3 million to 6 million households. But who has to pay — and what happens if they don't?

The penalty this tax season is $95 per adult — about half that per child — or 1 percent of household income, whichever amount is  higher. The fines will also keep going up. Not having insurance in 2015 will cost $325 per adult or 2.5 percent of household income. In 2016? 2.5 percent or $695 per person and tied to inflation in the years that follow. 

It's unclear how many will actually have to pay up, however. Many groups are exempt from the penalty and the IRS' ability to enforce could be limited, especially after recent budget cuts.

For more, listen to the story in the audio player above.

McDonald's orders a fast-food quick-fix

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-29 09:51

McDonald's Don Thompson announced this week he'll resign after two years as CEO — two years that were not very successful for the company. Sales at McDonald's roughly 14,000 U.S. restaurants have slumped.

Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

Sara Senatore, a research analyst with research firm Sanford C. Bernstein, says part of the problem is competition from more "wholesome" competitors, so-called fast-casual chains like Chipotle. “The food is better quality and tends to be higher priced as a result. There's a real emphasis on provenance, sourcing, local farms,” she says.

McDonald's also faces image problems with customers who just want a good deal on lunch. Carla Norfleet Taylor at Fitch Ratings says that's another area where competitors are winning. “Whether it’s Burger King with '2 for $5,' 'mix and match,' 'choose what you want,' [they’re] just being a lot more creative than what we're seeing with McDonald’s, I think, on the promotional front,” she says.

Incoming CEO Steve Easterbrook is currently McDonald's chief brand officer. He's spearheaded efforts to boost marketing and allow diners to more easily customize their orders. He previously led a successful turnaround in McDonald's United Kingdom business. He helped dispel worries about food quality, and even took part in a televised debate about the fast-food industry.

Still, Sara Senatore wonders why the chief brand officer will face a brand crisis when he takes over the corner office. "He should've had some imprint when there does seem to be an issue with brand resonance,” she says.

Easterbrook takes over on March 1, 2015.

McCain Calls Protesters 'Low-Life Scum' At Senate Hearing

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 09:49

The anti-war demonstrators were shouting at former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was attending a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on global security challenges.

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What the U.S. has gained from sequestration

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-29 09:45

Since the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration started in 2013, the budget deficit has gotten smaller. But it’s still hundreds of billions of dollars. Sequestration just nibbled at it.

“Sequestration has been saving us between $60 [billion] and $90 billion per year,” says Marc Goldwein, senior policy director of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “Now, that’s not enough to solve our debt problems. But it’s not nothing, either.”

Congress eased some of sequestration’s sting during the past two budget years. But it still bit hard enough for people like Emily Holubowich of the Coalition for Health Funding to notice. Under sequestration, she says, Congress sacrificed planning for medical emergencies like Ebola.

“They look and say, 'Well, where can we cut?'  We don’t need to invest in planning and preparedness. And it’s when you let your guard down that we see something else happen, like Ebola,” she says.

At the Pentagon, sequestration forced cuts in training. It meant deferred maintenance, and it limited pay increases.  Jim Savage, who teaches politics and public policy at the University of Virginia, doesn’t think much of sequestration.

“When you rely upon across-the-board measures, it’s usually the sign of weak management," he says. "It’s also another way of sort of avoiding political accountability – to make the hard choices.” 

But, Savage says, sequestration will force some hard choices on Congress this year. Lawmakers have already cut the low-hanging fruit.  There aren’t many spending cuts left that everyone can agree on. And remember, sequestration is scheduled to last until 2021. 

Fake snow is a genuine business plan for ski resorts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-29 09:23

Across the West, skiers and winter resort operators pine for a blizzard like the one that blanketed the Northeast this week. A number of resorts in California, Oregon and Washington have had to temporarily or permanently suspend operations this season due to low snowpack. Things are so topsy-turvy, trail groomers in Anchorage, Alaska, had to resort to snowmaking to be able to open in time for the winter holidays.

"They don't need it in Cape Cod. They need it here in Washington," Kevin McCarthy, general manager of White Pass Ski Area,  says with a chuckle.

The snowpack at his resort in Washington State's Cascade Mountain Range is about 25 percent of normal, McCarthy says, a common predicament this winter up and down the West Coast. For some resorts, this is the second or third tough year in a row. Unreliable winter weather is increasingly forcing ski areas to rely on expensive snowmaking machines to remain viable.

"For three weeks we made snow, and it has been a lifesaver, tying the lower area to the upper mountain, which has enough natural snow to operate," McCarthy says.

A stretch of unusually balmy weather caused headline writers and outdoor enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest to nickname the normally snowy month of January  "Juneuary." Skiers at White Pass, where the terrain ranges from 4,500 to 6,500 feet elevation, had to look out for rocks, ice sheets and brown patches as they navigated the lower slopes.

But snowmaking machines aren't a cure-all. The White Pass Ski Area machines were shut down this week because it was too warm for them to work.

Still, McCarthy credits his small collection of "snow guns" for his ability to open on time and stay open. "Every time we go by these, we want to give them a hug," McCarthy says.

Snowmaking systems are not new in the ski industry. Resorts in the Midwest and East have relied on snowmaking for decades. Farther West there are more holdouts.

"The challenges of the weather, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, are causing the resorts to rethink their reliance only on natural snow," says Joe VanderKelen, president of SMI Snowmakers. The Michigan-based company is one of the biggest purveyors of snowmaking equipment and services.

"A lot of folks that said, 'Hey Joe, you're a nice guy, but jeez, we'll never have snowmaking at our mountain because you know we actually have too much snow' are now circling back," VanderKelen says.

Resort owners recognize the threat of climate change, because they're seeing it, VanderKelen says. Spring now arrives more than two weeks earlier in the Lake Tahoe resort region than it did 50 years ago, according to a NASA study cited by the industry group Protect Our Winters.

 VanderKelen says he tells resort operators that snowmaking gives them a chance to weatherproof their businesses. "There are literally over 100 resorts in North America that would have gone out of business without snowmaking, maybe 200," he says.

Customers may spend from $50,000 for a single snow gun and pumping station to $50 million to bring snow to an international resort such as Whistler in British Columbia, according to VanderKelen. And the expenses are ongoing. Ski industry consultant Dave Belin of RRC Associates in Boulder, Colorado, says the cost of water, energy use and labor make snowmaking a pricey proposition.

 "It really comes down to: Can you operate without it?" Belin says. "Most ski areas have decided they need it to maintain their operations from the beginning of the season all the way through to the end of the season."

Water availability and scarcity present additional challenges, especially for ski areas in drought-stricken parts of the West. In southern Oregon, Mount Ashland Ski Area management say they have looked into snowmaking systems to augment the snowpack at their oft-closed slopes. But they found the equipment too costly and say the ski area lacks an adequate water source to create manmade snow.

 "There are some big hurdles," says John Gifford, president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association. "Not only do you have to have water, you have to have low temps and low humidity" to make snow.

 

Senate Prepares To OK Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Despite Obama Veto Threat

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 09:21

Sixty senators support the measure, but it doesn't appear to have enough backing to override a presidential veto. A vote could come as early as today. The House approved a similar measure this month.

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Treasure Hunter Who Disappeared With Shipwreck Loot To Appear In Court

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 09:03

Tommy Thompson, who found one of the most lucrative wrecks in history, had been living under an assumed name for two years after failing to appear in a lawsuit brought by the project's backers.

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Change comes to Facebook one hire at a time

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-29 08:53

Before new Facebook employees get their computers, they go see Maxine Williams, global director of diversity at Facebook. Facebook says 85 percent of the tech employees at the company are male, and 53 percent are white. Williams has been charged with changing that, since she was hired a year and a half ago.

One of Williams' jobs is finding new talent for Facebook. “We have people now whose whole job is to think about how we can contribute to developing the pool for the future."

There are practical reasons behind Facebook's diversity mission, the value proposition isn't hard.

“We want to have as many different ways of seeing things,” Williams says, “and that’s what you miss when you don’t have enough diversity.”

And that can help Facebooks’ bottom line. “It will improve not just what we build but then how we serve people. Because we will understand people better," she says.

If Facebook can do that, Williams is convinced that the company will be more successful and create better products.

"There's a ridiculous amount of value in having more people that look like you, because now this place starts to belong to you," she says. "You see yourself in the fabric of it. You are now a protagonist in this story, and we all want to be protagonists in our story ... So it becomes our story when there are more of us."

 And that’s something Williams "likes."

U.S. Classifies Some Basic Statistics About Afghan Security Forces

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 08:27

The watchdog in charge of Afghan reconstruction said the classification threatens its ability to publicly account for the billions of dollars spent each year on Afghan forces.

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Portugal To Offer Citizenship To Descendants Of Expelled Jews

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 08:26

Portugal's Jews were expelled, burned at the stake or forcibly converted to Christianity 500 years ago. The government wants says it wants to right a wrong. Spain approved a similar law last year.

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Cleveland Hospitals Grapple With Readmission Fines

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 07:44

The Cleveland Clinic has seen its Medicare penalties go down, while those paid by hospitals that serve many of Cleveland's poorer residents have gone up.

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At Least 3 Dead, Dozens Injured In Explosion At Mexico City Maternity Hospital

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 07:38

A gas tank truck exploded while servicing the maternity and children's hospital in Mexico City. Fifty-four people were hurt and an unknown number remained trapped.

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Quiz: Women win the diploma race

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-29 07:19

Women earn more degrees than men at most levels of education, according to the Census Bureau.

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