National News

Obama Seeks $1 Billion To Boost U.S. Military Presence In Europe

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 04:10

His comments in Europe come amid simmering tensions with Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

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Local Views Of New Orleans' Changing School Landscape

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 04:03

Measurable gains, yet a sense of loss.

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Reduce carbon, create jobs?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 02:18

New carbon-emission targets proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week will put some coal-fired power plants out of operation, and could eventually squeeze employment in the coal-mining industry as well.

The EPA is calling for a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, from 2005 levels. They also predict that meeting the new target will cost electric utilities $8 billion per year, but says it will ultimately save the U.S. economy $50 billion a year or more in health care costs, as pollution from power plants and fossil fuel production falls.

The EPA’s fact-sheet and press release provided no firm numbers on projected job creation from meeting the new carbon standards, though. A lengthy “Regulatory Impact Analysis” report, however, provided tentative estimates from peer-reviewed labor-economics research, predicting net job increases totaling 105,000 a year.

That figure takes into account coal-mining jobs that would be lost, offset by new renewable-energy and energy-efficiency jobs: retrofitting power plants, pumping cleaner natural gas, upgrading the electricity grid, installing solar and wind generation capacity, and deploying energy-saving appliances.

But green-energy job predictions can vary widely — the Natural Resources Defense Council recently predicted more than 200,000 new jobs per year, based on slightly different carbon targets and date benchmarks.

Job predictions can also be highly politicized, says Ron Pernick, managing director at Clean Edge, an energy research firm.

“There are a lot of variables,” says Pernick. “It’s part art, part science.”

Pernick says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has stopped collecting and crunching data on green-economy jobs due to sequester-related budget cuts. Though, he points out that jobs in renewable energy have been growing strongly for years, and tougher carbon regulation can only help.

Marty Rosenberg, editor-in-chief of the trade magazine EnergyBiz, says the EPA’s plan to let states develop their own plans and energy mixes for hitting the new carbon targets will help drive innovation, and promote new green-energy startups. 

“Each state, if you will, will become a laboratory,” says Rosenberg. “There are men and women out there testing new ideas. I do think this will be an economic stimulant.”

Opponents of the EPA's carbon targets, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, disagree, arguing that shunning coal will destroy jobs and raise operating costs for American businesses.

 

 

Harley Davidson's fastest growing market? Women

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 02:11

Harley-Davidson is branching out.

The iconic motorcycle manufacturer plans to roll out leaner and lighter bikes into showrooms by the end of the month.

Good-bye hogs, hello street bikes?

“An interesting way for Harley to expand its business is to cater to a wider audience,” says Moringstar analyst Jaime Katz.

Katz says 30 percent of last year’s sales went to what Harley calls its "outreach market" -- anyone other than white men over the age of 35. The company hopes its "Street" models -- bikes that are lower, lighter, and easier to handle -- will create a higher demand, especially among the fastest growing demographic groups: women.

“Women are climbing corporate ladders, they own a lot of small businesses and so they have money and time,” says Genevieve Schmitt, founder and editor of Women Riders Now.com. Schmitt says in a sign that the female bikers market is growing, she expects Harley’s new line to attract new female riders.

Justice Department Renews Focus On Homegrown Terrorists

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 00:59

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is drawing new attention to the threat from homegrown, lone-wolf radicals. He's pulling together a group of prosecutors and FBI agents to address domestic terrorism.

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Singapore's got some big retirement issues

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-02 23:39

Here in the U.S., it’s pretty standard to complain volubly and publicly about government programs, particularly those to do with retirement – Social Security, healthcare for the elderly and the poor and pension and retirement plans in general

Not so in Singapore. The people in Singapore rarely question government policy, and almost never criticize it. So when you hear people complain openly about government policy on retirement and Singapore’s version of social security, it’s worth paying attention.

“Openly” being, of course, on the Web. On blogs and on social media, and particularly on Facebook (Singaporeans were big users of Facebook at a time when most Americans were still obsessed with MySpace). A debate that would ordinarily have been held in private, in coffee shops or around dinner tables, has been running for some time in the very public forum of social media. 

Many Singaporeans are not happy about the way their retirement program, the Central Provident Fund (CPF), is being handled by the government, and, for once, they’re not being shy about expressing their feelings. Emotions are running so high that  a prominent blogger named Roy Ngerng recently made the claim that Singapore's prime minister had "misappropriated" Singaporeans retirement money. The prime minister responded equally disproportionately, by slapping Ngerng with a lawsuit.

I’m not going to drive you insane with an explanation of how CPF works: it deals with social security, retirement planning and medical insurance all in one-go, so as you can imagine, it’s pretty complicated. You can read more here and here. Many observers point admiringly at the CPF, saying it's an excellent example of effective central planning. But just like Social Security in the U.S. and equivalent programs in Europe and the rest of the world, CPF is coming under intense pressure.

The pressure comes in two parts. First, Singaporeans are living longer. Second, healthcare costs here are soaring. Any of that sound familiar? It's a double-barreled shotgun that every developed nation is facing down right now.

Singapore's response will sound equally familiar: The government, more accurately the ruling Peoples Action Party (which has won every election ever held here),  is demanding its citizens cough up more money. Its recent demand that some Singaporeans put a greater proportion of their salary into the CPF sounds to many like a tax hike. Which it effectively is.

The changes to CPF are not going down well. But it's encouraging to see some Singaporeans standing up and demanding transparency from the government about the way CPF is run. It's a pity, however, that the PAP is resorting to old-school methods to deal with the media storm. They're missing an opportunity to show how mature Singapore is, how unafraid are its leaders of criticism, and how much more open they can be about the way government programs are handled.

Regardless, Singapore has a problem: it has become too successful, too quickly. When the country gained independence in 1963, its people expected to live until around 66 years of age, on average. Today they expect to live until they're 82. That's a sign of how quickly and efficiently the country has developed, but it has put its systems under enormous strain.

It almost makes America's social security system look as though its in relatively good shape!

Paddy Hirsch filed this while on vacation in Southeast Asia.

How Atomic Particles Helped Solve A Wine Fraud Mystery

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 23:31

By testing for radiation, detectives showed that wine bottles purportedly from Thomas Jefferson's collection were fake. And with wine fraud rising, authentication is getting even more sophisticated.

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The Common Core Curriculum Void

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 23:29

States and school districts are struggling to navigate the flood of new materials claiming to be Common Core-aligned.

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Curveball: Are teachers prepared for test prep?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-02 19:18
<a href="http://marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/assessment">View Survey</a>

Seattle Council Passes $15 Minimum Wage

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 16:33

The ordinance gradually increases the minimum wage in the city to $15, which would make it the highest in the nation.

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Coup Attempts And Safaris: The Ups And Downs Of Juan Carlos' Reign

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 15:36

King Juan Carlos announced he would abdicate in favor of his son, sparking a fierce debate over whether he should be allowed to pass on the crown — or if the monarchy should be abolished altogether.

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New EPA Rules Burn Red State Democrats

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 14:32

In coal-producing Kentucky and West Virginia, Democrats can't put enough distance between themselves and the Obama administration.

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Dozens Of Haitian Migrants Abandoned Near Puerto Rico

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 14:30

Smuggling Haitians has become a big — and deadly — business. In recent days, several groups of migrants have been abandoned by smugglers on uninhabited islands in the Caribbean.

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Vox CEO Jim Bankoff on which numbers matter

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-02 14:21

Economists love the numbers. For some companies, the numbers that are most important are the ones that say how many clicks and hits they’re getting on their website.

"ComScore.com is definitely one of the many metric sites we look at for sure," says Jim Bankoff, CEO of Vox Media. "ComScore reports monthly. We have metric services that report in real time. We can literally look at a dashboard and just be obsessed with what’s going on, who’s looking at our content and how many people at any given moment."

So how interested are companies like Vox Media in having people understand the numbers by which they do their job?

"We make money by growing our metrics and those metrics are largely transparent," says Bankoff. "For instance, you can go to your favorite website and see how many people shared your favorite article on Facebook or Twitter. A lot of these metrics are now transparent and we’re making them more transparent. In our case, our ratings are transparent to our advertisers too."

Is there such thing as too much data?

"Absolutely," says Bankoff. "We like to tell our people that they should be data-informed as opposed to data-driven."

Bankoff says that although the numbers allow companies to produce content in a more targeted and efficient way, technology should be used to assist the story telling and assist the consumption, not replace it.

Double Rape, Lynching In India Exposes Caste Fault Lines

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 14:17

The men accused in the girls' murder belong to their area's dominant caste. Protesters and politicians are lashing out at delays and indifference in a case that is creating a political maelstrom.

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A revision to the revision

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-02 13:59

Today we present a number not to be loved.

Economic indicators are often revised, higher or lower, usually a month or two after they come out. Right?

Well, today's report from the Institute of Supply Management, the ISM for short, which measure how American factories are doing, was revised twice in the space of about three hours. Wall Street sold off hard on the initial weak, but incorrect, report.

The excuse:

"Software glitches," the ISM said.

Facial Recognition: From the NSA to Facebook to Vegas

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-02 13:57

The NSA, the New York Times reports, is harvesting people’s images, millions of them per day. It's using them, we are told, to search for terrorists and other intelligence targets. 

If the targets are U.S. citizens, the NSA must obtain court approval.  

Facial recognition technology has taken our present national Gordian knot of privacy and security concerns through a circuitous path.

“The NSA and CIA have quite openly been working with facial recognition technology at least for the past 20 years,” says Chris Green, chief technology analyst at the Davies Murphy Group. 

For a time, as that technology filtered into the private sector, it developed a life of its own. Notably “in Las Vegas,” Green says. A banned card counter can cost a casino half a million dollars in 20 minutes, so it was important for the private security industry to work on quick identification. “Vegas has been a great proving ground for facial recognition technology. It’s put a lot of money into it and really refined and honed it down.”

The groundwork laid by government agencies and the military, says Green, “created a secondary market in the private sector which is in turn is now feeding back” into government.

That feedback into government is also largely being financed by the government. Especially since 9/11.  

“I would have to guess its 70 percent or higher government dollars,” says Chris Boehnen, who leads the Secure Computer Vision Team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

When it comes down to what that public and private investment has brought us, it’s important to separate the fanciful from the factual, says Boehnen. 

Looking at Facebook’s tagging feature, for example, “you could easily get the idea that modern technology is capable of taking all of Facebook’s images and telling who you are, and that’s very inaccurate from a technical standpoint.”

Facebook, says Boehnen, almost certainly employs shortcuts that make it appear far more advanced than it is. For example, Facebook most likely isn’t comparing your photo album to all photo albums on Facebook from here to Mongolia. It’s comparing the faces in your album, most likely, to your friends, or maybe your friends’ friends. 

In the real world, facial recognition technology can be both much better, and much worse.  Patrick Grother tests commercially developed facial recognition technologies for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He says in a recent test, theyenrolled 1.6 million people and achieved a 96 percent recognition rate. Meaning that if they were searching for one person out of a group of 1.6 million, they could pick that person out successfully 96 percent of the time. 

But that comes with a big if: it only works if the photos being used are controlled – well lit, frontal photos like a passport or a driver’s license photo. (Incidentally, that’s why you’re not supposed to smile in those photos – all the better to identify you or someone impersonating you). 

This is tremendously useful for government agencies who are trying to determine if someone is fraudulently registering a new passport or driver’s license under another name.  Less so if you’re trying to pick a bomber out of a crowded mall.  

Grother is not privy to what the NSA or CIA use. Green, with Davies Murphy Group, suspects those agencies enjoy even higher success rates “in the high 99 percent range.” But even then, the accuracy is only as good as the data, a.k.a., the photos one is comparing. Clear photos make for high identification rates. Green says modern day surveillance cameras and Closed Circuit TV cameras can often provide such clear images.

We're already halfway toward the EPA's new CO2 limits

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-02 13:55

This morning, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced proposed regulations that call for a 30 percent reduction by 2030 in carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. But it’s not 30 percent from today's levels. It’s 30 percent from where the U.S. was in 2005— when emissions were a lot higher. In fact, they’ve dropped 15 percent since then.  If the country has already coasted halfway to the finish line, the next half promises to be tougher. 

It's worth remembering that the last nine years haven’t been an easy ride. "The biggest thing since 2005 has been the slow economic times since 2009, so that’s nothing to get excited about," says Lucas Davis, an energy economist at the University of California at Berkeley. The recession meant lower demand for energy— especially from industries that use electricity to run factories.

Doug Vine at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions offers another contender for what’s been driving emissions down: "The largest force is the natural gas boom that we’ve seen in this country," he says. Burning natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal for the same amount of energy.

However, another trend that's pushed emissions down—more efficiency, more solar, and more wind power — stems partly from higher natural gas prices, from the years before 2005.

"Those increases in natural gas prices were leading to increases in electricity prices," says Susan Tierney of the Analysis Group, "and that was making a lot of people very concerned." Those concerns prompted a lot of states to start promoting wind and solar power, and energy-efficiency.

That trend got a push from the federal government. "The 2009 federal stimulus put a big slug of money into energy efficiency and renewable energy," says Dan Bakal of Ceres.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $31 billion in energy programs, with the biggest chunk going toward energy-efficiency.

But the stimulus is over. The recession too. Natural gas prices have started going back up, and coal is making a small comeback. WIthout a policy like the EPA’s new regulations, analysts say we would expect to see greenhouse gas emissions start going up again.

Study: Americans Less Fearful Of Storms Named After Women

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 13:23

People are less likely to seek shelter or otherwise prepare for storms given female names, researchers say. As a result, such storms result in nearly twice as many deaths as those with male names.

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Will EPA's New Emission Rules Boost Your Power Bill? It Depends

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 13:17

The Environmental Protection Agency wants power plants to cut carbon pollution by 30 percent. Analysts say the impact on consumers will hinge on how individual states move to meet the standards.

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