National News

Nino's No-No: Justice Scalia Flubs Dissent In Pollution Case

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 14:06

It's more than embarrassing when a Supreme Court justice makes his decision based on facts that he's gotten wrong. The court has corrected the record, but the slip has stuck among legal cognoscenti.

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When the best advice comes from the worst sources

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:56

Would you trust business advice from a CEO that watched his company go bankrupt? Or relationship advice from someone who was accused of murdering their spouse?

Zac Bissonnette, author of the book "Good Advice from Bad People", says there are plenty of people who think they can give this type of advice through speeches or books. Usually, it’s when these people are at the height of their careers. And sometimes, they speak too soon.

"It just struck me about a year ago, how easy it is to become an inspirational icon or a self-help expert and that kind of thing," says Bissonnette. "And how often, the people who we look to for wisdom are terrible at following their own advice."

While in the process of writing, Bissonnette noticed a trend in his research.

"Most of the CEOs that I found were cultivating personality-driven brands right at the apex of their careers, right before it all goes to hell," says Bissonnette.

But the desire for self-help books, guides and products in our modern society is significant. Despite the recession in 2008, America spent $11 billion on self-improvement products.

"In our desperate need for motivational figures, we make almost no effort to vet them," says Bissonnette.

Defense Intelligence Agency Chief Will Step Down

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:56

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn clashed with other intelligence officials and sources say he tired of the bureaucratic fights in Washington.

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Who wants to be bigger than the U.S.? Not China!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:52

A new World Bank report suggests China's economy could surpass America's this year (by one measure, at least). But far from taking a triumphant tone, China's government is rejecting the numbers. Chinese leaders are wary about how their country's rise to the top could increase pressure on them to make concessions on carbon emissions, trade policy, currency and international aid.

There's another reason for China's muted response to this news: trumpeting strong growth numbers likely wouldn't be well received by the hundreds of millions of Chinese still living in poverty.

"The Chinese government usually reacts in a very quiet way," says Yale University finance professor Zhiwu Chen. "They realize that China overall, it's still a developing and a poor country."

All this is not to say that Chinese officials aren't privately excited about economic growth. Just don't look for any champagne, or Moutai toasts on camera.

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Mark Garrison: China tends to downplays news like this because of global politics, says Peterson Institute senior fellow Nicholas Lardy.

Nicholas Lardy: It certainly puts pressure on them to do more in the international arena.

When the numbers say you’re a bigger deal, other countries push you harder to give aid, change trade policy and stop screwing around with your currency. Dartmouth business school associate dean Matt Slaughter explains that rising in the ranks also brings attention to Chinese industrial pollution.

Matt Slaughter: The faster is China’s growth, the more the world legitimately looks to China for any meaningful carbon reduction.

China also worries about how economic news plays domestically, where hundreds of millions still live in poverty. Yale finance professor Zhiwu Chen says trumpeting growth numbers wouldn’t go over well at home.

Zhiwu Chen: The Chinese government usually reacts in a very quiet way, because they realize that China overall, it’s still a developing and poor country.

Remember, Lardy adds, China tops another important chart.

Lardy: All of the measures are in a sense a little bit artificial, because they’re a function to a considerable extent of the fact that China has 1.3 billion people.

Spread over its giant population, the swelling GDP isn’t much per person. Now all this doesn’t mean Chinese officials aren’t excited about economic growth, says Milken Institute managing director Perry Wong.

Perry Wong: To be ranked #1, they may celebrate in private.

But any champagne, or Moutai toasts won’t be done on camera. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

New York parents opt out of high stakes tests

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:37

Last year, Amelia Costigan watched as her twin sons and their fourth-grade classmates prepared for the new state tests. It was the first year New York’s assessments were based on the Common Core, the nationally standardized curricula that many states have adopted in recent years. And, a lot was at stake in New York. The kids literally worried themselves sick. 

“My kids had trouble sleeping,” Costigan says. “Other kids had stomach aches. Kids were going to the doctors, and the doctors were saying it looked like it was stress from the test.”

The tests determined whether her sons advanced to the next grade, or got into a top middle school. Scores also played into teacher evaluations and school rankings. This year, Costigan and the parents of eight other kids at her school decided they didn’t want their kids to participate. 

“It was a hard decision that some of them had. They cried. They worried they weren’t going to go to graduation, but in the end, all 10 kids opted out,” she says. 

Parents’ groups estimate about 1,000 kids in New York City won’t be taking the Common Core assessments this year. Statewide, it’s about 35,000. Those numbers are hard to verify and they represent just  a tiny fraction of the total number of kids sitting down for the math tests this week.  

But opting out is the most drastic—and visible—part of a growing protest movement in New York and nationwide. Parents, teachers, and other critics have been holding rallies, trying to put an end to the standardized tests. 

Dan Bobkoff/Marketplace

At a rally in Lower Manhattan last week, Liz Rosenberg says her fourth grade daughter wasn’t scared of the tests at first.  

“She was super psyched to take it,” she says.

But Rosenberg was anything but psyched. Part of her objection is that questions and answers are not released after the test, so it’s hard for kids to know what they don’t know. She convinced her daughter that the tests are a bad idea. This year, she’s opting out. 

“It’s important to stand up. It’s important to talk back,” Rosenberg says.

Many teachers and critics believe the math is confusing and the English questions are too hard. Fourth graders are being asked to assess middle school level reading, some say.  

“We felt the questions did not actually assess whether children were reading with understanding, which we thought was really important to assess,” says Elizabeth Phillips, principal of PS 321 in Brooklyn.  

She’s not anti-testing or against the Common Core, but she say seeing the English exams turned her off. 

Phillips was also concerned that so much was riding on these tests. Like other critics, she held protests. And, to some degree they worked.  

“Up until a few weeks ago, there really was a lot at stake,” she says. 

Dan Bobkoff/Marketplace

Recently, New York officials scrambled to lower the stakes. No longer will test scores go on students’ permanent records. And, they won’t be used as the major determinant of whether kids go onto the next grade. 

Officials think that change will go a long way to placate many nervous parents.

“Knowing that the state test will only be used as one of multiple factors has eased some of those concerns,” says Emily Weiss, senior executive director of performance at New York City Department of Education

At some point, if too few students take the tests, some schools could lose funds.

That’s still far off, but with opposition to the tests mounting, New York’s fight could be coming to a state near you. 

Dan Bobkoff/Marketplace

Botched Execution Leads Doctor To Review His Principles

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:35

Of the 32 states that currently allow capital punishment, all rely on lethal injection as the means. Seventeen of them require a doctor to be present during the injection.

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If Clippers are for sale, what's the franchise worth?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:35

As the next step in the public punishment of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling, the NBA says it’s going to try to force him to sell his team. But this isn’t exactly a fire sale.

The traditional profit-focused reasons for buying a sports franchise are well established says Michael Leeds, a sports economist at Temple University. “I mean, you can go back to the 19th century," he says. "People would buy baseball teams because they owned a tavern nearby and they wanted to sell their beer.”

Nowadays, Leeds notes, owners are more likely to buy shares in media networks, but he says the payoff for ownership can come in different forms.

“When you own a sports franchise, you join a very exclusive club," he says. "As George Steinbrenner once said, 'Before I bought the Yankees, I was just some ship builder in Tampa.'”

Leeds says there’s a rush that comes with seeing your name in the paper, and some buyers are willing to pay a premium for that. Celebrities from David Geffen to Oprah Winfrey are reported to be interested in buying the Clippers. And all that buzz can drive prices up. While Donald Sterling  bought the Clippers for only $12 million dollars more than 30 years ago, one currenet estimate is $575 million





The shrinking board of Fed governors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:29

The Fed’s Board of Governors is shrinking. There are supposed to be seven governors, but right now, there are just four, with three nominees awaiting Senate confirmation. And another vacancy is looming in May.

“We’ve never had a situation like we’re in now,” says Peter Conti-Brown, a fellow at Stanford law school who’s writing a history of the Fed. He says it’s rare to have so many vacancies on the board of governors.

Campus Rape Reports Are Up, And Assaults Aren't The Only Reason

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:24

Data from the Department of Education show an increase in sexual assault reports, but college officials say new federal guidelines are helping more students come forward.

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Sen. Reid: NFL Should Follow NBA's Lead Regarding Redskins Owner

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:20

Dan Snyder has come under criticism because his team's name is considered a racial epithet against Native Americans. On the floor of the Senate, Reid said it was time for the NFL to act.

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Every MIT student just got $100 worth of Bitcoin

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:13

Two stories today  in what may well be a sign of the crypto-currency's slow rise to relevance:

  • Bloomberg is going to start tracking the Bitcoin-U.S. dollar exchange rate on its data terminals.
  • And on a more interesting note, every undergraduate at MIT is going to get $100 in bitcoins thanks to the MIT Bitcoin Club. They raised half a million dollars from alumni and "the bitcoin community." In their words, they fundraised to "spur academic and entrepreneurial activity."

Basically... every MIT undergrad just got a hundred bucks!

High-Tech Maker Spaces: Helping Little Startups Make It Big

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:07

Inventing a new product is hard if you can't afford to build a prototype. Enter maker spaces, workshops boasting shared high-tech tools. Entrepreneurs love them, and big backers are taking notice.

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Only one person has gone to jail for the financial crisis

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:01

Only one banker has gone to jail for his role in the financial crisis. That person is Kareem Serageldin, formerly an executive at Credit Suisse. He began serving his 30 month sentence earlier this year.

“It’s not a conspiracy,” says Jesse Eisinger, a senior reporter at ProPublica, on why there have been so criminal proceedings. Instead, the Department of Justice was chastened by a series of court losses, and “effectively lost its ability to indict corporations or go after individuals at the highest echelons of corporate America.”

Eisinger details how the Department of Justice "lost its way" in an article for the New York Times Magazine.

In his account, the turning point was the case against Enron’s Arthur Anderson. Two years after winning the original case, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict. Eisinger says the Supreme Court “didn’t say that Arthur Anderson was not guilty of the crime that they had been indicted for, which was obstruction of justice. It revolved around jury instructions. But the Department of Justice took this as a huge black eye.”

Ever since, the DOJ has focused on crimes that are easier to win – such as insider trading cases. And they’ve been reluctant to investigate or bring charges against company CEOs.  

“The real bad actors are the top officers in companies that commit crimes," Eisinger said. "And you have to go after them successfully if you want to deter white collar crime.”

Renegade Cider Makers Get Funky To Cope With Apple Shortage

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 13:00

Few U.S. farmers grow the tannic apples traditionally used to make hard cider. So craft cider makers are using eating apples and adding chili, chocolate and tropical juices to boost their flavor.

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Twitter CEO Hopes To Attract Users By Clearing The Clutter

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 12:50

Dick Costolo calls the @ sign "scaffolding" that gets in the way of clear communication. And he says Twitter has to bridge the gap between the brand's global awareness and user engagement.

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Minimum Wage Raise: Blocked For Now, May Live Again In Campaigns

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 12:44

A bill to increase the federal minimum wage was blocked in the Senate on Wednesday, as Democrats failed to muster the 60 votes necessary to bypass a filibuster.

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Earth's Climate Problems

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 12:37

[2014-04-30 13:00:00] Our national conversation about climate change involves analyzing scientific research. But it also includes plenty of political rhetoric and emotionally-charged speech on both sides of the issue. We’ll talk this hour about the history of how we’ve talked about global warming with Emory University professor Patrick Allitt. His new book is A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism (Penguin History).

Beethoven in Dallas

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 12:36

[2014-04-30 12:00:00] Nearly 200 years after his death, Ludwig van Beethoven remains one of the towering figures of classical music. And this spring, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra will celebrate the composer with three weeks of performances. We’ll talk this hour about Beethoven’s lasting impact on both classical music and pop culture with DSO music director Jaap van Zweden and concertmaster Alex Kerr.

Drought puts California rice in a sticky situation

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-30 12:08

That sweet sticky rice that comes with your sushi likely came from California. The state grows almost all of the nation’s medium grain rice, and about half of it is exported.

And California's drought is expected to have a dramatic effect on rice production. Economists say the mere speculation of production losses is already driving up prices.

Ninety-seven percent of California’s rice is grown in the Sacramento Valley, including at Montna Farms, where a huge drag scrapers level fields in preparation for planting. Nicole Van Vleck says medium grain rice will grow here, which is perfect for sushi.  

“If you’re eating sushi rice in New York, or in Florida, or San Francisco you’re most likely undoubtedly going to be eating California rice,” says Van Vleck.

Van Vleck stands next to a water pump that’s flooding the field behind her.

“So this is water that’s coming from the Feather River. The Feather is just to the east of us, we divert out of the Feather,” she says.

Northern California farmers typically have plenty of water compared to those in the south, even during dry years. But not this year.

“This is the first time I know of that we cut back rice acreage because surface water allocations were cut so severely to water districts north of Sacramento,” says Dan Sumner, an agriculture economist at the University of California Davis.

Montna Farms has been in the Sacramento Valley for generations. But this is the first time a drought has caused so much uncertainty.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever had to deal with,” says Van Vleck. “Day to day, things change. Right now we are down 48 percent over last year.”

Rice farmers will leave 100,000 acres of their fields fallow. That’s a big deal. Van Vleck says medium-grain rice grows in just a few places around the world.

“California does export about half of their crop. And so if California is affected because of the drought, it all of a sudden changes the price of medium grain substantially,” she says.

Sumner has already seen the price increase.

“Farmers were getting between $15 and 20 for a 100 pound sack of rice,” he says. “It’s now up in the range of $25 or $30 -- or more.”

Customers have seen the price bump at Oto’s Marketplace in Sacramento, a store that specializes in Asian foods.

“A lot of the distributors and everybody went in increments. You don’t see a big price raise all at one time," says Russell Oto, the store’s general manager. “But by May or June it might go up a little bit more than what my prices are now.”

What worries rice farmers like Van Vleck the most is the possibility that California could see more dry years ahead.

“We have this wonderful system of customers that count on us each and every year,” she says. “I don’t know that they’ll all be able to be serviced this year. Someone else will fill that void. You might not get the customer back.”

And economists say that’s the danger. Suppliers might just start buying their rice elsewhere, like Australia or Arkansas. The drought may send a signal to the world market that California rice isn’t reliable.

Slow Growth For U.S. Economy, But Fed Plans Are Full Speed Ahead

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-30 12:00

The economy slowed sharply in the first quarter, but Federal Reserve policymakers voted unanimously to continue winding down their stimulus program.

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