National News

Michelle Obama promotes girls' education in Asia

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 02:00

First lady Michelle Obama is traveling in Asia this week to promote a new initiative with the Peace Corps aimed at closing the education gap for girls. Around the world, an estimated 62 million girls between the ages of 6 and 15 are not in school. The Peace Corps plans to recruit and train at least 650 new volunteers to help remove the barriers to education in developing countries like Albania, Cambodia, Georgia, and Uganda.

The economic payoff can be significant, says Sarah Lynch, a senior director of the global charity Care, which will help train volunteers. "Investments in girls' education have proven to go further than any other spending in global development," she says.

Click the media player above to hear more.

 

Tesla plans to launch 'autopilot' feature this summer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 02:00

Tesla announced a few software updates it’s planning for its electric vehicles on Thursday, including one where the car tracks its distance from charging stations to try to alleviate driver anxiety about running out of juice. CEO Elon Musk said that the company could push another update — autopilot — to its Model S fleet as soon as June.

While Musk said cars would be technically capable of getting from place to place without a driver having to do anything, initially this feature limited to use on highways, as neighborhoods pose safety issues given their many obstacles and variables. Eventually, drivers could also summon their cars or let the vehicles park themselves.

Mike Wall, an auto analyst at IHS, says this move echoes steps taken by other car companies and that driver-less technology is advancing faster than regulations that will govern its use.

Michelle Krebs, an analyst with AutoTrader, says driverless cars could be on the road tomorrow, but manufacturers are holding back because of regulatory concerns and questions about who’s to blame if there’s an accident. Tesla believes its autopilot feature meets current regulations. 

Michelle Obama promotes girls' education in Asia

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 02:00

First lady Michelle Obama is traveling in Asia this week to promote a new initiative with the Peace Corps aimed at closing the education gap for girls. Around the world, an estimated 62 million girls between the ages of 6 and 15 are not in school. The Peace Corps plans to recruit and train at least 650 new volunteers to help remove the barriers to education in developing countries like Albania, Cambodia, Georgia, and Uganda.

The economic payoff can be significant, says Sarah Lynch, a senior director of the global charity Care, which will help train volunteers. "Investments in girls' education have proven to go further than any other spending in global development," she says.

Click the media player above to hear more.

 

Silicon Tally: Where's my tax refund?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by David Gura, senior reporter for Marketplace in our Washington D.C. bureau. We're celebrating his last day at Marketplace, as he leaves for Bloomberg TV.

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Starbucks' race push irks some

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 02:00

Starbucks new #RaceTogether campaign has set off a storm of controversy. The coffee giant is hoping baristas and customers will have a more frank discussion about American race relations. 

So what's the best way to bring up issues of diversity? Nicole Sanchez, CEO of Vaya Consulting, says Starbucks may have helped create controversy by trying to force this conversation when people are at their most vulnerable—that is to say, before they've had their morning coffee.

But Robert Raben, president of the Raben Group, says Starbucks may be onto something. Its coffee houses are so ubiquitous and integrated that they serve as de facto town halls and community centers for places all across the country. 

Freight rail is king in U.S.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 02:00

Railways carry more than 40 percent of the freight shipped between U.S. cities. The U.S. freight rail system is uniquely profitable, and it's been attracting international attention. Europe, Russia, Brazil and Australia have all sent representatives here.

“There have been dozens of delegations just over the last couple of years,” says Patricia Reilly, senior vice president  for communications at the Association of American Railroads, a trade group for freight rail companies.

Reilly has met with some of the international visitors. They want to know everything, down to what stone is used for rail beds. Some come with interpreters, but Reilly says they speak a common tongue.

“They might not speak our language, but they love railroads," she says. "They love the sound of a whistle.”

Garrick Francis loves the sound of a whistle, too. He’s a lobbyist with the freight rail company CSX Transportation.  

He’s also met with the international delegations. He says they’re curious about a huge difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world. The American freight rail system is run entirely by private companies. Francis says he gets lots of questions about investment.

“So how do we have private investors," he says. "How is this a business that attracts investment from major funds or major shareholders on Wall Street and in other places?” 

But Francis gets harder questions, too, about rail congestion in places like Chicago. Freight trains have to share track with passenger trains, adding to the congestion. 

The international delegations also want to know about new safety technology freight railways have developed. Freight rail’s safety record has improved, with the accident rate down by 42 percent since 2000. Still, accidents do happen. 

“Some of these accidents with the crude oil trains have been drastic reminders that there’s still a long way to go,” says Pasi Lautala, director of the rail transportation program at Michigan Technological University. 

Lautala says, in some ways, freight rail in the U.S. is a victim of its own success, making money and growing enough to attract admirers from around the world — but still facing expensive challenges.  

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Transcript: NPR's Interview With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-20 01:41

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with NPR's Steve Inskeep on the heels of a win for Netanyahu's Likud Party in parliamentary elections this week. Read a transcript of the interview.

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Facebook me some money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-20 01:30
500 million

A low estimate for the number of people using Facebook's Messenger app. With the reveal of mobile payments on Messenger earlier this week, Facebook's plans for the app are becoming clearer. TechCrunch reported Messenger will become a platform for third-party developers, who will add more content and commerce. The company is expected to build on the success of its WhatsApp acquisition, and model Messenger after Asia's extremely popular messaging apps like WeChat and Line.

One in four

The whiter a census tract is, except in extreme cases, the more likely it is to have a Starbucks, according to an analysis by Quartz. For example, one in four tracts with 70 percent white people have a 'Bucks. Something to keep in mind if you see "#RaceTogether" on your cup one morning.

$1.9 billion

Last year's revenue across all streaming music services like Spotify, Pandora and Vevo, according to a new report from the RIAA. Streaming is on track to overtake digital downloads, which had already taken a bite out of recording industry revenue in the past decade. All this disruption added up to a flat year for the recording industry.

3 percent

Fewer than 3 percent of construction workers are women. And as employers report job shortages of skilled workers in fields like welding and carpentry, some are calling for women to go after employment in these professions. 

40 percent

That's the percentage of freight carried by the U.S. railway system across the country. It's why this unusually profitable venture has been studied by the global market.

A Push To Move Food Stamp Recipients Into Jobs

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-20 01:05

Critics say the benefit program discourages people from seeking jobs. The Obama administration is announcing grants to 10 states to find a better way to get recipients back to work.

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From Skid Row To Rome: The Story Of An Unusual Running Club

NPR News - Fri, 2015-03-20 01:05

A Los Angeles criminal court judge has organized a running club made up of residents from Skid Row's Midnight Mission. This weekend, the club is running far away from home.

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'A Proud Walk': 3 Voices On The March From Selma To Montgomery

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-19 23:16

Following the Bloody Sunday crackdown in Selma, Ala., Martin Luther King Jr. called for support across the U.S. People of different races and religions flocked to the state. Three of them look back.

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Report: Army Examines Claims Of Racial Slurs At Alaska Base

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-19 16:50

Army Times is reporting that members of a platoon at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, used racial slurs against one another during what they called "Racial Thursdays."

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Proposed Exxon Settlement Falls Short of Damage, N.J. Democrats Say

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-19 16:19

Gov. Chris Christie is defending the state's $225 billion settlement for decades of contamination at two refineries as a "good deal." But Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists say otherwise.

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Justice Ginsburg Turns Her Pen To Exodus' 'Women Of Action'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-19 16:03

Famous for her legal pen, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has now written a short essay for a different reason: Passover.

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Obama To Iranians: 'Best Opportunity In Decades' For A Different Future

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-19 16:02

The president's message was to mark the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian new year. The U.S. and its allies are talking to Iran over the Islamic republic's nuclear program.

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In Tikrit Offensive, Local Sunnis, Shiite Militias Are Unlikely Allies

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-19 15:15

The main forces fighting the self-declared Islamic State in Tikrit, Iraq, are Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias. Despite decades-long animosity between the nations, local Sunnis are joining them.

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Women in construction: few and far between

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-19 15:06

As the job market heats up, employers are starting to report labor-shortages—especially of skilled workers like welders, machinists, and carpenters in manufacturing and construction.

Those jobs can pay $15/hour or more, and often offer health insurance, a pension, and on-the-job-training, especially if the worker rises through the ranks of a union apprenticeship program.

And for three decades now, Lauren Sugerman, director of the National Center for Women’s Employment Equity at Wider Opportunities for Women has been trying to get more women into well-paying construction jobs.

“The construction trades represent a significant segment of the blue-collar jobs that earn over $20/hour,” she says. “And these jobs are also growing dramatically.”

In the late 1970s, Sugerman herself entered an apprenticeship program for elevator constructors in Chicago. At the time, she says women made up less than 0.01 percent of construction workers. The percentage has gone up, but not by much, in her opinion. “Now, women are 2.6 percent of the construction workforce, so that’s very little progress.”

Sugerman says she left construction work after years struggling against discrimination and harassment on the job. It started right away. “The superintendent who interviewed me said ‘You don’t want this job, it’s too dangerous for you, girls really shouldn’t be doing this, you won’t like it.’ I just kept saying ‘Yes I do.’ And, not very different from what many women still report today, I was subjected to physical harassment, I worked around men who talked about rape in jokes.”

Sugerman became an advocate for women in the trades, working with the Chicago Women in Trades and other groups pushing for gender equality in employment. And she’s well aware of what she missed out on by leaving construction—what women today can be earning if they’re protected and well-prepared and manage to stick it out.

“‘Let’s just do the numbers,’” she quips. “I would currently be making $50/hour as an elevator constructor. Compare that to the wage in a typically female job, $9/hour as a nurse’s aide, preschool teachers are also very low on the scale. That’s a $900,000 to $2 million gap in earnings over a lifetime.”

Holly Huntley runs Environs, a small construction firm in Portland, Oregon. She’s 37 and grew up in South Carolina. She was a debutante in her teens, and started as an amateur in construction during college, helping to manage and maintain an apartment building her family owned.

“After college I just kept practicing on friends’ and families’ properties,” she says. She worked for several small construction firms, moved to Portland, and started her own company. She also teaches in a pre-apprenticeship program for Oregon Tradeswomen. Some of her current employees came through the program.

“I know a lot of women in the trades that experience harassment on a daily basis,” she says. “And what I all my female employees get from subcontractors and people making deliveries is: ‘Where’s the contractor?’ They all think that we’re the homeowner. They don’t even think that we’re working. And the odds are that I’m not the boss. The odds are that the guy on the project is the boss.”

Sajru Dueber has been studying welding at Mt. Hood Community College near Portland. Before joining the program, she taught English, dealt cards, did other jobs to support herself and her daughter. None of them, though, paid as well as a skilled trade like welding.

“I’m hoping to get involved in the train yards,” says Dueber, “do some spot welding on trains, get my foot in the door that way.” She wants to do artistic welding as well. “Ultimately I want my daughter to have the best education she can ,and that will require money, so I hope going into this field will help.”

In her welding program last year, Dueber did a report surveying women’s experience of working in welding shops. “I found a lot of females online talking about how hard it was for them to get a job, how hard it was to get accepted, how hard it was for a foreman to take them seriously,” she says. “And a lot of them were told ‘You’ll be a sexual distraction,’ or ‘Maybe you can’t pick up a box that’s forty pounds,’ or ‘You’re just a woman, I can’t take your application.’ And I’m sure that that’s something I’m going to run into.”

Remains Of Sept. 11 Victim Identified

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-19 14:59

New York City medical examiners used DNA testing to identify Matthew David Yarnell of New Jersey, a 26-year-old vice president of technology of the Fiduciary Trust Co.

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Watch Your Back, Kale. Kelp Is Gunning For The 'Veggie Du Jour' Title

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-19 14:22

With a little help, scientists say that seaweed growing along the Maine and New Hampshire coasts could become the "kale of the sea." The first step is teaching chefs and consumers how to enjoy it.

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Plant businesses have struggled since the recession

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-19 14:10

The heating bill can reach $30,000 for the month of January at Spring Hill Nurseries, but that is the price to be paid for green grape buds, flowering black berries, and pink hellebores — triumphant in rows ready to be shipped to the gardening public at the first hint that winter might be relenting.  

Felix Cooper, Vice President of Gardens Alive, the parent company of Spring Hill Nurseries, and greenhouse manager Jenny Lewis are giving a balmy tour through what seem like endless rows of blood-red sedum, glowing pink coral bells, and lush vining clematis. Coolers are filled with grub-like arisaema tubers, and phlox roots tumble through conveyor belts and packing machines into bags of peat moss. 

Spring Hill Nurseries has been around longer than California has been a state, and it's even older than the Washington Monument. Founded in 1848, it’s been as hardy as the goldenrod one can find on Ohio side roads. It made it through the Civil War and mechanization and everything a modern economy has thrown at it — up until now. After 166 springs, this may be it’s last. 

“It’s been a fairly steady ride down,” says Niles Kinerk, CEO of Gardens Alive. Gardens Alive owns several plant businesses and sells environmentally responsible gardening products.  

While some of its seed companies and bulb companies are doing great, Spring Hill is draining cash. A particularly nasty winter last year didn’t help. Kinerk is trying to sell it.

“The alternative for us is to cut way back,” he says.  

The demise – or dramatic scaling back – of Spring Hill Nurseries is the tail end of a nationwide phenomenon that is decades in the making but came to a head in the great recession. 

Nurseries ramped up with the housing boom, took out loans to expand, and were left holding the bag. 

“As many as 30 percent of the growers in the country exited during this period of financial stress,” says Charles Hall, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M University. “That’s a significant number of growers.”

“In previous recessions,” he says, “we had a situation where we sold more flowers, shrubs and trees because people stayed home and engaged in gardening more because they weren’t taking trips to Disneyland.”

But not this time.

Tony Avent runs Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the industry was especially hard hit. “North Carolina lost 40 percent of its nursery industry, including garden retailers, nurseries, the whole bit. Georgia lost sixty percent.”

The collapse is evident today in the shortage of woody ornamental plants, like landscape trees. They take five years or more to reach a sell-able size, and not many people were planting five years ago, so there aren’t enough ready now. 

There’s also new competition. 

“The big box stores have put quite a bit of effort into their green goods areas,” says Gardens Alive’s Kinerk. “They’re very competitive and they’ve taken a good hunk of business that used to be fulfilled by companies like ours.”

Credit, especially for smaller companies, is harder to come by.

“Back in 2001 the bank was willing to extend to us 10 times our earnings,” Kinerk recalls. “And now it’s down to three times earnings.” 

Federal regulations reigning in lending are partly responsible for that, and while banks have expanded small business loans as a whole, plant nurseries’ biggest source of collateral is their land.

It’s usually not worth much.

“I’ve actually had my banker say to me don’t even talk to me about the land value or building value ,” says Kinerk.   

But hovering behind the economic factors is how America’s relationship to its gardens and its plants is changing. For one, fewer people grow their own food.

“People’s size of their yards are getting smaller.  Two-income families have less time.  Gardening takes time” he says.  “It’s a great way to relax, I will hasten to add, and forget about your day!”

Kinerk still has faith that Spring Hill can flourish again, but he can’t be the one to rescue it. He needs to use his cash to invest in his businesses that are growing.

“They’re good businesses, and if we could find a buyer who had the cash to invest to get it going like it could again, it’d be better for everyone .”

The plant nursery industry will not disappear, its roots are too deep for that, but for now it is smaller and a bit wilted. 

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