National News

Cut Your Cake And Keep It (Fresh), Too

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 11:50

A British mathematician proclaimed in 1906 that there's a better way to cut a cake than dividing it into wedges. Now a video by Alex Bellos is bringing his method back to life.

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The 2014 primary season has been expensive

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-19 11:38

So far, the 2014 primary season has been busy and expensive. On Tuesday, there is a big election in Mississippi – a runoff between incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and his Republican challenger, Chris McDaniel. Outside groups have poured millions into the race, just as they have poured money into races across the country. There are Tea Party groups on one side, and on the other side is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber has been around since 1912, and it represents some 3 million businesses.

“This year, we have taken the most aggressive posture that we ever have,” says Rob Engstrom, the group’s national political director. He's the one responsible for ads that the Chamber puts out. “2014 will be the largest political program in the history of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States.”

In 2012, it shelled out more than $34 million, trying to defeat President Obama, and trying to help Republicans regain control of the Senate.

“After having squandered collectively five senate seats over the last two elections, we thought it was important to involve ourselves and engage ourselves using the Chamber’s brand,” says Engstrom.

The Chamber is spending more money, and it started spending it earlier – on candidates in primaries. The decision to do that came out of a meeting Engstrom convened last year, in Phoenix. According to him, it was “a constructive conversation,” and big donors were “candid” and “direct.” The upshot? “We’re ready to turn the page, and get back on offense,” says Engstrom.

So far, the Chamber has had a winning season. It backed Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Id.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in their races against Tea Party challengers.

“I can’t think of an example where they’ve really made a big investment and not had it succeed this year,” says Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics.

In the run-up to 2012, conservative groups spent around $700 million. There is a lot of outside money this time around, but according to Biersack, it is being spent differently. “It’s being spent more professionally, I guess I would say.”

Engstrom says the group’s members expect that – they are executives and business owners. “You know, our members are bottom-line people.”

And in politics, as in business, they want a good R.O.I., a good return on their investments. It is up to Engstrom and his team to spend donors’ dollars wisely. An investor does due diligence. Engstrom says he meets personally with 150 candidates every cycle. He says he’s looking for people who are pro-business, who have a shot at winning.

“All these guys go home and campaign as conservatives, as fiscal conservatives,” says Russ Walker, the political director of FreedomWorks Action, a national Tea Party group. “But at the end of the day, that’s not always how they govern.”  According to Walker, FreedomWorks Action has spent more than $425,000 on the Republican primary in Mississippi.

Its donors also care about R.O.I., but Walker invests their money differently – less on ads and more on getting FreedomWorks Action’s members knocking on doors.

“They are the best communicator of that political message,” he explains. “They can carry on a conversation; whereas, if we run a 30- or 60-second spot, then really all we get is 30- or 60-seconds.”

This is a strategy many conservative groups seem to favor, at the national and the local level. Case in point: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat last week.

Even if they won’t say so, these groups are fighting over nothing less than the future of the Republican Party.  

“You know, we are going to fight back, and we are going to involve ourselves in an aggressive manner with good manners and high integrity,” says Engstrom. “And then it’s going to be a barroom brawl.”

The Chamber of Commerce and Tea Party groups will try to land a few more punches this weekend, before the runoff Tuesday. Then, their focus shifts to the general election in November. After all, these are long-term investors. 

The Groundlings: comedy's proving ground

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-19 11:31

Before Will Farrell, Kristen Wiig and Will Forte rose to Saturday Night Live stardom, they all got their start at The Groundlings comedy club in Los Angeles.

The Groundlings was founded by Gary Austin in 1974 and has launched comedy careers for some of the biggest acts in the industry. If you think we’re exaggerating, you should check out this list of 40 years of alumni.

Lisa Schurga and Ryan Gaul both took classes at The Groundlings about a decade ago. In 2007, Schurga became an official Groundling (or "Main Company," in their words.)

"It was why I moved here from Boston... was mainly to become a Groundling," she says. "Anything else on top of that is gravy, but this is what I wanted to do." 

Gaul, on the other hand, got some solid advice from a friend before joining The Groundlings: 

"Because somebody told me a long time ago, 'If you wanna do something in entertainment, find out where the best people do it and go there and copy them... So I have -- for the last ten years -- copied people." 

Schurga and Gaul both teach classes at The Groundlings, and say that it's enough to make a living. 

When Schurga thought about a performance that stuck out, one scene she did with Jill Sachoff came to mind.

"I hadn't seen her costume or what wig she's wearing… should've known but I hadn't seen it. And so, the lights came up and we're singing and I turn and look at her... and she's given herself a full mono-brow... she had that [curly] wig on but she had it on as far back as she could so it looked like she was kind of balding with this curly wig. And she was dancing really hard and singing... and I peed on the stage."


And as for Gaul… well, it’s probably better if you listen to it:

House GOP Picks McCarthy For Majority Leader; Scalise Gets Whip

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 11:21

California's Kevin McCarthy replaces Rep. Eric Cantor in the No. 2 leadership post. Steve Scalise of Louisiana edged out two others for the No. 3 spot.

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To Defeat A Deadly Toxin, Disrupt Its Landing Gear

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 11:17

Scientists have figured out how botulinum toxin moves from the intestine into the bloodstream. Specialized molecules that serve as carriers for the toxin provide clues about its potency.

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New King Ascends Spanish Throne, With Hopes For A New Era

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 11:11

King Felipe becomes the new monarch at a time when the country faces major challenges: a wounded economy, demands for regional independence and dwindling support for the monarchy itself.

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New York Passes Bill To Outlaw Tattooing Pets

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 11:04

Getting Fido inked or pierced, except for purposes of medical identification, will be against the law in New York after Gov. Cuomo signs the measure.

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Wis. Gov. Scott Walker Accused Of Illegal Fundraising

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 10:53

The governor, who was the subject of a 2012 recall vote, is said to have coordinated fundraising with outside conservative groups in violation of state law.

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Harley-Davidson's New Bike Hums, Instead Of Roaring

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 10:38

Harley-Davidson wants fans of motorcycles often called "hogs" to get to know its new electric bike that's quiet and has zero emissions.

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Brutal Vigilante Attack On Roma Teen Shocks France

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 10:26

French President Francois Hollande condemned the incident, which left the boy in a coma, as an unspeakable and unjustifiable act. Some say a xenophobic climate may have been a factor.

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Ever feel like you need a bigger boat?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-19 10:25

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Thursday, June 20:

In Washington, a House Judiciary subcommittee holds a hearing on net neutrality and antitrust law.

The Great Seal of the U.S. was officially adopted by the Continental Congress on June 20, 1782.
It had been under design for 6 years.

Used car retailer CarMax releases quarterly earnings.

"Jaws," that cute flick about a pesky shark, opened to movie going audiences on June 20, 1975, just in time for summer.

And finally, Friday is Take Your Dog to Work Day. Yeah, do that. And don't go into the water.

How The Kurds Could Benefit From Iraq's Crisis

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 10:07

While much of the country is in turmoil, the Kurdish areas in northern Iraq have remained peaceful. The upheaval could help advance the Kurds' long-standing quest for an independent state.

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How To Build A Neanderthal

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 10:03

The strong jawline and pronounced teeth of of Neanderthals likely evolved before their large braincase, scientists say. The evidence? A treasure of bones recovered from a single cave in Spain.

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Want Your Kids To Ace School? Good Motor Skills May Help

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 09:33

Children and teenagers who are aerobically fit and and have good motor skills do better academically, researchers say. But muscle strength doesn't help. And those motor skills may matter most.

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Obama: U.S. Forces Won't Return To Combat In Iraq Crisis

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 09:14

President Obama says the U.S. will send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help it cope with a Sunni extremist group, but Americans won't be taking up combat roles.

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As More Latinos Drop Religion, Should GOP Be Extra Worried?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 09:08

The percentage of Hispanics who aren't affiliated with a particular religion is ticking upward. This demographic tends to be more socially liberal, too, which may have political consequences.

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It's Not Tennessee Whiskey If It's Aged In Kentucky, State Says

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 08:18

Tennessee recently began regulating whiskey carrying the state name, sparking a dispute between two liquor titans. A complaint over barrels stored in Kentucky added a new twist to the conflict.

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Fumbled Patent: Is It Just A Matter Of Business?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 08:13

The U.S. Patent Office said the name of Washington's pro football team is "disparaging to Native Americans," cancelling its trademark registration. Gabriel Feldman explains more about the decision.

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Iraq Turmoil: How Extremists Use Social Media To Gain Support

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 08:13

Government clashes continue in Iraq after an attack on an oil refinery. The extremist group ISIS may be responsible. Tell Me More learns how the militant fighters use technology to win supporters.

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Supreme Court Rules Against Patents For Abstract Ideas

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 07:55

At issue in the case, Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International: Do software inventions get the same kinds of patent protections as other inventions? The court's decision was unanimous.

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