National News

Post-9/11 Panel Criticizes NSA Phone Data Collection

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 21:44

An independent panel created after the 9/11 attacks says bulk collection of billions of American phone records violates the letter and the spirit of the law.

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Virginia's New Attorney General Will Not Defend Gay-Marriage Ban

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 21:17

In an interview with NPR, Mark Herring says he wants the state to be on the "right side of history." The Democrat said his solicitor general will tell a federal judge that Virginia is switching sides in a case that has potential to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Keystone Pipeline's Southern Section Begins Delivering Oil To Gulf Coast

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 18:05

A large section of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline was officially put to work Wednesday, in a move that supporters say will help ease the flow of oil to refineries. The Obama administration has yet to rule on the project's northern portion.

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Governors Gone Wild: A Recent History

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 16:56

Former Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was indicted Tuesday, is the latest in a long line of governors to face felony charges. In Illinois alone, three have ended up in prison since the 1980s.

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Online Donors Send Jamaican Bobsled Team To Sochi

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 16:15

After word spread that Jamaica's two-man bobsled team had qualified for the Olympics but didn't have money to go to Russia, Internet donors stepped in — even contributing in Dogecoin, the peculiar digital currency.

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The Chinese Internet's detour to... Wyoming?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 16:10

We've all heard of the Great Chinese Firewall. Well, it seems a glitch in the routing that the censoring requires sent about 75 percent of Chinese Internet traffic to a building in Cheyenne, Wyo. the other day.

The building is home to Wyoming Corporate Services -- and among the businesses registered to that address? According to the New York Times: "a shell company controlled by a jailed former Ukraine prime minister; the owner of a company charged with helping online poker operators evade an Internet gambling ban; and one entity that was banned from government contracts after selling counterfeit truck parts to the Pentagon.

And we wonder why our credit cards get hacked.

Chinese workers fight Wal-Mart for better wages

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 14:32

In 1996, Wal-Mart opened its first store in China in the Southern city of Shenzhen. Wang Shishu was one of the company’s first employees – he was hired to operate a dishwasher at the store’s food court.

His friends were jealous. "Everyone wanted to work there. I only got the job because back then, nobody in China knew how to operate a dishwasher – but I did," says Wang, proudly. "I had already worked at Pizza Hut."

Wang made a dollar an hour – a high salary in China at the time. "I could support my two children and my wife and it covered our food and housing costs, too."

As China’s economy rapidly developed, so, too, did the cost of living in China. But wages for China’s Wal-mart employees lagged behind. China’s economy is now eleven times bigger than it was 18 years ago, when Wal-mart first arrived. In that same time, the starting salary for employees at Wal-Mart in China has only gone up by 73 cents an hour. There’s not much employees can do about it – the only workers' union allowed under Chinese law– The All China Federation of Trade Unions - typically acts on behalf of company management, rather than employees. "It’s simply a boss’s union," says Wang, "not a group that seeks justice for workers."

So in the summer of 2012, Wang collected dozens of workers’ signatures asking Wal-Mart for better wages. A week after presenting the petition to Wal-Mart and union officials, Wal-Mart fired him. Wang sued, and in November, a Chinese court ruled in Wang’s favor – ordering Wal-Mart to rehire him. But on the morning of his first day back at work, Wang's lawyer calls – Wal-Mart’s just appealed the case. "Now I'm going to have to wait for the appeal to go through," Wang grumbles. "They’re probably going to try and negotiate a cash settlement, but I just want my job back."

China’s always been crucial to Wal-Mart’s success – for decades, the country’s cheap exports and quick supply chain helped the company maintain its low prices. Today, Wal-Mart operates 390 stores in more than 150 cities throughout China.

It’s a good match for China’s shifting economy. The government wants to turn yesterday’s factory workers of the manufacturing sector into an army of restaurant, hotel, and retail employees for its new service sector.

But Shenzhen labor lawyer He Yuancheng says Wal-Mart needs to pay these workers a livable wage. "Only when all China’s workers have money to spend will they actually consume more," says He. "If companies like Wal-Mart don’t pay workers enough, China’s service sector won’t grow."

Mr. He has handled dozens of worker complaints against Wal-Mart. He says Wal-Mart has a cozy relationship with the Chinese government’s workers union. "It’s a win-win situation," says He. "The union gets tens of thousands of Wal-Mart workers to join it and Wal-Mart can brag about having so-called ‘unionized’ workers in China."

In response to a list of questions about how Wal-Mart treats its workers in China, Kevin Gardner, Wal-Mart’s Senior Director of International Corporate Affairs, wrote in an email that no one at the company was available for an interview on this topic.

Back in Shenzhen, another former Wal-Mart employee, Wang Yafang, says after eleven years at the company, she took leave to attend a workers’ rights march across the border in Hong Kong. She says after her manager saw her marching on the local television news, he fired her. China’s official union approved her termination. When she threatened a lawsuit, she says Wal-Mart officials scoffed at her chances. "They said they had hired the best lawyers in the country and that there was no chance I’d win," she remembers.

A year later, Wang won her lawsuit against Wal-Mart in a Chinese court. Wal-Mart appealed the ruling twice. It lost each time. In the end, the company was forced to pay Wang 18 months of lost salary. The victory gave Wang a boost of confidence to go after a bigger target. Now, she says she’s suing China’s government-backed union, too.

 

Small-Batch Distilleries Ride The Craft Liquor Wave

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 14:24

Bacardi, Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker have some new competition these days. There's been a surge in the number of craft distilleries in the U.S. over the past few years, as more mom and pop entrepreneurs are making liquor for local customers.

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Is 'art' a dirty word at Sundance?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 14:19

We're about 5 days into the Sundance Film Festival underway in Park City Utah. 

By the end, about 50 thousand people will go to the mountains to watch documentaries and art house films. A somewhat smaller number are there to make deals -- agents and studio executives looking for the next bit hit.

Wesley Morris is film critic at Grantland and is in Park City for the festival. He told Kai Ryssdal that he's noticed a trend this year: Production value is up, and studio execs are increasingly stingy:

"I don't think you can get away now with a movie that looks like it was shot on a camera phone. I think the aesthetic bar is just higher now. And I think in some ways, these directors aren't making movies aimed at the audience like you and me. They're talking to the executives and they're making movies that say to the executives, 'Hey, I can make something that looks great.' Because in some ways this is really two festivals. This is a festival for the market and the business people, and it's a festival for people who want to experience something special."

 

Lena Dunham, Vogue, and the end of Photoshop?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:53

It’s no secret that fashion magazines use Photoshop on most of their spreads. 

“They have definite conversations about it, and they definitely have a preconceived idea of how they want the picture to look,” says Kate Betts, author of Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style, and a former fashion editor herself.

So perhaps the editors of Vogue were surprised when the retouched images of Lena Dunham in their latest issue sparked a social media firestorm, led by the blog Jezebel

And Betts says that’s exactly the reason Millennials may have disliked Vogue’s spread of Dunham: “Millennials really want the real image and that’s what the conversation about the Lena Dunham cover was really about. She’s part of that generation and she’s baring it all on her TV so, so maybe people were confused that she was suddenly going Vogue on us and they wanted her to be herself.”

When it’s easier to find retouched images, the real ones stand out. 

Did Google punish Expedia for pulling a Rap Genius move?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:48

Investors are worried about Expedia.com's future, following news that the website has been demoted by Google in search engine results. The travel price comparison company's visibility in search results has reported dropped 25 percent, which on the Internet is the equivalent of moving your company's billboards from downtown Manhattan to Antarctica.

Neither company has said why yet, but there's speculation that Expedia may have engaged in the dubious practice of trying to buy links. That's what happened to rap lyrics website Rap Genius recently.

It could just be a tweak in Google's algorithm, which is constantly being updated by engineers. But there have also been rumors that the tech giant is experimenting with its own travel price comparison product.

And there are growing questions -- as the company faces an antitrust case in Europe -- about whether the company might have too much influence about how we access information on the web. 

Should Farmers Give John Deere And Monsanto Their Data?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:45

Farmers can now deliver data from their fields, minute by minute, to big agribusiness companies like Monsanto or John Deere. Those companies promise to use the data to help farmers make money. But some farmers worry that it could threaten their privacy and give the big companies too much power.

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How A Little Chill In The Air Could Help You Lose Weight

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:34

Researchers in the Netherlands suggest that something as simple as lowering temperatures in the office or at home can help people burn calories as they keep their body temperatures steady. Chilling out to shed pounds works best in combination with diet and exercise.

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Putting The Brake On Who Can See Your Car's Data Trail

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:29

Many cars can now track where we are, how fast we go and lots of other nuggets of information that can be accessed and mined. Some lawmakers and at least one car company say it's time to set some rules on driver privacy.

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Wrestling Fans Mourn Mae Young, 90 — A Pioneer Of The Ring

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:10

For years, she was known simply as The Great Mae Young. She started out in high school, wrestling boys and challenging top female wrestlers. Decades later, she took on far younger opponents and demanded to be "powerbombed" into folding tables by huge men.

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Sears, Roebuck: The 19th Century's Amazon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

Sears, Roebuck put out its first catalog in the 1890's. You could buy a watch, jewelry and, later on, saddles, sewing machines, silk stockings, even live singing canaries. “The Sears catalog was a bit of a godsend to rural consumers,” says Art Carden, an economics professor at Samford University’s Brock School of Business.

Hello, consumer economy!

The Sears catalog gave people easy access, good quality, good prices, delivered to their doorstep. “The Sears catalog was even good for urban consumers because it meant they didn’t have to shop at the even pricier department stores,” says Carden.

“It is exactly the late 19th and 20th century predecessor to Amazon,” says Daniel Raff, a professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

So where did things go so wrong for Sears? When they are going so right for Amazon? “The large reasons have to do with the rise of internet commerce and the decline of the attractiveness of physical stores,” says Raff.

In 1925, Sears opened its first store. Today, Sears and its sister store Kmart, have twice the retail square footage of JC Penney.

But shoppers don’t want stores. More and more want to shop without leaving home. A model that Sears, at least in the old days, was really good at.

A Growth Factor Heals The Damage To A Preemie's Brain — In Mice

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

Scientists have shown that damage to the brain's "white matter" is responsible for many of the developmental problems that very premature infants often face. Now researchers have also demonstrated that it's possible to prevent that sort of damage in mice.

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Happy 5th anniversary, bull market?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

The fifth anniversary of the bull market is right around the corner. The Dow Jones Industrial average is worth nearly triple what it was at its lowest point (that's 6,447 in March 2009).

Of course, the fifth anniversary of the bull run comes amid lots of talk about a market correction on the horizon. For a true correction to happen, the stock market has to drop at least 10%. That would mean the Dow Jones Industrial Average would have to fall 1,600 points (ouch).

Turns out, we're due for a fall. "The S&P 500 has averaged a correction every 18 months, and currently we haven’t had one since 2011. So we’re about 28 months overdue," says Alec Young, global equity strategist with S&P Capital IQ. 

"The rally is long in the tooth, but it is also a unique circumstance on a lot of levels," says Max Wolff, chief economist at ZT Wealth. Even so, Wolff still expects a correction. He says unemployment is high, economic growth has been slow, and then there’s the Federal Reserve: It's been pumping billions into our economy every month for years, and it’s hard to know what will happen as the Fed slows down the stimulus.

"We’re about to see, over the next six months, how much of the market’s rally was Fed policy, and how much of the market’s rally was the economy," says Wolff. "That makes everybody nervous and it should."

But a correction would probably not turn into a crash, says Gary Thayer, Chief Macro Strategist with Wells Fargo Advisors. He says corporate earnings are strong and most companies’ stock is not overvalued if you look at how much they’re taking in.  

"So, we’re expecting it would just be a temporary pullback in the market, not a reversal in the trend."

 So, even if the market’s bull run is over, we don’t necessarily have to brace for the bears.

Shorter Lines? For Elections Commission, It's Common Sense

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

President Obama last year appointed a commission to recommend ways that local election officials can shorten lines at the polls. On Wednesday, that commission is releasing its final report, offering suggestions on how to make improvements in the voting experience.

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Ahead Of World Cup, Brazil's Delays Have FIFA Concerned

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

Months before Brazil hosts the World Cup, preparations are going at breakneck speed to host the hundreds of thousands of tourists who will pour in to watch the extravaganza. Still, construction on several of the proposed stadiums is behind schedule, and infrastructure upgrades have been delayed, as well. Will Brazil be ready for the games?

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