National News

Ringleader Of Human Smuggling Ring Dies, Leaving A Complex Legacy

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-29 02:50

Cheng Chui Ping died of cancer in prison on Thursday. She made a career of smuggling thousands of Chinese immigrants to the U.S. and worked with a notoriously violent gang to enforce payment.

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Toyota of Texas

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-29 02:45

Toyota is moving its North American headquarters – all three of them. To Plano, Texas, just north of Dallas.

Right now the car company has its sales headquarters near Los Angeles, its manufacturing headquarters in Erlanger, Kentucky, and another headquarters in New York.

The move is part of reinvention at the company, says Columbia Graduate School of Business professor Rita Gunther McGrath.

"With the problems following on their latest recall and all the problems they had with unintended acceleration, they were in the process of rethinking a lot of things that had been taken for granted in that company, including things like location," she says.

Moving a large company offers a rare opportunity to alter a business's "social architecture" says McGrath. "It breaks through inertia, shakes up existing power relationships, and it changes the way people share information."

Old rationales for being located in different places were no longer as relevant as they were before. Los Angeles for example, where Toyota has its sales and marketing headquarters, no longer has the draw it once did.

"Once upon a time," says Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer, "the coast of California was the closest part of the mainland U.S. to Japan physically and that mattered," whether for transfer of people or cars. Now, the bulk of Toyotas in the U.S. are built in the U.S., from West Virginia to Indiana.

But why Plano, Texas?

It's closer to Toyotas plants, including its newest, most expensive one in San Antonio. Texas has tried to brand itself as a business-friendly place, and there were undoubtedly economic incentives offered by some constellation of state and or local governments.

But it's not just about the business. Toyota has to convince 4,000 people with families and hobbies and lives to move as well.

"This is difficult – this is a life event for a lot of people," says Dave Sullivan with Auto Pacific. People have to move their families, find new school districts, it's stressful. When Nissan moved to Nashville in 2005, many employees did not follow, creating significant challenges for the company.

Plano, part of greater Dallas, is more palatable than other options.

"Its mild climate, central location, transportation, quality of education – all of that is very desirable," says Kelley Blue Book's Brauer.

Texas also has no state income tax, which, when combined with the lower cost of living than Los Angeles or New York, is a powerful incentive in its own right.

Toyota says offices will move in stages and gradually, and that the move won't be complete until 2017.

Cities want to make your rooftop gardens profitable

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-29 02:18

On a recent Saturday morning in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the city's River Revitalization Corporation is showing off a plan to add green space to an area that's now dominated by heavy industry. And Lee Christie of architecture firm Perkins+Will is explaining some options.

"You'd be looking at more raised beds or more greenhouses," she says, "which really opens up the possibility for rooftops."

Rooftops have a lot of hidden potential. A new EPA study predicts that as cities grow hotter, replacing flat black rooftops with plants could cool the cities back down.

According to Phil Morefield, one of the co-authors of that study, "any sort of well-designed, well-maintained green roof will give some benefit for the building that it's installed on."

Those benefits include reversing urban warming, absorbing rain before it overburdens sewers, and providing habitat for butterflies.

There's just one problem: green roofs come with a big up-front cost. So now, some cities are experimenting with financial encouragement.

For example, Austin lets developers build more floor space if they include green roofs. And Seattle gives out credits and discounts for rooftop gardens.

"Properties that take advantage of that credit range from single family homes to a regional airport," says Seattle Urban Designer Dave LaClergue, "so they're very different in size and scale."

The gardens on top of the Chloe Apartments in Seattle. That's the Space Needle on the right.

Courtesy of Dave LaClergue/City of Seattle

But it's been a learning process. Many of Seattle's first rooftop gardens died, since they were designed with assumptions based on what worked in east-coast cities. And a garden that cools one city might have less of an effect in another.

"There really isn't a 'one-size fits all' strategy," says Britta Bierwagen, another co-author on that EPA study. "And there are a lot of things to consider."

Financial incentives are similarly fickle. In Nashville, a credit of $10 per square foot of green roof hasn't attracted a single taker. But Portland, Oregon, got an overwhelming response to a credit of just half that much.

That's because green roofs need to be customized to what the market in each city wants, as much as to the weather. One market might respond best to grants, while another prefers tax credits.

Courtesy of Dave LaClergue/City of Seattle

For example, in Portland, the incentive amount was determined in part by the region's damp climate and sewers that combine wastewater with stormwater. "It was the amount that we could apply that essentially would cost less to manage a gallon with a green roof than it would with a pipe," explains Portland Environmental Program Coordinator Matt Burlin.

And green roof incentives aren't just for major cities. In tiny Saluda, North Carolina, the Polk County Community Foundation provided a $6,000 grant for a green roof on the new restrooms at Pearson's Falls.

On a recent afternoon, foundation President and CEO Elizabeth Nager stopped by to see how the plants are filling in. It's looking good: "The roof resembles the forest floor in the glenn below the waterfall," she observes. "There are smooth rocks that fill the space where you expect to see traditional gutters."

It's more than just a few rocks and sage bushes, of course. It's part of a national experiment that's happening right over our heads.

Hiding pregnancy from the marketing machine

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-29 01:00

When couples find out they are expecting, they usually spread the news to family and friends as soon as possible. When Janet Vertesi, an assistant professor of sociology at Princeton University, found out she was pregnant, she made a very similar call to family and friends, but with very different intentions.

Those close to Vertesi and her husband were told not to post anything on social media sites that would reveal the couples' pregnancy. Vertesi had decided to take her pregnancy off the grid, not because she wasn't overjoyed, but because marketing bots that figure out when a woman is pregnant become relentless in their targeted advertising.

Vertesi says the project was inspired by the invasiveness of data driven marketing that seems to go unchecked. So for the last nine months, she and her husband have paid for all baby-related expenses in cash, avoided social media, and used Tor, a browser that lets you use the internet anonymously, to visit sites like Babycenter.com and Namberry.com. 

"So many of those websites also have trackers and cookies that know that you’re visiting so they can follow you around with advertising afterwards," says Vertesi. What she noticed in hiding her pregnancy from marketing bots was that her activity looked more like someone involved in illegal activity than someone about to have a baby. Tor, for example, is notoriously used for drug deals.

While she wouldn't recommend the experiment to others, Vertesi says it raised some interesting questions:

"What I would recommend is thinking seriously about how and where you want your data to go...That doesn’t mean, 'Don’t participate in social networks' or 'Don’t buy anything online.' But it does mean it’s time to think seriously about how and where we want to engage in these kinds of transactions."

Sterling's Tarnished History Of Alleged Discrimination

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-28 23:19

Observers say the Clippers owner's current trouble is only the latest in a 30-year record of racism in LA — although he has also been honored by the NAACP for his charity work.

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With Dogs And Batons, Bulgaria Tells Syrian Refugees To Turn Back

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-28 23:16

As civilians continue to pour out of Syria, some countries are pushing back and telling the refugees they aren't welcome. Bulgaria has been particularly harsh, according to Human Rights Watch.

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Weighing The Risks Of Warrantless Phone Searches During Arrests

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-28 23:14

Police have long been able to search people without a warrant at the time of their arrest. Two cases before the Supreme Court ask whether cellphones should be off-limits until police get permission.

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Craig Ferguson Announces Late-Night Retirement

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-28 21:51

The host of The Late Late Show announced Monday that he will step down at the end of the year. The move was no surprise after CBS announced that Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman next year.

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Tornadoes Kill 11 As Storms Move Across The South

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-28 21:42

After spawning deadly tornadoes that flattened homes and businesses in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, a storm system that also caused havoc in the Midwest had Georgia in its sights early Tuesday.

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Another Round Of Tornadoes Rakes Through The South

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-28 15:50

Severe damage was reported in Tupelo, Miss., where the mayor said homes and business were destroyed. The severe weather is expected to continue through the night.

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United Church Of Christ Challenges North Carolina Ban On Gay Marriage

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-28 15:13

Using a novel legal approach, the church argues that the state is violating the principle of "free exercise of religion" by denying it the right to marry people of the same sex.

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A post mortem for the 'worst video game ever'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-28 15:00

On Saturday, near the New Mexico town of Alamagordo, a group of video game enthusiasts, excavation specialists, and filmmakers started digging a hole in a desert landfill. Why? You may remember some months ago we talked about the legend that in the early 1980s, video game maker Atari secretly dumped tons of video games into a hole in the middle of the desert.

The reasons for this particular move remain a bit of a mystery, but certainly the game maker was in financial trouble. That's in part because of one particular game -- it was based on the movie E.T., and it did poorly. So poorly, in fact, that it's still described as the worst video game in history.

The man who designed Atari's E.T. game is Howard Scott Warshaw. He was there when the video game treasure trove was uncovered. Listen above for the post mortem. 

Will Jupiter align with Mars?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-28 14:18
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 14:09 Wikimedia Commons

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Tuesday, April 29th:

In Washington, the Federal Reserve begins a two-day meeting on interest rates. It's one of eight scheduled over the course of the year.

The Conference Board releases its April Consumer Confidence Index.

46 years ago, in the Age of Aquarius, "Hair" opened on Broadway. Let the sunshine in.

Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst was born on April 29, 1863. He built a media empire and a giant castle which you can tour in San Simeon, California.

And what's the deal with birthdays? Comedian Jerry Seinfeld turns 60.

Marketplace for Monday April 28, 2014by Michelle PhilippePodcast Title Will Jupiter align with Mars? Story Type BlogSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

If your company ID badge was a tracking device...

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-28 14:08
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 14:48 Courtesy of Ben Weber/Sociometric Solutions

A company called Sociometric Solutions has developed tracking badges for employees.

What if your company ID badge was a tracking device? You'd wear it from the moment you got to work in the morning til you clocked out at night. Your badge would constantly collect data that could potentially benefit you and the whole company.

Great news: It exists.

A company called Sociometric Solutions has developed this technology. They insert microphones, Bluetooth, and other proximity sensors into an employee’s company ID badge. So far, they've had a 90 percent participation rate in every rollout they've done.  

"What we’re trying to do is really quantify what people have always felt to be unquantifiable," says Ben Waber, President and CEO of Sociometric Solutions. "Things like, how are people interacting with each other? How do you talk to customers? How engaged are you in a conversation? And how is information flowing in an organization?"

How does Sociometric Solutions get workers to agree to participate in the research process?

“[We] don’t just come into a company and say, 'Here everybody, wear this sensor.' It's actually about a four week rollout process," says Waber. "We give people consent forms, which show them the actual database tables of what we collect."

Naturally, participants have had privacy concerns. But Waber tells them not to worry: "We won’t share your individual data with your company. We don't even keep your name in the database where we are calculating all the features."

Marketplace for Monday April 28, 2014Interview by David GuraPodcast Title If your company ID badge was a tracking deviceStory Type InterviewSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Ohio Will Increase Dosage Of Drugs In Lethal Injection

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-28 14:05

It took Dennis McGuire 24 minutes to die after the drugs were injected into his body back in January. After review, the state says he did not experience any pain, but it is upping the dosage.

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CarMax, Virgin Air, others abandon Clippers' ship

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-28 13:33
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 14:00 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A fan holds a sign in protest of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs.

The NBA is still investigating the legitimacy of a recording that appears to show Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks, but action from the corporate world was swift and decisive. Several major sponsors of the Clippers either "paused" or pulled their support from the team.

The used-car retailer CarMax and Virgin Airlines both announced they will cut ties to the Clippers immediately, while insurance company State Farm and the auto maker Kia Motors have suspended their sponsorships. It is difficult to be exact with the numbers on how much each company pays in sponsorship, but it will certainly be a blow to a team that was otherwise having a strong year. 

Listed No. 13 on Forbes' list of NBA team valuations, the Clippers are currently valued at $575 million, though many estimate the team could sell for more than that. It is also worth noting that Sterling bought the team in 1981, when they were based in San Diego, for $12 million.

This is not the first time the Clippers' owner has faced accusations of this nature -- in 2009, Sterling paid a settlement of $2.725 million in a federal housing discrimination case in which he was accused of excluding black and hispanic tenants from renting properties that he owned in Los Angeles.

 

by Tobin LowStory Type BlogSyndication PMPApp Respond No

Can pandas jump the shark?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-28 13:26
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 15:55 Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Bao Bao, the Giant Panda cub, in one of his first media appearances.

You know that in Washington, DC we like politics. What may surprise you is how much we love pandas.

At the National Zoo, there was my favorite: Rusty, the red panda. And now there's always a long line to see Bao Bao, the baby giant panda. We even have panda related press conferences.

The National Zoo sent an email to donors this morning advertising a "$6,000 VIP Bao Bao Tour package." That'll get you a private, behind-the-scenes tour to meet the giant panda cub, five valet parking passes and admission to a panda-themed cocktail reception.

 

Washington City Paper has decided we may have hit "peak panda" -- like "peak beard," but it looks more like this:

 

Baby Bao Bao at the National Zoo.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

 

Marketplace for Monday April 28, 2014by David GuraPodcast Title Can pandas jump the shark?Story Type BlogSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

How Russian sanctions could pinch Western companies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-28 13:23

President Obama announced new sanctions against Russia today. The sanctions target 17 Russian companies and seven individuals. Among those individuals is Igor Sechin, the head of Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft.

How will that affect Big Oil? Well, for starters, BP’s stock fell after the sanctions were announced. BP owns almost 20 percent of Rosneft. 

At its annual meeting earlier this month, BP said it’s committed to its investment in Rosneft, and will comply with any relevant sanctions. And if those sanctions really start to bite, will Moscow take a whack at BP or Exxon? Some oil analysts say no.

“Western oil companies and Russia are in bed together... they are strange bedfellows, but they are dependent on one another,” says Stephen Schork, of the Schork report.

So far, drilling is continuing as usual in Russia. But senior Obama administration officials say the sanctions could be ratcheted up.

 

 

Coal ash = environmental win (when you recycle it)

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-28 13:21

Coal ash jumped into the headlines this year when a pond maintained by Duke Energy spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina. It fouled the water supply, and brought national scrutiny to what sounded like a huge, and largely unregulated source of toxic waste.

The same week, to much less fanfare, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it endorsed the practice of using coal ash to make concrete. As it turns out, environmentalists largely agree. 

Engineers tend to be advocates. Steve Fleming is technical director for Chicago-based Prairie Materials, a large concrete supplier. And he is a fan of coal ash.

"We add it to our concrete to help with its performance," he says. "Both in its plastic state"— that is, when it’s wet, since coal ash makes concrete easier to work with — "and most important from my point of view, it helps the long-term performance of the concrete as well. It actually increases the strength, and makes the concrete last longer."

As an engineer, Fleming has long appreciated coal ash’s benefits. It took customers longer.

"When I first started, 18-19 years ago, I had a lot of customers who thought that fly-ash was not good," he says. "They said, 'It’s a waste product, and why are you putting it in my concrete?' Now, we have contractors who are requesting fly ash. If we ship them a straight cement mix, they’ll complain."

There are environmental advantages, too. Coal ash has toxins in it: arsenic, lead, mercury. Locking that stuff up in concrete seems safer than letting it sit in landfills or ponds that can contaminate groundwater.

The EPA endorsed using coal ash in concrete after comparing it to the toxins in Portland cement. Turns out, Portland cement is more toxic.

Portland cement is also much worse for the environment. "Portland cement production is one of the major greenhouse-gas sources  worldwide," says Craig Benson, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin.

He explains: Making Portland cement involves applying heat to limestone — which is made of calcium, oxygen and carbon — to get lime: calcium and oxygen.

"That process liberates a lot of carbon dioxide," he says. "That goes right up in the atmosphere."

There are more benefits: Using coal ash means not using resources to dig up limestone. Or burning fuel to heat it up. And because fly ash makes concrete last longer, it also means not replacing the concrete as often.

All of which also means saving money. Benson did a study on that. "It was really remarkable," he says. "Just the economic impact is about $5 billion to our economy."

Lisa Evans, a lawyer for Earthjustice, is reluctant to declare herself a fan of using coal ash for concrete. She’d rather we stop burning coal. Failing that, however, she thinks concrete is a good idea.

"I think characterizing it as a 'win' would be accurate," she says. "If you’re going to make coal ash in the first place, locking it up in concrete is preferable to a lot of the other ways we use or dispose of coal ash."  

But the consensus isn’t perfect. The EPA is currently deciding between two alternatives for regulating coal ash. Evans favors one that would regulate coal ash as hazardous waste, except for designated "beneficial re-uses" like concrete.  

That proposal worries John Ward, a spokesman for the coal-ash recycling industry, who runs a group called Citizens for Recycling First. He thinks the exception would just cause confusion. "How can you call something hazardous on the property of the people who made it," he says, "and expect you to want to use it in your house?"

He thinks that potential confusion could make utilities reluctant to allow recyclers to take coal ash at all.  

High-school graduation rate hits 80 percent for first time

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-28 13:10

For the first time, high school graduation rates in the U.S. are above 80 percent. That’s according to a report called “Building a GradNation.” The study was released today by a coalition of education groups, including Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates CenterAmerica’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The news represents a significant improvement since 2001, when 71 percent of American teenagers graduated from high school. Researchers say several things have changed since then. One, there is better data, so the public is more aware of the problem. Two, the accountability movement in education: think "No Child Left Behind."

Robert Balfanz,  co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center and a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University, says when researchers started digging into the numbers, it showed that just 12 percent of the nation’s high schools were producing nearly half of the dropouts. Those high schools are known in education circles as “dropout factories.”  

John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises and one of the principal authors of the report, says some of those “dropout factories” have closed. “But many of them were re-tooled or re-designed,” Bridgeland says. “Smaller learning environments have been created. More personalized, engaging, rigorous classrooms that keep these young people in school and on track to graduate.”

Some states have raised graduation rates dramatically. North Carolina went from a 68 percent graduation rate in 2005 to over 82 percent today.

Jim Key, area superintendent for high schools in Durham, North Carolina, says his district now starts tracking students who are potential dropouts while they are still in middle school. Then the district sends them to ninth grade a few weeks early.

“That gives them a chance to become more acclimated to high school, to build some positive relationship with a few teachers, administrators and counselors,” Key says. It just gives those students a leg up, if you will, on being prepared for high school, to understand the expectations and what’s at stake.”

 What’s at stake is earning power, among other things. John Bridgeland says a high school graduate “will make $1 million more over his or her life time, than a high school dropout.”

 College graduates, of course, do even better. The latest statistics, however, show that fewer high school graduates are applying to college. Just under two-thirds of the class of 2013 attended college in the fall.

By Shea Huffman/Marketplace

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