National News

New device aims for paranoid-parent market

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-10 01:00

The electronics-maker LG is, like many of its competitors, making a foray into wearable technology. However, this device has a distinctly different purpose — not to keep the wearer informed, but to keep a parent informed on their child.

The device, the KizON, is a child-tracking wristband — paired with the band is a smartphone app, where parents can look on a map and see where their kid is.

They can also call the wristband and talk to the child — if the child doesn’t answer, it will still connect to the child and hear surrounding sound.

While the device may reduce parental paranoia, it could be hard to get kids, especially older ones, to wear it

“It’s still think it’s going to have a steep climb for total acceptance, and probably easier is something that’s built into something your child already wants,” says Lindsey Turrentine, Editor in Chief of reviews at CNET.

From McDonald's To Organic Valley, You're Probably Eating Wood Pulp

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 23:29

Many processed foods contain cellulose, which is plant fiber that is commonly extracted from wood. It's used to add texture, prevent caking and boost fiber. And it's been around for ages.

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The Little Spacecraft That Couldn't

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 23:28

A team of volunteer space cowboys may have to say goodbye to ISEE-3 and to their dream of reviving for a final mission the creaky, 36-year-old hardware. Failed tests Wednesday suggest a fuel problem.

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The Little Spacecraft That Couldn't

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 23:28

A team of volunteer space cowboys may have to say goodbye to ISEE-3 and to their dream of reviving for a final mission the creaky, 36-year-old hardware. Failed tests Wednesday suggest a fuel problem.

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Bingeing On Bad News Can Fuel Daily Stress

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 23:27

Simply watching, reading or listening to steady news coverage of a traumatic event can be as stressful as experiencing the event in person, research suggests.

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Could A Socialist Senator Become A National Brand?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 23:23

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders opposes war and advocates for veterans. Even in the most conservative corner of Vermont, he's managed to do well. Now there's buzz that Sanders may run for president.

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Obama Turns To Gov. Perry In Seeking A Solution To Border Crisis

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 16:28

After a meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, President Obama addressed the influx of migrant children on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Congress Has The Ability To Fix Immigration Crisis, Obama Says

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 15:29

His remarks in Dallas followed a meeting with faith leaders and local officials, including Gov. Rick Perry, to discuss the large number of unaccompanied minors at the border.

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Last-Resort Antibiotics In Jeopardy As Use Rises Globally

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 15:18

Antibiotic sales in clinics and pharmacies around the world rose by more than a third over a decade. Now drugs reserved for the most dangerous bacteria are at risk of losing their effectiveness.

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For Kids In Immigration Court, Legal Counsel Is Catch As Catch Can

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 15:14

Advocacy groups have sued the federal government for not providing lawyers to children in deportation proceedings. Unlike criminal courts, these courts don't provide representation for defendants.

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Interpreting The IRS Emails, Washington-Style

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 15:01

Throughout the yearlong investigation, congressional Republicans and Democrats have taken the same evidence and come to diametrically opposed conclusions.

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An Actor, A University And A Famous Name Lead To A Lawsuit

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 14:32

The estate of John "Duke" Wayne and Duke University are fighting over commercial use of their shared name. Although the actor was always known as Duke, nicknames don't have much standing in court.

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Report Says FBI, NSA Spied On American Muslims

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 14:21

The men quoted in the story by reporters Glenn Greenwald and Murtuza Hussain say they were targeted because they were Muslims. But it is unclear why they were targeted.

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On Calif. Cattle Ranch, Students Wrangle With Meaning Of Manhood

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 13:52

Deep Springs College is an all-male school — and a working ranch. It sounds very macho, but the increasingly diverse student body says being a man is all about questioning the meaning of masculinity.

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Should President Obama Visit The Texas Border?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 13:49

There are plenty of reasons, for and against, a presidential visit to the border. In any case, a visit wouldn't do much to diminish the criticism over the administration's handling of the crisis.

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Keeping paperwork from blocking the road to college

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-09 13:41

Yvaunna Brown just graduated from Hazelwood West High School and feels like the future is wide open.

She’s thinking about community college, or maybe the University of Missouri-St. Louis is a better fit. Brown is dead set on one thing, though: becoming the first person in her family to go to college.

“And that’s pretty exciting,” Brown said. “That’s a big deal for me.” 

It’s also daunting. Loads of paper work must be completed and the deadlines will start coming fast.

“You try to figure it out for yourself,” Brown said.  “Then again, you do always need help from someone to give you some guidance.”

So, on a recent morning she stopped by the High School to College Center on St. Louis’ Delmar Loop. There’s not much to the place, just some folding tables and a couple of cubicles. Modest accommodations aside, the center is part of a growing effort across the nation to help more low-income and first generation students like Brown find their way to campus in the fall.  

“A majority of the students, they’re afraid so they don’t do anything,” said Kristine Alphin, a counselor at Northwest High School in Cedar Hill, Missouri. “The deadlines pass and they’re in a position where they don’t end up going.”

What Alphin’s describing are the leaks in America’s high school to college pipeline. The phenomenon is called summer melt. While it affects kids from all backgrounds, the highest rates are among poor and first generation students.

Nationally, about one in five poorer students don’t end up enrolling even after they’ve received acceptance letters. Drill down into the data and that number could be as high as 40 percent for students who plan to attend a community college.    

Researchers think students get tripped up on all the steps that come after receiving an acceptance letter. The summer can be especially tricky if poor or first-generation students lack a network of family who’ve successfully charted a course to college. On top of that, after graduation most students no longer have watchful high school counselors and have yet to come under the wing of university advisors. 

Many of the obstacles are related to poverty. For a student in an unbanked household, for instance, something as small as sending a deposit to reserve university housing can prove difficult.              

Most of the snags, though, are related to financial aid. There’s a dizzying web of master promissory notes, public loans, private loans and fast approaching deadlines. Just handing over proof of income to qualify for a need based loan can be a hurdle, Alphin said.   

“You know, even a letter saying that 'your family doesn’t have any means, so we need to verify that you have no means',” Alphin said. “Well that process can be very intimating for families.”

St. Louis Graduates, a network of local corporations, nonprofits and educators, runs the center. The group’s mission is for half of St. Louis area residents to have a postsecondary degree by 2020. With that in mind, the coalition pulled together $52,000 in grants and donations to hire staff like Alphin for the summer.

Yvaunna Brown (left) works with counselor Kristine Alphin (right) at the High School to College Center. One of the goals is to help students learn to advocate for themselves.

Tim Lloyd/St. Louis Public Radio

Money is also available to help with things like covering a family’s travel expenses so they can attend a freshman welcome event. There’s cash for small expenses, too. For example Brown needed $15 to order extra copies of her high school transcripts.     

The center is only open during the summer months, when students are most likely to run into problems. Faith Sandler, co-chair of St. Louis Graduates, said potential funders like to see resources focused on a clearly defined area of need.  

“Sometimes something simple happens over the summer that derails their plans,” Sandler said. “The last thing we want as a community is to do all that work to support and encourage our young people and then let them down between June and August.” 

When the center first opened its doors last year, organizers hoped to provide onsite counseling to 100 students. They wound up doubling that number, and by the end of the summer the staff helped 214 students.

Sandler said most of them stopped by more than once.     

“Once they got accustomed to what we’re doing and knew the faces, they’d walk back through the door with another question,” Sandler said.  

Organizers were able to keep tabs on 124 students, of which 86 percent ended up taking classes on either a full- or part-time basis. St. Louis Graduates figures it can build on that momentum this year and tucked flyers advertising the center in the diploma covers of more than 10,000 St. Louis area graduates.        

But as in business, a big chunk of the center’s marketing efforts are built on a time-honored axiom: location, location, location.

Sandler said having office space donated by Washington University on the Loop puts counselors near a popular hangout for teens. That ups the potential for curious students to walk into the center.  Close proximity to mass transit doesn't hurt, either. But she said word of mouth and social media remain the best ways to advertise the center.

“Students who are low income and first generation are just trying to make it through,” Sandler said. “Coming in here is the first step.”

The next may very well include an introduction to something called Bridgit.

Hey – U on track?

Teenagers spend a whole lot of time on their cell phones, that’s hardly a revelation. In fact, a study by the Pew Research Center found that 63 percent of teens send text messages on a daily basis as compared to only 6 percent who email every day.

In the digital age it stands to reason that successfully communicating with teenagers means getting on their phones. That’s the basic premise behind Bridgit, a new software platform being tested at the counseling center in St. Louis, a similar center in Kansas City and five high schools in Tennessee.

Developed by the St. Louis-based nonprofit College Bound with $750,000 in funding from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Bridgit’s job is to construct extra scaffolding around efforts to build up college enrollment. 

Students who get services at the center are asked to fill out a survey before they leave and the information is handed over to Bridgit. After that, Bridgit sends students text messages about all the things they need to do to stay on track. By getting specifics about each student, the virtual nudges can be individualized. Messages can be sent to remind students to submit their immunization records or to stay on top of financial aid deadlines.     

Apps that help kids keep on track:

  • Bridgit - Used by counseling centers and high schools. Students complete a survey, and Bridgit keeps them on track by sending automated reminder texts for financial-aid and other deadlines.
  • BuzzMob - This tool can creates a private social-media network for teachers, parents and students to share news, photos and notifications.
  • Course Signals – This is one of several educational platforms where college professors or teachers can track student progress and engagement, and alert students by text messages or email if they are not performing well.
  • FutureBound - Researchers at USC turn the college-application process into a game, by giving students virtual deadlines for applications, scholarships, and financial aid. The game also shows the consequences for missing deadlines.
  • Google Apps for Education – Teachers can monitor kids in the cloud, during class forums, essay writing and other activities. They can then send text notifications.
  • Remind 101 - This simple app lets teachers text students and parents directly with announcements and reminders. Added benefit, there’s no way to text back.

 

After the first 10 days of its rollout this spring, Bridgit’s database had information on more than 2,000 students. And because Bridgit has the ability to track when a student completes a step toward enrollment, it also serves as an early warning system. 

Should a student start to slide off the rails, Bridget can send up a flare.      

“And counselors can use the Bridgit system to pinpoint those students and focus their attention on those students in particular,” said Lindsay Page, an assistant professor of education at the University of Pittsburgh.

Page and Ben Caslteman, her research partner and University of Virginia assistant professor of education, have studied the causes and possible solutions for summer melt among poor and first generation students since 2009.  The two plan to put Bridgit through its paces, crunching student data to get a feel for how well the software works.

“This is the kind of strategy that can move the needle,” Page said.

Similar experiments with texting are underway around the country. For example, state education officials in West Virginia are piloting a text message program to reduce summer melt at 14 high schools and four colleges. New York City and Minnesota are experimenting with similar systems. The strategy is also finding its way into other public information campaigns geared toward teens, including an anti-smoking project by the National Cancer Institute.  

While not a surefire solution, previous research by Page and Castleman suggests targeted text messaging systems can be successfully woven into efforts geared toward reducing summer melt. And with a price tag of about $7 a student, the idea is relatively cheap when compared to the amount of taxpayer money that gets poured into ensuring students are ready for college.       

To reach their conclusion, the pair looked at data from text message campaigns in four cities: Dallas, Tex.; Boston, Lawrence and Springfield, Mass. At three out of four locations, the texting programs cooled off rates of summer melt.

In Lawrence and Springfield -- where the poverty rate in each city is just north of 28 percent and collectively fewer than one in five residents have a bachelor’s degree -- combined enrollment rates for students who received text messages were seven percentage points higher when compared to students who did not receive texts.

In Dallas, enrollment rates for students who received text messages increased by four percentage points. A text messaging system in Boston -- where school- and community-based counseling services already help students transition from high school to college -- did not bolster student enrollment rates. 

Page said the possible applications for texting systems extend beyond the summer between high school and college. 

“We’ve started to investigate using similar strategies to help student persist in college,” Page said.  

The pair has also looked at data from a pilot program that sent text message reminders to first-year students in Boston and Springfield, Mass. about refiling their federal aid paperwork. The program didn’t have a significant impact on the number of students at four-year schools who moved on to their sophomore year. But for community college students -- for whom rates of summer melt are the highest -- the number of students who moved on to their second year was 12 percentage points higher than those who did not receive the text messages.  

“It’s very encouraging to us,” Page said. “These kind of low-cost strategies not only can help students get into the doors of college, but they can also help students persist in college several semesters later.”

Ripple effects

Jazmin Hoey sat at a folding table near the front of the High School to College Center and hammered out an email to her financial aid advisor. The bubbly 19-year-old is studying early childhood education at Southeast Missouri State University and just wrapped up her first year of college. 

“If it wasn’t for them I probably wouldn’t be able to go to school,” Hoey said. “I thought I had everything together, but I guess I was wrong.”

Getting started wasn’t easy. Hoey said she was filled with anxiety when she walked into the center for the first time. 

She had an acceptance letter and completed her federal aid application, but she wasn’t sure about what would come next. At the same time, opening up to an authority figure can be tough for kids in her situation, Hoey said. 

“It was a lot of pressure,” she recalled.

Now, as an intern at the counseling center this summer, part of her job is to make sure students walking through the door don’t get cold feet.  

“If I see someone my age I’m like, ‘Oh, well maybe they were in my shoes before me,’” Hoey said.  “’Maybe it wasn’t so hard.’”

Part of the center’s mission is not only to advocate for students, but to give them the skills they need to advocate for themselves. That’s especially important for students from low-income high schools, who according to national data are about 7 percentage points less likely to enroll in a second year of higher education when compared to their counterparts from wealthier families.        

“It’s not like they need the center to do everything for them,” Hoey said. “Just to give them a little nudge, a little push.”    

The center’s also giving another, perhaps unexpected, nudge to local educators.  

"Based on what we did here last summer, we were more proactive at my high school,” said Kristine Alphin,  the guidance counselor. “One of my co-workers sent me a list of at-risk kids who we’re not 100 percent sure are going to make it from high school to college so we can contact them this summer.  And just say, ‘hey, is there anything you need? We’re available for you.’”

Alphin said the hands on experience she’s getting from working at the counseling center means she can make good on that offer.

“We’ve talked about it, but it’s always just been talk,” Alphin said. “Now, hopefully we can take the things we’ve learned here and put it in place at Northwest.”

An earlier version of this article was published on St. Louis Public Radio.

Is Foster Farms A Food Safety Pioneer Or A Persistent Offender?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-09 13:35

The California chicken producer has been dogged by food safety problems at its plants for months. But Foster Farms may also now be one of the country's cleanest, safest sources of chicken products.

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Alcoa wants to be known for more than aluminum

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-09 13:19

It’s not hard to hear the air quotes Morningstar analyst Andrew Lane uses when he describes the conference call in which Alcoa executives discussed the company's earnings yesterday. "CEO Klaus Kleinfeld referred to the company numerous times as a 'lightweight multi-material innovation powerhouse,'" says Lane, who thinks the company will keep making money by making aluminum for a long time. 

However, Lane also says, yes: A lot of Alcoa’s profits come from new lines in metals like titanium. And special alloys in the aluminum body for the new Ford F-150 truck coming out next year.

The company also has a substantial aerospace business, which is why it has a spot on Josh Sullivan's list. Sullivan, an analyst at Sterne Agee, generally covers the aerospace business, not raw materials companies. When did a company known for mining and smelting metal turn itself into an aerospace company?  

"Well, Alcoa’s actually always been an aerospace company," says Sullivan. Because to build an airplane to fight World War II -- or, later, a rocket ship, or a 737 -- required the strongest, lightest metal available. "We don’t think of aluminum as an advanced metal," says Sullivan, "but at one point it was the most advanced metal out there."

In fact, Alcoa "was always a high-tech company," says business historian George David Smith from New York University. Through the first half of the 20th century, Alcoa maintained a major R&D department. "Like many new technologies of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, there wasn't much academic wisdom about these materials," he says. "Alcoa had to set up a scientific laboratory, really, to learn about the properties of the metal and how it could work with it."

The company's strategy shifted after it lost a big antitrust case to the U.S. government after World War II. Among the outcomes, says Smith: "They had to provide their patent rights to their new competitors -- namely Kaiser and Reynolds Corporations -- free of charge."

With job vacancies up, employers take longer to hire

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-09 13:19

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job vacancies is back to where it was before the recession. In May, there were some 4.6 million open positions.

You might think that has to be good news for out-of-work Americans, but hiring is still moving slowly. “The mean duration of U.S. job vacancies rose to 25.1 working days in May,” the Dice-DFH Vacancy Duration Measure reports. 

A lot of experts blame this on something called “the skills gap.” Since 2007, there has been this narrative, that employers aren’t hiring, or they are taking their time hiring, because they can’t find enough qualified candidates.

“The skills mismatch is kind of like the zombie explanation of the labor market that just won’t go away,” says Sylvia Allegretto, with the Institute for Research on Labor & Employment.

It is true that, during the downturn, employers could be choosy if they chose to hire at all, but the economy has improved, the unemployment rate has been coming down steadily, and Allegretto says that is not because all of a sudden people have all the right skills.

“If we had severe mismatches throughout the labor market, we would be seeing more wage growth than we are seeing,” says Barry Hirsch, W.J. Usery Chair of the American Workplace at Georgia State University. Qualified workers would be able to demand more money, and employers would have to meet that demand.

There is a bigger reason why hiring is not happening faster, according to Matt Freedman, an associate professor of economics at Cornell University: “Employers still have a lot of lingering uncertainty about the durability of this recovery.” 

They’re cautious, and Freedman says, there is no reason for them to hurry. 

“There is little cost to posting a vacancy, but potentially a lot of upside if you can find a really qualified person who is willing to work for you for very little money.”

For employers, that may be something worth waiting for. 

The number of job vacancies is back up to where it was *before the recession.  You’d think that’s gotta be good news for out-of-work Americans…  But *hiring is still moving *slowly, even though *employers posted more than four-and-a-half *million jobs in May.  A lot of experts blame something called “the skills gap.” But that doesn’t tell the *whole story.  Marketplace’s David Gura reports.

 

GURA1:

Since 2007,

There’s been this narrative:

 

That employers aren’t hiring,

Or they’re taking their *time hiring,

Because they can’t find enough *qualified candidates.

 

Sylvia Allegretto is with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment

At U-C Berkeley:
ALLEGRETTO1:

The skills mismatch is kind of like the zombie explanation of the labor market that just won’t go away.

 

GURA2:

It’s *true

That during the downturn,

Employers *could be *choosy.

*If they *chose to hire at all…

 

But the economy’s gotten better.

The unemployment rate’s been coming down *steadily,

And Allegretto says that’s *not because

All of a sudden

People have all the *right skills.

 

Barry Hirsch is a professor of economics at Georgia State:

 

                HIRSCH1:

If we had severe mismatches throughout the labor market, we would be seeing more wage growth than we are seeing.

 

GURA3:

*Qualified workers

Would be able to *demand more money,

And *employers would have to meet that demand.

 

Matt Freedman is a labor economist at Cornell,

And he says there’s a *bigger reason why

Hiring is not happening *faster:

 

                FREEDMAN1:

                Employers still have a lot of lingering uncertainty about the durability of this recovery.

 

GURA4:

They’re *cautious. 

And really,

Freedman says,

There’s *no *reason for them to *hurry:

 

                FREEDMAN2:

There is little cost to posting a vacancy, but potentially a lot of upside if you can find a really qualified person who is willing to work for you for very little money.

 

GURA5:

And for employers
*that may be something worth waiting for.

 

SOC:

In Washington, I’m David Gura, for Marketplace.

What's in a settlement?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-09 13:19

Word on the street today is that Citigroup is close to settling with the Department of Justice over mortgage bonds it issued before the housing crash. Rumor has it, Citi will pay $7 billion to settle allegations of wrongdoing. That’s a lot of money, to be sure, but it’s a far cry from the $13 billion JPMorgan paid last year to settle similar allegations.

Turns out, there's an art and a science to figuring out a settlement like this. "They begin by looking at what’s actually underwritten by Citibank and the next things is trying to compare that with what happened before," says James Cox, professor of corporate and securities law at Duke University. What happened before being JPMorgan’s settlement.

"Their total global settlement was about $13 billion on $460 billion of residential mortgage backed securities underwritten. That represented about a 3 percent penalty" says Charles Peabody, a partner at financial research firm, Portales Partners.

Using that formula, Citigroup should only owe about $2.5 billion, not $7 billion. Citi sold about $90 billion worth of mortgage backed securities. But, Peabody says, Citi played a more active role in its investments. "Most of Citigroup’s losses were in bonds that they underwrote themselves, where a lot of the losses that came from JP Morgan came from firms they acquired during the financial crisis." Namely, toxic mortgage machines Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, which JP Morgan acquired, under the supervision of the government.

And then there’s the element of negotiation.

Citigroup may have floated the $7 billion dollar figure to see how shareholders would take it.

"They may resist and push back more if they’re getting a very negative reaction from the market," says John Coffee, director of Columbia University’s Center on Corporate Governance.

So far, Citigroup investors are holding pretty steady. Coffee says that could tempt Citi execs to approve the $7 billion settlement and hope the news moves on quickly. After all, next on the chopping block is Bank of America, the biggest mortgage underwriter of them all. Its fine is expected to be as high as $20 billion. 

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