National News

Powerful Narcotic Painkiller Up For FDA Approval

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:29

The FDA is weighing the pros and cons of a drug that would, for the first time, combine morphine and oxycodone in a single pill. Critics warn that it could launch a new wave of abuse.

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'Ready For Hillary': Clinton's Campaign-In-Waiting

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:28

A shadow campaign is underway, raising small donations by selling T-shirts and baby onesies and holding fundraisers, all just waiting for Clinton to say that, yes, she is running for president.

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British Marine's New Mission: Save All Of Kabul's Street Animals

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:27

Street dogs and cats find treatment and get linked up with foreign adopters at a clinic that's helping lower the rabies threat in Kabul.

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Fields And Farm Jobs Dry Up With California's Worsening Drought

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:26

For the first time in six years, many California farmers have been told they'll get little or no federal irrigation water. And as farms run dry, workers are deciding to pack up and move away.

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Death Count In Ferry Sinking Tops 100

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:06

Officials in South Korea said Tuesday that confirmed fatalities had reached 104, with nearly 200 people still missing.

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Who's Protecting Whom From Deadly Toxin?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 16:16

Last year a scientist said he'd found a new form of botulinum toxin, and was keeping details secret to keep the recipe from terrorists. But other science and public health labs were shut out, too.

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Netflix Says It Will Raise New Customer Subscription Rates

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 15:46

The video-streaming announced plans to raise its monthly rates for new customers by $1 or $2 a month. It also said it had gained 2.25 million new customers.

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Sharp Rise In MERS Cases May Mean The Virus Is Evolving

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 15:38

A rash of infections in Saudi Arabia could be a warning signal that the deadly virus has reached a tipping point and is ready to spread out of the Middle East, scientists worry.

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The costs of climbing Mount Everest

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 15:00

The deadliest avalanche in Mount Everest history is leading Sherpas in Nepal to consider a labor strike. The boycott would protest the amount of money provided by the Nepalese government to families of the deceased. Thirteen Sherpas were killed and more are presumed dead after last Friday's fatal avalanche. The government currently provides about $400 per family and the strike would aim to increase that amount to $10,000. 

Sherpa guides have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, but many Sherpas are attracted by the relatively high pay of assisting climbers up Mount Everest. Sherpas make at least $2,000 per climbing season, considerably more than the median income of Nepal, which comes in at around $540 per year. Elite Sherpas can make as much as $4,000 - $5,000 in just two months. By comparison, Western guides make as much as $50,000, plus tips.

Alpine Ascents is a company the leads Everest climbs for $65,000 per person. Five of the Sherpas who died in last week's avalanche were employed by that company. Director of Programs Gordon Janow understands the importance of the Sherpa role in the business. "They're setting up the camps, carrying oxygen, walking side-by-side one-on-one," Janow says. Without Sherpas, he continues, "it'd be an entirely different style of expedition."

Perhaps even more difficult than the task of accompanying climbers to the summit, Sherpas also carry supplies and equipment on the climb. Legally, they are only supposed to carry 8 to 10 kilograms (17 to 22 pounds), but willingness to carry double that can also lead to double the earnings

 Right now, it's the start of climbing seasson and business is booming.

"You know there's a lot of money in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars that changes hands on Everest every year," says Nick Heil, editorial director of and author of "Dark Summit," a book about the commercialization of climbing the Earth's highest mountain. "Only a small percentage of that goes into the hands and pockets and accounts of the work force that basically enables all of this to take place."

Sherpa's wages are not a part of the proposed boycott, but Janow says they're also worth discussing. However, he acknowledges it's a balancing act. If compensation rises too much, it could damage Nepal's climbing industry altogether. 

"Like anything else, does it push the cost of it up so people aren't going?" Janow asks.

Sherpas face more than just the fear of death. Being a Sherpa means frequent exposure to injuries, yet there is little support for those who become disabled on the job. The Sherpas are also asking the government to provide $10,000 in compensation for guides who can no longer work in mountaineering due to their injuries.

Skechers a winner this Boston Marathon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 14:42
Monday, April 21, 2014 - 17:33 Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Meb Keflezighi of the United States celebrates after winning the 118th Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. And check out his shoes.

It was a big day for the Boston Marathon, of course, and also for men's winner Meb Keflezighi. 2:08:37 was his winning time.

Also enjoying a victory lap today, if you will, are Skechers. Yes, the sneaker company voted most unlikely to be associated with marathon winners.

Keflezighi was wearing them for their first marathon win ever.

Marketplace for Monday April 21, 2014by Kai RyssdalPodcast Title Skechers a winner this Boston MarathonStory Type BlogSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Skechers a winner this Boston Marathon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 14:33

It was a big day for the Boston Marathon, of course, and also for men's winner Meb Keflezighi. 2:08:37 was his winning time.

Also enjoying a victory lap today, if you will, are Skechers. Yes, the sneaker company voted most unlikely to be associated with marathon winners.

Keflezighi was wearing them for their first marathon win ever.

Alaska OKs Bill Making Native Languages Official

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 14:05

If you're inclined, you could soon speak Tlingit, Inupiaq, or Siberian Yupik in Alaska with the knowledge that those and 18 other languages (including English) are officially recognized by the state.

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Why it makes economic sense to send a letter for $0.49

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:52
Friday, April 25, 2014 - 16:30 David Weinberg/Marketplace

Postal worker Dalyncia Stevenson at the sorting facility in Los Angeles, where she took our letter and sent it on its way to a small island in the South Pacific.

Every other week we try to answer some of the questions that you've submitted for our series, I’ve Always Wondered. This week, we are going to answer a question from listener Mark Robbins: "How is it possible that for less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can send a letter halfway across the globe to a remote island in the South Pacific?" 

Marketplace reporter David Weinberg wanted to know, too. And thus his week-long experiment began: 

Monday: The Post Office's spectacular scale.

Tuesday: How postage gets divided among nations (spoiler: not evenly).

Wednesday: Until the 1960s, it didn't matter if the Postal Service made money.

Thursday: Why the USPS doesn't do email

Friday: How else could we get a message to the people of Tanna? (serious question)

Monday: The Post Office's spectacular scale.

Listener Mark Robbins sent us his question via email. He chose, for his example, the island of Tanna, about a thousand miles west of Australia. I found an address for a bar on the island, and before I sent the letter, I called Robbins to ask if he had anything he'd like to say to the people of Tanna.

“Hello from chilly northeastern Pennsylvania. Wish I were there.”

I dropped the letter in the mailbox with a $1.15 global forever stamp. From there, it was taken to the main Los Angeles sorting facility, a 1 million square foot building  where I met Ken Starks, the acting manager of plant support operations.

And herein lies the answer to Mark’s question: The reason you can send a letter across the ocean for less than the price of a cup of coffee is because of the staggering economy of scale of the USPS.

Take, for example this one machine:

This delivery bar code sorting machine processes 30,000-40,000 pieces of mail per hour. The minimum amount of postage required to send a letter is $0.49. So nearly every day, this one machine processes at least $20,000 in postage revenue per hour. And this is just one of several machines in a single sorting facility.

The USPS handles half of all the mail in the world. In 2013 the postal service generated $65.2 billion in revenue. It has more retail locations in the U.S. than McDonald's, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart combined. It's the second largest employer in the U.S. behind Wal-Mart, and the median salary of a U.S. postal worker is about $53,000.

So for every letter that travels across the globe, there are millions that travel much shorter distances. They subsidize the cost of international letters.

Tuesday: How postage gets divided among nations (spoiler: not evenly).

To send our letter to the island of Tanna, I purchased a global forever stamp for $1.15. By the time it arrives it will have traveled on multiple on-the-ground vehicles and airplanes in multiple countries.

This is what the inside of a postal truck looks like.

David Weinberg/Marketplace

So how does that $1.15 get divided among all nations? Here are the steps:

Step 1: Receive Payment for Postage

The origin country of the letter gets to keep 100 percent of the postage revenue. For now…

Step 2: Weight it

The island of Tanna is in the country of Vanuatu, which is one of the 192 member countries of the Universal Postal Union. At the end of the year, every member of the UPU adds up the weight of all the mail it delivered for other countries.

Step 3: Pay Your Dues

The UPU has established a complicated system of terminal dues that countries pay each other for mail delivered outside its borders. So if the USPS delivered 2,000 kilograms of mail from Vanautu in 2013, and Vanautu only delivered 1,000 kilograms U.S. mail from the U.S., then Vanautu will have to pay terminal dues to the U.S. How does that money get divided up among the multiple countries that handle the letter? 

Google Maps

Short answer: It doesn’t get divided for each individual piece of mail. Instead, countries pay terminal dues based on the overall weight of mail shipped between them.

These rates are decided by The Universal Postal Union.

Wednesday: Until the 1960s, it didn't matter if the Postal Service made money.

And now our letter to Vanuatu takes a moment to ask itself the question: "Why am I not an email?"

The Postal Service is, as they know all too well, losing money

Historian Richard John says, this isn't a new story -- it just didn't matter as much in the country's early days. When the Postal Service was established in 1775 -- with Ben Franklin as the country's first Postmaster -- it functioned as a government agency, with no real mandate to break even.

And as the country expanded, the Postal Service did too. They were often at the forefront of new transportation technologies -- think: stagecoaches, motorcycles, railroads, airplanes, and even missiles.

A city carrier in Washington, D.C., gathers mail from a post-mounted collection box using \"The Flying Merkel,\" a belt-driven, two-cylinder V-twin motorcycle, circa 1911. The use of motorcycles for mail collection and delivery in cities peaked in the 1920s. Four-wheeled automobiles and trucks, with their larger capacities, soon became the vehicles of choice. 

Courtesy of the United States Postal Service

"The Post Office was very quick to give contracts to flyers. Charles Lindbergh. And the airlines got an absolutely essential boost from that postal funding in 1920s and 30s," John says. "In more recent period, the 50s, 60s and 70s, optical scaning recognition are technologies the Post Office [supported]."

How'd they manage to pay for all this innovation?

"Congress used to foot the bill when the institution was running a deficit," John says. "Coroporate money doesn't become important til 1900."

And even then, John says, these external funds competed with "a thought experient about how our nineteenth century forbearers believed politics should be conducted with major federal subsidies to make it possible to spread the news, which remained a central mandate. Newspapers and magazines -- LIFE Magazine was a famously important magazine in 1960s -- was more or less destroyed by changes in postal rates. It got more expensive to mail, and it was no longer economical. So it's a remarkable odyssey for an institution a lot of peope cared about." 

Today's assumption that the postal service should break even took root in the early 1970s. Postal worker strikes prompted then-President Richard Nixon to pass the Postal Reorganization Act in 1971, which turned the agency into a semi-independent business -- and as a semi-independent business, money started to matter. The Postal Service hasn't used taxpayer money since 1982, with a few exceptions, such as sending absentee ballots to Americans overseas. Today, the USPS relies on the costs of postage and sales for almost all of their expenses.

Eddie Hubbard (left) and William E. Boeing stand in front of a Boeing C-700 seaplane near Seattle, Washington, after returning from a survey flight to Vancouver, British Columbia, on March 3, 1919. They brought with them a pouch with 60 letters, making this the first international mail flight.

Boeing Airplane Company/Collection of United States Postal Service

Some say the Postal Service stopped innovating because its business model changed, and the funds simply weren't there.

Tomorrow, we'll talk with someone who thinks the story isn't so simple. 

Thursday: Why the USPS doesn't do email

Why isn’t there an email address available to the public -- one that carries with it the same privacy laws that apply to postal mail?

Shiva Ayyadurai asked USPS management that same question in 1997, the year he calls "The Crossover," when email volume exceeded postal mail volume. At the time, Ayyadurai says the USPS did not see email as a threat to first-class mail. And in 1997, there really was no reason to be concerned -- during the three years leading up to 1997, the USPS posted cumulative earnings of $4.6 billion and, First-Class mail was up by 13 percentage points.

Ayyadurai calls himself the inventor of email, a claim that has been widely disputed, says he has a vested interest in the answer. It would take 15 years of criticism, but in 2012 Shiva Ayyadurai  produced a report, funded by the USPS, outlined several ways for the USPS could integrate email into its business model. Ayyadurai says the USPS did respond after he submitted his research.


Friday: How else could we get a message to the people of Tanna? (serious question)


In all probability, our letter is still on its way to Tanna. 

Which raises the question: How else could we convey Mark's message to this small island nation? What are your ideas, Internet?

Send them to us via Facebook or in the comments below. Or, you know, via snail mail. 

Marketplace for Monday April 21, 2014

Answers to the big questions behind small, simple, ubiquitous things in the world of business.

by David WeinbergPodcast Title Why it makes economic sense to send a letter for $0.49Story Type FeatureSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

U.S. Marshal Fatally Shoots Defendant In Utah Courtroom

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:52

The alleged gang member was killed when he reportedly lunged at a witness and was shot several times in the federal courtroom in Salt Lake City.

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Fertilizer for farmers competes with oil for rail cars

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:37

It’s just about time for spring planting season in the Upper Midwest. But to plant, farmers need fertilizer, and the trains that ship fertilizer are busy. Shipments of crude oil have squeezed out other freight and now the federal government has stepped in, ordering two railroads to make room. 

To farmers waiting for their fertilizer, the problem seems obvious. Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmer’s Union, says agricultural shipments are way behind: "What I’m hearing from farmers back home is that these oil cars are moving just like clockwork. And there is very much the sentiment: They have been given some sort of priority treatment by the railroads.”

The government has ordered two railroads, BNSF and Canadian Pacific, to ensure the delivery of fertilizer for spring planting. A BNSF spokesperson said in an interview that the railroad is not favoring oil over fertilizer. Traffic is up, but consumer products are the growth leader, not crude oil. BNSF does say it sets rates individually, according to the market.  Canadian Pacific says it also sets rates individually, depending on the type of freight. 

“It’s called differential pricing,"  says Steve Sharp,  president of Consumers United for Rail Equity. "The railroads charge different prices per car or per pound or whatever, depending on the commodity and what they think the market will bear.”

Sharp notes that  power companies trying to get shipments of coal are having problems, too. He says, because a lot of the shipping contracts are private, it’s hard to compare prices for shipping oil via train with other commodities.

“That’s one of the issues as shippers we have," he says, "we don’t have access to a lot of good current data to really tell where we are.”

The National Surface Transportation Board, which issued the order, says it’s tracking the railroads’ fertilizer shipments. Their first reports are due this Friday.

The Tawdry Ballad Of A Man, A Casino And A Game Of Chance

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:28

The Ballad of a Small Player is set in the murky underworld of Macau's casinos. Reviewer Tash Aw calls the novel a masterful and thrilling collision of old Asia and 21st century glamour.

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Searching The Planet To Find Power For The Cloud

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:26

The quest for cheap, reliable electricity to power enormous cloud computing facilities is sending tech companies to the ends of the earth.

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Prefab apartment buildings on the rise

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

A new apartment building called The Stack is about to open in the Inwood section of Manhattan. By design, it looks like a collection of staggered Lego blocks. On the inside, it’s like any other modern rental building in New York. It has a sleek, simple design. 

What’s different is that these apartments were not built here in Manhattan, but almost entirely somewhere else. 

“The paint, the lighting, the kitchen cabinets, the appliances, the bathroom tile, fixtures, mirror, all of that is done in the factory,” says The Stack’s architect, Tom Gluck, with the firm GLUCK+.

Gluck has been an architect for years, but this is the first time his firm has built what’s called a modular building. 

Each apartment comes out of a factory from a company, like Capsys in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It looks like an auto plant, complete with assembly line run on a track in the ground. 

“Where we’re building pieces of building like you’d build a car in a factory. You get that repetition, that precision," says Tom O’Hara, director of business development at Capsys.

On one end of the plant, a team is joining steel beams to make the skeleton of a new apartment. On the other end, a crew is putting the finishing touches on a unit. One guy is tiling the bathroom. You could cook in this kitchen. There’s even a thermostat on the wall already. The apartments are so close to finished that they look like you could move in immediately, if they weren’t sitting on a factory floor.

An apartment module nearing completion at Capsys. It will soon be trucked to the building site and hoisted into place. (Photo: Dan Bobkoff)

But soon, this entire apartment will be put on a flatbed, trucked to the Bronx, then hoisted on top of all the other modular apartments. When the building’s done, you won’t even know it was built this way. 

There are many reasons proponents like O’Hara think modular construction is better: it’s built inside, away from weather and dirt. It’s faster because you can build the foundation and the building at the same time. There’s much less wasted material. And yet, while it’s popular in Europe, modular construction in the U.S. remains a rounding error, accounting for just a tiny percentage of new home and multifamily construction. 

“I think a lot of people really have misconceptions about the modular business,” O’Hara says.  “I think they feel somehow that there’s substandard construction in the factory.” 

He says most people think modular means mobile homes or boring, blocky buildings. To him, it just means it’s built better. 

“Why would I want my toaster built by a guy sitting on a bench with a ten snip banging things together. I want it out of a factory! Why shouldn’t the building come out of a factory?” O’Hara says. 

Modular has been seen as the future before, and yet never caught on beyond certain sectors like college dorms and hotels. 

But nearly everyone I talked to thinks this is the moment that changes.

“A lot of it truthfully has to do with this building that we’re standing in front of,” says Jim Garrison, an architect and professor at the Pratt Institute. We’re behind the new Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn, looking at what’ll soon be the tallest modular building: 32 stories of apartments. 

It’s funded by a big name developer. Garrison says it’s the biggest example that modular is possible, practical, and not necessarily cookie cutter. 

“We now have opportunities to build very interesting buildings using these systems. And, people are listening to the benefits that come with it,” Garrison says. 

That’s not to say modular doesn’t have downsides. Because it’s made of boxes, you end up with walls against walls, taking up valuable square footage in the building. Designers have to decide everything on the front end. But more developers are attracted to modular’s faster, and sometimes cheaper construction. And, with new projects in the works, maybe this time is different.

President Obama travels east, still pledging a 'pivot'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:11

President Barack Obama leaves on a diplomatic trip to Asia on Wednesday. First stop, Japan. Then, on to other allies in the region—South Korea, the Phillippines and Malaysia. He’ll be talking economics, and trade, and cooperation—to try to signal to these Pacific Rim allies that the U.S. is serious about its stated aim to ‘pivot’ toward them. Analysts say the President needs to convince them that the U.S. will back them up in their regional competition with rivals like China, as tensions have heated up over conflicts in the East China Sea.

For decades, America focused primarily on allies and enemies across the Atlantic. But, more and more U.S. trade and investment are happening across the Pacific. Stephen Biddle teaches international affairs at George Washington University, and is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He says so far, the shift of military capability toward the Western Pacific has been minimal.

“2,500 U.S. Marines, for example, were sent to bases in Australia,” he says. There are more ships going to Japan and Singapore, and ultimately the U.S. plans to put 60 percent of naval and air forces into the Pacific—up from 50 percent today. Key Pacific allies—Japan, South Korea, and Australia—plan to purchase American-made F-35 fighter jets, which will allow more cooperation and joint operations in the area.

“There’s going to be a different future budgetary fate for the parts of the U.S. military that are relatively better suited to the Pacific,” Biddle explains. He says Navy and Air Force units will be needed to cross the long distances, and to cover the large expanses of ocean in the Pacific Rim. Army and Marine Corps units, which have been deployed heavily in Europe and the Middle East, will be less useful there, and will likely be cut more as a result.

Right now, defense spending is not going up—due to the drawdown from Middle East wars, and Congress’s sequester budget cuts.

“In terms of dollars, frankly, we have not seen much of a shift in the way the Department of Defense has allocated its resources toward the kind of capabilities that I think might be needed in the future in the Pacific region,” says former Air Force official Mark Gunzinger, now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Gunzinger lists potential threats, starting with China, which has been boosting defense spending by double-digits: “Precision-guided anti-ship cruise missiles, advanced air defenses, undersea warfare systems, attack submarines . . .” Gunzinger says crucial shipping lanes, and strategic access to the area for the U.S. and its allies, could be blocked by these and other weapons that China is developing.

But defense analyst Mark Jacobson at the Truman National Security Project points out that the U.S. does not need to meet the security challenges in the region alone; nor are U.S. allies fatigued and depleted, as America’s European allies were at the end of World War II, when the current projection of U.S. power into the Atlantic sphere of influence was implemented.

“You’re talking about some of the world’s strongest economies,” says Jacobson. “With their power comes some responsibility for their own defense. And I don’t think this is lost on the South Koreans, the Australians, or the Japanese, at all.”

Powdered Liquor: Now Legal But Won't Be In Your Margarita Soon

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:09

The feds have approved dehydrated versions of vodka and even mojitos. Simply add water and voila! You've got a cocktail. But red tape will likely keep the high-proof powder off the market for a while.

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