National News

Charleston Mayor: Company Behind Chemical Leak Run By 'Renegades'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:58

Mayor Danny Jones says he's not "even sure they cared what happened to the public." Jones adds the West Virginia capital is considering taking legal action.

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Google infiltrates the home through your thermostat

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:47

Google has purchased smart thermostat and smoke alarm maker Nest for $3.2 billion. That billion-dollar price is not unusual for a succesful startup in 2014.

For Google, it's another foray into an area the tech giant hasn't really entered yet: the connected home. Tech companies see big opportunities to make products and software for devices that talk to you and to each other.

For Nest, Google offers a chance to scale up quickly and effectively while building products it believes in.

"Nest, thus far, has been kind of the spoiler, the little guy. Nest has made a really nice product but they haven't been able to scale up," Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson says. "Google gives them that. Google, says, alright, you want global reach? We got that."

But are we about to be handing over even more of our personal data to Google?

"Tony Fadell, the CEO of Nest, says their privacy [policy] hasn't changed, they're not going to give all their data over to Google," Johnson adds. "It's a long way off. Right now, Nest is going to be focused on building stuff that is great and works in your house and makes your house more efficient. But eventually, Google is wanna give you an ad and have you log in to Google+, that social network we love to hate."

Corn farmers eye other crops for next year

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:42

America’s corn farmers are already planning what they’ll plant – and what they won’t. Farmers were told last week that U.S. stockpiles of corn are up – way up – and they might want to think about planting something else next year.

Keith Alverson, a sixth generation ethanol corn farmer in Chester, South Dakota, says it’s all about supply and demand. Corn prices were up last year thanks to two years of drought that lowered supplies. That meant farmers, like Alverson, planted more acres of corn. Those acres flourished -- the weather was favorable and the harvest was larger than it had been in previous years.

Alverson says the downside of the good harvest and higher supply is that corn prices have dropped 14 percent over the last few months. 

“Think of any of our budgets across the United States: If we have a 14 percent decline of what’s coming in, yeah, it can definitely have an impact,” Alverson said.

Now, he’s making plans for spring and what he’ll plant on his 2500 acres. Many of his neighbors and fellow farmers will plant a 50/50 mix of corn and soybeans, because the profits for the two are about equal. That wasn’t case last year when corn was much more lucrative.

Does that mean no corn crop in 2014? Alverson says no.

“I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for corn, no doubt about that. I enjoy growing it, it’s a fun crop to grow. That being said, there’s economics involved too."

Drug Tests Don't Deter Drug Use, But School Environment Might

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:39

Drug testing might keep kids on the straight and narrow, but it remains controversial. Students said their drug use was more influenced by their school's environment than by the threat of drug tests, according to a survey. But neither seemed to affect teenage drinking.

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NEST? The stock that jumped 1900%? Wrong Nest

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:37

This final note in which we're obliged to again caution investors to double check those ticker symbols before hitting the buy button.

Remember when Twitter went public and shares of a home entertainment company with the symbol TWTRQ went bananas.

It happened again today with the ticket symbol NEST, which is not the thermostat company Google spend $3.2 billion to buy.

NEST is in fact a penny stock -- a bankrupt red-light traffic camera company, in point of fact.

But at one point today, shares were up 1,900 percent to $0.10. 

Christie Concedes 'Mistakes Were Made' In Bridge Scandal

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:35

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he'll cooperate with all "appropriate" investigations into Bridgegate, but in his annual State of the State speech he seeks to change the conversation to New Jersey's economic rebound.

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Hopes Dim For Long-Term Extension To Jobless Benefits

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:00

The Senate is still struggling to find a way to pay for an extension of unemployment benefits for those out of work for 26 weeks or more. Majority leader Harry Reid agreed to bring up five Democratic and five Republican amendments in hopes to winning enough Republicans over to get to the 60 votes needed for passage.

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In California, Alarm Grows Over Shrinking Water Levels

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:00

The drought in California has become so severe that cities are preparing to impose restrictions on water use in homes. In Northern California, the water level in Folsom Lake is so low that remnants of Gold Rush life, which have long been underwater, are now exposed and being collected.

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On Third Anniversary, Tunisians May Get A Constitution

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:00

Celebrations in Tunisia on Tuesday are marking the third anniversary of the revolution that led to the ouster of its dictator and set in motion the regional uprisings of the Arab Spring. As huge crowds gather in the streets of the capital, members of the National Assembly are voting on a new constitution that has the approval of both secular groups, which are popular in the capital, and Islamists, whose strongholds are in the countryside. New parliamentary elections are expected later this year.

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Christie Delivers Statewide Address Under Increased Scrutiny

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:00

Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered his State of the State address on Tuesday. The address came at an awkward time for Christie, who faces a widening investigation into politically-motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. Christie acknowledged the scandal but tried to steer the conversation toward education and other second-term priorities.

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The Young And Restless May Cause Drama For ACA

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:00

Young people account for less than one quarter of those who have enrolled in the health care exchanges. Their participation is considered crucial for the success of the Affordable Care Act, and so far it's low. The administration had been hoping for a higher figure, but it predicts that more 18- to 34-year-olds will sign up in the next three months. If that doesn't happen, insurers will likely raise premiums for 2015, and that could spell deep trouble for the health care program.

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Lake Placid: A National Incubator For Winter Sport Olympians

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-14 13:00

In Vancouver four years ago, athletes who grew up in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York accounted for about one in 10 medals garnered by the U.S. In this region, the Olympics don't seem like a pipe dream, and they don't seem like ancient history — the Olympics is just sort of what people do.

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Seahawks block 49ers fans from buying tickets. But does it pay?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-14 12:57

The Seattle Seahawks sold a few thousand tickets to their NFC Championship Game on Sunday, January 19, against the San Francisco 49ers. But there was a catch: with a California billing address, you couldn’t buy them. The Seahawks limited sales primarily to people in the Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii, plus British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.

It’s a rarely-used business strategy in professional sports: an attempt to limit the in-stadium fan base, and tilt the advantage to the home team.

For the San Francisco 49ers, the odds are already stacked against a win because of that visiting-team disadvantage. Patrick Rishe, a sports economist at Webster University, says  the advantage has been estimated at around two to three points added to the home team's spread.

And Rishe says Seattle’s stadium, CenturyLink Field, may amplify that advantage further.

“The architectural design of their stadium is such that it keeps and traps the noise in,” Rishe said. The stadium is narrow and high, with deep recesses under the upper deck, and a 40-row bleachers section called the “Hawks Nest,” with aluminum seating to further reflect and amplify the sound of cheering and foot-stomping.

In fact, the Seahawks so-called “12th man”—that’s a team’s crowd of fans in the stands—is so loud, they set a Guinness World Record on Dec. 2, in a game against the New Orleans Saints with 137.6 decibels of noise. Seismic experts from the University of Washington have installed ultra-sensitive monitors near the stadium and detected tiny earthquakes from fan cheering. 

“Part of the reason for the ticket block to anyone outside of the Pacific Northwest is that they want to make sure they have as many loud partisans there as they can get,” Kevin Reichard, publisher of Ballpark Digest in Wisconsin, said. “Among their fan base it’s great publicity. It pats all the fans on the back and says ‘We only want you here, we don’t want anyone else here.’”

Of course, Seahawks management can’t really keep Californians out. Only a few thousand tickets—out of 67,000 (the stadium's capacity) were sold this week online. And 49ers fans have access to the secondary market, where they can purchase tickets at marked-up prices.

Lawyer Kenneth Shropshire at Duane Morris LLP, who teaches sports business at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says that the strategy of geographically restricting ticket sales isn’t common, but it can be a sound business strategy. And it’s not likely to run afoul of the law.

“Preferences are given to season-ticket holders, for example,” Shropshire said. “So the idea of giving a preference to a group because in some way it benefits the business, that is, the team [is acceptable] —as long as that group isn’t some sort of protected class. We would see an action if they said, ‘We’re not going to sell any tickets to any Asian people, or black people, or women. But this is different. This is, 'We want our fans to have the opportunity to be there, and we’ll give them first preference. And if you want to come and you’re from elsewhere, you can buy a ticket on the secondary market.'”

Kevin Reichard points out that the Denver Broncos have restricted ticket sales to favor locals as well. And so did Northwestern University recently for a basketball game against rival University of Illinois.

Verizon says net neutrality ruling won't change anything

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-14 12:46

The Internet got less neutral today: A federal appeals court struck down a Federal Communications Commission ruling that prohibited Internet Service providers from slowing down, blocking or otherwise reestricting Web content. 

So here’s the new reality, internet service providers can now charge websites for faster access. And they can slow down content or block it all together, according to Craig Aaron, the president of Free Press, a non-profit that advocates for net neutrality.

Aaron says the ruling is bad for competition and consumers, "The phone and cable companies are now free to say, 'Oh well we’re going to connect you to our content, that we’ll just put through right away. But oh you want to go to one of our competitors, well that’s going to take a little bit longer and maybe you wouldn’t mind watching a few ads while you wait.'"  

Aaron says net neutrality has sparked innovation on the internet, since anybody can present their ideas and products to the masses. Today’s ruling threatens that by giving phone and cable companies too much power. 

But Steve Weber, professor at UC Berkeley, says "it’s much more complicated than that." According to Weber, net neutrality has stifled innovation among telecom and cable companies, who don’t invest in expensive services. For example, if you’re doing telesurgery. If you’re Verizon, you would like to provide, say, a medical grade network," Weber says. 

With net neutrality, that’s not allowed. Weber believes telecom and cable companies won’t block content because consumers would flee to other providers. In fact, Verizon said today that it’s committed to quote an “open Internet” and consumers won’t notice a difference. 

But start-ups that can’t afford the fastlane will notice a difference, according to Scott Steinberg, analyst at TechSavvy. "These smaller, mid-level guys are going to find themselves at a disadvantage," said Steinberg.  

And the big guys, like Google, have figured out a work around. They’re starting to become internet service providers themselves. Of course, that all costs money, which we’ll end up paying in one way or another.

Germans aren't eager to commemorate WWI

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-14 12:42

Europeans will mark a grim centenary this August: The 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. A multi-million dollar series of events will span four years, and at least three participating nations -- Britain, France, and Belgium.

 Missing from the list? Germany. All of this commemoration has proven tricky for the nation on the other side of the battle lines.

 "The German government  is fundamentally uninterested  in marking this important anniversary," Gerd Krumeich, a historian at Dusseldorf University, said. "And this reflects the mentality of most Germans today. They don’t seem to feel  that the war had anything to do with Germany even though almost 2 million of our soldiers died in the trenches."

 British Prime Minister David Cameron has added to the Germans discomfiture. Britain is spending some $80 million dollars on commemorative concerts, school visits to battlefields and other events. Cameron says Britain and its allies were fighting a just war against German aggression. Many historians agree.

 "The Germans fought a war of conquest," said military historian Garry Sheffield of Wolverhampton University. "And the British and the French found themselves  fighting a defensive war against an aggressive neighbor, bent on achieving hegemony in Europe." 

 These words have  an uncomfortable resonance today. 

 The German government’s  insistence on austerity measures in southern Europe has stirred up a lot of anti-German sentiment, and there is widespread concern about  perceived German dominance.  In a recent poll , 88 percent of Spaniards and 82 percent of Italians complained that Germany wields too much influence in the European Union. 

 Does this explain the apparent reluctance of the German authorities to commemorate the World War I centenary? Are they nervous about raking over the past?

 Andreas Meitzner – the senior German diplomat in charge of the country’s commemorative plans – denies that he has been dragging his feet, and insists German politicians and officials will take part in numerous events abroad. He says the government may yet decide to organize some commemorative activities at home. But he doesn’t expect the country to dwell on the issue of culpability.

 "It’s not about responsibility, about who is to blame. It’s about joint lessons to be drawn from the First World War,” Meitzner said. 

 Meitzner hopes Europe will use the commemoration as a lesson on the huge economic benefit of peaceful integration. But one German newspaper has written about the danger of "tearing open old wounds."

 With four years of eventson the horizon, this, like the Great War, won’t be short and sharp. And it won't be over before Christmas.

Weird Stuff World Leaders Give Each Other

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-14 12:38

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently gave Russia's foreign minister a couple of Idaho potatoes. That's just the latest in the pantheon of gifts to world leaders — from camels to bulletproof limos — where, no really, the giver shouldn't have.

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Weird Stuff World Leaders Give Each Other

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-14 12:38

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently gave Russia's foreign minister a couple of Idaho potatoes. That's just the latest in the pantheon of gifts to world leaders — from camels to bulletproof limos — where, no really, the giver shouldn't have.

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How American Idol changed television

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-14 12:24

Coming Wednesday to your television: the 13th season of American Idol.  Ratings were down last time around, but Fox is promising a facelift for the singing competition.  Love it, or over it, American Idol has changed the way we watch TV.   

At this point, the American Idol format seems pretty unremarkable. We watch some guy that no one’s heard of take on Stevie Wonder; we watch celebs judge him; we vote ourselves.  “Basically American Idol, in my mind, introduces audience interactivity,” says S. Shyam Sundar, a communications professor at Penn State.  It lets us be part of the action. We chose between Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard. The show gave all of us a teeny, tiny, bit of control,  “and have a say in the outcome of the proceedings of the show.”

Sundar says it blends old media and new. It sets the stage for more watching together, while we’re in our PJs, watching apart.

But, the show’s format wasn’t entirely revolutionary. American Idol tapped into a long history of entertainment. 

Live. Amateur competition.

“Even in the 50s, and on radio,” says Susan Murray, a media professor at New York University, “there had been amateur hours, popular amateur hour shows.”

American Idol came up with a new formula for telling a story we’ve liked hearing for a long time: that our secret talents could be discovered, that the guy next door could become the next big thing.    

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