National News

As Palm Oil Farms Expand, It's A Race To Save Indonesia's Orangutans

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 11:24

Demand for palm oil is destroying the habitat of endangered Sumatran orangutans. One group is working to rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce these often-orphaned primates back into the wild.

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The "Blurred Lines" case could have a chilling effect

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-11 11:13

Borrowing, sampling, covering and other appropriation are commonplace among musicians, but an LA jury ruled Monday that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams took things too far with their monster hit "Blurred Lines." The court ruled the pair's track was a little too inspired by Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give it Up," and awarded Gaye's family about $7.4 million for copyright infringement.

The verdict could put artists more on notice when appropriating other tracks, says George Washington University Law Professor Robert Brauneis, who helps us unpack the complexities of the case.

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Think Man-Sized Swimming Centipede — And Be Glad It's A Fossil

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 11:02

This sea monster swam Earth's seas about 480 million years ago, and was the biggest creature of its day, scientists say.

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Claude Sitton, 'Dean Of The Race Beat,' Dies At 89

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 11:02

Sitton's reporting from the front lines of the civil rights movement earned him the ire of southern officials and attention from the Department of Justice.

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He's 14. He Was A Child Soldier. He's Suicidal. How Can He Be Saved?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 10:28

Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder are high among teens in northern Uganda, a new study shows. Counselors, teachers and parents can help. So can walking on eggs — literally.

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Apple saves on rent thanks to long iPhone lines

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-11 10:01
31

All 31 banks subjected to the Federal Reserve's stress tests passed the first round last week, showing they can continue to lend even amid economic collapse. But the second round of results, due Wednesday, might not go quite as well for all the banks.

21,944.66 points

That's where the Dow Jones Industrial average would have sat Tuesday, in theory, if Apple had joined in 2008 instead of Bank of America, Bloomberg reported. In reality, Apple joined this week, displacing AT&T and B of A left in 2013.

Courtesy:Bloomberg 2 percent per square foot

Speaking of Apple, that's the portion of sales its retail stores pay for space in American malls, the Wall Street Journal reported. Compare that to the up to 15 percent other retailers typically pay per square foot. Apple has reportedly negotiated for lower rent because of their stores' massive draw.

$10 billion

That's how much General Motors is giving back to shareholders in dividends and stock buyback, quelling a potential spat with activist investors. But the move could mean GM will lose some ground as it attempts to keep wages down during negotiations with the autoworkers union this summer.

20

The number of deaths tied to film or TV production from 2010 to 2014, doubling the previous five years. An LA Times investigation found the uptick is tied in part to reality TV production and the drive to create thrilling footage

$7.3 million

The damages an LA jury ordered "Blurred Lines" co-writers Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to pay Marvin Gaye's family for infringing on Gaye's "Got to Give it Up" copyright with the 2013 megahit. Quartz joins the flurry of "soundalike" lists with a playlist, so you can decide for yourself who's a copycat and who's not.

Ahead of labor talks, GM puts pressure on itself

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-11 09:54

GM announced this week it’ll give shareholders $5 billion in dividends and a $5 billion stock buyback. That’s good news for investors, and for GM, which managed to avoid a major clash with hedge fund interests on the board.

Times are good for automakers like GM.  But when the company opens negotiations with the United Autoworkers Union this summer, it’s going to try to keep a lid on wages, says Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry and Labor Group at the Center for Automotive Research.

The union will think, "If they had the kind of money that they had to pay out for this stock play, they’ve got money to fund what the union is looking for,” she says.

Some workers haven’t had a raise in more than eight years. And Dziczek says the UAW says the ones who did still aren’t earning enough.

Ross Eisenbrey, vice-president of the Economic Policy Institute, says GM can increase share prices at the risk of everything else, or take the long view: investing in new equipment and the workforce. He says GM has to balance all of those things against a desire to reward shareholders. 

U.S. College Finds Priceless Coin Collection — In Its Own Library

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 09:04

A dozen gold Roman coins — one from each reign of Rome's first emperors, starting with Julius Caesar — spent decades on a shelf in the University at Buffalo's library.

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The App Of The Moment: Meerkat Tests Our Desire To Share Live Video

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 08:55

The new mobile app for live video streaming piggybacks off Twitter and is easy to use. Meerkat comes at a time when video is increasingly popular. But can the hype last?

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Apple's invented a new way to make 18-karat gold

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-11 08:51

This final note on the way out, in which we mix popular culture, high tech and metallurgy.

The folks at Slate have been poring over Apple's patent applications for that Apple Watch you may have heard so much about. It turns out, Apple's invented a new way to make 18-karat gold for it's top-of-the-line watches.

It's complicated, and I'm not a scientist, but Apple plans to use something called, "metal matrix composite." 

To put it another way, Apple is combining gold with durable materials that don't have much mass, but take up lots of space. That gives it wonderful qualities like lightness and scratch-resistance (normal gold is somewhat soft and prone to damage). And by mass, the final product is still 75 percent gold. But when it's poured into a mold to make an Apple Watch Edition's shell, the other, not-so-precious ingredients take up most of the room. Apple gets to use less gold per cubic centimeter and still call it 18-karat. It gets to stretch its gold out further than, say, Rolex would, to make a watch this size and shape.  

It's still actual 18-karat gold technically, but it lets the company — and this is a quote from its patent filing — use "as little gold as possible."

Police fees shore up budgets in many towns

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-11 08:50

Thomas Jackson, the police chief in Ferguson, Missouri, resigned Wednesday, exactly one week after a scathing report from the Department of Justice criticized the city's use of law enforcement as a revenue generation tool.

Ferguson City Manager John Shaw stepped down on Tuesday.

Last Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said Ferguson officials pressured police to generate revenue through aggressive tactics and ticketing. City officials exerted "overriding pressure," Holder said, using "law enforcement not as a public service, but as a tool for raising revenue."

Beth Colgan, a law professor at UCLA who has been studying the issue of municipalities and their use of fees, says there's evidence that a lot of local governments are using law enforcement and court fines to shore up budgets.

"If you look at the criminal and civil codes in any county or state," says Colgan, "as a general matter, the use of fines, and fees, and costs, is something that's pervasive around the country."

In Chicago, for instance, red light cameras reportedly generate $70 million in fines every year. There is now debate between mayoral candidates about whether those cameras should remain, and if not, how to replace that revenue.

The tiny town of Randolph, Missouri, got into trouble a few years ago when the state learned the town's budget came almost exclusively from highway traffic fines.

Knowing whether local governments' reliance on fines has become a national problem or not is difficult, says Brian Jackson, because of a lack of empirical research examining the issue nationwide.

Jackson, who heads the safety and justice program at the Rand Corporation, says there is no question that fines and fees became prominent revenue sources for many local governments, especially after the financial crisis. 

"As a business model, funding through fine revenue does reduce the amount of taxes that have to be levied to pay for public safety, because it's another funding stream," Jackson said. 

But while many municipalities are relying on fines and fees from law enforcement, few have considered the potential implications, Jackson says. 

"The problem here is one of incentives," he said. "The question comes down to how much is too much, and at what point does that start distorting the decisions of individual officers," or their superiors. 

The bigger question, he says, is whether voters are willing to fund services their local governments provide through taxes instead of fines and fees.

How does the strong dollar affect U.S. consumers?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-11 08:49

The ol’ dollar just isn’t what it used to be. It's actually worth quite a bit more.

The value of the dollar has been rising steadily compared to other currencies. On Wednesday, the value of a euro fell to $1.05 -- below $1.06 for the first time since 2003. Tuesday, the dollar hit its highest value against the Japanese yen in nearly eight years.

What does that mean for U.S. consumers?

For Bill Kendrick of Davis, California, it means cheaper supplies for his 1983 Atari computer. He has his eye on a cartridge that’s 20 percent cheaper than a similar one he bought several years ago, thanks to a better exchange rate.

American retailers who buy goods abroad will see a similar discount, but they might choose to pocket the savings instead of passing them along to their customers, says Dan Morris of TIAA-CREF Asset Management.

Now would also be a good time to vacation in Europe, says Boris Schlossberg at BK Asset Management. He said he has been surprised by the speed at which the dollar is rising, but he cautions that what goes up will eventually come back down. Today’s discounts won’t last forever.

Japan struggles to build a new electricity network

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-11 08:48

Four years after the earthquake and nuclear plant meltdown, Japan has gone cold turkey on nuclear energy. For now, zero reactors are currently in operation.

Solar energy has sought to fill some of that void. Thanks to subsidies and affordable, efficient solar panels, Japan’s solar market has grown tenfold in the last two years. Then, utilities controlling the grid pushed back, and refused to take additional solar energy.

There are technical trade-offs, says engineering professor Massoud Amin at the University of Minnesota, that can cause brownouts and blackouts.

There are fixes, a complex assortment of solutions often referred to as a smart grid. But that requires an enormous investment, that Paul Scalise of the University of Duisberg-Essen in Germany says raises a fundamental question: Who pays for it?

This is a clean-energy issue that doesn’t just face Japan. Germany, Spain, Australia and California all confront questions of grid reliability and upgrade. While it may be in the interests of some utilities to resist change — and hold off direct competitors in the power generation space — inaction in the case of Japan comes with its own trade-off: the environment. Without nuclear energy, the country increasingly relies on imported fossil fuels.

The Boss Can Force You To Buy Company's Health Insurance

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 08:32

Under the federal health law, employers with 100 or more full-time workers can enroll them in the company plan without their say as long as the coverage is deemed affordable and adequate.

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Why sales of packaged or processed foods are declining

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-11 08:00

Packaged food manufacturers are grappling with some big shifts in consumption trends. Sales of some of the top brands at General Mills, Kraft and the Campbell Soup Company have been slumping. 

As Campbell’s chief executive Denise Morrison recently acknowledged at a conference, many Americans are turning away from foods whose ingredients aren't "fresh" or "natural."

“And along with this, as all of you know, comes a mounting distrust of so-called “Big Food”, the large food companies and legacy brands that millions of consumers have relied on for so long,” she told a room full of food industry analysts.

One of the people presenting a challenge for food companies is 23 year-old Nick Neylon. He says the pejorative phrase “Big Food” is part of his vocabulary.

“I would also use a term like evil and the devil and Lucifer,” he says.

I found Neylon stirring a pot of homemade polenta at a Minneapolis event called "Eat for Equity." People raise money for charities while sharing a big, healthy meal. A mushroom and fennel ragout filled the air with a rich, tomatoey scent. Neylon says that's his kind of grub. He avoids packaged and fast foods.

Nick Neylon dresses a salad at a Minneapolis event called “Eat for Equity.” 

Annie Baxter/Marketplace

“If someone else made it, don't eat it,” he says. “Generally you'll be happier if you cook all your food from scratch.”

Neylon's age may have something to do with his eating habits. Food and beverage analyst Darren Seifer with the NPD Group says the millennial generation is making a shift towards fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. Seifer traces the change to the Great Recession — young people ate out less often because they were broke. And instead of cracking open, say, a can of Chef Boyardee, some learned how to cook.

“A lot of it has to do with how millennials got used to their kitchens sooner than we expected them to,” he says.

Food analyst Alexia Howard at Bernstein says women are playing a big role, too.

“Over the last several decades, really since the Second World War, heavily processed or packaged foods — more convenient foods — were embraced by moms-at-home and women wanting to get into the workforce,” she says.

But Howard says a few years ago, sales of products like Jell-O and TV dinners declined noticeably. Her theory: Moms were spending more time on the internet reading about what goes into food and got turned off by additives and preservatives.

Heidi Stark, who's 37, is a case in point.

“When you start reading what's actually in the packages, no one wants it,” she says.

Stark says gut problems prompted her to start eating super healthy over the past year. Now she plans out her menu and buys lots of fresh fruits, veggies and meat. On a recent trip to Lakewinds Food Co-op in Minneapolis, she bought the ingredients for a recipe involving pork chops, apples and shallots.

“That sounds gross!” her seven year-old son Anderson complained.

But his mom says he’ll eat it anyway.

Packaged food companies are trying to woo back consumers like Heidi Stark with some fresh products — like baby carrots from the Campbell Soup Company or protein-packed items, like a Kraft snack pack with meat, cheese and nuts. Some are also appealing to the growing interest in simple, organic ingredients — think General Mills' acquisition of Annie's, which makes organic macaroni and cheese.

Stock analyst Alexia Howard says even if these products sell well, they're still a small part of the companies' overall business.

“The margins on these new products are a lot lower,” she says. “The growth in these new products, rapid though it is, they're starting from a much smaller base than the bigger, established brands.”

While these big food companies struggle to meet the needs of millennials and moms who want fresher foods, Howard says we could see more cost-cutting — and even consolidation.

Quiz: How effective are Teach for America teachers?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-11 07:45

Mathematica Policy Research examined the effectiveness of Teach for America teachers after the nonprofit received a $50 million federal grant in 2010 to put more of its teachers in classrooms.

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From Ancient Sumeria To Chipotle Tacos, Cumin Has Spiced Up The World

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 07:32

Cumin has been popular since the dawn of written history: It's the only English word that can be traced directly back to Sumerian. Since then it has insinuated itself into cuisines around the world.

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PODCAST: Farm bill comes up short

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-11 07:27

The dollar is on a 12-year high driven by the potential for high interest rates, but what does that mean for the markets? We check in with Payden & Rygel chief economist Jeffrey Cleveland. Next, GM announced this week it’ll give shareholders $5 billion in dividends and a $5 billion stock buyback. That’s good news for investors, and for GM, which managed to avoid a major clash with hedge fund interests on the board. But when the company opens negotiations with the United Autoworkers Union this summer, it could be tough to argue for keeping a lid on wages. Finally, Washington lobbyists and think tank-types are tearing apart the Farm Bill, trying to figure out how far Congress was off in budgeting for the subsidies that were ushered in by the subsidies it ushered in.

How Big Sugar Steered Research On A 'Tooth Decay Vaccine'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 07:12

Though it never panned out, the sugar industry backed research to develop a vaccine to fight tooth decay, old industry documents reveal. Researchers say the goal was to deflect efforts to limit sugar.

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Documents Detail Sugar Industry Efforts To Direct Medical Research

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 06:45

A dentist unearths documents detailing the sugar industry's influence over the National Institutes of Health's research agenda in the 1960s and 1970s. At issue: setting limits for sugar intake.

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