National News

Justice Dept. Settles S&P Lawsuit

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 08:26

Standard and Poor's is expected to settle a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department over the quality of the firm's ratings during the years before the financial crisis.

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In First Photos Since August, Cuba's Fidel Castro Meets With Student Leader

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 08:07

They came just weeks after rumors surfaced yet again that the former Cuban president, now 88, had died.

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Quiz: Saving college savings from taxes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-03 08:06

President Obama backed away from a proposal to tax 529 college savings accounts, which 3 percent of Americans use.

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Harper Lee Plans To Publish A New Novel Featuring 'Mockingbird' Hero

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 07:50

More than 50 years after the release of her classic — and only — novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee plans to publish a second. The newly unearthed book, Go Set a Watchman, will be published in July.

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New York State Clamps Down On Herbal Supplements

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 07:38

State's attorney general asks four major retailers to pull pills because they don't contain what they claim. Tests show supplements are often filled with cheap ingredients, including houseplants.

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A Rise In The Civilian Death Toll As Ukraine Fighting Increases

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 07:34

At least eight civilians have been killed in the past 24 hours and 22 wounded in fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk.

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You May Think You Can't Dance But Nepalis Will Make You Try

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 07:20

Our Peace Corps correspondent discovers that Nepal is a country where everyone dances all the time. And you have no choice but to bust a move.

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Medicare Offers Relief To 400,000 Caught In Drug Plan Mix-Ups

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 07:19

Aetna beneficiaries can reconsider their Part D choices after the insurer incorrectly identified some pharmacies as being in-network, dropped others and removed some from the preferred network.

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Pain And Suffering At Life's End Are Getting Worse, Not Better

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 07:03

Despite considerable effort to improve care for people who are dying, more people are reporting pain and depression, a study finds. Medical treatments that lengthen the process may be one reason.

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Reviving The Lost Art Of Logrolling

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 07:01

Contemporary logrollers believe that the historical practice provides today's athletes a good, balanced workout. And that it's as easy as, well, as falling off a log.

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Waukesha: A spa town that took its water for granted

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-03 06:47

My hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin, is surrounded by water. There are creeks and rivers. The fourth biggest lake in the world, Lake Michigan, lies 17 miles to the east. Every year the city gets an average 34 inches of rain and 40 inches of snow. Yet Waukesha has a big water problem. Its deepwater wells are contaminated with radium and salts, and now the city needs to figure out a new source of drinking water. How did a city in such a water-rich state get into such a pickle?

Waukesha’s water story started out well enough. In the late 1800s the town was known as the “Saratoga of the West.” People flocked there in summer, 25 trainloads a day, to drink cold, pure water from dozens of mineral springs around town.They thought the water could cure such ailments as diabetes and depression. John Schoenknecht, author of “The Great Waukesha Springs Era: 1868-1918,” says Waukesha water was so prized that when a savvy entrepreneur tried to pipe it down to Chicago for its world’s fair in 1893,  townspeople nearly rioted, fending off his work crews with pistols and rifles.

Eventually the springs and fancy summer resorts there fell out of fashion. Most of the springs were paved over or dried up as the city developed. But Waukesha’s reputation for good water survived, even when grittier industries moved in, including many foundries. All the factories needed water. To meet the demand the city drilled new wells, some nearly 2,000 feet deep, into the sandstone aquifer.   

When my family moved there in 1969, Waukesha was a suburb with almost 40,000 people. Dairy farmers just outside the city’s borders were selling their land to developers who wanted to build new subdivisions. “They were just coming into City Hall like crazy wanting to annex,” says Paul Vrakas, 87. He was Waukesha’s mayor during much of the city’s growth spurt. “It was like having a tiger by the tail, and I think we did a great job,” he says.

If the city hadn’t annexed all the new subdivisions that wanted city water, developers would have built them anyway, Vrakas says. But on oversized lots with private wells and septic systems that eventually would fail. “We, of course, had the treatment plant, state-of-the-art treatment plant and municipal water,” he says. “So it made sense for the city to accept the growth and do it properly.”

City officials weren’t worried about the water supply. Waukesha water customers paid some of the lowest rates in the state. The more a customer used, the lower the rate. Peter Annin, author of “The Great Lakes Water Wars,” says the city’s policies actually encouraged lawn watering. “Because you got a credit on your water bill if you had water that was used but didn’t end up back in the sewer system,” Annin says.

But in 1987 Waukesha’s water officially became a problem. The state put the city on notice. Its drinking water was contaminated. Radium levels were over twice the legal limit. The aquifer beneath the city recharges slowly, and years of overpumping had lowered the water table hundreds of feet. “As you use this water over time, over the last 100 years when we’ve developed groundwater and used it, we’ve drawn down the aquifer to the point where we’re pulling up the water that’s contaminated," says Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility.

Radium is a naturally occurring metal that’s common in groundwater pumped from sandstone aquifers. But the deeper you go, the higher the concentrations. Lifetime exposure increases the risk of cancer.

The state ordered Waukesha to fix its radium problem. But the city resisted. It fought regulators and ultimately sued the Environmental Protection Agency. Fixing the problem was going to be expensive, and city leaders believed the government was overreaching. “In fact, the Argonne Laboratory said that amount of radium was no hazard,” Vrakas says. “And many local doctors told me the same thing as well.”

Nearly two decades later, after a federal appeals court ruled against the city, Waukesha finally decided to stand down. By then, the city’s population had grown another 20 percent.  And its water quality had grown worse. “Waukesha is this poster child of what can happen when you assume that water will just always be there,” Peter Annin says. "And what surprises a lot of people is that here we are in one of the richest water areas of the globe, and yet, we are still fighting over water here in the Great Lakes region.”

But water-challenged cities like Waukesha know they need a secure water supply to keep and attract economic investment. Right now, the city is pinning its hopes on an expensive proposal to pipe water in from Lake Michigan. That’s something those pistol-packing Waukeshans who didn’t want their water piped out to Chicago probably never could have imagined. 

For more on the story of Waukesha's changing water situation, watch the slideshow below:

Photo credit: Jeffrey Phelps
Historical photos courtesy of: Waukesha County Historical Society and Museum

Waukesha: a spa town that took its water for granted

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-03 06:47

My hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin, is surrounded by water. There are creeks and rivers. The fourth biggest lake in the world, Lake Michigan, lies 17 miles to the east. Every year the city gets an average 34 inches of rain and 40 inches of snow. Yet Waukesha has a big water problem. Its deepwater wells are contaminated with radium and salts and now the city needs to figure out a new source of drinking water. How did a city in such a water-rich state get into such a pickle?

Waukesha’s water story started out well enough. In fact, in the late 1800’s the town was known as the “Saratoga of the West.” People flocked there in summer, 25 trainloads a day, to drink cold, pure water from dozens of mineral springs around town.They thought the water could cure everything from diabetes to depression. John Schoenknecht, author of “The Great Waukesha Springs Era: 1868-1918,” says Waukesha water was so prized that when a savvy entrepreneur tried to pipe it down to Chicago for its world’s fair in 1893,  townspeople nearly rioted, fending off his work crews with pistols and rifles.

Eventually, the springs and fancy summer resorts here fell out of fashion. Most of the springs got paved over or dried up as the city developed. But Waukesha’s reputation for good water survived, even when grittier industries moved in, including many foundries. All the factories needed water. To meet the demand the city drilled new wells, some of them nearly 2,000 feet deep into the sandstone aquifer.   

By 1969 when my family moved there, Waukesha was a suburb with almost 40,000 people. Dairy farmers just outside the city’s borders were selling their land to developers who wanted to build new subdivisions. “They were just coming into City Hall like crazy wanting to annex,” says Paul Vrakas, 87. Vrakas was Waukesha’s mayor during much of the city’s growth spurt. “It was like having a tiger by the tail and I think we did a great job,” he says.

If the city hadn’t annexed all the new subdivisions that wanted city water, Vrakas says, developers would have built them anyway. But on oversized lots with private wells and septic systems that eventually would fail. “We, of course, had the treatment plant, state-of-the-art treatment plant and municipal water,” he says. “So it made sense for the city to accept the growth and do it properly.”

City officials weren’t worried about the water supply. Waukesha water customers paid some of the lowest rates in the state. In fact, the more a customer used, the lower the rate. Peter Annin, author of “The Great Lakes Water Wars,” says the city’s policies actually encouraged lawn watering. “Because you got a credit on your water bill if you had water that was used but didn’t end up back in the sewer system,” Annin says.

But in 1987 Waukesha’s water officially became a problem. The state put the city on notice. Its drinking water was contaminated. Radium levels were over twice the legal limit. The aquifer beneath the city recharges slowly, and years of overpumping had lowered the water table hundreds of feet. “As you use this water over time, over the last 100 years when we’ve developed groundwater and used it, we’ve drawn down the aquifer to the point where we’re pulling up the water that’s contaminated," says Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility.

Radium is a naturally occurring metal that’s common in groundwater pumped from sandstone aquifers. But the deeper you go, the higher the concentrations. Lifetime exposure increases the risk of cancer.

The state ordered Waukesha to fix its radium problem. But the city resisted. It fought regulators and ultimately sued the Environmental Protection Agency. Fixing the problem was going to be expensive, and city leaders believed the government was overreaching. “In fact, the Argonne Laboratory said that amount of radium was no hazard,” Vrakas says. “And many local doctors told me the same thing as well.”

Nearly two decades later, after a federal appeals court ruled against the city, Waukesha finally decided to stand down. By then, the city’s population had grown another 20 percent.  And its water quality had grown worse. “Waukesha is this poster child of what can happen when you assume that water will just always be there,” Peter Annin says. And what surprises a lot of people is that here we are in one of the richest water areas of the globe, and yet, we are still fighting over water here in the Great Lakes region.”

But water-challenged cities like Waukesha know they need a secure water supply to keep and attract economic investment. Right now, the city is pinning its hopes on an expensive proposal to pipe water in from Lake Michigan. That’s something those pistol-packing Waukeshans who didn’t want their water piped out to Chicago probably never could have imagined. 

For more on the story of Waukesha's changing water situation, watch the slideshow below:

These Boots Weren't Made For Walking: Wyo. Sheriff Bans Cowboy Boots And Hats

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 06:11

The new dress code is designed to ensure law enforcement looks professional and they don't fall on their backsides. But giving the cowboy outfit the boot goes against the state's cultural identity.

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From The Classroom To The Campaign Trail

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 05:03

The not-so-secret activity quest of several Chicago teachers: running for office.

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S&P Pays Nearly $1.38B To Settle Mortgage Crisis Claims

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 04:54

S&P parent company McGraw Hill Financial will make two payments of $687.5 million: one to the U.S. Justice Department and another to 19 states and the District of Columbia.

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No Genocide Proven In 1990s Serbia-Croatia Conflict, Court Rules

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 04:03

The conflict that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s included widespread violence, says the International Court of Justice. But it adds that the acts can't be deemed genocide.

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Britain Set To Vote On '3-Parent Baby' Law Tuesday

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-03 03:10

While the technique is often referred to by the shorthand "three-parent baby," the controversial process uses nuclear DNA from two parents and the mitochondrial DNA of a third donor.

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PODCAST: When BP earnings seem like BS

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-03 03:00

This morning, the oil company BP reported no profits, but instead a loss of nearly $1 billion. Yet BP's stock price in London went up 2 percent. That's because while BP lost money, it didn't lose more money. Which brings up the question, are earnings reports just Rorschach tests? Also, there's a new study today saying we are now paying 15 percent of our medical bills out of pocket. More on that. And when the topic is children and money, the focus is often on consumption. But Ron Lieber, personal finance columnist for the New York Times says when teaching about money, don't forget the giving-it-away option.

Amazon heads to college

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-03 02:00

Amazon has struck deals with three major universities to create online university stores, which will sell course textbooks and other university-branded goods.

University of Massachusetts, Amherst, which is one of the institutions along with Purdue and University of California, Davis, estimates that its students will save about $380 a year in textbook costs, because of lower prices through Amazon.

"This is something that students have already started to do," says Ed Blaguszewski, a spokesperson for UMass Amherst. "Online sales of books have been increasing."

The online retailer will establish an on-campus distribution system at the three universities to deliver textbook orders within one day. It will also offer deliveries of other goods in one day for students who purchase a discounted Prime plan at $49—Amazon's customer loyalty program, which also includes access to its streaming video service.

Blaguszewski says the deal with Amazon will take over an expiring contract with Follett, one of the retailers that are licensed to operate many university bookstores. Another such retailer in the $10 billion college bookstore market is Barnes & Noble.

"Definitely, this continues to put pressure on Barnes and Noble," says Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. "This is yet again another example of how Amazon is gaining share."

"When any entity of that size comes into the marketplace ... that is going to be a formidable competitor, " says Todd Summer, who runs a university-owned bookstore at San Diego State and is the president of the National Association of College Stores board of trustees.

Summer says his store can compete with Amazon: "We've got a very dedicated staff that's tied into the campus."

NACS says there are some 4,500 college and university bookstores in the United State, and a majority are owned by the schools. Still, that leaves hundreds, at least, that are operated by Follett, Barnes and Noble, and others. They are likely targets for Amazon once existing contracts with schools expire.

And while Mulpuru says three stores do not market disruption make, she sees Amazon's move as one of building habits: getting young people used to its online services, which could yield dividends well after students graduate.

Right now, it's an interesting experiment, she says. And where better to launch an experiment than America's college campuses.

Out-of-pocket healthcare costs soar

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-03 02:00

Healthcare costs keep climbing, and so does our share of them.

Adults with insurance through work paid almost 7 percent more out-of-pocket in 2013 than in 2012, according to a new study  from the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonprofit funded partly by insurance companies.

“There’s more high deductible health plans and cost sharing, so the co-pays change,” says Eric Barrette, a senior researcher at the Institute.

The co-pays are going up, of course. High out-of-pocket spending could lead consumers to shop around more. Obviously you don’t want to just look for a bargain. You want a good doctor. But healthcare costs could fall if consumers were a bit more price-sensitive.

“If you’ve got more skin in the game, then you’re going to care much more about where you’re going to,” says Vivian Ho, a health economist at Rice University. 

But Ho says it’s hard to get consumers interested in shopping around. It’s tedious.

“And then you’re on the phone with all these people and you get transferred from one place to another,” she says.

Even when you do reach the right person, information can still be really hard to get, and inconsistent. Healthcare prices can vary, in the same state or even city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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