National News

Sichuan Pepper's Buzz May Reveal Secrets Of The Nervous System

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 23:25

The Sichuan peppercorn that makes our mouths tingle activates the same neurons as when our foot falls asleep. Scientists are hoping the connection unlocks clues for how to turn those neurons off.

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John Edwards Resumes Career As Trial Attorney

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 21:55

The former U.S. senator and Democratic presidential hopeful is one of three attorneys representing a boy in a medical malpractice case in North Carolina.

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Evacuation Order Came Too Late For Many On Ferry

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 21:36

Poor weather conditions hamper an increasingly anxious search for 287 missing passengers. The ferry flipped onto its side and sank in cold waters off the southern coast of South Korea a day earlier.

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Free Drug Samples Prompt Skin Doctors To Prescribe Costlier Meds

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 15:01

A new study adds to growing evidence that free drug samples influence doctors' prescribing habits. The cost difference to patients can be hundreds of dollars per office visit.

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Rescuers Deliver Most, But Not All, Nigerian Schoolgirls To Safety

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 14:14

According to the Nigerian military, all but eight of the girls kidnapped from a Nigerian boarding school have been rescued. As many as 100 girls had been abducted by militants earlier in the week.

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Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Put Faith In Unorthodox Dating Service

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 14:00

Young ultra-Orthodox Jews are increasingly pursuing college degrees or joining the workforce. That's challenged matchmaking customs and led to a new service that connects like-minded men and women.

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How to make a White House Summit more than a photo op

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:53

More than a dozen business school deans gathered at the White House today to talk about how to make the workplace work better for women and people with families. The meeting was part of the lead-up to  a bigger Working Families summit coming up in June.

The White House holds a lot of these sorts of gatherings. There have been summits on everything from job creation to food marketing to diversity in the tech industry. So what actually gets done?

“Everybody likes to come to the White House, come to Washington, have their picture taken,” says Bob Guttman, who teaches media and politics at Johns Hopkins University. “ In terms of policy, I think it’s less important.”

One way to make the events more than a photo-op is for organizers to ask for specific commitments, as the White House did last year when college presidents gathered to talk about expanding opportunity for low-income students. 

“So just that one project alone – clearly there’s been some great momentum from the convening in January,” says Daniel Porterfield, president of Franklin & Marshall College, one of 10 schools that pledged scholarships after the summit.

 

The sometimes strange world of White House summits

by Marc Sollinger 

Summit on Food Marketing: Michelle Obama is concerned with childhood obesity. So much so that last year her office convened a summit to get food companies and the media to push healthier food to America’s kids. Speaking to a group of parents, scientists, and representatives from the food industry, the First Lady urged everyone to make children’s health a priority.

Beer Summit: One of the most recognizable White House Summits wasn’t actually an official summit at all. But after a national uproar over the 2009 arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Gates, Obama met with both Gates and his arresting officer at what came to be known as the “Beer Summit.”

SelectUSA Investment Summit: As part of Obama’s push to bring jobs and investment money to the US, the White House convened a 1,300-person summit last fall that let global investors mingle with government officials and representatives from U.S. Companies.

Tech Inclusion Summit: This January summit was the highlight of an initiative to encourage diversity in the tech industry. Over 200 people participated and discussed ways to achieve President Obama’s goal of producing one million additional STEM graduates over the next decade.

Summit on Black Male Success: More a series of summits than a single event, this was an effort by EBONY magazine and the White House to host discussions throughout the country about the issues that face African American males. This series is a follow up to Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” campaign.

White House Summit on Working Families: Part of the reason business college deans are traveling to the White House, this summit will focus efforts on creating a more workable and equitable workplace. Taking place this June, it will convene business leaders and experts to talk about the issues. 

Bloomberg Seeks To Alter Gun Debate With $50 Million, And Moms

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:49

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is committing more of his considerable fortune to getting gun safety laws passed. The initiative will support a grass-roots effort that seeks to enlist women.

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Producers try to keep fish sticks from going under water

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:23

Another day in which I pass on what I read in the Wall Street Journal this morning, comment on it, and have you guys tell me how wrong I am:

The Journal has a story about fish sticks, and how the fish stick industry is looking to get kids excited about fish sticks again. They say fish are transitioning from the frozen stick model to "a fillet that can be cut into a fish stick" instead. 

I personally think that's gonna be a tough haul because... ew.

You should know, by the way, that I appear to be in a minority here at Marketplace Global headquarters, when it comes to feeling that way.

Bank earnings show: Americans got better at paying off debts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:14

The big banks have been releasing their first quarter earnings reports over the last week, and they’re all over the map: Profits are down at JPMorganChase, up at Wells Fargo.

But one trend is clear from nearly all the banks: Consumers are doing a better job paying down their mortgages and credit cards.

“This is not an unusual phenomenon,” says Nancy Bush, banking analyst and founder of NAB Research, LLC. “It normally goes on after a financial brush with death like the one we had in the years 2005 to 2008.” 

Both consumers and the big banks have changed their ways since those dark days. Banks are more cautious about who they lend to. And, we, the public, are a lot more careful with our credit cards and other loans. 

“Credit card and auto delinquencies have been hovering around all time lows for the last several quarters,” says Steve Chaouki, head of financial services at the credit reporting agency TransUnion.

Look at just about any big bank’s earnings report lately, and the trends are clear. JPMorgan Chase’s earnings, for instance, shows four charts under the heading "delinquency trends". All of them—whether home loans or credit cards—point straight down since 2010.

Total US home loan delinquencies are down more than 12 percent versus last year, according to Black Knight Financial Services. 

But this isn’t just because Americans are getting better at managing debt. Banks have also been much stricter. 

"In order to get a mortgage loan these days, you need to have a high credit score, so these borrowers are already more responsible,” says Kostya Gradushy with Black Knight’s Data & Analytics division. 

But all this responsibility can have a downside for the economy: Careful, responsible Americans tend to spend less - which means retailers won't be thrilled.

Bloomberg: 'Here's $50 million for gun control'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:11

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending $50 million to fight the National Rifle Association on gun control. This is not the first time Bloomberg has used his private foundation to contribute huge sums of money to nonprofits. He’s has given $50 million to fight coal companies, to clean up the oceans and to promote women’s reproductive rights.

In terms of gun control, Bloomberg’s $50 million is a huge amount to spend in a single year. The NRA spent just under $3.5 million on lobbying in 2013, and the Brady Campaign, a gun control advocacy group, has an annual budget of just over $3 million. Bloomberg’s $50 million will fund a network of smaller nonprofits organized under one large umbrella group called Everytown for Gun Safety.

Stacy Palmer is the editor of The Chronicle for Philanthropy. She says this money will help these smaller grassroots groups eliminate some of the redundancy in their organizatio,n “and make them a lot more efficient.”

Professor of philanthropic studies Mark Hager says large donations allow a group to fund big campaigns on a particular issue. “It can stop and take stock of that and really give its attention to marketing or lobbying efforts,” says Hager.

Private foundations are prohibited from lobbying for legislation and supporting political campaigns. But, says writer Joanne Barkan, “private foundations are allowed to spend as much money as they want on educating.” For private foundations like Bloomberg’s, the Koch brothers’ and the Gates', the difference between Gates’ educating a member of Congress and lobbying one is often impossible to distinguish. 

Justice's 'Peacemaker' Unit Focuses On Transgender Rights

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:02

A unit originally created to keep the peace during the civil rights movement is training law enforcement on how to be more sensitive to transgender witnesses and crime victims.

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On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow: A Guide To Speedy Vegetables

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:54

Impatient gardeners don't have to wait for summer to harvest salad fixings. A surprising variety of crops will bring homegrown produce to your table in as little as three weeks.

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Legal Moves Might Mean Fiscal Relief, And More PR Troubles, For GM

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:39

General Motors is signaling its plans to ask a bankruptcy judge for protection from lawsuits related to a defective switch recall. This could further complicate its current public relations crisis.

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Backlash over Crimea hits Russian economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:08

The Russian economy is beginning to suffer fallout from the crisis in Ukraine.

Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev told parliament in Moscow today that growth slowed sharply to just 0.8 percent in the first quarter -- far short of the earlier prediction of 2.5 percent. The minister said that the Ukrainian turmoil had spooked investors, and capital is fleeing the country at a record rate. Earlier in the week, the Russian finance minister forecast that if the capital flight continues the economy could see zero growth this year. Independent observers are equally gloomy.

"Everything seems to be going in the wrong direction for Russia at the moment,” says Raoul Ruparel of the Open Europe think tank in London. "It’s really due to increasing uncertainty around the situation in Ukraine and potential sanctions.”

So far, the U.S. and the Europeans have imposed travel bans and asset freezes on certain Russian and Ukrainian officials. The European Union has threatened to escalate the sanctions if peace talks due to begin in Switzerland on Thursday fail to make progress, and if Russia persists with what the EU calls its “provocation.”

 But Russian President Vladimir Putin seems unfazed by all the threats.

"Regaining Russian lands is taking precedence over practical , economic considerations," says Daragh McDowel of the Maplecroft research house.

 Other analysts argue that Putin has no reason to feel seriously threatened -- yet.

"The Russians have the third largest hard currency reserves in the world – a half a trillion dollars' worth - and that could cushion the capital flight," says Sam Charap of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "So I don’t see a dramatic, huge, short-term economic impact from this."

A European embargo on imports of Russian oil and gas or a ban on Russian banks to stop them dealing in western financial markets could be a different matter. That could bring Russia to its knees. But such drastic action – which could also inflict real economic damage on Europe - seems highly unlikely... unless Russia invades eastern Ukraine.

South Korea Ferry Disaster Sets Rescuers, And Fears, In Motion

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

Hundreds are missing after a ferry sank Wednesday off South Korea's southern coast. Reporter Jason Strother in Seoul offers details on the latest developments.

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Entering Talks In Geneva, U.S. Hopes For A Ukraine Breakthrough

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

Secretary of State John Kerry is set to meet Thursday with officials from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. They will discuss the crisis in Ukraine. While the Obama administration has said it has overwhelming evidence that Moscow is stirring up the unrest in eastern Ukraine, it says it wants to wait before expanding sanctions. Analysts say Washington has few other options.

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High School's Most Dreaded Test Gets A Makeover

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

The College Board outlined changes today for its SAT, pairing the news with a few sample questions. NPR's Cory Turner details the makeover students can expect to find in spring of 2016.

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Ukrainian Tanks Roll In — But Above Them Russian Flags Fly

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

Ukrainian tanks arrived in the city of Kramatorsk Wednesday morning. By the time they rolled out of the city, they were flying Russian flags. People in Kramatorsk tell the story of what happened.

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The New SAT: Less Vocabulary, More Linear Equations

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

The new version of the standardized test for college admissions, set to go into effect in 2016, will do away with obscure vocabulary words and cut multiple choice answer options from five to four.

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