National News

Gene Linked To Alzheimer's Poses A Special Threat To Women

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 13:43

Scientists have figured out one reason women might be more vulnerable to Alzheimer's: A risk gene doubles women's chances of getting the disease but has minimal effect on men.

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Kraft hits refresh button on vintage brands

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 13:41

Maxwell House coffee gets a makeover today. The Kraft brand is unveiling a new logo, new packaging, and, bringing back its “good to the last drop” tagline – to remind consumers how good it is, it says. But is it a good idea to tinker with a classic brand’s identity?

An idea that might have seemed great a few decades ago-- we're talking about Quaker Oats’ old version of Aunt Jemima--might not seem so hot just a little bit later. But even when brands need to make big changes, they need to step carefully, says Dave Reibstein, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business.

“In general, what it is you want to do is to be very, very, very consistent with your brand,” Reibstein says, especially to avoid the worst case scenario. “I walk down the aisle and I don’t even see it."

Tom Meyvis, a professor of marketing at the Stern School of Business at New York University, cites Brawny paper towel's sucessful handling of an image problem the brand had with its illustrated spokeman.

“The Wall Street Journal described him as a 70s porn star," Meyvis says.

But, Meyvis notes, that brand handled its image right–by taking baby steps. It slowly shrank the problem mustache, and character, until they were replaced by one a little more up to date. But Matt Egan, senior director of strategy for Siegel+Gale, a brand consultancy based in New York, says even though Kraft says its coffee has a brand new campaign, relying on its old slogan, "Good to the last drop," may not do the trick.

"When a food company resorts to talking about goodness," he says, "that’s always a sign they don’t have much of a real story to tell."

Global warming: 15 years to change things...

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 13:38

The latest U.N. climate change report says that if the world doesn't do some really tough, expensive things over the next 15 years, the costs of climate change may spiral out of control. Some of those things involve technology that isn't available yet, such as removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Others involve things countries have done a terrible job of so far— like burning less coal, oil and gas. Scientists have been saying carbon-dioxide emissions have to be reduced for decades, but emissions actually went up in the early twenty-first century. Some people deny global warming is caused by human activitity, but what holds the rest of the world back? A lot. 

Robert Gifford, a psychologist at the University of Victoria, studies what he calls the “dragons of inaction” on climate change. So far, he says he’s counted more than 30. 

"Certainly one that would be in the top ten is 'lack of perceived behavioral control,'" he says. "Which in plain English is: What can I do about it? I’m only one person out of 7 and a half billion people?”

Another one is fatalism. "If people think the game is already over, then why should I do anything?" Gifford says. He thinks "apocalyptic" predictions by scientists can actually make that problem worse. 

"I’ve called this the policy problem from hell," says Anthony Leiserowitz, who runs the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.  "You almost couldn’t design a problem that in some ways is a worse fit for our psychology as well as our institutional decision making."

Psychologically, he says, it doesn’t help that carbon dioxide itself is invisible. It's hard to fight what you can’t see.

Climate change also seems too far away to focus on. "Even if they accept that climate change is real," he says, "many people still think it’s distant in time—that the impacts won’t be felt for a generation or more. Or distant in space -- that this is about polar bears."

Institutionally, he thinks politicians have more practical reasons for thinking short-term: The next election cycle. "Many of them aren't going to be around to see the ultimate effect of the decisions they make today," he says.  

"What makes this even harder is that countries need to coordinate," says David Victor, the author of Global Warming Gridlock, who helped put together the U.N. report's introductory chapter. "No big emitter is going to control its emissions aggressively and bear that cost unless it sees other major emitters in the world doing something similar."

The U.N. climate report outlines steps to hold global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Victor says he expects the world to “blow past” that target.

Global warming: 15 years to change things...

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 13:38

The latest U.N. climate change report says that if the world doesn't do some really tough, expensive things over the next 15 years, the costs of climate change may spiral out of control. Some of those things involve technology that isn't available yet, such as removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Others involve things countries have done a terrible job of so far— like burning less coal, oil and gas. Scientists have been saying carbon-dioxide emissions have to be reduced for decades, but emissions actually went up in the early twenty-first century. Some people deny global warming is caused by human activitity, but what holds the rest of the world back? A lot. 

Robert Gifford, a psychologist at the University of Victoria, studies what he calls the “dragons of inaction” on climate change. So far, he says he’s counted more than 30. 

"Certainly one that would be in the top ten is 'lack of perceived behavioral control,'" he says. "Which in plain English is: What can I do about it? I’m only one person out of 7 and a half billion people?”

Another one is fatalism. "If people think the game is already over, then why should I do anything?" Gifford says. He thinks "apocalyptic" predictions by scientists can actually make that problem worse. 

"I’ve called this the policy problem from hell," says Anthony Leiserowitz, who runs the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.  "You almost couldn’t design a problem that in some ways is a worse fit for our psychology as well as our institutional decision making."

Psychologically, he says, it doesn’t help that carbon dioxide itself is invisible. It's hard to fight what you can’t see.

Climate change also seems too far away to focus on. "Even if they accept that climate change is real," he says, "many people still think it’s distant in time—that the impacts won’t be felt for a generation or more. Or distant in space -- that this is about polar bears."

Institutionally, he thinks politicians have more practical reasons for thinking short-term: The next election cycle. "Many of them aren't going to be around to see the ultimate effect of the decisions they make today," he says.  

"What makes this even harder is that countries need to coordinate," says David Victor, the author of Global Warming Gridlock, who helped put together the U.N. report's introductory chapter. "No big emitter is going to control its emissions aggressively and bear that cost unless it sees other major emitters in the world doing something similar."

The U.N. climate report outlines steps to hold global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Victor says he expects the world to “blow past” that target.

Retail sales: What's driving demand?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 13:35

The Commerce Department reports retail sales in March rose 1.1 percent from the previous month, and 3.8 percent from one year ago. It’s the biggest gain since September 2012, and was led by auto sales—up 3.1 percent—and building materials and garden supplies—up 1.8 percent. Except for electronics stores, appliances stores and gas stations—which saw their sales fall—the retail rebound in March was across the board—clothing, bars and restaurants, health and personal care, books and music.

The rise in March came from improving weather, after a dismal winter with frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall across the East and Midwest, and drenching rain at times in the Pacific Northwest.

Deborah Trout-Kolb was heading into a Nordstrom department store in downtown Portland, Ore. She owns a fitness studio in New Haven, Conn., where she lives, and she said the ‘horrendous’ winter weather depressed her income.

“Obviously if people can’t come into a dance and fitness studio they don’t pay,” she said. “But I believe it’s getting better.” And that’s making her feel a bit more like shopping now. “You’ve got to do that retail therapy every once in a while,” she said.

Nationwide, people who didn’t shop for clothes or washing machines or cars in mid-winter, have come into stores with a vengeance. However, there are still headwinds at the bottom of the income ladder, said economist Chris Christopher at IHS Global Insight: “Extended unemployment benefits being phased out, in addition to food stamps being lowered.”

And for the middle-class, income and household wealth still haven’t caught up to pre-recession levels, said NYU economist Edward Wolff. He said a main driver of the improving store-sales figures is increased borrowing.

“Rising debt levels, consumer debt particularly, is helping to increase consumer spending [and] retail sales,” said Wolff.

Some of that consumer borrowing is driven by people feeling better-off—a so-called ‘wealth effect’—if their home or stock portfolio has risen in value. And some of it is the need for ‘retail therapy’ that the shopper heading into Nordstrom was talking about.

By Shea Huffman/Marketplace

NSA Coverage Garners Pulitzers For Post And Guardian

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 13:25

Winners of the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday. The Washington Post and The Guardian were among the notable winners, commended for together breaking the news of NSA surveillance programs.

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A 'Roller Coaster' Year For Texas Town Rocked By Blast

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 13:21

Some lawmakers say a deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West last year could be the state's best opportunity to pass needed safety measures. But it's going to be an uphill battle.

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Kentucky fried prom corsages

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

Prom season is almost upon us.   Sadly, any conceivable connection to reality ends there. A florist in Louisville, Kentucky is offering a Kentucky Fried Chicken corsage. $20 plus shipping. It has Baby's breath and the whole nine yards of a regular floral corsage, plus you get a $5 KFC gift certificate. You can customize it with Original Recipe or Extra Crispy.   There are only 100 available... so kids, act now.  

Kentucky fried prom corsages

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

Prom season is almost upon us.   Sadly, any conceivable connection to reality ends there. A florist in Louisville, Kentucky is offering a Kentucky Fried Chicken corsage. $20 plus shipping. It has Baby's breath and the whole nine yards of a regular floral corsage, plus you get a $5 KFC gift certificate. You can customize it with Original Recipe or Extra Crispy.   There are only 100 available... so kids, act now.  

John Boehner Foe Targets 'Electile' Dysfunction

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 12:58

A high school French teacher who is challenging House Speaker John Boehner has come up with a novel campaign approach: an ad spoofing virility drug commercials.

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Swimming Superstar Michael Phelps Emerges From Retirement

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 12:56

Phelps, who has won 22 Olympic medals, including 18 gold, plans to compete in Arizona later this month.

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After Deaths, Renewed Focus On Leaky Gas Pipelines

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 12:27

The effort to replace thousands of miles of aging, corroded pipes — which could take decades and cost billions — is receiving fresh attention after an explosion last month in New York killed eight.

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Sandwich Monday: The Passover Sandwich

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 12:11

For this week's Sandwich Monday, our non-Jewish colleagues get an introduction to the wonders of the Passover lunch. Manischewitz rules this meal.

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Nevada Ranch Dispute Ends As Feds Back Down — For Now

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 12:01

A Wild West-style dispute between a Nevada rancher and the Bureau of Land Management has subsided — at least for the moment. Saying Cliven Bundy owed substantial back fees for allowing cattle to graze on federal land, the BLM had begun rounding up his cattle. But following protests from Bundy and hundreds of others, some armed, the BLM backed down, for now.

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Suspected Kansas Shooter Had Ties To KKK

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 12:01

The man suspected of killing three people at a Jewish community center and retirement home is a white supremacist formerly of the Ku Klux Klan. As Frank Morris of KCUR reports, 73-year-old Frazier Glen Cross once ran a paramilitary camp in North Carolina. Cross may have been planning the shooting for months.

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Defiant Of Deadline, Pro-Moscow Occupiers Persist

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 12:01

Pro-Moscow militants have taken over more government buildings in eastern Ukraine, ignoring a government deadline for them to lay down their weapons. The Ukrainian army may enter to retake the region.

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Restaurants: The Modern-Day Lab For Our Smartphone-Obsessed Ways

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 11:57

Servers and bartenders say those addictive glowing screens are changing restaurant experiences, and not for the better. "This is just sort of the new norm," psychology professor Thomas Plante says.

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When the IRS 'likes' your Facebook update

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 11:43

Taxes are due tomorrow, which means that today is the last minute scramble. Really, we're all just trying to get through this time of year without losing our shirts and —of course--without getting audited. The IRS is kicking into high gear, too. Their goals are a bit different than ours, though. The agency is hoping to catch tax dodgers. It loses an estimated $300 billion a year to tax evasion, and getting that money isn’t getting easier. Because of budget cuts, the IRS will have fewer auditing agents than at any time since the 1980s.

Enter robots. After all, the IRS may not have a whole lot of money or manpower, but it has a gold mine of data on you. A lot of it from... well... you.

"It’s hard to believe that anybody who puts anything on Facebook has any legitimate expectation of privacy," says Edward Zelinsky, a professor of tax law at the Cordozo School of Law.

Those fancy vacation photos you posted on Instagram? The Facebook status update about your new car? The tweets about your wildly successful side business?

All fair game for the IRS.

Not that the IRS is perusing everyone’s Facebook photos. It’s probably only looking at your Facebook photos if it suspects you might be a tax dodger. How does it get suspicious? Data, of course.

"It appears from its public statements and some other reports, that it’s using data to piece together likely profiles or likely candidates for closer review," says Behnam Dayanim, co-chair of the privacy and data practice at Paul Hastings.

The IRS is notoriously secretive about its methods; it didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment. But recent private sector hires and off-the-record sources indicate the IRS is seriously gearing up its data mining, using tools like online activity trackers to enhance the vast cache of information it’s already privy to: your social security number, your health records, your banking transactions.

The result? A pretty sophisticated data profile.

"It seems they may be using predictive analytics," says Joseph Turow, professor at University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication. "That takes a huge amount of data and puts it together in a big pot to see if they can predict which individuals don’t pay their taxes."

Creating profiles based on that data could be problematic, says Turow. "Once you begin giving people scores like that, you’ve given them reputations that might stay with them over years, and might be used by the IRS and other agencies in really incorrect ways."

Of course, these days everyone from Google to Nike is cobbling our data together to create profiles of us.

Still, it’s different when the IRS does it. "If Nike is analyzing my information, the worst consequence is that they market stuff to me that I don’t want and it’s annoying," says  Dayanim. "If the government does it, the worst consequence is there could be legal ramifications, whether it’s fines, penalties or imprisonment."

If you don’t want the IRS in your online business, Dyanim suggests ratcheting up the privacy settings on all of your social media accounts. And never posting anything that you wouldn’t want the agency to see. You could also try a charm offensive. The IRS has 24,000 Facebook fans and 52,000 Twitter followers.

Pulitzer Prizes Are Out: 'Washington Post,' 'The Guardian' Win For NSA Stories

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 11:15

Months after exposing the National Security Agency's surveillance program, The Washington Post and The Guardian win a Pulitzer for public service. Donna Tartt won for fiction with The Goldfinch.

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Tyrant lizard king arrives in Washington

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 11:13

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's what's coming up April 15:

  • The National Association of Homebuilders reports on builder confidence in the single family housing market.
  • Did consumers pay more or less for stuff in March than they did in February? The Labor Department issues its Consumer Price Index.
  • On April 15, 1912 the Titanic sank after a fatal run-in with an iceberg.
  • Federal tax returns need to be postmarked by tomorrow. Some post offices have extended hours to accommodate procrastinators. Sounds like fun.
  • And here's some news with teeth. A ceremony at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum marks the arrival of a nearly-complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil. I see a future of selfie's with T rex.
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