National News

Municipal water systems are vulnerable

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-04 13:41

Toledo resident Lauren Birner's kitchen sink has looked a bit odd the past few days. Birner, who is 15 weeks pregnant, took extra precautions to keep herself from accidentally turning on the tap during the city's recent water ban. 

"I put plastic bags over the faucets because, without thinking, I would turn on the faucet, and think, 'Oh, wait!'" she says.

The ban was put in place Saturday and lifted Monday. Experts suspect that a big algae bloom on Lake Erie produced toxins that got into the water supply, affecting hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio's fourth-largest city.

Algae blooms have been growing on Lake Erie for years. The Ohio Sea Grant Research Lab told the Associated Press this year's bloom was smaller than in years past but it was pushed toward shore by wind and waves.

A number of factors make the algae flourish. Experts point to global warming and to fertilizer run-off from farm fields. "Algae blooms love fertilizer the same way wheat and corn love fertilizer," says Charles Fishman, author of "The Big Thirst," a book about water.

Fishman says when algae die, they produce a toxin, and that toxin appears to have gotten past Toledo's water treatment plant. Fishman fears the situation could happen on the other Great Lakes. That should put cities on guard, he says, especially if they rely on a single water source.

Fishman says the situation was not catastrophic in Toledo, but it could have been graver. "If this had happened in the middle of the week, it would've had a huge economic impact," he says. 

Experts say there are ways to mitigate problems tied to algal blooms, like improving water treatment facilities or getting farmers to grow crops that need less fertilizer, even if they're less lucrative. 

"A lot of farmers would see costs go up and revenues go down," says David Zetland, a water economist at Leiden University College in the Netherlands.

The state of Ohio has tried to address problem. Legislators passed a law this year requiring that farmers get training before using commercial fertilizers. 

But Alan Vicory, a principal in the water practice at Stantec Consulting in Cincinnati, says it's not clear what quantities of the fertilizer components nitrogen and phosphorous cause an algae bloom outbreak.

"We have been working on this as a community of scientists and engineers for many years, and it's very difficult," he says. "It's confounded our ability to tie all those things together to have any predictive capability as to an outbreak."

In Portugal, a 'bad bank' saves the day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-04 13:41

A multi-billion dollar rescue is underway for a European bank, and global economy watchers are hopeful the fix will keep the problem from spreading beyond Portugal.

Banco Espirito Santo is getting chopped in two. Its toxic assets will be held in a so-called “bad bank,” a concept that drew attention during the worst of the global financial crisis.

The idea is that with bad loans and other toxic assets segregated from strong assets, the “good bank” can go on with the regular business of taking deposits and lending, without worries that customers will freak out and withdraw all their money, causing chaos.

When the bad bank tries to sell off the bad stuff, lots of money will be lost. But unlike previous bank bailouts, the burden doesn’t all land on taxpayers.

"The losses are gonna be borne by some of the creditors to that bank and the people that own stock in that bank, the shareholders," explains Matt Slaughter, associate dean at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. "That’s a good move."

Slaughter says banks will manage risk better, if they don’t assume taxpayers will ultimately pay the bills for their screw-ups.

Mark Garrison: The basic idea’s actually quite simple. Raj Bhala, who teaches international law at University of Kansas, gives us a visual aid.

Raj Bhala: If you were drawing it out on a blackboard, you would be drawing out good assets and putting a big circle around them and then you’d be drawing bad assets and putting a big circle around them. They would not be linked.

European bankers call this ring-fencing and they love to reference herding cattle. Kerry Cornelius runs a real cattle ranch and directs the Ranch Management Program at Texas Christian University. He says fencing plays a role, but EU officials seem a bit off with their terms.

Kerry Cornelius: I think that’s something that bankers probably came up or dreamed up on their own.

Linda Hooks: Regulators and analysts look for analogies and the fence analogy makes a lot of sense. You’re trying to contain a problem and keep it from growing any further.

Washington and Lee economics professor Linda Hooks says when a bad bank fences off or herds in or does whatever to toxic assets, the good bank can thrive. It goes on with regular business of taking deposits and lending and customers won’t freak out and pull all their money, causing chaos. When the bad bank tries to sell off the bad stuff, lots of money will be lost. But as Dartmouth business school associate dean Matt Slaughter points out, unlike previous bank bailouts, it doesn’t all land on taxpayers.

Matt Slaughter: The losses are gonna be borne by some of the creditors to that bank and the people that own stock in that bank, the shareholders. And that’s a good move actually, going forward.

Slaughter says banks will manage risk better, if they don’t assume taxpayers will pay for their screw-ups. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

An Ebola Quarantine In Freetown: People Come And Go As They Wish

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 13:33

Sierra Leone is at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak. All homes exposed to virus have been quarantined. We visited one of them and found the atmosphere there surprisingly relaxed.

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72-Hour Cease-Fire Takes Effect In Gaza

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 13:04

Israelis and Hamas have agreed to a three-day truce. The proposal by Egypt had been on the table for three weeks.

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Gaza Family Mourns The Loss Of A Son, Brother — And Hamas Militant

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 13:03

The brother and mother of a Hamas fighter who was killed in a tunnel recall his path into militancy. They're pleased he died for what they consider a good cause.

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Can I ask you to blue sky that synergy?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-04 12:45

"Last week in my email to you I synthesized our strategic direction as a productivity and platform company. Having a clear focus is the start of the journey, not the end. The more difficult steps are creating the organization and culture to bring our ambitions to life..."

This is an excerpt from a memo Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put out last month, announcing major lay-offs at the company. Entitled "Starting to Evolve Our Organization and Culture", it got a lot of attention for its extreme use of business jargon.

But, as it turns out, using business jargon has some big advantages.

A new study from the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business found people who use business jargon are assumed to have a higher position within a company, and are seen as better leaders.

"What we found is that there’s something about abstraction that communicates that ‘I’m a big picture person,’" explains author  Cheryl Wakslak, Assistant Professor of Management and Organization at USC. "That’s what we expect powerful people to be like."

In fact, says Wakslak, people who don’t use management-speak and, instead, lay their ideas out in a concrete, detailed way, are perceived as less effective leaders. Wakslak says we see this in the reaction voters sometimes have to politicians who get too granular with their ideas. "You want to know that a leader’s on top of everything, that your politician knows these details. But when politicians start to talk in that way, they get labeled as wonky and they just don’t seem as effective."

"I remember when I first went to work a long time ago at a Xerox Research Center and I got a memo on the first day that said: 'Cascade this to your people and see what the pushback is,'" says Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California Berkeley's School of Information. "I thought, you know, I’m not in Kansas anymore." Nunberg says business-speak really got going in the 1970s. "That was the moment when people started talking about corporate culture. That was when managers began to feel that workers could be motivated not just by their salaries and job security, but by a kind of language."

Language that made people feel like going to the office every day was important and epic, says Nunberg. "You gave people a special language to speak that suggested that the work experience was somehow different and grander than the experience of ordinary life. You had champions in the workplace. You make mission statements and you have a vision."

The rise of business-speak also came about just as executive salaries began rapidly outpacing line-worker pay. Jargon was a way for managers to differentiate themselves from people who were earning far less than they were. They began using it as a power play.

"Sitting in on board meetings and other things, you were at a disadvantage if you didn’t understand what they were saying," says entrepreneur and investor Ron Sturgeon. Sturgeon started out working on cars after high school and eventually built a huge auto salvage business, which he sold to Ford. Sturgeon hadn’t been to business school, and when he first started sitting in on big, corporate meetings, he was struck by the use of jargon. "If you’re in the meeting and you don’t know what the term is, then you’re definitely at a disadvantage," says Sturgeon. "And so the person would obviously have more power than you or seem more intellectual than you."

Sturgeon became fascinated with the jargon and wrote and published a dictionary of business jargon terms.

But jargon isn't always about power. Nunberg says business buzz-words are also ways for us to communicate larger issues happening around work and the place of work in our lives.

For example, now that flex-time has us working from our home-office, we sometimes have to unplug to achieve work-life balance. And women in the workplace are being encouraged to lean in and shatter the glass ceiling.

"Jargon arises very often in order to deal with new phenomena," says Nunberg. "We are working differently now, we have different relationships to our workplace and our co-workers and we need new language to describe that."

It’s even started creeping into popular culture. Weird Al Yankovic’s new album, Mandatory Fun, has a song called Mission Statement, that’s written entirely in business jargon.

In other words: At the end of the day, there are a lot of moving parts in today’s workplace. And in order to authentically describe the transformational change we’re seeing in our relationship with our jobs, we need terms that facilitate new levels of communication so that we can more effectively circle back to these big picture issues, and touch base with how to best thrive and create effective synergies in workplace 2.0. 

All of you. Excellent deliverables.

Justice Department Finds Excessive Use Of Force At New York Prison

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 12:34

Adolescent inmates are subject to "extremely high rates of violance" at Rikers Island, according to a civil rights investigation. For male teens, the prison is "broken," a U.S. attorney said.

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Jim Brady, Press Secretary Turned Gun Control Activist, Dies At 73

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 12:18

Jim Brady, the White House press secretary who was shot in the head by a gunman trying to assassinate President Reagan, has died at age 73. NPR's Brian Naylor reports on a man whose later life was dedicated to changing gun laws.

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Africa Summit To Tackle Food Stability And Climate Change

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 12:18

An unprecedented gathering of African leaders opened in Washington, D.C. The U.S.-Africa Leader's Summit is covering topics including food security, climate change, regional stability and expanded business opportunities between the U.S. and Africa.

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Islamic State Bolsters Its Control Over Northwestern Iraq

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 12:18

The militant group known as the Islamic State has reportedly captured Iraq's largest dam, just another instance in its successful offensive in northwestern Iraq. Melissa Block talks with reporter Jane Arraf about the group's gains.

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In Tech Marketing Jobs, Women's Successes Are Rarely Recognized

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 12:18

It's no secret that men dominate the top positions in Silicon Valley. But there are areas of the tech industry with lots of women: marketing and PR. Their contributions are often key, but overlooked.

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Toledo Escapes The Looming Bloom, Turns Its Taps Back On

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 12:18

A weekend-long ban on drinking tap water in Toledo, Ohio, was lifted early Monday. Some 400,000 residents in the region had been told not to drink the water.

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Foreigners Flee As Violence Worsens In Libya

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 12:18

Conditions in Libya have gone from bad to worse in recent months, with its main airport now a battleground and foreigners pulling out of the country.

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Federal Judge Strikes Down Alabama Abortion Law

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 12:18

A federal judge has ruled an Alabama abortion law unconstitutional. The measure required doctors to have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. The ruling comes amid legal fights over just how far states can go to regulate abortion.

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What You Need To Know About Sierra Leone And Ebola

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-04 12:18

Sierra Leone is one of three West African nations hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is there and has the latest.

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Luxury seats coming to an AMC theater near you

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-04 11:37

As movie ticket sales continue to decline, AMC has found a new way to attract moviegoers to its theaters.

The second largest movie chain plans to spend about $600 million to add luxury reclinable seats to 40 percent of theaters over the next five years. While this could mean up to 70 fewer seats per screen, AMC has seen an 80 percent increase in crowds at theaters that have undergone renovation. Wesley Morris, a staff writer for Grantland, says AMC hasn't raised the prices on these tickets yet.

"But they put a premium on that kind of movie going. You see it where the nicer theaters become this exclusive event. So they’ve all gone out to the suburbs… and so you got a whole class of movie goers that are stuck downtown with the crappy bedbug seats."

AMC plans to wait a year after revamping its theaters before increasing ticket prices. The average ticket price has been becoming more expensive every year, and with the added fee for luxury seats, it raises the question of who can actually afford these tickets.

“You can never get AMC to obviously sort of say, ‘Oh, well clearly we’ve got an upper class customer.’ But I think they would say that we are trying to appeal to an upper-echelon.” 

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