National News

Wildfires In Southern California Consume Thousands Of Acres

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 13:36

Nine wildfires were confirmed in the region on Wednesday alone, prompting more than 11,000 mandatory evacuations in the city of Carlsbad and multiple school closures.

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How U.S. Hospitals Are Planning To Stop The Deadly MERS Virus

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 13:34

A second case of the new Middle East Respiratory syndrome has shown up in the U.S. The virus has been spreading through Saudi hospitals. Health officials expect more cases to appear here.

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Why 'infrastructure' may be the new political buzzword

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 13:30

One of the biggest economic problems facing the nation has become something of a buzzword in politics of late: "infrastructure."

President Barack Obama was in Tarrytown, New York on Wednesday, just up the Hudson River from New York City, talking about the need to upgrade infrastructure, in the shadow of the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is being replaced.

The President isn't the only one who's been talking about infrastructure, and it's enough to make you wonder if it's the new "addicted to foreign oil," i.e., something politicians say over and over again, knowing full well how hard it is to change.

"We laid in place a very good infrastructure, but a lot of those investments were made 50, 80, 100 years ago, and it is time for the U.S. to upgrade and modernize," says Casey Dinges, a senior managing director at the American Society of Engineers (ASCE), a group that gave U.S. infrastructure a “D+” grade last year.

According to Rob Puentes, who directs the Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative at the Brookings Institution, the numbers are staggering.

"I mean we have 63,000 bridges that are structurally deficient," he says. "Two hundred and forty thousand water mains break every year."

 You can get lost in those numbers, and that is part of the problem. It helps, Puentes says, to talk about what constitutes infrastructure. Yes, it is roads and bridges and waterways, but it is also broadband – pipes of a different sort.

"It's not true that Americans don't understand this," Puentes argues. "When they're confronted with these choices, they are willing to pay for infrastructure projects."

And they have demonstrated that at the local level. States have raised gas taxes, to pay for renovations and modernization, and cities are improving their infrastructure.

But there's another problem, according to Rae Zimmerman a professor of planning and public administration at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Fixing infrastructure often becomes urgent only after disasters happen.

"And then there seems to be a lull, and then it comes back, and a lull, and comes back, and hopefully, this time it is going to stick," she says, noting the fact that we are talking about infrastructure now, absent a big disaster, can’t be such a bad thing.

To illustrate part of the infrastructure problem facing the U.S., check out a map showing the 20 worst bottlenecks of traffic congestion, as well as the metropolitan regions around the country with the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges, organized by population size. All data is based on the 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, from the American Society of Civil Engineers and the 2012 Metropolitan Bridge Rankings, from Transportation for America.

One piece of healthcare jargon worth knowing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 13:28

In healthcare there’s a ton of mind-numbing jargon – "providers", "carriers", "the dual eligibles", "fee-for-service".

But if there’s one acronym that should take up just a bit of brain space – other than the ACA, which stands for the Affordable Care Act, of course – it’s ACO. What does it stand for? Accountable Care Organization.

There are more than 600 ACOs up and running across the country. And while you may not know what it means, you may be in one, with an estimated 1 in 7 Americans served by one.

So what is it?

It’s basically a group of doctors, nurses and pharmacists who work together to improve care and lower the cost of that care. Sometimes it’s a simple follow-up call to a patient. Sometimes it’s unraveling a mystery.

Jeff Brown – who works with three New Jersey-based ACOs remembers one Trenton guy who kept showing up in the ER.

“His wife had recently passed away, and he didn’t know how to cook for himself or go to the grocery store," Brown recalled. "And so what the Trenton health team determined was they needed to take this guy home and [show him] how to shop for himself and how to prepare some meals."

If that sounds like more work for doctors and nurses, it is. Shifting people away from expensive ER and hospital stays, and moving them towards cheaper primary doctor visits takes effort. What’s the incentive for healthcare providers? In a word: Money.

In an ACO, providers can get paid more if they meet patient quality benchmarks and keep costs down, said Dr. Kavita Patel at the Brookings Institution.

“This is one of the few ways that we have of trying to change how we actually interact with patients and providers and cut costs at the same time,” she said.

But Northwestern economist David Dranove said, based on 20 years experimenting with similar concepts, when healthcare providers have teamed up, we’ve seen prices rise and consumer choice shrink, leaving communities with partnerships that can stymie future change.

“The way they decide to deliver medical care in a community will become the way that that community receives its medical care, for better or for worse,” he said. Dranove said he hopes that as the creation of ACOs is on the rise, they'll proceed slowly.

Who will pay for climate change? Not us, insurer says

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 13:28

Climate change is shaping up to be really expensive. So who picks up the tab? That’s the issue in a lawsuit filed recently by Farmers Insurance against Chicago and its suburbs.

A big two-day rainstorm hit the Chicago area in April 2013. Sewers backed up into hundreds of homes. Some people had to leave their homes. Clean-up was a nightmare.

The company wants local governments to pay for damages, and experts say this marks the beginning of a trend.

Andrew Logan looks at the insurance industry for Ceres, a non-profit that coordinates private-sector efforts to address climate change.

“I think what the insurers are saying is: ‘We’re in the business of covering unforeseen risks. Things that are basically accidents,’” Logan says. “‘But we’re now at a point with the science where climate change is now a foreseeable risk.’”

That would make local governments liable, in theory, for not upgrading their stormwater-management systems to account for that risk.  

Legal experts say this theory faces an uphill fight. Very strong legal doctrines protect governments in these kinds of cases, says attorney James Bruen, a partner at Farella Braun + Martell LLP.

“They can say, ‘You can’t second-guess us on that,’” says Bruen. “‘We have to make a decision politically about where to put our services, and just because you don’t have as many services as you’d like is not a basis to sue us. Sorry.’”

So, why bother filing this kind of suit?

“It’s the lottery,” Bruen says.  In other words, the cost of the ticket— filing the suit— is nothing compared to the potential payout: Getting off the hook for climate-related liabilities.

Insurers may also hope lawsuits will influence future government decisions.  “They want to put cities on notice that they’re not going to walk away quietly,” says Robert Verchick, who teaches environmental law at Loyola University in New Orleans.

“Even if a city is likely to win a lawsuit, it still is going to have to spend quite a bit in defending itself,” he says. “And it might just be better for everybody involved for cities to take climate change seriously.”

Michael Gerrard, who runs the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, says he’s been waiting to see a lawsuit like this for a long time.

“There will be many such lawsuits,” says Gerrard. “Some against governments, some against private entities. Often, insurance companies will be in the mix, and we’ll see who pays what.”

For instance, he says, architecture firms could become targets. “If someone designs a building and the building doesn’t survive a foreseeable storm, is there malpractice liability on the part of the architect or the builder?”

 

Past And Future Collide In Silicon Valley Congressional Race

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 13:26

California Rep. Mike Honda and challenger Ro Khanna largely agree on the big issues. Style is where the two Democrats differ.

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How to survive the next economic collapse

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:57

Our global financial system relies on so many unpredictable factors that a total economic crash is all but inevitable.

But with careful planning now, you can still win in a post-crash economy where money doesn’t matter. Daniel Kibblesmith and Sam Weiner, authors of "How to Win At Everything" have some tips:
 
1. Immediately withdraw all the money from your 401K and invest it in burlap futures. Twenty-four hours after the coming crash, all clothing will be made from itchy sacks.
 
2. Sell all your stocks and bonds - soon, hearty grains will be more valuable than gold. Fill up a sock with millet seeds - it can be used as currency and doubles as a blackjack for self-defense.
 
3.Abandon your house right this minute and move to nature’s mansion - a cave. The huge home you worked so hard for will make you a target for roving gangs of bandits.
 
4. Gasoline will be impossible to find, so trade in your obsolete gas guzzler for a faithful donkey. Then trade any useless children you have lying around for a second donkey.
 
5. Your current white collar job won’t prepare you for a future where the only available jobs are warlord, balladeer, and widow. Start learning a practical skill today, like identifying poison berries or tricking your enemies into eating poison berries.
 
6. As society continues to crumble, strength will be the only law, so your civilized name is meaningless. Change it to something that inspires people to follow you. Goodbye John Smith, hello Dirk StormRider.
 
We’re headed for a brave new world where crime is legal, family is a liability and wild dogs will be everywhere. But if you follow our tips, you’ll become a pillar of the post-money economy, paving the way for future generations to become just as reckless and complacent as the investors of today.
 

How to survive the next economic collapse

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:57

Our global financial system relies on so many unpredictable factors that a total economic crash is all but inevitable.

But with careful planning now, you can still win in a post-crash economy where money doesn’t matter. Daniel Kibblesmith and Sam Weiner, authors of "How to Win At Everything" have some tips:
 
1. Immediately withdraw all the money from your 401K and invest it in burlap futures. Twenty-four hours after the coming crash, all clothing will be made from itchy sacks.
 
2. Sell all your stocks and bonds - soon, hearty grains will be more valuable than gold. Fill up a sock with millet seeds - it can be used as currency and doubles as a blackjack for self-defense.
 
3.Abandon your house right this minute and move to nature’s mansion - a cave. The huge home you worked so hard for will make you a target for roving gangs of bandits.
 
4. Gasoline will be impossible to find, so trade in your obsolete gas guzzler for a faithful donkey. Then trade any useless children you have lying around for a second donkey.
 
5. Your current white collar job won’t prepare you for a future where the only available jobs are warlord, balladeer, and widow. Start learning a practical skill today, like identifying poison berries or tricking your enemies into eating poison berries.
 
6. As society continues to crumble, strength will be the only law, so your civilized name is meaningless. Change it to something that inspires people to follow you. Goodbye John Smith, hello Dirk StormRider.
 
We’re headed for a brave new world where crime is legal, family is a liability and wild dogs will be everywhere. But if you follow our tips, you’ll become a pillar of the post-money economy, paving the way for future generations to become just as reckless and complacent as the investors of today.
 

Tropical Storms Hitting Peak Strength Nearer Poles, Study Says

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:52

A new NOAA-led study has found that hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones are at their most destructive about 90 miles farther north or south of the equator than three decades ago.

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So, you wanna be a flipper?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:50

Believe it or not, house flipping is back with the housing recovery. And while there’s money to be made from flipping houses, there's also money to be made from selling things to would-be flippers. Flipping workshops are crowded again.  

At a recent workshop just outside Baltimore on a recent Saturday, Terry Royce, who’s been flipping houses for seven years, was sharing some of his secrets. Everything from how to find a seller, or a buyer, even time management tips.

“I always like to say, this is work, stuff gonna go wrong," he said later.  "It is. And it’s the reality.”

It was Royce’s first workshop. He charged $97 for a morning seminar and afternoon bus tour of some homes that are being flipped.

Zane Watkins was among those on the bus. He said he’d been to four or five other workshops, one that cost him and his wife $300 and ended with a hard sell for another series of seminars.

“They had three different versions of the package,” he recalled. “One was like $10,000, and $15,000 and $22,000 that you would pay overall.”

The Better Business Bureau rates these types of workshops. It's now tracking 130 of them.

“Of that, only one is a BBB accredited business with an A," said spokeswoman Katherine Hutt. "We have one that has a B+, 13 that have Cs and all the rest have Ds or Fs.”

Hutt said the BBB gets several hundred complaints a year from consumers saying they didn’t get what they paid for from flipping workshops. And, when they tried to get their money back, they ran into a brick wall. Hutt said, just like buying a home, when it comes to flipping workshops, it’s buyer beware.

The Latest Food Truck Theme Is Marijuana For Lunch

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:32

The food truck craze and recreational marijuana have now collided. MagicalButter, a Seattle-based company, says its Samich food truck is just one of many pot culinary ventures.

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Out There On The Ice: An Intimate View Of The Melting Antarctic Sheet

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:11

Two groups of scientists have reported that the melting of the giant West Antarctica Ice Sheet appears to be unstoppable. Oceans could rise several feet in the coming centuries because of its melting.

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Harvard's Kennedy School denies 'privilege class' story

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:08

The Harvard Kennedy School responded to reports that it has created an orientation class on "power and privilege" with a flat denial.

Doug Gavel, the school's Associate Director for Media Relations, told Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman that there is "false information in the media" about a class that administrators at the school were reported to have committed to scheduling for first-year students. Several media outlets picked up the story, first reported in New York Magazine's "The Cut" that, "In response to growing demand from student activists, administrators committed Friday to adding a class in power and privilege to its orientation program for incoming first-year students."

The story comes in the wake of a controversial essay on privilege written by a student at Princeton earlier this month. 

Here's the text of Gavel's email to Mitchell:

There appears to be false information in the media being conveyed by reporters who have not contacted Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) officials to verify the accuracy of the information.  Contrary to one article that has been picked up by others, the school is not planning to offer classes, coursework, or sessions devoted specifically to "power and privilege."  The school currently offers a number of opportunities for students to discuss and learn about issues of diversity.  Learning to have constructive conversations in the context of differences in race, gender, cultural background, political viewpoints and many other perspectives is important in any graduate school, particularly one dedicated to preparing its students to be effective leaders and policymakers. HKS examines opportunities offered to students to engage in these discussions, regularly assessing their effectiveness and value.  We look forward to continuing to work with our faculty and students to provide the most valuable learning opportunities in this area. 

Student Protests Force A String Of Commencement Speaker Shake-ups

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:00

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has bowed out as the commencement speaker at Smith College. Her withdrawal is just the latest high-profile commencement speech dropout.

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As More Speakers Get The Boot, Who's Left To Send Off Graduates?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:00

In a string of commencement-speaker dropouts, would-be honorary guests are being pushed out by campus protests. Meanwhile, schools are trying to boost their reputations and promote diverse ideas.

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Ras Baraka Rises To Mantle Of Newark's New Mayor

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:00

In Newark, the New Jersey city held its first mayoral election since Cory Booker left for the U.S. Senate. Ras Baraka won, and Sarah Gonzalez of WNYC explains how the mayor-elect plans to run Newark.

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'The New York Times' Announces Surprise Change Of Management

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:00

The New York Times has announced that Dean Baquet, the paper's managing editor, will replace Jill Abramson as the executive editor. Both Abramson and Baquet were named to their current jobs in 2011.

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American technology, Chinese pollution

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 11:58

It’s been dubbed by foreign media as "the Airpocalpyse" -- when smog levels in Beijing go beyond what monitoring machinery is able to read.

A hundred miles east of the city, along the swamp surrounding the Bohai Sea, the foul, gray, soupy air is even more airpocalyptic, thanks to a concentration of industrial plants. On an island shrouded in smog, Capital Steel produces 10 million tons of steel a year, and millions of tons more of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas. But Capital Steel’s Wang Xi insists a new revolutionary project could change this: “If it’s a success, we will take gases that are now burned and released as carbon dioxide and turn them into liquid fuel instead,” says Xi, pointing to a tower of tangled pipes and valves.

Capital steel has partnered with Chicago-based Lanzatech to build a pilot plant that will trap the mill’s carbon emissions. Lanzatech engineer Jason Bromley stands in front of a five-story column of pipes and tanks. Inside, a special water-borne bacteria feeds on carbon monoxide and, after fermenting for a half day, the concoction turns into ethanol. “You can chuck that straight into most cars," says Bromley, patting one of the ethanol tanks. "In fact, you can blend 10 percent in any car and most modern cars you can blend 20 to 30 percent.”

LanzaTech's pilot plant at Capital Steel's mill in Hebei province. Inside these tanks, carbon monoxide is mixed with bacteria, water, and other chemicals to produce ethanol. The process reduces the mill's carbon emissions by a third.

Rob Schmitz/Marketplace

If the pilot project is successful, it could someday cut the steel mill’s carbon emissions by a third, reduce the mill's particulate pollution, and manage to pump out 5,000 gallons of ethanol a day. The profits from selling the ethanol, says Bromely, would more than offset the cost of the project. At this stage, Capital Steel - known in Chinese as Shougang Group - is funding the joint venture in return for a license to use Lanzatech’s technology.

“Our value in that JV has come from providing the technology and the IP whereas Shougang group themselves actually put the real cash down themselves to build the plant," says Bromley.

It's American technology combined with Chinese funding – a potential template for cleaning up what’s becoming a global environmental mess.

At the Shangri-La hotel in downtown Shanghai, businessman Andrew Chung takes a breather in the lobby. He’s here to set up deals for U.S. clean tech companies. "There are many, many opportunities for U.S.-based companies to explore technology, expansion and adoption in a place like China, because there is such a strong demand for the technology. For the country’s survival," says Chung, who works as a partner at Khosla Ventures.

The venture capital fund was established by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla. Half of Khosla’s $2.5 billion fund has gone to clean tech companies. A few of them operate in China, like Lanzatech and a green engine company from Detroit called EcoMotors, but Chung is surprised more American tech companies aren’t interested in China. "I think very few realize that the Chinese government is putting anywhere from $60 to 80 billion a year, every year, for the next ten years into clean tech related investments, versus the U.S., where the dollars are a fraction of that," says Chung.

Chung says many U.S. companies are hesitant about China, mostly due to concerns about losing control of their intellectual property. And some have an outdated perspective on the country, something Chung witnessed firsthand at a recent White House roundtable on manufacturing he attended.

“One of the folks on the roundtable who was a C-level executive of a very well-known U.S. equipment company, basically said to me, ‘Well don’t they manufacture very simple things in China? Are they gonna be able to get to the level of quality that you need?’ I just was stunned and speechless. I kind of thought, ‘Hmm, well where you have been in the last decade?’”

Chung says this attitude that American technology is far superior to what the Chinese can do is a dangerous one. Despite his work putting U.S. and Chinese partners together, Chung says one of his biggest worries is that if the US government and its corporate interests don’t move quickly enough to fund clean tech start-ups, those American start-ups will have no choice but to take their ideas elsewhere.

Want a raise? Drop a warm puppy into your boss’s lap

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 11:56

That warm and fuzzy feeling you get sitting in a comfy chair could make you more generous.

So says a new book by Dr. Thelma Lobel called Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence. 

Lobel says she first realized sensations impacted her decisions when she and her husband were trying to sell their apartment in Tel Aviv, Israel.

"We pretty much decided what was the price we were going to ask," she says, "and then they served a lot of hot coffee. And I remember holding a warm cup in my hands all the time. Without noticing it, I went down in the price. I didn't know why I did that."

Lobel's studies later revealed that it wasn't just warm and soft sensations--not necessarily from beverages, either--that made people perceive others as nicer. Cold and hard sensations, she found, have the opposite effect. To that end, the physical copy of her book feels soft on the front cover and rough on the back--an exercise in what she calls "embodied cognition."

"All the things in the environment--the things that we see, the texture of the things we touch, the temperature of the things we touch, the colors we see, the things we smell--they all influence our behaviors, thoughts, emotions, decisions...without our awareness."

Russia's Energy Giant Turns Up The Heat On Ukraine

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 11:49

Gazprom, the energy company, has dramatically raised the price it charges Ukraine for natural gas. Despite its weak, ailing economy, Ukraine must now pay far more than any other Gazprom client.

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