National News

Rwanda Honors Dead, Celebrates Progress, 20 Years After Genocide

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 13:46

The 100 days of brutality that began in Rwanda in April 1994 left 800,000 dead, and is the fastest genocide in history.

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The Future Of Clean, Green Fish Farming Could Be Indoor Factories

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 13:45

Aquaculture in the U.S. has lagged because of opposition from environmentalists and people living on the coast. But entrepreneurs say they've found a way to produce fish on land with little pollution.

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'The Tech Sector': Growing, and growing vaguer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 13:34

Anyone remember when Homer Simpson created "Compu-Global-Hyper-Mega-Net"?  Marge asks him what, exactly, his company does, and he responds, “Eh, this industry moves so fast it's really hard to tell.”

It was emblematic of a time in American economic history where tech and the Internet were exploding – a period that ultimately ended in a deafening "POP" sound when the bubble burst. These days, with social media companies that don't even earn any money valued in the billions, it's worth asking the same question. Especially when tech shares are losing value as they started to do last Friday, and are continuing to do today.

"The Tech Sector" is of course a very vague term that many economists and the Bureau of Labor Statistics haven't quite settled on, so it's hard to make anything but vague estimates for its actual size. You can play around with the numbers yourself here. By one gauge, the sector employs 1.3 to 2.5 million people. That's out of 138 million people total employed in the U.S.

But its impact is wider than that.

"What the tech sector historically has done, and continues to do today, is come up with new ways of doing business for all companies and all industries," says Matt Slaughter, director of the Center for Global Business and Government at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, "in addition to cool technology innovations."

One way an economy becomes more productive is through new technology -- and the tech sector embodies that, of course. 

So, does the fact that tech stocks are taking a beating signify a major problem under the hood of our economic engine?

"It's not unusual," says Stuart Freeman, chief equity strategist with Wells Fargo Advisors.  He says tech stocks did well over the past year, and it's normal that at some point people wanted to cash out. "After a while you see investors take profits in the meat of the tech sector, some of the larger companies."

When that happens, it often nudges other investors to do the same thing, a bit like a run on the bank. Not a catastrophic one, but a distinguishable one nonetheless. 

And what we’re seeing isn’t a rash, he adds.  Friday was bad, but most tech stocks are only down between .7 and 1 percent over the year so far.  And nothing he’s seen changes his estimate that tech stocks will grow 5-6 percent over the next year.

Measuring the tech sector: How big is it, really?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 13:34

Anyone remember when Homer Simpson created "Compu-Global-Hyper-Mega-Net?"  Marge asks him what, exactly, his company does, and he responds, “Eh, this industry moves so fast it's really hard to tell.”

It was emblematic of a time in American economic history where tech and the Internet were exploding – a period that ultimately ended in a deafening "POP" sound when the bubble burst. These days, with social media companies that don't even earn any money valued in the billions, it's worth asking the same question. Especially when tech shares are losing value as they started to do last Friday, and are continuing to do today.

"The Tech Sector" is of course a very vague term that many economists and the Bureau of Labor Statistics haven't quite settled on, so it's hard to make anything but vague estimates for its actual size. You can play around with the numbers yourself here. By one gauge, the sector employs 1.3 to 2.5 million people. That's out of 138 million people total employed in the U.S.

But its impact is wider than that.

"What the tech sector historically has done, and continues to do today, is come up with new ways of doing business for all companies and all industries," says Matt Slaughter, director of the Center for Global Business and Government at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, "in addition to cool technology innovations."

One way an economy becomes more productive is through new technology -- and the tech sector embodies that, of course. 

So, does the fact that tech stocks are taking a beating signify a major problem under the hood of our economic engine?

"It's not unusual," says Stuart Freeman, chief equity strategist with Wells Fargo Advisors.  He says tech stocks did well over the past year, and it's normal that at some point people wanted to cash out. "After a while you see investors take profits in the meat of the tech sector, some of the larger companies."

When that happens, it often nudges other investors to do the same thing, a bit like a run on the bank. Not a catastrophic one, but a distinguishable one nonetheless. 

And what we’re seeing isn’t a rash, he adds.  Friday was bad, but most tech stocks are only down between .7 and 1 percent over the year so far.  And nothing he’s seen changes his estimate that tech stocks will grow 5-6 percent over the next year.

Can an executive order help close the pay gap?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 13:30

President Obama is taking measures to try to close the gender pay gap. On Tuesday, Obama will sign an executive order that bans federal contractors from punishing workers who discuss what they're getting paid.

Although such a measure is already enshrined in law, supporters of the move say many people simply don't know they are legally permitted to talk about wages in the workplace.

Obama will also direct the Labor Department to adopt rules that require those same contractors to provide data on what employees are earning, broken down by race and gender. The orders will only apply to federal contractors, but that's not a small group. 

Samuel Estreicher directs the Center for Labor and Employment Law at the New York University School of Law and jokes - that "federal contractor" is basically a synonym "for multinational corporations, for U.S.-based multinationals."

Companies that have contracts with the federal government include some of the largest corporations in the world, and employ around 26 million people in the U.S.

Former Senate Rivals Team Up To Combat Campus Sexual Assault

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 13:27

Sens. Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand are calling for increased funding to bulk up the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

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Wayne Henderson, Jazz Crusaders Co-Founder, Dies

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 13:18

The trombonist and three fellow musicians from Houston started one of jazz's most popular groups in the 1960s. As the times changed, so did their music — and their success magnified further.

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Home-delivery of groceries isn't new, Amazon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 13:12

Amazon has just announced a new service, a device really. Dash. It’s a handheld bar code reader that lets consumers speak into it, or, scan items on their own shelves -- to buy more groceries from Amazon Fresh. Selected customers will begin testing the device this week in Amazon Fresh's handful of test markets.

Sounds very high tech. But not many web retailers have managed to succeed in the low tech business of delivering bread and milk. Programming chops don't help, if what you're trying to do is pack milk and eggs.

Men's NCAA Basketball Final Pits UConn Against Kentucky

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 13:08

Monday night's NCAA basketball national championship matches two teams with a knack for dramatic finishes. Neither team was in last year's tournament.

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Measles At A Rock Concert Goes Viral In A Bad Way

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 12:53

A young woman who didn't know she was infected with measles went to a Kings of Leon concert in Seattle. Public health investigators have reconstructed her movements to warn the public.

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WATCH: Giant Container Ship Collides With Hong Kong Park

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 12:46

The 633-foot-long vessel, which may have suffered a loss of power, ran aground within yards of a popular jogging path in the Chinese territory.

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Silicon Valley Buying Spree: A Tech Bubble, Or Strategy At Play?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 12:40

Over the past few months, the country's biggest technology firms have spent billions buying startups like WhatsApp and Nest. That has analysts wondering if another tech bubble is about to burst.

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USAID Says Building Of 'Cuban Twitter' Was Part Of Public Record

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 12:08

Congress, the development agency says, specifically earmarked money for a program to break the "information blockade" in Cuba.

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Deep-Sea Ping May Lead To Malaysian Jet — But Time's Running Out

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 12:03

Australia and China both claim to hear underwater pings from the missing Malaysian jet's black boxes. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel explains the pings, why they're tough to verify and what might happen next.

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Oscar Pistorius Takes The Stand, Opening With Apology

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 12:03

In court Monday, Olympian Oscar Pistorius spoke publicly for the first time of the night he shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. David Smith, the Africa correspondent for The Guardian, offers more detail.

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In NCAA Finals, Two Recent Champions On Unlikely Rides

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 12:03

The Kentucky Wildcats and the Connecticut Huskies take the court in Monday's NCAA men's college basketball final. NPR's Tom Goldman talks to Melissa Block about what to watch for in the game.

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In New Exhibit, Running Shoes Are Potent Symbol Of Boston Bombing

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 12:03

Mourners left more than 600 pairs of sneakers at the site, shoes that held deeply personal meanings for runners before the race.

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Pixar: From 'Toy Story' to today

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 11:56

In 1995, a relatively unknown company called Pixar released the first animated movie made entirely on a computer. The movie was called "Toy Story" and one of the guys at the head of that company was Ed Catmull.

But Catmull downplays the importance of the computer in "Toy Story's" success.

“It’s not about the technology,” he says.  “We use the technology, we develop it, we love it, [but] it’s about the story.”

Catmull’s new book, “Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” takes a look at the company’s history and their creative process.

The key, says Catmull, is being prepared to deviate from the plan: "Every one of our films, when we start off, they suck... our job is to take it from something that sucks to something that doesn’t suck. That’s the hard part.”

Sometimes, those "deviations" are more like "overhauls": “Almost half our movies have gone through complete restarts.”

He cites "Ratatouille" as an example where of a dramtic reboot. The original version follows a rat who wants to be a chef -- and it also followed the rat’s mentor, a French chef whose star has faded in the culinary world. The Pixar team found themselves stuck. Who was the story really about? The rat or the chef? They brought in Brad Bird of “The Incredibles” who killed the chef. Literally. Catmull credits Bird with saving the film.

“The trick is, in everything we do, there are things we love. And sometimes the things we love get us stuck. And it’s only if we let go of some of those things that we free the movie up to become greater.”

External forces also helped make Pixar successful – including Steve Jobs and the sale of Pixar to Disney, their longtime partner.

“As we developed, we needed to have other resources,” says Catmull, about how Disney got involved. Jobs at this point knew he had cancer, and was trying to set Pixar up for long term success.

Jobs already had a good relationship with Disney’s Bob Iger. Catmull says he felt Iger “was the right guy to go with” after Disney and Apple made a groundbreaking deal to release episodes of "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" on iTunes, back when most people felt uneasy about putting their content on the web. Catmull says he realized Iger was someone who could take risks – something he values at Pixar.

When asked to summarize Pixar's theory on innovation, Catmull says: “Everything’s interconnected. That’s the way life is.”

After Voting, Afghans Must Now Wait For A Winner

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 11:53

Counting ballots in the presidential election is a painfully slow affair. The voting took place Saturday, but results are still weeks away. And a runoff election is widely expected in June.

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Delayed foreclosures: drawing out the agony?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:56

The townhouse where Robert Witherspoon and his eight-year-old son live is in a quiet cul-de-sac in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Witherspoon greets me as I drive up, telling me he’s lived here for 10 years. 

The brick townhouse is solidly built, like Witherspoon, a 52-year-old Navy veteran who now manages a small IT company and works from home.

This house is lived in, but it was sold in a foreclosure auction last September. Witherspoon says his bank bought the house, and that he hasn’t paid his mortgage in a couple of years. 

Witherspoon first fell behind on his mortgage payments when he was laid off in 2009. Now, he’s squatting – not so unusual in Maryland, which has the second-highest foreclosure rate in the country, the forefront of a second wave of foreclosures across the U.S.

Approximately one out of every 540 homes is in foreclosure in Maryland, says Marceline White, the executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition. 

She says it’s not that unusual for people to keep living in foreclosed homes, since the foreclosure process takes so long. On a recent afternoon in Prince George’s County, she pointed to one example.

“It’s clearly occupied,” she said, pointing out a jet ski. “There are cars in the driveway.“

At one point, while banks were negotiating a national settlement, they stopped foreclosing in some states. And still, the average foreclosure in Maryland takes almost two years. That’s because Maryland requires foreclosures to be approved by a judge. And new laws slowed things down even more by allowing things like mediation.

Opinions vary on whether that's helpful for homeowners.

“The longer process has definitely helped,” says Lisa Butler-McDougal, executive director of Sowing Empowerment and Economic Development, a group that helps homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Butler-McDougal says foreclosures in Maryland used to be rushed.

“Some people’s homes were being foreclosed in 15 days, 30 days," she says. "Where before they could even understand the notice of intent to foreclose, they were receiving notice of a sheriff’s sale.”

But there's a flip side.

“There’s so many people that come in here that have medical issues as a result of the stress of trying to hold onto a house, that isn’t worth it,” says Manny Montero, an attorney who represents homeowners in foreclosures.

Montero says many homeowners don’t realize that living rent-free in a foreclosed house could eventually cost them, because it makes it much tougher for them to file for bankruptcy and wipe out their debts. 

The pace of foreclosure proceedings in Maryland appears to be picking up, says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. 

“I would guess sometime this year Maryland would turn the corner and we’d see the numbers go back down,”

Back in his townhouse, Robert Witherspoon says he doesn’t want to file for bankruptcy, and he says he’s tried to start making mortgage payments again. He couldn’t because the bank wanted a lump sum up front, which he didn’t have. Witherspoon’s bank, JP Morgan Chase, wouldn’t comment other than to say it made several attempts to reach out to him. Now, Witherspoon is afraid he’ll get an eviction notice.

Witherspoon says he plans to move after the end of the school year, but he’s hoping to avoid being evicted – something that happened to him as a teenager.

“When you’re in high school and you come home and you see your bed outside the house and not in the house – I was totally embarrassed by that,” he says.

Of course, Witherspoon says his current situation is embarrassing, too. But even after the pain of foreclosure, he still wants to – someday – buy again.

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