National News

West Coast's Early Warning System For Quakes Still Spotty

NPR News - Thu, 2013-12-26 12:01

Japan already relies on a system that helps prevent industrial accidents and train derailments by sending warnings as much as a minute before the ground starts shaking. That much time could save lives after a major earthquake in California, but seismologists say a prototype system there lacks funding and has big gaps.

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Explainer: the charitable tax deduction

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2013-12-26 11:48

Every year, I have to fork a percentage of my taxable income over to the Internal Revenue Service. Taxes! But before I do that, I might consider taking advantage of the charitable tax deduction.

I might give away a car, or a boat, or some of my clothes, or jewelry. I might give away some stocks or bonds … or I could just keep it simple and hand over some cash. 

And if I give $1,000 to charity, that reduces my taxable income by … $1,000. Because there’s less for the government to tax, I pay less in taxes.

Plus, our tax system puts us into tax brackets. The more taxable income we make each year, the higher the bracket and the higher the percentage of that income that goes to the IRS. Say you’re quite wealthy, and you’re in the top tax bracket, you give away a bunch of money, which reduces your taxable income.

Give away enough, and you could shrink your taxable income enough to put you in a lower bracket. Which means all the rest of your money will be taxed at a lower rate.

It’s one of the reasons why Americans are such big donors to charity, and why come tax time, wealthy people write some very big checks.

Suspect Pleads Not Guilty In Fatal Shooting Of TSA Agent In LA

NPR News - Thu, 2013-12-26 11:42

Paul Anthony Ciancia, accused of killing Gerardo Hernandez, faces a first-degree murder charge and 10 other counts related to the Nov. 1 attack at Los Angeles International Airport.

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Why aren't more women on tech boards?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2013-12-26 11:34

Why aren’t there more women on tech boards in Silicon Valley? The issue came into the spotlight recently with Twitter, which appointed its first female board member earlier this month. That appointment came after the social media company drew heat for not having any on the board.

But pose the question to women in Silicon Valley -- I'm talking engineers, VCs, entrepreneuers -- and the answer you get depends on whether the microphone is on or off. When the mic is on, the answer I generally get is this:

“Every job I’ve ever had was through someone I’ve worked with before or was friends with, every single one,” said Alison Voss, a engineer I met at a recent Geek Girl Dinner.

And with men starting up about 97 percent of the tech companies in Silicon Valley, that means they dominate at networking. And that makes it tough for women to advance.

I met Voss at a Geek Girl dinner, which is one of the dozens of events popping up all over Silicon Valley that’s trying to create women-centered networks.

The dinners are waiting list only and December’s dinner was at Mozilla, the maker of the web browser Firefox.

Voss was there hanging out with her friend Sarah LaFassett, who is an engineer-in-training. She added that start-up culture complicates matters. Like starting any business, LaFassett says you want to do it with people you know, “because you’re going to see them more than you’re going to see your family.”

But Voss adds, “and what that ends of meaning is do I get along with this person, do we want to go snow boarding together and you know, nobody you know is a woman, so those jobs just don’t come to women generally speaking.”

Women like Voss and LaFassett will tell you as more women enter the pipeline, they’ll move up and start hiring more women. And eventually, we’ll start seeing more women on tech boards.

Now, that’s the answer you get when the mic is on. But when mic is off, women tell a different story. 

“Have you been to the fraternities at the universities? They’re behaving as if they’re in the frat clubs,” said Vivek Wadhwa.

By the way, Wadhwa isn’t a woman. He’s an entrepreneur and scholar. And for the last five years, he’s been researching a book on the subject of women in tech.

“I’ve been interviewing hundreds and hundreds of women,” Wadhwa said. “They are afraid they’ll be ostracized and they’ll be labeled as feminist if the speak up.”

Wadhwa says there’s a public narrative that says women are shut out of boardrooms and high-profile jobs because the pipeline to those positions are overwhelmingly male. But there’s also a private narrative in Silicon Valley and that’s of start-ups that celebrate frat-like behavior and turn a blind eye to sexual discrimination. And he says, women, generally keep those stories to themselves.

“They don’t tell you how they go to conferences and they’re groped,” he said. “It’s not everyone who’s bad here by the way, you know. there are a lot of men -- um, men who have daughters or a boys who had strong supportive mothers and sisters tend to be more open-minded about women. Many others are intimidated.”

In fact, there have been a few high-profile instances when women who tweet about what they consider to be sexist behavior are met with rape threats. And personally, when the mic is off, women have told me: Yes, the pipeline issue is real but it’s overblown. They note that many women have made it through the pipeline but are overlooked because tech operates like a boys club.

“I would venture every woman at one point or another in her professional career has seen something that was discriminatory, to you know even being invited to the golf game or the ski trip,” said Fran Maier.

Maier is a serial entrepreneur, who co-founded the dating site Match-dot-com. She also founded, and chairs the board of TRUSTe, a venture-backed firm that manages privacy.

She agrees women in Silicon Valley could speak up more. But then, they risk falling into the “angry woman” category

“Nobody likes an angry woman,” Maiers said. “On the other hand, I don’t think I’m angry, I think I’m pointing out what some of these issues are but some guys might hear me and think I’m an angry women and who wants an angry woman on the board?”

Maier say it’s not just tech. All across the country, the number of women on the boards of publicly-traded companies has remained stagnant for eight years now.

Countries like Norway, Germany and France have tried to change corporate culture by instituting quotas. And Maiers says, we might consider similar measures too.

 

In 2013, Federal Workers Found New Reason To Be Unhappy

NPR News - Thu, 2013-12-26 10:51

A recent survey shows that furloughs and hiring freezes conspired to dampen morale. But if federal workers are feeling undervalued, their job security remains high.

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Common Knee Surgery May Help No More Than A Fake Operation

NPR News - Thu, 2013-12-26 10:45

Surgery to repair a damaged knee meniscus is very common, but it may not help a lot of people, a study finds. That may be because some people benefit more than others, and doctors still don't know who is going to get the most out of surgery.

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Cowboys' Emergency QB Kitna Will Give Away His Pay

NPR News - Thu, 2013-12-26 10:12

Jon Kitna is coming out of retirement to be the backup quarterback for Dallas on Sunday. He's going to give the $53,000 he'll be paid to the school in Tacoma, Wash., where he now teaches math and coaches football.

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It Was 50 Years Ago Today: 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' Hit U.S.

NPR News - Thu, 2013-12-26 08:51

Listen to a clip. We can almost guarantee it will raise a smile. I Want To Hold Your Hand is the song that kicked off Beatlemania in the U.S.

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American Kidnapped By Al-Qaida In Pakistan Seen In Video

NPR News - Thu, 2013-12-26 07:45

Warren Weinstein, 72, was snatched from his home in Lahore, Pakistan, more than two years ago. In a video sent to news outlets by al-Qaida's media wing, Weinstein is heard appealing to President Obama to negotiate his release.

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Are no jobs safe? Outsourcing sign-spinner jobs ... to robots

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2013-12-26 07:22

It's hard to think of a job that is more unlikely to be outsourced than a sign-spinner outside a store or restaurant. They're low-wage retail jobs that have to be done at the location.

But retailers in cities across the country are experimenting with robotic road-side retail promotion.

Tyson Miltenberger of Bakehouse Water Bagels in Portland, Ore., employed a motorized female mannequin to advertise his adjacent bagel and taco shops along a busy commercial strip.

The robot business is growing fast. By the end of 2013, author Marshall Brain (Robotic Nation) predicted there would be more than one million industrial robots worldwide, or about one for every 6,000 humans.

And the robot industry is booming. Including the robots themselves, plus software and engineering to make them tick, the industry is generating $26 billion in sales, according to the Frankfurt-based International Federation of Robotics, a trade group.

Some of the smartest tech guys in the room have caught the bug, too: Google has made eight acquisitions in the robotics field just this year.

Of course, there are downsides — for the humans who interact with robots, or are replaced by them in the workplace. Twenty deaths have been linked to robots and other automation in factories, according to the U.S. Occupational and Health Administration (OSHA).

U.S. factory output is up more than 50 percent in the past two decades, while manufacturing employment is down by nearly 30 percent, according to Bloomberg News. Some of that is the result of people being displaced by ever-smarter and more capable machines.

Experts predict service industries will be the next to see serious inroads made by robots. According to an article in Business Insider, the most vulnerable service jobs include pharmacists, paralegals, retail cashiers, library clerks, babysitters, reporters ... and perhaps we should add retail sign-spinner.

PODCAST: UPS's Christmas fail

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2013-12-26 07:15

Many people who ordered their Christmas presents via UPS got a nasty surprise yesterday. No presents! The company says the volume of packages exceeded its capacity. 

This month marks the third anniversary of the Arab Spring. In Tunisia, where the uprising began, the economy is still trying to find its footing. Many Tunisia watchers say fostering entrepreneurship will be critical to establishing a sustainable recovery.

It can be worth it to drive your golf cart off the green. And, around the country, at local council meetings from South Dakota to Kentucky to Wisconsin, new regulations making it legal to do just that are being proposed.

Jobless Claims Fell Sharply Last Week

NPR News - Thu, 2013-12-26 06:55

Economists caution against reading too much into the latest economic data. During the holidays, offices that collect the information aren't always open and that can delay some of their work.

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You found the perfect gift. Ordered it UPS. And uh-oh... It didn't arrive.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2013-12-26 06:33

Many people who ordered their Christmas presents via UPS got a nasty surprise yesterday. No presents! The company says the volume of packages exceeded its capacity. Marketplace's Noel King has the latest on the story. Click the audio player above to listen.

Verizon and AT&T to issue transparency reports

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2013-12-26 06:16

By now, the tech world is familiar with transparency reports from companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook. The reports detail a number of metrics, like how many law enforcement requests have come in for email data. The takeaway from Google this year was that government snooping is way up. Now, just before 2013 draws to a close, the world is getting a new set of reports from older tech companies like Verizon and AT&T. Count Time Magazine tech reporter Sam Gustin among the surprised. Click the audio player above to hear the story.

Greenpeace Activists Start Getting Visas To Leave Russia

NPR News - Thu, 2013-12-26 06:15

As the Winter Olympics in Sochi approach, Russian officials are freeing some high-profile prisoners. Critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin say he's just trying to burnish his nation's reputation.

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Mexico's corruption problem

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2013-12-26 05:30

Corruption in Mexico was one of the focal points of President Enrique Peña Nieto's election campaign. But Transparency International hasn't given Mexico very high marks. Enrique Acevedo, anchor and correspondent for Univision, tells Marketplace Morning Report's Lizzie O'Leary about the issues dogging Mexico's government.

Nikkei 16,000!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2013-12-26 05:17

Japan's stock market is on a tear, with the Nikkei closing above 16,000 for the first time since 2007. The news comes after the Bank of Japan's campaign of monetary easing, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's aggressive attempts to revive the Japanese economy. The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes has the latest on the story. Click the audio player above to hear more.

Three years post-revolution, a look at Tunisia's economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2013-12-26 05:11

This month marks the third anniversary of the Arab Spring.

In Tunisia, where the uprising began, the economy is still trying to find its footing. Many Tunisia watchers say fostering entrepreneurship will be critical to establishing a sustainable recovery.

So how easy is it to set up a business? One way to see: Drop in on a networking party for young start-ups and venture capitalists in the capital of Tunis.

Get your kid a golf cart when she turns 16

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2013-12-26 05:09

It can be worth it to drive your golf cart off the green. And, around the country, at local council meetings from South Dakota to Kentucky to Wisconsin, new regulations making it legal to do just that are being proposed.

Ten years ago, the local high school in Peachtree City, Georgia had to build a special parking lot with hundreds of new spots, tecause the teenagers there drive golf carts.

“They definitely get out and use them," says Sharon Lee, with Peachtree City Golf Cars. She says for parents, the carts make good financial sense. “You’re not paying near the insurance that you do when you have a teenager,” she says. And when you think about the cost of gas, notes Lee, it's hard for drivers to miss the potential savings of driving an electric cart,  "when you have an SUV that gets nine miles to the inch."

Peachtree has 90 miles of special paths for the carts, and Georgia doesn’t require them to be insured. Currently, there are ten thousand golf carts registered in Peachtree.

The city has been a trendsetter, but now, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safeway, all but four states allow golf carts to be driven on some public roads.

Brandon Ruiz, an industry analyst at IBIS World, says part of their popularity can be chalked up to a certain...greying population.  “As the baby boomer generation continues to get older, you're more likely to see them use golf carts to get from point A to point B,” he says.

The average cost of an electric cart, says Ruiz, is $3,500 dollars. And he says sales are expected to hit almost 700 million dollars this year.

Boxing Day? Is Dec. 26 still a day for sales?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2013-12-26 05:07

Dec. 26 has historically been a day to visit the shopping mall. One, to buy stuff on sale. And two, to exchange unwanted gifts. But sales keep moving earlier in the holiday season. So is the day after Christmas still a big deal for retailers?

“Dec. 26 is already institutionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year because it’s the busiest day for returns,” says Brian Hoyt, a spokesperson for the digital coupon company, RetailMeNot.com.

Of course, returns don’t make money for a store. In fact, the volume of returns can cause some businesses to lose money on Dec. 26.

The popularity of gift cards has been a blessing for many retailers, helping them to offset the returns.

“A lot of consumers are telling us -- about 79 percent -- that they plan to shop at these end of year sales that kick-off historically on the 26th of December," Hoyt says. "And a lot of them are going with the gift card money that they received for the holidays.”

Some industries benefit more than others. Britt Beemer is chairman and founder of the consumer research company, America’s Research Group. He points to clothing companies.

“Those retailers that rely upon that high school/teenage customer base, it’s by far their most important week of the year,” says Beemer.

Same goes for businesses that sell furniture.

“That week between Christmas and New Years for the furniture retailers is referred to by many of them as their 13th month,” says Beemer. “They’ll do as much business in those last five or six days as they did in the previous month of December.”

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