National News

Amy Pascal is out as Sony Pictures head

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-05 12:15

Sony Pictures Entertainment is rebuilding after it was crippled last last year by a massive cyber attack. Part of that means distancing itself from its co-chair Amy Pascal, who announced Wednesday that she will step down in March.

Pascal is getting a nice production deal at Sony and says she's always wanted to be a producer, but she also seems to be taking the fall for last year's costly and embarrassing attack.

The whole episode stretched from November to the holidays, shut down Sony's computers, exposed private emails and company data, scuttled the theatrical release of "The Interview" and eventually lead to economic sanctions against the alleged attackers in North Korea.

Here's a look back at the whole story:

Decades After His Murder, An Archbishop Is Put On Path To Sainthood

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-05 12:15

Pope Francis has declared slain Archbishop Oscar Romero a martyr. Previous popes declined to do so, possibly because of Romero's role in liberation theology.

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FDA Commissioner Hamburg Grappled With Global Challenges

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-05 12:04

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says she'll leave the job at the end of March after six years in the spotlight and controversies over Plan B emergency contraception.

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How do you get rid of 40 inches of snow?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-05 11:47

In a huge vacant lot in Boston’s Seaport District, standing amid 20-foot-high snow piles, Interim Boston Public Works Commissioner Michael Dennehy conducts a symphony of heavy machinery. 

Instead of directing percussion and string sections, he's orchestrating front-end loaders and a Super Cat bulldozer at the city's largest snow farm.

After a week of record snowfall, Boston is still digging out from more than 40 inches of snow. The question now: Where do you put it all?

"It's a big parcel but it’s actually gotten a little small on us,” Dennehy says. “It's where we're housing most of our snow that we're farming out so what we're doing now is we're trying to increase our capacity by melting some of this snow and giving us the opportunity to remove even more than the 7,500 loads we've taken off the Boston streets already."

And there are certainly plenty more loads of snow waiting on Boston streets. Dennehy says Public Works will focus on clearing main arteries and major intersections, hoping to uncover a few highly sought-after parking spots in the process.

At a press conference this week, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he wouldn't be surprised if the city "shattered" its snow-removal budget. "Our budget for snow is roughly $18 million,” says Mayor Walsh. “We're not over the top yet with the $18 million, we still have money underneath the cap. But we're heading towards that.”

The city estimates a $10 million dollar chunk of that budget was swallowed up by a single storm – last week's blizzard, which dumped more than 2 feet of snow on Boston.

Back at the snow farm, Dennehy looks on while heaps of snow vanish into the melter. As the runoff flows into a nearby catch basin, he strikes a realistic tone about the city’s progress.

"When you have to bring a snow melter into your snow farm to continue farming,” he says, “then there's always more work to be done."

Luckily for the city, and that soon-to-be-shattered snow-removal budget, the snow melters come free of charge, courtesy of the state's Massachusetts Port Authority.





Google to mine a new source of data – tweets

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-05 11:39

If you're not a Twitter user, you might start seeing more Tweets online anyway. The social media company has struck a deal with Google, giving the search engine access to Twitter’s so-called firehose of data, according to Bloomberg. That will make it easier for tweets to show up in Google's search results.

If this sounds familiar, the deal is a flashback to one that fell apart several years ago.

“Twitter is looking for ways to drive user growth,” says Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research.  That growth has been sluggish, he says, and investors are getting impatient. Late Thursday, Twitter reported that it added just 4 million active monthly users in the fourth quarter of last year, for a total of 288 million.

Twitter wants to extend the reach of its tweets, Wieser says, “and create the conditions for enhanced monetization in the future.”

Translation: the company wants to sell those new users to advertisers. In its earnings announcement, Twitter said it brought in $432 million from advertising in the fourth quarter, up 97 percent from the previous year.

As for Google, “they want data, first and foremost,” says Wieser, and Twitter’s active users generate a lot of data. Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing already have direct access to that content.

Tweets still show up in Google searches, even after the company's deal with Twitter fell apart in 2011, according to Danny Sullivan, founding editor of the online news site Search Engine Land. Without a new deal, Google just can’t keep up, he says.

“Without that access to the firehose directly, it is literally like Google’s trying to lean in on the side and take a drink, and you just can’t do it,” Wieser says.

So what do Google users get out of it? Twitter works especially well as a breaking-news feed. The traditional sources Google relies on, he says, may lag by several minutes. 

Map: The Most Common* Job In Every State

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-05 11:31

The jobs picture has changed profoundly since the 1970s. This map shows how those changes played out across the country.

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ISIS Is Killing, Torturing, Using Children As Suicide Bombers, Says U.N. Report

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-05 10:47

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said it's reviewed reports of the mass execution of boys and of beheadings, crucifixions and the burying of children alive.

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IMF creates global safety net for poorest countries

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-05 10:44

To say Liberia took an economic hit from Ebola would be an understatement.

“The economy slowed to basically a halt and even began to contract,” says Steven Radelet, professor of human development at Georgetown University and an adviser to Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. “Fruit markets and food stalls were gone, nobody was touching each other, restaurants were empty, hotels were empty, the two major iron ore mines shut down, rubber plantation workers stopped going to work, palm oil plantations stopped.”

Liberia lost 25 percent of its annual receipts because of Ebola, according to its ministry of finance.

“You have this unprecedented need for an increase in spending, unplanned spending at the exact time the government lost revenue,” says Benjamin Spatz, a Truman National Security Fellow and expert on West Africa.

At the same time, Liberia owes about $130 million to the IMF.  Neighboring Guinea, also dealing with Ebola and also indebted, was spending more on debt relief than on public health.   

The IMF has created a $100 million dollar fund to defray the debt service of these three countries, freeing up money to go elsewhere, and is attempting to procure $70 million more in debt relief from individual creditor countries.  It’s added $160 million in concessionary loans – that means loans at low interest rates or with fewer conditions than normal.  Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea collectively owe $372 million to the IMF.

The IMF has also created a “Catastrophe Containment and Relief” Trust to serve as a source of emergency debt relief and assistance to the world’s poorest countries in the future.

“Essentially it's creating a global social safety net for world’s poorest countries,” says Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, a religious-based organization that advocates for international debt relief.

Under international law, debt relief comes with conditions, LeCompte says. “It comes with special rules that the money be used for social infrastructure. Building hospitals or building schools.”

“In the longer term it enables countries to improve their credit rating and regain access to international financial markets,” says Tony Addison, chief economist and deputy director of United Nations University’s UNU-Wider research and training program in Helsinki, Finland.

“For example some of the debt relief given over the last 10 years as part of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and its successors helped poor countries re-enter global capital market, so you’ve had over the last five years in particular some low-income and middle-income countries able to sell their sovereign debt quite successfully,” Addison says.

But he says it doesn’t prevent a country from spending itself into debt all over again.  And that, he adds, isn’t just a poor country problem. Just look at Greece.

All-Female Jihadi Group Delivers Guide To Life Under Islamic State

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-05 10:19

A manifesto posted online by the al-Khanssaa Brigade paints an idyllic picture of life for women and says "there is no greater responsibility for a woman than being a wife to her husband."

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Obama Condemns 'Horrific Acts' In The Name Of Religion

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-05 10:06

The president said that God never justifies the killing of innocent people. He also referred to the Dalai Lama, who attended the breakfast for the first time, as his "good friend."

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The value of hacked data

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-05 09:47

The biggest U.S. health insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, revealed Thursday that hackers obtained data on up to 80 million current and former customers. The compromised information includes Social Security numbers, email addresses and birthdates as well as such employee data as income.

Given the steady stream of data hacks – whether it's Target, Home Depot or Anthem – how much is all this data worth?

Unlike previous high-profile hacks, the Anthem hackers did not take credit card numbers. But personal data, like Social Security numbers, can be even more valuable on the so-called “Dark Web," the invisible part of the Internet you can’t find on Google.


Harvard Bans Sexual Relationships Between Professors And Students

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-05 09:29

Last year, Harvard was among dozens of schools the Department of Education said it's investigating for how they handle sexual abuse allegations.

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A Brief, Weird History Of Squashed Asian-American TV Shows

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-05 09:17

With Fresh Off The Boat making waves, we look back at a colorful crop of shows with Asian-American leads that most of us have forgotten.

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Europe resists Greece's charm offensive

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-05 09:12

This may not rank as one of the world’s most successful charm offensives.

Earlier this week Yannis Varoufakis, Greek's finance minister, embarked on a tour of European capitals in an attempt to win support for his government’s anti-austerity policies. He also wants Greece to be allowed to renegotiate the terms of its multibillion-dollar bailout and cut its crippling debt.

The trip has not gone as smoothly as Varoufakis might have hoped. His meeting in Berlin with the German finance minister ended without agreement; they even disagreed over whether they had agreed to disagree. And after Varoufakis met the head of the European Central Bank, the bank announced that it was cutting off cheap funding to Greece’s commercial banks.

Amy Pascal Out As Sony Pictures Chairman

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-05 08:40

The studio said she will launch a new production venture within Sony. Her departure comes shortly after the studio was hit by a cyberattack — one that exposed employee data and Pascal's emails.

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