National News

Why it's so hard to serve healthy food in schools

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 06:29

The White House waded into in the middle of a Congressional food fight over how to regulate school lunch. 

The debate stems from the Health Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which put in place new rules aimed at getting kids to eat healthier by requiring schools to serve whole grains and more fruits and vegetables.

But now many school districts argue the new rules are too expensive.

The federal government reimburses schools $3.01 for a lunch, which is supposed to cover everything: the food, the labor and things like new kitchen equipment or repairs.

But to get the money, schools need to follow the rules.

Gitta Grether-Sweeney runs the nutrition program for Portland Public Schools in Portland, Oregon, where every day the district serves about 20,000 kids lunch.

“The rules went into effect last year where you had to serve more fruits and vegetables,” she said --  half cup of either with every meal.

Starting in July, the guidelines get stricter. Nationwide, schools have to serve more whole grains and less sodium.

Now Congress is debating whether to relax some of those rules -- a move First Lady Michelle Obama and her supporters vowed to fight.

“What we still believe is a big fight is holding steady on the sodium requirements and the whole grain requirements for school lunches,” said Claire Benjamin, managing director of Food Policy Action, a Washington DC-based group that scores lawmakers votes on food and farming policy. “When we did these rules we knew that some of these changes were going to be hard and it was going to take some time to implement.”

To help school districts out, the feds offered to pay six cents more per lunch.

But Grether-Sweeney said to meet the new federal requirements Portland Public Schools had to order more fruits and vegetables last year -- a lot more.

“I spent over $200,000 more in produce. But that six cents only covered about 60 percent of that,” she said.

Along with the requirement to serve healthier lunches came an unfortunate consequence, Grether-Sweeney said. 

The district saw a dramatic increase in trash from students dumping the unwanted produce. One small school threw away 55 gallons of fruits and veggies every week.

“In a number of our schools, we started composting because of this,” Grether-Sweeney said. 

She argued that the current mandates aren’t working and that kids should be able to choose which healthy foods they want.

“They’re not going to eat it necessarily just because you put it on their plate,” she said.

Before the new rules, the number of kids eating lunch in the Portland Public School District had been steadily increasing.

Now Grether-Sweeney said the district is serving three percent fewer students school lunch compared to last year. Nationally, nearly one million fewer kids are eating school lunch this year, according to USDA data.

Parke Wilde, a food economist at Tufts University, said it’s hard to know if schools are just having a difficult time transitioning to the new rules or -- more troubling -- that kids today are more reluctant to eat healthy foods.

“Everybody can sympathize with what it’s like to be a school food service director, reading all the small print on the new school meals requirements and thinking to him or herself, ‘How am I going to do this?'" Wilde said.

But on the other hand, he said, without rules there would probably be districts that don’t serve healthy meals.

Congress is still debating what will happen with the school lunch program, but as of right now schools will be serving even healthier -- and more expensive meals -- next fall.

Girls who game could turn into girls who code

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 06:28

It has been well established that there is a large and problematic gender gap in the tech industry. Last week's unprecedented report from Google on the company's diversity was just one of the latest headlines. A lot of people tend to think that, like many things, the problem starts in our education system -- Girls don't get the encouragement they need to get into tech areas like coding.

It's an issue that Nitasha Tiku*, co-editor of tech news site ValleyWag, has been thinking a lot about. In an op-ed piece for the New York Times this week, Tiku posits that the easiest way to get girls into coding might be to look at what already interests them: gaming.

Games like Minecraft, which has a "creative" mode where gamers can use Java to build their own worlds, are introducing players to coding without them realizing that they are developing a skill. It's these kinds of covert methods of getting a diverse group of people interested in programming that Tiku thinks will ultimately be more effective. 

Certainly groups like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code are doing their part as well. Tiku says these programs are important for thinking about how to get more girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields:

"These after school programs...their goal is to be incorporated into the classroom. They think of themselves as a sandbox where you can sort of experiment with different languages."

*CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this article, ValleyWag co-editor Nitasha Tiku was misidentified. The text has been corrected.

2/27/07, 416, 546 and the day the market broke

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 06:18

Stephen Millbrook jumped up from his desk, dashed across the trading floor and looked out the window. The Empire State Building was still there.

On the streets, people were walking calmly through midtown Manhattan, dressed in thick coats and covered with scarves to fend off the near freezing February air. No one looked panicked. There were no signs of another attack.

The evidence for an attack was confined to Millbrook's trading screens. In a matter of minutes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had dropped 200 points. That was on top of a 346 point decline that the market had already registered. A 546 point drop meant something had gone seriously wrong. We're talking 9/11 wrong. On the first day of trading following the 2001 attacks, the Dow dropped 684 points.

Shares of Goldman Sachs had cratered. Goldman Sachs! Millbrook dialed a friend's number at Goldman just to see if Goldman was still there. The guy on the other end of the phone — Thank God there was a guy on the other end of the phone! — asked him if everything was alright in midtown. Goldman traders located at the southern tip of Manhattan were wondering if someone had attacked Times Square.

Later Millbrook would learn that the sudden drop was due to a "glitch." Something had gone wrong with the computer systems of the New York Stock Exchange, triggering a flash crash. This was on February 27, 2007, however, and no one had invented the term "flash crash" yet.

Traders on the floor of the NYSE would wind up having to keep their books open past the official closing bell as the exchange struggled to put things in order. None of the traders had ever been called upon to keep trading open after the bell. One trader told me over drinks that night that this marked "the death of the God of the closing bell."

In the end the Dow closed for a decline of 416.02 points. That was the still the biggest point drop in the market since it had reopened after the September 11, 2001 attacks. It was the seventh ever biggest one-day decline.

Earlier in the day, trying to limit the declines following a 200 point drop, the NYSE had imposed trading curbs. The effect, however, was to give traders more time to worry.

The talking heads on television blamed the crash on Chinese economic data and comments about a possible recession from Alan Greenspan. Most ignored something that was arguably far more important — the announcement by Freddie Mac that it would stop buying subprime loans.

The housing boom had ended two years earlier. Freddie's subprime exit indicated that the mortgage bust was upon us. Within a few months, subprime lender New Century and a pair of Bear Stearns hedge funds focused on investing in subprime would go down. Over the summer, highly unusual market movements would trigger massive losses by quant hedge funds over the course of weeks that became known as "the quant bloodbath." The housing bust was quickly transforming into a financial crisis.

The numbers 416 and 546 were indicators that something was seriously wrong. Millbrook (obviously not his real name) was right to panic. But few of us understood this on that cold day in February.

Small businesses create new jobs for autistic adults

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 06:06

It is high school graduation season across the country and most young adults are preparing for life in college or in the workforce.  Landing a job in this economy continues to be hard for millions of people. But what if you have autism?  

The good news is there are communities popping up across the country that have come up with several small business models that ease young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) into the adult world of work and self-sufficiency. 

Lori Ireland and several of her friends in Chapel Hill, North Carolina have children with autism.  They have become very familiar with a term known in autism circles as “The Cliff.”

“As they aged, we saw the handwriting on the wall, so to speak,” said Ireland.  “The level of services really fall off.”   

“The Cliff” becomes especially visible when a young person with autism reaches his or her early 20s and is no longer able to attend high school. 

Laura Klinger is a leading autism researcher at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.  She is also Director of the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication related handicapped Children (TEACCH).  

“After graduation, about 35 percent of people with autism sit home and do nothing: not college, not employment, not vocational training,” said Klinger.

That’s why the Ireland Family and friends decided to find jobs for their autistic children, even if they had to create the jobs themselves.

 “We measure ourselves a little differently,” said Gregg Ireland*.  “For us, if we give someone a meaningful hour of employment, that’s our goal.”

So the business model they came up with is EV, which stands for Extraordinary Ventures.  EV is responsible for several small businesses, including a successful laundry service. 

At 22-years old, Patrick Eden has worked for EV Laundry for more than a year.  Eden is very particular about how he sorts, washes and folds the clothes they collect.  He was recently promoted to assistant manager.

 “I like the people and I like giving quality work,” said Eden.

And a growing number of small businesses are employing workers with autism.  Thomas D’Eri and his family opened Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, Florida to provide meaningful work for his autistic brother.

 “When car washes are run really well, they are very structured, lots of really well-defined processes,” said D’Eri.  “And those are situations that people with autism really excel in.”

Experts studying autism hope the jobs keep coming, especially considering that about 50,000 children on the autism spectrum turn 18 every year in the U.S.


*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Gregg Ireland. The text has been corrected.

PODCAST: Chicken wars over sausage; EPA creating green-jobs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 05:54

More on the current landscape of the food market, including the war between Pilgrim's Pride and Tyson Foods to purchase Hillshire Brands. Also, a look at just how many green-energy jobs might be created by new EPA regulations on carbon emissions. Plus, there's a concerted effort going on in the UK to train young people to make clothes in the hopes of increasing home-grown products.

Administration Defends Bowe Bergdahl's Release Amid Criticism

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 05:05

President Obama said that regardless of the circumstances of the Army sergeant's capture by the Afghan Taliban, "we still get an American soldier back if he's held in captivity."

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Despite Law, Rape Victims Sometimes Pay For Medical Services

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 05:02

Federal law seeks to keep sexual assault victims from paying for forensic exams, but in some states they may have to cover tests and treatment for pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

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President Obama to increase military presence in Europe

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 04:42

President Obama asked Congress today to approve up to $1 billion to boost the U.S. military presence in Europe, where unease over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has altered the security dynamic.

The president announced the effort after meeting with the Polish president at the start of a European tour, which should include Obama’s first bilateral meeting with the president-elect of Ukraine.

President Obama says he wants to preposition more equipment in Europe, expand training exercises with allies, and increase the number of U.S. military personnel rotating through Europe. He also wants to “step up” partnerships with non-NATO countries like Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.

All this comes amidst Russia and Ukraine trying to find a way to settle Kiev’s multi-billion dollar gas bill.

President Obama looks to increase presence in Europe

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 04:42

President Obama asked Congress today to approve up to $1 billion to boost the U.S. military presence in Europe, where unease over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has altered the security dynamic.

The president announced the effort after meeting with the Polish president at the start of a European tour, which should include Obama’s first bilateral meeting with the president-elect of Ukraine.

President Obama says he wants to preposition more equipment in Europe, expand training exercises with allies, and increase the number of U.S. military personnel rotating through Europe. He also wants to “step up” partnerships with non-NATO countries like Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.

All this comes amidst Russia and Ukraine trying to find a way to settle Kiev’s multi-billion dollar gas bill.

I hide my assets in Bitcoin

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 04:33

Here at Marketplace, we've talked a lot about the various uses of bitcoin. From buying beef jerky in bulk online, to getting a check up at the doctor's, the cryptocurrency is getting closer and closer to becoming part of every day life. Certainly, though, it has seen its share of controversy, and the fact that it has largely been used for the sale of illicit material via online black markets is a blight on its reputation. But now there's an entirely new possibility for bitcoin users who want to use the digital currency for evil: hiding assets from a spouse.

A recent report looks at the possibility that the unique qualities of bitcoin might allow, in this case, a husband to hide finances while dividing assets in divorce proceedings. It could be especially problematic in the UK, where judges tend to recognize spouses as being more equal, while making less of a distinction between the merits of who is the breadwinner versus who is the homemaker. Considering the fact that bitcoin is hard to associate with a distinct owner, and that a spouse could discreetly and quickly move their currency into a friend's digital wallet, divorce proceedings could be made entirely more difficult to get right. 

So before walking down the aisle, maybe think about a bitcoin addendum to your prenup. 

Syrians Head To Polls In An Election Expected To Go To Assad

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 04:11

Only residents in areas controlled by President Bashar Assad's regime are allowed to vote.

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Obama Seeks $1 Billion To Boost U.S. Military Presence In Europe

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 04:10

His comments in Europe come amid simmering tensions with Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

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Local Views Of New Orleans' Changing School Landscape

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 04:03

Measurable gains, yet a sense of loss.

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Reduce carbon, create jobs?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 02:18

New carbon-emission targets proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week will put some coal-fired power plants out of operation, and could eventually squeeze employment in the coal-mining industry as well.

The EPA is calling for a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, from 2005 levels. They also predict that meeting the new target will cost electric utilities $8 billion per year, but says it will ultimately save the U.S. economy $50 billion a year or more in health care costs, as pollution from power plants and fossil fuel production falls.

The EPA’s fact-sheet and press release provided no firm numbers on projected job creation from meeting the new carbon standards, though. A lengthy “Regulatory Impact Analysis” report, however, provided tentative estimates from peer-reviewed labor-economics research, predicting net job increases totaling 105,000 a year.

That figure takes into account coal-mining jobs that would be lost, offset by new renewable-energy and energy-efficiency jobs: retrofitting power plants, pumping cleaner natural gas, upgrading the electricity grid, installing solar and wind generation capacity, and deploying energy-saving appliances.

But green-energy job predictions can vary widely — the Natural Resources Defense Council recently predicted more than 200,000 new jobs per year, based on slightly different carbon targets and date benchmarks.

Job predictions can also be highly politicized, says Ron Pernick, managing director at Clean Edge, an energy research firm.

“There are a lot of variables,” says Pernick. “It’s part art, part science.”

Pernick says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has stopped collecting and crunching data on green-economy jobs due to sequester-related budget cuts. Though, he points out that jobs in renewable energy have been growing strongly for years, and tougher carbon regulation can only help.

Marty Rosenberg, editor-in-chief of the trade magazine EnergyBiz, says the EPA’s plan to let states develop their own plans and energy mixes for hitting the new carbon targets will help drive innovation, and promote new green-energy startups. 

“Each state, if you will, will become a laboratory,” says Rosenberg. “There are men and women out there testing new ideas. I do think this will be an economic stimulant.”

Opponents of the EPA's carbon targets, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, disagree, arguing that shunning coal will destroy jobs and raise operating costs for American businesses.



Harley Davidson's fastest growing market? Women

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 02:11

Harley-Davidson is branching out.

The iconic motorcycle manufacturer plans to roll out leaner and lighter bikes into showrooms by the end of the month.

Good-bye hogs, hello street bikes?

“An interesting way for Harley to expand its business is to cater to a wider audience,” says Moringstar analyst Jaime Katz.

Katz says 30 percent of last year’s sales went to what Harley calls its "outreach market" -- anyone other than white men over the age of 35. The company hopes its "Street" models -- bikes that are lower, lighter, and easier to handle -- will create a higher demand, especially among the fastest growing demographic groups: women.

“Women are climbing corporate ladders, they own a lot of small businesses and so they have money and time,” says Genevieve Schmitt, founder and editor of Women Riders Schmitt says in a sign that the female bikers market is growing, she expects Harley’s new line to attract new female riders.

Justice Department Renews Focus On Homegrown Terrorists

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 00:59

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is drawing new attention to the threat from homegrown, lone-wolf radicals. He's pulling together a group of prosecutors and FBI agents to address domestic terrorism.

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Singapore's got some big retirement issues

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-02 23:39

Here in the U.S., it’s pretty standard to complain volubly and publicly about government programs, particularly those to do with retirement – Social Security, healthcare for the elderly and the poor and pension and retirement plans in general

Not so in Singapore. The people in Singapore rarely question government policy, and almost never criticize it. So when you hear people complain openly about government policy on retirement and Singapore’s version of social security, it’s worth paying attention.

“Openly” being, of course, on the Web. On blogs and on social media, and particularly on Facebook (Singaporeans were big users of Facebook at a time when most Americans were still obsessed with MySpace). A debate that would ordinarily have been held in private, in coffee shops or around dinner tables, has been running for some time in the very public forum of social media. 

Many Singaporeans are not happy about the way their retirement program, the Central Provident Fund (CPF), is being handled by the government, and, for once, they’re not being shy about expressing their feelings. Emotions are running so high that  a prominent blogger named Roy Ngerng recently made the claim that Singapore's prime minister had "misappropriated" Singaporeans retirement money. The prime minister responded equally disproportionately, by slapping Ngerng with a lawsuit.

I’m not going to drive you insane with an explanation of how CPF works: it deals with social security, retirement planning and medical insurance all in one-go, so as you can imagine, it’s pretty complicated. You can read more here and here. Many observers point admiringly at the CPF, saying it's an excellent example of effective central planning. But just like Social Security in the U.S. and equivalent programs in Europe and the rest of the world, CPF is coming under intense pressure.

The pressure comes in two parts. First, Singaporeans are living longer. Second, healthcare costs here are soaring. Any of that sound familiar? It's a double-barreled shotgun that every developed nation is facing down right now.

Singapore's response will sound equally familiar: The government, more accurately the ruling Peoples Action Party (which has won every election ever held here),  is demanding its citizens cough up more money. Its recent demand that some Singaporeans put a greater proportion of their salary into the CPF sounds to many like a tax hike. Which it effectively is.

The changes to CPF are not going down well. But it's encouraging to see some Singaporeans standing up and demanding transparency from the government about the way CPF is run. It's a pity, however, that the PAP is resorting to old-school methods to deal with the media storm. They're missing an opportunity to show how mature Singapore is, how unafraid are its leaders of criticism, and how much more open they can be about the way government programs are handled.

Regardless, Singapore has a problem: it has become too successful, too quickly. When the country gained independence in 1963, its people expected to live until around 66 years of age, on average. Today they expect to live until they're 82. That's a sign of how quickly and efficiently the country has developed, but it has put its systems under enormous strain.

It almost makes America's social security system look as though its in relatively good shape!

Paddy Hirsch filed this while on vacation in Southeast Asia.

How Atomic Particles Helped Solve A Wine Fraud Mystery

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 23:31

By testing for radiation, detectives showed that wine bottles purportedly from Thomas Jefferson's collection were fake. And with wine fraud rising, authentication is getting even more sophisticated.

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The Common Core Curriculum Void

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 23:29

States and school districts are struggling to navigate the flood of new materials claiming to be Common Core-aligned.

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