National News

Monsanto Hired This Guy To Help It Win Over Millennials

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 12:39

Vance Crowe, 32, has a tough assignment: reach out to millennials, many of whom are skeptical of GMOs. Crowe says the company can do a better job of listening to their concerns.

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Campuses Play Host To Tanning Beds, Despite Skin Cancer Risk

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 12:06

The links between tanning beds and skin cancer are well known, but a survey of the top colleges and universities in the U.S. shows that many allow tanning beds on campus.

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TV: Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 12:00

Seems like every election, some political analyst says the end is near for political ads on TV – that TV is dead. Well not this year. Candidates in the midterm elections are blasting voters with TV commercials.

Evan Tracey is on the front lines of the political ad wars. He's senior vice president at National Media Research, Planning and Placement, a Republican consulting firm, which offers candidates advice, makes TV ads and places them. What does he tell campaigns? Buy as much TV advertising time as you can. 

“If the predictions of TV being dead are true then it’s being buried in money,” he says.

Tracey says, sure TV audiences are aging, but older people vote. And TV ads can work with online ads to catch younger voters, who watch TV with smartphones in hand.

“So if I can have my voice and pictures on your TV screen and have my digital ad on your smartphone, I’ve gotten you two ways now,” he says.

Plus TV can be targeted more than ever now.  Cable set top boxes tell campaigns exactly what you’re watching. They figure out what your favorite shows are, and advertise on them. But Tracey says it’s still best to use TV as an old fashioned megaphone -- blanketing the airwaves, till there’s no escape.

“Some of these states right now – you know -  they’re seeing thousands of ads a day,” he says.

States like Iowa.  

 “It’s been really hard to watch TV without being bombarded with advertisements,” says Barbara Trish, professor of political science at Grinnell College in Iowa.

But Trish doesn’t mind the ads.  She loves them, even studies them at Grinnell. One of her favorites features a candidate who compares castrating hogs to cutting pork in Washington.

Trish agrees that TV is still king of campaign ads, but for a different reason. Candidates, parties and outside groups are pouring cash into the midterm election, and it needs a home.

“It’s just that there’s so much money out there," she says.  "It seems like, they feel like it has to be spent on something.  You’ve got to put it to use.”

There’s a lot of money sloshing around Colorado, too, where there are close Senate and gubernatorial races.  And lots of ads, focused on women’s issues and big government.

Floyd Ciruli is a pollster in Denver and the head of Ciruli Associates. He’s getting sick of all the ads; in fact, he’s been predicting the dethroning of TV since the early 2000s. Banging the drum about how candidates will go digital, and look for other ways to reach voters.  

But even he admits, when it comes to TV, "It’s still the king.”

Ciruli says blanket TV advertising can gain a campaign a few points in the polls. That could push a candidate over the top in Colorado.

“It’s going to be close," he says. "So a couple of percentage points can make the difference.”

Ciruli says TV’s crown will start to slip, eventually. But it’s firmly in place, for the foreseeable future. 

 

 

 

Scientists Implicate More Than 100 Genes In Causing Autism

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 11:35

Spontaneous gene mutations, not ones inherited from parents, increase a child's risk of autism, scientists say. By comparing genes within families they've identified more than 100 suspects.

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Kickstarter: Bringing an idea to life

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 11:16

Yancey Strickler was eating at a restaurant in Brooklyn where he had been a regular for many years. His waiter was Perry Chen.

"Perry was an artist and someone who had a lot of interesting ideas," says Strickler. "He had this thought about creating a system where he could propose an idea to the world, and people would support it if they wanted to, but no one would be charged unless everyone thought it was a good idea."

Thus, Kickstarter was born, Strickler is CEO and Chen is Chairman. But it didn’t happen overnight. They went around pitching the idea to big investors for four years, facing rejection after rejection.

"It was terrible," Strickler says. "One guy said, 'There’s already enough art in the world why does there need to be more?'"

Ouch.

Listen to the full conversation from Marketplace's live show in New York by clicking on the audio player above.

How big is a billion users?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 11:00

Facebook announced earnings on Tuesday, and the key word was "billion."

$3.2 billion: Revenue for this quarter.

One billion views: A new milestone for videos.

And, perhaps most importantly, 1 billion users. 

It's a number Facebook itself has already exceeded, and it's also the number that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg set as a goal for Facebook-owned products like Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger before Facebook attempts to "aggressively" monetize them and turn them into "meaningful businesses in their own right."

"This may sound a little ridiculous to say, but for us products don’t really get that interesting to turn into business until they have about a billion people using them," said Zuckerberg. 

"It sounds a little ridiculous to me as well," says Nate Elliott, analyst at Forrester Research. 

"The reality is Facebook didn't turn its primary property - the Facebook business - until it had about a billion users," says Elliott. "And I wonder if they're not using that as the benchmark for everything else they do." 

But to understand just how "ridiculous" that benchmark is, you have to appreciate the sheer size of one billion.  To do that, I called up my high school math teacher, Don Smith.

"It’s an incomprehensible number, Stan, it really is," says Smith. 

The only way to comprehend it is to use a device to shrink it to something more manageable. For instance, consider an inch.

"A billion inches is over 15,000 miles," says Smith. Or about five trips from New York City to Los Angeles.

A billion users--that’s 120 times the population of New York City. To get that many users, you usually have to look at whole industries, not individual companies. 

"For example, the toilet paper market is pretty universal, but nonetheless, it’s not a single supplier," says Roger Kay at Endpoint Technologies Associates.

There are a handful of businesses that sell physical products to a billion people - Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, and so on. But Facebook has the advantage of a product it gives away for free, which it can do because its digital. "So how many accounts do you want to set up? As many as you want," says Kay.

The disadvantage of a free product is that you don't make money selling it--instead, you typically have to sell ads. This quarter, Facebook made about $2.37 in revenue for each of its 1.35 billion users.

So which companies would interest Mark Zuckerberg?

Credit: Brit+Co

How many products actually have a billion users? It depends on how you measure.

  • Facebook didn't pass the billion-user mark that long ago, and its biggest acquisitions, WhatsApp and Instagram, have a ways to go at 600 million and 200 million active users, respectively.
  • PayPal claims to process 10 million transactions a day, or a billion every two years. But they only have 157 million active accounts. Snore.
  • Amazon has inconceivably huge sales, but a piddly 244 million user accounts. Forget it.
  • As mentioned above, there are several huge conglomerates that reach billions of consumers - Procter & Gamble claims to serve nearly 5 billion people - but it's unlikely that they produce a single product that serves a billion people.
  • Google, one of Facebook's biggest rivals, is a contender. It was one of the first sites to reach a billion monthly unique visitors, and YouTube is there too, but it's not clear how many individual products would interest Zuckerberg. For example: Gmail had only 416 million users the last time Google reported those numbers, in 2012. Google Drive only has 240 million users.
  • Apple is close too. There are 800 million iTunes accounts, a decent measure of unique Apple users across their product line. The app store alone has clocked 75 billion downloads, and Apple just sold their 500 millionth iPhone.

There's one company we're fairly certain meets Zuckerberg's billion-user requirement by any measure: Coca-Cola. The company moves up to 1.9 billion servings a day, and its namesake beverage has been around for 128 years.

At press time, it wasn't clear if Zuckerberg would be interested in turning Coca-Cola into a meaningful business in its own right just yet.

Ohio wants its slice of fracking's oil wealth

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 11:00

The American fossil-fuel boom has spawned debates on what to do with this wealth. Ohio finds itself in the middle of one right now. The state’s Republican governor, John Kasich, is proposing to raise oil and gas taxes, to ensure the riches don’t all go to workers and companies based out of state.

“His view is, this is some sort of a rip-off,” says Ohio State economist Mark Partridge. “That these energy resources are transported out of the state of Ohio, used and refined in other places. And all the profit and wealth goes to these other places and it leaves Ohio.”

By most measures, Ohio’s taxes on energy production are low. They’re less than 1 percent, compared to 7 percent in Texas, 11 percent in Wyoming, and 25 percent in Alaska.

Kasich wants to raise state taxes to 2.75 percent or even higher. Drilling companies threaten to leave and go to low-tax states. But that hasn’t happened historically. A study by Headwaters Economics notes “the academic literature generally disagrees that tax competition is important to oil production.”

“The decisions on where to drill are not going to be determined by comparing different states,” says Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America's Future." “They’re going to be determined on a location-by-location basis, on whether a profit can be made."

Governments that tax oil and gas taxes use the money in different ways. Some, like Norway, store it away for future generations in sovereign wealth funds. Other spend it on roads damaged by drilling, or invest in education.

Governor Kasich of Ohio wants to cut taxes, which spreads the energy wealth. But Mark Haggerty at Headwaters Economics worries that makes the state budget more dependent on taxes from fossil fuels – a boom and bust sector.

“In fact, what you’re doing is actually creating a less stable tax base for the state going forward into the future,” Haggerty says.

And the future is the whole question: how to take today’s riches and plant them in the right place.

Rocket explosion puts focus on private sector's role in space

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 11:00

An unmanned rocket that was supposed to ferry supplies to the International Space Station exploded just after liftoff Tuesday. That has drawn attention to NASA’s growing reliance on private space companies to do its legwork.

In 2008, NASA was preparing to retire the space shuttle. So it hired two private companies to resupply the space station: Orbital Sciences Corp., whose rocket just exploded, and Space Exploration Technologies (also known as SpaceX).

The initial price tag was $3.5 billion. The idea was to both to achieve the space agency’s goals at a lower cost to taxpayers, and to help foster the growth of the commercial space industry.

To do that, NASA wasn’t buying a new space shuttle.

“What they actually bought was cargo delivery services, just like you would buy services on Fed Ex or something like that,” says Frank Slazer, vice president for space systems at the Aerospace Industries Association.

Tuesday’s explosion may prompt concern over the increasing privatization of space. But industry watchers are quick to remind that NASA has always relied on the private sector.

“NASA’s never built a rocket,” says John Logsdon, who founded the Space Policy Institute at the George Washington University. “Rockets that NASA and the Air Force use have always been built by private companies.”

He doesn’t think the explosion says anything profound about this model of business.

“What it says is launching things into space is hard. And there will be unfortunately failures along the way,” he says.

The stakes are going to rise, though.

NASA recently hired Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts to the space station in a few years. (Of course Boeing, and its heritage units, played an integral role in building the Apollo spacecraft.)

Meanwhile, the commercial space industry has grown globally. It’s now worth about $225 billion, according to Carissa Christensen, managing partner of the Tauri Group. That figure includes commercial satellite launches and operation.

“Putting that in context,” she says, “the total amount that governments spend globally is about $75 billion.”

NASA is getting ready to spend more. It’s now in the process of awarding the next round of cargo contracts. 

 

Remembering Black Tuesday, 85 years later

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 11:00

The Fed stopped buying bonds to help the economy recover from its worst disaster since the Great Depression. So we're taking this opportunity to remember what happened 85 years ago today.

October 29, 1929, or Black Tuesday, was the most devastating crash in the United States stock market history.

Interesting tidbit?

The number of shares trading hands on the New York Stock Exchange that day set a record not broken for 40 years. And they were trading by hand!

Russian Engines Could Be Focus Of Antares Launch Failure Probe

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 10:32

NK-33 engines, originally destined for a Soviet-era moon shot that never got off the ground and later used in the Antares, are suspect, some scientists say.

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Federal Reserve Stays The Course, Ends Most Recent Stimulus Program

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 10:01

The Fed has been buying up bonds by the trillions since the financial crisis started in 2008. Today, it affirmed that it was going ahead with plans to end its third round of stimulus.

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Debate: Does Income Inequality Impair The American Dream?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 09:32

A sign of a robust economy that ultimately lifts all boats — or a force that prevents low- and middle-income people from advancing? Experts debate income inequality for Intelligence Squared U.S.

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Ask Me Anything: NPR's David Greene Takes Questions On Crimea

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 09:27

Morning Edition Host David Greene recently returned from a reporting trip to Crimea and responds to questions on Reddit about how the Black Sea peninsula has changed since it was seized by Russia.

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Why The Ebola Evacuees Survived And What We Learned From Them

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 08:42

Ten of the 14 Ebola patients evacuated from West Africa have survived. We asked specialists: What made the difference?

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The numbers for October 29, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 08:25

The Red Cross claimed to deliver 17 million meals and stacks, 74,000 shelter stays and 7 million blankets and flashlights to victims of Hurricane Sandy. But a joint investigation from ProPublica and NPR not only casts doubt on the organization's own tracking, but shows a pattern of prioritizing public relations over aid after hurricanes Sandy and Issac.

The investigation found the Red Cross was unprepared for the disasters and botched the delivery of meals, supplies and other aid. Response was slow and meals were wasted, and in one case an official reportedly ordered volunteers to drive around empty trucks to give the appearance of relief.

In other news: More earnings are on the way today and there will be an official announcement from the Fed on quantitative easing. For now, here's what we're reading - and the numbers we're watching - Wednesday.

$1.7 trillion

That's what the Fed has spent on bonds in just the third round of quantitative easing, or QE3. That's according to the New York Time's Upshot, which has seven charts laying out the program's history and future.

74,829

As of Wednesday morning, that's how many people follow SugarString on Twitter. The site posits itself as a slick tech/lifestyle news site "presented" by Verizon, but the Daily Dot reported that corporate "presenters" have handed down a big restriction: no writing about domestic surveillance or net neutrality, two topics Verizon is very involved in.

4

The number of meals in a day, according to Taco Bell. The restaurant is the first fast-food joint to offer nationwide mobile ordering via a new app launched today. Taco Bell made the announcement through a bit of social media jujitsu, the Verge reported, seemingly erasing its popular Twitter account to push users toward the app. In reality, the restaurant's tweets and 1.4 million followers are hiding the protected account @totallynothere.

Maine To Enforce Quarantine For Nurse Who Worked In West Africa

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 07:19

Kaci Hickox, who was first placed in isolation in New Jersey after her return over the weekend from Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone, has refused to abide by a "voluntary" quarantine in the state.

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Halloween For Adults: A Scary History

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 07:11

Fright Night is not just for kids anymore. Never really was.

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The Misadventures Of My Anti-Ebola Suitcase

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 05:56

It was packed with all the things needed to keep safe on a reporting trip to Sierra Leone. Then it took a few wrong turns and ended up in ... Paris! Will correspondent and luggage ever be reunited?

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Russia Reportedly Suspected In Hack Of White House Network

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 05:56

The breach of the unclassified network is thought to be a state-sponsored effort, and The Washington Post reports that Russia is considered the most likely culprit.

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North Korean Officials Reportedly Executed For Watching Soap Operas

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-29 05:26

At least 10 people have been put to death recently for viewing the daytime dramas smuggled in from South Korea, according to sources.

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