National News

Missouri Governor Announces Creation Of 'Ferguson Commission'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 14:19

The panel will study the social and economic conditions that fueled violent protests over the killing of an unarmed teenager this summer.

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Ebola Vaccine Could Start Testing In Africa By January

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 14:08

The World Health Organization says two vaccine candidates now undergoing small-scale tests of dosage and safety in people might be ready for broader deployment in Africa by early 2015.

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In More Cities, That Doggie In The Window Is Not For Sale

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 13:30

Almost 50 U.S. cities and towns have banned pet stores from selling puppies. The laws are aimed at cracking down on substandard, large-scale breeders, but many store owners say the bans are unfair.

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My Son Is Doctors Without Borders' 1,000th Ebola Survivor

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 12:52

Liberian health worker Alexander Kollie lost his wife, daughters and brother to Ebola. Then his son tested positive for the disease. He survived, and now father and son are building a new life.

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For Healthy Liberians, Life Continues — With Some Adjustments

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 12:51

The million-plus healthy residents of Liberia's capital, Monrovia, are doing their best to maintain their lives in a city where Ebola has killed more than 1,300.

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Duke Energy CEO: 'I Don't Think Of Myself As A Powerful Woman'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 12:27

Female executives are a rarity in the energy industry. But Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy, took the helm of the utility giant just as it was grappling with some very public challenges.

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From NFL To 'Scandal,' Whole Foods Buys TV Ads To Boost Its Brand

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 12:09

A pioneer in selling organic, sustainable groceries, Whole Foods now finds itself beset by competitors. So it's launching its first national ad blitz to sell socially conscious consumers on its story.

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Hospitals Struggle To Beat Back Serious Infections

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 12:05

About 75,000 patients a year die from infections they caught in the hospital. A Kaiser Health News analysis finds that nearly 700 hospitals across the nation have higher than expected infection rates.

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Watchdog: $7 Billion U.S. Effort Doesn't Dent Afghan Poppy Production

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:35

The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction found that despite U.S. counternarcotics efforts, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached a record high in 2013.

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Can McDonald's regain its customer base?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:21

The Golden Arches are losing their luster - McDonald's reported that its profits fell by 30 percent.

McDonald’s problems right now are complicated, says Jennifer Bartashus, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. She says we should start by looking at the company's target market.

“The customer profile still remains people who are in the lower income, lower-middle-income bracket,” Bratashus says.

These folks haven’t recovered from the recession and are still looking for bargains. McDonald’s problem? Meat and cheese prices are rising, which means its prices are too.

At the same time, McDonald’s is also trying to respond to changing consumer tastes by adding healthier, more expensive options - like salads and parfaits - to its menu.

“They’ve tried to be something for everyone as opposed to being everything for some people,” Bratashus says.

Bob Goldin, an analyst with Technomic, says McDonald’s is also facing increased competition from “fast casual” restaurants like Chipotle and Panera.

“I think the perception among many consumers is that it’s a fresher product and better quality,” Goldin says of the rival chains. He adds that these restaurants often cost just a few bucks more than some of the meals you find at McDonald's.

John Gordon is an analyst at Pacific Management Consulting Group and he says McDonald’s is losing ground with another group: millennials. He says they like restaurants that let you customize your order. And McDonald's has missed this trend, in part, because of its corporate culture.

“They’re such an insular group,” Gordon says. “They tend to think more about what the corporation wants rather than maybe what the customer wants.”

McDonald's' CEO Don Thompson admitted the company has to play catch-up. It’s starting by piloting menus that let you build your own burger at a few Southern California restaurants.

As we discovered, McDona'd strategy has... changed... over time. These needed to go somewhere:

Ballerina Misty Copeland counts herself lucky

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:20

Age starting dance: 13

Height: 5 feet 2 inches

Bust: "Bigger than most"

At least, that's how ballerina Misty Copeland describes her numbers-defying career in dance. A soloist with the American Ballet Theater in New York, Copeland recently explained how she doesn't really fit into the traditional model for ballet, but still made it work.

“All of those numbers, they just don’t add up to create a classical dancer,” she says. "No matter what, I'm going to be who I am."

Listen to the full conversation from our live show in New York City in the audio player above.

UPDATED: After Controversy, Toys R Us Pulls 'Breaking Bad' Action Figures

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:19

One Florida mom started a petition calling on the retailer to stop selling action figures based on drug dealers in its stores. Toys R Us had said the Breaking Bad toys were meant for adults.

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To-do list: Replace exploding airbags

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:18

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is urging drivers of more than 4.7 million cars to get their air bags fixed immediately. The warning affects various models manufactured by Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, BMW and GM, ranging between the years 2000-2007 for most, and to 2011 for the Honda Element.

You can look up your car by VIN number to see if it is affected.

The warning is mostly of recalls that have been previously issued, but the safety agency took the unusual step of issuing an alert to get drivers who may be complacent about recalls to pay attention.

"Responding to these recalls is essential for their personal safety and it will help aid our ongoing investigation," David Friedman, deputy administrator of the agency, said in a statement. "At this point, the issue appears to be a problem related to extended exposure to consistently high humidity and temperatures."

Humidity can apparently destabilize the explosives that are part of the airbag system and are used to quickly inflate the bags in an accident. That could cause apparently defective air bags manufactured by the Japanese supplier Takata, which were installed by 11 automakers worldwide, to explode and send shrapnel at drivers.

Investigators are looking into four deaths that could be linked to the defect. And officials are focusing their recall efforts first on humid regions of the country, including Florida and Hawaii.

"Safety is our top priority and we want to ensure that consumers respond to the 2013 and 2014 regional recalls," Friedman said.

Globally, the airbag recalls date from 2008 and involve 14 million vehicles — the sheer scale of which has overwhelmed recall efforts.

"It complicates things because so many manufacturers and models are affected when one supplier supplies that many cars," says Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

Takata is the second largest of only a handful of airbag suppliers.

Adding to that complication, Takata has not had to supply a huge stock of replacement parts, says Nerad, because air bags are designed to be installed in a vehicle and never be touched again.

"So it doesn't make sense that there be tons of replacement parts out there, because these air bag systems are typically not replaced," Nerad says.

Now that they have to be replaced at such a large scale, it's been difficult for car companies to keep up. Toyota is temporarily disabling passenger-side airbags in some cars and urging customers not to drive affected cars until the airbags are replaced.

The difficulties with the recalls stem from auto companies' reliance on a few suppliers for their parts. That's because there has been a consolidation of auto parts suppliers over the last 20 years, says Micheline Maynard, author of the books "Curbing Cars" and "The End of Detroit."

"Suppliers were fighting each other for business, and undercutting each other on prices, and literally were going out of business, because they couldn't build products cheap enough," Maynard says.

And while that's been good for surviving companies, it's also led to huge market exposure, as Takata is now finding out. The company says it expects a net loss of $220 million in the current fiscal year.

Europe v China: Whose economic woes pain America more?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:17

China’s GDP increased by only 7.3 percent in the third quarter this year. While that's a figure many countries would kill to have, it’s relatively slow for China – in fact, it’s the lowest quarterly figure in five years.

Of course, China’s not alone; Europe is in the midst of a slowdown, too. So which stalling economy is a greater threat to our own, here in the U.S.? On the one hand, China is the world’s second largest economy, but Europe is an important trading partner.

“If I was picking, I’d be picking Europe,” says Kent Smetters, professor of business economics and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Smetters says Europe tends to purchase high-margin goods from the U.S., such as machines.

“With China, not only is it a much smaller trading relationship, the margins that we get with what we’re trading is a lot different,” he says. “Our biggest export, for example, is soy beans.”

Slower economic growth in China matters to the U.S. less than a slowdown Europe, agrees Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. In addition to exports, Europe can also impact our stock markets, he says.

“Things look depressed in Europe,” he says. “So European shares are cheaper, so that’s going to ripple over U.S. shares because some investors will say, ‘Well, let’s buy those cheap European shares instead of the more expensive U.S. shares.’”

Hufbauer says Europe has been dragged down by the debt of its countries and a lack of agreement about how to combat sluggish growth. He doesn’t expect that to change any time soon.

On the other hand, China’s slowdown is at least partially by design of its leaders, says Nicholas Consonery, the Asia director at the Eurasia Group. So while many investors are fearful of the slowdown, he says, “It’s very clear that transitioning into a phase of slower, more sustainable growth is a healthy  – and not just healthy, but also necessary adjustment for China.”

Consonery says a more stable China, with stronger consumer spending, could actually be good for the U.S. in the long term.

Ambushes, Mines And Booby Traps: ISIS Militants Change Tack

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:16

In northern Iraq, Kurdish fighters have won back territory from the so-called Islamic State only to lose it again. ISIS is using a range of explosives, inflicting heavy Kurdish casualties.

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Morgan Spurlock thinks you're economically illiterate

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:12

Morgan Spurlock is hoping to demystify the economy with a new series of short films he's calling "We the Economy: 20 Short Films You Can't Afford to Miss."

"I think we live in a country and we live in a time where a lot of us are economically illiterate," Spurlock says. "Our eyes glass over, we start to go into a slump when we hear about derivatives or market fluctuations or the Federal Reserve. And I think having a basic understanding of how these things work and how they impact our lives is important. It's important for the citizenry, it's important for our communities, it's important for our country."

Watch the first film here:

A surprising contributor to climate change: concrete

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:08

What's the material of the future? Titanium? Silicon? Maybe some rare metal used in electronics? Those materials will no doubt play increasingly larger roles in our lives. But arguably, the most important substance in the development of civilization has been — and will continue to be — concrete.

Take China, for example. It has poured more concrete in the past six years than America poured in the past 300.

Making concrete takes a ton of energy. As much as 10 percent of global CO2 emissions come from the production of concrete. So scientists and engineers are looking to reduce its environmental impact.

It's really just one ingredient that's responsible for its high carbon emissions: cement.

"The cement is just the glue that holds the other elements together," says Robert Courland, the author of "Concrete Planet." To make cement, limestone and a few other ingredients are put into a big kiln, and the temperature is fired up to about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, which produces lots of CO2.

"It's been estimated, that producing one ton of cement generates one ton of CO2," Courland says. "Since we are producing around 4 billion tons of concrete cement per year worldwide, that's very, very troubling." 

Concrete is the most common man-made material on earth. So if its CO2 emissions could be reduced by even a tiny fraction, the environmental impact would be huge. A group of scientists at MIT announced in a recent paper they've found a way to reduce CO2 emissions of cement by more than half.

"We have developed a set of experiments measuring the mechanical properties at the sub-micron or big-nano level," says Roland Pellenq, one of the authors.

His cement research is like a Russian doll, Pellenq says, the kind where a tiny doll rests inside a larger doll which rests inside a larger doll, etc. Pellenq and his colleagues study the properties of cement at the atomic level — the smallest possible doll. They do atomic-simulations, basically experimenting with different ratios of the elements in cement. Then they scale up those simulations until they have a new recipe.

This idea came from scientists at Corning who used a similar approach to invent Gorilla Glass -- the super tough, scratch resistant glass often used for screens on smartphones.

"So here we tried to do the same approach for cement," says Mathieu Bauchy, who also worked on the MIT paper.

Bauchy recently moved from Cambridge to Los Angeles to work at UCLA. In a basement lab below his office, engineers and chemists use Bauchy's atomic-scale simulations to make concrete cubes that they measure, weigh and smash.

UCLA student Gabe Falzoni takes a gray cube of concrete, about the size of a Rubik's Cube, and puts it in a cage. He lowers a metal cylinder on top of the cube and slowly ratchets up the pressure. When a cube breaks, it can be so loud that it jars the people in the office on the other side of the wall.

The display on the machine shows the pressure in kilonewtons. It climbs steadily 20kN...40kN...70kN...90kN...100kN...  brace myself waiting for a violent explosion. And then, the cube crumbles sadly and quietly, like an Egyptian pyramid deteriorating slowly over hundreds of years.

"That happens sometimes," says Falzoni, removing the shattered bits of concrete from the cage.

The final number: 121 kN, about seventeen and a half pounds per square inch. I ask Falzoni if he would drive on a bridge that strong. "If it was designed right," he answers.

The goal of these experiments is two-fold: to develop cement that uses less limestone, which is the easiest way to cut concrete emissions, and to create stronger concrete. Stronger concrete means builders could use less of it — also cutting CO2 emissions.

But for builders to use concrete developed by this lab, it has to have another very important quality. It has to be cheap.

"That's really the key," Bauchy says. "You cannot expect the industry to change to a greener material if this greener material is not the same price, or cheaper than original material."

The only way to make new concrete competitive is to take into account the cost of the CO2 released and charge a carbon tax on it, Bauchy says, or government could mandate the use of greener materials. Those policies would be politically difficult to enact. Greener concrete is not high on the priority list of voters, especially in developing nations where progress is often measured by the amount of freshly poured concrete.

The piece that's missing from new CDC guidelines

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:05

The CDC has released updated and stricter guidelines to keep frontline healthcare workers safe in the face of potential Ebola cases. The move comes after two nurses were infected with Ebola who treating Thomas Duncan in a Dallas hospital and the CDC’s oversight was questioned.

Hospitals across the country are now ramping up training efforts, but will they be sufficient enough to calm an uneasy workforce? When nurse Jessica Berney goes to work these days she sees something she’s not used to.

“You see these stacks of these plastic bags that have the personal protection equipment in it, and it’s kind of like an anticipation of something bad is going happen. Something big and something bad,” she says.

Not only are the stacks of gear new, that feeling the dread that Berney says has crept into the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, that’s new too.

“Is this going to be enough? Is this going to protect me,” she says.

At this point, it’s clear if the disease were to spread beyond the two current cases, the people most at risk of contracting Ebola in the U.S. are healthcare workers -- in particular, nurses and orderlies are the people most likely to come into contact with patient fluids.

The guidelines released by the CDC are aimed at many of these workers. But you can have all the protocols you want, a room stuffed with gear and Johns Hopkins' Dr. Daniel Barnett says you still may have staff scared stiff. He says he worries hospitals right now are making the same assumption he made about a decade ago.

“That people would be willing to come to work, regardless of scenario, regardless of context, regardless of personal and professional obligations given,” he says.

But his work in the field he calls psychological preparedness proved him wrong.

“We found that a third of hospital workers indicated they would be unwilling to show up in a severe pandemic. You can think of a severe influenza pandemic in terms of the fear in some ways as a proxy for what we are talking about with regards to Ebola,” he says.

Barnett, through a randomized controlled, found if employers educate their employees about how they fit into the plan to fight the public health threat, those workers are 12 times more likely to clock in.

But National Nurses United union president Deborah Burger says before any of that, you’ve got to remember some hospitals aren’t even covering the basics yet.

“They are not even supplying the equipment to allay the fears of the healthcare workers,” she says.

Burger says her members are urging President Obama to make CDC’s guidelines mandatory. With some 5,000 hospitals she worries about a patchwork of practices that could leave workers at risk and scared.

Ebola plush toy sells out online

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:03

For less than $10, you can order Ebola online and take it home — not the disease itself but rather, a cuddly, worm-shaped mock up of the virus.

"GIANT Microbes" are stuffed animals that resemble tiny microbes, only at one million times their actual size. The website says the characters are designed to be “appealing personalities” which can engage any audience. And yes, there is one for Ebola.

The toys are based on a real microscopic image of an actual microbe, sans the googly eyes. The Ebola virus plush sells for $9.95, but is currently sold out. There are also "gigantic" and Petri dish versions of the toy.

The Ebola doll has a positive five-star review on the website, which calls the disease the “T. Rex of microbes." Reviewers note the toy is the "perfect prop" for a Halloween costume, with others commenting they didn't realize the virus was "so cute."

Who's Catching Your Cellphone Conversations?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 10:39

The police do it. The FBI does it. Could be, foreign governments do it. With the right equipment, people can hijack your cellphone calls and texts and listen in.

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