National News

We're Down To 5 Northern White Rhinos: Is It Too Late For Babies?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 12:11

With the death of a Northern White Rhino in San Diego's zoo this week, researchers are working to see if they can save the species. They'd better hurry — only five remain.

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In Gaza, The Specter Of ISIS Proves Useful To Both Sides

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 12:11

The Islamic State is not believed to be in the Gaza Strip. But a flyer in its name was recently sent around the territory. Both Israel and Hamas are trying to use it to their advantage.

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Dreaming Up A Safer, Cooler PPE For Ebola Fighters

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 12:09

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are revamping the Ebola suit. They've come up with a design that's safer, cooler and easier to take off than the space suits currently in use in West Africa.

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What Happens After You Get That Mammogram

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:47

What are the odds that you'll get a false positive when you get a mammogram? How likely is it that it will detect cancer? Here's one way to look at it.

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Major Theater Chains Won't Screen 'The Interview' Amid Threats

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:23

News reports say Regal, AMC, Cinemark, Carmike and Cineplex will not screen the comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. The decision deals a blow to the film, which cost $44 million to make.

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Russian journalists try to thwart Kremlin censorship

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:00

As the ruble crashed and the Russian Central Bank hiked interest rates to record highs, the lead story for most TV stations in Moscow was not the country’s dire financial crisis. It was this: “President Vladimir Putin has won the annual Man of the Year award for the 15th year running.”

 

Russia – under Putin – is not exactly a haven of press freedom. Indeed, one group of disgruntled journalists is so disgusted by the level of censorship at home, they just left Russia, settled in the Baltic state of Latvia and launched their own independent online service with the aim of providing Russians with objective news. Their departure was triggered by the firing of a well-known, independent editor.

 

Galina Timchenko was editor-in-chief of the Russian online news service Lenta until earlier this year, when she carried some stories that were critical of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. Timchenko was fired and replaced by a PR man who is very close to the Kremlin. Speaking from her self-imposed exile in the Latvian capital of Riga, she says the oligarch owner of Lenta was leaned on by the Russian government.

 

“It’s a very usual situation to put pressure on the owner of media,” she says.

 

That is an understatement. Russia is gaining a grisly international reputation for press censorship. It’s been ranked 148th out of 173 nations for press freedom, with Russian journalists, media workers and news providers receiving threats and sometimes even physical abuse if they publish anything negative about the Kremlin and its close allies in the business world.

 

Some in the media are fighting back. After Timchenko was fired, all 70 journalists on her staff quit in protest and 20 of them followed her to Latvia. In a converted warehouse in Riga, they’re producing stories for a new independent Russian language news service called Meduza. The service's content is published not only on a website but also on an app, to prevent the Kremlin from barring it.

 

“It’s more difficult to block, and as far as I know there’s no example of blocking apps in Russia still," Timchenko says.

 

The site is in its infancy, attracting around 81,000 visitors a day, compared with Lenta’s 3 million. Meduza expects to make its money from subscriptions, ads and app sales. For an organization committed to openness and transparency it is making an unusual move, refusing to reveal the cost of setting up in Latvia or the source of the money – and that’s ringing alarm bells.

 

“I find this problematic, the fact that this project would not actually reveal where the funding is coming from,” says Vladimir Strukov. He is an independent Russian commentator and professor of Russian cultural studies and world cinemas at the University of Leeds in England. 

 

“This lack of transparency gives a sense that there’s something happening there and it breeds conspiracy theories among bloggers and other media users in Russia," he says.

 

But Timchenko counters that by not revealing the names of her financial backers, she is protecting them from harassment by the Kremlin.

 

“I want to decrease their political risk,” she says.

 

Timchenko has given Meduza three years to break even but agrees she has her work cut out. In spite of Russia’s growing economic problems, Putin remains wildly popular. His message appears to be more appealing to the Russian public than what the independent media has to say.

New York is first state to ban fracking

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:00

The fracking wars continue, this time in the Big Apple. The controversial drilling practice has been banned in local town and cities, but today New York became the first state to enact a ban.

Kai talks to Scott Tong, who has been covering fracking and the oil industry for Marketplace.

Why law school enrollment is way down

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:00

Law schools enrolled about 120,000 students in 2014, a decrease of almost 7 percent from last year. It was the smallest number admitted since 1987.

While law school was once seen as a golden ticket to a financially stable future, the profession is becoming less popular. New technology is helping lawyers work more efficiently, allowing them to handle a bigger workload. But it also cuts down on a firm's need to hire more lawyers, which means fewer graduates nab full-time permanent jobs.

As recently as 2000, "almost every school was reporting employment outcomes with 90 percent or more of their graduates employed," says Jerry Organ, who teaches at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota.

Back then, schools didn't have to report what kinds of jobs their alumni were getting, but now they do, he says. Numbers over the last few years have reflected this reporting change, with only about half of  students getting full-time, long-term jobs as lawyers.

Now that’s an unexpected energy boost. (Thanks, Cuba)

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:00

Cuba and the United States are taking steps to normalize their long-troubled relationship in both politics and economics.

In response, tons of investors bought stock in the Cuba Beverage Company. Shares were up nearly 140 percent at one point, according to the Wall Street Journal. The thing is, the Cuba Beverage Company is an energy drink firm out of San Diego. No relation to Cuba, the country, at all.

It's not a big energy drink company. The shares only rose to 4 cents apiece. Caveat emptor, nonetheless.

Alan Gross, U.S. Contractor Freed By Cuba, Says 'It's Good To Be Home'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 10:38

Havana freed Gross, who spent five years in a Cuban prison, as a humanitarian gesture. The former USAID contractor said he hoped the U.S. and Cuba move past their "mutually belligerent" policies.

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PHOTO: The Meaning in a Phone Call

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 10:29

A conversation between Presidents Obama and Castro preceded a plan to normalize diplomatic relations between historical foes.

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The U.S. And Cuba: A Brief History Of A Tortured Relationship

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 10:09

The stalemate has outlasted 10 U.S. presidents, a failed invasion, a nuclear crisis and countless boatloads of Cuban asylum seekers. All that changed on Wednesday.

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Prisoner Exchange With Cuba Led To Freedom For Top U.S. Intelligence Agent

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 09:31

President Obama called the unnamed man "one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba." The agent spent nearly two decades in a Cuban prison.

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Managed Care Plans Make Progress In Erasing Racial Disparities

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 09:30

Though blacks still lag whites nationwide in health, disparities have been largely eliminated in the western states, a study finds. Kaiser Permanente's Medicare HMOs did best on that.

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New Cuba Policy Is Met With Cheers And Jeers On Both Sides Of The Aisle

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 09:26

Sen. Marco Rubio and other prominent Cuban-American lawmakers issued blistering rebukes of plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.

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A Holy Land Christmas Porridge Honors A Damsel In Distress

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 09:10

Some Christians in Israel and the West Bank celebrate Eid el-Burbara on Dec. 17. The feast honors St. Barbara, an early convert to Christianity whose story is echoed in the Rapunzel tale.

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Behind The Scenes At The Lab That Fingerprints Microbiomes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 08:06

Inside the lab, a lone technician sorts through new samples, snipping off swab heads intentionally fouled with fecal material. One head goes to cold storage and the other is processed for sequencing.

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Risks Have Never Been Greater For Medical Workers In Conflict Zones

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 07:55

They've always been caught in the crossfire. But now they're being directly targeted. And no place is more dangerous than Syria.

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Secrets of the Christmas tree lot

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 07:44

Americans bought 33 million Christmas trees last year by one count, making it a billion-dollar industry in this country alone. Perhaps nowhere are Christmas tree sales more visible than on the streets of New York City. 

Supriya and Vijay Laknidhi walk through a narrow evergreen forest on a sidewalk in Brooklyn Heights. They stop in front of a 7-foot Fraser fir.

“It’s pretty full, you know so even if you don’t have that many ornaments on there it still looks like a really healthy tree,” Supriya says.  Vijay adds, “we just had our first kid, so it’s a tree with an occasion now.

The Laknidhis are purchasing their family’s tree from another family tree. Ellie Bishop’s family started selling trees in 1988 when she was little more than a year old.  Now, she has her baby at the stand, alongside her mother and brother. These three generations of tree sellers manage a stable in Vermont the rest of the year. But that’s not necessarily where the trees come from.

“Well it kinda works like this: A bunch of tree sellers all throughout the city get together. We buy from big tree farms in different parts of the country,” Bishop says. “These ones come from North Carolina, sometimes [they come] all the way from Oregon. It just depends where they’re ordered from, where we get the best deal.”

Bishop’s supplier buys evergreens from wherever the trees grow the fastest. The vendors come from wherever work during the winter is slow.

“Selling trees really helps people get through January, February till they can get back to work in March,” Bishop says. 

Last year Ellie’s family sold about 300 trees, mostly priced between $55 and $140. It’s not easy work staying out on the street, in freezing temperatures, all day for most of December.  Still, it’s enough to lure seasonal workers like Melany Westerloppe, who's from Quebec.  She runs a stand in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.  High end trees here go for $400 – last year she sold to Robert De Niro. It’s the adventure as well as the money that lures hundreds of French-Canadians like her to the city. 

Westerloppe estimates,  “our company it’s about 300 stands in all the city because we are two or three people by stand.”  

The company, Forever Evergreen, is incorporated in Florida. It supplies to every stand I came across and owns hundreds of its own. The company is secretive, running a cash business that’s largely unregulated – and staffed by a migrant work force.

Simon Durind also sells trees in Manhattan. I asked him why a Florida-based company, buying trees from North Carolina, wants French Canadians to sell Christmas trees in New York City?

“They like Quebecois with an accent on the streets selling trees, looking like a North Viking. That’s what they like and it works,” exclaims Durind, a carpenter in Quebec who says he doesn’t mind living out of a van for a month. He estimates he makes $17 an hour for the season.  But there are other perks for these French-speaking, pine-scented gentlemen.

"The women of New  York are very beautiful," Durind says. "You know you don’t often see people like us, cutting trees with a saw and sometimes it looks like it impresses some people.” 

Mistletoe sold separately.

Christmas tree sales lure migrant workers to New York

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 07:44

Americans bought 33 million Christmas trees last year by one count, making it a billion-dollar industry in this country alone.  Perhaps nowhere are Christmas tree sales more visible than on the streets of New York City. 

Supriya and Vijay Laknidhi walk through a narrow evergreen forest on a sidewalk in Brooklyn Heights. They stop in front of a 7-foot Fraser Fir.

“It’s pretty full, you know so even if you don’t have that many ornaments on there it still looks like a really healthy tree,” Supriya says.  Vijay adds, “we just had our first kid so it’s a tree with an occasion now.

The Laknidhis are purchasing their family’s tree from another family tree.  Ellie Bishop’s family started selling trees in 1988 when she was little more than a year old.  Now, she has her baby at the stand, alongside her mother and brother.  These three generations of tree sellers manage a stable in Vermont the rest of the year. But that’s not necessarily where the trees come from.

“Well it kinda works like this: A bunch of tree sellers all throughout the city get together. We buy from big tree farms in different parts of the country,” Bishop says. “These ones come from North Carolina, sometimes [they come] all the way from Oregon. It just depends where they’re ordered from, where we get the best deal.”

Ellie’s supplier buys evergreens from wherever the trees grow the fastest.  The vendors come from wherever work during the winter is slow.

“Selling trees really helps people get through January, February till they can get back to work in March,” says Bishop. 

Last year Ellie’s family sold about 300 trees, mostly priced between $55 and $140.   It’s not easy work staying out on the street, in freezing temperatures, all day for most of December.  Still, it’s enough to lure seasonal workers like Melany Westerloppe, who's from Quebec.  She runs a stand in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.  High end trees here go for $400-- last year she sold to Robert De Niro. It’s the adventure as well as the money that lures hundreds of French-Canadians like her to the city. 

Westerloppe estimates,  “our company it’s about 300 stands in all the city because we are 2 or 3 people by stand.”  

The company, called Forever Evergreen, is incorporated in Florida.  It supplies to all of the stands I came across and owns hundreds of its own.  The company is pretty secretive. It runs a cash business that’s largely unregulated, and staffed by a migrant work force.

Simon Durind also sells trees in Manhattan.  I asked him why a Florida-based Company, buying trees from North Carolina, wants French Canadians to sell Christmas trees in New York City?

“They like Quebecois with an accent on the streets selling trees, looking like a North Viking. That’s what they like and it works,” exclaims Durin.

Durind, who’s a carpenter in Quebec, doesn’t mind living out of a van for a month. He estimates he makes $17 an hour for the season.  But there are other perks for these French-speaking, pine-scented gentlemen.

"The women of New  York are very beautiful," Durind says. "You know you don’t often see people like us, cutting trees with a saw and sometimes it looks like it impresses some people.” 

Mistletoe sold separately.

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