National News

How to make a White House Summit more than a photo op

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:53

More than a dozen business school deans gathered at the White House today to talk about how to make the workplace work better for women and people with families. The meeting was part of the lead-up to  a bigger Working Families summit coming up in June.

The White House holds a lot of these sorts of gatherings. There have been summits on everything from job creation to food marketing to diversity in the tech industry. So what actually gets done?

“Everybody likes to come to the White House, come to Washington, have their picture taken,” says Bob Guttman, who teaches media and politics at Johns Hopkins University. “ In terms of policy, I think it’s less important.”

One way to make the events more than a photo-op is for organizers to ask for specific commitments, as the White House did last year when college presidents gathered to talk about expanding opportunity for low-income students. 

“So just that one project alone – clearly there’s been some great momentum from the convening in January,” says Daniel Porterfield, president of Franklin & Marshall College, one of 10 schools that pledged scholarships after the summit.

 

The sometimes strange world of White House summits

by Marc Sollinger 

Summit on Food Marketing: Michelle Obama is concerned with childhood obesity. So much so that last year her office convened a summit to get food companies and the media to push healthier food to America’s kids. Speaking to a group of parents, scientists, and representatives from the food industry, the First Lady urged everyone to make children’s health a priority.

Beer Summit: One of the most recognizable White House Summits wasn’t actually an official summit at all. But after a national uproar over the 2009 arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Gates, Obama met with both Gates and his arresting officer at what came to be known as the “Beer Summit.”

SelectUSA Investment Summit: As part of Obama’s push to bring jobs and investment money to the US, the White House convened a 1,300-person summit last fall that let global investors mingle with government officials and representatives from U.S. Companies.

Tech Inclusion Summit: This January summit was the highlight of an initiative to encourage diversity in the tech industry. Over 200 people participated and discussed ways to achieve President Obama’s goal of producing one million additional STEM graduates over the next decade.

Summit on Black Male Success: More a series of summits than a single event, this was an effort by EBONY magazine and the White House to host discussions throughout the country about the issues that face African American males. This series is a follow up to Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” campaign.

White House Summit on Working Families: Part of the reason business college deans are traveling to the White House, this summit will focus efforts on creating a more workable and equitable workplace. Taking place this June, it will convene business leaders and experts to talk about the issues. 

Bloomberg Seeks To Alter Gun Debate With $50 Million, And Moms

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:49

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is committing more of his considerable fortune to getting gun safety laws passed. The initiative will support a grass-roots effort that seeks to enlist women.

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Producers try to keep fish sticks from going under water

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:23

Another day in which I pass on what I read in the Wall Street Journal this morning, comment on it, and have you guys tell me how wrong I am:

The Journal has a story about fish sticks, and how the fish stick industry is looking to get kids excited about fish sticks again. They say fish are transitioning from the frozen stick model to "a fillet that can be cut into a fish stick" instead. 

I personally think that's gonna be a tough haul because... ew.

You should know, by the way, that I appear to be in a minority here at Marketplace Global headquarters, when it comes to feeling that way.

Bank earnings show: Americans got better at paying off debts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:14

The big banks have been releasing their first quarter earnings reports over the last week, and they’re all over the map: Profits are down at JPMorganChase, up at Wells Fargo.

But one trend is clear from nearly all the banks: Consumers are doing a better job paying down their mortgages and credit cards.

“This is not an unusual phenomenon,” says Nancy Bush, banking analyst and founder of NAB Research, LLC. “It normally goes on after a financial brush with death like the one we had in the years 2005 to 2008.” 

Both consumers and the big banks have changed their ways since those dark days. Banks are more cautious about who they lend to. And, we, the public, are a lot more careful with our credit cards and other loans. 

“Credit card and auto delinquencies have been hovering around all time lows for the last several quarters,” says Steve Chaouki, head of financial services at the credit reporting agency TransUnion.

Look at just about any big bank’s earnings report lately, and the trends are clear. JPMorgan Chase’s earnings, for instance, shows four charts under the heading "delinquency trends". All of them—whether home loans or credit cards—point straight down since 2010.

Total US home loan delinquencies are down more than 12 percent versus last year, according to Black Knight Financial Services. 

But this isn’t just because Americans are getting better at managing debt. Banks have also been much stricter. 

"In order to get a mortgage loan these days, you need to have a high credit score, so these borrowers are already more responsible,” says Kostya Gradushy with Black Knight’s Data & Analytics division. 

But all this responsibility can have a downside for the economy: Careful, responsible Americans tend to spend less - which means retailers won't be thrilled.

Bloomberg: 'Here's $50 million for gun control'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:11

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending $50 million to fight the National Rifle Association on gun control. This is not the first time Bloomberg has used his private foundation to contribute huge sums of money to nonprofits. He’s has given $50 million to fight coal companies, to clean up the oceans and to promote women’s reproductive rights.

In terms of gun control, Bloomberg’s $50 million is a huge amount to spend in a single year. The NRA spent just under $3.5 million on lobbying in 2013, and the Brady Campaign, a gun control advocacy group, has an annual budget of just over $3 million. Bloomberg’s $50 million will fund a network of smaller nonprofits organized under one large umbrella group called Everytown for Gun Safety.

Stacy Palmer is the editor of The Chronicle for Philanthropy. She says this money will help these smaller grassroots groups eliminate some of the redundancy in their organizatio,n “and make them a lot more efficient.”

Professor of philanthropic studies Mark Hager says large donations allow a group to fund big campaigns on a particular issue. “It can stop and take stock of that and really give its attention to marketing or lobbying efforts,” says Hager.

Private foundations are prohibited from lobbying for legislation and supporting political campaigns. But, says writer Joanne Barkan, “private foundations are allowed to spend as much money as they want on educating.” For private foundations like Bloomberg’s, the Koch brothers’ and the Gates', the difference between Gates’ educating a member of Congress and lobbying one is often impossible to distinguish. 

Justice's 'Peacemaker' Unit Focuses On Transgender Rights

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:02

A unit originally created to keep the peace during the civil rights movement is training law enforcement on how to be more sensitive to transgender witnesses and crime victims.

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On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow: A Guide To Speedy Vegetables

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:54

Impatient gardeners don't have to wait for summer to harvest salad fixings. A surprising variety of crops will bring homegrown produce to your table in as little as three weeks.

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Legal Moves Might Mean Fiscal Relief, And More PR Troubles, For GM

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:39

General Motors is signaling its plans to ask a bankruptcy judge for protection from lawsuits related to a defective switch recall. This could further complicate its current public relations crisis.

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Backlash over Crimea hits Russian economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:08

The Russian economy is beginning to suffer fallout from the crisis in Ukraine.

Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev told parliament in Moscow today that growth slowed sharply to just 0.8 percent in the first quarter -- far short of the earlier prediction of 2.5 percent. The minister said that the Ukrainian turmoil had spooked investors, and capital is fleeing the country at a record rate. Earlier in the week, the Russian finance minister forecast that if the capital flight continues the economy could see zero growth this year. Independent observers are equally gloomy.

"Everything seems to be going in the wrong direction for Russia at the moment,” says Raoul Ruparel of the Open Europe think tank in London. "It’s really due to increasing uncertainty around the situation in Ukraine and potential sanctions.”

So far, the U.S. and the Europeans have imposed travel bans and asset freezes on certain Russian and Ukrainian officials. The European Union has threatened to escalate the sanctions if peace talks due to begin in Switzerland on Thursday fail to make progress, and if Russia persists with what the EU calls its “provocation.”

 But Russian President Vladimir Putin seems unfazed by all the threats.

"Regaining Russian lands is taking precedence over practical , economic considerations," says Daragh McDowel of the Maplecroft research house.

 Other analysts argue that Putin has no reason to feel seriously threatened -- yet.

"The Russians have the third largest hard currency reserves in the world – a half a trillion dollars' worth - and that could cushion the capital flight," says Sam Charap of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "So I don’t see a dramatic, huge, short-term economic impact from this."

A European embargo on imports of Russian oil and gas or a ban on Russian banks to stop them dealing in western financial markets could be a different matter. That could bring Russia to its knees. But such drastic action – which could also inflict real economic damage on Europe - seems highly unlikely... unless Russia invades eastern Ukraine.

South Korea Ferry Disaster Sets Rescuers, And Fears, In Motion

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

Hundreds are missing after a ferry sank Wednesday off South Korea's southern coast. Reporter Jason Strother in Seoul offers details on the latest developments.

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Entering Talks In Geneva, U.S. Hopes For A Ukraine Breakthrough

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

Secretary of State John Kerry is set to meet Thursday with officials from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. They will discuss the crisis in Ukraine. While the Obama administration has said it has overwhelming evidence that Moscow is stirring up the unrest in eastern Ukraine, it says it wants to wait before expanding sanctions. Analysts say Washington has few other options.

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High School's Most Dreaded Test Gets A Makeover

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

The College Board outlined changes today for its SAT, pairing the news with a few sample questions. NPR's Cory Turner details the makeover students can expect to find in spring of 2016.

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Ukrainian Tanks Roll In — But Above Them Russian Flags Fly

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

Ukrainian tanks arrived in the city of Kramatorsk Wednesday morning. By the time they rolled out of the city, they were flying Russian flags. People in Kramatorsk tell the story of what happened.

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The New SAT: Less Vocabulary, More Linear Equations

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

The new version of the standardized test for college admissions, set to go into effect in 2016, will do away with obscure vocabulary words and cut multiple choice answer options from five to four.

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Man Reaches For The Sun For A Solution To Pakistan's Gas Crisis

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

A plan to replace imported oil with domestic natural gas has led to fuel shortages and long lines in Pakistan. A businessman has spent $500,000 of his own money to develop an affordable solar car.

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Ex-City Manager Caught In Calif. Salary Scandal Gets 12 Years

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:49

Robert Rizzo, who paid himself an $800,000 salary for running the small town of Bell, Calif., took advantage of the fact that there were "no checks and balances" in city government, the judge said.

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Pattern making: A stitch in time?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:41

Jen Beeman is a pattern maker based in Chicago. She runs the patternshop Grainline Studio.

Here's how she describes her job:

"Nobody ever realizes that people are involved in the making of your clothes anymore. People just assume that it’s a machine that makes our clothes. We’re so removed from how our garments or products in general are made that they never assume that there’s a person who does that.

With pattern making, if you can imagine something you want to make, then you can make it because you have the tools to make the pattern to make that a reality. And that’s really exciting to me – the creativity.

What it involves is a large work table, brown paper, 90lb craft paper, rulers, and a pencil. That’s pretty much it."

The Archer Button Up shirt is one of Grainline's most popular patterns.

Courtesy of Jen Beeman/ http://shop.grainlinestudio.com/product/archer-button-up-shirt

"[My job]’s going away because computers are making things more efficient. And you need less patternmakers to do the same amount of work and also things are getting outsourced overseas where the things are being made. But for me, it means that you need to be more creative and think outside the box to make it a viable career.

In 2009, I randomly started a blog and published my first pattern in, I think, 2010. And from there, it’s taken off. There are people in high school who buy them, and I’ve had people email me who are in their eighties. I’m just kind of flabbergasted that that many people are using my patterns and it is world-wide too which blows my mind.

I’ve thought a lot about what I would do if I couldn’t do patternmaking, and I honestly can’t come up with an answer. And I know that’s super lame. But I just really love what I’m doing. And I just know I’m really, really lucky to be able to do what I do."

Hear more stories in our Disappearing Jobs series:

Light And Dark: The Racial Biases That Remain In Photography

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:35

When Syreeta McFadden was young, she dreaded being photographed. Cameras made her skin look darkened and distorted. Now a photographer herself, she's learned to capture various hues of brown skin.

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Finding a battery that will power the future

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:29

Wearables like smartwatches have been the techie dream since forever. Now it seems as though the dreamm may come true. The mobile revolution has allowed hardware makers to create devices that can fit on your wrist  - devices that have the same computing power as devices that used to sit on your desktop.

But while the electronics have shrunk, the batteries haven't, says Marc van den Berg. He's a venture capitalist at Technology Partners in Palo Alto, Calif. On an iPhone, for example, the battery takes up nearly half the real estate of the device.

"If my watch is going to become my new smart phone I don’t want the watch to be a nice piece of jewelry and for me to have to wear a big arm band battery next to it," van den Berg says. 

In the past, the battery business wasn't as sexy as the software or mobile hardware biz.  But the challenge of powering mobile and wearable devices has sparked a renewed excitement in battery technology among tech companies and investors in Silicon Valley. And it's not just small batteries people are excited about.

"The investment community sees the need -- certainly in consumer electronics - but we also have the automobile marketplace and we have utility scale storage devices," van den Berg says. "All three of those things are the demand that the investment community has woken up to."

Just down the road from van den Berg, Yi Cui is working in his lab ast Stanford, where he's a professor. He’s also the CEO of a venture backed start-up called Amprius, which tests the boundaries of battery technology. The company counts former Google CEO Eric Schmidt as one of its big name investors. 

"My group invented paper batteries and textile battery," he says. And in this lab, Cui also developed a battery that uses silicon, which he sells through Amprius.

Cui says batteries are hard to develop because they live in the world of material science or very simply put, it all depends on finding the right material. Sometimes, materials like paper don’t hold enough charge. Or others like metals, can be too expensive. And often they can be dangerous.

"The safety concern is there. Make sure the packaging is good. You don’t leak out anything bad for your body," he says. Sorting through those issues takes a lot of research, time and testing. 

He shows me his battery testing machine. It’s around 4 feet high and has about a 100 little slots. In them, flat silver button batteries, like the ones in a watch. The chip uses silicon, and Cui says it allows the battery to lasts 25 percent longer than other batteries. And Amprius is selling a small number of them to Asian smartphone manufacturers.

Jim Kim is a venture capitalist at Formation 8 and he’s rooting for Amprius.

But, he says, "There’s a valley of death that exists between the research lab and commercialization."

He says while venture capitalists might be funding the research, nobody is paying to manufacture the batteries on a mass scale, at least not in the U.S.

"If you think about what needs to be done, you have to build a plant and that’s very expensive," he says. "And this is a process that takes a long time to tune. You have to be safe with it. If you make a mistake, it’s catastrophic."

Kim says a battery factory can cost up to hundreds of millions of dollars. While the luxury carmaker Tesla wants to build a factory, Kim says it’s mainly Korean conglomerates like LG that are investing, not companies in the U.S.

"And then you’ve had Panasonic, Samsung BYD and Lishen in China, who have built their factories on the back of government subsidies," he says. "Those are the players who are now dominating the market and that’s a shame."

Edward Snowden: From 'Geeky' Dropout To NSA Leaker

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:24

What motivated the former NSA contractor to divulge carefully guarded NSA secrets? A new Vanity Fair article takes a look back at the "kid from the Maryland suburbs."

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