National / International News

Commerzbank in $1.45bn US settlement

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:59
Commerzbank agrees to pay a penalty to US authorities for violating sanctions against businesses in Iran and Sudan and for engaging in money laundering.

Alibaba is getting into Snapchat

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:59
$200 million

That's what Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is investing in Snapchat, Bloomberg reported, which would value the company at $15 billion. The disappearing photo and video sharing app had been reportedly fundraising at a valuation between $16 and $19 billion, but Snapchat's star is still rising fast.

24.79 million

Speaking of Snapchat, that's how many views one user's "Snapchat Story" got during New York's much-ballyhooed snow storm earlier this winter. The video was folded into a compilation feature Snapchat calls "Our Stories," which are pushed out to all users for 24 hours. Business Insider's Nicholas Carlson makes the case that "Our Stories" might just be the perfect mobile advertising platform, and a threat to Facebook, Google and broadcast television.

$3,120

The average refund this tax season, according to the IRS. A recent Bankrate.com survey found more people are saying they'll invest that money or use it to pay off debts than in the past. But when those checks actually arrive, more than the predicted 3 precent of people are likely to splurge.

$820 million

That's what General Mills paid for organic-and-natural food company Annie's last year. It's a bellwether for the food business in general, which is trying to pivot in the wake of customers' growing dislike of processes and packaged convenience foods.

52

The age of Google CFO Patrick Pichette, who just announced he would retire once a successor is in place. In the corporate world, Pichette is something of a rarity, Neil Irwin writes for the Upshot. When you're making seven or eight figures quality of life tends to plateau, making early retirement appealing. However, so few top businesspeople, athletes, or entertainers do because that's not the way someone at the top of their field tends to operate. And that's "the paradox of success."

'Best evidence' for Ganymede ocean

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:49
The Hubble telescope obtains compelling evidence that Ganymede - the largest moon in the Solar System - has an ocean beneath its icy crust.

VIDEO: Rare access inside secretive Eritrea

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:49
Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, Eritrea is on track to achieve three UN targets aimed at eradicating poverty, as Yalda Hakim reports.

VIDEO: Britons 'felt compelled' to fight IS

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:47
A former soldier and a City trader from the UK who have join the fight against so-called Islamic State in Syria, say they felt compelled to do so after seeing a IS photos and videos.

Genetics company plans research unit

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:39
The personal genetics company 23andMe is setting up a research unit to trawl its growing database for clues about diseases.

MPs call for 2% defence spending

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:37
MPs approve a backbench motion calling for the UK to spend at least 2% of national income on defence, but the result is not binding on the government.

VIDEO: 'Men exploited me and got away with it'

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:36
This is the story of one woman who was sexually exploited as a teenager in Sheffield. Her perpetrators were never brought to justice.

Star Wars stand-alone film is named

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:35
Star Wars producers announce the name of the new stand-alone film, to be directed by Britain's Gareth Edwards and star Felicity Jones.

Domino's ends 'degrading' human ads

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:33
A pizza franchise stops using human billboards after a council complains they are dangerous and degrading.

How on earth do you fix Ferguson?

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:29
Government officials, protesters and commentators struggle to find a solution as violence once again flares up in Ferguson, Missouri.

Scottish police submit Talbot report

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:28
Police investigating incidents of alleged abuse involving former TV weatherman Fred Talbot submit a report to Scottish prosecutors.

Cole fined £20,000 for abusive tweet

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:23
West Ham striker Carlton Cole is fined £20,000 for sending abusive comments to a Tottenham supporter on Twitter.

We try every trick to win - Gerrard

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:21
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard admits all players are guilty of "not always abiding by the rules" during their careers.

The West Bank Battle For Land ... And Water

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:14

In the 1990s, Israelis and Palestinians made temporary arrangements in the West Bank as they worked toward a peace deal. The talks are now in the deep freeze, but the arrangements are entrenched.

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No Hope Of Survivors In Black Hawk Crash, Military Says

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:11

Officials say they've found only debris and human remains in the search of the area where a helicopter crashed in Florida Tuesday night with 11 people aboard.

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Do you know what you're paying for TV?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:11

If you ask Ian Olgeirson what it's like to comparison shop for a pay-TV deal, he will tell you that it's a confusing experience. 

"There are times where it's difficult to figure out exactly what's included in an offer," says Olgeirson.

While that's something TV customers might be able to relate to, Olgeirson is no mere customer. He is a principal analyst at SNL Kagan and follows the pay-TV market. In other words, he's a professional. 

 "We certainly are in an era of increasingly complex offers," says Olgeirson, "It is difficult to gain absolute clarity on a customer service call as to what your bill will be."

The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against DirecTV on Wednesday, accusing the nation's largest satellite TV provider of failing to disclose fees it charges customers above what's promoted in its advertisements. 

DirecTV denies the allegations and says its customers were fully informed of what they would be paying, but the company is hardly alone in complaints about charges. 

James Boffetti, who heads the New Hampshire Attorney General's Consumer Protection Bureau, says pay-TV providers register among the top 10 most-complained-about businesses. The bureau gets about 13,000 complaints a year in total.

The complaints against pay TV providers, he says, tend to follow a general theme. "People have complaints about ... the advertising of promotional packages" says Boffetti, "And they don't find that that's what they're actually being charged by the company."

Boffetti says a lot of complaints get resolved, and are usually misunderstandings between the consumer and the company. It's hard to draw a conclusion that companies are deliberately deceiving customers, he says. To do that, companies have to be more willful. 

"A lack of disclosure about significant terms in a business deal could be unfair and deceptive," Boffetti says. 

Still, the complaints show there is confusion out there about pay TV offers. And Laura Martin, an entertainment analyst at Needham & Company, says that's partly because pay-TV providers are facing price pressures both from consumers and the very TV channels that they sell. 

"Content providers have been investing more in original content, and that is increasing their fees to the cable operators ... Telco, cable and satellite, by double digits," says Martin. "And yet, the consumer is faced with a zero-inflation-rate environment, and therefore he doesn't want prices increasing. So we're getting margin pressure in the video part of the business, as programming costs rise faster than prices can be passed through to consumers."

And that means pay TV providers have to compete in price while also making enough to cover their costs. 

All of which comes back to consumers needing to be aware, says Olgeirson, and to do their homework. He recommends asking a pay-TV representative to add up exactly what the monthly bill is going to look like both now and in 12 months before agreeing to sign up for a new service. 

How bank stress tests are like restaurant inspections

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:11

The results of the Federal Reserve's annual stress tests resulted in a failing grade for European banks Deutsche Bank and Santander, a pass — after some extra credit — for JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, and a do-over for Bank of America.

The grades are a bit like those handed out to restaurants by health inspectors. 

One difference is that banks know when the inspectors are coming. But Kent Smetters, professor of business economics and public policy at Wharton, says this isn't a problem, because banks can't easily change — and then change back — the basic riskiness of their balance sheets. 

This years' tests did ding Bank of America for "certain weaknesses" in its processes and controls.

"It would be similar to going to a restaurant and saying the food tastes good, the service is fine, and then you walk back in the kitchen and you see somebody is using their hands with fingernails that are unclean," says Mike Mayo, bank analyst at CLSA.

But while these kinds of offenses might shut down a local restaurant, Simon Johnson, professor of entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management, says that because banks are so systemically important, regulators tend to treat them with "kid gloves" — but that complexity also means their risks are very difficult to accurately "grade."

In surgery, practice makes perfect

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:10

From today's file of statistics that will scare you, a patient-safety organization called The Leapfrog Group finds survival rates for some high-risk surgeries can swing by as much as 23 percent depending on the hospital a patient visits.

In all, The Leapfrog Group looked at four risky surgeries including esophagectomy, replacing the aortic valve in the heart and removing some or all of the pancreas.

Dr. Tom Varghese, a surgeon at the University of Washington, often performs esophagectomies. He says there’s good reason why a patient dies during a procedure that involves removing some or all of the esophagus. The patient is often weak and malnourished. That patient has often gone through chemotherapy and radiation, and then, Varghese has to cut him open to perform a tough procedure.

“So you take out the esophagus, then you have to reconstruct the replacement which is most of the stomach. And then you have to make that stomach, which is a big sack, make it into a tube. Then you have to stretch it back up to reattach in the neck,” he says.

Varghese says he performs maybe 15 of these surgeries every year. The study found in general the hospitals that performed these procedures the most tended to have the best outcomes. That’s no surprise says Dr. Bob Wachter at the University of California, San Francisco.

“There’s clear evidence that practice does make perfect. The more cases you do in general the better you are,” he says.

Wachter says the hospital matters, too. Questions like: Does the facility report their mortality and readmission rates? Do members of the staff wash their hands? Do nurses feel comfortable calling a doctor at 3 a.m.? All play a role in patient quality.

The trouble has been it’s hard to find reliable information. Consumers in need of care today still must rely on a patchwork of sources. Wachter says for certain procedures, like transplants and some hearts surgeries there’s decent information.

Patients can also turn to Consumer Reports, U.S. News and World Report and other rankings. Ultimately though, Wachter says people are “stuck with sitting down and meeting with the [physician] and looking them in the eyes and seeing if this is a person I can trust,” he says.

But Leapfrog’s Erica Mobley says change is coming.

“Healthcare hasn’t really been held to the standards of other industries, having to publicly report information the good and the bad,” she says.

When Leapfrog began its hospital survey in 2001, only 200 hospitals responded. This year, 1,500, or one-third of all hospitals nationwide participated. And consumers are a driving force behind better quality information.

In a recent survey, Mobley says consumers said what disturbed them the most was not high infection rates, nor even when surgeons left an object inside a patient. It was when hospitals withheld information and failed to report data. And it appears hospital executives are listening.

Quiz: School lunch specifics

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:55

A school-cafeteria study published in Childhood Obesity finds students wasted less food after USDA lunch standards were implemented.

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