National / International News

Syrian sarin gas chemicals destroyed

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 07:25
The international chemical weapons watchdog says all the precursor chemicals for sarin gas removed from Syria have now been destroyed.

Amazon looks for data... at flea markets?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 07:00

Amazon's newly released product for small businesses, Amazon Local Register, works just like Square — the little thing that the guy at the farmers market plugs into his iPhone to run credit cards. (Amazon’s is elongated. Call it...Rectangle.)

This is Amazon, so of course the product is a bit cheaper than the competition, with an introductory rate that’s about 35 percent less than what merchants pay Square. Even after that expires, Amazon’s rate will still be a little lower. 

The product may enjoy other advantages, says Will Hernandez, editor of the trade publication Mobile Payments Today.

"Amazon has a lot of name-brand recognition among consumers and even merchants," he says. "They’ve got some major clout." Amazon also has existing relationships with a lot of merchants — including a system that processes online payments.

Analysts aren’t sure how much money Amazon can make processing payments for artisanal soap or hand-roasted coffee, since it has to pay fees to intermediaries like Visa.  

"To process retail transactions, there's a cost to it as well," says Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at Retail Systems Research. "This just strikes me as a distraction." 

But Amazon can pull in something else it wants: data.

"It may sound almost absurd to think, ‘Well, what kind of information can you get, knowing that someone’s paying dog-walkers or flea-markets or whatever?’" says James Wester, research director for global payments at the tech-research company IDC. "But the fact of the matter is, that’s what data is about. You don’t know what the patterns are until you have all of that data."

Libyan parliament seeks foreign help

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 06:52
Libya's parliament votes for foreign intervention to protect civilians caught up in deadly clashes between rival militia groups.

VIDEO: UK 'will play role' in Iraq help

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 06:36
Prime Minister David Cameron says "detailed plans" are being put in place to rescue thousands of people stranded in northern Iraq.

Botswana's Montsho B sample positive

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 06:27
Former 400m world champion Amantle Montsho faces a two-year ban after her B sample drugs test came back positive.

VIDEO: Fort on River Thames up for sale

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 05:17
A seven-bedroom disused fort on the River Thames is on the market, but it can only be reached by a boat or during low tide.

VIDEO: Video shows US hospital hit by flood

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 05:17
Security camera footage captures the moment a wall of water gushes through a Nebraska hospital.

VIDEO: US Yazidis lobby for Iraq community

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 04:30
The BBC's Barbara Plett Usher meets Yazidi Americans who have dropped everything to keep Washington's attention on the tragedy in their homeland.

VIDEO: North Korean daily life on film

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 04:22
A new film called Enter Pyongyang chronicles daily life in the North Korean capital, a city rarely covered by Western mainstream media.

Spain sees surge of migrants by sea

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 03:42
More than 1,200 migrants enter Spain illegally by sea over two days as the government denies reports that Morocco failed to mount patrols.

Robin Williams' daughter quits Twitter

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 03:33
Robin Williams' daughter Zelda says she is leaving Twitter following social media abuse after her father's death.

Day in pictures: 13 August 2014

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 03:11
24 hours of news photos: 13 August

What can and can't you put on headstones?

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 03:00
A priest allegedly asked a family to remove a headstone with an "inappropriate" inscription.

School staffing up nearly 400%, but not with teachers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 03:00

School staffing has shot up 377 percent over the past several decades, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. A huge chunk of that growth is the number of teacher aides — the Girl and Guy Fridays (sort of) of the classroom.

They're the ones that help a teacher corral 25 kids on a playground, or run to the copier when there's a room full of kids to supervise. It's no wonder teachers love them.

Graphic courtesy of the Fordham Institute.

"Parents are positive toward aides because they give their kids more attention," says Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, who has done research on teacher aides.

Aides are especially appreciated by parents of kids with special needs. Over the years, federal laws have empowered parents to make sure their kids are getting the education they need. Having an aide is often part of that plan, says Matthew Richmond, who wrote the Fordham report.

"So as those expectations have risen over time," he says, "I think that what you've seen is just an increase in number of personnel in order to help provide those services." 

Plus, Richmond says, because they're not certified, they're cheaper than teachers, and they're easy to find.

Slavin says, while aides might help teachers, they haven't had an impact on student grades. 

School staffing in the U.S. – what "non-teachers" actually do

Graphic courtesy of the Fordham Institute.

The Fordham Institute's study uses several different categories to classify non-teaching staff positions:

Teacher Aides – Staff members assigned to assist a teacher with routine activities associated with instruction.

School Administration – School administrators (principals and assistant principals) and administrative staff.

Student Support Staff – Staff that "nurture" students but do not provide or directly support instruction (psychologists, speech pathologists, etc.).

Guidance Staff – Guidance counselors.

Library Staff – Librarians and library support staff.

Instructional Coordinators – Staff that supervise instructional programs (curriculum coordinators, home economics supervisors, etc.).

"Other" Staff – Staff not included in another category (custodians, food service staff, etc.).

CORRECTION: The report from Fordham University incorrectly stated that staffing increased 500 percent. The increase was to 6.2 million from 1.3 million, a 377 percent increase. 

PODCAST: The biggest IPO

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 03:00

First up, Amazon has announced a new product called "local register," which is not unlike the plug-ins for tablets and smartphones that lets small businesses run a credit card. We take a look at how it works. Plus, school staffing has shot up nearly 500 percent over the past several decades, according to a new report. The data shows that a huge chunk of that growth is teacher aides. And Chinese Internet giant Alibaba is getting ready to sell stock, in what could be the largest IPO ever. More on what could be a $20 billion endeavor for the company.

A guide to the perfect tech company pitch

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 02:00

The NY Tech Meetup is a monthly gathering for members in the New York City's growing technology community. Over 40,000 people have subscribed to the group, which means its demo nights tend to sell out quickly.

Executive Director Jessica Lawrence estimates she’s seen about 360 demos in her time with the nonprofit, and regularly advises presenters on how to craft their pitches. Here are some of her top tips:

Be able to zero in on the problem your product is solving in one or two sentences.

“One of the biggest arts to a great pitch is helping the audience connect with your product immediately,” says Lawrence.

This often means summarizing the problems it solves and how it’ll make the audience’s lives better.

Show where an existing product is failing.

Sometimes, showing how your product will solve a problem is best accomplished by demonstrating the shortcomings of an existing product or services, Lawrence says.

Use stories to connect with your audience.

“You do want to connect with the people that you’re pitching to, you want to tell them some type of story,” says Lawrence.

A compelling anecdote about what led you to create the company can illustrate how your product solves the problems you’ve identified.

Use demonstrations to showcase technology.

Lawrence says demonstrations work well for tech products: “You’re not just talking about a service or a company talking about what they offer. You’re talking about something where you can show people what you’ve built.”

Have clear goals.

Having a clear goal in mind is key, Lawrence says. What's your next step?

“For some, it’s about finding employees or finding a co-founder,” says Lawrence. "For others, it’s more about getting users and feedback and exposing themselves to the community.”

Alibaba could become the largest IPO. Ever.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 02:00

The Chinese Internet giant, Alibaba Inc, is shaping up to be the largest initial public offering ever.

Analysts with MorningStar are predicting the company could raise at least $20 billion, potentially making it one of the most exciting offerings for investors since Facebook.

“Alibaba is one of the biggest e-commerce companies in the world, not just China," says Dennis Hudachek, a senior analyst at, a financial services company. 

He says in 2013, Alibaba sold more than $248 billion in goods with some 231 million active users.

“Online shopping in China is expected to grow quite a bit in the coming years," Hudachek says. "It’s basically being pitched as a huge growth play, as well.”

Alibaba has the ability to hold investors attention well beyond the IPO, says RJ Hottovy, an analyst with MorningStar.

“One (way) is maintain its growth trajectories in China, which would indicate it is finding new customers in that region,” he says.

Hottovy says Alibaba might also keep investor’s attention if it can show growth in markets outside of China – say, for example, the United States.

Going public hasn’t been a completely smooth process, though. Alibaba has already pushed its IPO date back to September because the company and regulators wanted more time.

Gentrification summer camp in changing neighborhoods

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 02:00

Seven-year-old Tristan Singeltary has purple glasses and a matching lavender easter egg on her yellow t-shirt. She's really cute. And she's also happy to explain, to any interested parties, the complex problem that is gentrification:

Well, not exactly right, but it's a lovely thought from a smiley little girl. And after all, that’s why Tristan and her fellow campers are here at STEAM camp in Brooklyn. That's STEAM for "Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math"  - this year's theme is gentrification. And in case you're worried, another camper, sophisticated 10-year-old Ayanna Lee, nails it.

"Just imagine, you were in a house, you were struggling to pay the rent," she says.  "But you worked so hard to pay it. And then all of the sudden the landlord comes to you and says you’re being evicted – somebody is moving into this house. It’s like you did everything right and then something bad just happens to you."

Gerard Miller, community outreach coordinator with non-profit Neighborhood Housing Services of Bedford-Stuyvesant, who works with the kids one day a week teaching financial literacy, says if they learn the basics now, hopefully by the time they’re adults, they’ll have a say in the sometimes scary changes they see happening around them.

“People feel like the neighborhood that they’ve known is ceasing to be,” he says.  “Blocks in Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy, that 15, 20 years ago, people didn’t want to move onto are now multi-million dollar blocks.”



Sally Herships

A shiny new building on a Bedford-Stuyvesant block has 9-year-old Xaavi Vericain excited, though his knowledge of architectural history and design may still need some work:

On a recent summer day, one of the camp’s co-founders, Clarisa James of DIVAS for Social Justice,  took the kids on a documentary expedition. They were exploring the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant to photograph gentrification in progress. And even if they couldn't provide a formal definition, gentrification as urban reality is something the campers are familiar with. Many of them are experiencing it first hand on their own blocks and in their own neighborhoods. When James points out a "for rent" sign on a newly renovated building, 12-year-old camper Kiyari Jaundoo takes notice.

"I could tell my mom about it," she says. "Because we’re trying to find an apartment."

"Why doesn’t your mother get a fifth job so you can still stay in your brownstone?" asks 9-year-old Xaavi Vericain. "She might get a lot of money to buy a whole house."

Lately, Miller has been discussing mortgages with the kids. They get pretty deep about debt and how it can impact their lives.

Says 10-year-old Ayanna Lee, of debt: "That’s like basically having no social life.”

“It’s because you might go broke and you might not have that much money," chimes in 12-year-old Alydia Wells. "Plus you owe a debt to yourself because you never got a life. You’re always going to have debt." 

"'Cause you’re going to owe your parents," says Lee, "and you can’t run away from your parents. The real lesson would actually be, to always be responsible if you have debt, because you can’t go blowing off your money [when] you owe somebody like $1,000 or $200 dollars, and you just spent it on a pair of Gucci shoes and ice cream."

Miller explains why he teaches at the camp: "When you talk about gentrification, you’re not really talking about the people who are moving in, you’re talking about the kinds of money that’s moving in," says Miller. "Not having a basic understanding of finances endangers you, because then someone else is making decisions that affect your life."

When a small, dusty, and empty plot of grass is spotted, 10-year-old  Xaavi Vericain is asked how much money he has.

"A lot," is the answer.

And how much does he think the land costs?

"A lotter."

The campers seem to be grasping the basics quickly.

VIDEO: 'Heart-breaking' scramble for survival

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 01:33
Aid worker Taban Sami Shoresh describes the ''heart-breaking'' sight of people scrambling for survival during a delivery of aid to people fleeing Islamist militants in Iraq.