National / International News

U.S. Women Take The Soccer Pitch Against Surprising Nigerian Team At The World Cup

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-16 13:12

The American women are favored to win but are going on to the next round regardless of the outcome. A win would ease their path toward the Cup.

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L.A.'s biggest vulnerability lies under its streets

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-16 13:10

Ask people in Los Angeles whether they have extra water on hand in case of a big earthquake, and you usually get a sheepish response. “Nothing, like, substantial,” one 23-year-old L.A. native says. “If water were taken away from me for a week or two, I’d probably be screwed at that point.”

Southern California is at great risk for a catastrophic earthquake. Most everyone living there knows it but, like most humans, they live in denial. It's more fun to watch Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in “San Andreas.” But “San Andreas” the reality is scary enough, according to Lucy Jones, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena. “So if the earthquake were to happen today, first, we are cutting off all foreign water," she says. Southern California’s biggest earthquake vulnerability, she says, is its water infrastructure. 

First, the aqueducts. Southern California imports well over half its water supply; Los Angeles, between 85 and 90 percent. A trio of monumental aqueducts delivers the water from hundreds of miles away.

The Los Angeles Aqueduct is one of three aqueducts bringing fresh water to Southern California. They all cross the San Andreas fault. This historic silent movie celebrates the aqueduct’s completion in 1913.  Credit: Courtesy Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

But here’s the problem: along a fault line, major earthquakes can shift the ground 20 feet or more. All the aqueducts feeding Southern California have to cross the San Andreas fault. That’s a “massive vulnerability,” Jones says.

 

One of those crossings is west of Palmdale, California, about an hour north of Los Angeles. The California Aqueduct carries water to Southern California from  the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, hundreds of miles to the north. The Delta is another vulnerable water system, propped up by fragile earthen levees. Steve Erie, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, says the levee system makes “pre-Katrina New Orleans look like an engineering marvel.”

“All you need is basically a little earthquake up in Northern California, and you’ve got a major disruption in one of the key aqueducts that comes to Southern California," he says.

A 2008 report called “The Shakeout Scenario” relates the story of a hypothetical 7.8 magnitude quake on the southern San Andreas fault. In that scenario, the aqueducts take a big hit. “It wasn’t clear, I think, to the planners that it’s very likely that all of them will break at once,” Jones says. “A big earthquake happens on a long fault, and the most likely distribution actually takes out all of them.”

Still, aqueducts can be repaired, right? And officials at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California say they have six months of emergency water in storage, despite the drought.

But here’s the thing: An earthquake can also damage the old water distribution pipes, particularly old cast-iron pipes. Timothy Strack, city of Riverside fire captain and chairman of the California Seismic Safety Commission, said the real weak link is the water infrastructure under the streets. “The distribution system in a lot of Southern California is a really old system,” Strack said. “You’re only as good as your last mile of pipe. You can have good storage, but if you can’t get the water to the hydrants….”

Marty Adams, senior assistant general manager of the water system at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, says the city has over 7,000 miles of pipe, some of it dating back to the 1920s and earlier. Adams was instrumental in efforts to get water services restored after the Northridge earthquake in 1994. "We had 1,500 or so breaks," he says. "We got everybody back in water by the seventh or eighth day. The question for us is, if you have 'The Big One,' is it going to affect everywhere in the city and all the surrounding cities as well?”

If that happens, he says, “It’s going to be harder for agencies to support each other.”

Charles Scawthorn, a global authority on earthquake damage to infrastructure, said a catastrophic quake on the San Andreas could possibly shut off water to some areas for months. “We anticipate tens of thousands of breaks, and those repairs are going to take a long time," he says. "And in the meantime, you’re not going to have water in your house.”

Scawthorn was in Osaka, Japan, when the disastrous 1995 earthquake hit the city of Kobe, about 20 miles away. Water and power both failed throughout Kobe. “It was like Berlin in April of 1945 or something," he recalls. "Collapsed buildings everywhere. People in the street, huddled in camp chairs with coats around them, in complete darkness.” 

Scawthorn says water was delivered by ship to the Kobe port, then trucked to neighborhoods, where residents filled jugs and bottles and carried water home twice a day. It took three months to fully restore water service.

Enough breaks in a city’s water system can severely damage the economy, especially if ruptured water pipes have hampered fire fighting, damaging homes and businesses. Most businesses can't operate without running water, just like households.

“What we are worried about is that life becomes so miserable that people give up on living here,” seismologist Lucy Jones says. "If we don’t have showers, it’s a significant public health issue. And if people leave, they’re much less likely to be able to return.”

A U.S. Growers warehouse.

Vanessa Smith/Marketplace

It's impossible to quake-proof all of the region's water infrastructure. The city has begun replacing some of the most corroded pipes, but officials say they can only afford to do so much so fast.Corselli says if a monster quake cut off their water supply, they could lock down and last for a week or so, but there’s a limit. “We would be out of business if we had an extended shutdown,” he says. “It affects shipping. It affects everything.”Business people like Peter Corselli, vice president of U.S. Growers Cold Storage, are acutely aware of water's importance to the economy. U.S. Growers freezes and refrigerates food for customers ranging from Trader Joe’s to Farmer John. It takes about 20 million gallons of water each year to run the company's refrigeration systems. That's water, a drought-aware Corselli adds, that ultimately returns to nature as evaporation.Officials in Southern California believe broken water infrastructure would hurt the regional economy more than other post-quake damage. By one estimate, $50 billion in lost business could occur.

Craig Davis, the DWP's quake expert, is behind a pilot program in the city to install Japanese-made earthquake-resistant water pipes. And Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has an ambitious plan to make the city more resilient to earthquakes.

Money, however, is an issue. Charles Scawthorn likes to tell the story of San Francisco fire Chief Dennis Sullivan in 1905. He urged the city to finance a separate saltwater system to extinguish fires, just in case of a big shaker. “And it was rejected because it was too expensive,” Scawthorn says. The next year, the famous 1906 San Francisco earthquake hit and the city nearly burned to the ground.  

Israeli artist wins BP Portrait Award

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-16 13:03
Israeli artist Matan Ben-Cnaan wins this year's BP Portrait Award, worth £30,000.

The business of Forbes rankings

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-16 13:00

Forbes has settled a libel suit with Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who says the magazine underestimated his wealth.  

Forbes has carved out a niche with its ranking of the world’s billionaires. But how does Forbes get the information for these lists? What's the secret sauce?

The first thing you have to do if you’re going to make a billionaires' list is forget how you’d calculate your own worth. Think like a billionaire. Once you’re in this altered state, a billionaire’s bottom line makes sense. For example…

“Frankly, the salary’s kind of a rounding error,” says Kerry Dolan, an assistant managing editor at Forbes. “The real value for a lot of these people’s net worth is the value of the stake in the company that they founded or inherited.”

Dolan wrote the article about Prince Alwaleed. She can’t comment about that story or the settlement. 

But she does say it can be hard to calculate someone’s net worth if that company is private. Dolan says Forbes will contact the person and ask for an audited financial statement. 

Forbes will also talk to analysts and former employees to see if there’s an art collection. Why does Forbes go to all that trouble?

“People love that kind of a list,” says John Carroll, a professor of mass communication at Boston University. “There’s a total fascination with wealth and celebrity and the intersection of the two. All of those things boost circulation.”

But there are some people who don’t like the list – people who are on it and don’t want to be.

"I think most people are probably trying to guard their privacy and their secrecy," says Steve Goldberg, a partner in Tweddell Goldberg Investment Management. "I know – in my business you’re not allowed to tell people who your clients are, much less how much money they have.”

But Forbes’ Dolan says other billionaires love being on the list and will even exaggerate their wealth to get on it.

FBI, DOJ probe St. Louis Cardinals

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-16 13:00

Here's today's "The New England Patriots Aren't the Only Cheats" edition.

Landing firmly on the sports-is-a-business-not-just-a-game side of the argument: it seems the St. Louis Cardinals are being investigated by the FBI and the Justice Department for hacking into the player personnel database of the Houston Astros.

The New York Times has the story, which goes on to say "subpoenas have been served on both the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence." 

There is no joy in Mudville.

FBI, DOJ probe St. Luis Cardinals

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-16 13:00

Here's today's "The New England Patriots Aren't the Only Cheats" edition.

Landing firmly on the sports-is-a-business-not-just-a-game side of the argument: it seems the St. Louis Cardinals are being investigated by the FBI and the Justice Department for hacking into the player personnel database of the Houston Astros.

The New York Times has the story, which goes on to say "subpoenas have been served on both the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence." 

There is no joy in Mudville.

Goldman to improve its consumer Sachs appeal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-16 13:00

Goldman Sachs is getting into the online- and app-based consumer loan business, according to the New York Times. You might be able to get that loan to build your deck or buy that truck online direct from the megabank.

But it’s hardly blazing a new trail. FinTech, as the startup world has dubbed the arrival of disruption to the financial services industry, has been moving along for years.  Just like Amazon took the store out of bookstores and Netflix busted Blockbuster, a swarm of firms like SoFi, Lending Club, On Deck, Betterment, Motif Investing and Loyal3 has been trying to undermine the business models of traditional banks by offering some kind of marriage between new technology and financial services. 

Larger banks have been slow on the uptake for several reasons.

“They haven’t had huge incentive to come into the market space,” says Mike Cagney, CEO and co-founder of SoFi, a firm that offers algorithm-driven online lending and securitization of high quality loans, and who by his own account wants to make it possible to one day “fire your bank.”

Cagney says large traditional banks have been complacent doing business as usual with baby boomers and have overlooked a major opportunity: underbanked, financial-maturity-delayed millennials. 

“It’s a false premise that when someone’s 45 they want to into a branch with bad hours and crappy product and service. That’s not how it works – 70 percent of millennials would rather go to the dentist than go to the bank,” says Cagney.

Another constraint facing traditional banks: the fact that they’re banks. “If you’re classified as a bank, there’s a whole set of regulatory burdens that fall on your shoulders that make it hard to move fast,” says Rita Gunther McGrath, professor of management at the Columbia Business School. 

The rules on deposits control how banks do all the other things they do from remittances to mortgages. Startups with nifty ideas on how to offer any one of those services without having to carry deposits don’t have to abide by those rules. 

Lastly, banks have been slow to innovate for the same reason that humans have always been slow: inertia.

“It’s true that in more recent times certain types of innovation were allowed to run amok,” McGrath says, but largely in terms of the products offered to consumers, “most are the same as they were 30 years ago.” 

Innovation can attract regulatory attention and doesn’t fit comfortably with financial models. “Breathing in and out and doing your job every day is a safer bet,” McGrath says.

Grant Easterbrook, co-founder of Dream Forward Financial, a disruptive startup in the retirement savings space, says innovation at large institutions with a lot of stakeholders is “just hard to do until it becomes blindingly obvious.”

All the same, banks do have some serious advantages: “Millions of accounts to tap into, lots of money to spend that startups don’t have. They just need to get moving on it.”

U.S. avocado consumption is ripe

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-16 12:47

There is no crop that has had a trajectory as steep as the avocado. Since 2010, consumption has gone up between 10 and 30 percent every year, which is one reason why avocado prices are increasing. Dan Stone recently wrote a piece called "Thanks to America, We’ve Reached Peak Avocado" for National Geographic.

Facts about avocados:

  • Mexico produces 10 times more avocados than the U.S. and Indonesia combined.
  • The rise of avocado’s popularity is unsustainable. Avocados have been grown for thousands of years in South America, but as demand increases, the farmers can’t afford to eat their own crop anymore.
  • It takes about 100 gallons of water to produce a pound of avocados … that’s about an entire bathtub of water for one avocado.
  • Almost three-fourths of Mexico’s crop comes from the state of Michoacan, where avocados are becoming currency in the drug war. The fruit is referred to as "oro verde," or green gold, and has replaced hard drugs like cocaine and heroin as the currency of the cartel.

To read Dan’s story on avocados and see more food coverage, visit natgeofood.com.  

Greek debt crisis is feeling like Groundhog Day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-16 12:42

You’re forgiven if you’ve not been paying attention to the daily back and forth of negotiations between Greece and its European creditors to release a bucket of bailout money Greece needs to pay its bills, avoid default and stay in the eurozone.

“It’s complete Groundhog Day,” says Mujtaba Rahman with the Eurasia Group. 

The situation looks very similar today as it did months ago — Greece and its creditors are in a standoff. The creditors want big economic reforms, like pension cuts. Greece’s prime minister was voted into office on a promise to fight those measures.

The difference now is the timing and the level of tension. Greece is running out of soft deadlines it can blow past and facing real do-or-die funding crises with payments due at the end of June and in July.

“Essentially, over several days or so, we’ve seen the creditors snap,” says Nicholas Spiro, of Spiro Sovereign Strategy. “Whilst there was very little trust between both sides to begin with, we’re pretty much seeing the end of negotiations.”

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Tuesday that the International Monetary Fund bears a “criminal responsibility" for the situation. He’s heading to Russia later this week, perhaps cozying up to President Vladimir Putin – just in case.

“We’re at the 12th hour, more or less,” says Douglas Elliott, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

However, Elliott thinks things might need to start tangibly falling apart in Greece before its leaders are able to compromise. 

Nigerian Soccer Fans Really Know How To Have A Ball

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-16 12:27

The U.S. team, which plays Nigeria tonight at the Women's World Cup, is a tournament favorite. But Nigeria's funtastic fans deserve a cup of their own.

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Growing Up In Protected Americana, Hillary Clinton Looked Outside The Cocoon

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-16 12:22

Clinton never moved back to Park Ridge, Ill., but when she talks about the America she wants to build, you can hear hints of what that suburb was like in the 1950s.

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Amazon's 'Catastrophe' Isn't One — Unlike Some TV Rom-Coms

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-16 12:20

Amazon on Friday debuts Catastrophe, a comedy about an American man and Irish woman united by an unexpected pregnancy. NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans says it's a wonderful, fresh vision of romance on TV.

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Of 4 Million Syrian Refugees, The U.S. Has Taken Fewer Than 1,000

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-16 12:12

The U.S has sent humanitarian aid to help Syrian civilians, but only a small number of refugees have been allowed into America. Now the U.S. says it will increase the number of those admitted.

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Killer nurse in conviction appeal

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-16 12:08
A nurse convicted of murdering two patients at the hospital in Stockport where he worked launches an appeal against his conviction.

Why Obama Has His Work Cut Out For Him On Getting Trade Votes

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-16 11:59

In an extremely polarized Congress, last week's trade vote yielded an unusually haphazard-looking mix of votes. Here's a breakdown of how the House voted and why it matters.

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McIlroy happy to escape major 'hype'

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-16 11:57
Rory McIlroy welcomes being away from the "hype and attention" of the Masters heading into the year's second major at the US Open.

A Soft Eraser Won't Fix This SAT Mistake

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-16 11:53

The College Board won't score two of 10 test sections after a printing error on the instructions for the exam given earlier this month.

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Deus Ex game play footage unveiled

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-16 11:49
The first footage from the upcoming Deus Ex: Mankind Divided video game has been unveiled at E3.

Billionaire Investor Kirk Kerkorian Dies At 98

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-16 11:28

Kerkorian founded MGM Resorts International and helped revitalize the Las Vegas Strip.

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How Mexico Quietly Legalized Same-Sex Marriage

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-16 11:21

A series of low-profile court rulings culminated with a Supreme Court decision this month that says limiting marriage to a man and a woman was discriminatory and in violation of the constitution.

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