National / International News

Supermarket price war hits Waitrose

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:25
Waitrose has posted a drop in profit for 2014 as competition for market share in the UK grocery market continues to hit supermarkets' bottom lines.

PODCAST: Courts could upend Uber's model

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:20

First up: The ride services Uber and Lyft failed to convince a pair of U.S. judges on Wednesday that their drivers are “independent contractors” rather than regular employees. Class-action lawsuits – brought by drivers of both companies – will now go to jury trial, the results for which could have important consequences for the sharing economy. Then, Google is getting into "cold storage," taking on the masses of old data businesses like to squirrel away and making it available to them at a moment's notice. Finally, New Yorkers have been enjoying excellent ski conditions for most of this winter, but in Lake Tahoe, the slopes are bare and warm. We look at how small ski areas are scraping by while the bigger resorts are looking for new ways to turn a profit.

No inquiry into Tornado crash deaths

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:20
The Crown Office says a fatal accident inquiry will not be held into a collision between two RAF Tornado jets in 2012.

France investigates IS killing video

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:17
France investigates an Islamic State killing video which features a French-speaking man said to be related to the 2012 Toulouse gunman, Mohammed Merah.

Cole Harden wins World Hurdle

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:17
Cole Harden wins the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival after leading from the off under jockey Gavin Sheehan.

Terry Pratchett, Prolific Fantasy Author, Dies At 66

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:17

The Discworld series author had for years struggled with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Pratchett amassed a devoted following over four decades of writing — and dozens of novels.

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Cameron school in admissions row

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:12
The state school in Westminster chosen by the prime minister for his daughter Nancy to attend may have breached the admissions code.

Ferguson police shooting 'heinous'

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:09
The shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, was a "heinous assault" that could undermine police reforms, says the US attorney general.

Before The Gas Is Passed, Researchers Aim To Measure It In The Gut

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:04

As people's health waxes or wanes because of stress or disease, their intestinal ecosystems change, too. It may be possible someday to diagnose disease by analyzing the gas the microbes make.

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In Vietnam, a cemetery kicks out the living

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:54

Some of the world's fastest growing economies are in Asia. With more cash flow, more jobs, more people, Asian cities are getting a lot bigger. Some are overflowing.

In Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, it seems as if little can stand in the way of urban sprawl — not even the dead. The city's biggest cemetery is slated for demolition, with plans to use the space for a shopping mall, apartments and parks.

Moving 70,000 tombs is one challenge. Here's an even trickier one: What to do about the hundreds of people who work and live inside the cemetery? 

The cemetery, Binh Hung Hoa, is a relatively quiet place — to lay flowers, light incense at a loved one's grave, even say a solemn prayer.

And hey — before you leave, grab a massage. 

"Oil, full body, hand, head… everything! Very cheap!" a masseuse named Man says with a laugh. She says she's offering oil, full-body, hand, and head treatments for less than $5 an hour.

It's kind of a steal — if you're okay with a rubdown among nearly two hundred football fields worth of above-ground cement tombs.

Man says her customers couldn't care less. Many local people who have colds, the flu, or fever often come here. There's been a big community living here for years and years, since before the early 1960's, when a much smaller cemetery first opened. After the U.S. war ended, the whole place just got bigger. More graves, and today, hundreds of people.

Thi Cuc Nguyen and her husband live here, where they work sweeping and looking after nearly 1,000 tombs.

"Are you scared of ghosts?!" Nguyen asks, laughing. "No ghosts here, only bodies. Their spirits are up in heaven already. So I feel totally peaceful living here."

The Catholic Church hired the couple almost 25 years ago. Nguyen says this gig sure beats her old job selling produce.

"Visitors often thank me, as they see that I am taking care of their families' tombs," she says. "I make $100 to $150 a month. And I have more freedom. I really enjoy taking care of the graves."

There are other ways to earn cash here. Some rent out rooms to day laborers, others run makeshift speakeasies. Want to order a whole roasted pig? One of the temple caretakers will hook you up.

Hoa Binh runs a small stand at a crossroads in the cemetery, where she sells sweet iced coffee, plus flowers and incense for the graves. Things have been tough for her since 2011, when the district People's Committee closed the cemetery to new burials. Families came and started emptying the tombs.

Since then, she says, business, well, it's been kind of like a graveyard around here.

"As soon as they started removing the tombs, the number of visitors dropped a lot," she says. "There used to be 500 tombs in this area. Sometimes there would be a line of cars here, just to visit one tomb, you know? But it's getting quiet. Very quiet!"

Quiet? Not exactly. The cemetery sits just two miles from Ho Chi Minh City's very busy international airport. This is where it's all supposed to happen: luxury apartments, a shopping mall, maybe a park, all by the year 2020.

Partly, yes, it's about sprawl, but there are public-health issues, too, says Yale anthropologist Erik Harms, who's written about urban redevelopment here.

"There's been stories about people drinking water from wells there," he says. "That's pretty nasty, right? To drink water from a well in a cemetery where corpse juices are dripping into the well, right?"

Some of those who live here are embracing the new plans. Harms says that with projects like this one, people often imagine a more comfortable way of life.

"They say, 'Yeah, it would be nice to live in a nice house or an apartment building with air conditioning, clean sewers … good schools for the kids.' That's in some ways preferable to living in a cemetery."

But the local government hasn't said what it's going to do for the residents. It's tricky in part because many people don't have any legal claims to the land.

One thing is clear: Soon, they'll have to pack up and move on, as this old graveyard gets set to start a new life.

The Micro Bit - can it make us digital?

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:49
The BBC plans to give a million children a tiny computer called the Micro Bit.

NHS Scotland staff get 1% pay rise

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:47
Health workers in Scotland will receive a 1% pay rise for the second year in a row, the Scottish government confirms.

Boy in Robin Williams death mishap

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:46
A teenager died accidentally after trying to work out how actor Robin Williams had killed himself, an inquest hears.

Teachers' pay rise 'will spell cuts'

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:45
Teaching unions react angrily to the latest pay deal, under which top teachers in England could get rises of up to 2%.

Army helicopter makes forced landing

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:39
An Army Apache attack helicopter makes a forced landing on a school sports pitch after developing a technical fault.

Juries to decide if Uber drivers are 'contractors'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:36

The ride services Uber and Lyft failed to convince a pair of U.S. judges Wednesday that their drivers are “independent contractors” rather than regular employees.

The class-action lawsuits – brought by drivers of both companies – will now go to jury trial, the results for which could have important consequences for the sharing economy.

By serving as middlemen in a market for surplus labor, or car rides, or whatever, many sharing economy startups have been able to skirt labor regulations such as social security, worker’s comp, or sick leave.

In yesterday’s ruling, Judge Edward Chen noted that Uber, “would not be a viable business entity without its drivers,” and that the company can also fire drivers for a variety of reasons, including low passenger ratings, or for no reason at all. Both of these reasons are cases for the drivers being considered employees.

By cautious estimates Uber has upwards of 160,000 drivers across 61 cities in the United States.  If it has to pay out benefits to all those drivers it will affect the profitability of their business model, as well as other gig-economy apps such as TaskRabbit, Wonolo, Instacart or Handy.

Still, given how much money Uber has already raked in from investors, even if a jury rules against them on the issue of independent contractors, they should still be able to adapt.

"I'm sure they have a contingency plan to deal with this,” says John Horton, from NYU’s Stern School of Business. “It may take some of the shine off them as an investment, but my guess is we're not going to see Uber close up shop if the jury rules against them."

Uber is valued somewhere north of $40 billion, Lyft is around $2.5 Billion. Horton points out that many of the labor regulations that apply to the workforce were written into law before companies like Uber were part of the marketplace.  Still, he cautions against re-writing laws too quickly.

“One of the things you worry about when crafting policy before the contours of the industry are already apparent,” Horton says. “It can happen where the people who seem to be already out in front, can use regulation to squash new entrants.”

Horton notes this frontrunner position could be leveraged by other companies in the surplus economy, not just Uber.  He also says it would likely result in increased costs being passed on to consumers.

If Uber or Lyft drivers are ultimately ruled to be employees, they'll be entitled to reimbursement for gas and vehicle maintenance, among other expenses, according to Reuters.

FCC Publishes Full Text Of Net Neutrality Rules

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:30

Two weeks after it voted to approve rules on net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission releases what Chairman Tom Wheeler calls "a shining example of American democracy at work."

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Can the new owners re-invent BHS?

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:26
It only cost £1. So, can BHS find a way to encourage in new customers?

Fantasy author Pratchett dies aged 66

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:24
UK fantasy author Terry Pratchett dies aged 66 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease, his publisher says

McCoy has first win at last Festival

BBC - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:19
AP McCoy gets a first win on day three of his final Cheltenham Festival after riding Uxizandre to victory in the Ryanair Chase.

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