National / International News

After Saying Yes, Duke Nixes Muslim Call To Prayer From Chapel Bell Tower

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 14:01

The school had announced it would allow the traditional call to prayer from the Duke Chapel bell tower. The decision was excoriated, and today the private university in Durham, N.C., reversed course.

» E-Mail This

Ginola 'to run for Fifa presidency'

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 14:00
Former France international David Ginola says he will run against Sepp Blatter for the Fifa presidency.

Public Sales Of Google Glass To End Later This Month

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 13:55

In an announcement, the company said Glass is not dead, it's just going through a "transition.

» E-Mail This

Robertson faces O'Sullivan in semi

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 13:51
World number one Neil Robertson defeats Ali Carter 6-1 in the quarter-finals of the Masters in London.

Sand turns a rural county upside-down

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-15 13:35

The fracking boom has transformed rural Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, and areas like it. There’s no oil or gas here —  just sand, the kind oil and gas drillers prefer. Fracking has made sand a $10 billion industry, and publicly traded companies have rushed in, digging enormous mines. Trempealeau — on the western side of the state, population 28,000 or so — has more mines than any other county.

“The onset of industrial sand mining pretty much flipped our county upside-down,” says Kevin Lien, who runs the county’s Department of Land Management. “And that’s probably an understatement.”

Pat Malone gives me a tour in her candy-apple red Toyota Corolla. She’s been here 26 years as a professor with the University of Wisconsin’s cooperative extension— kind of a full-time policy consultant to local government, on topics that include planning, health, and economic development.

 In March 2010, a woman came into her office, worried about a new neighbor. “She was talking about this sand mine, and all these awful things that would happen,” Malone recalls. “And in my head I’m going, ‘It’s just sand.’”

Malone had seen plenty of sand mines. Mostly small and temporary — gravel pits — supplying local construction projects.

But when she looked at the permit application for this mine, it was different. Most were a few pages long. This one was a few inches thick.

In the next three years, the county approved 27 more permits like it.

We go past that first site and lots of others: Giant silos, processing plants, and huge piles of sand. All on land that used to be rolling hills, covered with trees.

All of which have special value to people here, as Malone knows, having done many surveys and focus groups as part of the County’s planning process. “People really, really, really value the natural environment here,” she says. “Universally, top of the list.”

She says local residents pay a price for that value, in dollars. “If people took their job skills and went to New York or Chicago or Boston, they could make more money,” she says, “both in absolute and in real terms.”  

She gestures to the land around us. “But because they like this— these scenic hills, and the clean water, and the knowing-who-your-neighbor-is, and going and sitting in your patch of woods and hearing nothing— nothing!— they’re willing to pay for that.”

In addition to the changing landscape, people close to the mines hate the lights at night, the noise from blasting.

Then there are trucks carrying sand out. Most mines are permitted for at least 100 a day, and two-lane roads are the norm here.

“You look at this road,” Malone says as we idle near a mine, “and you’re like, gaad. Do you really want heavy truck traffic coming up and down this thing?”

Last, but not at all least, people worry about the air and the water.

Sand processing uses some potentially harmful chemicals, and there have been spills.

“A couple of years ago, we had seven mines operating here,” recalls Kevin Lien, the county land-use director. “And all seven were cited… for stormwater-runoff events. All seven. So the track-record isn’t great.”

With air quality, the big concern is dust — tiny particles that can be deadly over the long term.

In 2013, the county board declared a one-year moratorium on new mining permits, and Malone worked with a committee that studied the issue.

“For some of them I think they got sadder,” she says. “And for some of them, they got angrier.”

Among other things, the committee’s 150-page report found that mining had affected wells near some mines— and wells supply all of the county’s drinking water. With air quality, the committee found there wasn’t enough monitoring to know how much dust residents might be exposed to.

Malone takes me down County Road Q, where Hi-Crush Partners operates Trempealeau’s newest and biggest mine. A mile-long conveyor belt crosses the 800-acre site— and passes over County Road Q like a viaduct. It takes sand from the mine to a rail spur that Hi-Crush has built.

Chad McEver, a Hi-Crush executive who develops and oversees new mines, says the conveyor saves money. “Not having to truck is a huge advantage when it comes to costs,” he says. Less diesel, no drivers.

He expects the conveyor is also less annoying for neighbors. “We plan on on being here for a long time,” says McEver. “So we want people to like us, and want us to be here.”

That means financial support for local projects, and it means McEver tries to be responsive when neighbors complain. “If there are legitimate concerns or issues, we always take care of it, no questions asked,” he says. “We believe as a company in trying  to treat people the way we’d want to be treated, and I can honestly say that’s what we do.”

However, that doesn’t mean the neighbors are happy. They’ve still got noise from blasting, lights at night, and lingering concerns about air and water.

Bill and Angela Sylla live and farm across County Road Q from Hi-Crush. Their sons are two and five years old. Water has become their biggest concern.

A pump feeding their chicken barn failed last summer, not long after the Hi-Crush mine opened. Bill says it was clogged with sand. Hi-Crush had the well tested, and traces of lead and arsenic showed up.

“When you put everything together, they said it’s an OK level,” says Angela Sylla, at her kitchen table while her sons angle for her attention. “So it’s not unsafe, but it’s there.”

Chad McEver says the mine hasn’t hurt the Syllas’ water. Pat Malone has looked at the data and says it’s not conclusive.

When Hi-Crush first showed up, some of the Syllas’ neighbors sold land to the mine, at a big premium. Bill had just moved home to take over the farm his family has run for generations.

Now, they’re isolated, sleepless, worried about the water.

“The depression a person suffers some days is astronomical,” says Bill. “Because you just don’t know where to go, what to do. What can you do? What should you do? What’s your best option? You don’t know.”

By an agreement with the local government, Hi-Crush would buy the Syllas’ house for a guaranteed price, but not the $500,000 chicken barn the family installed a few years ago, and not the 200 acres they farm. For now, they’re staying put.

“These facilities are not going to make everybody happy,” says Chad McEver. “There’s no question about it.”

On the other hand, he says, the mine contributes to the local economy. “Every day I think of new examples,” he says. “Our plants buying parts from the local auto-parts store, the local hardware store, or the local janitorial company that comes out and cleans the offices.”  

Pat Malone ran economic-impact numbers when the first mine showed up, and found a modest contribution. A mine’s biggest expenditures— on heavy machinery— can’t be made locally. “You are talking about some big, honking pieces of equipment,” she says. “Well, there’s no Massive Pieces of Equipment retail outlet in Trempealeau County.”

Similarly, the profits go elsewhere, says financial analyst Brandon Dobell, who watches the oil and gas industry for William Blair & Company. “The sand’s being sold someplace else,” he says. “No one is headquartered in Wisconsin. It’s not like Texas, which has benefitted from the gazillions of dollars going into these wells, and the taxes from the oil and gas.”

Swiss National Bank gives up the ghost

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-15 13:23

The Swiss Franc is the sixth most-traded currency on the planet, and it exploded in value this morning by 15 percent.

That's because the Swiss National Bank surprised just about everyone when it stopped trying to control the currency.  It had been holding the currency down in value starting in 2011 during the eurozone crisis.  Investors at the time, fleeing the instability of the euro, sought to put their money in Switzerland.  That bid up the price of Swiss francs, hurting exporters.

The Swiss National Bank had printed nearly half a trillion Swiss francs in its effort to buy up other currencies and devalue the franc.  The bank called it quits without explaining its decision.  Perhaps it was concerns over inflation or public pressure, or fears that all the investments it was making were exposing it to undue risk.  Whatever the reason, the effect was immediate.

Limited Insurance Choices Frustrate Patients In California

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 13:20

California is seen as an Obamacare success story. But tens of thousands of people in the northern part of the state have only one insurer available on the health plan exchange.

» E-Mail This

Winds reignite council offices fire

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 13:17
Gale force winds help reignite a fire at council offices hit by a suspected arson attack.

Is U.S. Gaining Or Losing Ground Against ISIS?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 13:12

Is the U.S. gaining or losing ground in its bombing campaign against ISIS? Audie Cornish puts the question to Jennifer Cafarella, a fellow at the Institute for the Study of War.

» E-Mail This

Do Fictional Geniuses Hold Back Real Women?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 13:08

A new study finds that the academic disciplines most associated with "geniuses" are also the fields in which women are under-represented.

» E-Mail This

The economics of the sick day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-15 13:06

President Obama is scheduled to deliver his sixth State of the Union address on Tuesday. He's been on something of a publicity tour, unveiling policies he plans to promote in that speech. Thursday's stop: Baltimore, where the president talked about paid sick leave, and the fact that some forty million workers in this country don't have it.

The president is calling on Congress, as well as states and cities, to make it possible for workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year. So how much would that cost businesses? One study of a law in Connecticut found that nearly two-thirds of business owners said they saw little or no increase in costs. Eleven percent said their payroll costs increased by 3 percent or more.

"Three percent is terrible in this environment," says Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Advocates of paid leave say it reduces turnover and makes for happier, healthier workers. 

"You end up with a more loyal employee base," says Amanda Rotschild, co-owner of Charmington's, a cafe in Baltimore that offers paid sick leave to its workers. "Your employees really want to work for you."



Conservative Koch Brothers' Group Puts Congressional GOP On Notice

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 13:04

Americans for Prosperity set out its own agenda for congressional Republicans, including a call to build the Keystone XL pipeline and repeal the Affordable Care Act.

» E-Mail This

WHO Report Details Why Ebola Hit West Africa So Hard

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 13:02

On Thursday, the World Health Organization released a 14-chapter analysis of the Ebola epidemic.

» E-Mail This

Paris Attacks Bring New Attention To Free Speech Laws In France

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 12:58

Melissa Block speaks with French lawyer Aurélien Hamelle about the limits on free speech in France.

» E-Mail This

Lawro's predictions v Seann Walsh

BBC - Thu, 2015-01-15 12:57
BBC Sport's football expert Mark Lawrenson takes on comedian and QPR supporter Seann Walsh.

14 Takeaways From The 14-Part WHO Report On Ebola

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 12:56

Angry mobs that targeted health workers. A single funeral that infected 365 people. No isolation wards in Liberia. These are some of the striking points in WHO's new analysis.

» E-Mail This

Largest Unit Of Gambling Giant Caesars Files For Bankruptcy

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 12:46

Caesars — the giant gambling company — put its largest unit into bankruptcy on Thursday. The company was acquired by private equity firms Apollo and TPG in 2008 just as the financial crisis was pushing the economy into recession. It never recovered and has more than $20 billion in debt.

» E-Mail This

Rapping The News In West Africa

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 12:46

In Dakar, Senegal, two rappers going by the names Keyti and Xuman offer a summary of the week's news in hip-hop format. Journal Rappé is a short TV show distributed on YouTube with a huge following, especially in West Africa where a majority of the population is under 25.

» E-Mail This

White House Starts Chipping Away At U.S. Embargo On Cuba

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 12:46

The Obama administration is following through on its pledge to ease travel and trade restrictions on Cuba. The Treasury and Commerce Departments say the new rules they have just issued go into effect on Friday. Critics of the administration, though, are questioning the legality of the moves.

» E-Mail This

Hundreds Of U.S. Military Trainers Headed For Iraq

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-15 12:46

They are expected to head to Iraq in the coming weeks to build up an Iraqi Army that has all but fallen apart. The additional American soldiers and Marines will work out of an ever-expanding number of training sites around the country. U.S. officials expect ground operations sometime in the spring to take back territory seized by the so-called Islamic State.

» E-Mail This