National / International News

Venezuela opposition leader on trial

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-10 14:57
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez appears in court in Caracas, charged with inciting violence during protests earlier this year.

NFL: Ex-FBI Chief Will Investigate How League Handled Rice Evidence

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 14:46

A report from the AP quotes an unnamed law enforcement official saying police had sent a video to the NFL that showed Rice punching his then-fiancee.

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Obama Says U.S. Will 'Take Out' Islamic State 'Wherever They Exist'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 14:32

Signaling a broadening of the American offensive to date, the president said he would not hesitate to order strikes inside Syria. "If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven," Obama warned.

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Preserving Black History, Americans Care For National Treasures At Home

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 14:25

The relics of African-American families help tell the story of America, the Smithsonian says. Museum experts are traveling the country to help identify and care for items of cultural significance.

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Albarn leads Mercury Prize hopefuls

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-10 14:22
Damon Albarn's first solo album makes the shortlist for this year's Mercury Prize, which is given to the best British or Irish record of the last 12 months.

VIDEO: Nominees celebrate Mercury nod

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-10 14:21
Bombay Bicycle Club, Kate Tempest and FKA twigs are among the 12 acts celebrating after being nominated for the 2014 Barclaycard Mercury Prize.

VIDEO: Prince Harry opens Invictus Games

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-10 14:13
The Invictus Games for wounded servicemen and women have been opened by Prince Harry at the Olympic Park in London.

VIDEO: Ozone layer 'shows signs of recovery'

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-10 14:02
The Earth's protective ozone layer is starting to repair itself, according to a panel of United Nations scientists.

Nepal Struggles To Help Villages Washed Away In Floods

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:55

Thousands of families are living in schools, empty buildings and open fields after massive flooding. Although there's money to help, many are still without food, water and a dry place to sleep.

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Overdraft charges and fees aren't as profitable as they used to be

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:54

The commercial banking industry made $32.5 billion in fees last year, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. But the banking industry isn't making as much off overdraft charges and other fees as it used to. 

“The banks are making lots of money on their fees, but it’s significantly less than it was a handful of years ago,” says Jefferson Harralson, associate director of research at the investment banking firm Keefe, Bruyette & Wood.

In 2009, banks made almost $8 billion more in fees. 

Harralson says financial regulation played a big role. "There’s been new rules to limit when you bounce a check," he says. "If you go slightly below zero, you don’t bounce now.”

Banks also don’t charge as much for debit card transactions these days.

But not everyone agree that banks are making that much less.

“The perception is there’s been this massive decline in service charges. I don’t think that’s been the case. I think the growth has slowed down,” says Christoper Marinac, a research analysts at FIG Partners. “What’s happening is that banks are finding other ways to make fee income.”

Analysts say that’s why some banks have scaled back on things like free checking accounts.

Richard Hunt, CEO of the Consumer Banking Association, argues some financial regulation was needed. But he says Congress went too far when it decided how much banks can charge for services.

“Yes, we’re in the business of making money. Yes, we should charge for our services, as long as it is reasonable and transparent," Hunt says.

In other words, bank fees are here to stay.

How to grow lettuce and fish indoors, all year long

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:42

Tony Beran is standing in the kitchen at the Lake Avenue Restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota, with a head of romaine lettuce in one hand and a clump of curly lettuce in the other. 

"They're beautiful," he says.

Beran's the executive chef, and one thing he likes about these bunches of lettuce is how clean they are. "They're grown aquaponically instead of in dirt," he says. "Which is wonderful in the kitchen. It's less labor for us."

Another thing he likes about this lettuce is that it was grown just up the road. The restaurant features local ingredients, and Beran serves locally grown lettuce all year, which is a bit of a trick in a place like Duluth. Last winter, the temperature was below zero 23 days in a row.

But it's always warm in the greenhouse at Victus Farms, where Beran's lettuce came from. It's about an hour's drive from Duluth in a little mining town called Silver Bay.

"These are all our babies," says Mike Mageau, as he shows off his latest lettuce crop. He runs the place, and he's an unlikely looking farmer. He's wearing cargo shorts and a backwards ball cap and he's barefoot. He's an unlikely looking professor, too, but that's his job: professor of geography at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He runs a program in environment and sustainability, and this indoor farm is a research project.

Universities and private businesses across the country are experimenting with aquaponics.

"It's kind of fun," Mageau says. "It's like the electric car. It's almost a race to come up with the method or the model that really works well."

Most of Mageau's lettuce is floating. Each plant is stuck into a hole in an inch-and-a-half-thick sheet of polystyrene foam. The foam rafts float in pools in the greenhouse, and the lettuce roots dangle through the foam into the water.

The fish live in a neighboring room. They're tilapia, and they swim in nine round plastic tanks, each one about six feet tall. Waste from the fish gets pumped over to fertilize the plants in the greenhouse, and some of the pools in the greenhouse grow algae and duckweed that come back into this room to feed the fish. 

"Which means you grow fish and plants sort of in concert, one living off the other," Mageau says.

Two years into the project, Victus Farms sells all the fish and vegetables it can produce to local restaurants and stores. Now the goal is to get more efficient.

Mageau and his crew built floor-to-ceiling racks made of PVC pipe, an idea they got online and spent six months refining. Each rack looks sort of like a ladder. On the horizontal pipes, they drill holes in the top and stick a plant in each hole. Then they run nutrient-rich water from the fish tanks through the pipes, bathing the roots of the plants.

"It's all trial and error," Mageau says. "You know, 'I wonder if we can grow tomatoes in four-inch pipe?' Yes! You try it, and it works! I mean, look at these tomatoes, there's millions of them."

One wall of the greenhouse is covered with ripening tomatoes and strawberries growing out of white, plastic pipes. And the fruit looks good. 

Mageau's banking on this vertical gardening scheme for the future. It will let them make use of some of the empty vertical space, and it will allow them to move the fish into the ponds in the greenhouse, making the second room for fish unnecessary.

"Then we can grow probably 10 times the plants per unit surface area, which means our greenhouse needs to be one-tenth the size, " Mageau says.

He wants to pilot a small, hyperefficient version of Victus. 

"Every small town could have one or two or three of them," he says. "And the food could literally be produced in the backyard of the restaurants or whatever."

Mageau says aquaponic operations will never replace farming in dirt, but they could give a big boost to the amount of local food that's available, especially in places with short growing seasons.

The Victus building cost about $2 million, but Mageau thinks a self-sustaining version could be built for a small fraction of that. It really could be built in someone's yard.

So that's what he's doing next.

Mageau's right-hand man at Victus is Baylor Radtke, a former student. The two of them pooled their money and on their own they're building a much smaller and simpler fish and vegetable operation in Radtke's yard in Duluth.

"The whole point of it is to allow people to grow as much as we did in that $2 million facility in a facility that costs under $100,000," Radtke says.

The cost has come out way under. Radtke and Mageau say the new operation will take only $20,000 to build because they're doing all the labor. The annual energy costs will be comparable to a single-family house, and they're cutting those even further with solar panels on the roof of the greenhouse.

They figure they'll bring in $50,000 in the first year, from a building the size of a four-car garage, about 24-by-52 feet. They plan to be completely up and running by this fall. 

If it works in northern Minnesota, they say, imagine how well it could work someplace warm. Like Iowa.

Want the new iPhone 6? How about a new carrier too?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:41

With the announcement of Apple’s new iPhone 6 Tuesday came a flurry of new cell phone plans from carriers hoping to capitalize on consumers’ excitement about a new device.

“The carriers are really looking to take advantage of marketing blitz that comes with a new Apple product,” said Weston Henderek, with NPD Group. “So, they’re all looking to come out with some of a catch to really grab a consumer’s attention.”

Sprint is being particularly aggressive, offering a plan for unlimited service at a discount when customers lease the phone. With this “iPhone for life” plan, Sprint will also give out upgrades every two years, similar to a car lease.

Smartphone plans are a highly competitive market for carriers, says Ramon Llamas, the research manager for IDC’s mobile phones team.

"Mobile phone subscriber growth is leveling off," he says. "Without much more green space to grow into, it’s a game of, ‘How do we steal customers from the other guy?’"

Following a move by T-Mobile a few years ago, many companies are dropping plans that force customers into a multi-year contract. They’re also increasingly abandoning the subsidies that heavily discount the phone but tend to come with higher monthly fees.

“The cost of service has been separated from the cost of a handset,” says Colin Gibbs, with GigaOm Research, though some companies, including Verizon, still sell subsidized handsets with a contract.

Bottom line, if you want the new iPhone, there’s lots of companies competing to sell it to you.

How the ACA has affected employer-based coverage

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:41

We’ve heard for years about how the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — could make it near impossible for businesses to keep offering health coverage to their workers.

Well, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual employer health benefits survey — which is widely considered a benchmark in the health care industry — came out Wednesday. Like everybody else, Kaiser Family Foundation Vice President Gary Claxton wanted to know: Did the new health care law upend employer-based health insurance, the market where 150 million Americans get their coverage?

“The first read for 2014 is that the ACA has had no real impact on premiums, nor did it lead to employers not to offer coverage,” he says.

You read right: No ACA-inspired premium spike.

Instead, there has been a modest 3 percent increase. Nearly the same number of employers are offering coverage; nearly the same number of workers are enrolling.

A critical question the survey doesn’t answer, however, is whether employers have begun cutting hours. Starting next year, people working 30 hours a week at firms with 100 employees or more must be offered insurance or face a penalty. 

While Kaiser’s Year 2 survey may come to a different conclusion, the bottom line to this year’s report is that the ACA has had a small impact on employers... with one possible exception: “There is no doubt that the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges have brought a lot of attention to the concept of retail health insurance,” says PricewaterhouseCooper’s Ceci Connolly.

Connolly says there’s something executives like about the exchange concept that the ACA has popularized. (If you aren’t familiar with exchanges, think Travelocity for health insurance.) The consulting firm Accenture predicts private exchange enrollment will top public enrollment by 2018.

Rosemarie Day with Day Health Strategies says more and more Americans are becoming smarter health care consumers.

“That’s kind of the notion of exchanges, is that you have to put something in to get something out. It’s not a benefit that’s just handed to you,” she says.

Day likens this potential shift to when companies moved away from pensions and towards 401k contributions. For workers, it meant more choice, and more responsibility.

Leaked photos = a quarter-billion page views for Reddit

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:41

Remember those photos stolen from celebrities' iCloud accounts that wound up on the Web last week?

Well, links to those pictures showed up on Reddit. According to Wired, "In just six days Reddit earned enough money... to power its servers for roughly a month."

The money came about through the sale of memberships. However, it's likely the site made even more from ads.

Wired says those photos, in total, led to a quarter-billion page views on Reddit in the full week it took for the site to ban them.

What a $6 billion anti-terrorist campaign amounts to

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:41

Among the defense-contractor set, there’s an expectation that the war against extremist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria will cost an extra $6 billion next year. That would pay for things like warplanes, drones for surveillance, listening to enemy phone calls and training rebels.

The corporate winners among defense contractors include familiar names. “Boeing and Raytheon make smart munitions,” says Guggenheim Securities aerospace and defense policy analyst Roman Schweizer. “Lockheed Martin or ATK are certainly also in the mix. Northrup Grumman and General Atomics are the two primary drone manufacturers.”

For context, this is war on the cheap. Put the $6 billion estimate next to a defense and war budget of around $560 billion, and it’s a rounding error. Or, consider the price of one laser-guided JDAM smart bomb dropped on an ISIS target.

“The unit price of those is $25,000–$40,000,” says Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners. “Now, that’s the price of a car. But in the context of companies that may have revenues of anywhere from $25–80 billion, you have to drop an awful lot of those to really start impacting the bottom line.”

The bigger impact of all this may be political. The current budget environment of strict spending caps — remember the term “sequestration”? — squeezes all contractors. But now, with a new enemy, the appetite for spending on war could grow.

“I think the calculus may be starting to change,” says Yair Reiner of the investment firm Oppenheimer. “With the rise of ISIS, Americans — and I think not just the political class — may be willing to contemplate intervention.”

Further on, winning this fight could mean winning the peace: soldiers, body protection and armored vehicles. Down the road, if the mission creeps, that would be real money.


From a defense perspective, $6 billion could seem like chump change, but this graphic by Marketplace's Marlena Chertock puts the number in perspective:

Souls Tumbling In The Light

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:30

Every fall, birds head south and, around Sept. 11, New York sends two beams into the sky. When birds and lights collide, that could mean trouble — but New York is surprisingly gentle.

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Underneath Stonehenge, 'A Map Of What Was There In The Past'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:26

Researchers from Birmingham University used high-tech equipment to map 17 ritual monuments in the area. That's in addition to the iconic circle of stones that has stood there for thousands of years.

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Woman dies in forecourt collision

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-10 13:01
A young woman dies after a collision between two cars at a petrol station in Linwood.

Suicides Rise In Middle-Aged Men, And Older Men Remain At Risk

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-10 12:50

Researchers don't know why middle-aged men are increasingly likely to kill themselves. But they say it shows that efforts to reduce the toll of suicide should be focused on men.

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'Abuse' council to face inspection

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-10 12:41
Rotherham Council is to face an independent inspection following the report that revealed 1,400 children were sexually abused in the town.