National / International News

Blood Pressure Ruckus Reveals Big Secret In Medicine

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 11:46

Although it may be uncomfortable for patients to learn that there are profound disagreements among doctors about medicine, these differences of opinion are common. What is rare is to have these differences explicitly acknowledged, as is happening now with treatment guidelines for high blood pressure.

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VIDEO: Birds' V formation finally explained

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 11:40
Lead researcher Steven Portugal explains new findings that reveal why birds fly in a V formation.

The US town that foiled a neo-Nazi takeover

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 11:31
How a US town thwarted a white supremacist takeover

Labour wants bank competition probe

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 11:07
A Labour government would tell regulators to investigate whether there is adequate competition between High Street banks, the BBC understands.

'Half of Syrians' in urgent need

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 11:02
Western and Arab Gulf states pledge $2.4bn (£1.5bn) to Syria, as the UN warns half the population is in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

VIDEO: Boy, aged 10, calls in the Marines

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:59
A 10-year-old boy has called in the Royal Marines to rescue cars stranded in a Cornish village.

Teen killed in 'row over drink'

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:57
A teenager was stabbed to death in a "tragic taking of a young life" after a row over a drink at a party, a court hears.

How Virtual Currency Could Make It Easier To Move Money

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:41

It isn't just Bitcoin. You can now choose from more than 70 virtual currencies, and people are using them partly because it could be a free way of transferring money online. Given more time and widespread use, that could change the playing field for companies like Western Union and banks.

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Explainer: Why can't we cap CEO pay?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:30

Income inequality is one of the phrases of the month in Washington, following the President's December speech on the issue.

President Obama threw his support behind a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25, and to provide for automatic annual increases linked to changes in the cost of living. This week, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) discussed the issue with Council of Econmic Affairs chairman Jason Furman.

On the face of it, raising the minimum wage appears to have a lot of support.

A group of 75 economists came out in support of the proposal, including seven Nobel laureates and several former Obama and Clinton administration economists. A poll by Hart Research found that 80 percent of Americans support the proposal, including 80 percent of political independents, and 62 percent of Republicans.

But despite the swell of support, the proposal seems unlikely to make it through the House. A similiar measure failed in March of last year, with every Republican and six Democrats voting against raising the minimum wage. Republicans in Congress tend to argue against raising the minimum wage, arguing employers who are forced to pay workers more would hire fewer people or cut those workers' hours.

Moreover, the argument goes, employers might handle the added expense of paying workers more by passing costs on to consumers in the form of higher prices.  

So if there's such a strong reaction to the idea of using the minimum wage as a weapon in the war against income inequality, what about an alternative approach? Pay caps, for example.

Switzerland recently toyed with the idea of capping CEO pay at 12 times the amount of the lowest-paid worker. But a referendum on that issue voted the idea down.

And it's pretty easy to see why that idea is unlikely to fly here in the U.S. For one thing, it puts a ceiling on the American Dream, or at least that part of it that has Americans aspiring to huge mansions and private jets. But on a more practical note, it rewards certain industries disproportionately.

For instance, the lowest paid worker - or even the average worker - in a software company or law firm is almost certainly going to earn more than the worker on the bottom run at a hotel company. Which means hotel company executives are liable to be rewarded a lot less for their work, even if their businesses employ many more workers (and are that much more valuable to society) than the law firm. It also means the CEO will likely get paid less -- potentially a lot less -- than other workers in the firm. 

No way that idea flies here.

Roache 'urged girl to write to him'

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:29
Coronation Street actor William Roache wrote to a girl he allegedly indecently assaulted saying "write to me when you start school again," a court hears.

Senate panel: Benghazi 'preventable'

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:27
The deadly September 2012 attack on the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi could have been prevented, a US Senate committee finds.

VIDEO: Boarding school pupils 'flee abroad'

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:26
Two teenage pupils have gone missing from a boarding school in Lancashire and are believed to have flown to the Dominican Republic.

The 'Downton Abbey Law' Would Let British Women Inherit Titles

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:24

British hereditary peers have always been able to pass down titles and estates to their male relatives. But now Parliament is considering a bill that would allow daughters to inherit as well.

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Apple to refund $32.5m to parents

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:18
Apple will pay at least $32.5m (£19.9m) in refunds to parents whose children made in-app purchases without their consent.

First minister's rugby talks offer

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:16
First Minister Carwyn Jones says he is prepared to talk in private to all the parties in the row which has cast Welsh rugby into crisis.

'Teacher quality' Hunt's priority

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:58
Labour's Tristram Hunt says that improving schools is about the quality of teachers and not structural change.

Blackstone-backed real estate firm learns how to be a landlord

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:57

A number of big companies are betting against the American Dream. They think lots of people are going to want to rent instead of buy a home. One of the biggest bet-makers, with 40,000 rental properties under its belt, is Invitation Homes.

Realtor Jim Tice first noticed the company popping up as a buyer in a Minneapolis suburb. He was trying to sell a client's house that was headed to foreclosure. Then the client got a cash offer from Invitation Homes. Tice says the company provided a bank statement to prove it had enough cash to cover the deal. He says the account balance was eye-popping.

"A buyer usually isn't showing you millions of dollars of savings in order to buy. So it was pretty impressive in that respect," Tice says.

Invitation Homes is a subsidiary of the Blackstone Group, the world's largest private equity firm.  And over the past year and a half, it has spent a whopping $7.5 billion buying those 40,000 properties—1,000 of them in the Twin Cities.

Invitation Homes largely buys low-priced foreclosures. Then it spiffs them up and rents them out. Experts say large-scale purchases of foreclosures by investors like Invitation Homes have helped housing markets heal.

"Had it not been for them, prices would've fallen further and it would've taken longer to recover," says Elliot Eisenberg, a housing economist.

Eisenberg says since the foreclosure crisis, credit standards have tightened and a lot of people can't get a mortgage. As a result, Invitation Homes and other big investors are betting that home rentals will become increasingly popular.

"It's certainly a bet. Whether it's worth making -- we'll know in a couple years how it turns out," he says.

Until recently, it's largely been mom and pop outfits that rent houses. Eisenberg says big investors could potentially run that business more professionally.

So far, Micheal Apple has had a good experience renting a four-bedroom house from Invitation Homes in a Minneapolis suburb. Apple says if something's broken, his property manager jumps right on it.

"Either I call her or I email her, and she gets back to me within a day or so," he says.

Not so for another Twin Cities renter, Brad Dukes. He's got a beef about the "throne" in his rental home. When Dukes sits on the toilet, his knees barely clear the wall in front of him.

Dukes says the house was advertised as having two bathrooms. But one was just a free-standing toilet in the basement. Invitation Homes agreed to frame up a real bathroom and dropped a few thousand dollars to add walls, a shower and a sink.

Still, Dukes is dismayed by the end product.

"The exterior of this box they put in this unfinished room is going to remain. I'm going to be looking at sheetrock," he says.

Renters in other markets have panned Invitation Homes in online reviews. But in the Twin Cities at least, the company may not have enough renters yet to establish a clear track record. I checked out a random sample of homes the company's purchased. All of them were vacant, some for more than six months.

Andrew Gallina is a spokesman for Invitation Homes. He's aware of the empty houses and complaints from renters. Gallina admits the company is still learning the ropes. It has, after all, purchased 40,000 homes in a short period of time.

"There are times we're going to be disappointing to a resident. But at the same time, we have a real commitment to getting it right," he says.

Of course, if the landlord gig doesn't work out, the firm always has an exit strategy: Sell the homes at a profit as prices rise.

Wilshaw warns staffroom 'moaners'

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:54
Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw says that teachers should stop presenting themselves as "victims".

My Nick Jr. personalizes TV -- and it smells like Netflix

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:53

If you've got kids, you're probably well-acquainted with Nickelodeon programming. Not just Nickelodeon, but Nicktoons, TeenNick, and Nick Jr. for the pre-school set. Well, soon you can add My Nick Jr. to that roster. It's an interactive channel that will allow parents to customize their kids' viewing experience.

Here's how it will work. You can program your kids' TV channel to only play certain Nick Jr. shows --think Dora the Explorer --or shows about certain themes, like problem solving or friendship.

"After each episode, the child would be asked to rate the show," says Verizon spokesman Bill Kula. "And if no action were taken then the next episode would begin."

My Nick Jr. is pretty much a direct response to the way streaming services like Pandora, Netflix and Amazon are changing media consumption.

Paul Sweeney of Bloomberg Industries says people are getting used to viewing programming, "When they wanna watch it, where they wanna watch it, and on whatever device they want to watch. No longer are consumers content to simply watch programming as scheduled by an existing network."

Brad Adgate of Horizon Media says customized channels like My Nick Jr. are the wave of the future. But he has a warning.

"Not only can this endeavor hurt rivals like Disney, who's probably their biggest rival, and Cartoon Network, but it's also something that could cannibalize Nickelodeon themselves," Adgate says.

That's because little kiddos might abandon old Nickelodeon channels for the interactive -- and now ad-free -- My Nick Jr.. Adgate says that could hurt ratings and decrease advertising revenue for the old school channels of the Nickelodeon family.

My Nick Jr. has already debuted in France. Verizon's FIOS TV service will make the new channel available to its customers in the U.S. within a few months.

Bipartisan Report Calls Benghazi Attacks 'Preventable'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:46

The Senate Intelligence Committee points to a failure by the State Department to provide adequate security. The panel also says that some members of Congress have mischaracterized the Obama administration's statements in the days immediately after the 2012 attacks.

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