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A satellite view of Tropical Storm Bertha. (National Hurricane Center)

Tropical Storm Bertha Takes Aim For The Caribbean

by Eyder Peralta
Aug 1, 2014

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Eyder Peralta

Tropical Storm Bertha is moving northwest, taking aim at Puerto Rico and expected to skirt the Dominican coast.

The National Hurricane Center has issued a tropical storm warning for Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, Dominica, Martinique, and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, while the Dominican Republic has issued a tropical storm watch.

Luckily, forecasters with the Hurricane Center say upper level winds are not favorable for further strengthening, so maximum sustained winds should remain at about 50 mph.

The long term forecast calls for Bertha to keep moving west, but at some point recurve, miss the East Coast and cruise back into the Atlantic Ocean.

The AP adds:

"Bertha is expected to generate up to 3 inches of rain across the eastern and northern Caribbean, with isolated amounts of up to 6 inches in certain areas.

"Officials in Puerto Rico are welcoming the rainfall amid a moderate drought that has hit the island's southern region and a small portion in the northeast. More than half of the U.S. territory also is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with the government reporting $20 million in crop losses.

"Strict rationing measures are scheduled to go into effect starting Aug. 6 if the storm doesn't generate enough rain."

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People attend a hiring fair for veterans in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., July 16. About 7.5 million people in the U.S. are working less than 40 hours per week even though they want full-time jobs. (AP)

As Labor Market Advances, Millions Stuck In Part-Time Jobs

Aug 1, 2014

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Marilyn Geewax

Treading water in July is really fun — if you happen to be in a swimming pool.

But if you find yourself stuck in the part-time labor pool, drifting is disappointing.

On Friday, the Labor Department reported that while employers hired 209,000 workers in July, the growth rate was not strong enough to push part-timers forward.

The monthly jobs report showed payrolls grew by more than 200,000 for the sixth straight month, the longest stretch of such growth since 1997.

But the troubled part-time labor force remained roughly unchanged in July, with 7.5 million people still getting less than 40 hours of work per week, even though they are seeking full-time paychecks.

"Many Americans who would like full-time jobs are stuck in part-time positions, because businesses can hire desirable part-time workers to supplement a core of permanent, full-time employees, but at lower wages," Peter Morici, an economics professor at the University of Maryland, said in a written assessment.

With the pool of eager part-timers still so large, employers have been able to hold down wages. The Labor Department said that in July, average hourly earnings edged up by just one penny to $24.45. Over the past 12 months, hourly earnings have risen by 2 percent, just keeping pace with inflation.

The Labor Department characterized the unemployment rate in July as "little changed," with an uptick of one tenth of a point to 6.2 percent. The labor-force participation rate of 62.9 percent "has been essentially unchanged since April," the report said.

And the number of long-term unemployed, i.e., people who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more, was also "essentially unchanged at 3.2 million in July," it said.

In other words, the job market is moving along at a decent, steady pace. But the upswing is still not strong enough to change the prospects for the long-term unemployed or the involuntary part-timers, or to drive significant raises for workers.

"July's 209,000 jobs is solid, but is a decline from the strong second quarter, when 277,000 jobs were added each month on average," said Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute. "At July's pace, it would take nearly four more years to get back to pre-recession labor market conditions."

The White House said the report confirms that the economic recovery has made huge progress, but has left behind millions of Americans.

"Short-term unemployment has fully recovered," Jason Furman, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, wrote in his assessment. However, "the long-term unemployment rate, which more than quadrupled as a result of the recession, still has the furthest to go to recover to its pre-recession average."

With so many long-term unemployed workers in the hunt for jobs, part-time workers find themselves with little bargaining power in the workplace.

Their concerns about constantly changing shifts, on-call schedules and low wages have started getting more attention this summer, at least from Democratic lawmakers.

Last month, Rep. George Miller of California, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), introduced the Schedules That Work Act to reform rules for part-time workers.

For example, they want employers to guarantee workers four hours' pay any time they are called out to the job. Many workers, especially those at restaurants and retail shops, say their employers too often schedule them for only an hour or two during peak times, such as lunch hour.

Business groups generally are opposed, arguing that part-time workers will get better hours and conditions when the economy improves enough to boost all jobs and wages. They say that imposing new rules on businesses would only discourage hiring.

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Liberian men walk past an Ebola banner at the Monrovia City Hall in Liberia on Thursday. (EPA /LANDOV)

Ebola Moving Faster Than Efforts To Control It, WHO Chief Says

by Krishnadev Calamur
Aug 1, 2014

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Krishnadev Calamur

The head of the World Health Organization told leaders of the African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak that the deadly virus is "moving faster than our efforts to control it."

"If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socio-economic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries," Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO's director-general, told the leaders of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, who are meeting today in the Guinean capital, Conakry.

The outbreak has killed at least 729 people. The fatality rate is about 60 percent.

The WHO announced a $100 million response plan to combat the spread of the virus. The public was not at high risk for infection, Chan said, but added, "We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises."

As NPR's Bill Chappell reported Thursday, an isolation unit at Emory University's hospital in Atlanta will be used in the coming days to house and treat a patient infected with Ebola. The hospital didn't name the patient. But that person could be an American infected with the virus.

We'll update this post with information about the patient as it becomes available.

The aid group Samaritan's Purse said today that Dr. Kent Brantly, an American doctor working for the group, and Nancy Writebol, a missionary, who both contracted Ebola, are in serious condition and efforts are underway to evacuate them from Liberia to the U.S.

"The bottom line with Ebola is we know what to do, but it's not easy," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR's Morning Edition. "It requires meticulous contact tracing, meticulous isolation, and like a forest fire, if you leave one ember burning, it flares up again."

Here's what else you need to today know about the deadly virus:

— The head of Guinea's Ebola task force said efforts by Liberia and Sierra Leone to fight the disease may backfire. Aboubacar Sidiki Diakit says measures, including school closures, "make the problem worse." He added: "When children are not supervised, they can go anywhere."

— The African Union canceled a planned troop rotation in Somalia by forces from Sierra Leone because of fears over the outbreak. The AU troops are there to help fight al-Shabab militants.

— A cyclist from Sierra Leone was cleared to compete after being tested for Ebola at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.

— The CDC is telling Americans to avoid nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

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Two pensioners walking. (istockphoto.com)

Slow Walkers May Be On Their Way To Dementia

Aug 1, 2014

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Wait a minute. Weren't we told by Simon and Garfunkel: "Slow down, you move too fast. You've got to make the morning last?"

And by some other philosopher to "stop and smell the roses?"

Now we learn from new research that walking slow can be a bad thing - or at least reveal that you might be slouching toward Alzheimer's.

Published in the medical journal, Neurology, the study shows that among older people with memory complaints those who walk more slowly are more susceptible to future dementia.

Plodding Points

After examining hundreds of patients, Joe Verghese — a neurologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and senior author of the paper — realized that if an older person ambles along at a poky pace, he probably also has some cognitive abnormalities.

Measuring a patient's gait speed with a stopwatch - along with asking a few questions to get a handle on the person's cognitive abilities — can be a useful low-tech test for motoric cognitive risk syndrome (MCR), Joe says. Certain responses to an MCR test can determine if someone is in the early stages of the dementia process. Early detection and treatment may help slow or prevent dementia's advance.

Joe says that a slow walking speed is considered to be anything slower than a meter a second, or 2.2 miles per hour. The Neurology report is based on a study of thousands of adults around the world.

Not all dawdlers are destined for dementia, Joe points out. Sometimes people's gaits are slowed down by arthritis or inner ear conditions.

Hurry Up

So, we ask Joe, will walking faster help a person ward off dementia? "Epidemiological studies suggest that people who walk regularly have a reduced risk of dementia," he says. "Whether walking faster will reduce risk of dementia needs to be proven — and would be an important next step."

(See what he did there?)

And, he adds, so far there seems to be no correlation between dementia risk and doing other things slowly - such as eating or speaking.

That's beneficial news for aficionados of the Slow Food Movement and for those of us from the American South.

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The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers — Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers — of NPR. @NPRtpj

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A drawing of two clinking martini glasses. ( NPR)

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Live From San Diego Comic-Con

Aug 1, 2014

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This week's show is a very special event for us: it's our visit to Comic-Con.

Because Maggie Thompson (mother to PCHH regular Stephen Thompson) was a special guest at San Diego Comic-Con this year, she invited us to do a panel discussion with her. So Stephen, Glen Weldon and I — along with a crucial audio assist from our pal Petra Mayer — set up in one of the rooms upstairs in the convention center and taped a show. (We still don't know what caused the constant thumping. This is what happens when we travel without our producer, Jessica.)

We chatted first about the matter of inclusion and exclusion: how the cultural passions of con attendees (and others) both bind them to each other and potentially become ways that they separate themselves from strangers. When you hear Maggie's argument that this all has to do with flowers on the altars of churches, you'll understand why we wanted to get together and have this discussion.

Next up, we allowed Glen to quiz us about comics — specifically about comic-book sidekicks — right in front of this very discerning crowd. Could Stephen or I get a question right? Would Maggie's clearly superior knowledge make any tangible difference? You shall see, you shall see.

As always, we close with what's making us happy this week. Stephen shocks no one with his eagerness to salute a great creative mind, Maggie geeks out over a book she's recently discovered, Glen recommends a show about which he has nothing but nice things to say, and I recommend a book that was tangentially related to my adventures at press tour.

We've also got a quick Q&A with our audience, including a cameo from one of my dearest TV critic pals.

Find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter: me, Stephen, Glen, Maggie, and of course Petra. As always, our producer is Jessica Reedy, and our music director/producer emeritus is Mike Katzif.

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