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If A Driverless Car Crashes, Who's Liable?

Mar 8, 2013

Some number of years from now, the technology may exist for cars to drive themselves. This could save thousands of lives a year (90 percent of fatal car accidents involve human error).

But getting the technology right won't be enough. Governments and courts will have to figure out lots of new legal and regulatory issues. One key question: If a driverless car crashes, who's liable?

What it means to own something in the digital age is being re-negotiated.

Few of us own the music we listen to or the movies we watch in exactly the same way we did a decade ago. And today if you buy a smartphone from a cellphone company, what you can legally do with it — how and where you can use it — may be proscribed even if that phone is fully bought and paid for.

I keep a lot of music on my phone. I have the Stones, Janis Joplin and OK Go.

At the end of last year we were all talking about the "fiscal cliff." At the beginning of this year, the American Taxpayer Relief Act was passed and signed by the president, bringing about a lot of changes. 

Tax day is looming and taxpayers are scrambling to gather receipts, W-2 forms and other documents. For many, gone are the days of paper ledger books and calculators, now that there's software to figure out how much they owe.

Florida Atlantic University says it's standing by its deal to sell naming rights to its new football stadium to a controversial private prison company. The Boca Raton-based GEO Group faces allegations of abuse and neglect at some of its facilities, and there's a growing call on campus for the school to sever its ties.

Last year, J.C. Penney saw what every big retailer had been seeing for years: the threat of Amazon and other new competitors rising to destroy their business.

So J.C. Penney brought in a bold new CEO. Ron Johnson had already created Apple Store, a chain of physical stores where people flocked to shop. Before that, he had revamped Target.

And Johnson had a plan for J.C. Penney: Tell customers they don't have to spend time anymore clipping coupons or waiting for sales to happen. Instead, the store would offer fair prices on its merchandise every day.

Consider the following entirely fictitious but totally plausible scenario:

"Electricity is the most likely out of all of the alternative fuels ... to be the next fuel for the consumer."

That's what Jonathan Strickland of the website HowStuffWorks tells NPR's Jacki Lyden.

But electric vehicles are not without their controversies or challenges. One of the biggest questions is how a transition from gasoline to electric fuel can actually take place.

The Buckeye Tool Expo in Dalton, Ohio, is held in a massive hall filled with bearded men in black hats and women in white bonnets. A few horses and buggies are tied up outside.

The Amish have chosen to forgo many of the delights of the modern world, but they still need to drill, sand and cut wood. This trade expo shows off all the loopholes that let the Amish get their hands on power tools.

Increasingly, people are continuing to work past 65. Almost a third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 70 are working, and among those older than 75, about 7 percent are still on the job. In Working Late, a series for Morning Edition, NPR profiles older adults who are still in the workforce.

By now, it's widely accepted that indiscriminate spending cuts in defense and domestic programs due to start March 1 are likely to occur owing to the failure of President Obama and the Republican-led House to reach an agreement to avoid the budgetary cleaver.

So now, the contest boils down to each side scampering for the higher ground of moral indignation.

Tens of thousands of protesters turned out on the National Mall Sunday to encourage President Obama to make good on his commitment to act on climate change.

In his Inaugural address from outside the U.S. Capitol, the president said: "We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

Just a few weeks later, next to the Washington Monument, Paul Birkeland was one of a couple dozen people holding a long white tube above their heads.

The federal government once considered whistle-blowers a nuisance or worse. But over the past few years, that attitude has slowly started to change. More agencies have been reaching out for tips about fraud and abuse in and outside the government, even if digging through the stacks of complaints can present a challenge.

Think back to those movies in the 1970s — movies filled with heroic figures who risked it all to expose unsafe factories and police corruption, like New York cop Frank Serpico exposing his less-than-clean colleagues.

From the steam engine to visions of a national high-speed rail system, railroads have made their mark on American culture.

In his first term, President Obama promised to create a national system of high-speed rail, though he was scarcely the first politician to have done so. The January 2010 stimulus bill allocated $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, but Congress rejected federal funding for it.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, the president reiterated the goal of having passenger rail rise again.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has put the state on what he calls a "glide path to zero" income tax. But that glide path is far from being clear or smooth.

On the face of it, Brownback seems to enjoy a remarkably strong political position. He's a conservative Republican, flanked by GOP supermajorities in both legislative chambers. His allies helped purge moderate Republicans from the state Senate in last year's election.

"I think the road is open," Brownback says. "I think we do provide an alternative model. I think we do provide a red-state model."

More than 3,000 cruise ship passengers who thought they'd be heading home today have instead been told they'll remain in the Gulf of Mexico until Wednesday, stranded by an engine fire that set their ship, the Triumph, adrift. Onboard power and sewer system outages have been reported. The ship, which was 150 miles north of the Yucatan Peninsula when the fire struck early Sunday, has a crew of more than 1,000.

How Happy Is America?

Feb 8, 2013

In recent years, Canada, France and Britain have added measures of citizen happiness to their official national statistics. The U.S. government is now considering adopting a happiness index as well.

This makes a certain amount of sense. Everything a government does — hiring soldiers, building bridges, providing pensions — is supposed to make citizens happy.

Wednesday, Hasbro announced that it was welcoming a new member of the Monopoly-token family. And because it asked the Internet, it wound up with a cat. (For whatever reason, the Internet was not offered Gotye or a bacon cupcake.)

(We updated the top of this post at 10:37 a.m. ET.)

Calling it "absolutely necessary" if the U.S. Postal Service is going to stop losing billions of dollars a year and reach anything close to financial stability, Postmaster Gen. Patrick Donahoe confirmed Wednesday morning that USPS is moving to eliminate Saturday delivery of first-class mail.

Puerto Rico's population is declining. Faced with a deteriorating economy, increased poverty and a swelling crime rate, many citizens are fleeing the island for the U.S. mainland. In a four-part series, Morning Edition explores this phenomenon, and how Puerto Rico's troubles are affecting its people and other Americans in unexpected ways.

Edward Bonet's mom no longer tries to convince him to join her in Florida. Unlike his family, the 23-year-old from Puerto Rico refuses to leave the island and its shattered economy.

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