National News

Tesla is disrupting more than just the car business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Sat, 2016-02-06 16:01

Tesla Motors is building the world's biggest battery factory just outside of Reno, Nevada. The company is calling it the “gigafactory,” and when it’s up and running in 2016 it’s expected to make Tesla’s electric cars much more affordable. 

“In a single factory we're doubling the worldwide capacity to manufacture lithium-ion batteries,” says J.B. Straubel, Tesla's chief technology officer. 

That's significant enough. But the company also plans to develop batteries for use with solar-power generation – giving Tesla a shot at challenging public utilities as an energy source, Straubel says.

“At the price points that we're expecting to achieve with the gigafactory ... we see a market that is well in excess of the production capability of the factory,” says Straubel.

The market for batteries is an offshoot of the booming business for solar panels, particularly in states such as California, where solar is becoming commonplace.

“We sign up approximately one new customer every minute of the workday," says Will Craven, director of public affairs at California-based SolarCity.

Much of the excess energy harnessed by solar panels is returned to the power grid, Cravens says. This means homeowners and businesses may earn a credit from their power companies, but have no say over when and how that energy is used.

The partnership with SolarCity will use rooftop solar panels fitted with Tesla’s battery packs to allow customers to keep that energy in-house. That means they can use it however, and whenever, they want. The concept puts Tesla in direct competition with utility companies.

“Stationary storage, or backup storage, is really being considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of renewable electricity generation,” says Ben Kallo, an analyst with the Robert W. Baird financial services firm.

Kallo points out that the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources makes them less reliable because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.  But with the ability to store that energy, renewable energy sources can compete head-to-head with utility companies for customers.

“There are still many utilities out there who kind of have their head stuck in the sand and just hope that this goes away. What we're seeing is really building momentum,” Kallo says.

Forward-minded utilities might look at Tesla’s business model as an opportunity, he says.  Energy-storage technology could be used to build capacity in their existing grids, and also build new infrastructure for battery-powered cars and homes.


Still Need A Lawn Yeti? Good News — SkyMall May Be Cleared For Relaunch

NPR News - 4 hours 46 min ago

The in-flight catalog went bankrupt earlier this year. But its new owners say SkyMall catalogs might make their way back to airplane seatbacks soon.

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The Sen. Menendez Indictment In Five Excerpts

NPR News - 7 hours 47 min ago

The indictment against Sen. Robert Menendez alleges he took hundreds of thousands of dollars and extravagant gifts from a friend and donor in exchange for political favors.

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Germanwings Crash Highlights Workplace Approaches To Mental Health

NPR News - 9 hours 45 min ago

The case of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz has focused attention on what Lufthansa, or any employer, can really know about an employee's state of mind. Requiring a psychological evaluation has risks, too.

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Trading Walkathons For Ice Buckets, Charities Try To Hold On To Donors

NPR News - 11 hours 16 min ago

Some of the largest, most established walkathons and similar events that raise cash for charity aren't doing as well as they used to. There's more competition, fundraisers say, for money and time.

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Navajos Fight Their Food Desert With Junk Food And Soda Taxes

NPR News - 11 hours 22 min ago

Many have dreamed of taxing Cheetos and soda. The Navajo Nation is now doing both. The first-in-the U.S. tax measure aims to raise revenue for health programs and make wholesome food more affordable.

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Justice Department Won't Charge IRS' Lois Lerner With Criminal Contempt

NPR News - 11 hours 23 min ago

At issue is whether the former IRS official waived her Fifth Amendment rights when she made an opening statement proclaiming her innocence over the agency's targeting of conservative groups.

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With Nostalgia And A Last Nosh, 1 Of 3 Remaining HoJo's Closes

NPR News - 11 hours 23 min ago

The iconic orange roofs of Howard Johnson's restaurants were once fixtures of the American highway. But the chain faded in the '80s. The 60-year-old location in Lake Placid, N.Y., closed Tuesday.

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The Transaction: The right price

Marketplace - American Public Media - 11 hours 24 min ago

Albuquerque, New Mexico: 1970.

Marketplace listener Jose Antonio Ponce was 13 when he learned a few chords on the guitar, and he fell in love. But when his teacher, his brother, moved away for a job and took his guitar with him, Jose had to figure out a way to get his own. 

In Battered Tikrit, Iraqi Forces Claim Much, But Not All Of City

NPR News - 11 hours 28 min ago

The Iraqi military, with help from the U.S. and Iran, now holds most of Tikrit after a month of heavy fighting with the Islamic State. NPR's Alice Fordham visited and says the city is still volatile.

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Sen. Robert Menendez Indicted On Corruption Charges

NPR News - 11 hours 30 min ago

The indictment alleges that Menendez abused his office to benefit a friend and donor. The New Jersey senator has always maintained his innocence.

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Justice Department Indicts Sen. Robert Menendez On Corruption

NPR News - 11 hours 30 min ago

The indictment alleges that Menendez abused his office to benefit a friend and donor. The New Jersey Senator has always maintained his innocence.

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California Governor Issues 1st-Ever Statewide Mandatory Water Reductions

NPR News - 11 hours 39 min ago

Cities in drought-stricken California will have to reduce their water usage by 25 percent. In a news conference, Gov. Jerry Brown said the "historic drought demands unprecedented action."

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California Governor Issues 1st-Ever Statewide Manadatory Water Reductions

NPR News - 11 hours 39 min ago

Cities in drought-stricken California will have to reduce their water usage by 25 percent. In a news conference, Gov. Jerry Brown said the "historic drought demands unprecedented action."

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A Virus In Your Mouth Helps Fight The Flu

NPR News - 12 hours 28 min ago

It's related to herpes. And it infects most of the world — about half of Americans, nearly all the developing world. But don't go out and get infected. The virus has a dark side, too.

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Trevor Noah Is A Quarter Jewish. Does That Make His Anti-Semitic Jokes OK?

NPR News - 12 hours 35 min ago

Trevor Noah, a 31-year-old South African with a global following, appeared on The Daily Show three times before he got the nod as Jon Stewart's replacement. Now he's in hot water over some old tweets.

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McDonald's to boost wages for 90,000 workers

Marketplace - American Public Media - 12 hours 36 min ago

The list of companies that have raised their minimum wage lately, companies like WalMart, Target, TJ Maxx and IKEA, got one longer today.

McDonald's announced it will raise hourly wages by 10 percent, at the approximately 1,500 restaurants it operates directly.

The move will affect about 90,000 employees, which the company's new CEO Steve Easterbrook said will bring average hourly pay up to $9.90 by July. The company said it hopes its franchisees -- which operate another 14,000 McDonald's locations -- will follow suit. 

"These increases come after several years of wages barely keeping up with inflation," says Krissy Clark, who covers low-wage work for Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty Desk. "So in some ways it's a bit of a game of catch-up."

The economy is also catching up to the demand for jobs. Skilled workers who may have resorted to entry-level jobs in retail and restaurants are returning to higher paying positions. That applies more pressure to lower wage employers to raise pay and attract the workforce they need. 

Fast food workers have staged strikes in recent months seeking a $15 hourly wage. The National Employment Labor Project (NELP) sought to temper enthusiasm, calling it a "modest gesture."

In a statement, NELP Executive Director Christine Owners said the increases will "boost pay a little for a small number of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who are trying to make a living selling McDonald’s food and burnishing McDonald’s brand."

And yet, advocates see their actions as directly contributing to the wage increase. 

"One McDonald's worker who is paid about $7.25 an hour right now said, 'Because we joined together and stood up, McDonald's was forced to raise pay,'" Marketplace's Clark said. And yet, they're still pushing for more. 

"A wage of $10 an hour is still going to mean, for many of those families, that they still qualify for public assistance," Clark noted. 

One retailer whose wage bump is making a bigger difference? IKEA.

"They're the only company so far that has tied their wage raises to a living wage calculator, where they're actually trying to say, we want to make sure that you don't have to rely on public assistance if you're working for us," says Clark

More information on growing wage pressure -- from competitors and market forces overall -- when we get jobs data on Friday.

Diagnosing A Sinus Infection Can Be A DIY Project

NPR News - 12 hours 37 min ago

The nation's ear, nose and throat doctors want people to diagnose sinus infections themselves in an effort to reduce overuse of antibiotics. They're telling you how.

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Iraq Claims Victory Over Militants In Strategic City Of Tikrit

NPR News - 12 hours 38 min ago

Iraqi flags are flying over government buildings again in Tikrit, one month into a major offensive to reclaim the city from fighters with the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

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American students head to Germany for free college

Marketplace - American Public Media - 12 hours 48 min ago
Despite the high cost of college in this country, most American students will choose to go to school here. But a growing number of students are getting their degrees in other countries, like Germany, where taxpayers pick up the tab. WGBH's On Campus team recently traveled to Cologne to explore this higher education defection, and the implications for the United States.

At a cafe just around the corner from the University of Cologne, students sink into big armchairs and sip lattes.

This is Rachael Smith’s favorite place to spend down time between classes. The 26-year-old is working on her master’s degree and has been living in Germany for almost two years.

Rachel Smith is one of about 100 Americans currently studying at the University of Cologne in Germany. (Photo by Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH)

“I love it here. I really like the city. I love the culture,” she says. “Cologne is a very open city, a very friendly city. I definitely get the vibe that Germans appreciate a foreign presence in the city.”

Smith is one of almost 100 Americans studying at the University of Cologne. And, like everyone else, she’s doing it tuition-free.

“I wouldn't have studied my master’s in the United States — just the cost was not an option,” Smith says. “I have enough debt from studying my undergrad, so I didn't want to pile that on. But when I found this program, I realized it could be an actual option.”

Would you pay higher taxes to make higher education free?

Those Americans are part of a growing number of students choosing to get their degrees in other countries, like Germany, where it’s always been free. Today more than 150,000 international students are getting a degree in Germany, including more than 4,000 Americans. That’s double what it was just five years ago. While the amount of students choosing that path is not enough to worry American schools, it has given German universities a boost.

In Siegen

German universities are marketing heavily overseas. The highlight their strengths in research, and building connections with professors at other schools. "Free" is a great selling point, but it’s just the start.

The University of Siegen is in a small regional capital east of Cologne, Germany. (Photo by Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH)

Jay Malone from Columbus, Ohio, is now living in Germany. He’s found a way to capitalize on Germany’s efforts to recruit internationally.

“Cost is what gets people in the door. Cost is what initially interests people,” Malone says. “A person who was only interested in cost, that person is very unlikely to come over. You need to have other interests, other things that are driving you.”

Malone got his master's degree in Germany, and now he’s running Eight Hours and Change, a niche college-consulting firm. Recently, he’s gotten a lot of emails from Americans wanting his help to study in Germany.

Malone recently went on a scouting mission to the University of Siegen, one of the places he’ll take a group of American high school students visiting in June.

Siegen is a smaller regional capital, nestled in the hills east of Cologne and the Rhineland. A light dusting of snow covered the pointed roofs and slate-tiled cottages of the city’s old town.

Delisha Duran is an American from Chattanooga, Tennessee. She’s studying at the University of Siegen. While she has enjoyed the international experience, she says there are downsides to living in this German "fairy tale."

“I miss having a gym five minutes away,” Duran says. “I miss having a cafeteria that will give me endless food for the whole day.”

Delisha Duran is an American from Chattanooga, Tennessee, studying at the University of Siegen. (Photo by Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH)

And, Duran adds, even for the most adventurous students, living abroad is a challenge.

“One of the things you have to consider is that you’re going to cry, a lot,” she says. “You’re going to miss home a ton.”

If students still think they’re up to the challenge, they’ll have to get through the German admissions process, which is vastly different than it is in the United States, says Malone.

“It's much more transparent, and it is entirely academic based,” he says.

There are no recommendations or extensive resumes. Instead, students need the same test scores that would get them into a solid U.S. state school.

There’s also the language barrier. But, Germany is offering more and more programs in English at both the master’s and bachelor’s level. The government will even pay for German language classes. Germany wants these international students here, even though their taxpayers foot the bill.

“Germany is not a country that's growing,” Malone says. “Its population is not growing. They need people, they need immigrants. They want to be a migration country.”

Competition and cooperation

Think about it this way: it’s a global game of collecting talent. All of these students are the trading cards, and the collectors are countries. If a country collects more talent, they'll have an influx of new ideas, new businesses and a better economy.

“If you look at Germany, the only resource we do have are human resources, actually,” says Dorothea Rueland, secretary general of the German Academic Exchange Service, or DAAD. The DAAD is in charge of Germany’s push to attract more international students.

A map of full-time degree options at German universities that are taught in English. Information from the German Rectors Conference.

“We depend on innovation, on inventions — and where do they come from? From institutions of higher education or from research institutions,” Rueland says.

According to the DAAD, half of foreign students getting a degree in Germany will stay. That's not just in the short term either — 40 percent of students plan on remaining for at least 10 years. In the U.S., only 12 percent of international students opt to stay for even one year.

When asked whether Germany is competing with American universities for the same talent, Rueland doesn't hesitate.

“We are part of this world and we cannot neglect these trends going on. So of course, we are competitors,” she says.

But Rueland is also quick to point out competing is only part of the picture. The other part is cooperation.

“If you look at the global challenges everybody’s talking about, questions of climate change, energy, water, high-tech ... this cannot be solved by one institution or one country,” Rueland says. “So you have to have big international networks. We all know this. This is actually the mission we have.”

Some American universities have said they share that mission of cooperation — and they don’t see Germany as competition, yet.

A mobile degree

Back in Cologne, a group of Americans who are now part of that international network try to work out whether they see themselves working in Germany or the U.S. after graduation.

“I want to see what the workforce is like [in Germany], like a full-time job and see if I enjoy it,” says Glen Bornhoft, a recent graduate from the University of Cologne. “Because so far I really enjoy studying here and meeting all the different types of people that I've met.”

Andrew Kinder, who is studying business administration, agrees.

“I think that would be the more realistic way to have it pay off, to start the next phase of my career here in Germany, and hope with an international corporation, or an American corporation, and at some point maybe move back to the States," he says.

But Natasha Turner, who is studying for her master’s in North American studies, isn't as sure.

American Natasha Turner is completing her master's degree at the University of Cologne. (Photo by Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH)

“I don’t know,” she says. “I know employers on both sides of the ocean will look at my CV and say ‘Oh, oh that looks good.’ I'm employable anywhere.”

Employers agree. With her German degree, Natasha is mobile. So if she doesn't want to come back to the States, she doesn't have to. America has enough talent, and enough students, at least for now.

This is part two in a series from WGBH that examines higher education in Germany, and compares it to the challenges we face here in the U.S. Click here for part one.