National News

Fed set to end its bond buying

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

The Federal Open Market Committee could call it quits on QE3 after meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. The Fed has bought more than $4 trillion worth of Treasuries and Mortgage bonds in its extraordinary effort to stimulate the economy.

For six years, the Fed has used some form of the unconventional monetary policy known as quantitative easing. When that ends, the Fed still has its conventional tools.

“So the Fed still can influence short-term rates, thirty-day rates, overnight rates,” says Rutgers University’s Morris Davis, who was once an economist with the Federal Reserve Board. “It just has decided it will not try to influence longer term rates like the ten-year Treasury or mortgage-backed securities.”

But even if the Fed stops its bond buying program, it won’t stop buying bonds. Interest-rate strategist Ian Lyngen with CRT Capital Group says the Fed plans to replace all those securities it owns as they mature. He says the Fed wants to maintain the size of its balance sheet for now, with those trillions injected in the economy.

He describes the thinking like this:

“We’ve put that much more money into the system, and we’ve provided that much more stimulus. And as long as we’re not shrinking the size of our balance sheet, then we’re continuing to keep our foot on the pedal.”

We’re just not accelerating more.

Facing The Islamic State Threat, Kurdish Fighters Unite

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 00:39

Kurdish groups have often quarreled among themselves, or at least kept their distance. But Kurds from Iraq and Turkey have been fighting side by side in northern Iraq against the Islamic State.

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Behold The Entrenched — And Reviled — Annual Review

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 00:39

Performance review season is nearing, and if you're like most people, there's no celebrating that. Studies show that 60 to 90 percent of employees dislike the ritual. So some firms are backing away.

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Bear-Baiting And Big Races Drown Portland, Maine, In Campaign Ads

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 00:39

A combination of candidates, a controversial ballot measure and cheap ad rates have made Portland very popular. There are even ads running for a neighboring state's U.S. Senate race.

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An Ebola Strategy Brings Good News To One Liberian Town

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 00:39

The town of Foya has had no new cases in a month. Credit goes to a care center and an ongoing effort to calm fears and allow family members to communicate with patients — and view the dead.

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Ford Brothers Lose Toronto Mayor Race, Hold On To Council Seat

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 18:33

Unofficial results show John Tory beat Doug Ford 40-34 for mayor, a race Rob Ford abandoned after his cancer diagnosis. The latter Ford did keep the Ward 2 council seat his family has held since 2000.

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Bernard Mayes, NPR's First Chairman, Founder Of Suicide Hotline, Dies

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 16:52

Mayes was a true Renaissance man: He worked as an Anglican priest, a journalist, a radio executive, a university professor and the founder of the first suicide prevention hotline in the United States.

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Army Says Troops Coming Back From West Africa Will Face 'Controlled Monitoring'

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 15:15

The troops will be confined to a housing complex at their base in Italy for 21 days. The news comes just as the White House tried to convince New York and New Jersey to drop mandatory quarantines.

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In Photos: Last Of U.S., British Troops Leave Afghanistan's Helmand Province

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 13:52

Helmand saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the 13-year war. On Monday morning, the last of the American and British troops that shared the camp headed out on helicopters.

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Soda-Makers Try To Take Fizz Out Of Bay Area Tax Campaigns

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 13:35

Voters will decide on a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks in Berkeley and a 2-cent-per-ounce tax in San Francisco. But the soda industry's lobbying group has spent millions blasting the measures.

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Medical Journal To Governors: You're Wrong About Ebola Quarantine

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 13:26

Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo have called for mandatory quarantine for "high risk" individuals returning from Ebola-stricken countries. The New England Journal of Medicine begs to differ.

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What's More Embarrassing Than That Old Screen Name? Sharing It

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 13:14

Years ago, you spent hours dreaming up the perfect AOL Instant Messenger screen name. Many of you aren't so proud of your now-defunct handles today, but that didn't stop you from sharing them with us.

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Want the best price online? Good luck with that.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-27 13:04

Here's some not-so-happy news as the holiday shopping season continues: The price you see online for a given item may not be the same as the price others see. The retailer may ask you for more money, or just show you an array of more-expensive products, depending on what kind of machine you’re using, or whether you're logged into their website, or your browser. That’s the bad news from a recent paper by researchers at Northeastern University.

The worse news is: It’s really, really hard to tell what conditions might get you the best price. 

Earlier reports had documented individual quirks: Staples might charge you a $1.50 more for a stapler depending on your ZIP code. The CEO of Orbitz once acknowledged steering Mac users to fancier hotels.

This study was more rigorous, and it found systematic differences in which users see what products, at what prices. The systems were tricky to detect and would be super-hard for consumers to game. 

"Initially, we assumed the best thing was just going to be ‘clear your cookies,’" says Christo Wilson, a computer science professor and one of the study's co-authors. "But it turns out to be much more nuanced than that."

For instance, clearing your cookies gets you slightly more-random results on Expedia. Android customers see higher-priced items when they search Home Depot, and sometimes the same items at a higher price. Travelocity seems to offer better deals to iPhone users.

That last part — different prices for different customers — is called price discrimination. Which sounds bad, but in general is actually really popular.

"This happens all the time in the real world," says Wilson.  "People get discounts, there’s coupons — people love it.  But it’s typically transparent."

You know when there’s an early-bird special, or a discount for using a loyalty card. The price is right there on the shelf, or in an ad, or on the menu.

"Online stores aren't like physical stores," says Internet policy consultant David Robinson. "It's not just one set of offers, and everybody sees the same store. When you're on the Internet, it could be a totally different store."

And how would you ever know? The Northeastern University researchers ran tests that no home user could ever replicate, and came back with only partial results. They recruited hundreds of people online to run an initial round of tests, then created fake accounts in order to isolate variables.  The initial tests showed that Sears sometimes offered the same item for different prices, but the "lab" tests couldn't isolate a variable that triggered a different price.  

This study didn't even test Amazon. With so many different merchants selling on that site, it would have been hard to differentiate offers by Amazon itself from offers by other retailers. 

"One of the problems with the capability of a company to personalize the terms on which is offers you services and the price is this information asymmetry. You don’t know when they’re doing it," says Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor who studies privacy rights.

If you’re determined to try to find better prices online, here are some tips.

Be warned: They are not for the instant-gratification-oriented. Effort is involved. So is patience.

 

CDC Chief Announces New Shift In Ebola Protocols

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 13:00

The new protocol announced by Dr. Tom Frieden on Monday stops short of the mandatory 21-day quarantines imposed by some states. Instead, it relies on individual assessment and close monitoring.

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New York's Disease Detectives Hit The Street In Search Of Ebola

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 12:22

When a New York City doctor was diagnosed with Ebola, the epidemiologists knew just what to do: search the city for potential contacts.It's a gig they perform daily with far more contagious diseases.

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Ancient Viruses Lurk In Frozen Caribou Poo

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 12:00

A 700-year-old caribou dropping from northern Canada holds surprisingly well-preserved viruses. There's no evidence the viruses are dangerous, but they are scientifically interesting.

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With Marines Gone, Can The Afghan Army Hold Off The Taliban?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 11:51

The Marines have departed their biggest base in southern Afghanistan, the scene of heavy fighting throughout the war. This will be one of the main proving grounds for the Afghan army.

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Sandwich (Replacement) Monday: Soylent

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 11:34

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try Soylent, a meal-replacement substance. It's the thing to eat if you hate eating.

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A Congolese Mother Of Six Is Honored For Her Death-Defying Journalism

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 11:22

Solange Lusiku Nsimire, an editor who has been subjected to death threats and whose family has been attacked, has won a courage award for her journalism in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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