National News

Ebola Outbreak Is A Global Health Emergency, WHO Says

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-08 02:28

Ebola is spreading faster than efforts to stop it in West Africa, the World Health Organization says. Places hardest hit don't have enough doctors, nurses and medical equipment to contain the virus.

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Cleveland small businesses hope to cash in on Gay Games

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-08 02:00

If you’re a restaurant server, it makes sense to be polite and greet a customer with “Ma’am” or “Sir.” But what do you do when a gender mistake turns that courtesy into a slight?  

Server Anna Short would apologize, ask whether she made a mistake, and let the customer take it from there.

“Let them come in and say, ‘I would prefer if you use this term'," she says.

Short works at the Grovewood Tavern & Wine Bar on Cleveland’s east side. The owners of this cozy eatery anticipate busy nights and full tables when Gay Games 9 arrive on Saturday.

About 30,000 visitors from all over the world are expected during the week-long event. Small businesses like the Grovewood prepared by attending one of several cultural competency workshops to learn the subtleties of serving LGBT patrons. After demonstrating its cultural competency, the tavern gets a window sticker, and inclusion on Gay Games promotional materials.

The goal is to generate buzz and get visitors to spots that aren’t close to their hotels. But Cleveland State University economist Candi Clouse says buzz is not enough. Far-flung establishments also need proximity to a well-known landmark.

“It’s a very reasonable expectation that people will venture from the center of the activity to visit a certain neighborhood because they’re looking for something specific, like an art district or a music district,” Clouse says.  

The Grovewood is ten miles from downtown Cleveland, which is the heart of the Gay Games. But at least the tavern is close to one of the city’s top entertainment districts, the Waterloo neighborhood. Owner Beth Davis-Noragon says that combination has brought customers in the past, and predicts her tavern to be extremely busy. After all, Gay Games visitors are expected to bring $40 million to the area this coming week. 

EPA rules may zap Kentucky jobs, but not coal jobs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-08 02:00

The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, unveiled in June, requires every state to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants. But some states have tougher assignments than others. On paper, Kentucky’s target is among the most lenient. However, the state’s near-total reliance on coal means it may be hit especially hard by the plan’s costs.

But first, a counter-example: One of Kentucky’s bigger cities, home to more than 20,000 people, a shiny green spot on the state's coal-black energy map, is Fort Knox.

Robert “R.J.” Dyrdek is energy manager at the army base, which has cut its energy use by 51 percent. He shows off a solar array, a geothermal pond — which prompts an unusual boast: "We have the best dirt," he says. "Simply put, it exchanges energy very well." — and a base-wide smart-thermostat system. Technicians monitor temperature and energy performance in every room on base, and tweak them in real time.

But Fort Knox has advantages that the rest of Kentucky can’t match. As Dyrdek says, "If you don’t have the dirt and the facilities, you can’t do it." Kentucky has the dirt, but not a completely planned, centralized, and self-contained economy and infrastructure.  

Instead, Kentucky has politics — and the image of whole communities making a living from coal-mining has iconic power. So, coal has been a hot issue in Kentucky's senate race, which could make or break longtime Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

Here’s one of his ads:

His Democratic opponent has also taken a pro-coal stance — including a radio ad that hammers President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

But the loss of coal jobs isn’t necessarily the big economic threat. Kentucky only has about 12,000 coal-mining jobs left. Manufacturing provides more than 220,000.

"Most often what you hear about jobs in Kentucky are the loss of the  mining jobs," says John Lyons, the state’s assistant secretary for climate policy. "But these manufacturing jobs — the reason we have the manufacturing jobs we do is because of our low electricity rates."  

Kentucky has some big auto, stainless steel, and aluminum plants  — all of which take a lot of electricity. Thanks to cheap coal power, Kentucky’s electric rates are among the lowest in the country.  

"That why those facilities come here, and they bring very good paying jobs with them," says Lyons. Complying with the clean power plan will likely force those rates up. And Lyons thinks some of the jobs may then go away.  

Silicon Tally: #Scrabble

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-08 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? This week, we're joined by Megan Garber, staff writer at The Atlantic. var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "", id: "silicon-tally-hashtag-scrabble", placeholder: "pd_1407500322" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'':'';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Corporate earnings: up. Hiring: not so much.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-08 02:00

Corporate earnings reports for the spring quarter are mostly in by the first week in August. Overall, they paint a pretty rosy picture for America, Inc., as Bloomberg predicts profits at S&P 500 companies rose nearly 9.5 percent; sales rose more than 4 percent. So far, 75 percent of companies that have reported earned more than equity analysts predicted.

“The results have been really solid,” said chief economic strategist John Canally at LPL Financial in Boston. He said the results bode well for the second half of 2014, especially since GDP growth has picked up since the winter reversal.

Canally said companies are mostly plowing their profits back into the company; not adding to their payrolls, or investing in new plant and equipment.

“It’s mergers and acquisitions, increasing dividends, share buybacks,” Canally said. “Companies are doing what companies normally do: trying to boost share price for their shareholders. They’re just not doing a lot of hiring right now.”

Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto, said U.S. companies have increasing worries overseas — where a lot of their profits are earned — due to geopolitical and economic crises in Russia-Ukraine, Iraq-Syria, Israel-Palestine, Argentina, and Europe.

“Some of those geopolitical events have made people rethink how optimistic they are about the world economy over the next 12 months,” said Ashworth — Which, he said, explains some of the stock market's recent slump.

What Happens When A Beijing Man Invites Women Into His Lamborghini?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 23:32

The man had a hidden camera recording his chats with the women in Beijing's nightlife district. The video has struck a nerve in China's running debate over materialism and values.

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Trauma Plagues Many Immigrant Kids In U.S. Illegally

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 23:31

Social service agencies and nonprofits are scrambling to figure out what they need to do to help the thousands of immigrant children who have come to the U.S. in recent months.

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Gaza Militants Renew Rocket Fire After 3-Day Truce Expires

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 23:15

Gaza militants renewed rocket fire on Israel after a three-day truce expired on Friday and negotiations in Cairo on a new border deal for the coastal strip hit a deadlock.

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Sen. Lamar Alexander Overcomes Tea Party Challenge

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 18:22

The two-term Tennessee senator's win marks a milestone for the Republican establishment: a Senate primary season in which every serious Tea Party challenge to an incumbent was fended off.

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If A Monkey Takes A Photo, Who Owns The Copyright?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 15:30

In 2011, a macaque took over wildlife photographer David Slater's camera — and took a striking image. Now Slater is clashing with Wikimedia over who owns it.

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Russia swore off our chicken legs. But not to worry.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-07 13:51

Russia is hitting back against U.S. and European economic sanctions with some of its own.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said today that Russia will ban the import of food and agricultural products – including pig meat, cow meat, chicken meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy products – from the U.S., EU, Canada, Norway and Australia.

This is not the first Russian ban on U.S. foods. Last February, Russia closed its door to American beef and pork, citing a zero-tolerance policy to additives that are fed to U.S. cattle and hogs. U.S. beef exports didn't suffer significantly. 

"Even with Russia out of the picture, our beef exports set a record last year of more than $6 billion," said Joe Schuele, communications director with the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Beef exports to Russia may have halted, but the American poultry industry exported $129 million worth of chicken, mostly chicken legs, to Russia in the first half of this year. Still, Russia is only about 7 percent of the U.S. export market, down from as much as 40 percent in recent years. 

"If this would have happened 10 years ago, it would have been catastrophic," said Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. "But fortunately our industry is far less dependent on Russia as one of our key markets."

In 2013, the U.S. exported a little over $1 billion worth of foodstuffs to Russia, while the EU exported $16 billion. However, some Russia watchers think it may be Russians who bear the brunt of the ban.  

"At a minimum, Russian consumers are going to see a large number of products disappear, and in replacing them they're likely to see an increase in food prices," said Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Bank of America settles: So we're all good now, right?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-07 13:43

Bank of America is reportedly ready to pay up to $17 billion to atone for selling lousy mortgage investments in the run-up to the financial crisis. Overall, big American banks are paying more than $100 billion in settlements like this.

For the banks, paying settlement costs is a way to move past the darkest days of the meltdown. But many financial observers still point to enduring problems on Wall Street. Chief among them is the issue of risk and reward.

Bankers didn’t create and sell dicey mortgage investments because they wanted to decimate the world’s economy. They did it because their bank bonus structures paid them handsomely for doing so. They were incentivized to keep going, long after red flags popped up.

“No one slammed on the brakes,” says Charles Kenji Whitehead, a Cornell Law School professor and former high-level banking attorney. “Have we actually done anything to address that problem? Not really.”

Whitehead thinks recent changes on compensation and risk don’t do enough. Banks say going further would damage their business, maybe even make it more expensive for small businesses and regular people to bank.

And as far as all those multi-billion dollar settlements, don’t forget who really pays the tab.

“We've seen only punishments of shareholders,” says Jim Sinegal, Morningstar’s lead bank analyst. “A lot of the executives, a lot of the people making money -- making the most money in some cases -- are not getting punished at all.”

Dennis Kelleher runs the nonprofit Better Markets. A critic of Wall Street, he takes a dim view of recent bank settlements, saying they should be bigger and more transparent.

But at the same time, he is optimistic about moves being made related to the problem of Too Big to Fail, the worry that taxpayers will get stuck bailing out banks. He appreciated regulators telling banks this week that their disaster planning doesn't cut it.

“Rejecting these plans was a tremendous stride on behalf of the American people to get financial reform in place,” Kelleher says.

But of course, the rejection of those Too Big to Fail plans means there still aren't acceptable ones.

Mark Garrison: When bank settlements get announced, Charles Kenji Whitehead zeroes in on one thing.

Charles Kenji Whitehead: If you read the statement of facts that get issued, your jaw drops at just how lax some of the internal controls were at these banks.

He’s a Cornell law professor and former high-level banking attorney. Bankers made and sold dicey mortgage investments because their bank bonus structures rewarded them for it. And as a result, even when red flags went up. . .

Whitehead: No one slammed on the brakes. Have we actually done anything to address that problem? Not really.

Whitehead thinks recent changes on compensation and risk don’t do enough. Banks say going further would damage their business, maybe even make it more expensive for regular people to bank. And as far as all those multi-billion dollar settlements, don’t forget who really pays the tab.

Jim Sinegal: We’ve seen only punishments of shareholders.

Jim Sinegal is Morningstar’s lead bank analyst.

Sinegal: A lot of the executives, a lot of the people making money, making the most money in some cases, are not getting punished at all.

Then there’s the problem of Too Big to Fail, that taxpayers will get stuck bailing out banks. Dennis Kelleher runs the nonprofit Better Markets, a Wall Street critic. He takes a dim view of the bank settlements, saying they should be bigger and more transparent. But at the same time, he’s glad regulators told banks this week that their disaster planning doesn’t cut it.

Dennis Kelleher: Rejecting these plans was a tremendous stride on behalf of the American people to get financial reform in place.

But of course, rejecting those plans means there still aren’t acceptable ones. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

Amid Ebola's Spread, One Rule Reigns: 'Don't Touch'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 13:01

Numbers from the World Health Organization put Sierra Leone at the top of the list for cases of Ebola. Yusuf Mackery explains what's being done to prevent infection and raise public awareness.

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Liberia And Sierra Leone Seal Off Ebola Epicenters With Troops

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:56

As the deadly Ebola virus outbreak continues to spread, affected nations are imposing drastic new measures to try to contain the infection.

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At Africa Summit, South Sudanese President Resents Pressure From U.S.

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:51

The world's newest country has been roiled by ethnic and political clashes, as well as famine. The U.S. and other African heads of state are pressing the country's president to make peace with rebels.

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Russia Retaliates For Western Sanctions With Ban On Food Imports

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:46

Russia reacted to Western economic sanctions by imposing a yearlong ban on U.S. and European food products. Moscow also made clear it's still considering other measures.

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A Pair Of Approaching Storms Promise Hawaii A 1-2 Drench

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

The National Weather Service is forecasting that for the first time in 22 years, Hawaii will be hit directly by a hurricane — two, in fact. Hurricane Iselle is expected to make landfall soon, and Hurricane Julio is right on its tail.

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U.S. Considers Taking To Air To Aid Iraqis Marooned On Mountaintop

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

The White House is considering several military options to address an emergency humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq. The administration may approve either air strikes or airdrops of food and medicine to help tens of thousands of refugees stranded on a mountaintop.

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Militants Sweep Through Iraq's North, Mobilizing Exodus Of Refugees

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

After a week of fighting and conflicting accounts, militants with the Islamic State have reportedly captured Iraq's largest dam. The development spells danger for much of Iraq's civilian population.

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