National News

UNCF CEO: Obama's Community College Plan A 'Blunt Instrument'

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-06 12:09

Robert Siegel speaks with UNCF (formerly the United Negro College Fund) CEO Dr. Michael Lomax about President Obama's recent announcement to make community college free for all Americans.

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Satellite Set To Stream Daily Images Of Earth From Space

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-06 12:09

In 1998, Al Gore proposed using a satellite and the Internet to let us all see the awe-inspiring view of Earth that wows space travelers. That satellite may finally launch later this year.

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Being With People Like You Offers Comfort Against Death's Chill

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-06 12:03

Iggy Ignatius bet that immigrants from India would long to live with other Indians in his Florida condos. He was right. Psychologists say intimations of mortality make us want to be with our own kind.

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Should you let a robo-adviser invest for you?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-06 12:00

As the economy picks up strength, more people are heading back to work and some are even seeing their wages tick upward. That means the lucky among us might find ourselves with extra cash and wondering what to do with it – after building up savings for emergency expenses and contributing to 401ks, of course.

An increasingly popular option for many want-to-be investors, especially millennials, are robo-advisers – online services that help people through a variety of financial decisions, such as how to invest a lump sum of money or provide feedback on the current mix of assets in their portfolios. Interfaces range from completely online and automated to those that may offer occasional video chats with human advisers. Many begin with a questionnaire for customers.

The questionnaires "remind me of a little bit of those Facebook, you know, 'What '90s song is your rock anthem?' or 'Which movie star is your soulmate?'” says Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America. “Ten questions, and they know supposedly everything about you.”

For example, an automated investment service called Wealthfront will create personalized portfolio recommendations for customers based on answers to these questions:

  • What are you looking for in a financial adviser?
  • What is your current age?
  • What is your annual after-tax income?
  • What is the total value of your cash and liquid investments?
  • What would you do if your portfolio lost 10 percent of its value in a month?

Roper says these questions are meant to help the site determine an investors’ risk threshold – a difficult, complicated task, even for human advisers and especially tricky for robo-advisers. In general, robo-advisers can be a good option for investors, especially if they take a “set it and forget it” approach, she says.

“You set up some parameters, you automate the process, you keep expenses as low as possible, you diversify through ETFs,” says Roper. “Those are good principles.”

People considering robo-advisers may be attracted by their relatively low fees and the fact that – unlike some human advisers – they tend to have low minimum-investment requirements.

“Broadly speaking, these services are catering to less-affluent individuals,” says Grant Easterbrook, a former analyst specializing in financial technology.Most human financial-advisers have account minimums. They don’t want to work with someone below a certain threshold. They don’t think it’s worth their time.”

By Easterbook’s calculations, the top 11 startups in this space, most of which have only been live for a year or two, have $19 billion dollars invested with them – and they’re growing fast. That’s drawn some bigger banks into the space as well.

But how does working with a robo-adviser compare to consulting a good old-fashioned human being, and how does the financial advice differ?

Sheryl Garrett, an independent certified financial planner who runs the Garrett Planning Network, says her first question for new clients is often: What’s going on in your life?

She inquires about a client’s income, debt, career plans, retirement accounts, what the money that may be invested will eventually be used for, if there are expenses on the horizon or a few years down the road, or family obligations they might have to take on. These types of questions can reveal deeper issues in our financial lives that the client may not even be aware of, she says.

Garrett’s not opposed to people using robo-advisers, although she cautions that automated advice can miss the bigger picture – that the extra money we think we have might not be truly extra. Her advice: planning first, and maybe, if it still makes sense, Internet second.

Polarization Vortex: Obama, Bush Approval Shows Widest Partisan Gap

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-06 11:57

The ratings for the two most recent presidents had the biggest split between Republicans and Democrats.

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Job creation over past 3 months strongest since 1997

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-06 11:51

The U.S. economy added 257,000 jobs in January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. The report also included revisions to job-creation figures for November and December 2014, adding 147,000 more jobs. That brings job-creation in the past three months to over 1 million – the strongest since 1997, according to Capital Economics research.

The unemployment rate increased marginally (by 0.1 percent) to 5.7 percent in January, as 703,000 additional adults were counted in the labor force.

The report does not provide detailed information about those entering or returning to the labor force. Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute says that by age distribution they appear to mirror the active workforce as a whole: 72 percent are prime-age working adults, age 25 to 54. “The uptick [in the labor force] may be disproportionately more Hispanic workers and white workers, and fewer black workers,” Gould says.

Job creation in the past several months has been broad-based, according to Gary Burtless, a labor economist at the Brookings Institution. New workers hold lower-paid retail and restaurant jobs as well as higher-paid positions in finance, professional services and IT. Traditional middle-income-tier jobs are also filling out a bit, he says.

“The construction industry has picked up employment gains,” says Burtless, “and manufacturing has been adding steadily to payrolls for quite a while.” But he points out that neither of these goods-producing employment sectors is as robust as before the recession.

The business of cheating: Ashley Madison and how to sell infidelity

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-06 11:16

There are cheaters in every type of business, but for Ashley Madison, cheating is business.

Ashley Madison is a dating site marketed specifically at people who are already in relationships. Millions of people subscribe and pay to use Ashley Madison to find potential affairs.

And business is good, even if it's widely considered immoral.

So how do you start a company centered on cheating? And how do you sell something that repulses so many consumers?

Noel Biderman, the founder and CEO of Avid Life Media, which owns Ashley Madison, joined Marketplace Weekend to explain the business of cheating.

 

 

The business of cheating: Ashley Madison and how to sell infidelity

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-06 11:16

There are cheaters in every type of business, but for this company, cheating IS business.

Ashley Madison is a dating site marketed specifically at people who are already in relationships. Millions of people subscribe and pay to use Ashley Madison -- the site is in the business of infidelity.

And business is good, even if it's widely considered immoral. So how do you start a company centered on cheating? And how do you sell something that repulses so many consumers?

Noel Biderman, the founder and CEO of Avid Life Media, which owns Ashley Madison, joined Marketplace Weekend to explain the business of cheating.

 

 

Army Will Award Fort Hood Victims Purple Hearts

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-06 11:07

The Army had declined to award the honor to soldiers killed during the attack, because it was a "workplace violence" incident. Congress has since tweaked the requirements to grant the Purple Heart.

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Immunization cuts proposed amid measles outbreak

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-06 11:04

Montgomery County, Maryland, is right next to Washington, D.C., so when Washington reported a measles case earlier this week, the county’s Department of Health and Human Services shifted into high gear.

Part of that response involves vaccinating people who had contact with those who got sick.  The county gets much of its vaccine through the federal 317 Immunization Program,  which the Obama administration wants to cut by $50 million, affecting the supply of all kinds of vaccines. 

“To cut money for something that is a proven public health success, doesn’t make sense,” says Cindy Edwards, who is in charge of the county’s communicable disease division, which responds to outbreaks of such diseases as measles and whooping cough.

The 317 program provides vaccine for the uninsured. The White House says there’s  less demand for those vaccines because more children are insured as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Insurers have to pay for vaccines. Plus, the Obama administration added about $128 million  to a separate vaccination program for children. 

But Edwards says a lot of her vaccine goes to adults, many of them immigrants – documented and undocumented.

“We’ve had several measles outbreaks," she says. "One was with a refugee population. So we were standing up clinics on Saturdays and Sundays.”

While the White House would only cut 317 funding for vaccines, the  program funds other things, too. Edwards was able to use it to pay nurses overtime for those weekend clinics and to track those who were in contact with people who got sick. Some health advocates says more money is needed for things like that. 

"The program has never been fully funded ... and now they’re cutting it by $50 million more,”  says Laura Hanen, a lobbyist for the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

The 317 program money can also be used to train doctors how to persuade reluctant parents to vaccinate their children, Hanen says. That’s especially important in western states with many unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children.  L.J. Tan, chief strategy officer of the Immunization Action Coalition, says at least 14 percent of toddlers in Colorado are not fully vaccinated for measles.

“So it’s these pockets of under-vaccinated kids that we’re worried about," he says. "A single case of measles in that community will explode into an outbreak.”

And Tan says, clinics will need all the 317 Immunization Program vaccine they can get. 

Members of Congress aren’t immune to these arguments.  President Obama proposed cuts to the 317 program last year, but Congress restored the money. 

Banking on the electric car battery boom

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-06 11:01

There's an international battle happening to find the next super battery to run electric cars, cut emissions and reap the economic benefits.

"The primary players in the pursuit of the super battery... are Japan, South Korea, China and, of course, the United States," says Steve LeVine, who details the race in his new book, "The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World."

LeVine says the U.S. is currently trailing behind Japan and South Korea, but that doesn't mean America is out of the race yet. The U.S. has a long legacy of battery innovation, including the now-ubiquitous lithium-ion battery.

Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago currently has a shot at developing the next generation of batteries. In fact, it was Argonne scientists who came up with the battery technology currently used in the Chevy Volt.

But even as some of the world's top scientists race to innovate, electric car maker Tesla says it's just fine with the old lithium ion tech. Tesla founder Elon Musk is betting against the battery scientists by choosing to just take batteries "off the shelf," LeVine says.

"The next thing he has in store is a battle with GM," LeVine says. "Both of them say in the year 2018 they're going to have $35,000 cars that are going to go 200 miles on a single charge."

As battery technology gets better and more people drive electric cars, world markets will also be affected.

"When batteries take off, they're going to take a lot of oil off the market," says LeVine. "The same impact that you're seeing shaking up countries around the world, the price of oil going down, you're going to see that happen again in the next five to eight years, because of what's going to happen on the electric grid."

More from our extended interview with LeVine: 

On the global battery race:

I just started on Google plugging in one country after another: “electric cars” and “France.” And “electric cars” and “Brazil.” And by the end of this session on Google there were 20 countries. Basically any major country you could think of was in this race. They saw the new age. The new boom. A potential economic boon for their economies, a new age in electric cars, in batteries. And each one of them said “We’re going to win it.” Wow, my big thing is not just energy, but how it affects geopolitics. 

On how innovation really works:

Invention is the province of big exaggerators. And big deceivers. And batteries have been a province, a special province, of these type of individuals. Hype-sters. Edison famously talked about the liars and swindlers who tend to gravitate to batteries. And that’s because the stakes are so high. If you can invent the super-battery, you enable so many things. It is, in my view, the biggest game-changer of any on the planet. Apart from peace among all nations, it is very big. 

On the future of electric vehicles:

GM says its Bolt, that’s what it’s calling its car, will be on the market at the end of 2107. [Elon] Musk is calling his the Model 3. This for me is the inflection point. It’s the signal that electric cars in just three years, less than three years, are going to be in the market …

We are headed into a long period of disruption, and I think it includes electric cars. 

Listen to Scott Tong's full interview with LeVine.

London Taxi Chief Compares Cyclists To Islamic State Militants

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-06 10:55

Steve McNamara later walked his comments back, but says he and his group have been threatened because of their opposition to London's just-approved segregated bike lanes and dedicated traffic signals.

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Nicaraguan Transoceanic Canal Unearths Ancient Relics, Animosities

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-06 10:20

Officials are comparing it to the arrival of colonizers in Latin America. Excavation hasn't even begun yet and thousands of pre-Columbian relics have been dug up-- along with some tensions.

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Affordable Care Act? Try 'Aggravating Challenge for Accountants'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-06 10:06

Two of the most complicated facets of American life have just collided: health care and the federal income tax form. As set out in the Affordable Care Act, starting now health insurance has been woven into every individual federal tax form. Let’s ignore the effect on the ibuprofen market (investment tip?). For the IRS and for thousands of accountants, the result is a once-in-a-generation challenge: a new tax requirement for every American that could be violated accidentally, with ease.

 “This is a very very big change,” says tax accountant Poonam Bansal. “It practically affects every return … clients know practically nothing about it.”

Bansal runs her own small accounting firm, Accounting Solutions, in northern Virginia. The tax expert prides herself on being meticulous and has prepared hundreds of tax forms every year for more than a decade. But this year, even as she triple checks each client’s forms, she fears it will be nearly impossible to correctly file every return as both Americans and the IRS navigate new forms and new calculations.

“I’m more worried about the IRS to be honest, because the IRS does not have enough manpower, they are already behind,” she says. “My worry is how will they handle it.”

Why? The Affordable Care Act mandate that individuals get health insurance went into effect last year. The law designated the IRS as the enforcer of that requirement and as a result, tax forms due in April 2015 check each taxpayer has health insurance. Issue one: the IRS has seen its budget cut in recent years and the agency’s chief, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, has told reporters that those cuts could affect the speed and ability of the IRS to handle tax returns.

Issue two is more for individuals. The best-case scenario involves Americans who get their health care through their job and who had no interruption in that health care. For them, the process is usually as simple as checking a box on a form.

But it is not as easy for the millions of people who purchased health care through individual exchanges or who saw a significant interruption in their coverage last year. There is concern those groups of people could unknowingly, and easily, misfile their information.

A second tax headache: the millions of Americans who received government subsidies to help pay for their health care. Those are people whose income falls between 100 percent and 400 percent of poverty. But the subsidies were based on a forecast of each persons’ income made a year ago, and many of those income estimates could have been off — pay may have increased, a job may have changed.

As a result, those receiving subsidies now need to calculate whether they received too much or too little money in subsidies and then incorporate that net difference into their tax form. 

“Money always brings out the emotion in people and this year we have more emotion than any other year,” Bansal says.

One upside is this puts some accountants on a potentially uncomfortably learning curve, but the problem may be good for their industry.

“As long as we have a complicated tax code, there will always be work for our profession,” Bansal says.

Affordable Care Act? Try Aggravating Challenge for Accountants

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-06 10:06

I take a deep breath as I write this next sentence.  

Two of the most complicated facets of American life have just collided: health care and the federal income tax form.  As set out in the Affordable Care Act, starting now health insurance has been woven into every individual federal tax form.  Let’s ignore the effect on the ibuprofen market (investment tip?).   For the IRS and for thousands of accountants, the result is a once-in-a-generation challenge: a new tax requirement for every American that could be violated accidentally, with ease.

 “This is a very very big change,” tax accountant Poonam  Bansal told MarketPlace Weekend. “It practically affects every return… clients know practically nothing about it.”

Bansal runs her own small accounting firm, Accounting Solutions, in Northern Virginia.  The tax expert prides herself on being meticulous and has prepared hundreds of tax forms every year for more than a decade.  But this year, even as she triple checks each client’s forms, she fears it will be nearly impossible to correctly file every return as both Americans and the IRS navigate new forms and new calculations.

“I’m more worried about the IRS to be honest, because the IRS does not have enough manpower, they are already behind,” Bansal explained, “My worry is how will they handle it.”

Why?  The Affordable Care Act mandate that individuals get health insurance went into effect last year.  The law designated the IRS as the enforcer of that requirement and as a result, tax forms due in April check that each taxpayer has health insurance. Issue one, the IRS has seen its budget cut in recent years and the agency’s chief, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, has told reporters that those cuts could affect the speed and ability of the IRS to handle tax returns.

Issue two is for individuals.  The best-case scenario involves Americans who get their health care through their job and who had no interruption in that health care. For them, the process is usually as simple as checking a box on a form.

But it is not as easy for the millions of people who purchased health care through individual exchanges or who saw a significant interruption in their coverage last year.  There is concern those groups of people could unknowingly, and easily, misfile their information.

A second tax headache: the millions of Americans who received government subsidies to help pay for their health care. Those are people whose income falls between 100% and 400% of poverty.  But the subsidies were based on a forecast of each persons’ income made a year ago.  And many of those income estimates could have been off.  Pay may have increased, a job may have changed.

As a result, those receiving subsidies now need to calculate whether they received too much or too little money in subsidies and then incorporate that net difference into their tax form. 

“Money always brings out the emotion in people and this year we have more emotion than any other year,” Bansal concluded.

One upside, this puts some accountants on a potentially uncomfortably learning curve, but the problem may be good for their industry.

“As long as we have a complicated tax code, there will always be work for our profession,” Bansal said.

 

A Rap Star And A Therapist Fight Female Genital Mutilation

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-06 10:03

They each were cut when they were young. As outspoken opponents of the practice, they're accused of going against their religion. (They're not.) And of being brainwashed by white women. (Also untrue.)

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The psychology behind cheating

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-06 09:52

Imagine this: You're alone at work, and you're thirsty. You have no money, and you have nothing to drink. You open your office fridge and there you find six cans of Coca-Cola, and six crisp $1 bills. 

Do you take anything? Maybe a soda, or a dollar bill, to buy something for the vending machine? Do you take more than one?

Dan Ariely already has an idea what you'd do. Ariely is a professor at Duke University. He studies cheating behavior and he's run dozens of experiments on cheating: when people cheat, by how much, and why they do it.

He says that people are more likely to cheat when they're distanced from the idea of monetary value -- you're more likely to take the soda than the cash, just as you're more likely to stream a movie illegally online than to walk into a store and steal a DVD, or worse yet, take cash from the register. 

Cheating can be complicated, too, it's not all black and white. Dishonesty exists on a spectrum, and finding balance, particularly between our social behaviors and our business behaviors, is crucial, according to Ariely.

You can learn more about how and why people cheat by tuning in to the full segment in the audio player above, or, to find out what kind of cheater you are, take our quiz: 

[Quiz by Seth Kelley]

Why do people cheat? It's in our nature

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-06 09:52

Imagine this: You're at work, and you're thirsty. You have no money, nothing to drink. You open your office fridge and there you find six cans of Coke and six one dollar bills. There's no one watching, you're alone. 

Do you take anything? Maybe a soda, or a dollar bill, to buy something for the vending machine? Do you take more than one? 

A man named Dan Ariely can probably tell you exactly what you'd do.

Ariely is a professor at Duke University. He studies cheating behavior and he's run dozens of experiments on cheating: when people cheat, by how much, why.

He says that people are more likely to cheat when they're distanced from the idea of monetary value -- you're more likely to take the soda than the cash, just as you're more likely to stream a movie illegally online than to walk into a store and steal a DVD, or worse yet, take cash from the register. 

Cheating can be complicated, too, it's not all black and white, dishonesty exists on a spectrum, and finding balance, particularly between our social behaviors and our business behaviors, is crucial, according to Ariely. 

You can learn more about how and why people cheat by tuning in to the full segment in the audio player above, or, to find out what kind of cheater you are, take our quiz: 

[Quiz by Seth Kelley]

As Temperatures Drop, Shelter Needs For Homeless Families Rise

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-06 09:52

A homeless crisis in D.C. mirrors the increased need for sheltering the homeless in several American cities. Administrations examine possible solutions before space and resources run out.

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Libya Today: Two Governments, Many Militias, Infinite Chaos

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-06 09:49

Libya's internationally recognized government is struggling to operate from the small eastern city of Bayda, far from Tripoli. The government's fate reflects the chaos that reigns in Libya today.

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