National News

Coal's share of global energy is growing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-17 02:00

BP’s annual world energy report is out, and it turns out coal has its largest share of the global energy market since 1970.

Just because coal use is going down in the U.S. doesn’t mean it’s not popular in other parts of the world.

“Coal is still a fairly fast growing fuel globally," says James Stevenson, director of North American coal at IHS Energy, a global research and consulting firm. “We have fairly strong growth in countries like China.”

The use of coal is also expanding in Latin America, parts of the Mediterranean, and Africa, though more slowly. Even Germany is burning more coal, partly because it’s shutting down its nuclear power plants.

Kristoffer Inton, an equity analyst with Morningstar, says coal is easy to come by.

“That’s the main advantage of coal," he says, "that it’s cheap and it’s available.”

And even with the EPA’s newly proposed regulations for carbon, it still expects coal to generate 30 percent of the power in this country. Inton notes, globally, coal is probably one of the easiest ways to get power.

“So what we’re seeing right now is that even though there’s high coal usage in China and growing usage in some other countries, there’s a significant amount of supply out there,” he says.

 

Report says too many teachers-to-be are poor students

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-17 02:00

Higher education institutions are training some of the weakest students to lead the nation's classrooms.

That’s one of the conclusions of a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. On top of that, the advocacy group says fewer than 10 percent of the teacher training programs it's assessed are doing a stellar job.

One of the criteria the group uses to assess schools is their admissions selectivity.

“The education school is often the easiest program on a campus to get into,” says Kate Walsh, president of The National Council on Teacher Quality. Walsh says three out of four of the teacher prep programs her group examined lack rigorous admissions standards and accept students with lackluster grade point averages or scores on college entrance tests.

Walsh says mediocre students use education as a fall-back major. She wants schools to raise the bar and make teaching a more elite profession.

But Peter Cookson with the American Institutes for Research says another important way to do that would be to raise teachers' pay.

“It's a good salary, but it isn't really competitive in the long-term,” he says.

Cookson says the stakes are high for attracting and retaining good teachers. He says students perform much better with strong instructors.

How the U.S. pays for its involvement in Iraq

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-17 02:00

The Obama Administration says 275 troops are deploying to Iraq to protect the U.S. Embassy and other interests. We don’t yet know the full cost of any U.S. action in Iraq, but we can lift the curtain a bit on the economics behind military intervention, and what the Pentagon gets for its half trillion dollar baseline budget.

What’s included and what’s not?

Let’s start with the USS George H.W. Bush. That’s the aircraft carrier that sped to the *Persian Gulf this weekend (other ships are joining too).

Is the Bush covered in the defense budget?

“On any given day, we have about three aircraft carriers floating about the world in order to respond to crises,” says Janine Davidson, senior fellow for defense policy with the Council on Foreign Relations. “That money is already paid for. It’s the operational account for what we would call posturing our military forces abroad.”

Todd Harrison, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says the U.S. routinely rotates carriers.

“But if you actually take it a step further,” he says, “and you start conducting things like air strikes, then that picks up the pace of operations of the aircraft operating off the aircraft carrier, which is an additional cost. And then you’ve got the cost of munitions that are expended – you know, bombs and missiles and the like.”

But here’s the thing about bombs and Tomahawk missiles: You don’t have to pay for them when you use them. Payment comes later, to replenish them. That provides flexibility.

Mackenzie Eaglen, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says President Obama would rather fund operations like no-fly zones by moving money around than asking Congress for more.

“That’s what we saw happen in Libya, when there was a multi-month no-fly zone which the US participated in and the Pentagon paid for that out of hide,” she says.

That operation cost about a billion dollars.

Todd Harrison says the costs of intelligence sharing, air support, and limited air strikes are probably small enough for the regular defense budget to absorb. He says the big potential cost for the Department of Defense is troops on the ground.

“So when you start putting in 10,000, 20,000 troops, that’s when DOD would need to request supplemental funding to pay for those operations,” he says.

Those are the kinds of numbers last seen from the US for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So far, the force committed this time around is much, much smaller.

*NOTE: An earlier version of this story used the term Arabian Gulf, which is used by the military, to describe the Persian Gulf.

Tensions Still High In 'Nevada Land' Over Cattle Dispute

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-17 00:42

Many of Cliven Bundy's supporters are gone, but the rancher is as defiant as ever since an armed standoff with the U.S. government. For now, it feels like each side is waiting for the other to blink.

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In Yabbies And Cappuccino, A Culinary Lifeline For Aboriginal Youth

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-17 00:41

Australia has a long, dark history of racial discrimination against the Aborigines. A cooking and hospitality program tries to help youth discover their culture and build confidence and competence.

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Eccentric Heiress's Untouched Treasures Head For The Auction Block

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-17 00:40

Huguette Clark secretly spent her last 20 years in a hospital, even though she wasn't ill — all while her three New York apartments were filled with valuable antiques.

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Tornadoes Cause Widespread Damage, Injuries In Nebraska

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 16:31

Two twisters swept through the state's rural northeast, flattening one small town and causing serious damage in two others. One person was killed.

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With Win Over Ghana, U.S. Is Off On The Right Foot In Brazil

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 16:12

On Monday night, the U.S. soccer team accomplished a feat it failed to achieve in the past two World Cups: beat Ghana. With a 2-1 victory, the Americans position themselves well for the games to come.

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Sweet Revenge: U.S. Bests Ghana, 2-1, In Its World Cup Opener

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 16:03

U.S. captain Clint Dempsey scored just 29 seconds after the starting whistle, one of the fastest goals in World Cup history. The U.S. lost to the West African nation in the previous two World Cups.

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A rogue Greenpeace trader wreaks havoc

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:52

As we know well, capitalism can be a perilous place.

The environmental group Greenpeace announced Monday that it had lost $5.2 million due, essentially, to a rogue trader.

They had a guy in their finance division who was working currency trades as a way to hedge against other investment fluctuations.

Two things happened:

One, he traded way more money than he was authorized to trade.

And two, he bet the Euro woud fall last year. It didn't.

$5 million is a boatful of money. The group's annual revenues, however, are somewhere near $400 million.

Supreme Court Rules Against Gun 'Straw Purchases'

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:46

In a major victory for gun control groups, the justices upheld by a 5-4 vote a federal ban on one person buying a gun for another.

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The U.S. Supreme Court deals a blow to Argentina

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:30

After Argentina defaulted on its sovereign debt back in 2001, it took an approach that many at the time described as hard line. It offered investors the choice of 30 percent of their money back, or none of their money back. 

“They stepped on a lot of toes,” says Win Thin, Global head of Emerging Markets strategy for Brown Brothers Harriman.

Though many bondholders were upset, 92 percent agreed to the terms. A small group, primarily hedge funds, did not. 

As Argentina began paying out diminutive returns to the creditors who agreed, the holdouts sued. They argued that as long as Argentina was paying some investors back, it was contractually obliged to pay the holdouts too – and to pay them the full amount of their debts.

Reading the relevant contracts narrowly, a lower U.S. court agreed, and in declining to hear the case the Supreme Court has allowed that ruling to stand. Argentina is now on the hook for more than a billion dollars and says it may now default. “If you look at the numbers they simply just can’t afford to pay this right now,” says Thin.  

Argentina may negotiate with the holdouts, but after launching a campaign to vilify them as vultures, that may prove difficult. The next payment date for Argentina is June 30, and this represents the deadline for determining whether the country will default or reach some sort of agreement.

The situation is negative for Argentina’s economy, but unlikely to spread into some regional or global financial crisis, says Thin. Investors have generally stayed far away from Argentina since its default. 

The global implications are still serious, according to many observers. 

“The [International Monetary] Fund remains deeply concerned about the broad systemic implications that the lower court decision could have for the debt restructuring process in general,” said Gerry Rice, spokesman for the International Monetary Fund, in a briefing June 5.

Countries in distress have often used the same framework as did Argentina to extract themselves from default. Usually not quite as aggressively, but the principle is the same: obtain the consent of a majority or plurality of investors to take a haircut. 

“The fear is when a country -- whether it’s Greece or Portugal or what have you -- is in a position where it can’t pay its debt, it’s rare that you ever get 100 percent of creditors accepting it,” says Peter Hakim, President Emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue. 

Requiring every defaulting country to obtain approval of all creditors could drag the process out or even dash it altogether, as creditors would now have an incentive to be the last holdout.

“You’re sort of messing with a system that’s working pretty well,” says Hakim. “The U.S. Treasury, although it didn’t formally join in the suit at all, has the same view, that this may interfere with the workings of the financial system.”

Others have more dire predictions. 

“This case will impact debt restructuring all over the world, it’ll impact poor country access to credit,” says Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, a religiously backed organization that promotes global financial reform.

He says money earmarked for development is being diverted to pay creditors, to the detriment of vulnerable populations. 

In one sense, the legal quarrel in Argentina’s case could have been avoided by a different type of contract, where new payment terms become binding for all investors if a certain proportion of them agrees to them. 

However, for all the countries who have debt in the here and now, Argentina’s example is a warning that getting out of debt could is a lot harder than anyone thought. 

In The Making Of Megafarms, A Few Winners And Many Losers

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:19

A tiny fraction of America's 2 million farmers produces most of our food. They are the winners of a long-running competition for land and profits that has also drained the life out of small towns.

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Court Overturns Sharing Of FISA Surveillance With Defense Lawyers

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:17

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals says that the Justice Department can keep intelligence information secret in terrorism cases.

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Teens Disappear In The West Bank, And Israel Blames Hamas

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:11

The Israeli military is searching the West Bank for three Israeli teens who were kidnapped last week.

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Poll: Congressional Approval At Dangerous Low Point

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:10

A new Gallup survey finds key midterm election indicators at or approaching historic lows. Satisfaction with the direction of the country is also near rock bottom.

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Can Schools Solve The Tech Industry's Pipeline Problem?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:03

It might be time to change the message on STEM.

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GM Recalls 3.2 Million More Cars For Faulty Ignition Switches

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:45

The latest recall is in addition to the 2.6 million cars the automaker has already recalled for a similar problem.

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Citing Unpaid Debts, Russia Cuts Off Gas Supplies To Ukraine

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:35

Russia says it has cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine after Kiev missed a deadline to pay part of its huge outstanding energy debt.

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