National News

California Pharmacists Resist Translating Medicine Labels

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

Adding a translation to the English label would require bigger bottles, pharmacists say. They worry patients would wind up carrying a few pills around loose — without any instructions at all.

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Polio's Surge In Pakistan: Are Parents Part Of The Problem?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

Health workers are trying to convince parents to give children the polio vaccine. But the program faces violent opposition. Harvard researchers polled the parents. They were surprised by the results.

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Farming The Bluefin Tuna, Tiger Of The Ocean, Is Not Without A Price

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

Scientists are trying to raise prized bluefin tuna completely in captivity. An experiment at a Baltimore college is the first successful attempt in North America.

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Senate's Highway Trust Fund Bill Sets Up Conflict With The House

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

A short-term fix for the nearly empty Highway Trust Fund is a step closer to President Obama's desk. Congress has been talking about the long-term problems with the construction account, but the two chambers have not agreed on a long-term solution.

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U.S. Judge Sides With Iraq, Blocks Kurds' Attempt To Sell Oil

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

A U.S. judge has blocked an effort by Iraq's Kurdistan region to sell $100 million worth of crude oil to refiners in the U.S. It's sitting in a giant tanker ship off the coast of Texas. The judge agreed with the Iraqi government that the oil belongs to it and not the Kurds.

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As Pharma Jobs Leave N.J., Office Space Ghost Towns Remain

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

In the last 20 years, New Jersey went from having more than 20 percent of U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs to less than 10 percent. That means offices, labs and warehouses have gone dark.

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New York Skyscraper's Separate 'Poor Door' Sparks Outrage

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

A developer got tax breaks for creating affordable units in its luxury high-rise, but those tenants will have to use a separate entrance. Officials vow to review zoning laws that allowed the design.

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U.N. Aid Agency: Israeli Tank Shells Slam U.N. School, Killing 15

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:43

Wednesday's reported strike at a school sheltering people displaced by the war in Gaza came amid Israel's heaviest air and artillery assault in more than three weeks of fighting with Hamas.

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Senate Approves $8 Billion Transportation Package

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 16:00

The federal highway trust fund will run short of money starting this week unless Congress acts. But the Senate's bill differs significantly from what the House passed last week.

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The Hidden Costs Of Fighting Polio In Pakistan

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 15:30

The effort to end polio is taking a toll on Pakistan's already overstretched health system. With more children dying of measles and diarrhea, some question whether the focus on polio is worth it.

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Israeli Bombing Ruins Gaza's Only Power Plant

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 15:28

Israel broadened its bombing campaign on Tuesday, bringing the Palestinian death toll above 1,200. Brief hope for a cease-fire was quickly dashed.

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McDonald's Responsible For Treatment Of Workers, Agency Says

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 14:19

The National Labor Relations Board has found that McDonald's shares responsibility for working conditions at its franchised restaurants. The company will fight the ruling.

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France Presses On With Deal To Sell Two Warships To Russia

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 14:15

Amid ongoing fighting in Ukraine and stepped-up U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia, the deal has met with little criticism in the shipbuilding town of St. Nazaire, where it has created 2,500 jobs.

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Court Rejects Law Threatening Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 13:41

A federal appellate court rejected arguments that women could seek abortions outside the state, saying no state can farm its constitutional duties out to its neighbors.

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Our big fat American refrigerators

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-29 13:29

Apropos of my discussion with Nichola Twilley about refrigerators in China, Gawker reported today that a fridge in the U.S. is, on average, many cubic feet bigger than fridges in other countries.

Some are even twice the size of your average fridge in Europe.

Not only do big refrigerators cost us more money because they take more power to cool, but they also may "encourage unhealthy eating habits," says Gawker reporter Dan Nosowitz.

He cites a couple of studies including one that says, "families that have more food in the house eat more food."

Another one says that "the average American throws out about 25 percent of food and beverages purchased."

What happens if Argentina defaults?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-29 13:29

It’s looking increasingly likely that Argentina will default on some of its bonds.

How could that happen and what happens next? Here's what we know:

Argentina has defaulted before. After Argentina defaulted in 2001, it told its creditors: "We’ll give you 30 cents on the dollar: take it or leave it." Back then, 93 percent of those creditors took it and 7 percent left it. A tiny percentage of those holdouts  — who, incidentally, were not the original lenders, but rather funds that had purchased the distressed debt from the original creditors — sued.

They claimed they hadn't agreed to anything, telling Argentina that the terms of the contract (a term called “parity”) say 'if you pay those other guys, you have to pay us. And you have to pay us the whole amount on the dollar.' They won. Argentina now has to pay.

An Argentine default won’t cause a domino effect. Just like with people, for one country to catch another country’s economic bug, it has to be exposed to it.  

Stephen Kaplan, assistant professor of political science at George Washington University explains: “In Argentina’s case, they’ve been shut out of global capital markets for quite some time.”

It could still make things difficult for other countries trying to get out of debt. There’s no such thing as bankruptcy court in the world of sovereign debt. So there’s not an orderly system when countries can’t pay up. Many countries had been working on the assumption that if they got most of their creditors to say it's OK to be paid back less than they were owed, then the matter would be settled and they could move on. 

What the Argentine case means is that unless it’s spelled out in the contract, that assumption doesn’t work, and a minority creditor can squelch a deal.  

“It says to all investors, 'instead of settling after a country is facing financial crisis... hold out and [don't] allow a debt restructuring to take place,'” says Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, a religious group that promotes international financial reform.

Argentina is damned if it defaults... Argentina has been trying hard recently to get back into the good graces of the international financial community and a default would dash those efforts.

As Henry Weisburg, a partner at law firm Shearman & Sterling who specializes in cross-border financial disputes, says “they have a large number of different kinds of bonds and instruments out there and virtually all of them are going to have cross default provisions.”

That means if the country defaults on one piece of debt, it defaults on another piece of debt, and those creditors can call in their loans. That results in a difficulty when Argentina wants to find money for financing trade and “in certain circumstances even commercial borrowers in Argentina will have a hard time raising money.” Lawyers for Argentina have suggested defaulting would allow them to restructure their debt in Europe or Argentina, and avoid the laws in the U.S. that made restructuring difficult in this situation.   

...but it's also damned if it doesn’t.  Argentina’s fear is that if it pays these creditors, it will encourage all the other holdout creditors to sue as well. 

“The UN Conference on Trade and Development noted that if Argentina paid these holdout creditors in full, it would essentially leave them open to another $135 billion in liabilities,” says LeCompte. “The entire Argentine reserve is less than $30 billion at this point.”

1 in 3 Americans has past due debt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-29 13:29

This just in from the Department of Phone-Calls-You’d-Rather-Not-Get: one in three Americans with credit files had some kind of debt in collection last year, according to a new report.  All told, that's about 77 million consumers who are poised to get one of those inherently stressful calls from a debt collector.

The Urban Institute partnered with Encore Capital Group, the country's largest publicly traded consumer debt buyer, on the study. To understand the significance of these findings, here’s a little context:

When a debt goes into collection, it basically means the original people you owe money to (maybe a bank or a credit card company or a doctor's office) have given up trying to get it back on their own and a third party is now involved. In some cases, the original creditor sends the debt to an internal collections department to handle it. In other cases, they hire an outside agency to collect for them. In still other cases, the debt is sold to another company altogether. 

The collector is usually paid on commission, based on how much of the debt can be recovered. Meaning, if you have a debt that's sent in to collection, you basically become a name on a spreadsheet for the debt collector.

Gustavo Montoya, an emergency room nursing assistant in San Diego, ended up on one of these debtor spreadsheets a few years ago. He'd taken a loan for $3,000 from Wells Fargo to help pay for living expenses while he was in school. Then, in 2011, he was contacted by a different company, one he'd never heard of, who had bought his debt. 

For two years, the new company called him every day, until another one started calling instead. Montoya, who was unemployed at the time, says he tried to explain his situation to the collectors that called him. 

“The economy was still bad," Montoya said, "I was finding difficulty getting employment. It was really stressful."

Graphic courtesy of the Urban Institute.

Beyond the stress, falling into collection can have big repercussions, says Suzanne Martindale, a staff attorney with Consumers Union. It can affect your credit score, your ability to get a loan in the future, even your ability to get a job. The growing practice of passing debt from one collector to another, or selling it to another debt buyer, means that in a matter of months there can be several different people from different companies claiming you owe debt to them.

“Many consumers I’ve spoken with are just utterly confused — 'who’s telling me the truth here, what are my rights, and how can I resolve the problem and just get on with my life?'”

Mark Schiffman, with the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, an industry group, says the collections process can be stressful. but it can also be an important step in keeping the economy moving.

“Businesses use those moneys to pay their bills, to pay rent, to keep operational costs, to pay salaries.”

Even once the original creditor has written off a debt as a loss, and sold it to a third party, the act of debt collection itself can be big business too.

Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

1 in 3 Americans have past due debt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-29 13:29

This just in from the Department of Phone-Calls-You’d-Rather-Not-Get: one in three Americans with credit files had some kind of debt in collection last year, according to a new report.  All told, that's about 77 million consumers who are poised to get one of those inherently stressful calls from a debt collector.

The Urban Institute partnered with Encore Capital Group, the country's largest publicly traded consumer debt buyer, on the study. To understand the significance of these findings, here’s a little context:

When a debt goes into collection, it basically means the original people you owe money to (maybe a bank or a credit card company or a doctor's office) have given up trying to get it back on their own and a third party is now involved. In some cases, the original creditor sends the debt to an internal collections department to handle it. In other cases, they hire an outside agency to collect for them. In still other cases, the debt is sold to another company altogether. 

The collector is usually paid on commission, based on how much of the debt can be recovered. Meaning, if you have a debt that's sent in to collection, you basically become a name on a spreadsheet for the debt collector.

Gustavo Montoya, an emergency room nursing assistant in San Diego, ended up on one of these debtor spreadsheets a few years ago. He'd taken a loan for $3,000 from Wells Fargo to help pay for living expenses while he was in school. Then, in 2011, he was contacted by a different company, one he'd never heard of, who had bought his debt. 

For two years, the new company called him every day, until another one started calling instead. Montoya, who was unemployed at the time, says he tried to explain his situation to the collectors that called him. 

“The economy was still bad," Montoya said, "I was finding difficulty getting employment. It was really stressful."

Graphic courtesy of the Urban Institute.

Beyond the stress, falling into collection can have big repercussions, says Suzanne Martindale, a staff attorney with Consumers Union. It can affect your credit score, your ability to get a loan in the future, even your ability to get a job. The growing practice of passing debt from one collector to another, or selling it to another debt buyer, means that in a matter of months there can be several different people from different companies claiming you owe debt to them.

“Many consumers I’ve spoken with are just utterly confused — 'who’s telling me the truth here, what are my rights, and how can I resolve the problem and just get on with my life?'”

Mark Schiffman, with the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, an industry group, says the collections process can be stressful. but it can also be an important step in keeping the economy moving.

“Businesses use those moneys to pay their bills, to pay rent, to keep operational costs, to pay salaries.”

Even once the original creditor has written off a debt as a loss, and sold it to a third party, the act of debt collection itself can be big business too.

Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

1 in 3 Americans have past due debt. What this means.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-29 13:29

This just in from the Department of Phone-Calls-You’d-Rather-Not-Get: one in three Americans with credit files had some kind of debt in collection last year, according to a new report.  All told that's about 77 million consumers who were poised to get one of those inherently stressful calls from a debt collector.

The Urban Institute partnered with Encore Capital Group, the country's largest publicly traded consumer debt buyer, on the study. To understand the significance of these findings, here’s a little context:

When a debt goes in to collection, it basically means the original people you owe money to — maybe a bank or a credit card company or a doctor's office — have given up trying to get it back on their own and a third party is now involved. In some cases, the original creditor sends the debt to an internal collections department to handle it. In other cases, they hire an outside agency to collect for them. In still other cases, the debt is sold to another company altogether. 

The collector is usually paid on commission, based on how much of the debt can be recovered. Meaning, if you have a debt that's sent in to collection, you basically become for the debt collector, a name on a spreadsheet.

Gustavo Montoya, an emergency room nursing assistant in San Diego, ended up on one of these debtor spread sheets a few years ago. He'd taken a loan for $3,000 from Wells Fargo to help pay for living expenses while he was in school. Then, in 2011, he was contacted by a different company, one he'd never heard of, who had bought his debt. 

For two years, the new company called him every day, until another one started calling instead.  Montoya, who was unemployed at the time, says he tried to explain his situation to the collectors that called him.  “The economy was still bad," Montoya said, "I was finding difficulty getting employment. It was really stressful."

Beyond the stress, falling into collection can have big repercussions, says Suzanne Martindale, a staff attorney with Consumers Union. It can affect your credit score, your ability to get a loan in the future, even your ability to get a job.  And the growing practice of passing debt from one collector to another, or selling it to another debt buyer, means that in a matter of months there can be several different people from different companies claiming you owe debt to them.

“Many consumers I’ve spoken with are just utterly confused—who’s telling me the truth here, what are my rights, and how can I resolve the problem and just get on with my life?”

Mark Schiffman, with the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, an industry group, says the collections process can be stressful. But that it can also be an important step in keeping the economy moving.

“Businesses use those moneys to pay their bills, to pay rent, to keep operational costs, to pay salaries.”

But even once the original creditor has written off a debt as a loss, and sold it to a third party, the act of debt collection itself can be big business too.

New sanctions against Russia could hurt US firms

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-29 13:29

The European Union is joining the U.S. in imposing tough, new sanctions against Russia, which continues to support separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The new measures include an arms embargo and restricted sales of technology and equipment for Russia's oil industry.

In a big change, the new sanctions target sectors rather than just individuals in President Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

“The shootdown of the Malaysian aircraft I think has changed the equation,” says Kenneth Yalowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Belarus and Georgia, and now a global fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Center.

But the new EU sanctions and the U.S. ones already in place haven’t hit American businesses as badly as some feared.

“U.S. companies, if anything, breathed a little sigh of relief today that they’re not going to be held out relative to their European counterparts,” says Doug Rediker, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Russia is not a big trading partner with the U.S. Some companies like ExxonMobil and Citigroup might suffer a bit, but the biggest risk is Russian retaliation against big brands like McDonalds, claiming things like "'some health concerns' — in quotes — that were expressed by Russian authorities,” says Rediker.

Other potential targets include companies like Visa, MasterCard, and big U.S. accounting firms.

Others see little damage to U.S. companies so far.

“Retaliatory sanctions against businesses in the West, to the extent there have been any, they haven’t been very impactful,” says David Levine, partner with the law firm McDermott, Will & Emery.

A big question now is whether Western governments will have the stomach to continue sanctions for moral reasons, or whether trade and commercial interests will win out.

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