National News

U.S. Intelligence Tracking What Happened To Flight MH17

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Senior U.S. intelligence officials say they have proof that a surface-to-air missile was launched when the airliner went down and have ID'd people in a recorded conversation implicating the culprits.

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Long GOP Primary Season Gives Democrats Time To Fill Campaign Coffers

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

If Democrats lose control of the Senate this fall, it likely won't be for lack of campaign money. The prominent female candidates in particular have healthy campaign accounts.

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The Challenge Of Keeping Tabs On The NSA's Secretive Work

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Congress is supposed to hold U.S. spy agencies accountable. But as Edward Snowden's disclosures revealed, intelligence officials have not always provided a full or accurate picture.

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Atlantic City's Casino Crisis: A Cautionary Tale

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

With the announcements of the planned closures of the Showboat and Trump Plaza casinos, the New Jersey town that once had the monopoly on gaming in the northeast is at a crucial turning point.

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5 Managers Detained In Shanghai Expired-Meat Scandal

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Chinese regulators suspended operations at Shanghai Husi Food, owned by Illinois-based OSI group. State media reported that stale meat was packaged for sale under "tacit approval" of senior managers.

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How A Chokehold, Aka Neck Restraint, Is Supposed To Work

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

After a New York man died during a police takedown, police trainers say properly administered "neck restraint" moves do not result in choking and are safer than alternatives like Tasers.

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Obama Adviser: Civilian Toll In Mideast Makes Cease-Fire Critical

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Steve Inskeep speaks with President Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken about the administration's next moves in Gaza and Ukraine.

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Taking Stock Of 2 Tech Giants: What's Next For Apple And Microsoft

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Microsoft's new CEO is getting a lot of love from Wall Street, but the company is struggling to stay relevant. And Apple has found its footing again, mostly through a massive stock buyback program.

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Congress And Biden Aim For Job Training That Actually Leads to Jobs

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Vice President Joe Biden has been traveling the country to learn about the best ways to train workers. He announced the results Tuesday as the president signed a workforce training bill into law.

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What Do The New Obamacare Rulings Mean For People Getting Subsidies?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

The Affordable Care Act was the subject of two conflicting court opinions Tuesday. One upheld the subsidies that help middle- and low-income people afford health insurance; the other rejected them.

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Former CEO David Perdue Wins Georgia's GOP Senate Runoff

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 19:46

Businessman David Perdue has defeated longtime Rep. Jack Kingston, setting up a matchup against Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn that will help determine which party controls the Senate

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Fruit Recall Hits Trader Joe's, Costco, Wal-Mart Stores

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 16:03

The recall applies to "certain lots of whole peaches (white and yellow), nectarines (white and yellow), plums and pluots" from a California packing company, the FDA says.

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Flight MH17: U.S. Builds Its Case; Plane Wreckage Reportedly Cut Apart

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 14:57

A U.S. spy satellite detected a surface-to-air missile in the area just before the plane went down. Detailed forensic analysis on the wreckage may be complicated; it's reportedly been cut apart.

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Maine City Council Votes To Keep Tar Sands Out Of Its Port

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 14:51

South Portland, Maine, has blocked crude oil from being loaded onto ships at its port. Environmentalists are cheering, but the Portland Montreal Pipeline Corp. says the ban won't hold up in court.

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On Immigration, America's Concerns Are Fiery But Fleeting

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 14:36

In a recent Gallup poll, most named immigration the biggest problem confronting the nation. But past periods of heightened worries have been brief — and haven't brought about solutions.

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3 ways Harvard President Drew Faust measures colleges

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:51

By 2015, the Obama administration will evaluate colleges on average tuition cost, low-income student enrollment, graduation rates and job earnings after graduation.

When they released this proposal last year, the higher education community generally disagreed with their criteria. One strong critic is Drew Faust, the president at Harvard University. Here are some measurements she thinks are important to consider:

Measurement: Jobs, but not salaries.

Faust is not opposed to focusing on kinds of work students can do after they graduate. However, she believes emphazing earnings at a first job distorts the picture.

"Some of our economists at Harvard have done analysis of this, and find that you really only begin to get an accurate reflection of lifetime earnings if you look at 10 years out. So I think they’re looking hard at more nuanced ways of measuring output of education.”

Measurement: The percentage of students on financial aid.

Of course, she cites the stats from Harvard: They accepted 5.9 percent of the 24,294 applicants for the entering class of 2014, and Faust says they have expanded financial aid programs so that those select few can actually afford to enroll.

"We have a financial aid policy that supports 60 percent of our undergraduates," she said. "They pay an average of $12,000 a year."

Faust also said that about 20 percent of Harvard's class makes no parental or family contribution at all.

Measurement: How digital-forward teaching is.

The big push at Harvard right now is digital — Harvard edX, where anyone can take classes from their computer. Faust says this provides acess to the knowledge and research for students, researchers and educators around the globe. 

"We get many students from Asia and Europe," she says, "and our students expect to live their lives and practice their professions and fields in a global environment."

Faust also says learning and "the fundamental value of learning and challenging ourselves in the realm of research and relating our research and teaching" are key principles to any education system. She thinks its better to focus on how education and learning can better a student, rather than how much they will make.

It's illegal to work in August...for Congress

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:39

We've all heard Congress is in recess more than it's actually in session, but there's more to the story.

It turns out Congress working during August is actually against the law.

Congress will recess for its summer break next Friday because the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 says it has to  according to the Washington Post.

In fact the House and Senate shall recess, "not later than July 31 of each year...to the second day after Labor Day."

Jeesh.

 

Inflation: A 'sweet spot' for consumer prices

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:39

The Labor Department released Tuesday its monthly measurement of inflation, called the Consumer Price Index. According to the report, prices inched up from May to June, but just barely. Overall, the CPI was up 0.3 percent last month. And if you take out volatile stuff like food and energy, as the Labor Department likes to do, prices rose just 0.1 percent.

Although inflation is still pretty modest right now, it doesn't always feel like it, says economist John Canally with the brokerage firm LPL Financial.

“Most of us drive past the gas station every day; most of us go to the grocery store and have to buy staples. On the stuff that we see every day, those prices tend to be rising at a faster rate than the rest of the price deck,” he says.

Meanwhile prices for stuff we don’t buy on a daily basis, such as a flat screen TV or a car, have actually fallen slightly in the last month. When you add all those trends up, inflation is sluggish. But so are workers’ wages. They're just barely keeping pace with inflation. Meaning, for the time being, businesses need to keep prices pretty low.

“It's really hard to get the price increases at the taco stand or at the burger joint or anywhere else to stick if people don't have enough money or enough wages to pay those price increases,” Cannally says.

With wages and prices at a sort of deadlock, the bogeyman of runaway inflation that we saw in the 1970s just is not a threat right now, says Mark Kuperberg, an economist at Swarthmore College.

“People need to chillax a bit about it - chill out and not worry so much,” he says.

While runaway inflation may not be a worry, we don't want to head toward deflation, either, warns Sarah Watt House, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities.

“We don’t want to see prices going down so low that nobody goes out and buys anything because they assume that prices will be cheaper tomorrow,” she says.

 We're trying to hang on to an economy where the prices aren’t too hot, aren’t not too cold, House says. “It’s the Goldilocks’ sweet spot.”

 

A 'sweet spot' for consumer prices

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:39

The Labor Department released Tuesday its monthly measurement of inflation, called the Consumer Price Index. According to the report, prices inched up from May to June, but just barely. Overall, the CPI was up 0.3 percent last month. And if you take out volatile stuff like food and energy, as the Labor Department likes to do, prices rose just 0.1 percent.

Although inflation is still pretty modest right now, it doesn't always feel like it, says economist John Canally with the brokerage firm LPL Financial.

“Most of us drive past the gas station every day; most of us go to the grocery store and have to buy staples. On the stuff that we see every day, those prices tend to be rising at a faster rate than the rest of the price deck,” he says.

Meanwhile prices for stuff we don’t buy on a daily basis, such as a flat screen TV or a car, have actually fallen slightly in the last month. When you add all those trends up, inflation is sluggish. But so are workers’ wages. They're just barely keeping pace with inflation. Meaning, for the time being, businesses need to keep prices pretty low.

“It's really hard to get the price increases at the taco stand or at the burger joint or anywhere else to stick if people don't have enough money or enough wages to pay those price increases,” Cannally says.

With wages and prices at a sort of deadlock, the bogeyman of runaway inflation that we saw in the 1970's just is not a threat right now, says Mark Kuperberg, an economist at Swarthmore College.

“People need to chillax a bit about it--chill out and not worry so much,” he says.

While runaway inflation may not be a worry, we don't want to head toward deflation, either, warns Sarah Watt House, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities.

“We don’t want to see prices going down so low that nobody goes out and buys anything because they assume that prices will be cheaper tomorrow,” she says.

 We're trying to hang on to an economy where the prices aren’t too hot, aren’t not too cold, House says. “It’s the Goldilocks’ sweet spot.”

 

What are companies doing with all that cash?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:39

It’s like an episode of  “Hoarders.” Corporate America can’t stop collecting cash. 

“I think most CFOs would not admit they’ve hoarded too much cash,” says John Graham, finance professor at Duke University.  

He estimates that  companies have about 50 percent more cash on their balance sheets than they did 10 or 15 years ago.

Is it time for an intervention?  

“They did just live through the financial crisis,” he says. “They think they're being prudent, you want to hold your cash, in case it becomes difficult to borrow down the road.” 

Non-financial companies — like Microsoft and Merck — had a total of $1.6 trillion in cash at the end of 2013, according to Moody’s.

“A lot of money is effectively just sitting there.” says Richard Lane, a senior vice president at Moody’s. “And, where it’s sitting increasingly is offshore.” 

It’s locked up overseas, mostly to avoid U.S. taxes.

“I don’t need Apple to save money. My local bank or credit union will handle it for me just fine,” says David Cay Johnston, a lecturer at Syracuse University’s College of Law. Corporate hoarding affects the economy. 

“What you’re not seeing them do with this cash is invest in new factories and research operations, which would create jobs and fundamentally grow the business,” Johnston says.

There are signs companies are loosening up a little. Apple just made its biggest-ever acquisition, spending $3 billion to acquire headphone maker Beats. 

And activists are increasingly pressuring companies to give more of their profits back to investors.  

In a recent survey of CFOs,  about half said their companies are going to invest in their businesses soon. But the other half? They’re not budging.

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