National News

Need A Retirement Starter Kit? This Might Help

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 13:56

Workers can't lose money in myRAs, the savings accounts President Obama unveiled in his State of the Union speech. The government would protect the principal and help savings grow a bit faster than inflation.

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Why the dollar dominates global currency

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 13:51

What the Fed does on interest rates matters not just to Americans, but the entire global economy -- and that's because the dollar continues to tighten its grip as the world's reserve currency.Foreign investors holding trillions in securities and dollar assets have an incentive to the keep the currency afloat — even when the value of the dollar declines.

It's what Cornell economics professor Eswar Prasad calls the "Dollar Trap."

"The financial crisis had its origins in the U.S., the federal reserve has been pumping huge amounts of dollars into the global financial system, which ought to cheapen its value." Prasad says. "[But] In times of turmoil, the world wants safety, and the U.S. is still seen as the safest place to invest."

So what happens if the world loses faith in the dollar?

Prasad examined several tipping-point scenarios. He found this could result in turmoil for the U.S. financial market, and in turn, spread to the rest of the world.

"The dollar's value is stronger than it ought to be. That means fewer jobs, less exports, so it's not all together a good thing for the U.S.," he says.

A Medal Of Valor, 30 Years In Coming

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 13:30

Three decades after U.S. troops helped protect a Soviet defector during a firefight with North Korean troops, Mark Deville finally received his Silver Star. His comrades were awarded their medals years ago.

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A Palestinian Explains Why He Worked As An Israeli Informant

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 13:27

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict includes a shadow war in which Israel turns to Palestinian informants to gather intelligence. Palestinian Abed Hamed el-Rajoub was imprisoned for fighting against Israel, but while in jail, he secretly gathered information from fellow Palestinian prisoners.

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Adult Obesity May Have Origins Way Back In Kindergarten

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 13:00

Overweight kindergartners are much more likely to be obese by eighth grade compared to their normal-weight peers, a study finds. The solution may be for women to avoid gaining too much weight during pregnancy, researchers say, as well as helping kids get exercise and eat healthy foods.

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Meet The myRA — Obama's New Retirement Plan

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 13:00

On Wednesday, President Obama directed the Treasury Department to create a new retirement plan called "myRA." The decision, a circumvention of Congress, follows through on one of the promises made by the president in his State of the Union. As Yuki Noguchi reports, the success of the plan may depend on its ability to move beyond the limitations of existing retirement plans.

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Welcome To Homs, A Syrian City Under Siege

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 13:00

Among the many issues in contention at the Syrian peace talks is the possibility of humanitarian relief for cities and villages under siege. No place is in greater need of assistance than the city of Homs in western Syria. One of the first regions to rise up against President Bashar al-Assad, Homs is now the site of an ongoing humanitarian aid crisis. Approximately two to three thousand people find themselves trapped in a disputed district and in increasingly desperate circumstances.

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Atlanta Officials May Have To Dodge Some Snowballs

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 13:00

Snow and ice continue to plague parts of the Deep South, including Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala. As Rose Scott reports from Atlanta, city and state officials were surprised by the strength of the storm, and many people found themselves stuck on interstates highways.

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A Fond Farewell To Fed Chairman Ben

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 13:00

Federal Reserve policymakers are wrapping up a two-day meeting as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke prepares to step down later this week. Investors expect the Fed to stick with its plan to "taper" bond purchases and keep short-term interest rates where they are.

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The State Of The Union Goes On Tour

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 13:00

A day after delivering his State of the Union, President Obama is beginning a four-city road trip. He plans to use the trip to push the priorities he emphasized during his address, with a focus on a raise to the federal minimum wage.

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Oil Rush A Cash Cow For Some Farmers, But Tensions Crop Up

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 13:00

North Dakota's oil sector is booming, but agriculture remains the state's largest industry. And while many farmers and ranchers are profiting from the oil beneath the prairie, others complain that drilling is interfering with their business — and changing rural life as they know it.

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Weather Experts: It's 'Wrong' To Call Atlanta Storm Unexpected

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 12:48

Meteorologists are used to people faulting their weather predictions. But when Georgia's Gov. Nathan Deal called Tuesday's crippling winter storm "unexpected," he drew responses from several forecasters. One answer came from the head of the American Meteorological Society, who lives in the state.

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Neanderthal Genes Live On In Our Hair And Skin

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 12:44

Scientists know that a small percentage of humans' genes came from Neanderthals. But they were surprised to find that one-fifth of Neanderthal genes are in modern humans living today. That includes genes associated with diseases including Type 2 diabetes, Crohn's disease and lupus.

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Neanderthal Genes Live On In Our Hair And Skin

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 12:44

Scientists know that a small percentage of humans' genes came from Neanderthals. But they were surprised to find that one fifth of Neanderthal genes are in modern humans living today. That includes genes associated with diseases including Type 2 diabetes, Crohn's disease and lupus.

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myRA retirement plans, explained

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 12:37

President Obama unveiled the new "MyRA" plans in his State of the Union speech last night. He stumbled a bit over the name, and there's still some confusion about what they'll be called -- some of the folks we talked to are pronouncing it "Myra," like the name. But the idea behind the accounts is simple, according to Karen Friedman, executive vice president and policy director of the Pension Rights Center. 

"It’s a starter plan," she says. "It at least enables people to save in a secure, government-backed account."

The new accounts are aimed at low-income workers, who have few retirement saving options.

"Roughly half of the workforce right now doesn’t have a pension plan at work," says David Certner, legislative counsel with AARP. "Which is where most people prefer to save -- by having these monies deducted automatically from a paycheck."

And that’s how the new accounts would work. Employers and their workers have to volunteer to participate in the plan. But once they do, money will be deducted automatically, and invested in safe, government bonds. The initial investment could be as little as $25.

"The little amounts are what end up being the big amounts later on," says Stuart Ritter, a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price. "So we shouldn’t be poo-pooing the smallness of getting people started."

In fact, the Obama administration already has plans for when the accounts get big. Once they hit $15,000, they have to be transferred into a private-sector IRA. 

Scientist To W.Va. Lawmakers: 'I'm Not Drinking The Water'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 12:29

An environmental scientist from Marshall University said water samples taken from a downtown Charleston restaurant had traces of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. "It's frightening, it really is frightening," he said.

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On A Roman Street, Graffiti Celebrates 'SuperPope'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 12:21

What can't Pope Francis do? First he's Time's "Person of the Year," then he's a Rolling Stone cover story. Now, graffiti art in Rome is depicting the pontiff as a comic-book caped crusader. Even the Vatican approves.

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A Boarding Pass Design That's So Much Better Than What We Have

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 12:16

You're in a hurry and just want to make your connection. Unfortunately, your boarding pass doesn't make it easy to quickly see the information you need. A British designer has an answer.

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Can two TV stations share the same airwaves?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 12:11

There's a bit of a technical issue in this country: The amount of data being gobbled up by smartphones is increasing ad jnfinitum, but the digital plumbing has limits. Only so many tweets and YouTube videos can flow through it.

The FCC has proposed a solution, one that takes its inspiration from a pre-school lesson: Sharing is Caring. The FCC wants TV stations to share the spectrum with one another other, essentially doubling up on a single channel. And the very first experiment of this digital sharing idea is about to begin.

The two stations taking part in this experiment are KLCS, a PBS station, and KJLA, a commercial Spanish language station, both in Los Angeles. "We decided we would rather be informed than not informed," says Alan Popkin, director of TV engineering at KLCS.

In describing this experiment he uses this analogy, "You don't jump out of an airplane and then invent the parachute on the way down."

The experiment will begin off-air, then move to non-peak hours, and eventually, the entire schedule of both stations will be transmitted from one channel. The results will show whether two channels can be packed into one without compromising the quality of the broadcast, and will look at out how TV's will know which channel to display, when faced with two programs on the same part of the spectrum.

If channel sharing works, it could save stations a lot of money because two stations could share the cost of transmission.

"There would be one tower and one transmitter and that would cut down a lot on the cost of operation," says Lonna Thompson, chief operating officer* and executive vice president of the Association of Public Television Stations. In addition, she says, each station would be able to sell its unused bandwidth to the FCC in an Incentive Auction next year.

"The incentives auction is an effort that the FCC is leading to create incentives to use spectrum as efficiently as possible and to free spectrum for mobile broadband services," says Scott Bergmann, vice president of regulatory affairs with CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group.

Companies like T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint are currently arguing over how much of the spectrum each company should get. Bergmann says mobile carriers could use their share to improve services for customers by providing greater capacity, faster speeds, and less congestion.

"The channel sharing pilot is an effort to make the incentive auction successful," Bergmann says.

The auction is scheduled for mid-2015 and is expected to generate $25 billion.

*CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, we misidentified Lonna Thompson’s position at the Association of Public Television Stations. She is the chief operating officer. The text has been corrected.

A Milk Mystery: Did Gloomy Weather Make Us Love The Stuff?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 11:14

The latest twist in this evolutionary whodunnit has us questioning whether the lack of vitamin D from the sun played any role in our complicated, sometimes dangerous, love affair with milk. New DNA analysis of ancient farmers from sunny Spain suggests that this theory may have gone sour.

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