For all the income and wealth inequality we have in this country, it's nothing compared to the England of a century or more ago.
In her book, Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain, Lucy Lethbridge says the only thing that seperated the poor from the very poor was whether a house had a servant.
"In the biggest estates you learnt your trade as a servant by serving the other servants," she says.
Tips not included, a domestic servant could earn a livable wadge, sometimes even more.
"Upper servants could earn very well," says Lethbridge. "A butler could earn as much as, say, a provincial bank manager."
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., says it's a key moment for the international community to "change the calculus" in the Central Africa Republic and prevent further atrocities. The U.S. has authorized up to $100 million to support African Union forces and other material aid.
What books that touch on topics of race would you recommend to a not-so-bookish teen? A reader asks us to share our suggestions.
President Obama is staying home from next year's Winter Games, sending openly gay athletes instead to scold Russia for its anti-gay policies. This isn't the first time politics has intruded on the Olympics. Although the games are intended to be an apolitical athletic gathering, they have frequently provided a platform for protest.
The secretary of state told a top official in New Delhi that a row over the strip-search of a U.S.-based Indian female diplomat should not come between the two countries.
People now have until January 10 to pay for their first month of coverage through the health exchanges. But people using the federal exchange still have to get signed up by Dec. 23. Some states have pushed deadlines even later.
If you're riding the rollercoaster that is Bitcoin, you may be getting used to the pain of tearing your hair out over it's plummets and surges. And over the past few weeks those ebs and flows have been strongly tied to China. The Chinese government just announced that Chinese Bitcoin exchanges are now banned from using the Yuan. Our own Ben Johnson over at the Marketplace Tech Report has been running a whole series on Bitcoin this week. He says despite its rocky start, Bitcoin just may be the future of commerce as we know it.
"This could be a way we all transfer money and spend money both online and in the real world in the future. I talked to a doctor who takes patients who pay him in Bitcoin. People are using Bitcoin at the farmers market on their cell phones. There's actually a Silicon Valley start-up called CoinBase that's trying to become the PayPal of Bitcoin. So, I think there is a lot of potential here, but the question is will it be regulated? Will it be more stabalized by governments and banks? And in some ways we're going to lose some of the things people love about it if that happens, which is no service charges, no taxes, difficutlt to trace, things like that."
To learn more about Bitcoin and its future, listen to the whole interview and check out the Marketplace Tech Bitcoin series.
This final note today: another item from the agenda of the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC voted this week to review the dreaded blackout rule -- most commonly observed in the National Football League.
It's when a home game doesn't sell and so is 'blacked out' on local television.
There is a catch, of course. Cable and satellite broadcasters would be allowed to broadcast games.
But the NFL could still impose a blackout if it was in the contract with the network.
But at least we're not gonna have cell phones on planes is all I have to say. The CEO of Delta announced today they're just not gonna allow it.
There's been a big development in the worlds of sports and entertainment. The Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor is buying the sports marketing firm IMG Worldwide, which represents star athletes and even fashion models.
Once upon a time, William Morris Endeavor made good, steady money representing mega-stars. But that pot of money is shrinking, according to Ben Sturner, CEO and founder of the Leverage Agency.
"It’s diversify or die for William Morris," he says.
While Hollywood stars’ paychecks are shrinking, Sturner says, top athletes still command top dollar. So now, if one of IMG’s sports stars wants to become a movie star -- it’ll be one stop shopping. Plus, Sturner adds, “There’s a book publishing division of William Morris Endeavor, and that helps as well.”
So, William Morris Endeavor could produce a coffee table book for, say, Peyton Manning. Paul Swangard, who teaches sports marketing at the University of Oregon, says he sees more synergies.
"And maybe it’s entertainment events that now add a sports or fashion component, or a sport event that adds entertainment," he says.
And we’re likely to see more sports-entertainment mergers, according to Jack Myers, chairman of Myers Biz net.
"Companies coming together because there’s so much new competition bubbling up from Silicon Valley and elsewhere," he says.
According to Myers, the big, established Hollywood names realize they have to change, or be shouldered off center stage by the likes of Amazon and Netflix.
It’s called a “driveway moment.” You’ve arrived home, but you’re so engrossed in a radio story – usually on public radio – that you can’t leave your car until it ends.
I had such a moment today in my office parking lot, compliments of an unlikely storyteller: Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. His swan song news conference featured him at his human best: Clearly explaining the arcana of monetary policy, showing empathy for Americans whose lives are recovering even slower than the economy itself, and deftly marketing one of the Fed’s most anticipated decisions since the end of the financial crisis.
The Fed had just announced it would begin curtailing its bond-buying, a form of economic stimulus that has kept interest rates low and stock prices high. Investors had fretted about this day for months. But as Bernanke spoke, markets soared. This time, investors got his message: Look beyond the tapering of bond purchases, the Fed will keep short-term interest rates near zero until “well after” the unemployment rate drops to 6.5 percent. That level is a threshold, he said, not an automatic trigger. The stimulus lives on.
But it wasn’t the economic prescription or the soaring stock prices that made Bernanke, shall we say, good radio. It was his authority, clarity and wit. He graciously countered reporters’ suggestions that the Fed had failed or was abandoning its aggressive policies to prod the economy. When a network television reporter asked him why he wasn’t considering injecting “more direct” stimulus, Bernanke called her bluff. What sort of stimulus did she have in mind, he asked. The reporter offered a meek reply, and Bernanke proceeded to give a primer on what the Fed can and can’t do.
He flashed his diplomatic wit when asked what advice he has given his presumed successor, Janet Yellen, about how to deal with Congress. Some Fed skeptics on the Hill are threatening to “audit” the central bank and try to clip its powerful wings. Very good question, he said after a pause. Without the benefit of TV, I pictured Bernanke suppressing a smile. Then he said he reminded Yellen that “Congress is our boss.” Another smile suppressed, perhaps.
Quarterly news conferences were among Bernanke’s innovations at the Fed. He certainly had small shoes to fill in terms of communications skills. When Alan Greenspan spoke, the average American cringed. Bernanke had his missteps too, but his avuncular demeanor, professor’s precision and self-deprecating wit during a period of crisis have set a high bar for Yellen.
And a new standard for a driveway moment -- provided by the fusty Fed.
China burns 3.5 billion tons of coal a year, as much as the rest of the world combined. Here in the mountains of Shanxi Province is where much of it comes from. Red coal trucks the size of armored vehicles rumble through the toxic sulfur smog blanketing China’s coal country. Coal continues to move out of Shanxi to China’s rapidly growing coast at a steady pace, but the industry is in flux.
Coal prices are at historic lows, pollution from burning coal at historic highs. State-owned coal companies are spending more cleaning up their mines, making them safer, and there’s little money left for miners.
“We make a fraction of the salary we made a couple of years ago, and that’s if we get it at all," complains coal miner Ma Huiming.
Ma says his company, Yangmei Group, owes him and others here in the mining town of Majiapo three months of unpaid wages. His neighbor, Ma Yingfei, says there’s another reason behind the hard times in China’s coal country.
“So many power plants on China’s coast are now importing coal from foreign countries instead of buying our coal,” he mutters.
Ma Huiming works at a coal mine near his village of Majiapo in Shanxi province. He says his employer, Yangmei Group, owes workers three months of unpaid wages. Credit: Rob Schmitz/Marketplace
The reason boils down to simple economics.
“Because we lack the infrastructure here, moving coal from China’s mountains to its coast by rail or by truck is actually more expensive than shipping coal from foreign countries," says Hu Xiaoyong, who works on mergers and acquisitions for government-owned coal companies in Shanxi’s capital city of Taiyuan. "That’s why China’s big coastal cities are abandoning Shanxi coal.”
Coal imports to China are up 20 percent over last year. Most of that coal arrives on ships from Australia and Indonesia. And perhaps someday, from the U.S. Proposed terminals in the Pacific Northwest could export more than 100 million tons of coal a year to China.
“China consumes 3 billion tons of coal a year, and so if you’re looking at a port of a little over a hundred million tons, you’re talking about less than a percent. It would be a really small change to the coal mix," says Susannah Kroeber, an energy analyst at J-capital in Beijing.
She says 100 million tons of American coal a year would be a drop in the bucket for China. Kroeber thinks China would buy it, ironically, for environmental reasons. Coal from Montana’s Powder River Basin, which would be burned at power plants, produces less sulfur emissions than much of China’s domestic coal. Though China’s investing billions in renewable energy, Kroeber says the sheer number of Chinese entering the middle class and using more electricity than ever means coal is going to stick around for a while.
“China’s going to burn coal," Kroeber says. "They don’t really have an option. So if your options are replacing worse coal with better coal, then that’s probably a good tradeoff.”
But for the environment, it’s not an ideal tradeoff. Wang Tao, a climate expert at the Carnegie-Tsinghua center for Global Policy, says coal consumption in China will continue to grow. The China National Coal Association predicts the country will burn 4.8 billion tons of coal by 2020, a more than 70 percent increase from what China burns today. That will make China an attractive market for U.S. and Australian imports, both of which are low-sulfur.
But it could prevent China from fully developing its potential for renewables.
“There could be the scenario that the coal price from the U.S. is so cheap that it makes coal-fired power plants more competitive and squeeze out space for renewables or hydropower, so this is a side effect that we have to consider," says Wang.
A coal truck drives by the stream that runs through the mining town of Majiapo, in Shanxi province. The waterway, polluted by chemicals from Yangmei Group's coal mine upriver, is the main source of drinking water for the village. Credit: Rob Schmitz/Marketplace
In that scenario, China, currently hooked on low quality coal, becomes addicted to cleaner-burning coal and then shuts out cleaner energy solutions.
Whether it’s imported coal or renewable energy, villagers in Majiapu hope something replaces the dirty coal being mined from their mountains. Ma Huiming looks in disgust at the stream running by his home that provides the village with its drinking water.
It’s turned bright orange.
“The mining company discharges all its wastewater into this stream and now look at it -- it’s all poisoned," screams Ma. "The dust from the mine has turned the cabbage in the fields pitch black. Who pays for the cost of all this pollution? We do!”
Ma says the way things are now, he’d be happy to lose his salary at the coal mine and make less as a farmer if it meant his children could drink clean water and breathe clean air. But beyond the mountains of Shanxi, the world’s largest metropolises continue to grow - and so does their hunger for coal.
The ruling is welcome news for those like Joe Darger, who live in polygamous relationships. But others question the court's interpretation and worry about young girls they say are vulnerable to coercion into polygamous marriages.
Along with submissions for our Weekly Innovation post, we've also received ideas for things that haven't been created yet, things that NPR readers want to see become a reality (like reversible tattoos or steering wheel fans). As we look ahead to 2014, here are our favorite ideas of the past year.
Since he took office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has closed and consolidated schools, created hundreds of new ones and championed the use of data to measure performance. Washington Irving High School, scheduled to close in 2015, offers a window on the changes he's brought to the city's vast school system.
Rudy Kurniawan, once considered one of the world's most formidable wine collectors, was convicted Wednesday of making cheap wine blends in his house and then passing them off as some of the rarest wines in the world, for thousands of dollars each, at auction.
There goes Senator Elizabeth Warren again, working to corral bad business practice with her lasso of truth. The founder of what became the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau continues with her “Justice League” ways by introducing yesterday a bill called the Equal Employment for All Act which would prevent employers from requiring job applicants to inform them of their credit history or to disqualify job hunters based on their credit rating.
Using credit history as a tool for gauging the potential risk of hiring someone was a practice once reserved mostly for fields where security and money-management are day-to-day tasks: Accounting for example, or human resources. But now, nearly 50 percent of all employers use credit history as part of your application process. To use your credit history as a character reference may seem useful, but it's only a useful trust-reference if your credit history is bad because you're irresponsible with debt. Trouble is, that's not usually the case these days. As Senator Warren says:
“People shouldn't be denied the chance to compete for jobs because of credit reports that bear no relationship to job performance and that, according to recent reports, are often riddled with inaccuracies."
Millions of Americans, particularly the long-term unemployed, have found themselves with bad credit history and resulting credit scores due to just what they’re trying to rectify by applying for a job: A lack of income.Others fell behind because of medical debt. As we all know, getting sick in this country can put a major kink in your financial life.
But the other, possibly bigger reason, as Warren mentions, as to why using credit histories in this way is bunk has to do with accuracy and oversight. The credit reporting agencies -- Experian, Transunion and Equifax -- are businesses. Big businesses. It’s in their best interest for our credit to be used to determine nearly everything in life. Credit reporting agencies are very much like the pharmaceutical business, where there’s a lot of “You need this.”
If the agencies were fantastically accurate and quick to correct errors on your credit reports, I’d have a lot more faith as to how reliable our credit histories can be. But there are too many mistakes and omissions in our credit reports, not only within our overall histories but between agencies.
Think it only happens to other people? When’s the last time you looked at your FICO scores? (The credit scores that are in the widest use.) These scores are built off of your credit reports. So if these agencies are each accurate with tracking your credit, using supposedly the same parameters of fact-finding, why do most of us have three, sometimes three very different, scores? My own scores vary between 25-30 points. And I have great credit.
Life happens. People get sick. They lose jobs. They’re not running around Bergdorf’s swiping credit cards for bags or ties. And that job they’re applying for may be just what’s needed to get their credit back in shape. Hardship should not be a reason to be denied a job.
Keep on swingin’, Ms. Warren.
The Victorian proverb touting the health benefits of daily apple consumption has data to support it, British researchers say. And cholesterol-lowering statin drugs do, too. People who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and take statins when directed would be healthier still.
The Federal Reserve will trim its bond-buying program, reducing its purchases by $10 billion per month.
Chinese state media have said the Dec. 5 incident involved the country's first aircraft carrier, but Defense Ministry officials did not name the warship.
After making its debut in the Western Hemisphere recently, the nasty, mosquito-borne illness has now sickened 10 people on St. Martin. Mosquitoes on the island appear to be spreading the virus, which causes a high fever and severe joint pain.