National News

Keystone XL vetoed, and the Eurozone kicks the can

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 07:14

The line of the day goes to President Obama, by way of the 'Marketplace Desk of News We Could have Told You Yesterday.

"I am hereby returning herewith, without my signature, S. 1, the 'Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.'"

Which is the long and presidential way of saying ... veto.

Also, this note from Brussels, Belgium. Eurozone finance ministers rubber-stamped Greek economic reforms that Athens promised to write down as a condition of the bailout extension they got last week. Which means we'll be doing the Greek debt crisis thing again come June.

Yep, the can kicked ... once again.

How the EPA made gas-mileage numbers accurate

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 07:09

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued new guidelines to car makers this week, clarifying how they should measure gas mileage. Auto-makers like Hyundai, Kia and Ford have gotten in trouble for over-stating fuel-economy claims, and many consumers assume that the miles-per-gallon numbers on a new-car sticker must be taken with a heavy grain of salt.

However, the big surprise about those numbers is this: For most cars, they’re pretty accurate.

David Greene, a professor at the University of Tennessee, was one of the architects of the website fueleconomy.gov, where consumers report their actual mileage. Now, he's looking at how close those thousands of reports are to the official mpg numbers.  

"They are pretty close— within a couple of percentage points— on average," he says. "But that’s kind of like saying the average family has 2.6 children. Nobody has 2.6 children."

As the saying goes, your mileage will vary, depending on how and where you drive. But the numbers reflect the average.

It wasn’t always this way, but in 2008 the E.P.A. changed testing procedures to reflect reality— including driving speeds of up to 80 miles per hour, air-conditioning systems running against 95-degree heat, and the like.

The result: the estimated mpg on most cars dropped by 10 to 20 percent.

Commuter Train Derails After Hitting Vehicle In Southern California

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 07:09

Emergency crews are working among several Metrolink train cars that were thrown onto their sides by a powerful collision near Oxnard, California.

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Head Of U.N. Climate Change Panel Resigns Amid Harassment Allegations

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 07:09

Rajendra K. Pachauri's departure from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a big embarrassment for the group, which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with former Vice President Al Gore.

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The housing market is still struggling

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 06:52

The price of an existing home grew 4.46 percent last year, according to the Case Shiller Home Price Index. Sales of existing homes, while not at pre-recession peaks, were up, but new home sales and construction were still weak. 

New home sales are a particularly key figure to focus on. While existing home sales are important, an existing home doesn’t help GDP the same way a brand new home does, and a lot of new homes aren’t being built — because people aren’t buying them.

“The housing recovery is faltering. While prices and sales of existing homes are close to normal, construction and new home sales remain weak. Before the current business cycle, any time housing starts were at their current level of about one million at annual rates, the economy was in a recession ... The softness in housing is despite favorable conditions elsewhere in the economy: strong job growth, a declining unemployment rate, continued low interest rates and positive consumer confidence,” says David Blitzer in a statement, manager of the S&P Dow Jones Index Committee, who oversees the Case Shiller Home Price Index.

Why does housing remain sluggish? Why does it still seem haunted by the recession while other economic indicators are improving?

1.“It’s exceedingly expensive and I don’t have the financial capability to do that”: Those are the words of Phil Litman, a random person on the street. Random, but also typical. “I mean if I had an unlimited source of financing, I’d rather buy, yes, but in my current situation right now, I’d rather rent.” It’s basically that, in the words of Mark Willis, executive director of NYU’s Furman Center, a lot of people just don’t have a lot of money. “There are parts of the market ... having to deal with relatively stagnant incomes,” he says. 
 
2. Millennials: Young people, the would be first-time homebuyers, face financial instability. Chris Mayer teaches Real Estate at Columbia Business School, and says there are signs of this in demographic data. “People are getting married later, and having kids later and settling down later.”
 
3. The rise of renting: Connected, perhaps, to prolonged financial instability for millennials, is the shift towards renting. “Renter construction rate still up and up pretty dramatically – 20% over the year,” says Susan Wachter, professor of real estate and finance at the Wharton School.
 
4. Credit, still tight: People are renting, not just because buying is expensive, but because borrowing is still hard. “The uneven recovery in construction is fundamentally reflective of tight credit conditions,” says Wachter. Interest rates may be low, but that doesn’t guarantee someone will qualify for a loan.    
 
5. Something else entirely: As much as we like to pin our dismal housing sector on the recession that just won’t die, the reality is there were changes in housing happening way before it. “Homeownership actually peaked in 2004, before the recession, in fact, before the clear boom in housing peaked,” says S&P Dow Jones’ David Blitzer. He says the recession may have just accelerated a larger trend that was happening anyway.

19 Stuck Manatees Rescued From Florida Storm Drain

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 06:37

The manatees swam into the warm waters of the drainpipe after a recent cold snap, but were unable to turn around to get out.

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The Courage And Ingenuity Of Freedom-Seeking Slaves In America

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 06:33

Did daring stories of fugitive slaves perhaps move the national political needle toward abolition?

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FIFA Panel Backs Winter World Cup In Qatar In 2022

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 06:08

Soccer's World Cup is typically played over the summer, but temperatures in Qatar during that season can exceed 110 degrees. But a winter tournament would coincide with the European club season.

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VA Secretary Apologizes For Making Special Forces Claim

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 05:54

The story drew attention late Monday, weeks after McDonald, an Army veteran and West Point graduate, made the claim during a conversation with a homeless veteran.

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Separatists In Ukraine Say They're Pulling Heavy Weapons Back

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 04:32

In a claim that's meeting with skepticism in Kiev, Russian-backed separatists say they've started to withdraw heavy weapons in eastern Ukraine, as required by a recent cease-fire.

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ISIS Reportedly Abducts Dozens Of Christians In Syria

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 03:53

The mass abduction took place in rural villages in a portion of Syria that's less than 150 miles west of Mosul, Iraq, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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Marijuana Is Now Legal In Alaska, The Third U.S. State To OK Pot

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 03:12

The new law means people over age 21 can consume small amounts of pot — if they can find it. It's still illegal to sell marijuana in Alaska.

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Supreme Court considers retirement plan lawsuits

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 03:00

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Tuesday about a case that centers on whether there should be a six-year time limit on being able to sue a company over its oversight of funds it offers in a retirement plan. The question has pitted the AARP, the U.S. Solicitor General and others against groups representing employers and the financial industry.

"The people who run these plans have a legitimate interest in saying: look you can't sue us for 20 years of damage," says Norman Stein, a professor at Drexel University who is an expert on laws surrounding employee benefits and pensions.

But employers are arguing that that six-year limit should apply not to damages, but to when a fund was introduced into a company's retirement plan. That would limit the number of funds subject to lawsuits.

PODCAST: A state of the art tunnel

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 03:00

Market players are focused on key testimony about interest rates and jobs that starts this morning. More on that. Plus, Comcast stock is up a bit after the cable and media content company reported fourth quarter profits up from a year earlier. This a few weeks before federal regulators are scheduled to decide whether to allow a merger with Time Warner Cable. And underground water and drain pipes in America are often state of the art ... if we were living in 1915. Money to replace and upgrade has been in short supply. But in the nation's capital, the utilities are embarking on a $2.6 billion dollar remedy in the form of a tunnel.

Under D.C., a new tunnel almost no one will see

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 02:05

Reporter's Notebook:

My water tunnel tour starts at 7 a.m. Come early, the media relations person for the utility DC Water tells me, it's a 35-minute train ride to the tunnel face. The tunnel boring machine has already chewed through more than three miles of earth, in what will eventually be a colossal, 13-mile network under the District of Columbia.

The visit begins like an oil rig tour: Safety talk. Helmet. Earplugs. Safety glasses. Boots. "Tuck in your pants," DC Water construction director Chris Varellan says. It can be messy down there.

Scott Tong in center. Chris Varellan to right (construction director, DC Water). Ray Hashimee, assistant resident engineer, EPC Consulting to the left.

Andy Le, DC Water

It turns out the tunnel-making machine, a German-made industrial digger, has a name: Ladybird. These machines are commissioned like ships, I'm told. Each machine has a name, always female. In this case, the namesake is a former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, who campaigned for cleaner rivers in the 1960's and reportedly pressured her husband, Lyndon B. Johnson, to declare D.C.'s putrid Potomac River a "national disgrace."

Follow Ladybird's progress here:

<br />

Why construct a mega-tunnel no one will ever see? The point is to catch rainwater from big storms, and give the water somewhere to go. Right now, when a big storm hits, the water drains into the sewer pipe system. That's how it was designed. The sewer and storm water systems are one.

DC Water CEO George Hawkins picks up the story there:

 

David Kidd

"All of that storm water rushes into the storm drain and goes into the pipe. And almost no matter how big it is, they fill ... the choice by design was an overflow to rivers,” says Hawkins.

Here's George Hawkins talking about the DC Clean River Project:

You mean, right now raw sewage goes straight into the rivers, I ask? Hawkins nods. Eww. The completed tunnel give the sewer/rainwater cocktail a different place to go, a place to be stored and treated rather than dumped straight into rivers.

The elevator buzzes. Down we go, 16 floors to the tunnel. By now, the staggering dimensions come into focus. This is no crawl-through-it tunnel. Twenty-three feet in diameter, it's roughly the size of a Metro train tunnel. That allows for enough water in the biggest of storms, over the next 100 years. This is an infrastructure project to last generations. "The Roman aqueduct," Hawkins declares.

The train comes to pick us up, and off we go in the dark. Twenty minutes in, I'm told we're 80 feet below the bottom of the Potomac River. I exhale slowly. It's actually quite warm inside, maybe 55 degrees compared with 30 on the outside. It's somewhat lighted, and I'm told in an emergency there are rudimentary facilities available. The only thing missing, really, is a cellular signal. Fifteen minutes later, we reach Ladybird, boring away. Here is what she looks like, in a model.

Scott Tong

At the tunnel face, our party exits and walks a few steps along the tunnel wall. Verellan points out each white-colored tunnel section as we pass. Ladybird digs in six-foot increments. Then each section is immediately reinforced by a concrete, cylindrical retaining wall to keep it in place. On today's newest, cleanest section, a construction worker spray paints @marketplace public radio on the wall to mark the occasion.

The Marketplace twitter handle on the wall of the D.C. tunnel.

Scott Tong

It's a shrewd PR move. Later in the day, I email a picture of the spray-painted panel to my Sustainability Desk colleagues, suggesting we have a permanent spot in D.C. infrastructure lore. I don't realize until the next morning that this "I was here" moment will likely wash away when the first storm hits the tunnel.

Our group approaches the backside of Ladybird, the only part I can see. The boring machine is longer than a football field; regular folks like reporters can't enter (her cockpit is pressurized). At this point, a half-dozen workers install the newest concrete ring to the tunnel. Work will go on like this, every day, until the project's anticipated finish date of 2018. That's when this tunnel will open for storm/sewer water business.

What will become of D.C.'s rivers, the Potomac and Anacostia? The aspiration is for them to be clean enough to be "swimmable and fishable," Hawkins says. This is not his goal, but rather a mandated requirement of the EPA under the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Swimmable? Fishable? My wife's cousin rows regularly on the Anacostia and has told us of televisions floating by. One article mentioned a cow's head. If you've lived here long enough, chances are you've heard the joke about the Anacostia: it's so dirty you can walk across and leave footprints. Then there's LBJ's description of the Potomac as disgraceful. We'll see.

Nationwide, though, a slow process is underway of cleaning up urban waterways. This is more than an environmental thing. A downtown river is now viewed by development types as a high-end economic hub, a place for high-rises, ballparks and walking trails.

"Think about where we were in the late 60s, where we literally had rivers on fire in Cleveland," says Matt Ries, chief technical officer of the nonprofit Water Environment Federation. Now "we could talk about Chicago that used to have along the Chicago River all kinds of warehouses that are all being converted into high price condos. You have San Antonio with its river walk. You look at the inner harbor of Baltimore. People want to be by the water. There's something inherent in our DNA that attracts us to water. Why do people go to the beach every summer?"

Matt Ries, chief technical officer, Water Environment Federation.

Scott Tong

"Think about where we were in the late 60s, where we literally had rivers on fire in Cleveland,” says Matt Ries, chief technical officer, Water Environment Federation.

Here's Matt Ries talking about rivers as an economic resource for cities:

This tunnel project is ambitious, impressive, and expensive. The projected pricetag is $2.6 billion. Some of the funding comes from a rare 100-year bond issuance. Some will come from ratepayers, who have already seen monthly rates doubled to more than $80 a month in the last six years.

To the angry ratepayers, Hawkins offers this defense: you can spend the public's money on storm water emergencies after the fact. Or you can get ahead and fund preventive efforts like this one. "Either way," Hawkins says, "you pay."

 

#NPRreads: If You've Got 2016 Winners Penciled In, Think Again

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-24 02:03

Political scientists say it won't be all the political tussling that will predict a new president in 2016. Instead, look at the economy.

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Zen and the art of coding

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 02:00

Shawnee is 14. She didn't know anything about coding before she was sent to Wyoming Girls’ School in Sheridan, roughly five months ago. 

Then, she took her first coding class. When it was over, she started another class — online — in her free time. The school is a secure juvenile justice facility, working to bring better technology into its classrooms.

Here’s her account of how she became a coding convert:

I didn't particularly like computers. I didn't like technology. I was just that teenager who texted all the time and who was talking on the phone all the time. I didn't really bother to find out how things work.

So when I first started coding, I thought “This is weird,” because I don’t usually like this stuff. Then our class did Hour of Code, [a one-hour introduction to computer science, teaching anyone who wants to participate the basics]. And I knew I needed to know more about it. I asked my teacher to give me some paper. I was takin' notes.

My grandma always told me that if you’re doing something you love, you’re at peace with yourself. And when I think about coding, and do coding, I’m at peace with myself.

Sometimes I get really stressed out, with all the things that are going on in my life. And when I code I realize it helps me think about that, and not about the things I can’t change. It also reminds me that there are things I can change, and that even when it’s hard to overcome obstacles, you can.

After her first coding class at Wyoming Girls' School, Shawnee discovered her hidden passion for the work.

Photo by Justin Sheely

People have asked me what you want to do when you grow up, and I used to say, “I don’t know, get rich quick somehow, I guess.” And now, with coding, I feel like I can have a steady job and a job that I have a passion for. And people always ask me, “What about retirement, and what if you turn 60 and want to retire and live out in the field somewhere and have a family and stuff?” and I always tell them, that when you’re doing something you have a passion for, it’s not going to matter whether it includes retirement or not, because you’re gonna want to do it forever.

To hear more of Shawnee's story, click the audio player above.

Click here to share your thoughts on this story.
Email us at learningcurve@marketplace.org or send us a tweet @LearningCurveEd

Zen and the art of coding

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 02:00

Shawnee is 14. She didn't know anything about coding before she was sent to Wyoming Girls’ School in Sheridan, Wy., roughly five months ago.

Then, she took her first coding class. When it was over, she started another class — online — in her free time.

Here’s her account of how she became a coding convert:

I didn't particularly like computers. I didn't like technology. I was just that teenager who texted all the time and who was talking on the phone all the time. I didn't really bother to find out how things work. So when I first started coding, I thought “This is weird,” because I don’t usually like this stuff. Then our class did Hour of Code, [a one-hour introduction to computer science, teaching anyone who wants to participate the basics]. And I knew I needed to know more about it. I asked my teacher to give me some paper. I was takin' notes.

My grandma always told me that if you’re doing something you love, you’re at peace with yourself. And when I think about coding, and do coding, I’m at peace with myself.

Sometimes I get really stressed out, with all the things that are going on in my life. And when I code I realize it helps me think about that, and not about the things I can’t change. It also reminds me that there are things I can change, and that even when it’s hard to overcome obstacles, you can.

After her first coding class at Wyoming Girls' School, Shawnee discovered her hidden passion for the work.

Photo by Justin Sheely

People have asked me what you want to do when you grow up, and I used to say, “I don’t know, get rich quick somehow, I guess.” And now, with coding, I feel like I can have a steady job and a job that I have a passion for. And people always ask me, “What about retirement, and what if you turn 60 and want to retire and live out in the field somewhere and have a family and stuff?” and I always tell them, that when you’re doing something you have a passion for, it’s not going to matter whether it includes retirement or not, because you’re gonna want to do it forever.

To hear more of Shawnee's story, click the audio player above.

Click here to share your thoughts on this story.
Email us at learningcurve@marketplace.org or send us a tweet @LearningCurveEd

Unlocking the digital classroom for kids in lock up

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 02:00

Technology has become an integral part of education. Students are increasingly learning with help from laptops, iPads and other digital technology. Schools are embracing blended classrooms, which mix traditional and online learning.

But technology presents unique hurdles for the juvenile justice system, which has been reluctant to introduce computers and the internet into secure facilities.

Since 2013, San Diego County has been confronting the challenges of introducing laptops — and digital learning — into its juvenile justice facilities.

On Tuesday, Feb. 24, Marketplace takes a look at the surprising results. Check back then for the full story.

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The Comcast merger with Time Warner isn't a sure thing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-24 02:00

Last February, when Comcast announced it was buying Time Warner Cable, federal approval of the merger didn't seem like a major hurdle. The two biggest cable companies said their merger wouldn’t reduce competition — and wouldn’t result in higher rates —  because geographically, they served different markets.

However, as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to rule on the merger in late March, investors seem to think the deal may fall through. Time Warner's stock has been trading at prices below the amount Comcast has offered to pay.

"There’s a lot changing in how people consume media," says Amy Yong, an analyst with Macquarie Group. "And that’s why it’s become a lot more contentious than a lot of people originally anticipated."

She means cord-cutting — getting video on the Internet instead of over cable TV — has started to look more like a reality. For instance, HBO announced last fall that it would soon offer a stand-alone online service, no cable package required.

That prospect raises new questions about Comcast and Time-Warner, companies that sell both cable TV and broadband services. As broadband providers, might they choke out cord-cutting services to protect their TV business?

The FCC has started looking at new regulations to prevent just that, including a proposal to regulate broadband services as a utility.

"The actions that we've seen may suggest a mindset that is more concerned about competition in broadband, and simply less hospitable to further mergers in this sector," says Kevin Werbach, a Wharton School professor and former counsel to the FCC.

The FCC's concern might spell trouble for the Comcast merger. 

However, Jeff Wlodarczak, CEO of Pivotal Research Group, thinks Comcast's interests in selling broadband services, and the FCC's interests in protecting video services like Netflix or the new HBO service, line up just fine.

"Cable has no real interest right now in doing anything that makes Netflix less attractive," says Wlodaczak. "Netflix consumes massive amounts of bandwidth." And as a broadband provider, Comcast wants to sell more bandwidth, not less.

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