National News

DONG brings Danish government to the bring of collapse

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-01-30 05:35

Things aren't looking so great for Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Socialists have quit her three-party coalition government, and Danes are protesting a bid by Goldman Sachs to take over state-owned utility, DONG Energy. The parliament approved the deal approved by this morning. The BBC's Marie Keyworth has the latest on the story from Copenhagen. Click the audio player above to listen.

A different way to pay for college

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-01-30 05:19

The president didn’t say much about college affordability in his state of the union address this week, unlike in previous years, but some members of Congress are pushing the issue. U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) introduced a bill Wednesday that would waive tuition at public universities. Instead, students would pay a percentage of their incomes after graduation.

The concept is known as “pay it forward,” because ultimately the money graduates pay into the system would help fund college for those who come after them. Too many students are daunted by high tuition and expensive loans, says Bonamici. The average debt load for the class of 2012 was more than $29,000.

“We’re hoping that this actually encourages more students to enroll and complete college, knowing that they’ll be able to finish and pay back a percentage of their income,” Bonamici says.

Like a version already introduced in the Senate, the House bill is modeled after a pilot program in Oregon. Similar plans have been floated in states like New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington.

Critics say forking over a chunk of their paychecks for 20 or 25 years could actually cost students more over their lifetimes.

“Changing what you call the financial obligation doesn’t mean that it’s not a financial obligation,” says Lauren Asher with the Institute for College Access and Success.

The idea is to test out a new way of paying for college, says Bonamici. If it passes the bill would provide federal funding for states that want to try it.

Banks look to exit commodities

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-01-30 05:13

JPMorgan is rumored to be selling its commodity business. The deal could be worth around $2 billion for the bank.

Commodities have been profitable for banks in the past. But now several banks are changing course.

To understand what’s changing, let’s start with how this business actually works.

Banks do more than trade commodities. Their holding companies will actually take possession the physical commodities, like aluminum or oil.

“So it might mean that you own tankers that sit off-shore, filed with oil, waiting for the price to rise. Most people don’t associate that kind of business with a traditional banking business,” says Duke University finance professor Campbell Harvey.

Government regulators aren’t crazy about the idea either.

“Federal agencies have been taking a much closer look at this kind of activity,” says law professor Michael Barr. He now teaches at the University of Michigan. From 2009 through 2010, he worked at the Treasury, helping to reform the rules for Wall Street.

He says the feds are reconsidering whether banks should be in the commodity business. Barr says, “If it’s traded for short-term swings in profit, commodities trading could be one of the activities that would be curtailed by the Volcker rule.”

JPMorgan and other banks have been looking for an exit.

Campbell Harvey says it would be good for the banking industry to move away from commodities.

“I don’t feel that good about bailing out a bank because of some bad bets they made on commodities,” says Harvey.

Racing's Michael Schumacher Being Woken From Coma

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 04:45

The German driver fell while skiing in France last month and struck his head. Since then, he's been in a medically induced coma and doctors have operated twice. The process of waking him may "take a long time," Schumacher's manager says. It's too soon to say much about his post-coma prospects.

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Two Days Later, Atlantans Can Retrieve Cars Abandoned In Storm

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 04:00

Hundreds of vehicles remain on Atlanta's highways. They were left there Tuesday when ice brought traffic to a standstill. Now authorities will take drivers to their cars. The goal is to finally clear the roads.

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Embattled Ukrainian President Takes Sick Leave

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 02:16

A statement on the presidential website Thursday said Viktor Yanukovych has an acute respiratory illness and high fever. There was no indication of how long he might be on leave or whether he would be able to do any work.

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'Mariachi Olympic Prince' Takes Glamour To Sochi Ski Slopes

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 00:32

Hubertus Von Hohenlohe will be the only skier representing Mexico in the Winter Olympics in Russia. A German prince and one of the oldest athletes to be competing in the Winter Olympics, Hohenlohe says he doesn't expect to win any medals. But he does hope people will notice his flair for fashion.

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Asteroid Belt May Be Just One Big Melting Pot Of Space Rocks

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 00:30

New research shows that a planetary reshuffle might have shaped the ring of rubble between Mars and Jupiter.

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High Schoolers Hit The Slopes, And The Books, At Team Academy

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 00:29

Elite athletes start their sports young and sometimes sacrifice academics; some even drop out of high school. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association says it wants to prevent that by opening its own high school. But no mistake: Academics there aren't as important as winning.

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Much Of North Dakota's Natural Gas Is Going Up In Flames

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-30 00:28

Drillers pumping oil on the Great Plains are also producing a lot of natural gas. But the state doesn't have the infrastructure to transport or store it, so much of that gas isn't being sold — it's being set on fire.

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Detention Of Al-Jazeera Journalists Strains Free Speech In Egypt

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 16:36

Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy has been accused of running a terrorist cell with the help of four foreigners; allegations the news agency calls "baseless and false." The case has shown just how far Egypt has backslid on the goals of an uprising that began three years ago this week.

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Inequality: Capitalism's 'squeaky wheel'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 16:35

Minimum wage has been in the news, of course, most recently thanks to a hike in the lowest rate for federal workers

But really, it's kind of a proxy for a bigger discussion about rising inequality in this country: the rich getting richer and the poor...not.

So what does that mean for corporate America? Harvard business school historian Nancy Koehn says:

"The average person in that top 1 percent [of the population] makes about $717,000 a year, versus $53,000 for everyone else. So even these very, very rough ballpark numbers: That's a lot of people with a lot less money to buy things, and very little hope, in some sense... of getting more purchasing power... "

That lack of what Koehn calls "hope" can have a multiplier effect on other parts of the country:

 "We know large amounts of social and economic mobility produce more GDP, more social order, more kind of national prosperity and political stability. You can reason inversely that lots and lots of inequality is not a good thing."

And speaking of multiplier effects? The wiggle room afforded by a larger paycheck not only increases the top 1 percent's purchasing power, it also allows them to reinvest:

"You want to put money directly in the hands of the bottom 90 percent so it will get spent, so it will generate jobs, and so it will oil the wheel of capitalism." 

Heroin In The Drive-Thru? McDonald's Employee Busted

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 15:50

Undercover police officers say they bought heroin at a McDonald's in Pittsburgh, acting on a tip that included a code phrase. They were then allegedly given a Happy Meal box containing the drug.

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Punch Pizza's 'incredible' post-State of the Union boost

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 15:26

One final note on the State of the Union.

The president mentioned a bunch of companies last night. Most of them are big enough they don't need a presidental shoutout.

But then he said this:

"Nick Chute is here today with his boss, John Serano. John's an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough. And now he's making more of it."

We had to call them up, right?

We got ahold of John Puckett. He's a co-owner of Punch Pizza along with John Serrano. I asked him what happened when the White House called:

"We really thought it was a practical joke at first... It's been incredible, [especially] on social media. The nice thing is, it's warming up above -20 today in Minnesota, so we'll probably see it more today than we did last night. I think everyone was still hunkered down, watching the State of the Union.

Turns out, tragically enough, the president didn't even get to taste the pizza:

"You know, it doesn't transport that well from St. Paul to Washington. Ours is wood fired Neopolitan pizza and it's best when you get it right out of the oven."

Colo. Man Files First Challenge To Surveillance Law

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 14:58

The suit is the first direct challenge to the FISA Amendments Act, the statute the government relies on to collect international communications in bulk.

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Edward Snowden Nominated For Nobel Peace Prize

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 14:08

Two Norwegian politicians say Edward Snowden has "contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order" by exposing U.S. surveillance practices. The Nobel Peace Prize nominations will be pared down to a short list in March and May.

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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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