National News

Fed Will Continue To Taper Its Stimulus Program

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 11:12

The Federal Reserve said the economy continues to improve, so it is slowing its purchase of bonds by $10 billion a month.

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Spy Chief Says Classified Leaks 'Pose Critical Threat' To U.S.

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 10:51

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, listed "insider threats," alongside cyber attacks and terrorism. This marks the first time unauthorized disclosures are given such prominence in a threat assessment report.

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What tapering in the U.S. has to do with Turkey and South Africa

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 10:37


India, South Africa, Turkey, Argentina – they’ve all had currency depreciations.  Brazil has faced inflation concerns.  The MSCI Emerging Markets Index, an average of emerging market stocks, has fallen nearly 7 percent this month, recently reaching a five month low. Emerging market equities have lost more than $995 billion in value since May. 

To explain this, we have to talk about money -- and how money moves. 


"There are trillions of dollars sloshing around global markets looking for high returns," says Gerald Epstein, director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  That money belongs to hedge funds, institutional investors, sovereign wealth funds, and regular investors alike. 

With productive investments few and far between, "there’s more money out there, more money looking for more speculative investments."

During the depths of recession, the one place you wouldn’t be getting higher returns was in developed countries like the U.S. On the one hand, their economies weren’t doing well. And on the other, Central Banks were keeping interest rates low. 

"It’s kind of simple," says Andrew Burns, manager of Prospects at the World Bank. "In the past, if you’re an investor, you have options.  You could invest in U.S. Treasuries; they were giving a return of 1.5 percent last April. Or you can invest in Brazil where you’re getting return of 5 or 6 percent, maybe it’s a little bit risky."

So investors put money into developing economies.


At the same time, commodity prices were high, fueling emerging markets to the point they were leaders in global growth.

"The last four or five years, supported by very strong commodity prices, we’ve had very material capital flows into these countries," says Robert Kahn, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.   "These are small economies relative to the U.S. or Japan, and their ability to absorb this capital is not as great, and there is a tendency for these markets to go through boom bust cycles."

EASY GO.....

When the Fed first started talking about tapering last May, it became clear to investors that the economy was getting better, and interest rates in the U.S. would start to rise.  And they have.  The return on some treasury bonds has nearly doubled since then.

"In that context you say, ‘You know what? I had $100 over here in Brazil. I’m gonna pull some of it back in the United States,”" says the World Bank’s  Burns.

“The Fed’s decision to taper was a trigger for these outflows,” says Kahn, “but at the end of the day, it’s not the primary reason for it.”  Rather, it was the simple realization that there are safer -- and possibly better --  investments reappearing elsewhere in the developed world.  


And indeed, money moved out.  Local currencies continue to fall. As a result, it becomes more expensive for people in affected emerging markets to buy food and energy from abroad.  Inflation sets in.  Politicians in these countries then have to make a “Sophie’s choice”, says Professor Epstein.  In order to fight that inflation, and in order to incentivize investors to keep their money in the country, governments have raised interest rates.  That creates a drag on the economy.

"Turkey doubled the interest rate, interest rates have gone up in South Africa, Argentina," says Epstein. "And not only does this slow down their economy -- which if they already have a high unemployment rate is a big problem -- but it might also backfire." Backfire as in "push some companies into bankruptcy, further scaring off international investment."

Epstein argues there are few good options for lower income countries other than to control capital flows, a tool which has its own risks.


On the one hand, many emerging markets came out of the global financial crisis in fairly good shape.  But it doesn’t mean they’re not vulnerable – as has become evident.

"Policy makers got complacent in these countries," says Kahn, "because they had access to very cheap money... We’ve seen before when things reverse – when commodity prices fall and capital flows turn around – it can be pretty hard. We’re at the beginning of that cycle."


"It’s not going to be smooth," says Kahn, "and there’s still more turbulence to be seen."

The process of global capital reallocation is not over.  Throw in the fact that developing countries aren’t making as much from commodities, China is buying less from them, and a spate of political scandals, and it may be a very rough ride for lower income countries, indeed.

Brazil's Slaves Are Being Freed, But Owners Go Largely Unpunished

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 10:37

In the past 20 years, almost 50,000 enslaved Brazilian workers have been freed from some 2,000 worksites. But an estimated 200,000 remain trapped in slavery, due to deep-seated impunity: Slaveholders can pay hefty fines and civil damages, but criminal convictions and jail time are rare.

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How Industrial Chemical Regulation Failed West Virginia

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 10:36

For Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward, the recent chemical spill — and sometimes confusing information authorities have provided about the risks to citizens — reflects longstanding regulatory failures in the state. He says West Virginia has "basically ignored" recommendations for stricter oversight.

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A Little Acid Turns Mouse Blood Into Brain, Heart And Stem Cells

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 10:20

Japanese scientists say they've figured out a fast, easy way to make the most powerful cells in the world: embryonic stem cells. The magic ingredient? Something akin to lemon juice. So far it's still unknown if the method would work with human cells or could be used for medical treatments.

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How cash is like Bitcoin. And how Bitcoin is like Kim Kardashian.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 10:14

Bitcoin is a digital currency, controlled only by software, that somehow, some people have collectively decided is worth something. This can be a bit of a brain-bender.

But, it turns out, we do the same every day with cash.

“Money is a form of shared reality,” says Adam Waytz, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. It’s a shared illusion: “In order for it to have value, that means that everyone has to agree that this is something we’re going to treat as valuable.” 

With cash, we take paper, with numbers printed on it, and imbue it with value greater than the sum of paper and ink. Bitcoin works the same way.

“It’s sort of the Kim Kardashian of money,” says Waytz. “Kim Kardashian is famous for being famous. Bitcoin is valuable because a lot of people have agreed to value it.” 

One reason people value Bitcoin is that it is hard to trace back to a person. It’s a feature that can make law enforcement a little nervous. There’s no bank keeping tabs. No paper trail. People buy illegal stuff with Bitcoin. But, again, cash is the same.

“If you and I meet at a park, and I give you $100, and you give me something in return, and we part our separate ways, that’s a completely anonymous transaction,” says Jerry Brito, a research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. There’s no record of the time, the park we met at, what we traded.

Cash can be better at keeping secrets than Bitcoin. With Bitcoin, Brito says, “you have to keep a record of the transaction, and the amount, and the Bitcoin addresses that were involved. So it’s less anonymous than cash. It's pseudonymous, is one way to put it.”

Bitcoin leaves a digital trail. That’s how Bitcoin works. It’s a trail that cash is very good at erasing.

But cash isn’t entirely invisible. It’s got a physical presence. You have to get it. Move it. And, its physical nature has costs.

“I have to spend time going to the ATM, and take money out, and that could be time that’s taken away from other productive activities,” says Bhaskar Chakravorti with the Fletcher School at Tufts University. It may not sound like a lot, but it adds up, says Chakravorti, to tens of billions of dollars. Time that you wouldn’t have to waste in a Bitcoin world.

There’s also the cost to businesses of using cash. You’ve got to hire services to protect it, and get it to and from the bank. Businesses, say Chakravorti, “incur costs because cash gets stolen from a retail outlet, or because there are robberies.” In a world where everyone uses Bitcoin, instead, there’s nothing in the cash register for robbers to steal.

There’s another big cost of cash to our society. The tax gap. All the money that we don’t send the government in taxes, when we pay for things off the books. Chakravorti estimates that cash costs the U.S. government  more than $100 billion a year.

Bitcoin is enough like cash that that cost wouldn’t disappear.  

Missing For 112 Years, First Porsche Is Found In Warehouse

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 10:08

The P1 that Ferdinand Porsche helped develop was an electric vehicle that could chug along at 22 mph. It was discovered in an Austrian warehouse and is going on display at the Porsche museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

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Why Red-State Kentucky Got A Shoutout From Obama

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 09:51

President Obama described the state as "not the most liberal part of the country." In fact, Kentucky gives him lower approval ratings than all but seven other states. Yet the state's Democratic governor has pushed Obama's priorities on health and education more successfully than most other governors.

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PODCAST: State of the Union as heard from Europe

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 09:05

Last night's State of the Union speech was all about the American perspective. President Obama focused on income inequality, wages, jobs, and the U.S. middle class. Marketplace looks at how the speech is being received in the rest of the world.

Nintendo announces third quarter earnings today and things aren’t looking good. The game maker already slashed its full year outlook -- instead of profit it now expects a net loss. You could say Nintendo’s facing an identity crisis. For thirty years, it’s made games you can only play on Nintendo hardware. But does it have to change to survive?

It now costs 49 cents to send a letter. The price of stamps went up another 3 cents on Sunday, meaning that if you've been hoarding Forever stamps since forever ago, you've made a pretty good return

Tycoon's Lesbian Daughter Rejects Multimillion-Dollar 'Marriage Bounty'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 08:41

Hong Kong tycoon Cecil Chao initially offered $65 million to any man who married his daughter. Gigi Chao has since been flooded with marriage requests from eager men around the world. But in an open letter, she asks her father to accept her partner.

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State of the Union: Tackling income inequality

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 08:37

Last night in his State of the Union address, President Obama touched on several economic themes, including jobs, the middle class, health care, and something he has been talking quite a bit about recently -- income inequality. Sheldon Danziger, president of the Russell Sage Foundation, a progressive think tank, spoke to Marketplace's Lizzie O'Leary about the president's goals and the wide income disparity between the rich and the poor in the United States.

On raising the minimum wage, Danziger said this:

“The minimum wage is lower than it was in the late 1960s, if one adjusts for inflation. I also like that he referred to an employer in Minnesota who raised the wages of his workers. And it would be great if a large corporation like Wal-Mart voluntarily raised their minimum wage.”

On whether the government has a role in correcting income inequality:

“We actually have pretty good evidence that if government does not do much, inequality increases. The best example of that is since the recession ended, the stock market is back to close to all-time highs, yet wages have not budged for the median worker. So we have strong evidence that  economic growth is not trickling down to the poor or even the middle class.” 

To hear the interview, click the audio player above.



Dispatch from a woman stuck in her car in Atlanta

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 08:26

The city of Atlanta is in the middle of a giant two-day snow and ice storm that has left kids stranded at school, people in makeshift shelters, and commuters trying to get to or from work stuck on the roads in miles-long gridlock. 

LaTeefa Dancey-Gray, a cardiac monitor technician, was among those who were trying to get to work yesterday evening while on her way to work the 7pm to 7am graveyard shift. She pulled out of her driveway at 5pm to get to work, and between 8-9pm her car came to complete standstill. Traffic didn’t move again until 5:30 this morning. Dancey-Gray joined Marketplace's Lizzie O'Leary from her car to talk about the situation. Click the audio player above to hear the interview

Using your brain to control an exoskeleton

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 08:12

This month, a neuroscientist and his team announced that the ceremonial first kick at this year's World Cup opening in Brazil would be completed by a paralyzed teenager using an exoskeleton attached to her brain. Prosthetic robotic devices connected to the human brain are becoming more common. You may remember video a few years ago of a woman at the University of Pittsburgh feeding herself chocolate with a robot limb. For today's installment of Marketplace Tech's sports and tech series, "Gaming the System," we'll hear from a guy working in this field.

Video of One Giant Bite: Woman with Quadriplegia Feeds Herself Chocolate Using Mind-Controlled Robot Arm

Dr. Michael Boninger, from the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, tells Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson about bioengineering and using brain signals to control exoskeletons and prosthetics.


House Passes Compromise Farm Bill

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 08:12

The $100 billion-a-year measure included cuts to the food stamps program, and preserved farm subsidies. The five-year bill now heads to the Senate.

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Oil Boom: See A Modern-Day Gold Rush In Motion

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 08:05

One of the nation's most remote places is now awash in oil money. In the heart of the boom, once-quiet farm towns are now wedged between semitrucks and dotted with "man camps." We sent a photographer to North Dakota to capture not just what it looks like but how it feels.

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Yoga May Help Overcome Fatigue After Breast Cancer

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 07:33

Cancer patients and survivors are told to exercise, but the disease and treatments can leave them with overwhelming fatigue. Yoga may be a gentle way to get moving, a study reports, with breast cancer survivors who did yoga saying they had less fatigue than women who did not.

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Frogs And Puffins! 1730s Menus Reveal Royals Were Extreme Foodies

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-29 07:26

A rare collection of menus detailing the meals served to King George II and his queen contain plenty to offend our modern, squeamish sensibilities. But the manuscript, which sold at auction Wednesday, also reflects bigger shifts afoot in how food was sourced and prepared. The result? Tastier British cuisine.

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State of the Union: Fact checking Obama on the ACA

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 06:24

"More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage," President Obama said during last night's State of the Union address. In a speech that touched on income inequality, wages, jobs, and the U.S. middle class, Obama touted his signature domestic policy achievement. But is that 9 million figure accurate?

You can slip into quicksand really fast, if you're trying to figure out just how many people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Technically 9 million is accurate. About 3 million people have enrolled through the federal or state health exchanges, and about 6 million have signed up for Medicaid, the program that's primarily for low-income Americans.

But -- and here's the thing to remember -- insurance isn't static. People are signing up, and re-enrolling all the time. So 9 million doesn't mean 9 million new people have signed up. Undoubtedly, some of those people, particularly those who signed up for Medicaid, are getting access due to the Medicaid expansion. But we don't know how many, and we won't know for several more months.

Another thing that's unclear is how many people who weren't covered before the Affordable Care Act was passed are covered now. The thought is that 16-17 million uninsured people will get coverage through the exchanges or Medicaid by the March 31 enrollment deadline. 

Earlier this month, a survey came out from McKinsey & Co. showing that only 11 percent of people who bought policies on the exchanges were previously uninsured. But those numbers are not confirmed.

Another goal of the ACA was, as Obama put it last night, protecting people financially so "if misfortune strikes, you don't have to lose everything." While the ACA does provide more consumer protections, Obama's assertion could use some context.

There are now protections like out-of-pocket maximums for how much you will have to pay if things get really bad. While the maximum for an individual is about $6,000 and about $13,000 for a family plan, caps don't apply if you see a doctor who isn't in the network included in the insurance plan you have.

We all know health care is quite complicated. And consumers -- especially people new to health insurance -- have to make sure they understand how it works.

If you bought Forever Stamps forever ago, you're getting a good return

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-29 05:45

It now costs 49 cents to send a letter. The price of stamps went up another 3 cents on Sunday, meaning that if you've been hoarding Forever stamps since forever ago, you've made a pretty good return. At least, that's what Allan Sloan, Fortune Magazine's senior editor-at-large, thinks. To listen to Sloan praise the virtues of the exotic financial instrument known as the postage stamp, click the audio player above.

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