National News

Closing the loophole on a tax advantage

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-20 02:00

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama will urge what is now a Republican senate and a Republican house to dump what the President sees as a loophole that allows the wealthiest of American families to pass on a big tax advantage to their heirs.

Along with raising capital gains taxes for some in the higher brackets, the idea is to use the money to let low income people keep $500 a year of their money when both spouses work, and among other things, to help families with under five years olds pay for child care. But let's start with a closer look at this trust fund business.  

Click the media player above to hear finance reporter David Cay Johnston in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

Can community colleges cope with being free?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-20 02:00

President Barack Obama is expected to give a big boost to community colleges in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. The President has proposed making tuition at two-year public colleges free for students in good standing. If the proposal passes Congress—and that’s a big if—can community colleges handle a surge in students?  

Click the media player above to hear more.

The race to make the fastest supercomputer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-20 02:00

Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory may once again be home to the world’s fastest supercomputer. It was in 2012, but that title only lasted six months — then a computer in China took the top spot. But the U.S. recently put aside more than $400 million to keep itself in the race.

The supercomputer at Oak Ridge right now, called Titan, is the size of a basketball court and sounds like a jet engine. It can make 27 quadrillion — that’s 27 followed by 15 zeros — calculations per second.

“It’s almost like it’s alive,” says Buddy Bland, director of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility. “It has a pulse to it. You can feel it in your body when you walk in the room.”

These kinds of machines are used to do incredibly complex simulations of real-world things, such as analyzing weather patterns over time or predicting new chemical combinations in drugs. Faster computers mean more scientific breakthroughs.

But Bland says like any computer, whether it’s Titan or your personal laptop, will be basically obsolete in a few years.

“Because we can go out and buy a new machine for less than it costs to pay the maintenance of the old machine,” he says.

The U.S. has been a leader in supercomputing for decades, and staying up-to-date and ahead of the pack is pricy. Oak Ridge’s next computer, called Summit, could cost up to $280 million.

Yet Congress has funded supercomputing with gusto. In November, the Department of Energy pledged $425 million to help build Summit and a computer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) says it’s a priority that stretches across party lines.

“This is a case where the Obama administration and I and others in Congress since 2008 have had the same goal: We wanted to double funding for supercomputing,” he says.

Alexander gives two reasons: First, national security — some federally funded machines manage the country’s nuclear weapons.

Second, private companies can apply for time on the computers to develop products more quickly. For example, Procter and Gamble has used Oak Ridge’s Titan to research how the skin might react to its products.

And then there’s something that has non-monetary value: pride.

“It’s like being number one in football,” Alexander says. “We like the idea of having the fastest supercomputer in the world, and we have had that at Oak Ridge.”

Summit is expected to go live in 2017, but Oak Ridge isn’t calling it the fastest yet — By that time, some other country may be building one that’s even faster.


Gasoline prices are all over the map

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-20 02:00

You hear about the average national gasoline price, but it’s often different from the station down the block. So why are prices so inconsistent from station to station, not to mention state to state?

A gallon of gasoline costs about 50 percent more in New York than Missouri. Taxes vary by as much as 35 cents a gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute. Geography plays a role, too. States like Missouri and Oklahoma are near lots of refineries, and those refineries have pipeline access to cheaper crude supplies from the U.S. and Canada. Finally, state and local regulations produce many different varieties of gasoline, with different ethanol blends, octane requirements and emissions standards. 


Disappointing economic growth in China

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-20 01:30
7.4 percent

With a low not seen in a quarter century, China's economic growth dropped to 7.4 percent in 2014. As reported by the WSJ, some economists predict that disappointing numbers from 2014 are just the start of a global deceleration of growth.


That's about how many times Ronald Reagan used the word "freedom" for every million words in his State of the Union addresses, the Atlantic reported. He also lead the pack on "god." The Atlantic has an automatic tool showing frequently-used words by president.

50 percent

You may have noticed disparities in gas prices from station to station, but what about state to state? For example, a gallon of gasoline costs about 50 percent more in New York than Missouri. Turns out, there's a lot of factors that play into why you'll pay more or less for a tank of gas in different states.

46 percent

President Barack Obama's approval rating heading into Tuesday's State of the Union address. It's a bump up from the past year, the New York Times' Upshot reported, and it'll become more important in the homestretch of Obama's second term and looking to Democrats chances in 2016.

27 quadrillion

That’s 27 followed by 15 zeros, and it's also the number of calculations per second the Titan supercomputer at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory can compute. And it's not even the fastest in the world. That title is currently held by a supercomputer in China. It's why Congress has begun funding supercomputing with gusto, pledging over $400 million to building Oak Ridge's next supercomputer.


That's how many of the world's richest people it would take to match the collective wealth of the poorer half of the population, Quartz reported. That's a sharp drop from 2010, when you would have needed 388 super-rich to do the same.


IRS Budget Cuts May Make For An Unpleasant Tax Filing Season

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-20 01:06

The IRS commissioner warns that congressionally mandated budget cuts are hurting the agency's ability to crack down on tax cheats, process timely refunds and even staff its help lines.

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Working 3 Jobs In A Time Of Recovery

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-20 00:03

If Elkhart County, Ind. was the symbol of the recession, then Ed Neufeldt was the face of the unemployed worker. Elkhart's economy has recovered but Neufeldt is still struggling to bounce back.

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Analysts Watch For Impacts Of European Economic Weakness On U.S.

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 23:18

German automakers have several plants in the South, and Florida counts on European tourists. Analysts hope efforts to stimulate Europe's economy will keep investments in the U.S. from slipping.

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Despite Lower Oil Prices, IMF Cuts Global Growth Forecasts

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 21:44

The International Monetary Fund lowered its growth forecasts over the next two years. It warned on Tuesday that weakness in most major economies will trump gains from lower oil prices.

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Should Judicial Candidates Be Allowed To Solicit Campaign Money?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 21:03

Once, judicial elections were a pretty tame affair, with relatively little money spent. Not anymore. On Tuesday the Supreme Court hears arguments on how candidates should be allowed to gather funding.

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Highway Overpass In Cincinnati Collapses, 1 Dead

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 20:14

Interstate 75 was closed southbound after an overpass north of the old Hopple Street bridge collapsed, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

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Markets May Stumble Or Skyrocket, But This Economist Says Hold On Tight

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 13:59

It's been more than four decades since Burton Malkiel published A Random Walk Down Wall Street. Eleven editions later, Malkiel hasn't wavered in his mantra of patience and broad investing.

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Paddle Boarder Who Wanted To See Orcas Gets An Up-Close Look

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 13:04

A pod of five orcas swam around — and even under — Rich German while he stood on his paddle board off of Laguna Beach, Calif. He videotaped the encounter.

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Suspected Israeli Strike Kills Iranian General Advising Syrian Troops

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 12:38

When a general in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard and several ranking members of Hezbollah were killed Sunday, they were within 10 miles of Israel's northeastern border.

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On Championship Sunday, A Blowout, A Scandal Brewing And A Game For The Ages

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 12:09

The NFL's conference championships featured an instant classic between the Packers and Seahawks, as well as yet another accusation of cheating against the New England Patriots. ESPN's Jane McManus goes over the day's events with Robert Siegel.

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Obama Can Expect An Unfriendly Audience — But There's A History Here

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 12:09

When President Obama delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday, he'll be speaking to a Congress dominated by Republicans. At least he can take comfort in the fact that the moment has precedent: Second-term presidents have often found themselves addressing a chamber stocked with the opposition.

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As Elections Approach, Greece Teeters On Austerity Question

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 12:09

Six days from parliamentary elections, Greece is weighing whether to continue its EU-imposed — and unpopular — austerity program. Former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou discusses the issue.

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What's Most Likely To Kill You? Hint: Probably Not An Epidemic

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 12:09

Noncommunicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease are now the biggest killers on earth. They account for 68 percent of deaths — and have an even greater impact in the developing world.

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U.S. Solar Industry Sees Growth, But Also Some Uncertainty

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 12:09

The solar industry employs nearly 174,000 workers in the U.S., up 22 percent from a year ago. But the industry's future is murky, as government subsidies are set to expire within two years.

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After Aurora Shooting, A 'New Way Of Responding' To Mental Crises

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-19 12:09

In response to the 2012 theater killings, Colorado added clinics, hotlines and mobile units to support early crisis prevention. At the heart of the initiative are 13 walk-in crisis centers.

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