National News

How to quit a job without talking to your boss

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 12:03

This final note, in which I am not, repeat not, quitting my job. (I got in a whole mess of trouble the last time I joked about that.)

But if I were, boy have I found a good way to do it.

It's called the Quit Your Job app.

You decide why you want to quit, it sends an appropriate text to your boss.

Also available from the same company?

The BreakUp text app.

U.S. Official: Afghanistan Could Become 'Narco-Criminal State'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 12:00

Despite a $7 billion effort to rid the country of opium production, more land than ever before is being used for the illicit trade, says John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

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5 Years Ago Sully Landed On The Hudson And Twitter Took Off

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 11:49

On Jan. 19, 2009, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his crew successfully ditched their crippled U.S. Airways jet in the river off Manhattan. The 155 people on board were saved. A photo of the floating plane went up minutes later on Twitter. That "changed everything" for the social media site.

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What's America's Problem? 1 In 5 Says It's The Government

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 11:48

In a monthly Gallup poll of American attitudes, dissatisfaction with the political leadership topped all other issues among Democrats, Republicans and Independents. But dissatisfaction with the government was down from a peak of 33 percent last October.

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Blood Pressure Ruckus Reveals Big Secret In Medicine

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 11:46

Although it may be uncomfortable for patients to learn that there are profound disagreements among doctors about medicine, these differences of opinion are common. What is rare is to have these differences explicitly acknowledged, as is happening now with treatment guidelines for high blood pressure.

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How Virtual Currency Could Make It Easier To Move Money

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:41

It isn't just Bitcoin. You can now choose from more than 70 virtual currencies, and people are using them partly because it could be a free way of transferring money online. Given more time and widespread use, that could change the playing field for companies like Western Union and banks.

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Explainer: Why can't we cap CEO pay?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:30

Income inequality is one of the phrases of the month in Washington, following the President's December speech on the issue.

President Obama threw his support behind a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25, and to provide for automatic annual increases linked to changes in the cost of living. This week, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) discussed the issue with Council of Econmic Affairs chairman Jason Furman.

On the face of it, raising the minimum wage appears to have a lot of support.

A group of 75 economists came out in support of the proposal, including seven Nobel laureates and several former Obama and Clinton administration economists. A poll by Hart Research found that 80 percent of Americans support the proposal, including 80 percent of political independents, and 62 percent of Republicans.

But despite the swell of support, the proposal seems unlikely to make it through the House. A similiar measure failed in March of last year, with every Republican and six Democrats voting against raising the minimum wage. Republicans in Congress tend to argue against raising the minimum wage, arguing employers who are forced to pay workers more would hire fewer people or cut those workers' hours.

Moreover, the argument goes, employers might handle the added expense of paying workers more by passing costs on to consumers in the form of higher prices.  

So if there's such a strong reaction to the idea of using the minimum wage as a weapon in the war against income inequality, what about an alternative approach? Pay caps, for example.

Switzerland recently toyed with the idea of capping CEO pay at 12 times the amount of the lowest-paid worker. But a referendum on that issue voted the idea down.

And it's pretty easy to see why that idea is unlikely to fly here in the U.S. For one thing, it puts a ceiling on the American Dream, or at least that part of it that has Americans aspiring to huge mansions and private jets. But on a more practical note, it rewards certain industries disproportionately.

For instance, the lowest paid worker - or even the average worker - in a software company or law firm is almost certainly going to earn more than the worker on the bottom run at a hotel company. Which means hotel company executives are liable to be rewarded a lot less for their work, even if their businesses employ many more workers (and are that much more valuable to society) than the law firm. It also means the CEO will likely get paid less -- potentially a lot less -- than other workers in the firm. 

No way that idea flies here.

The 'Downton Abbey Law' Would Let British Women Inherit Titles

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:24

British hereditary peers have always been able to pass down titles and estates to their male relatives. But now Parliament is considering a bill that would allow daughters to inherit as well.

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Blackstone-backed real estate firm learns how to be a landlord

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:57

A number of big companies are betting against the American Dream. They think lots of people are going to want to rent instead of buy a home. One of the biggest bet-makers, with 40,000 rental properties under its belt, is Invitation Homes.

Realtor Jim Tice first noticed the company popping up as a buyer in a Minneapolis suburb. He was trying to sell a client's house that was headed to foreclosure. Then the client got a cash offer from Invitation Homes. Tice says the company provided a bank statement to prove it had enough cash to cover the deal. He says the account balance was eye-popping.

"A buyer usually isn't showing you millions of dollars of savings in order to buy. So it was pretty impressive in that respect," Tice says.

Invitation Homes is a subsidiary of the Blackstone Group, the world's largest private equity firm.  And over the past year and a half, it has spent a whopping $7.5 billion buying those 40,000 properties—1,000 of them in the Twin Cities.

Invitation Homes largely buys low-priced foreclosures. Then it spiffs them up and rents them out. Experts say large-scale purchases of foreclosures by investors like Invitation Homes have helped housing markets heal.

"Had it not been for them, prices would've fallen further and it would've taken longer to recover," says Elliot Eisenberg, a housing economist.

Eisenberg says since the foreclosure crisis, credit standards have tightened and a lot of people can't get a mortgage. As a result, Invitation Homes and other big investors are betting that home rentals will become increasingly popular.

"It's certainly a bet. Whether it's worth making -- we'll know in a couple years how it turns out," he says.

Until recently, it's largely been mom and pop outfits that rent houses. Eisenberg says big investors could potentially run that business more professionally.

So far, Micheal Apple has had a good experience renting a four-bedroom house from Invitation Homes in a Minneapolis suburb. Apple says if something's broken, his property manager jumps right on it.

"Either I call her or I email her, and she gets back to me within a day or so," he says.

Not so for another Twin Cities renter, Brad Dukes. He's got a beef about the "throne" in his rental home. When Dukes sits on the toilet, his knees barely clear the wall in front of him.

Dukes says the house was advertised as having two bathrooms. But one was just a free-standing toilet in the basement. Invitation Homes agreed to frame up a real bathroom and dropped a few thousand dollars to add walls, a shower and a sink.

Still, Dukes is dismayed by the end product.

"The exterior of this box they put in this unfinished room is going to remain. I'm going to be looking at sheetrock," he says.

Renters in other markets have panned Invitation Homes in online reviews. But in the Twin Cities at least, the company may not have enough renters yet to establish a clear track record. I checked out a random sample of homes the company's purchased. All of them were vacant, some for more than six months.

Andrew Gallina is a spokesman for Invitation Homes. He's aware of the empty houses and complaints from renters. Gallina admits the company is still learning the ropes. It has, after all, purchased 40,000 homes in a short period of time.

"There are times we're going to be disappointing to a resident. But at the same time, we have a real commitment to getting it right," he says.

Of course, if the landlord gig doesn't work out, the firm always has an exit strategy: Sell the homes at a profit as prices rise.

My Nick Jr. personalizes TV -- and it smells like Netflix

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:53

If you've got kids, you're probably well-acquainted with Nickelodeon programming. Not just Nickelodeon, but Nicktoons, TeenNick, and Nick Jr. for the pre-school set. Well, soon you can add My Nick Jr. to that roster. It's an interactive channel that will allow parents to customize their kids' viewing experience.

Here's how it will work. You can program your kids' TV channel to only play certain Nick Jr. shows --think Dora the Explorer --or shows about certain themes, like problem solving or friendship.

"After each episode, the child would be asked to rate the show," says Verizon spokesman Bill Kula. "And if no action were taken then the next episode would begin."

My Nick Jr. is pretty much a direct response to the way streaming services like Pandora, Netflix and Amazon are changing media consumption.

Paul Sweeney of Bloomberg Industries says people are getting used to viewing programming, "When they wanna watch it, where they wanna watch it, and on whatever device they want to watch. No longer are consumers content to simply watch programming as scheduled by an existing network."

Brad Adgate of Horizon Media says customized channels like My Nick Jr. are the wave of the future. But he has a warning.

"Not only can this endeavor hurt rivals like Disney, who's probably their biggest rival, and Cartoon Network, but it's also something that could cannibalize Nickelodeon themselves," Adgate says.

That's because little kiddos might abandon old Nickelodeon channels for the interactive -- and now ad-free -- My Nick Jr.. Adgate says that could hurt ratings and decrease advertising revenue for the old school channels of the Nickelodeon family.

My Nick Jr. has already debuted in France. Verizon's FIOS TV service will make the new channel available to its customers in the U.S. within a few months.

Bipartisan Report Calls Benghazi Attacks 'Preventable'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:46

The Senate Intelligence Committee points to a failure by the State Department to provide adequate security. The panel also says that some members of Congress have mischaracterized the Obama administration's statements in the days immediately after the 2012 attacks.

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Biceps Curls And Down Dogs May Help Lower Diabetes Risk

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:24

Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of diabetes. But it looks like muscle-strengthening exercises help, too, according to the Nurses Health Studies. Even supposedly lighter forms of exercise like yoga and stretching reduced women's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

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The Koch brothers are spending on the midterm elections. Already

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:19

The midterm elections are more than nine months away, but if you live in a state where the race for a U.S. Senate seat is going to be close, it may feel like Election Day is a lot closer.

That is because political advocacy groups, including Americans for Prosperity, are pouring millions of dollars into those races. Their decision, to run ads early, goes against conventional wisdom, which says it is a better investment to air ads closer to an election.

“I’m not sure there is conventional wisdom anymore,” says Whit Ayers, a Republican political consultant and the founder and president of North Star Opinion Research.

That is thanks, in part, to outside spending. It used to be groups wouldn’t spend a dollar now, because they were worried about running out later. With many more dollars in play, the economics of campaigning have changed.

“This is a whole new world of politics, where there is certainly no cookbook on how to do things right,” Ayres says, noting conservatives see an opportunity to make the Affordable Care Act the defining issue of 2014.

“It makes a lot of sense, from my perspective, to strike while the iron is hot.”

That is what an organization called Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the Koch brothers, is doing. I reached Tim Phillips, the group’s president, in Montana, where he just announced a $1.8 million ad buy.

“We are determined to make Obamacare front and center, the number one issue for the American people,” he says.

The organization’s strategy has been to use politicians’ words against them, as in this ad, targeting Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA).

So far, Phillips says Americans for Prosperity has spent $22 million, adding “we expect to spend substantially more than that in coming months.”

Democrats are in a tough spot, says Steve Jarding who managed senate campaigns for Democratic candidates before he became a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. 

“They could spend early money to try to compete with this, and actually run out of money late,” he says.

That is not something Republicans have to worry about. Jarding says that, before long, we will be inundated by ads.

"Pretty soon you have ads going essentially year-round year after year.”

And that is what groups like Americans for Prosperity want. Its president says the organization will keep at it after the election is over.

Just how seriously should we take the latest bank earnings?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:10

It's a big week for the big banks. Bank of America beat expectations with its earnings report today, $3.4 billion last quarter. Earlier this week, Wells Fargo announced record profit. JP Morgan had better than expected earnings.

"You can tell that the banking industry is recovering, and that our economy is on a recovering path," says Ken Carow, a finance professor at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.

But, turns out these banking numbers maybe smell a little sweeter than they really are. The effects of the housing crisis linger on these balance sheets. Banks are writing fewer mortgages. They're facing lawsuits, government settlements.

One thing propping up these earnings reports—accountants. Big banks are adding billions of dollars from reserves that they'd set aside for loan-losses that never came to be. "Now they are reducing the reserve for the bad loans, and are going to have a positive income effect," says Anne Beatty, an accounting professor at Ohio State University. But, be very clear, "there's no cash flow associated related to this income being created. It is a pure accounting effect."

So what's a regular investor to do?

Fight back, with some math of your own.

"Do some accounting," says David Stowell, a finance professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, "it's not easy to do, and you have to look carefully at the financial statements." But, he says, it's worth it. There's a lot of accounting noise in these earnings reports, obscuring the actual business of banking.

Ariel Sharon, Whose Life And Career Shaped Israeli History, Dies

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:09

The former prime minister, who had been in a coma after suffering a massive stroke in 2006, died on Saturday. Sharon's career spanned the birth of the nation and most of its essential turning points. Israelis had a love-hate relationship with him that was beginning to soften only shortly before his death.

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Quick Question: Time To Leave Smokers Alone?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 08:11

Half a century after the surgeon general's report linking smoking and cancer, the debate rages on.

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$500M From Kuwait Among Pledges For Syrians Affected By War

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 08:07

Donor nations gathered in Kuwait City pledged tens of millions for those displaced by the more than 2-year-old civil war. The U.S. pledged $380 million, but Secretary of State John Kerry urged a political solution to the conflict.

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Feds Extend Coverage For People In High-Risk Insurance Pools

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 08:00

The insurance pool for people with expensive pre-existing conditions will stay open until the end of March, after another extension by the federal government. Starting this year, the Affordable Care Act bars insurers from rejecting people because of health problems, but they may need more time than originally thought to sign up for coverage.

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Piracy On High Seas At Lowest Level In 6 Years, Report Says

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 07:55

The International Maritime Bureau says there has been a 40 percent drop in piracy worldwide since 2011, and that much of the drop was due to fewer attacks off the Somali coast.

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Where In The World Is The Best Place For Healthy Eating?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 07:52

Researchers ranked countries in terms of how easy it is to get a balanced, nutritious diet. The U.S. didn't even make the top 20, even though it has the greatest abundance of cheap food in the world. Western Europe nearly swept the top 10. Guess which country was No. 1?

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