National News

The Economics Of Thanksgiving 2014

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 09:01

More people will be driving and flying this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Gas isn't the only thing that's cheaper. Turkey is too, along with its companions, stuffing and cranberries.

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Hagel Steps Down After Discord On Syria, Iraq

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 09:01

President Obama announced the defense secretary's resignation Monday morning. Chuck Hagel clashed with White House adviser Susan Rice on Syria policy, and he never made it into Obama's inner circle.

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Hello Flowers, Bye-Bye Stray Dogs: Nepal Preps For South Asian Summit

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 08:16

VIPs arrive in Katmandu tomorrow for the big event. The government is whitewashing buildings, sending beggars away and promising 24-hour power. But what happens when the summit ends?

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Israel's Cabinet OKs Controversial Nationality Measure

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 08:06

The bill, which must be approved by parliament, defines Israel as "the nation-state of the Jewish people." It has angered not only Israel's Arab citizens, but also members of the coalition government.

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Merck Partners With NewLink To Speed Up Work On Ebola Vaccine

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 08:01

The experimental NewLink vaccine is based on a harmless virus that has been genetically engineered to incorporate bits of the Ebola virus. Testing of the vaccine has begun in healthy volunteers.

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Secretary Of Defense Hagel To Resign

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 06:29

Chuck Hagel's resignation comes amid concern over the rise of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, and a return of U.S. troops to Iraq. President Obama is announcing the move Monday morning.

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'Ferguson Forward': Churchgoers Seek A New Normal

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 05:38

Spiritual leaders are praying for calm, but preparing for everything, as they wait for a grand jury decision in the shooting of Michael Brown.

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The problem with fracking

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-24 05:31

Slumping oil prices are wrecking life for drillers around the world, particularly high-cost producers now struggling to make a profit ... like the U.S.

American oil from shale, which comes out of the ground through fracking, is pricey to extract. On top of that, sources of oil become mere trickles within a year or two.

The notion of oil wells tailing off and aging isn’t new. In the late 50s, a Hollywood celebrity famously joked that actors are, “about as short-lived as an oil well and twice as pretty.”

The issue is, for the new so-called shale wells, production falls like a stone in the first year.

“Let’s say you produce 500 barrels in the first month of production,” says James Burkhard, head of oil market research for IHS Energy. “Twelve months later you could be producing around 250 barrels. So a decline rate of about 50 percent. In a conventional well, the decline rate is much less steep.”

Oil from shale is not a pool of liquid, but rather small amounts trapped in tight rock. That requires drillers to fracture, or frac, the shale rock to release the oil. Quickly, though, output slows and pressure falls. And the driller has to drill and frac again, in a new spot. That’s expensive — in many places, each well costs $8 million.

“I’ve seen it personally firsthand,” says Ed Hirs, managing director of the Houston-based oil and gas firm Hillhouse Resources. He also teaches economics at the University of Houston. “We’ve had wells on production since 2009, 2010 that have been plugged and abandoned here in 2014, because they are not producing enough to cover their cost.”

Hirs says his firm barely profited in shale. So it returned to drilling old-school conventional oil, where a good well returns five, even 10 dollars for each one invested.

Fracking for shale oil, he says, is a fad, like that scene where the cruise ship tilts to one side.

“They all ran to the shale side of the boat,” Hirs says. “That was the fashion of the day. We see this in other industries as well.”  

Fast-declining wells also require continuous drilling and investing to increase production. Before one tails off, you have to drill the second. And then before that tails off, you drill the third. It’s a treadmill, which may be speeding up as the most productive drilling spots are taken.

Some call this the 'Red Queen' race. Remember Alice, from the Wonderland books? In one scene, she runs and runs and gets nowhere, at which point the Red Queen chimes in.

“Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”  

Constant drilling means constant spending, and according to the U.S. Department of Energy, production revenues are not keeping up with expenditures. Some shale investors are edgy, analysts say.

“If you’re giving money to somebody, you eventually want to get something back,” says Virendra Chauhan of Energy Aspects in London. “If that’s not happening, then there seems to be something wrong with the business model.”

To which shale optimists shake their collective heads. Looking back more than a century, drilling technology has repeatedly proven skeptics wrong. “Until we hit peak knowledge, until the human race hits peak knowledge, we won’t hit peak oil supply,” Burkhard of IHS Energy says.

Companies now drill and frack wells deeper, closer together and more efficiently. So, can technology improve faster than shale wells fall off? “If today the wells you’re drilling are twice as good as the wells you drilled two years ago, then that goes a long way toward addressing that decline,” says geologist Allen Gilmer, CEO of oil and gas database firm Drillinginfo.

Today, the U.S. produces more than 3 million barrels a day, from shale alone. That’s more than the total output of Iran, or Iraq, or Venezuela. “I think it’s very unlikely to ramp down,” Gilmer says, “unless operators really start pulling back on drilling. And as long as a well is economic, I don’t see that happening.”       

Ed Hirs at Hillhouse Resources does see that happening. With oil prices low, and investors antsy, exuberance could go bust. “The challenge with these fast-declining wells is this pace of drilling needs to continue,” Hirs says. “Without the pace of drilling continuing, that three and a half million barrels a day will peter out to zero in the next three to five years.”

That’s the debate: whether shale oil production declines the way its wells do, the way movie stars come and go. Bullish types will note the actor who compared short careers to oil wells decades ago. That actor's name? Ronald Reagan

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Will Step Down

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 05:30

The news comes as troops pull out of Afghanistan and begin a new offensive against the Islamic State. The New York Times cites officials saying that fight would "demand a different kind of focus."

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Quiz: The best-connected state in the nation

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-24 04:43

More than 70 percent of American households have a high-speed internet connection, according to a Census Bureau report.

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With Long-Term Deal Elusive, Iran Nuclear Talks Are Extended

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 04:25

The two sides had set a deadline of today to hammer out a deal, curbing Iran's nuclear programs. Instead, Western powers and Iran agreed to a second extension of talks.

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Investigation Begins Of Fatal Police Shooting Of 12-Year-Old

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 03:33

A police officer fired on 12-year-old Tamir Rice because they mistook a replica gun for a real one. A family friend asked why police couldn't have used less lethal force.

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PODCAST: Saying "I do" to a bigger income

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-24 03:00

First up, there's news the World Bank is moving away from funding coal projects, according to the bank's president. There will be exceptions made in the poorest places, but observers say the banks' rhetoric is becoming increasingly clear about climate change. More on that. Plus, the rise of single-parent households is a social, cultural, and economic phenomenon. This is at the center of a new study put out by the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, which argues that stronger marriages could help bridge the widening wealth and poverty divide. We look into the challenge of pinning down causes of America's wealth gap. And imagine a country being able to double the size of its economy, using swipes of a tablet or clicks of a mouse. The small Baltic state of Estonia aims to do just that.  

Where in the world are the important financial centers?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-24 03:00
$64

That’s how much the tiny Baltic state of Estonia will charge foreigners to become an “e-resident” of the country. E-residents will be able to open up an Estonian bank account, and even start and run a company in the country. They just won’t be able to live there.

32 percent

A new study by the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute says that the rise of single-parent households accounts for a 32 percent growth in family-income inequality between 1979 and 2012. Others point towards the growth in incomes of the “one percent” as a more likely cause for the widening gap.

400 feet

Commercial drone regulations are taking off. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, new federal regulations will require operators to have a license, and will limit commercial drone flights to daylight hours, and below 400 feet.

53 percent

That’s the percentage of respondents who named Shanghai as the leading global financial center by 2019 in a survey conducted by Kinetic Partners. Bloomberg News also reports that among the some 300 finance professionals surveyed, New York was named the world’s most important financial center, overtaking London for the second year in a row.

300 sellers

That’s how many legal marijuana sellers currently exist in Colorado. And just like every other retailer, they’re gearing up for Black Friday, with deals on joints, vape-pen cartridges, and plain old ounces of marijuana. Some have even nicknamed the event “Green Friday.”

Doubling a country's economy with the click of a mouse

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-24 02:00

Imagine a country being able to double the size of its economy, almost at the touch of a button, or the click of a mouse. The tiny Baltic state of Estonia aims to do just that. Next month, Estonia will become the first country in the world to offer foreigners so-called “ e-residency,” which could hugely expand its customer base without increasing the size of its physical population of 1.3 million people.  

Estonia is trying to cash in on what it calls its digital infrastructure. It’s one of the most e-connected places on the planet with almost every home, office, factory and classroom hooked up to the internet, and most government business conducted online; Estonia even uses e-voting in its general elections. 

Now, foreigners will be invited to sign up, pay $64, and become an e-resident of Estonia.

“E-residency is basically a government-guaranteed digital identity,” explains Siret Schutting, Estonia’s e-ambassador. “We are allowing foreigners to acquire what every Estonian already has: a digital signature. This means they can securely sign documents online. It’s legally the same as a handwritten signature.”

You “sign” by using a unique code along with your own smartcard and reader. E-residency won’t give you right to live in Estonia or even to visit the country, but Taavi Kotka of the Ministry for Economic Affairs in the capital Tallinn says it will let you do business there. 

“You can open up a bank account, start a company, run a company, all that stuff," he says. "We’re aiming to sign up 10 million e-residents. That would give a big boost to the Estonian economy. More customers for our banks, for telecom companies ... for everybody.”

Kotka claims e-residency will be totally secure. To qualify, you must supply biometric data — like finger prints — and be vetted. However, Ian Bond, a former British ambassador to neighboring Latvia, is not entirely reassured.

“I would have some concerns about who exactly would be getting e-residency. With Russia on its doorstep, there is a risk of money laundering. There is a risk of exploitation by organized crime. $64 won’t pay for much in-depth vetting,” he says.

Estonia knows all about cyber problems from its mighty neighbor; the country suffered a massive attack from Russian hackers in 2007, apparently because it planned to relocate a Soviet-era war memorial. Estonian government, bank, police and other emergency websites crashed under a bombardment of service denial messages. But the Baltic state weathered the storm and it is now host to NATO’s cyber security headquarters. Estonia reckons that although it is small, it can defend itself — and its residents — in cyberspace.   

What might happen after Iran sanctions are lifted

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-24 02:00

Monday is the deadline for Iran nuclear talks. Negotiators are considering a deal that would limit Tehran’s nuclear enrichment ability, in return for lifting international oil and banking sanctions.

These sanctions helped bring Iran to the talks in the first place—Its markets were cut off, oil exports fell, recession came.

Karim Sadjadpour at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has tallied the cost of Iran’s nuclear program, in terms of sanctions, lost revenue and lost investment. His number: $100 billion dollars.

Separately, a former Iranian foreign minister put the cost at $450 billion.

“When you look at these enormous costs and you weigh it against what Iran’s nuclear program can really provide in terms of energy, it’s an economic catastrophe,” Sadjadpour says. “This is a nuclear program which can at best provide only two percent of Iran’s energy needs, and in the process of building this nuclear program, they’ve cannibalized their main source of revenue, which is oil and gas.”

And yet, Sadjadpour notes, Iran’s supreme leader does not make decisions based on economics. It’s politics.

Click below to hear more of Sadjadpour's interview:

 

If there is a deal, Iran will want to sell more oil and return to previous levels. This despite today’s global glut, and despite the fact that Iran and other OPEC members are considering overall production cuts. That would put upward pressure on oil prices, currently down some 30 percent from June.

So, which OPEC member would bear the pain of lost business? Likely not Iran, says analyst Amrita Sen of Energy Aspects in London.

“They have already lost out on so many billions of dollars of revenues,” she says. “That’s really where it becomes a challenge for OPEC.”

The group meets on Thanksgiving day.

 

 

 

 

Marriage and the class divide

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-24 02:00

The rise of single-parent households isn’t just a social and cultural phenomena—it has import economic implications. That’s the gist of a new study put out by the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, who argues that stronger marriages could help bridge the ever-growing class divide. But trying to pin down the root causes of the gulf between the haves and have-nots is a bit like hitting a moving target.

In 1980, approximately 78 percent of families with children were headed by married parents. In 2012, married parents account for only 66 percent of families with children.

Bradford Wilcox is the Director of the National Marriage Project and a co-author of the AEI study, which is titled "For Richer, For Poorer." He says this retreat from marriage accounts for 32 percent of the growth in family-income inequality between 1979 and 2012, and falls particularly hard on the poor and working class.

“So, not only are they earning less, comparatively speaking," says Wilcox, "but they’re also less likely to pool their incomes and to build common assets as married families."

On average, Wilcox says the data show married men earn about $16,000 more than their single peers. Likewise, children from married families are much more likely to get a college degree. But others say this marriage effect is a bit overblown.

“The big changes in distribution of income since 2000 have been near the top,” says Christopher Jencks, a professor of Social Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He says the massive growth in incomes by the "one percent" is a more plausible explanation for inequality.

“It’s a little hard to think that, 'well, that’s all driven by single parent families.' That’s a big factor at the bottom [of the income scale], but the bottom hasn’t changed much," explains Jencks.

He points to wage stagnation and fewer manufacturing jobs as other explanations for growing economic inequality.

Action On Immigration Meets Silence, Skepticism In Silicon Valley

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 01:16

As an organized sector, the tech industry did not applaud President Obama's executive action on immigration; and the future of the joint campaign for a comprehensive bill is unclear.

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Combat Training: Can Female Marines Get The Job Done?

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 23:42

The Marine Corps have begun a year-long experiment to decide if women can enter ground combat. Hundreds of men and women began training a few weeks ago at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

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Upfront Costs Of Going Digital Overwhelm Some Doctors

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 23:40

Physicians with small practices may be especially hard hit by federal regulations that aim to bring doctoring into the digital age in 2015.

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