National News

Wal-Mart: From 'low prices' to fast banking

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:11

Is there anything Wal-Mart doesn’t want to sell you? The country’s biggest retailer has announced it will offer low-cost checking accounts to anybody 18 and older.

Wal-Mart is partnering with Green Dot, best known for prepaid debit cards.  Wal-Mart says many of its customers are looking for an alternative to high fees at traditional banks.  

“GoBank” is a mobile checking account with no overdraft fees, no bounced check fees and no minimum balance requirement. Wal-Mart has tried to obtain a banking license but bank regulators have rejected the idea. 

Mike Moebs, CEO of the economic research firm Moebs Services, says by partnering with a bank like Green Dot, Wal-Mart can still get a slice of that business.  “Wal-Mart has already done this with check cashing and with money orders and with money transfers and they’ve done it very, very successfully,” says Moebs.

 Moebs expects Wal-Mart to get a cut of the so-called “swipe fee” every time a customer uses GoBank’s debit card. Wal-Mart declined to comment on its financial arrangement with Green Dot.

It does say it’ll be quick to sign up for an account. Daniel Eckert, Wal-Mart vice president of financial services, says customers can literally sign up with a smartphone app “in the parking lot.”  Apparently that “always low prices” thing is now also “always fast banking.” 

Shifting Stance, Some GOP Candidates Back State Minimum Wage Hikes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:01

As free-market conservatives, Republicans are philosophically opposed to raising the minimum wage. But a handful in tight races are having second thoughts.

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Dems Probably Won't Take The House, So Why Are They Raising So Much?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:26

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is millions of dollars ahead of the Republicans in fundraising, especially among the small-donor faithful.

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#Gamergate Controversy Fuels Debate On Women And Video Games

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:26

A debate has flared surrounding ethics in video game journalism and the role and treatment of women in the video game industry. Attacks online have turned heated, vicious and ugly.

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Remembering Christopher Hogwood, An Evangelist For Early Music

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:07

The English conductor, keyboard player and musicologist died Wednesday at age 73. He used modern scholarship and keen musicianship to bring new life to works by Handel and Bach, Mozart and Haydn.

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U.N. Security Council Unanimously Passes Anti-Terrorism Resolution

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:45

The measure targets travel of militants abroad as well as recruiting and funding for extremist groups. It was adopted at a meeting chaired by President Obama.

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Grieving But Grateful, Ebola Survivors In Liberia Give Back

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:44

After living through their own nightmares, Ebola survivors are still mourning the loss of their loved ones. But they're giving back by working at the treatment centers and caring for children.

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Research Institutions Will Have To Identify 'Dual-Use' Pathogens

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:11

Scientists are deeply divided on whether lab-made flu viruses are legitimate medical research or national security threats. A new federal policy asks institutions to evaluate those risks early on.

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Some iPhone 6 Plus Users Find An Unwanted Feature: It Bends

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 10:47

Some owners of Apple's new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are discovering that their superslim glass and aluminum devices aren't holding up well in an environment that's usually safe: their pockets.

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The Gefilte Fish Line: A Sweet And Salty History Of Jewish Identity

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 10:41

Gefilte fish can be a hard sell even in its standard savory form. But some European Jews like it sweet, a preference that, surprisingly, overlaps exactly with a geographic and linguistic divide.

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Hollande: French Hostage 'Assassinated' By Algerian Extremists

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 09:38

The group calling itself Soldiers of the Caliphate released a video purportedly showing the beheading of kidnapped mountain guide Herve Gourdel.

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Here's how we'll cut down on greenhouse gases

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 09:11

This is Climate Week in New York City. About 300,000 people marched to call attention to global warming on Sunday. On Tuesday, at the United Nations, President Obama and more than 100 heads of state gathered to push for a low-carbon future, to combat global warming. The balance of the week is conferences and public events up and down Manhattan.

But let's be honest: Raise your hand if you have climate fatigue. Again with the parts per billion, the Arctic shelf, the guilt.

Business types in New York are trying to change the way we talk about climate change. So we will, too. Make it less about selflessness and altruism. More about investments, markets and, dare we say, greed.
So you may have asked yourself: What can I do on climate change? Bike to work? Eat locally grown food?
"When people ask me that question, and they do, my response is always the same," says Robert Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard. Be prepared: his answer stings.
"What you will be able to accomplish or contribute through your solo actions," he says, "is so small it is lost in the noise."
The problem is too big. Stavins says you need scale, preferably for the lowest possible cost, to reduce the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere. Environmental bang for the buck.
One big bang is coal power: That's 44 percent of world emissions right there. Cleaner alternatives are solar, wind and natural gas.
"One of the most important opportunities for reducing CO2 emissions is to make sure that gas is replacing coal in electricity generation," says Helge Lund, president and CEO of Statoil, the Norwegian energy giant.
But in order to speed it up, Lund says, "You have a significantly higher CO2 price."

That's the "buck" part. Here's the idea: Fossil fuels pollute. So policymakers can take that environmental cost and add it to the price of fossil energy. That is, raise the price. That makes low-carbon technology more competitive.
Which ones would deploy? Natural gas? LED lights? Solar? Coal plants that bury emissions underground? Stavins says governments don't have to pick. Investors and customers will.
"That's the virtue of a carbon pricing mechanism," he says. "It will automatically draw to the fore those technologies, those practices which are lowest cost."
For instance, if solar is the cheapest, best option for household power, consumers will pick that. Solar-panel seller IKEA thinks they will. Here's President and CEO Peter Agnefjall.
"I think we'll halve the installed cost over the next 10 years of solar," he says. "So it's great sense to do it today. It will be unthinkable not to do it in 10 years' time."
Could he be wrong? Perhaps more money will pick wind energy. In certain places, it's cheaper, says Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
"So if you look at the Great Plains in the U.S., you look at Brazil," Liebreich says. "You look at Australia, you look at India, you look at China. If you want really cheap electrical power, you build a wind farm now."

Now, on the other hand, he says, "You've got some very expensive technologies people would like to believe are part of the solution. Offshore wind is being done, but it's expensive. But then you can go up to wave power and then, always, on transportation, fuel cells."
Of course, down the road fuel cells may get cheaper. But the point is, customers and investors have no interest in overpaying. With a carbon price, the low-cost, low-CO2 products win. An efficient, shall we say cheapskate, road to a low-carbon future.

The U.S. Bombing Campaign: Is It War Or Counterterrorism?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 09:11

President Obama has been reluctant to call it a war, yet the administration and the Pentagon boast of a 40-nation coalition and warn of a military operation that could last for years.

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Vatican Arrests Defrocked Archbishop On Sex Charges

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

Former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who was defrocked earlier this year, has been accused of paying for sex with children while he was papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

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When Cigarettes Cost More, People Drink Less. Except For Wine

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 08:46

If you raised the price of Don Draper's cigarettes, would he have cut back on the whiskey? Probably not, but it works on most beer and spirits drinkers, a study finds. Wine drinkers, not so much.

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He Fixed South Africa's AIDS Policy, Now He's Out To Fight Salt

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 08:14

Health Minister Aaron Motsolaedi faced an HIV/AIDS crisis when he took office in 2009. He's made great progress on that front. His new campaign: Convincing South Africans to live healthier lives.

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Tech pumps cash into DC, for what?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 08:08

For years, tech companies ignored Washington. But Washington wasn’t about to ignore them. 

A few years ago Congress debated some big bills on internet policy, and Silicon Valley wasn’t at the table.

So tech companies opened D.C. headquarters, and started lobbying. 

Two years ago web giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook joined forces to create a new trade group, The Internet Association.

Michael Beckerman is the association’s president and CEO. 

He showed me around their sleek, new Washington office and explained why he’s here.

“That’s my job," he says. "To help build relationships and bridge the gap between our industry and Congress.”

That gap makes it hard for tech to gain traction in Washington. 

Part of the problem? It takes time to build relationships on Capitol Hill, and tech is new to the K Street lobby game. 

Also, the tech industry wants quick movement on huge issues, like immigration and patent reform.

Back in Silicon Valley, they can’t understand what’s taking so long.

“In the Internet world and Silicon Valley, people see a problem and they find a way to solve it but that’s not always how Washington works,” Beckerman says.

No, it’s not. So Beckerman and his chief lobbyist, Gina Woodworth make regular trips to Capitol Hill. 

The day I meet up with them, they’re off to Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) office.

Of course, we take an Uber SUV to Capitol Hill.

They're going to Ryan's office to talk about trade legislation.    

“The last time they drafted a trade bill was in 2002," says Gina Woodworth. "In 2002 a lot of our companies weren’t even created and we weren’t really an active stakeholder at that time. But now we are.”

And they have the cash to prove it.

“Spending by the tech sector has more than tripled since 1998,” says Sheila Krumholz,  executive director at the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbyists' spending in Washington.

Krumholz says the tech lobby budget went from $40 million in the late 90s, to more than $140 million last year. 

And she says Silicon Valley is on track to spend at least that much this year.  

Today, tech is the fourth biggest spender on lobbying in Washington.

“What they get for all this lobbying is not clear,” says Anthony Corrado, a professor of  government at Colby College. “Even on a very narrow issue like immigration reform and a modification of visa policy to allow more engineers in, for example, they can’t get any action.”

What’s worse, Corrado says, sometimes tech companies lobby on different sides of an issue, like net neutrality. 

Which pits the companies that built the pipes of the internet against the users of those pipes.

Corrado says there’s a clear winner here. And it’s not the tech lobby.

“Members of Congress are more than happy to have tech industry lobbying on both sides of an issue because it makes it much easier for them to solicit campaign contributions,” he says.

Corrado calls it a fundraising bonanza. Welcome to Washington, Silicon Valley.

After The NIH Funding 'Euphoria' Comes The 'Hangover'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 07:54

The way the National Institutes of Health doles out research grants accentuates booms and busts in the financing of scientific research. More variety in the length of grants could help.

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Obama At U.N.: World Risks Being Caught In 'Undertow Of Instability'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 07:15

The president, in an address to the General Assembly, says nations are at a crossroads and that the international system must meet challenges ranging from terrorism to disease.

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Hearing That Things Can Change Helps Teens Dodge Depression

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 06:17

High schoolers are vulnerable to depression. Telling teenagers that people and circumstances can change and things will get better helps reduce the risk of depressive symptoms, a study finds.

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