National News

Earth day is middle aged. Is it over the hill?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-22 02:52

Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

Earth day, at 44, may be a little tired. The United Nations continues to report that the urgency of fighting climate change, for instance, should be red hot. But polling from Gallup shows that fewer people say they worry about it "a great deal" than at any time since 1998, when Gallup started asking the question. 

Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief, says there's a trend that the top-line numbers don't show: The people who have moved from saying they're concerned about the environment to saying "not-so-much" are Republicans.

"So clearly the fact that this has become a political football has kept the overall concern numbers down," he says. "You’ve got a lot of conservatives and Republicans who say that it's exaggerated, and the concern and alarm are not nearly as high as Democrats say they are."

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, doesn’t think that polarization will last. He cites numbers from a poll commissioned by the Sierra Club, showing that young voters want action on climate change.

"To me, that says you’re going to see a return to bipartisan solutions on this issue sometime soon," Krupp says. "Because for either political party to have a future, they’re going to have to address this overwhelming challenge."

Supreme Court Case Could Change How You Watch TV

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-22 02:51

Aereo offers consumers in 11 cities a cheap way to watch local stations that deliver network TV shows. The networks contend that Aereo uses a gimmick to thwart the economic vitality of their business.

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Is Abenomics working? Depends on who you ask.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-22 02:43

Shinzo Abe came to power in December of 2012 with a strategy he called "the three arrows." Everyone else in the world has taken to calling it "Abe-nomics." Roughly approximated, you might call it: Inflate, stimulate, and deregulate. 

How's it working? Depends who you ask. 

Inflate: Fighting the deflationary monster

Deflation, or the threat of deflation, has stalked Japan for nearly 20 years. Deflation is poison for economic growth. Consumers put off today's spending because things will be cheaper tomorrow, wages don't rise, and both of those things reinforce future deflation. 

Abe appointed a new Central Bank president, Haruhiko Kuroda, and they went to town on the money supply and interest rates. They proclaimed a goal of doubling the monetary base and achieving inflation of 2 percent within two years, says Georgetown University's Arthur Alexander: "It was like a 222 program, very easy to sell, bumper sticker type of policy."

Some results were immediate. 

Longer term bond yields rose as people began to expect inflation and demand protection against it.  

"The new approach was also reflected in the exchange rate," says Stanford University's Takeo Hoshi. "It depreciated between 20 and 30 percent in the last year and a half," again reflecting people's expectation that inflation would at some point make the Yen less attractive – a good sign if you are trying to break the back of deflation.

Finally, inflation as measured by consumer price indices eventually rose above 1 percent. Japan may not get to the 2 percent Abe would like, but it’s certainly better than a zero or negative number.

Stimulate!

Abe has put forth a major stimulus package, but that, plus the ongoing expense of rebuilding after the Fukushima disaster, has resulted in a government debt of 227 percent of GDP. The country’s fiscal situation was problematic to begin with, and this has made some Japanese even more concerned.  

"People are seriously divided," says Ulrika Schaeda, who teaches Japanese business at the University of California, San Diego. It's reminiscent of the debates over government spending here.

A value added tax was introduced on April 1, but opinion is mixed as to whether it is sufficient to stabilize Japan's fiscal situation.

Deregulate: structural reform and the Big Picture

"The verdict on Abenomics will depend on whether or not they do the structural reforms," says Anil Kashyup, professor of Finance at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. The structural reforms are the big picture problems.

"There's all kinds of frictions that make Japan an unappealing place to do business," says Kashyup. Starting a business, getting hired full time, even finding childcare is hard in Japan. 

Some parts of Japan's economy are subsidized, protected, and unproductive says Kashyup.

"Rice in Japan is seven times the price on the world market," says Arthur Alexander, adjunct professor at Georgetown University. It appeared for a time that some headway was being made on opening Japan up to more international trade and a more vibrant retail sector, "but domestic politics seems to have reared its ugly head," Alexander says, referring to a cooling in negotiations between the U.S. and Japan over the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

This is the most difficult of Abe's arrows to guide, and it's what Japan watchers will be following closely. So in some ways Japan has changed a lot in a year.

The question is, will it keep changing?

Sherpas base salary is about $2,000

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-22 02:36

Update, April 22, 8:15 am ET: Mt. Everest's Sherpa guides decided late Tuesday to abandon the rest of the climing season, according to AFP. The decision came after a meeting with government officials in Nepal over insurance and financial aid for victims of last Friday's avalanche on the mountain that killed 13 people. 

Original story, April 22, 7:00 am ET: Sherpa mountaineers believe insurance and financial aid for families of victims is inadequate. The minimum insurance policy for the guides pays a death benefit of about $10,000 and the Nepalese government has announced a special payment of $415 to families in the wake of a tragedy. Average per capital income in Nepal is about $645 a year.

The sherpas who climb Mount Everest above the base camp, which is where the danger begins, make a base salary of about $2,000. But their pay is also determined by a bonus sytem for delivering loads to various camps. If they make the summit, they are paid $250 the first time. And every additional summit is worth $500, according to Conrad Anker, the world-renowned mountaineer who has scaled Everest several times.

"A good sherpa can earn between $4,000 to $6,000 in pay in one season," says Anker. "But it is extremely dangerous work."

Anker says the economics in Nepal, outside of the climbing season, is mostly subsistence agriculture. 

 

A tour of China's ghost towns

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-22 02:26

For the past three decades, China’s growth model has been anchored in building big projects: highways, bullet trains, and real estate. And that’s left hundreds of cities across China, nearly empty – ill-conceived projects built for the sole purpose of boosting GDP growth.

An empty shopping mall in the ghost city of Ordos, China.

Rob Schmitz/Marketplace

As part of Marketplace’s stage performance in the beltway “How I learned to stop worrying and love the numbers,” China Correspondent Rob Schmitz will take audience members on a tour of China’s ghost towns, ghost malls, and ghost suburbs, delving into the numbers that explain how a land of 1.4 billion people can have so much empty real estate.

A glimpse into China's most-famed "ghost cities"

China has laid out an ambitious plan to transform 250 million people from the countryside into city dwellers in the next 20 years. Its push for urbanization has encouraged local governments and developers to build skyscrapers and residential complexes, many under the belief of “build it and they will come”. However, the construction spree has left soaring debt, creating insolvency risks for local governments and inflating the country's real estate bubble. By China’s official account, China’s local governments owed $ 1.8 trillion of debt by the end of June 2013, about a third of China’s GDP. A CLSA report says China is "addicted to debt".

We'll take listeners to a Chinese replica of Manhattan, a city that was built to replace New York City as the world’s financial capital, but is now one of the world’s largest abandoned construction sites. He’ll bring listeners on a journey to one of China’s largest ghost cities, a metropolis built for a population the size of Pittsburgh’s, but that is now largely empty, a place where squatters have begun to occupy empty offices and where the government is in so much debt that it’s turned to developers to bail it out.

The city of Yujiapu is being built to become the world's largest financial capital. Construction on the city, a replica of Manhattan, has been recently halted due to a lack of investor confidence.

Rob Schmitz/Marketplace

It’s a side of China you rarely hear about, but it’s an incredibly important phenomenon to understand to grasp the totality of the economic changes China’s embarking on as it attempts to rebalance its economy.

Activist investors help shareholders, right?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-22 02:02

Activist investor William Ackman has set his eyes on a new target: Allergan.

Ackman has joined forces with Valeant Pharmaceuticals to purchase the Botox-maker for an undisclosed amount -- $50 billion is one educated guess. Ackman along with other so-called corporate raiders Carl Icahn and Nelson Peltz, have become famous, and sometimes infamous, for shaking up the companies they invest in.

Do they do more harm than good?

Bloomberg News reporter Tara Lachapelle joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to discuss the track record of activist investors, noting that more often than not, these in-it-to-win-it investors are actually a shareholder's friend.

Click on the audio player above to hear more. 

What's in a number?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-22 01:29

We’re taking Marketplace on the road this week, heading to Washington, DC for a live show on Thursday night. The title of the show is “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Numbers".  Which can be quite difficult, sometimes, as numbers can lead you seriously astray.

For example, I’m looking forward to tech earnings this week, and specifically  to results released by Apple (Wednesday) and Microsoft (Thursday). Lately a lot of people have been debating whether Apple is a “value” stock, or a “growth” stock.  Growth stocks are usually the shares of young companies, and investors buy them in the hope that they grow very quickly and the investor can make pots of money by selling into the stratospheric gains. Value stocks, on the other hand, tend to be associated with more mature companies. These shares grow slowly but steadily and often pay dividends: they are a long term play, while growth stocks are often a short term buy.

So which is Apple? Well, it’s a bit confusing, really. You see, from 30 thousand feet, Apple looks a lot like a value stock. It was started 38 years ago, and it went public in 1980, eight years before Microsoft. It’s huge: at $453 billion, it’s the biggest tech company in the US. It generates more revenue than any other US tech company. And it’s been paying dividends to shareholders since 1988. Big, mature, dividend-paying and safe, it looks like the epitome of a value play.

But that’s at 30,000 feet. Get a little closer to Apple, and a different picture emerges. Yes, it’s still the biggest and most profitable tech company in the US, but you could argue that Apple really only became Apple as we know it today in 1997, when Steve Jobs rejoined the firm.

Let’s call it Apple 2.0.

And Apple 2.0 looks a lot more like a growth stock. For one thing, it’s just 17 years old. As for those dividends, well, Apple 2.0 does pay dividends, but it only started paying them in 2012 (Apple 1.0 stopped paying them in 1995).

Apple 2.0’s stock trajectory makes it look like a growth company, too. Most companies go through a growth spurt, during which their stock price surges – this is what attracts investors wanted to make a little fast money, of course –after which companies often settle into a nice steady pace of slower growth. In other words, they transition from growth to value. But it’s hard to know whether Apple has done that. Microsoft’s growth spurt peaked in 2000, a full fourteen years ago, and people still argue about whether it’s a value stock or a growth play. Apple’s growth spurt peaked in 2012, just two years ago.

It goes to show that often it’s not the numbers that tell the story: it’s the numbers within the numbers. And that’s something we’ll be talking about a lot on Thursday night. Hope to see you there.

What Exactly Is 'High-Quality' Preschool?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-22 01:03

Many educators tout the benefits of preschool, but there's no clear standard for what qualifies as a quality program. Researchers say that when it comes to pre-K, Tulsa, Okla., gets it right.

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For Early Childhood Education, Tulsa, Okla., Stands Out

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-22 01:03

Many states are planning to expand early childhood education programs, but what constitutes a high-quality pre-K program? Researchers say the city of Tulsa, Okla., has come up with a winning formula.

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Supreme Court Will Hear Challenge To Ohio Ban On Campaign Lies

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-22 01:03

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday testing whether states can make it a crime to lie about candidates during an election campaign.

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Is Chicago America's funniest city?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-22 01:00

Researchers at the University of Colorado have used a Humor Algorithm (HA) to determine the funniest city in America. Among other things, factors like the number of comedy clubs and how many famous comedians were born in each city were taken into account.

And the funniest city? Chicago. It makes sense when you consider the improv scene in the area. The iO and The Second City are two of the most notable training grounds for fledgling comedians and improvisers.

Among the long list of notable Second City alumni are Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert:

Speaking of Second City, two of their regular comedians (Alan Linic and Claire Meyer) are in a relationship in which they regularly tweet what they fought about that day. That helped Chicago in the algorithm because the number of humorous tweeters in each city also factored into the rankings:

How did the rest of the country fare? Boston came in second and Atlanta third. You can check out the rest of the rankings, and the full report here.

Powerful Narcotic Painkiller Up For FDA Approval

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:29

The FDA is weighing the pros and cons of a drug that would, for the first time, combine morphine and oxycodone in a single pill. Critics warn that it could launch a new wave of abuse.

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'Ready For Hillary': Clinton's Campaign-In-Waiting

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:28

A shadow campaign is underway, raising small donations by selling T-shirts and baby onesies and holding fundraisers, all just waiting for Clinton to say that, yes, she is running for president.

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British Marine's New Mission: Save All Of Kabul's Street Animals

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:27

Street dogs and cats find treatment and get linked up with foreign adopters at a clinic that's helping lower the rabies threat in Kabul.

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Fields And Farm Jobs Dry Up With California's Worsening Drought

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:26

For the first time in six years, many California farmers have been told they'll get little or no federal irrigation water. And as farms run dry, workers are deciding to pack up and move away.

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Death Count In Ferry Sinking Tops 100

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:06

Officials in South Korea said Tuesday that confirmed fatalities had reached 104, with nearly 200 people still missing.

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Who's Protecting Whom From Deadly Toxin?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 16:16

Last year a scientist said he'd found a new form of botulinum toxin, and was keeping details secret to keep the recipe from terrorists. But other science and public health labs were shut out, too.

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Netflix Says It Will Raise New Customer Subscription Rates

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 15:46

The video-streaming announced plans to raise its monthly rates for new customers by $1 or $2 a month. It also said it had gained 2.25 million new customers.

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Sharp Rise In MERS Cases May Mean The Virus Is Evolving

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 15:38

A rash of infections in Saudi Arabia could be a warning signal that the deadly virus has reached a tipping point and is ready to spread out of the Middle East, scientists worry.

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The costs of climbing Mount Everest

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 15:00

The deadliest avalanche in Mount Everest history is leading Sherpas in Nepal to consider a labor strike. The boycott would protest the amount of money provided by the Nepalese government to families of the deceased. Thirteen Sherpas were killed and more are presumed dead after last Friday's fatal avalanche. The government currently provides about $400 per family and the strike would aim to increase that amount to $10,000. 

Sherpa guides have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, but many Sherpas are attracted by the relatively high pay of assisting climbers up Mount Everest. Sherpas make at least $2,000 per climbing season, considerably more than the median income of Nepal, which comes in at around $540 per year. Elite Sherpas can make as much as $4,000 - $5,000 in just two months. By comparison, Western guides make as much as $50,000, plus tips.

Alpine Ascents is a company the leads Everest climbs for $65,000 per person. Five of the Sherpas who died in last week's avalanche were employed by that company. Director of Programs Gordon Janow understands the importance of the Sherpa role in the business. "They're setting up the camps, carrying oxygen, walking side-by-side one-on-one," Janow says. Without Sherpas, he continues, "it'd be an entirely different style of expedition."

Perhaps even more difficult than the task of accompanying climbers to the summit, Sherpas also carry supplies and equipment on the climb. Legally, they are only supposed to carry 8 to 10 kilograms (17 to 22 pounds), but willingness to carry double that can also lead to double the earnings

 Right now, it's the start of climbing seasson and business is booming.

"You know there's a lot of money in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars that changes hands on Everest every year," says Nick Heil, editorial director of OutsideOnline.com and author of "Dark Summit," a book about the commercialization of climbing the Earth's highest mountain. "Only a small percentage of that goes into the hands and pockets and accounts of the work force that basically enables all of this to take place."

Sherpa's wages are not a part of the proposed boycott, but Janow says they're also worth discussing. However, he acknowledges it's a balancing act. If compensation rises too much, it could damage Nepal's climbing industry altogether. 

"Like anything else, does it push the cost of it up so people aren't going?" Janow asks.

Sherpas face more than just the fear of death. Being a Sherpa means frequent exposure to injuries, yet there is little support for those who become disabled on the job. The Sherpas are also asking the government to provide $10,000 in compensation for guides who can no longer work in mountaineering due to their injuries.

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