National News

Some bond insurers oppose Detroit's bankruptcy plan

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-24 03:00

Retirees and employees have voted to accept benefit cuts under Detroit’s bankruptcy blueprint, but not all creditors are on board. Two of the biggest holdouts are bond insurers.

Some are cooperating with Detroit’s plan, but not Syncora Guarantee Inc.

“They’re fighting tooth and nail against the city’s proposed settlement, because it’ll cost them money,” says Alan Schankel, a municipal research analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott.

Syncora and Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. (FGIC) insured almost $1.5 billion of Detroit’s pension debt. The city is offering ten cents on the dollar, or less. That may not be enough.

“Bond insurers got in a lot of trouble in the 2008 crisis. A lot of them were investing in some very exotic derivatives and other things,” says Eric Scorsone, a public finance economist at Michigan State University.

Syncora was insuring mortgage backed securities and other complicated financial products, says analyst Alan Schankel. As the housing crisis hit, Syncora lost capital and its AAA rating.

This all comes at a time when fewer muni bonds are even getting insured. Schankel says before the financial crisis, more than half of new bonds got insurance.

“This year to date that percentage is 4.85 percent,” he says, calling it a precipitous drop.

He believes marketshare will improve over time. The question is whether it will happen in time for Syncora. 

Air Algerie: Jet Likely Crashed In Mali With 116 Aboard

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:34

The MD-83 aircraft was about an hour into its flight from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers. It was carrying 110 passengers and six crew members.

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A Strange Political Dustup Clouds Kansas Governor's Future

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:05

An open revolt among moderate Kansas Republicans has clouded Gov. Sam Brownback's re-election hopes and focused national attention on the tax-cutting experiment at the heart of his "red-state model."

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In Detroit Porch Shooting Trial, It's Murder Vs. Self-Defense

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:01

The murder trial is underway for Theodore Wafer, the Detroit homeowner who shot Renisha McBride, an unarmed black teen, on his porch. Wafer claims self-defense; prosecutors say there was no threat.

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Iowa Mayor Calls For 'Caring Cities' To Take In Young Immigrants

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:01

The governor of Iowa says he's empathetic but doesn't want to host any of the unaccompanied and undocumented children from Central America. But advocacy groups and other officials in the state are urging Iowans to welcome them.

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New Rules Proposed For Oil-Carrying Trains In Wake Of Fiery Crashes

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:01

The Obama administration is proposing new safety rules for railroad oil tank cars, after a series of fiery derailments. The rules would phase out thousands of older cars in two years.

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With New Safety Measures, Nuclear Reactors May Reopen In Japan

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:01

Three years after the Fukushima disaster shut Japan's nuclear power plants, reactors at a different plant may reopen. Steve Inskeep talks with Wall Street Journal Tokyo bureau chief Peter Landers.

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Military Dogs' Advocates Say The Canines Aren't Pets — They're Vets

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:01

Military war dogs serve combat tours, save lives and suffer injuries like the soldiers they serve. On Capitol Hill this week, dogs and their handlers made the case that all dogs should be brought home from war and treated with the respect they've earned.

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Syrian Babies Born To Refugees Face A Future In Limbo

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:01

Syrians have flooded into neighboring countries and now they are having babies. But the children are not receiving citizenship from either Syria or the country where they are born.

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Despite Mideast Turmoil, More French Jews Are Moving To Israel

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:01

Anti-Semitism in France and across Europe is fueling emigration, Jews say. One father whose son is leaving says, "France is no longer the beautiful country it was."

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How High Debt From The Housing Collapse Still Stifles Our Economy

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:01

Seven years after the subprime mortgage crisis, the U.S. economy has not yet fully recovered. Now two economists have come up with new evidence about what's holding the economy back.

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Why young children are fleeing Central America

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:00

The issue of how to deal with young illegal immigrants has been particularly troubling for the Obama administration, with more than 57,000 young migrants, most from Central America, apprehended at the southwest border since October.

María Elena Salinas co-anchors the Univision Network’s national newscast “Noticiero Univision” and the weekly primetime newsmagazine “Aquí y Ahora." She took a recent trip to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to explore the social, political, and economic reasons why children are fleeing from those countries to the United States. 

Click the media player above to hear Univision anchor María Elena Salinas in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

Demographics, tech, and the digital divide

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:00

In the tech industry, one of the central debates has been over whether continued technological innovation can do much good for a wider group of people than just a narrow slice of the urban upper middle class. Tessie Guillermo, CEO of the tech consulting company ZeroDivide, has been thinking about these issues.

The “digital divide” — the gaps between technology haves and have nots — which inspired the name of her firm, is a real and pressing issue. The skewed demographics of the tech industry can also make using technology to improve social outcomes a challenge.

“It creates a lot of anxiety and fear,” says Guillermo.

The ability to give digital literacy to these groups — community organizations and underserved communities — is difficult, and the demographics compound the challenge.

Furthermore, the way the tech industry sells these improvements could be counterproductive.

“There’s not necessarily an app for everything,” says Guillermo.

There is an impatience to how the tech industry deals with problems, in terms of the constant iteration, that doesn’t always translate to other contexts. 

When music introduces a new technology

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:00

If music tech nerds had a patron saint, that patron saint might be electronic music pioneer Robert Moog. As an inventor and entrepreneur, Moog's impact on synthesizers and electronic music in general is best described by gear heads who are more knowledgeable than yours truly. Nonetheless I've been thinking about Moog and his synthesizers a lot.

The 9th anniversary of Moog's death is just under a month away on August 21st. I've been thinking about Moogs in part because of the band Neutral Milk Hotel, which played Brooklyn on Wednesday. At this point, the band has reached a kind of classic indie rock status — known far more now than it was back when it was making records. And one of the great songs in the band's set right now features a special version of the Moog called the Rogue, played by bassist Julian Koster. Not designed by Moog himself, the instrument has its supporters and detractors.

But dang if it doesn't sound pretty awesome when Koster plays it on this tune. The first time I heard it, I was floored. Check it out (gets good around 2:00):

 

Instrument technology in the electronic age has vastly expanded the number of options musicians have when they go about making their music. That’s had a massive impact on the art form—maybe more than other disciplines, though that could be my bias.

As an example, the Rogue is actually pretty old fashioned. It came out in 1981 — since then there have been so many other kinds of synthesizers and digital instruments that have appeared to change the landscape for musicians. But it was cheaper than earlier models, making it easier for people who wanted a monophonic synth to get and play with.

For musicians, most of whom do not start out rich, price point is often a key deciding factor. And as technology advances, it often gets cheaper. So I think the Rogue is still one of my favorites — proof that innovation at its best can move the needle and the listener.  

Why it's so difficult to break the glass ceiling

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-24 02:00

Workplace discrimination comes in many different forms and shapes. But research out of the University of Colorado shows how women and minorities are often punished for promoting other women and minorities.

Researchers at the University of Colorado say they think they’ve solved the puzzle of why there is still a glass ceiling. They say women and minority leaders are discouraged from focusing on diversity, while white men are praised for doing so.

Matthew Kohut is Managing Partner of KNP Communications and co-author of the book, “Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential.” 

“This is a double standard. There’s no question that this is straight up discrimination,” says Kohut.

Kohut says a positive case for diversity has to be made again and again.

“Certainly my hope would be that, that would minimize the impact of this double standard and that would begin to chip away at it,” says Kohut.

But in the meantime, the best and brightest employees could still be overlooked. Lissa Broome heads the Director Diversity Initiative at the University of North Carolina Law School.

“So I would really hate the result of this to be that people don’t go to bat for whomever they believe the best candidate is regardless of that person’s gender or race,” said Broome. 

The study suggests one way to change this behavior is to get rid of the idea of “diversity” and instead focus on “demographic unselfishness.” 

FAA Lifts Ban On U.S. Flights To Tel Aviv

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 20:27

The FAA worked with other U.S. agencies to reassess the risk of planes being hit by rockets at Israel's main airport. But that doesn't mean all carriers will resume service.

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Arizona Execution Of Inmate Takes Nearly 2 Hours

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 15:54

Officials who were attempting to put inmate Joseph Wood to death instead watched him gasp and snort for more than an hour, Wood's attorney says. Gov. Jan Brewer has ordered a review of the process.

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Democrats Make New Bid To Require Donor Transparency

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 15:04

The latest version of the DISCLOSE Act, which would force donor disclosure on outside organizations that engage in election politics, is facing now-familiar opposition from Republican lawmakers.

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Campaign Finance Transparency Bill Gets Chilly Reception In Senate

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 14:56

The legislation would require any politically active group that spends more than $10,000 to list its donors.

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