National News

Russia swore off our chicken legs. But not to worry.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-07 13:51

Russia is hitting back against U.S. and European economic sanctions with some of its own.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said today that Russia will ban the import of food and agricultural products – including pig meat, cow meat, chicken meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy products – from the U.S., EU, Canada, Norway and Australia.

This is not the first Russian ban on U.S. foods. Last February, Russia closed its door to American beef and pork, citing a zero-tolerance policy to additives that are fed to U.S. cattle and hogs. U.S. beef exports didn't suffer significantly. 

"Even with Russia out of the picture, our beef exports set a record last year of more than $6 billion," said Joe Schuele, communications director with the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Beef exports to Russia may have halted, but the American poultry industry exported $129 million worth of chicken, mostly chicken legs, to Russia in the first half of this year. Still, Russia is only about 7 percent of the U.S. export market, down from as much as 40 percent in recent years. 

"If this would have happened 10 years ago, it would have been catastrophic," said Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. "But fortunately our industry is far less dependent on Russia as one of our key markets."

In 2013, the U.S. exported a little over $1 billion worth of foodstuffs to Russia, while the EU exported $16 billion. However, some Russia watchers think it may be Russians who bear the brunt of the ban.  

"At a minimum, Russian consumers are going to see a large number of products disappear, and in replacing them they're likely to see an increase in food prices," said Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Bank of America settles: So we're all good now, right?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-07 13:43

Bank of America is reportedly ready to pay up to $17 billion to atone for selling lousy mortgage investments in the run-up to the financial crisis. Overall, big American banks are paying more than $100 billion in settlements like this.

For the banks, paying settlement costs is a way to move past the darkest days of the meltdown. But many financial observers still point to enduring problems on Wall Street. Chief among them is the issue of risk and reward.

Bankers didn’t create and sell dicey mortgage investments because they wanted to decimate the world’s economy. They did it because their bank bonus structures paid them handsomely for doing so. They were incentivized to keep going, long after red flags popped up.

“No one slammed on the brakes,” says Charles Kenji Whitehead, a Cornell Law School professor and former high-level banking attorney. “Have we actually done anything to address that problem? Not really.”

Whitehead thinks recent changes on compensation and risk don’t do enough. Banks say going further would damage their business, maybe even make it more expensive for small businesses and regular people to bank.

And as far as all those multi-billion dollar settlements, don’t forget who really pays the tab.

“We've seen only punishments of shareholders,” says Jim Sinegal, Morningstar’s lead bank analyst. “A lot of the executives, a lot of the people making money -- making the most money in some cases -- are not getting punished at all.”

Dennis Kelleher runs the nonprofit Better Markets. A critic of Wall Street, he takes a dim view of recent bank settlements, saying they should be bigger and more transparent.

But at the same time, he is optimistic about moves being made related to the problem of Too Big to Fail, the worry that taxpayers will get stuck bailing out banks. He appreciated regulators telling banks this week that their disaster planning doesn't cut it.

“Rejecting these plans was a tremendous stride on behalf of the American people to get financial reform in place,” Kelleher says.

But of course, the rejection of those Too Big to Fail plans means there still aren't acceptable ones.

Mark Garrison: When bank settlements get announced, Charles Kenji Whitehead zeroes in on one thing.

Charles Kenji Whitehead: If you read the statement of facts that get issued, your jaw drops at just how lax some of the internal controls were at these banks.

He’s a Cornell law professor and former high-level banking attorney. Bankers made and sold dicey mortgage investments because their bank bonus structures rewarded them for it. And as a result, even when red flags went up. . .

Whitehead: No one slammed on the brakes. Have we actually done anything to address that problem? Not really.

Whitehead thinks recent changes on compensation and risk don’t do enough. Banks say going further would damage their business, maybe even make it more expensive for regular people to bank. And as far as all those multi-billion dollar settlements, don’t forget who really pays the tab.

Jim Sinegal: We’ve seen only punishments of shareholders.

Jim Sinegal is Morningstar’s lead bank analyst.

Sinegal: A lot of the executives, a lot of the people making money, making the most money in some cases, are not getting punished at all.

Then there’s the problem of Too Big to Fail, that taxpayers will get stuck bailing out banks. Dennis Kelleher runs the nonprofit Better Markets, a Wall Street critic. He takes a dim view of the bank settlements, saying they should be bigger and more transparent. But at the same time, he’s glad regulators told banks this week that their disaster planning doesn’t cut it.

Dennis Kelleher: Rejecting these plans was a tremendous stride on behalf of the American people to get financial reform in place.

But of course, rejecting those plans means there still aren’t acceptable ones. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

Amid Ebola's Spread, One Rule Reigns: 'Don't Touch'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 13:01

Numbers from the World Health Organization put Sierra Leone at the top of the list for cases of Ebola. Yusuf Mackery explains what's being done to prevent infection and raise public awareness.

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Liberia And Sierra Leone Seal Off Ebola Epicenters With Troops

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:56

As the deadly Ebola virus outbreak continues to spread, affected nations are imposing drastic new measures to try to contain the infection.

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At Africa Summit, South Sudanese President Resents Pressure From U.S.

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:51

The world's newest country has been roiled by ethnic and political clashes, as well as famine. The U.S. and other African heads of state are pressing the country's president to make peace with rebels.

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Russia Retaliates For Western Sanctions With Ban On Food Imports

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:46

Russia reacted to Western economic sanctions by imposing a yearlong ban on U.S. and European food products. Moscow also made clear it's still considering other measures.

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A Pair Of Approaching Storms Promise Hawaii A 1-2 Drench

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

The National Weather Service is forecasting that for the first time in 22 years, Hawaii will be hit directly by a hurricane — two, in fact. Hurricane Iselle is expected to make landfall soon, and Hurricane Julio is right on its tail.

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U.S. Considers Taking To Air To Aid Iraqis Marooned On Mountaintop

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

The White House is considering several military options to address an emergency humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq. The administration may approve either air strikes or airdrops of food and medicine to help tens of thousands of refugees stranded on a mountaintop.

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Militants Sweep Through Iraq's North, Mobilizing Exodus Of Refugees

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

After a week of fighting and conflicting accounts, militants with the Islamic State have reportedly captured Iraq's largest dam. The development spells danger for much of Iraq's civilian population.

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Khmer Rouge Convictions Offer Small Solace For Cambodian Victims

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

The Khmer Rouge terrified Cambodia when the group ruled the country in the 1970s. On Thursday, the two most senior surviving leaders of the regime received life sentences for crimes against humanity.

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In Texas Borderland, Security Is No Simple Goal

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

Calls for security at the border have intensified as an unprecedented number of migrant children have started crossing into the U.S. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is sending 1,000 National Guard troops to the area, but border security is more complex than it appears.

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To Solve Cybercrime, Some In Silicon Valley Ditch The Data

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

Collecting data about people has become $1 trillion industry, but keeping this information safe is proving near impossible. So, a small group of entrepreneurs and developers are building new technologies that don't rely on data as a digital currency.

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White House Seeks Ways To Go It Alone In Keeping Companies Stateside

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

The Obama administration is exploring ways to prevent U.S. businesses from relocating abroad to save money on taxes. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew indicated that Congress would need to act, but now the administration says it is looking for ways to act on its own.

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With Gazans' Eyes On Cairo, Hamas Hopes For Leverage

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 12:16

War's toll on Gaza has been brutal, claiming civilians' lives and leveling buildings. But Hamas and many Gazans say the conflict was necessary, because they had run out of options in negotiating. If Palestinians come away with concessions after peace talks in Egypt, many think the damage will all have been worthwhile.

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Iraq's Widening War Imperils A Religious Minority

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 11:57

The Yazidis are an ancient religious sect concentrated in a remote corner of Iraq. They've been thrust into the spotlight of Iraq's nasty conflict, with thousands taking refuge in barren mountains.

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Gluten-Free Food Banks Bridge Celiac Disease And Hunger

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 11:34

It's not always easy for people with celiac disease to find gluten-free food. And it's even harder for lower-income people with the disease who rely on food pantries to help them fill their bellies.

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Michigan Man Found Guilty In Shooting Death Of Girl On His Porch

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 11:15

The white homeowner said he shot the 19-year-old because he'd felt threatened when she pounded on his door after 4 a.m. She had crashed her car about half a mile from his house.

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Obama Signs $16 Billion VA Health Care Bill Into Law

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 11:01

The legislation provides funding to improve facilities and hire more medical staff, along with allowing more veterans to use private facilities.

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The slick business behind 'Sharknado(es)'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-07 10:54

The movie industry is suffering from a poor year at the box office, but one production company is doing better than ever.

The Asylum is an L.A.-based film company that made cinematic gems like "The Terminators", "Titanic II" and "Transmorphers."  If these titles sound familiar, that’s because they were inspired by actual blockbuster hits. These "mockbusters," as they're called, were made to ride the coattails of their namesakes.

Co-founder David Michael Latt is now the head of production. He says bigger movie studios use their strategy all the time.

“They just call it 'drafting'. It’s like having 'Volcano' and 'Dante’s Peak' at the same time. When you find out somebody’s making a film about transforming robots, basically, the appetite out there... is that people want more about transforming robots. So we’re gonna go create a film that kind of takes advantage of the awareness.”

Since The Asylum’s launch in 1997, it has made over 200 movies and none of them have lost money. Their most recent film is "Sharknado 2: The Second One", which was seen by almost four million people – the largest audience the SyFy channel has ever had.

Latt says his company is lucky to have lasted this long in the business.

“We don’t have outside investors. We are a cash flow company. The reason why we make so many movies is because we need to keep this dog and pony show up and running –because the film we make today is the film that’s gonna fund the film five months from now.”

If The Asylum's success continues, Latt says he’d be happy to field offers from bigger studio interested in buying them out. For now, he's having plenty of fun.

Listen to one of The Asylum's partners Paul Bales read a letter from some less than friendly "fan" mail and offer his response...

...and listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Film by Preditorial.

Music: [include the linked Attribution 3.0]

"The Descent" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"Say Yeah" Topher Mohr and Alex Elena
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"Wah Game Loop" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"Rollin at 5" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"Mandeville" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"Monkeys Spinning Monkeys" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"Feelin Good" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Embattled Montana Senator Withdraws From Race

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-07 10:34

In the wake of plagiarism accusations, appointed Democratic Sen. John Walsh announced Thursday he would not seek a full term in November.

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