National / International News

NY train crash driver had sleep woes

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:28
The driver of a New York commuter train that derailed in December, killing four, suffers from a serious sleep disorder, investigators reveal.

UN concerned over Kenya mass arrests

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:21
The UN's refugee agency says it is concerned over the mass arrests of Somalis and others in Kenya amid an operation against militant Islamists.

Coal country starts to ask 'What comes after coal?'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:20

It’s no secret that coal is on the outs in the United States. The country’s natural gas boom and environmental regulations are dethroning King Coal after decades of rule in the electricity market. That should be good for the climate, but the transition to natural gas and renewables has human costs. Right now Central Appalachians are taking the hit, forcing communities there to contemplate a future beyond coal.

In eastern Kentucky, coal mining has been the lifeblood of the economy for well over a century. Now it's facing what might be termed a “low coal” future. Much of the easy-to-get coal has already been mined out. What’s left is harder to get, so production costs are higher. “The coal seams, they’re getting smaller,” says 30-year-old Ryan Trent, a laid-off miner who started at age 19. “You’ve got strata in between it, which is not full coal. So the more rock you cut,  the less coal you’re getting.”

That’s partly why Appalachian coal is having a hard time competing, not just against cheap and cleaner natural gas, but against newer, more efficient coal mines in the West’s Powder River Basin and the Midwest’s Illinois Basin. Coal companies also blame stricter EPA water quality standards, which they argue has effectively halted permits for Appalachian strip mining. 

The overall effect has been a wave of production slowdowns, mine closures and rising unemployment in the last two years. The median unemployment rate for eastern Kentucky’s top 10 coal-producing counties is 15.05 percent. That statistic includes Trent, who was earning $24.50 an hour, non-union, and says coal mining “is in his blood.” He’s been looking for another mining job since he was laid off in December 2012. “I’ve got the softest hands in eastern Kentucky, I’ve been doing so many dishes,” he jokes.

Trent and other miners are used to the ups and downs of the coal business, but Justin Maxson, president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, says this time is different. “To lose almost 7,000 jobs in almost 18 months is a catastrophe,” he says. “It’s a huge economic collapse. Folks to some degree feel like they’re under cultural assault.”

The realization that this could be a permanent decline in what’s been the lifeblood of the region is just now beginning to settle in, after years of warnings and, some would say, denial. John Haywood, owner of a tattoo parlor in Whitesburg, called The Parlor Room, says some of his more regular customers were coal miners, but many have stopped coming in.  “They used to come in once a month, even twice a month,” Haywood says. “Tattoo collectors that were willing to sit for a long time and get covered up.”

“Coal miners are our middle class.” That’s a common refrain in eastern Kentucky, where more than a quarter of the people live in poverty. According to Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, starting salaries in the mines average $65,000 and the jobs don’t require a high school education.

Communities are just now beginning to seriously discuss economic alternatives. Some blame the slow start on the “War on Coal” rhetoric, saying it’s distracted attention from preparing for a “low coal” future. Others say political leaders have spent coal severance tax money on basic services instead of diversifying the economy. 

Regional leaders who gathered in the mining town of Hazard to talk to Marketplace stressed they didn’t believe there was one single thing that could “replace” coal. They hope a new bi-partisan effort called SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) will come up with some alternatives. The region has already been targeted for special assistance from the federal and state government, but residents fear the money won’t be enough.  

“I mean, what happened in Detroit when that industry was threatened,” says Jeff Whitehead, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.  “There was a lot of government support. Lots of it.”

Jennifer Bergman, JobSight Services Director at the program, says the region should develop an “entrepreneurial” economy, “but we need people with money to spend to have that entrepreneurial base.”

Many here say the region should take advantage of its cultural distinctness and build an economy based on central Appalachian folk arts and crafts. Previous efforts to develop that have fallen victim to politics and lack of funding. Doug Naselroad, master artist in residence at the Appalachian Artisan Center in Hindman, says the incomes generated might not rival coal’s, but that’s not the point. “What we’re trying to create is something sustainable and that’s rooted in the culture and tradition of the people here, instead of something which just plunders the land and moves on.”

Dan Estep, 56, a former coal miner, is experimenting with that idea. He’s teaching blacksmithing and knife-making at the Kentucky School of Craft and selling his wares at craft fares. He doesn’t make much money, but says he’s happy to have a skill that’s “marketable.” “I’m grateful to live in this country,” Estep says.  “Every day’s an opportunity.”

Debut writers dominate Baileys list

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:15
Three debut writers are up against a previous winner on the six-strong 2014 shortlist for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

Biofuels, beer and Boardwalk Empire

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:10

From the Marketplace datebook, here's what's coming up April 8:

Cosmos speed-check for dark energy

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:05
Scientists produce a precise measurement of the rate at which the early Universe was expanding to try to get new insights on dark energy.

Rodriguez ruled out for six months

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:57
Southampton and England striker Jay Rodriguez is ruled out of the World Cup with a ruptured anterior cruciate knee ligament.

VIDEO: House of Commons

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:53
Theresa May denies plans to amend the European Arrest Warrant are facing hurdles.

Briton one of two Somalia UN dead

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:44
A British man is one of two foreign United Nations workers who have been shot dead in Somalia, the Foreign Office has said.

Hungary PM scorns critics after win

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:36
Hungary's triumphant PM Viktor Orban dismisses international criticism of the election won by his conservative Fidesz party.

Ukraine's Winter Of Discontent Gives Way To Spring Of Austerity

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:31

The International Monetary Fund has agreed to help Ukraine with a loan of more than $14 billion — in exchange for tough austerity measures. And Russia is threatening to raise Ukraine's gas prices.

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Hull fan poll backs Tigers name change

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:29
Hull City season card holders narrowly voted in favour of the plan to change the club's name to Hull City Tigers.

VIDEO: Bjorn: I am reminded of Abba every day

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:15
Bjorn Ulvaeus and Frida Lyngstad talk about how it felt to win the Eurovision song contest 40 years ago and why they still do not know what their recipe for success is.

Mob In Ukraine Seizes Provincial Building, Declares Independence

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:12

Pro-Russian protesters stormed the building in the country's eastern city of Donetsk, proclaiming sovereignty from Kiev.

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Two British women die in Tenerife

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:08
Two British women, both doctors, have died on the island of Tenerife after being "dragged into the sea" by a wave, Spanish police say.

Tory MP drops bid to oust Cameron

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 08:52
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen withdraws a letter of no confidence in David Cameron, saying he now supports him.

Users of designer drug in hospital

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 08:52
Two people who took a designer drug are admitted to hospital, as police warn about the dangers of substance abuse.

Supreme Court Rejects Gay Wedding Photography Case

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 08:52

An appeal by a company that refused to photograph a gay wedding was turned down. The justices also refused to review a ruling that corporations cannot contribute directly to political candidates.

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VIDEO: Asda expansion 'great for business'

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 08:51
Asda president Andy Clarke speaks to the BBC's business editor Kamal Ahmed, following the announcement that the company will create up to 12,000 UK shop posts over five years.

Emotional Oscar Pistorius apologises

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 08:44
Oscar Pistorius makes a tearful apology at the start of his testimony in his murder trial, but proceedings adjourn early due to his "exhaustion".
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