National / International News

What local government can learn from Hurricane Sandy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-20 02:00

Just two years ago, Hurricane Sandy knocked out power stations and shut down Wall Street.

Now, Scientists say by the middle of this century, low lying areas from Boston to Baltimore will flood frequently due to climate change, with recovery becoming increasingly expensive. A storm on the level of Hurricane Sandy could cost as much as $90 billion in 2050.

These kinds of changes in the weather will put increasing pressure on state and local governments to boost their financial resilience. 

Click the media player above to hear more.

Is inflation a problem? Look at income brackets

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-20 02:00

It was a case of two people, separated by 243 statute miles, having the same thought at the same time. 

I was on the air talking to an expert about the government’s main assessment of inflation, and meanwhile, a listener near Washington, D.C. was getting annoyed. It would turn out that Gregory, from Falls Church, Virginia was thinking the same thing I was: It’s one thing to say that the Consumer Price Index  hasn’t moved up much in recent years. But be careful before you conclude that inflation is therefore not a problem. 

“Can you please get someone on your show who actually knows that there is real price inflation?” Gregory wrote in a note to us. “Every time I hear one of your guests talk about low inflation, or CPI as reported by the government, I cringe with disbelief!”

I myself wasn’t cringing with disbelief in that shared moment, but I was thinking I’d better do something soon in our ongoing Marketplace Inflation Calculator series on what has been happening to incomes over time. It is one thing to point towards low inflation (low if you leave out the cost of higher education; low if you leave out the cost of health care; low if you leave out the cost of rental apartments in America). Gregory, however, was pointing out that if what we earn is sliding, then our budgets will still be stretched – even when CPI just treads water.   

Experts often tell us that our incomes are mostly “stagnant,” but what do the official numbers show? Our inflation series looks at prices over the last 25 years. The government helpfully examines household income over time by breaking down what we earn into five categories (or brackets). These include the bottom 20 percent of earners, the next to the bottom 20 percent, the middle 20 percent and so forth. When I looked through the data and adjusted for inflation, the numbers were there for everyone to see.

The income of the bottom 20 percent of households in America, on average, did not go up in 25 years, once you adjust for inflation. Those incomes didn’t just stagnate, they went down. The next-to-poorest of the five income categories? The average household income for those Americans also fell. Let’s call the middle income category a draw; depending on which inflation assumptions you use, incomes either went up a tad or fell a tad over 25 years. You already know about the top two earning categories; those went sharply up the last quarter century, the top category by a lot. 

When hearing statistics like these, it’s common to argue that many families these days have not just one, but two or more earners to consider, and this should be taken into account before claiming that incomes are “stagnant” for many Americans. Even so, the data is already adjusts for that in the case above: It is data for average households, not average individual incomes.

The numbers showing that the bottom 40 percent of Americans make less now than they did a quarter century ago is a core notion for anyone thinking about wealth and poverty in America.

The American Indian College Fund turns 25

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-20 02:00

The American Indian College Fund celebrates its 25th anniversary with a fundraiser in New York on Monday. The nonprofit was created to assist the country’s more than 30 tribal colleges and universities. These are federally-funded schools located on or near native lands.

Only about 10 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to about 30 percent of all adults, according to the group.

The big reason is poverty, says president Cheryl Crazy Bull. Tribal colleges cost on average $15,000 a year to attend, she says. The maximum federal Pell grant for low-income students covers only $5,730. 

“It’s a very affordable education,” Crazy Bull says. But for students living on reservations with a 60 to 80 percent unemployment rate, “it’s a huge gap.”

The College Fund tries to bridge that gap with scholarships. It’s aiming to raise an extra $25 million this year.

The group recently got a boost from Comcast and NBC Universal: $5 million in ad time for a new public service campaign.

Here are a few numbers from the American Indian College Fund:

Up to 95 percent

The unemployment rate on some American Indian reservations. In total, almost 29 percent of American Indians on reservations live below the federal poverty level. 

$16,777

The per capita income of American Indians and Alaska Natives, according the American Community Survey in 2013. Meanwhile, the average cost of attendance at a tribal college or university is $14,566.

10 percent

That's approximate percentage of American Indian and Alaska Natives who have earned a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to about 30 percent of all adults. Natives have the lowest educational attainment rates of all ethnic and racial groups in America.

SolarCity courts customers by selling bonds

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-20 02:00

SolarCity, the country’s biggest installer of home rooftop solar-energy systems, now has a new product: bonds that let consumers invest in thousand-dollar increments. But with billions in capital from big banks as well as the stock market, what's the point of borrowing up to $200 million from consumers?

It's not the cash, says the company's CEO, Lyndon Rive. At least not primarily. "The number one reason is to create more awareness," he says. "For people to participate, get a financial return. Now they tell their friends: 'Hey, have you looked at solar bonds? Have you looked at solar?'"

And have you looked at SolarCity?  

In addition to raising money, the campaign could cut down on one of the company's biggest costs: sales. An investor is a hot lead, and a source of referrals. 

"Customer acquisition is maddeningly expensive for residential-solar," says Shayle Kann, senior vice-president at GTM Research, which tracks the green-energy sector. 

Right now, SolarCity’s business model only works in about 15 states. But the company can sell bonds — and build relationships — in all 50, for the day when, or if, other states open up.

Advocates in those states — for instance, bond-holders — can only help. "They're not exactly customers if they buy bonds," says Kann. "But they're probably advocates, or supporters."

The push to expand into new markets, and to lock up potential customers in those markets, is key to SolarCity’s overall strategy, says Severin Borenstein, an economics professor at Berkeley who studies renewable energy.  

SolarCity's competitors are trying the same thing. "Right now, a lot of solar companies have the strategy of trying to get large enough on what is basically a bet on getting out ahead and being the recognized name brand, which could potentially have huge value," says Borenstein.

He compares it to the bet Microsoft made on computer operating systems in the 1980s. SolarCity wants to be the Microsoft of solar.

But what if it’s the AOL instead? Remember all those CDs from the 1990s?

That's not the worst-case scenario, says Borenstein. "It's not just a matter of whether they're going to be the Microsoft of solar or the AOL of solar," he says, "but whether they're going to be the Microsoft of solar or the Microsoft of a product that never takes off at all."

Residential solar isn't a sure bet, says Borenstein, so neither are SolarCity's bonds. "While it's a very exciting company right now, I think it's probably in a more volatile business than most people would invest in."

You've got mail! AOL sent out zillions of these.

unknown/PandoDaily.com

VIDEO: Big league for gamers in Seoul

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 23:21
Tens of thousands of fans turn out to watch competitors play each other at the League of Legends World Championship in Seoul, South Korea.

African solar plan to power UK homes

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 22:33
Investors are seeking funding from the UK government for an ambitious plan to import solar energy generated in North Africa.

Jokowi sworn in as Indonesia leader

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 21:57
Joko Widodo, the winner of Indonesia's presidential election in July, is sworn in as the leader of the South East Asian nation.

Toddler in hospital after 'assault'

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 21:41
A two-year old girl is being treated in hospital after a suspected assault in County Armagh.

In pictures: Derry in 1969

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 21:36
Battle of the Bogside in 1969 by Gilles Caron

Church leaders meet NI politicians

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 21:29
Leaders of Northern Ireland's four main churches are to meet political leaders at Stormont later.

Switching sites 'hiding' best deals

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 21:23
Five of the UK's biggest price comparison sites are accused of "hiding" the best energy deals from consumers by one of their rivals

Two Japan ministers quit amid rows

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 21:21
Japan's Justice Minister Midori Matsushima resigns, hours after Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi quits in a row over misuse of funds.

EU migration and child poverty - the papers

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 21:15
Comments on David Cameron's plans to cap EU migration and government anti-poverty "failures" make the front pages.

Fire at power station investigated

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 20:32
Firefighters are investigating the cause of a major blaze at Didcot B power station in Oxfordshire.

US drops arms to Kurds battling IS

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 20:25
US military aircraft drop weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish fighters battling IS militants in the key Syrian town of Kobane.

Untested drugs bill a step closer

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 20:08
A new law that would allow terminally-ill patients in England and Wales to be given untested medicines moves a step closer after receiving government backing.

Where the Beatles lived in Liverpool

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 18:08
The Liverpool homes where the Beatles grew up

When the average age of death was zero

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 18:03
The time when the average age of death was zero

Spanish nurse's Ebola test negative

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 17:39
The Spanish nurse who became the first person to contract Ebola outside West Africa has now tested negative for the virus, the government says.

Barroso appeals to pro-EU Britons

BBC - Sun, 2014-10-19 17:26
The outgoing European Commission president is to call on pro-European politicians in the UK to make a more positive case for staying in the EU.

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