National / International News

Will coal exports kill the Great Barrier Reef?

BBC - Wed, 2014-10-22 14:18
Will coal exports kill the Great Barrier Reef?

Mexico orders Iguala mayor's arrest

BBC - Wed, 2014-10-22 13:58
Mexico orders the arrest of the mayor of the southern town of Iguala, where 43 students disappeared after clashing with police last month.

Coping In A Drier World: California's Drought Survival Strategy

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-22 13:26

The dearth of water in this state is showing no signs of easing. Officials have introduced plans to revamp the water rationing and distribution systems until the rains come. If they ever come.

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Why the VIX is like the Headless Horseman

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-22 13:03

It’s Halloween, so we’re all busy planning what to wear for the annual scary holiday party.

I’m going as the VIX. Why? Because nothing scares the Street like the Fear Index.

Sure, James Carville may insist that the bond market is way more intimidating, but if it’s a short, sharp shock you want, I say you can’t beat the VIX. Just like the Headless Horseman, it gallops in and scares the bejeezus out of everyone with great results: witness the global markets last week. Traders and investors were reduced to a bunch of terrified, shivering jellies when they were told the VIX had soared to a two-year high of 30.

So what is the VIX?

The VIX is the volatility index. Volatility is when something goes up and down. Like my mood. If I’m all happy one day and in a raging fury the next, you might say I have a volatile temper. Not necessarily a bad temper – more mercurial. It’s the same with stocks and the indices that track them. The more up and down they go – the wilder the swings in the market – the more volatile they are, and some smart boffins have worked out how to measure that volatility on an index: the VIX. 

So how does the VIX measure volatility?

It does it by taking traders’ temperature. Not literally – that would really be something – rather, it tracks their expectations by watching how they make bets on what they think the S&P 500 index will do over the next 30 days. Using the wonder of math, those bets are crunched in various ways, and then displayed on a graph. If the traders think the market will only be a little bit bumpy, the VIX number will be low. If they fear there will be crazy wild swings, with stocks bouncing up and down like a roller coaster, the VIX number will be high. Hence the Fear Index.

So a high VIX number is bad?

Not necessarily. Think of the markets as the ocean and the VIX as a surf forecast. If the report says we’re going to have double overhead waves, driving rain and five mile-an-hour rip currents, a lot of surfers (like me) are going to stay in bed. Or maybe we’ll go down to the beach, stand on the shore and watch as the more adventurous and professional surfers (nutters) paddle out. Some of those daredevils will rue the day. They’ll come back with broken boards, splintered limbs and shattered dreams. But the really good – or lucky – ones will have an amazing time. Traders are like surfers. When the market is plunging one day and soaring the next, many step out of the market, which is why volume often falls when volatility is high. Most of those who have the nerve to hang in there will be shredded. But a lucky few will make pots of money, buying on the dips and selling on the highs. Like Goldman Sachs, which reported in its latest earnings release that a big chunk of its profits came from trading on the volatility in the markets.   

What’s behind this latest bout of volatility?

You can pick your villain. On the downside, you’ve got Ebola, continued conflict in the Middle East, protests in Hong Kong, poor earnings from some select blue chips in the U.S. (GE, IBM), fears of a global slowdown, and worries about the draw-down in government stimulus. On the upside, here in the U.S. you’ve got falling unemployment, rising consumer sentiment, falling oil prices, some great earnings from banks and tech companies, the upcoming holiday season and, of course, the fact that stock prices have fallen recently, creating a buying opportunity.

Sounds dangerous. Should we worried that the end is nigh?

It’s true that the VIX is still at a two-year high, but don’t panic. Breathe in and out of a paper bag and keep saying to yourself, “this too shall pass.” If you’re an individual investor, that means you should leave your stock where it is. Remember that these days you’re not just up against some sleazy dude in a fancy Italian suit and loud suspenders, you’re up against the machines, too.  So do the smart thing, and hang out on the beach sipping coffee while you watch the show. Remember, the VIX is just like the Headless Horseman: it gallops through the market, scares the wits out of everyone, and creates a hell of a mess. But the fear never lasts for long, and besides, it usually makes for some great stories.

Caterham F1 future in fresh doubt

BBC - Wed, 2014-10-22 12:50
More doubt is cast on the future of Caterham as their new owners threaten to quit the team in a row with ex-owner Tony Fernandes.

Drones Are Taking Pictures That Could Demystify A Malaria Surge

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-22 12:38

How is a rare strain of malaria spreading near cities in Southeast Asia? That's the question that's been puzzling a team of scientists. And they're using drones to find the answer.

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The Slide Rule: A Computing Device That Put A Man On The Moon

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-22 12:31

Before the smartphone, the laptop and the pocket calculator, there was a powerful mechanical computer. Our new series, Tools of the Trade, begins with a look at the slide rule.

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Cloud Data Security Concerns Raised After Reported Attack In China

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-22 12:31

A group says the Chinese government backed an attack against users of Apple's iCloud service. Experts worry attacks that target weaknesses in the transfer of data on the cloud will become more common.

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Surrogacy Storm In Thailand: A Rejected Baby, A Busy Babymaker

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-22 12:31

Two controversial cases have put a spotlight on surrogacy in Thailand. Now the government is drafting new laws to stop abuse.

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Bigger Than A T. Rex, With A Duck's Bill, Huge Arms And A Hump

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-22 12:31

Scientists first figured the claw-tipped, giant arm bones found in 1965 belonged to an ostrichlike dinosaur. But its recently recovered skull looks more like a dino designed by a committee — of kids.

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NHTSA Adds More Than 3 Million Vehicles To Air Bag Recall

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-22 12:28

Almost 8 million vehicles are now being recalled over worries their air bags could malfunction. Vehicle owners in hot and humid climates are under special alert.

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VIDEO: Rapist Evans in video statement

BBC - Wed, 2014-10-22 12:13
Footballer Ched Evans has released a video statement in which he says he is "determined to continue the fight" to clear his name.

Man charged over baby girl attack

BBC - Wed, 2014-10-22 11:59
A 24-year-old man is charged with the attempted murder of a two-year-old girl in County Armagh.

Poll: Broad Support In U.S. For Ebola Travel Ban

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-22 11:53

An NPR poll finds a clear majority of Americans are worried about Ebola. Fifty-six percent of people are either "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about the spread of the Ebola virus to the U.S.

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Salmon runs hit records, even as drought threatens future

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-22 11:43

Along the West Coast, in Oregon, Washington and Alaska, fishermen are hauling in their salmon catches before winter sets in. Wild-caught salmon—the premier varieties of Chinook, Sockeye and Coho—can sell for $15/pound to $25/pound.

This year, that wild salmon has been more abundant, and possibly a bit cheaper, than in recent years. And yet, Google "salmon" and ominous headlines also come up: about this year's severe drought, endangered salmon runs across the western U.S, as well as looming long-term threats from climate change.

“The abundance of salmon that we have is sort of a conundrum to consumers, because they also hear stories about ESA-listed (Endangered Species Act) runs of fish, and that can make it quite confusing." said Stuart Ellis, fish biologist at the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland, Oregon. CRITFC represents several Native American tribes with treaty rights to catch fish and manage hatcheries throughout the Columbia River system, which stretches hundreds of miles from the Oregon-Washington coast, to British Columbia.

Native fisherman Ira Yallup, 45, knows both sides of this story from a lifetime of fishing for salmon in the tributaries of the Columbia River in Washington. In October, he was fishing with friends and family from the Yakama Nation at a traditional site above Lyle Falls on the Klickitat River. The method of fishing has been passed down for generations; the fishermen use dipnets to snag the fish as they make their way upriver, jumping the rapids.

“This is the most fish I've ever seen,” said Yallup, who uses the catch to feed his family, donate to other tribal members, as well as sell to supplement his income as a forester. “This year, with the significant amount of fish that have returned, the price has dropped, because there's an overabundance of fish.” Yallup said he’s been getting between $0.80/pound and $1.50/pound for fresh-caught fish. Prices were higher in the spring before there was as much oversupply.

 

Stuart Ellis said salmon returns this year to the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam (about 150 miles from the mouth of the river) are higher than at any time since the 1920s. “This year it's going to be a little over 2 million fish total,” he said. “So it's a modern-day record.” Fish returns are believed to have been in the 15-million-plus per year range in the mid-1800s, before dams, agriculture and over-fishing decimated the fish returning to the river.

Alaska has also seen some strong salmon runs so far this year, after a record harvest in 2013. Meanwhile, in California, which is home to another major river system that historically produced large numbers of fish, the situation has been grave this year.

“After this year's drought, millions of salmon would be migrating down the Sacramento River right now. But instead, the salmon are headed for the ocean in a convoy of tanker trucks,” was the headline on a news report in March 2014 on KCRA television in Sacramento. Fish biologists worried that low water levels and high temperatures caused by the multi-year drought were endangering salmon eggs and hatchlings.

Stuart Ellis explains the disconnect in the West Coast salmon’s health this way: favorable ocean conditions over the past few years helped salmon that are now coming back to Pacific Northwest rivers to spawn. The numbers have also been boosted by hatchery-released fish, improvements in fish-passage technology at dams, better water management and habitat restoration.

Meanwhile, disastrous river conditions for eggs and juvenile salmon, caused by the severe drought that has hit the West, and especially California, may kill off some of the fish that would be returning from the ocean in 2017 and beyond.

And long-term problems threaten salmon across the region: habitat loss, water shortages and conflicts with agriculture, dwindling snowpack, climate change.

“Regardless of a consumer's socioeconomic status or ability to buy, we're all concerned global warming could be an issue, we're all aware of these longer-terms problems,” said Kelly Goldsmith, assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Goldsmith studies the interplay of environmental issues and consumer decision-making. She thinks at this point, it is hard for even well-informed foodies to sort through the news and science, as well as environmental labeling programs by groups like the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, that certify fish in grocery stores and restaurants as “sustainable.”

“Consumers develop this conditioned response where, ‘if I eat salmon, I'm doing something bad,’” said Goldsmith. “The salmon is delicious, but another element of my consumption experience is, ‘I feel bad, because I know there are only so many left in the river.’ It becomes nearly impossible to know how to do the right thing.”

So far, though, consumers aren’t abandoning wild salmon; quite the contrary. With health concerns increasing, and savvy marketing of wild salmon by fishing groups, consumption has risen over the past decade. So have the prices consumers are willing to pay for their prime salmon steaks and filets.

VIDEO: Footage shows lorry and car collide

BBC - Wed, 2014-10-22 11:38
A lorry's onboard camera has caught the moment a car became wedged across the front of the cab as it travelled along the M25 near Gatwick.

Customers must spend more for free shipping

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-22 11:32

While there is no such thing as a free lunch, it seems that might hold true for free shipping, too.

Retailers are apt to promote free shipping around the holidays, but online shoppers using Amazon, Best Buy or the Gap will have to spend more money this year.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a customer must spend $82 on average to qualify for free shipping, based on data from July, up from $76 at the same time last year.

The companies claim the increased price is to cover the cost of the service in the first place.Last year, for instance, Amazon spent about $6.64 billion on shipping, but brought in only about $3.1 billion in payments for shipping.

The article also reports customers tend to change their shopping behavior in order to qualify for the free shipping, like adding an extra item to meet the minimum requirement.

Glow-In-The-Dark Treats To Light Up Your Halloween

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-22 11:21

Two entrepreneurs have developed new tricks to make food that's literally illuminating, using ingredients that are as natural and unprocessed as possible. It's just basic food chemistry, folks.

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The oil man who caused a silver craze - and bust

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-22 11:19

Nelson Bunker Hunt, the billionaire oil tycoon who once tried to corner the world's silver market, died yesterday in Dallas at the age of 88. He was an heir to the Hunt oil fortune and at one time, among the richest people on the planet. But a huge bet on the silver market in the late '70s led to a silver craze and a financial debacle.

Hunt's obituary in The Dallas Morning News describes him as an oilman, patriot, horseman, Christian and John Birch Society member, among other things. But in financial circles he and his brother were best known for owning a frighteningly big chunk of the world's silver. They wanted to hedge against raging inflation, they said.

"They bid up the price of silver from $9 an ounce to, at its peak, something like $50 an ounce in January 1980," said John Coffee, a professor at Columbia University.

But when worried regulators set new trading limits on silver, the Hunts couldn't meet a margin call. Silver prices collapsed, they lost over a billion dollars, their lenders were in trouble, and yes, a federal bailout of sorts ensued. Hunt declared bankruptcy – the largest personal bankruptcy in American history.

"It took me probably 30 days to get an organizational chart dealing with probably more than 250 companies that he owned or had an interest in all over the world," said Hunt's bankruptcy lawyer, Russell Munsch, of Munsch, Hardt, Kopf and Harr.

The front page of the New York Times on March 28, 1980 with a headline about Silver Thursday and the Hunt brothers. It reads, Silver's Plunge Jolts Hunts' Empire And Brings Turmoil to Wall Street, Fears of Sell-Off of Metal Depress Stock Prices and Pose Threat to Broker.

Jeffrey Williams, who wrote "Manipulation on Trial: Economy Analysis and the Hunt Silver Case," says lots of people lost money. But reforms? Not so much.

"The more time has passed," says Williams, who is a professor of agricultural and resource economics at UC-Davis, "the more I'm forced to conclude that the case did not have much effect on the way we regulate commodity markets."

Jim Stone, who chaired the Commodity Futures Trading Commission at the time, today said the silver crisis "nearly torpedoed top financial institutions in much the same way mortgage derivatives did in 2008." The Hunts were highly leveraged, and that problem, Stone says, remains "unfixed" and "the lesson unlearned."

High In The Andes, Bolivia's Gondolas In The Sky Ease Congestion

NPR News - Wed, 2014-10-22 11:17

One of Latin America's poorest countries is building the world's longest urban cable car system. The aim is to transform the lives of commuters who battle chronic traffic problems.

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