National / International News

Chicago schools face $200 million in cuts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-06 02:00

The city of Chicago is cutting its public school budget by $200 million, after making a major payment into its teachers' pension system.

The move comes just a couple of years after the city closed almost 50 elementary schools, in what was at the time a historic number of public school closures.

Still, the school district's budget problems persist.

"Chicago Public Schools faces a significant budget crisis," says Sarah Wetmore of the Chicago-based Civic Federation, a government watchdog group. Wetmore says the city's schools have had deficits that won't go away.

"The structural deficit has been in existence for some time, and it's been papered over by ... accounting gimmicks to balance the budget," she says.

The Chicago Public Schools' cash crunch got worse last week when the city had to make a pension payment of more than $600 million. The budget cuts followed a day after, including layoffs in mostly administrative positions.

"This could be the tip of the iceberg," says Jackson Porter of the Chicago Teachers Union. "The city hasn't laid down its hand to exactly spell out: is this the first of a wave of cuts?"

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is asking state lawmakers to change the pension system to relieve some of the city's burden. Emanuel is also floating the idea of a property tax hike to increase school funding.

The fate of those initiatives may decide whether there are further school budget cuts in the Fall.

Reduce, reuse ... rethink?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-06 02:00

Plastic foam is perfectly recyclable. There are machines the size of a refrigerator which can melt it down into blocks that can then be shipped to China and used to make patio furniture. Manufacturers who deal with large amounts of the stuff do recycle it, but in general, consumers don’t.

Why not? The economics just don’t work.   

Its density is low, it’s often dirty and the price one can get for those blocks shipped off to China is not lucrative enough to motivate cities or recyclers to collect and recycle it.

Recycling could not be what it is today without the good will and conscientiousness of people all over the world. But recycling is made possible in the first place by markets. Aluminum, glass and plastic from recycling plants are sold by the ton as a raw material just like steel or wheat. 

“This industry is based on creating markets for those recyclables — today's plastic bottle can become tomorrow’s carpeting,” says Sharon Kneiss, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Association. Aluminum cans can go from recycling bin to new cans full of soda on store shelves in about 40 days. 

But recyclers don’t set the prices at which they sell their materials. Those prices are set by the global market, and they have fallen drastically over the past year. 

“On a lot of recyclables, the economics are starting to challenge it,” Kneiss says. “We have heard that from our industry over the past year plus. That because it is a commodity market, and the commodities are significantly challenged right now, the economics of recycling are also challenged.”

Robert Anderson, a regional business development manager for the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions for ReCommunity Recycling, says he’s been in the waste industry for 30 years. “The current market environment has been the most difficult of my career,” he says.

He offers up a litany of price shocks to make the point: “We’ve seen highs in aluminum at $2,000 per ton. Until recently it was $1,800 per ton, and today we’re less than $900 per ton. Corrugated cardboard has gone from $200 per ton to $80 per ton. PET, the plastic water bottles, were $699 per ton, now $250.”

Anderson says the current downturn is different from previous ones — the recession saw similar price falls. “In the past they were brief, and we were able to sustain it and work our way through it and wait till commodity markets return,” he says. But he now worries this could be the new normal, “which means we need to rethink our business.”

There are other phenomena undermining recycling’s profitability — and even viability in some circumstances.

Many companies have made significant progress in reducing the amount of material used to make packaging, a practice called lightweighting. 

“Today’s PET water bottle is 30 to 40 percent lighter than its brothers and sisters from even five or 10 years ago,” Anderson says. It’s a boon for resource conservation, but another burden for recyclers. “It takes 11,000 more aluminum cans to make a bale today due to lightweigthting than it did five or 10 years ago.”           

Lightweighting has meant that the makeup of the stream of recyclable content has become less lucrative. More and more of it, by mass, is made of glass these days — one of the least remunerative recyclables. 

The combined pressures have contributed to several recycler bankruptcies and plant closures. 

Those pressures have also started to change the cost-benefit analysis of recycling versus old fashioned throwing away. In urban areas, recycling has long been cheaper than landfill dumping, which has its own fees associated with it, because the value of the material subsidizes the costs of disposal, and landfill fees are high (as much as $150 per ton). New York, for example, saves 20 percent on recycled waste versus non-recycled waste that goes to landfills or incinerators.   

As recyclable materials have lost their value, landfills look more cost competitive, particularly in regions where landfill fees are cheaper, such as the Midwest. Landfill fees there can be as low as $20 per ton, according to Anderson.

In some instances, it has also contributed to commodities that have long been staples of recycling starting to go the way of plastic foam. The city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is among several municipalities that have stopped recycling glass altogether. 

If prices stay low, towns and cities will have to pay more to recycle or recycle less.   

Greek Finance Minister resigns amid fallout from vote

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-06 02:00

The fallout from Greece's vote on Sunday has continued into Monday morning, with Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis stepping down from his position. Here's an update on the situation in Greece:

-On Sunday, Greeks took to the polls to vote on a bailout deal, deciding against European austerity. As the New York Times reports, although the results may mean an even tougher road ahead for negotiations, it certainly solidifies Greeks' confidence in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

-Monday morning, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis announced his resignation, citing reports that the Eurogroup had expressed they would prefer not to negotiate with him any longer. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Varoufakis became known for a confrontational style that did not win him many allies in negotiations.

-Banks in Greece remain closed Monday. "The banks are the first fire that has to be put out. They're absolutely depleted of cash. They do not have a source of liquidity," says reporter John Psaropoulos of The New Athenian.

-The BBC reports that eurozone leaders have called an emergency meeting for Tuesday.

-TL;DR: Is Greece solvent yet? Nope.

Click the media player above to hear reporter John Psaropoulos' update on the situation in Greece from Athens.

Reduce, reuse...rethink?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-06 02:00

Styrofoam is perfectly recyclable. There are machines the size of a refrigerator which can melt it down into blocks that can then be shipped to China and used to make patio furniture. Manufacturers who deal with large amounts of the stuff do recycle it, but in general, consumers don’t.

Why not? The economics just don’t work.   

Its density is so low, it’s often dirty, and the price one can get for those blocks shipped off to China is not particularly lucrative to motivate cities or recyclers to collect and recycle it.

Recycling could not be what it is today without the good will and conscientiousness of people all over the world. But recycling is made possible in the first place by markets. Aluminum, glass, and plastic from recycling plants are sold by the ton as a raw material just like steel or wheat. 

“This industry is based on creating markets for those recyclables — today's plastic bottle can become tomorrow’s carpeting,” says Sharon Kneiss, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Association. Aluminum cans can go from recycling bin to new cans full of soda on store shelves in about forty days. 

But recyclers don’t set the prices at which they sell their materials. Those prices are set by the global market, and they have fallen drastically over the past year. 

“On a lot of recyclables, the economics are starting to challenge it,” says Kneiss. “We have heard that from our industry over the past year plus. That because it is a commodity market, and the commodities are significantly challenged right now, the economics of recycling are also challenged.”

Robert Anderson is regional business development manager for the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions for ReCommunity Recycling. He’s been in the waste industry for 30 years. “The current market environment has been the most difficult of my career,” he says.

He offers up a litany of price shocks to make the point: “We’ve seen highs in aluminum at $2,000 per ton until recently it was $1,800 per ton, and today we’re less than $900 per ton. Corrugated cardboard has gone from $200 per ton to $80 per ton. PET, the plastic water bottles, were $699 per ton, now $250.”

Anderson says the current downturn is different from previous ones — the recession saw similar price falls. “In the past they were brief and we were able to sustain it and work our way through it and wait till commodity markets return,” he says. But he now worries this could be the new normal, “which means we need to rethink our business.”

There are other phenomena undermining recycling’s profitability — and even viability in some circumstances.

Many companies have made significant progress in reducing the amount of material used to make packaging, a practice called lightweighting. 

“Today’s PET water bottle is 30-40 percent lighter than its brothers and sisters from even five or ten years ago,” says Anderson. It’s a boon for resource conservation, but another burden for recyclers. “It takes 11,000 more aluminum cans to make a bale today due to lightweigthting than it did five or ten years ago.”           

Lightweighting has meant that the makeup of the stream of recyclable content has become less lucrative. More and more of it, by mass, is made of glass these days — one of the least remunerative recyclables. 

The combined pressures have contributed to several recycler bankruptcies and plant closures. 

Those pressures have also started to change the cost-benefit analysis of recycling versus old fashioned throwing away. In urban areas, recycling has long been cheaper than landfill dumping (which has its own fees associated with it) because the value of the material subsidizes the costs of disposal and landfill fees are high (as much as $150/ton). New York, for example, saves 20 percent on recycled waste versus non-recycled waste that goes to landfills or incinerators.   

As recyclable materials have lost their value, landfills look more cost competitive, particularly in regions of the country where landfill fees are cheaper, such as in the Midwest where landfill fees can be as low as $20 per ton according to Anderson.

In some instances, it has also contributed to commodities that have long been staples of recycling starting to go the way of styrofoam. The city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is among several municipalities that have stopped recycling glass altogether. 

If prices stay low, towns and cities will have to pay more to recycle, or recycle less.   

48 hours to keep Greece in euro

BBC - Mon, 2015-07-06 01:54
Greece's economy minister tells me, in an exclusive interview, how the Syriza government hopes to keep his country in the euro, after the "no" vote.

Pine martens caught on camera in NI

BBC - Mon, 2015-07-06 01:53
A once rare and elusive forest dweller is much more common in Northern Ireland than was previously thought, according to a new study.

PM and Osborne assess Greek fallout

BBC - Mon, 2015-07-06 01:38
David Cameron, George Osborne and Mark Carney attend a Downing Street meeting to assess the impact on the UK of Greece's "no" vote to its austerity package.

Grohl performs on TV-inspired throne

BBC - Mon, 2015-07-06 01:22
Foo Fighters singer Dave Grohl plays through the pain of a broken leg, sitting atop a Game of Thrones-inspired chair at US gig.

VIDEO: Minecraft fans get Hololens preview

BBC - Mon, 2015-07-06 01:05
Ten thousand Minecraft fans gather in London for Minecon and a handful get to try Hololens.

Tunisia death 'difficult to accept'

BBC - Mon, 2015-07-06 01:05
The brother and sister of one of the last victims of the Tunisia attack to be named say his death is difficult to accept.

Greek PM replaces combative minister

BBC - Mon, 2015-07-06 00:58
Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis resigns, hours after voters back his policy of rejecting creditors’ demands for more austerity.

Dinos hold on to box office crown

BBC - Mon, 2015-07-06 00:53
Jurassic World holds on to the top spot at the North American box office, holding Terminator: Genisys and Magic Mike XXL at bay.

Chinese tourists to Turkey warned

BBC - Mon, 2015-07-06 00:47
China's government gives tourist safety advice to nationals in Turkey after Istanbul protests over the Chinese treatment of ethnic Uighur Muslims.

Twin Nigeria blasts kill scores

BBC - Mon, 2015-07-06 00:12
Two bomb attacks - on a restaurant and a mosque - in the central Nigerian city of Jos have left at least 44 people dead, the authorities say.

VIDEO: 'I've just had some wonderful news'

BBC - Mon, 2015-07-06 00:10
Journalist Sue Lloyd-Roberts, who has an aggressive form of leukaemia, tells her video diary that she has found a stem cell donor.

Inquest opened for Tunisia victim

BBC - Sun, 2015-07-05 23:50
A mother-of-four killed when a gunman opened fire on a beach in Tunisia, died from a single shot, an inquest has head.

Liberal Minority Won Over Conservatives In Historic Supreme Court Term

NPR News - Sun, 2015-07-05 23:47

The latest session made history on several fronts, and accepted cases for next year that will likely make still more. This year the liberals won a lot — but that doesn't mean they will in the future.

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A Few Miles From Mobile, A Wealth Of History, Nature — And Danger

NPR News - Sun, 2015-07-05 23:46

Five rivers converge in the Mobile Bay Delta just outside this coastal Alabama city. Within a few minutes of leaving downtown, you can be teleported into a totally alien world.

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People With Brain Injuries Heal Faster If They Get Up And Get Moving

NPR News - Sun, 2015-07-05 23:45

Doctors tell surgical patients to get out of bed as soon as possible, but people with brain injuries are encouraged to rest. Now it looks like activity can benefit brain injured patients, too.

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Pluto-Bound Spacecraft Nears Its Quarry

NPR News - Sun, 2015-07-05 23:45

After nearly a decade of traveling through space, NASA's New Horizons probe is about to arrive at Pluto. On Tuesday it will begin an intensive, week-long study of the distant world.

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