National / International News
Over the the last week, 43,000 fewer people had to file for unemployment benefits, which is a good sign. More on that. Plus, the first of the big oil companies to report their latest round of results is Shell. The Anglo-Dutch company managed to increase its profits even with the price of gasoline we've all been seeing. CEO Ben Van Beurden says he's cutting spending by $15 billion dollars over the next three years to adjust. But, in a controversial move, Shell will keep expanding off Alaska. Also later today, Amazon will report its sales and profits. The internet giant's stock has taken a beating from investors frustrated with the company's heavy spending and not so heavy profits.
SMAP stands for Soil Moisture Active Passive – a reference to the sensors on board. The satellite will scan the Earth’s soil for moisture down to about 5cm of depth ... once it gets aloft. Thursday's launch was scrubbed because of poor wind conditions; NASA will try again on Friday.
Bradley Doorn, program manager of NASA’s Water Resources Applied Research Program, says the mission has several primary purposes: “One largely is drought, and understanding drought better but also things like flood forecasting and weather forecasting. The information is unprecedented.”
The $916 million, three year mission has attracted the interest of hundreds of government agencies, private sector companies, environmental groups, and universities — 45 so-called “early adopters” have already started working with NASA to prepare to use the satellite’s data.
The City University of New York and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection want the data for management of the city’s drinking water supply. The World Food Program plans on using the data for flood forecasting. Doorn says John Deere, Environment Canada, and Willis Re, a reinsurance company, are also preparing to use the soil moisture data.
Doorn says it isn’t unusual for NASA to partner with other groups, but NASA has been trying to get organizations involved earlier on in the process. “Soil moisture is such a critical measurement that many users readily see as needed, so they immediately are drawn to it. There are a lot of people hungry for data, and hungry for this type of information,” he says.
SMAP scans the Earth’s surface with microwaves, which can slightly penetrate soil, and interprets the reflected waves for signs of moisture. The observatory also scans the Earth’s natural microwave emissions.
And if you're curious about what SMAP will hear while it's out in the atmosphere, NASA's soundcloud account has you covered:
The across-the-board spending cuts made in 2013, known as the sequester, reduced defense and domestic budgets by hundreds of millions each. Republicans are expected to fiercely defend that plan.
Despite the positive buzz, 2015 will be another year of challenges for the motor city, as it seeks to continue creating jobs, while also slowly starting the process of rebuilding neighborhoods.
But, if you’re looking for proof that the “Detroit brand” still sells, take a look at Shinola. The epitome of hipster chic, the company makes thousand-dollar watches and high end leather goods.
Shinola moved to Detroit in 2013 with the idea of tapping into a kind of collective pining for America’s blue collar manufacturing past. Its big idea was that “Made in Detroit” would sell better than “Made in America,” and it was right.
"Often it is positioned that Shinola has done something wonderful for Detroit,” says Shinola CEO Steve Bock. “The reality of the situation is that Detroit has done a wonderful job of helping Shinola get off the ground; we are very, very happy with our decision to come here."
Shinola employs 350 people, with 260 actually based in Detroit. The company has plans to add 5 to 6 new stores in 2015. Following the resolution of the city’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy, many investors and corporations now see Detroit as a bargain.
Despite all the positive trends, Detroit’s unemployment rate still is still hovering around 14 percent—roughly twice the state average.
"There's no magic jobs fairy and so someone's got to be able to create jobs and to create jobs you need capital,” says Crain’s Detroit Business Editor Amy Haimerl. Unlike previous “Come to Jesus” moments for the city, this time she says Detroit can’t ignore the need for investment in small and medium-sized businesses.
"In the past, it was always about tax breaks and get the big company to come in from somewhere else,” she says. “That's wonderful, but we're also focusing on the other end of jobs creation which are neighborhood businesses, small businesses which may only hire 3 or 4 people at a time."
Job growth is one thing, but for many Detroiters the first step forward is as simple as streetlights — close to half of which haven’t worked in years. This has been a particular problem for restaurants and shops.
“So a lot of businesses had to cut down their hours, because after a certain time there was no business,” says Esteban Perez. Perez is manager of La Terezza Mexican restaurant in Southwest Detroit.
Detroit is now turning on some 500 new LED streetlights per week. And Perez says other, small but big things are happening, too. Trash is getting picked up, police response times are decreasing, and things he says, just seem better.
“You know we're all coming together as a city,” he says. “So right now, Detroit is the place to be, whether you want to open up a business, whether you want to buy a house."
In terms of housing, blight remains a huge challenge for Detroit. As many as 40,000 properties are slated for demolition. The city’s land bank is auctioning the few that remain salvageable, and it just announced a new program to sell vacant homes to city employees and retirees at half price.
U.S. officials now say as many as six million households in America may have to pay a fine for failing to have health care coverage. Whether you do or don't is reported on your next tax return, and those who don't meet the rules for exceptions will have to pay $95 a person, or 1 percent of family income as a penalty.
Under the Obama Administration's Affordable Care Act, the principle is known as "shared responsibility." But how well has this insurance mandate worked?
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