National / International News

A Fairy Tale Gone Wrong: Spain's Princess Accused Of Fraud

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:45

Spain's royal family, which used to face little criticism, is increasingly becoming a target over its spending habits during Spain's economic woes. The king's youngest daughter, Infanta Cristina, and her husband have had their mansion confiscated are now facing allegations of fraud.

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Merkel condemns US over EU insult

BBC - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:43
Germany's Angela Merkel says a US official's apparent insult of the EU's work in Ukraine in a leaked recording is "totally unacceptable".

VIDEO: Turning brainwaves into music

BBC - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:42
Click's LJ Rich gets wired up with a brain cap to turn her thoughts into music.

Treasury spending chart criticised

BBC - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:33
The UK Statistics Authority says a Treasury-produced chart could give a "false impression" of the scale of investment in projects such as flood defences.

Stumped by the debt ceiling? Here's an explainer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:24

Q. WHAT IS THE DEBT LIMIT?

It is "the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments," the Treasury Department explains.

Basically, Congress appropriates money for projects and programs, then lawmakers have to give the executive branch permission to pay those bills.  

Q. OK. BUT WHAT IS THE ACTUAL DEBT LIMIT (IN DOLLARS)?

$17.2 trillion. 

After it expires on Friday, February 7, 2014, the Treasury Department will use what are called "extraordinary measures" to keep the government solvent for as long as it can. The government can move money around. It can defer investments in certain intragovernmental accounts, better known as trust funds.  These include the Thrift Savings Plan, for government employees; the Exchange Stabilization Fund; and the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund.

The department already suspended sales of State and Local Government Series (SLGS) nonmarketable Treasury securities "until further notice." 

Q. WHEN DO THESE "EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES" RUN OUT?

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew predicts this will happen by the end of February.

"At different times of the year, these extraordinary measures provide more or less of a cushion depending on variables that we cannot control," he says. In February, Americans are beginning to file their taxes, and the Treasury Department is cutting a lot of refund checks. 

The Bipartisan Policy Center tracks this closely, and it predicts "approximately $198 billion of extraordinary measures will be available at this time."

Q. I'M HEARING PEOPLE TALK ABOUT AN "X DATE." WHAT IS THAT?

The "X Date" is when those "extraordinary measures" run out. At that point in time, the government will no longer be able to pay its bills. 

The Bipartisan Policy Center forecasts that will fall between February 28 and March 25. It is hard to be more specific, because you can’t know in advance how much money the government is going to take in and how much money they government is going to pay out.

Q. WHAT WOULD HAPPEN THEN?

Who knows?

I'm only half kidding.

The government, which makes millions of payments every day, wouldn’t be able to make good on all of them. It could default on Treasury bonds. Economists and investors predict that would lead to a huge downturn.

Q. COULDN'T THE GOVERNMENT PRIORITIZE PAYMENTS, JUST PAY SOME BILLS BEFORE OTHERS?

The Treasury Department has maintained that this would be both impossible and legally dubious. As New York magazine's Kevin Roose notes, "The problem is that there aren't really any less-important things included in the Treasury's regular payment schedule. It's all stuff like food stamps, Social Security, military pay, unemployment benefits, and federal worker salaries. So these choices would be really, really painful."

Q. WHY DOES THE U.S. HAVE A DEBT LIMIT?

"Congress used to approve borrowing project-by-project," Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall-Genzer explains. "Eventually, that incremental budgeting got too cumbersome."

The first limits on borrowing were imposed during World War I. The Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917 set a $15 billion limit on government bonds.

"That set the precedent for giving the Treasury Department a cap," says Donald Ritchie, who runs the Senate Historical Office. In 1939, Congress set a limit on debt of all kinds.

"This measure gave the Treasury freer rein to manage the federal debt as it saw fit," the Congressional Research Service says.

Q. HAS IT ALWAYS BEEN SO CONTROVERSIAL?

Until the 1970s, it wasn't, really.

Amendments to the Second Liberty Bond Act "were not partisan," says Richard McCulley, an historian with the Center for Legislative Archives. "They were supposed to help the Treasury Department manage the federal debt. ... That has morphed into this incredible headache for the Treasury now."

Q. HOW MANY TIMES HAS THE GOVERNMENT RAISED THE DEBT LIMIT?

"Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 separate times to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit – 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents," the Treasury Department says.

According to the Senate Historical Office’s Donald Ritchie, this is always "a burden on the majority party."

"Nobody likes to increase the debt limit, even though it reflects what they have already authorized and appropriated," he says. "They don’t like to do it. They never have liked to do it. But you have to. It’s a responsibility – the fiscal responsibility – of the federal government."

Taliban Say Captured 'Military Dog' Is Being Well Cared For

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:17

The Taliban say they were feeding the dog kebabs and keeping him warm with blankets. The militants released a video showing the captured dog with a group of armed and bearded men.

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Human trafficker brothers jailed

BBC - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:13
Two brothers are sentenced for their part in a human-trafficking operation in Derby.

House explosion dog is found alive

BBC - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:13
A dog feared dead after a gas explosion flattened two homes earlier this week is found alive.

Dealing with unemployment after a lifetime of work

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:13

Now for an actual human being behind the government statistics on the labor market that were released today. Last fall, we spoke to Maureen Cunningham, who at 51 recently moved to Florida, when her husband retired. Before the move, she'd arranged to keep doing a version of old job from the new location. But now she's stuck looking for work again and we wanted to check in.

"I've worked my whole life, and to suddenly not be working is hard."

Click play on the audio player to hear the full interview.

U.S. Diplomat's Leaked Phone Call Gets Poor Reception

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:08

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the use of a distinctly undiplomatic term in regard to the EU was "totally unacceptable." Meanwhile, the U.S. accused Russia of leaking the phone call and Moscow said the recording showed Washington's meddling in Ukrainian politics.

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Sochi Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony: As It Happened

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:00

Large-scale pageantry opened the Sochi Olympics Friday, in a symbolically rich Opening Ceremony that was marred by an early and highly visible mistake — one of five massive Olympic rings failed to fully appear.

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Maker Of $1,000 Hepatitis C Pill Looks To Cut Its Cost Overseas

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:53

The U.S. recently approved a drug that can quickly cure hepatitis C in many patients. But its high price means the treatment is out of reach for millions of people in the developing world. Now the pill's manufacturer is talking with Indian producers to reduce the treatment cost to $2,000. But critics say the price drop won't be enough.

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Maker Of $1,000 Hepatitis C Pill Looks To Cut Its Cost Overseas

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:53

The U.S. recently approved a drug that can quickly cure hepatitis C in many patients. But its high price means the treatment is out of reach for millions of people in the developing world. Now the pill's manufacturer is talking with Indian producers to reduce the treatment cost to $2,000. But critics say the price drop won't be enough.

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American WWII Bomb Unearthed, Defused In Central Hong Kong

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:51

The 2,000-pound bomb was too big to explode in place — usually the safest option. Instead, it had to be dismantled after some 2,200 residents were evacuated from surrounding apartment buildings.

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Shadow of corruption allegations hangs over Sochi Olympics

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:50

The facilities for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia cost an estimated $50 billion to build.  Some experts at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a public policy research group, are among those claiming that process was riddled with corruption.  With the Sochi Opening Ceremony due to start today, Steve Rosenberg, one of the BBC's senior correspondents in Russia, joined us to help explain.

Click play on the audio player above to hear more.

AUDIO: Boy risked Tunnel death to reach UK

BBC - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:39
An Afghan boy has told the BBC how he smuggled himself into Britain by hiding on a Channel Tunnel train.

Chambers' time has passed - Dasaolu

BBC - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:39
Speaking ahead of this weekend's British Athletics Indoor Championships James Dasaolu says Dwain Chambers' time has been and gone.

Two gold miners die in South Africa

BBC - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:39
Two miners in South Africa die in accidents at Harmony Gold mines, as the search continues for another miner missing after an earlier deadly fire.

US jobs growth lower than expected

BBC - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:34
The US economy added a weaker-than-expected 113,000 jobs in January, figures show, while the unemployment rate fell to 6.6%.

Queen's Baton Relay: Skateboarding in Mozambique

BBC - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:29
Skateboarders in Mozambique

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