National / International News

VIDEO: 'I built the world's first jet airliner'

BBC - Tue, 2014-08-05 15:16
The deadly flaw in the world's first jet airliner

Energy price riggers to face jail

BBC - Tue, 2014-08-05 15:15
Anyone found guilty of rigging wholesale gas and electricity prices faces up to two years in jail, under new proposals by the government.

VIDEO: Caring for the graves of the homeless

BBC - Tue, 2014-08-05 15:09
"Captain Mikey Irishman" has been homeless in Denmark for seven years. He has made it his task to tend the homeless grave in Copenhagen cemetery.

UK firms 'facing skills crisis'

BBC - Tue, 2014-08-05 15:09
Three-quarters of British businesses believe a significant skills crisis will hit the UK within the next three years, according to a new report.

Roads flooded after heavy downpours

BBC - Tue, 2014-08-05 15:04
Parts of counties Tyrone and Londonderry are affected by flooding following heavy downpours.

VIDEO: Did Scottish debate sway voters?

BBC - Tue, 2014-08-05 14:30
After Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling went head to head in a TV debate ahead of the Scottish independence referendum, the BBC asked whether debate had swayed the voters.

Fox withdraws bid for Time Warner

BBC - Tue, 2014-08-05 14:09
Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox withdraws its bid to purchase US entertainment giant Time Warner for an estimated $80bn.

VIDEO: Military jets escort passenger plane

BBC - Tue, 2014-08-05 13:58
A passenger is arrested on suspicion of making a hoax bomb threat after military jets are scrambled to escort a plane to Manchester Airport.

No More Reservations: Exclusive Restaurants Require Tickets Instead

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-05 13:52

High-end restaurants featuring rock star chefs are starting to turn to tickets to stem the tide of no-shows. In the future, going out to eat could become a lot like going to a sold-out concert.

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The Ukrainian rebel who started as a sci-fi writer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 13:51

Fedor Berezin doesn’t look like a warlord. He seems out of place among the beefy, thuggish rebels of eastern Ukraine, but he's their second-in-command.

“He really does look like the stereotypical sci-fi nerd. He’s this guy in glasses and he’s very soft spoken,” says Russian-born commentater Cathy Young. “Berezin is a sci-fi writer. So we have this really fascinating phenomenon of a sci-fi writer playing real war games.”

What makes Berezin’s presence among the violent, pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine even more extraordinary is that he wrote about the conflict four or five years before it happened. And apart from the plasma guns , the exoskeleton suits and the mechanized monsters, Berezin’s lurid sci-fi version of the war has proved prophetic.

“He wrote about eastern Ukraine becoming a battleground between East and West in a way that is eerily similar to what’s going on today,” says Young, who was the first western-based writer to spot a curious literary trend.

Over the past decade there has been a string of Russian and Ukrainian futuristic thrillers harping on a similar theme: noble Russians staunchly resisting the evil encroachment of the West.

Some pro-western Ukrainian politicians have even argued that the Kremlin may be behind this literary outpouring, encouraging a flood of books that make the idea of a war against western Ukraine acceptable.

Sounds far fetched? Oxford University lecturer James Sherr – one of the UK’s leading authorities on Ukraine - says there could be something in this claim.

“This about getting your people and others to adopt a certain narrative. The Russians are past masters at it.” says Sherr. “What people of Putin’s background - security and intelligence – understand is that to achieve your aims in war or peace, you have link all the different dimensions of activity into one narrative.”

Western science fiction buffs are not entirely surprised either, at both the alleged use of sci- fi as a political tool and at the genre’s predictive power. Author and critic Graham Sleight points out that in the past,  sci-fi has foreshadowed a number of military innovations and developments.

“In 1903, HG Wells published a story called 'The Land Ironclads', which anticipated the armoured tanks first used in WW1 a decade or more later,” says Sleight. “And one of the founding fathers of American science fiction, Robert Heinlein, wrote a couple of stories in 1940, not only anticipating a world with nuclear weapons but also a nuclear arms race.”

And we would perhaps be wise to note: Berezin has also written a series of novels in which the United States and Russia go to war…. over possession of the Moon.

U.S. companies pledge $14 billion in Africa investment

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 13:50

The Obama Administration wants to strengthen American business investment in Africa. Today, U.S. companies pledged some $14 billion in new business investment. That was in addition to commitments from the U.S. government, the World Bank and other private groups.

The major push in this bid? Power (the electric kind). After all, six of the ten fastest growing economies are in Africa. But Ben Leo, a senior fellow with the Center for Global Development, says 600 million people in Africa lack any electricity. That’s a market opportunity, but it’s also a headwind for economic and business growth.

“That’s why every single African leader has affordable electricity at the top of their political and economic agenda,” he says.

That’s also why the private equity firm Blackstone just announced it has teamed up with African billionaire Aliko Dangote to invest $5 billion in energy infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Carlyle Group is also getting involved in energy infrastructure.

Aubrey Hruby, a visiting fellow at The Atlantic Council, says other business obstacles remain. Say you want to open a KFC.

“It doesn’t take a genius to know they want to do business in Nigeria or in Lagos,” a huge city will millions of people, she says. The problem is finding good business data.

“The question is on what block? On what corner? And how do you decide that based on traffic patterns, available disposable income, those kind of metrics?” she asks.

Still, Witney Schneidman, senior international advisor for Africa with Covington & Burling LLP, says U.S. businesses have already invested about $31 billion in Africa. Trade goes both ways, he says.

You can walk into a range of clothing stores in the U.S., like “Lands’ End, Old Navy, and you’ll see shirts that say ‘Made in Lesotho.’ You’ll see pants that say ‘Made in Mauritius.’ You’ll see t-shirts that say ‘Made in Kenya,’” he says.

The evidence? Wal-Mart is doing business in Africa. Procter & Gamble is making diapers there. Even China is looking to Africa for cheaper labor.

Justice dept. targets GM in subprime auto loan probe

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 13:50

GM Financial, the unit of General Motors in charge of auto financing, has received a subpoena in a federal investigation of subprime car loans.   

The company disclosed the request in a recent regulatory filing. GM said it’s complying and that it believes the request is focused on the subprime auto-finance industry in general, not GM in particular.

While some of these auto loans can look similar to the subprime mortgages that led to the financial crisis, the scale is different, says Lawrence White, an economics professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.

“The magnitudes are nowhere near in subprime auto what they were in subprime mortgage lending,” he says. “So it’s highly unlikely that there will be any significant macro-economic consequences."

But that doesn’t mean lenders and investors won’t feel some pain if the loans go wrong, White says. The set of borrowers who were impacted most by the mortgage crisis are the ones at risk again, says Chris Kukla, senior vice president at the Center for Responsible Lending.

“It’s also the same practices,” he says. “Loans that were being made at higher interest rates, generally to people who had lower credit scores [with] terms and conditions to them that just made them unaffordable.”

Just like a foreclosure, having a car repossessed can devastate a household.

“Access to an automobile is extraordinarily critical to low-income families and working families," says Stuart Rossman, director of litigation at the National Consumer Law Center. “They are reliant on it for their job, they’re reliant upon it for their education.”

 Take away access to a car for enough people, he says, and you could have a serious economic problem on your hands.

The filing:

On July 28, 2014, General Motors Financial Company, Inc. (the “Company”) was served with a subpoena by the U.S. Department of Justice directing it to produce certain documents relating to its and its subsidiaries’ and affiliates’ origination and securitization of subprime automobile loan contracts since 2007 in connection with an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice in contemplation of a civil proceeding for potential violations of Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989. Among other matters, the subpoena requests information relating to the underwriting criteria used to originate these automobile loan contracts and the representations and warranties relating to those underwriting criteria that were made in connection with the securitization of the automobile loan contracts.

Gannett's print arm will fend for itself

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 13:48

Media company Gannett announced Tuesday it plans to split in two.

Its newspaper and publishing arm – including USA Today – will split off to become one company, retaining the name Gannett. Its broadcast and digital arm, which has yet to be named, will become its own company. That company also, and not coincidentally, just bought up  

It’s the latest example of a decade-old scramble to figure out what to do with newspapers. 

In some ways, Gannett is spinning off its publishing side, but you could also say it’s ditching it.

“They’re doing it for the simple reason that newspapers are in a downward spiral that’s irreversible,” says Porter Bibb, managing partner at Media Tech Capital Partners.

The idea is that newspapers drag down earnings, stock prices, and even investment from the broadcast and digital side of the company. Those companies could excel, ostensibly without needing to subsidize their ailing brother.

“The latest number showed that while 70 percent of [Gannett’s] revenues were coming from newspapers, already 60 percent of profits were coming from broadcast,” says Ken Doctor, media analyst at Newsonomics.

Even though digital ad spending for newspapers is expected to increase 4.3 percent this year to $3.64 billion, traditional print newspaper ad spending is expected to drop 4 percent to $16.73 billion. That brings the total ad spending down 2.6 percent from last year, according to eMarketer.   

The decline of newspapers is intimately tied to why the broadcast and digital side of Gannett will buy Auto advertising used to be the hand that fed newspapers. Now that hand is feeding someone else. 

“Print media’s lost billions in ad revenue in the last decade, and a large part of that is from auto dealerships who have shifted spending from print classifieds over to digital,” says Mike Hudson, an analyst with eMarketer.

The broadcast and digital side of Gannett followed the money and it's leaving publishing and newspapers behind in what has become a popular strategy.  Time Warner spun out Time Inc. and News Corp split off from 21st Century Fox.

It’s not necessarily leaving print behind to die, just to fend for itself.

“Essentially, the theory goes if you spin off the print piece, the print can have the freedom to focus on the business of print itself,” says Hudson. 

There are often crossovers – relationships between TV and print remain. In Gannett’s case, the print company would very likely continue to provide news services to the broadcast side. 

But to the extent these spinoffs are independent, they are also vulnerable.

“The companies are left as standalone companies, that means they operate now without a safety net,” Doctor says.

So far the print spinoffs aren’t looking great, either. 

“All these publishing companies are still negative on revenue year over year, and for most of them they haven’t grown revenue for seven years really since the recession,” Doctor says. “So we don’t know about the long-term impact of it.”

The broadcast companies appear to be doing better in terms of earnings and stock prices, but that doesn't prove spinning off is a good strategy. Broadcasters have their own battles to fight – think about cable TV and its battles with Aereo and Netflix.

So while the spinoff is a popular move, it’s also a new and unproven one. 

Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

Banks' 'living wills' aren't looking so good

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-05 13:45

A report today from two bank regulators, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, basically said that "too big to fail" thing.

It was an update on how banks are faring in putting together their living wills, as mandated by the Dodd-Frank law.  Basically, it explains how they would handle failure without involving the government. 

It's not looking so good. In the words of Thomas Hoenig, the second in command at the FDIC:

"Despite the thousands of pages of material these firms submitted, the plans provide no credible or clear path through bankruptcy that doesn't require unrealistic assumptions and direct or indirect public support." 

In other words:  Wall Street's totally still going to hose us. 

Ebola drug given to US aid workers

BBC - Tue, 2014-08-05 13:42
US aid workers who contracted the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia appear to be improving after receiving an experimental drug, officials say.