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Japan prepares to vote

Fri, 2014-12-12 02:00

Here’s a bright idea: in the middle of a recession, call an election.

That’s exactly what the prime minister of Japan has done. The voting is set for Sunday, and he actually could be headed for a landslide. Polls suggest Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party could win a two-thirds majority. In this case, it’s not “the economy, stupid.” It’s the enfeebled opposition, analysts say.

Despite the GDP contraction, Japan’s economy may not be that bad. Adam Posen, President of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, sees parts of the “Abe-nomics” shock therapy working: monetary easing and reforms to bring more women into the workforce. There’s more to do, Posen says, but a victory could give Abe a mandate to pursue additional, significant changes: cutting business taxes, shrinking the deficit, and striking a trade deal with Washington.

Investing in coffee and Congo

Fri, 2014-12-12 01:30

The Democratic Republic of Congo needs investment to rebuild from decades of war. But the cruel irony is that it’s the last place many foreign investors want to park their money. 

Transparency international ranks DRC 156 out of 175 rated countries in terms of corruption. The World Bank says that while it’s among the world’s top ten most improved places to do business, it’s still one of the world’s hardest places to do business. And yet people do, and do so successfully. 

Konrad Brits is trying to be one of them. He is CEO of Falcon Coffee, a UK based green coffee supplier to brands all over the world.

He stands before the coffee processing mill that he helped finance in Goma, the capital of DRC’s North Kivu province. The mill processes coffee beans provided by cooperatives and farmers from around the region. He hopes it will offer a desperately needed source of revenue for people.

“It’s an incredibly risky investment, or a lot of people would view it as that,” he says.

After what Brits has been through, it is a miracle he is here. 

This isn’t his first ride on the Congo Coffee train. 10 years ago, he tried exporting coffee from the other side of the country. He set up a network of middlemen to buy coffee from villages, and then processed it in a factory like this one. He imported everything from screws and screw drivers, to cars and machinery and equipment.

“And once we started the process, the shackles began to tighten,” he recalls.

Taxes got pushed mysteriously higher, and higher, he says. And then there were random fees, like for the government to certify the weight of his coffee (even though officials had no scale).

“When we went to the government, they said, 'We don’t have a scale, but you need this paper to export the coffee. So even though we don’t have a scale, this piece of paper’s gonna cost you $750 every time.'” 

Konrad’s staff was stealing two tons out of every 18 ton container “in conjunction with the port authorities,” he says. “I was paying the tax and buying the 18 tons of coffee and buying the weight note; shipping thousands of tons. And when they started arriving, my buyers would tell me, 'You over invoiced me. There’s only 16 tons.'"

The staff were then reselling the stolen coffee back to Konrad.

“The degree of institutional corruption made me realize that I needed to cut my losses and leave,” he says. He lost $1.3 million.

At the time, he was furious that so many people and authorities around him had colluded to cheat him at the expense of their own communities.    

I’m going to leave here,” he recalls telling a group of officials and employees. “I’m bleeding, but I’m gonna survive, I’m gonna take my business somewhere else. And you’re gonna sit here with no future.”

Since that time, Konrad has come to think about his experience in a different way.

“Time and again, the Congolese have seen so many foreigners come and go, and by and large every one of those foreigners have been there to take not to give,” he says. Starting with slavery and everything else: the mineral wealth, the rubber, the hardwood. Investing in the DRC with my very developed-world, bleeding-heart attitude, believing I could deliver this promise of tomorrow to people who had been nothing but let down."

He adds, "The governor‘s son told me, ‘We are such a traumatized society that if you offer a Congolese one dollar today or ten at the end of the week, he can’t bank on the ten at the end of the week, so he’ll take the dollar today. And you look like the dollar today.’” 

So why is he back? 

Because of people like Kyriakides Menelas. 

Menelas runs the coffee mill. He was here when rebels swept through town just two years ago, leaving bullet holes in the gate of the mill’s compound. Menelas has been here thirty years, through wars and invasions and corruption. Brits says he trusts Menelas and his family.

“They have built up a huge coffee export operation out of Uganda for 15 years and we’ve been partnering with them there for the last 5,” he says.

The only way to survive here, says Menelas, is to know people who know how to survive here, and find partners who have a stake in your success. Konrad’s early experiment had him depending on people who would gain from his failure. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have an edge.

“In business, if you show up somewhere and don’t know anyone and nothing, you’re a sheep among lions. They’re obviously going to devour you. So you have to become a little bit lion,” says Menelas.

And as a businessman, Menelas takes the long view. 

“Our parents, they lost their things two or three times. Us too. You get used to it. The positive thing about Congo is you can lose for two or three years and then gain it all back and more,” he says.

Britsa takes the long view too.  He says his partners, who’ve invested more than he has, make him feel protected. This time, he says, will be different.

“Well possibly,” he adds with a laugh. “Maybe I’ll be a fool twice. We are yet to see.”


Barge owner talks oil and taxes

Thu, 2014-12-11 14:39

There's a lot of oil moving through the economy. It's literally moving, from point A to point B in trains, trucks and barges.

In light of the recent drop in oil prices, we checked in with Austin Golding, who runs Golding Barge Line, a family business in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Business has picked up since the last time we talked to Golding, and he's surprisingly excited about a new tax increase.

The economic evolution of streetwear

Thu, 2014-12-11 13:44

Farshad Arshid runs a clothing business with his wife Sandy.

Arshid started out on his own, with one part-time employee a little over a decade ago. Now, he owns three stores, two in Atlanta, and one in Houston. He has a staff of around 15 employees. It all started with a store called Standard.


The long arms of a U.S. law reach Congo

Thu, 2014-12-11 12:08

Three hours from the nearest city and 120 feet underground, at the end of a long tunnel just big enough for a person to crawl through, 25-year-old Nami Fusi is listening to his favorite music while digging.


"Here, this is a patch!" he says, shoveling.  Fusi is one of the Democratic Republic of Congo's estimated 500,000 artisinal miners.


"We advance a meter or two each day," he says.  He can spend as many as 12 hours down here, pursuing purple seams in the hard orange clay, hoping to see flecks of gold appear on his shovel or spring from his pick. 


There are half a million miners like Fusi in the Congo, and this is how a lot of the mining in Congo has been done for the past few decades: by hand.  Ores of the famous cell phone elements – the three Ts: Tungsten, Tantalum and Tin – were mined in much the same way. These ores earned the moniker 'conflict minerals' because the profits made from mining them haloed to finance armed groups in Eastern Congo, who controlled mines and who waged brutally violent campaigns. They killed nearly a million people by the most conservative estimates, and possibly up to six million.


Many things can shut a mine like the one worked by Nami Fusi – collapses, toxic gases, and, it turns out, Dodd Frank.  The bill to clean up Wall Street.


"Which, in itself, I think sounds a bit odd," notes Aloys Tegera wryly.  Tegera is director of the Pole Institute, a think tank based in Goma.  "There was this strong American lobby, they wanted to slot into this American internal act, something concerning Congo." 


Within the 2,300 pages of Dodd Frank is one small section, section 1502, which requires companies that buy minerals from Congo to certify whether or not those minerals are financing armed groups.  The idea was to help put an end to atrocities those armed groups were committing.  There were campaigns to hold cellphone companies and computer makers accountable on campuses, Facebook, and YouTube.


"But they didn't really foresee the reaction, the local reaction, how it was going to work," says Tegera. 


Reaction was swift and dramatic.  In 2010, many companies started looking elsewhere for minerals.  The government of the DRC, finally waking up to the issue of conflict minerals, unilaterally suspended all mining operations.  Even when the suspension was eventually lifted six months later, many international companies realized they couldn't certify anything about Congolese minerals.  Not  when the supply was dominated by long chains of middle men and thousands of just regular people –  men and women with picks and hammers.  So companies stopped buying.


"They didn't buy, these past few years, they don't buy anymore," says Gaspard Kashafali, an unemployed miner wearily standing on the side of a street in Bukavu.  "I can't do this job anymore, and up until now I have nothing.  I earn nothing.  I don't work."  Before Kashafali was a miner, he was a guerila fighter in the Mai Mai, one of Congo's dozens of armed groups. 


"Artisinal miners were all of a sudden unemployed," says Tegera.  It was a defacto embargo.


"There is a lot of money going around that activity as well," he says.  "We had for instance local traders who would sell spare parts, food, beer etcetera, and these people also couldn't sell."


Tegera and others allege that the loss of jobs pushed erstwhile guerila fighters like Kashafali back to the banditry trade, ironically increasing insecurity contrary to the aims of the efforts to reign in conflict minerals.


The initial suspension, which closed down legitimate mining operations, also allowed rebel groups out of the reach of government, like the CNDP, to become monopolists in the mineral trade in the short term, smuggling their materials into Rwanda or Uganda. 


Unlike the artisinal miners, "Industrial mining operations were not hit," says Tibere Kajemba, program director at Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix, a human rights organization.  "They have a closed supply chain, they can show that their minerals are conflict free."


Not intended


Toby Whitney was legislative director for Congressman Jim McDermott, he was lead drafter of Dodd Frank. And he bristles at the notion that drafters were’t aware of the consequences.

"When you're going to break a black market, and provide some chance for peace and prosperity in the region, there's going to be some dislocation," he says.  "And it was worth some amount of dislocation to stop funding the killing of a thousand people a day." 


"This behavior has been going on for 20 years funding a huge war and we are saying you have to care about this, be transparent at a minimum," Whitney says.   


The complaint from Tegera and others is that if the consequences were known, there was no plan in place to support those who were negatively affected. 


Attempts to cope


In the wake of the disruption to one of Congo's most important industries, numerous efforts have arisen to help artisinal miners trace their product to show it's "clean." That's what designers of the law expected.  

Kajemba's organization, OGP, is helping the government of the DRC to establish a classification system of "red sites, yellow sites, and green sites," by monitoring different mines for the presence of armed groups.  There are also programs that bag and tag ore mined by artisinal workers, offering a seal of sorts that marks the minerals as conflict free. 


These systems have also incorporated standards banning child labor and pregnant women or women with small children on their backs from working in the mines.

"These programs exist and have been ratcheted up, so there's an improvement," says Jason Stearns, senior fellow at NYU's Center on International Cooperation. "But we are at such a low level - fewer than a dozen areas out of hundreds, and its very cumbersome infrastructure."

These programs have almost certainly  not been able to absorb all the displaced miners.


The classification systems are not all internationally recognized, meaning they are not sufficient for a company to meet the requirements of Dodd Frank.


A consequence of the traceability schemes has been the creation of monopoly dynamics, says Laura Seay, an assistant professor at Colby College whose research focuses on U.S. foreign policy effects in the African Great Lakes region.

"In the places where there is traceability there's only one buyer, that buyer gets to set the price, there are miners who think they are being cheated and are probably right, in terms of what they're getting for the minerals," Seay says.  "And so what we’re seeing is that it’s a relatively tiny number of miners who are benefiting from the new traceability schemes and the vast majority are still excluded."


Bitter medicine


One of the U.S. groups largely behind the Dodd Frank section on conflict minerals is the Enough Project.   For proponents like Congo country director Fidel Bafilamba, the law is like Quinine:  bitter but necessary.  He admits a lot of miners suffered under the rule, but he argues the people under the control of armed groups suffered without the rule.


When armed groups and militaries took over, "artisinal mining became synonymous of tragedy, malediction to the local communities."  He compares the condition of some mining communities controlled by armed groups to urban areas like Goma, "despite the nice buildings coming up in Goma, these communities still have nothing."   


And Bafilemba says despite the hardship, the law worked.


"Five years back, most of the mines - especially three T mines - were under the control of armed militias.  Today, 67 percent of mines are conflict-free." 


The International Peace Information Service, an independent research institute working on Sub-Saharan Africa, backs up this claim.  However only a third of gold mines are conflict-free.


Silver linings and gold chains


There are no reliable data on exactly how many miners were put out of work in the long run, and to what extent their financial hardship persists.  A World Bank funded report suggests one possibility:  it estimates four out of five artisinal miners in the DRC are now working in gold, a largely unregulated and untraced sector. 


"There’s been a large migration from the three T’s - tantalum, tin, tungsten - to gold, which is by far the largest mining trade or sector in the eastern Congolese economy," Stearns says. "So that has buffered and cushioned the impact of Dodd Frank."


It's also offered armed groups an escape route. 


"You definitely have more armed groups benefiting from Gold.  That is shown in data we have gathered this year," says Anna Bulzomi, an analyst with IPIS.  "It is very challenging to say that Gold is sourced responsibly right now."


Two-thirds of gold mines in the Congo operate under some kind of armed group according to IPIS.   Gold is easier to smuggle, easier to sell, and many of the mines are in areas not fully controlled by the government.   Now that cellphone minerals are less profitable, many people are making a living from gold.  And so are armed groups. 


"The main hubs for gold are in places that so far have not been particularly active in the global conversation on conflict minerals," says Bulzomi.  "So for instance a lot of gold from the [African] Great Lakes region ends up in Dubai ...where... the level of commitment is not as high as the US or EU or players with large roles in other supply chains."

Gold also has a high intrinsic value, and it doesn't need to be smelted or refined before attaining that value.  It is also easily smuggled.


A pilot project at the Nyamorale gold mine where Nami Fusi works is seeking to change this, but it is one out of more than 600 sites.  Other sites are in isolated, rebel controlled areas for which such ticketing is not possible, but from which smuggling certainly is. 


Competing narratives


If you ask Dodd Frank's harshest critics, they will tell you that the law missed the point.  "It underestimated -- or overestimated the government's ability to provide law and order," says Aloys Tegera.  The underlying factor behind Eastern Congo's lawlessness and illicit mineral trading is not mineral wealth, it is a collapsed, feckless government.   To address the conflict, says Tegera, international organizations and governments should strengthen the government's ability to do what governments do:  provide services and stability.


For those like Bafilemba who favor Dodd Frank's approach of taking action at the economic level, government fecklessness is precisely the reason not to wage reform through the government.  "They are not interested in stability....basic services."  For Bafilemba, who views the current Congolese government as puppets of neighboring Rwanda and the United States and bent on extracting Congo's mineral wealth for personal or foreign gain, the government is the last place to begin. 


"It’s a shame that Dodd Frank wasn’t carried out with more preparation and foresight," Stearns says.  "We won't know whether this has been a success or failure for another five or six years."  But "the baby shouldn't be thrown out with the bathwater," he says.  "Now that it's in place we have to work with it and improve it.  The current standard in Dodd Frank is it that minerals must be completely conflict free to be certified, but supply chains are so confused through so many intermediaries that its impossible to verify that its conflict free."  More practical is to require a certain amount of due diligence, processes put in place, but "I think that standard should be lowered."


"No, it's the standard," Whitney says.  "If you bring a toy into this country and its painted, you need to know whether it was made with lead paint or slave labor.  You're not allowed to say 'I’m bringing something in this country with lead paint in it and it's too complicated for me to figure out, so sorry people got poisoned.'"  


Of minerals and men


Regardless of the government's utility and role in the minerals sector, Congo's minerals are  not the primary driver motivating the armed groups operating here. 


"According to the U.N., only 8 percent of conflicts are over resource conflicts – fighting over control of a mine to have access to particular mineral resources, but that means the other 92 percent of conflicts are not about minerals," Professor Seay says. It is about identity, belonging, ethnicity, and money.


In the past, many of those conflicts were funded by minerals but, Seay says, "in a war time economy, everything looks like a source of revenue."


"If one source goes away, that doesn't have an effect on the violence because the armed groups continue to finance their activities through a wide variety of means," she says. 


Groups have funded themselves by trading charcoal, timber, marijuana, and even poaching  animals.  "The M23 group that existed in 2012 and 2013, they were bringing in 200, 300, $400,000 a month just by informally taxing trade at a border post."


The conflict mineral cellphone narrative "was very deliberately chosen because it is simple, anyone can understand it, it’s relatable - everyone has a mobile phone. So if you say your phone has blood in it fueling violence, that gives everyone an immediate and personal connection.  Its very clever."


 The problem, says Seay, is that despite "the good intentions of mobilizing people around the issue when you have a simple narrative,  it's reductionist and leaves out important dimensions of the crisis."   


That is one thing that both critics and supporters of Dodd Frank agree on:  the roots of the conflict are deep and wide, and no simple stroke of a pen by an outside power can solve that problem alone. 

Where is all the gas money going?

Thu, 2014-12-11 11:00

What you and I and all the other drivers in the country aren't spending on gas could add up to hundreds of billions of dollars in savings. Columbia  professor Geoffrey Heal says that savings will act as an economic stimulus. 

“It will. Definitely," he says. "We’re giving consumers significantly more spending power.”

But don't put a new pony and castle on your Christmas list just yet. Consumers aren't planning to spend all that money right away, says Kent Smetters, a professor of business economics and public policy at Wharton. 

“They have a little bit more money, but at the same time their investment are doing a little less well," he says, "so they don’t necessarily feel that much richer.

Low gas prices could have a negative impact on the stock market. Shares of oil producing companies might go down, so would our retirement funds which puts us in the mood to save, not spend.

Scott Wren, a Senior Equity Strategist with Wells Fargo Advisors, says we have seen low gas prices act as an economic stimulus in the past. But that was then, and this is a recovering economy.

“In the past people were more prone to increase their spending. They were more prone to borrow money as well, do things like home equity loans," she says. "And I think right now the mentality is a little different."

At least we still like a deal. 

Why D.C. is up in arms about derivatives ... again

Thu, 2014-12-11 11:00

The most controversial provision of the 1,600-page, $1.1 trillion spending bill currently before Congress could be the proposed roll-back of Section 716 of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform bill: "PROHIBITION AGAINST FEDERAL GOVERNMENT BAILOUTS OF SWAPS ENTITIES."

It's also known as the "Lincoln Amendment," after its original sponsor, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, or as the "swaps push-out rule," but what does it actually do?

It was first proposed to push all derivatives off the balance sheets of FDIC-insured banks – what Michael Greenberger, professor of law at the University of Maryland, calls a "hundred trillion-dollar market in notional value."

Mike Konczal, who writes about financial reform for the Roosevelt Institute, says the "push-out rule" has since been scaled back to apply to only its riskiest segment, like the kind of credit default swaps that brought down AIG. Aaron Klein at the Bipartisan Policy Center, who supports the roll-back of this rule, says pushing derivatives off of the banks' balance sheets into hedge funds and bank subsidiaries won't necessarily keep the financial system safe.

McDonald's sales are not so hot

Thu, 2014-12-11 10:47

McDonald's is in some trouble. The world's biggest fast-food chain just isn't cutting it anymore.

“McDonald’s recently reported that same store sales haven’t been positive since October 2013,” says Venessa Wong, associate editor at Bloomberg Businessweek.

McDonald’s said back in July they have a recovery plan underway and were going to take 18 months to launch their improvements.

“These improvements are part of what McDonald's is calling the ‘Experience of the Future,’” Wong says.

The fast-food chain will roll-out several menu changes and digital campaigns through 2015.

“There’s just so much competition now in fast food, not only in the burger category, but also in the fast-casual chains,” says Wong. “They are still a small part of the market, but at a time when fast-food sales are not growing, they are stealing market share and preventing some of the larger chains from growing their sales.”

What's the value of a fake social media follower?

Thu, 2014-12-11 10:36

It seems we have an unlimited appetite for softly filtered photos. Instagram now has 300-million users, making it bigger than Twitter.

The photo sharing site has announced it's working on removing fake accounts. No biggie, you think?  Who cares about a bunch of bots and spammers?

Turns out there's a lot of value in fake social media accounts.

1. Fake followers can attract real followers.

"No one wants to go to a party with only one or two people," says Ari Lightman, a professor of digital media at Carnegie Mellon University.  

2. Fake followers can also attract real money.

Alice Wright, who runs a snarky blog about bloggers called Get Off My Internets, says bloggers often juice their social media stats.  "They have to have the numbers," says Wright, in order to grab advertisers. "It's not just about your website stats anymore, it's about social media."

3. Fake accounts make social media sites and services look bigger

"It’s always interesting to me when a company goes after the fraud," says USC social media professor Karen North, "because at the beginning it’s the fraud that helped them." Fake accounts can make the total number of people using a service look larger, "it’s like everybody is there, look at all the big numbers," says North. A company or brand can start tossing those fake accounts, says North, when it’s popular enough to be popular without them.

Coding in classrooms

Thu, 2014-12-11 10:16

Marketplace Tech Report host Ben Johnson chats with Adriene Hill about the Hour of Code,, and why some classrooms are rushing to add coding to the curriculum. 

Click play above to hear the interview

Quiz: TMI? No such thing

Thu, 2014-12-11 04:58

A majority of Americans say the internet and cell phones improved their learning abilities, according to the Pew Research Internet Project.

Medical bills, bills, bills

Thu, 2014-12-11 03:00

43 million Americans have overdue medical debt on their credit reports, according to a new report out today by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This means about one in five credit reports contain medical debt that’s been turned over to a collection agency, often dragging down consumers’ credit scores.

Unlike a credit card bill or an auto loan, medical bills often takes people by surprise, says Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

“Nobody chooses to say, ‘Tomorrow, I’m going to go the emergency room for an appendectomy,’” she says.

“Many people who walk into doctor’s office have absolutely no idea expense they’re about to incur,” adds Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health, a consulting firm.

Even if patient do ask, it can be difficult to get an answer.

“You’re in a system that is not ready to tell you how much things are going to cost,” says Mendelson.

Moreover, uninsured consumers often pay the highest rates for services, which they can’t afford.

For those patients with insurance, Wu says “there are billing errors [and] the providers might use the wrong codes. What happens is that if the bill gets too old, it automatically gets sent to a debt collector.”

That can ding consumers’ credit scores, which impact more than just interest rates and loan applications, says Susan Grant, with the Consumer Federation of America.

“It can be used by employers to decide whether or not to hire you, by landlords to decide whether or not to rent to you, by your insurance company to determine you rates," she says.

The CFPB is currently reviewing debt collection processes and will require the major credit reporting agencies to submit reports on how consumer disputes are handled.


PODCAST: New profits for drug cartels

Thu, 2014-12-11 03:00

A company arrives on the NY stock exchange today that hopes to disrupt how people borrow money. Plus, more on the news that Google News will shut down operations in Spain. And a new reminder today that violent crime and clever business can go hand in hand. We check in from time to time with our colleagues at Univision News, and they've been probing ways Mexican and Colombian drug cartels are diversifying into additional lines of work. 

Google News to shut down in Spain

Thu, 2014-12-11 02:00
3.5 million visitors

That's how many visitors Google News in Spain receives per month. Google announced it would be shutting down Google News in Spain in response to a new law that would charge the news service every time content from Spanish newspapers and publishers appeared.


The total mentions of waterboarding, and other interrogation methods involving water or temperature in the Senate's long-anticipated CIA torture report. The Washington Post published a graphic letting users explore all instances of "enhanced interrogation" described in the report. Or, if you'd prefer, here's a visualization of the report's redactions.

$4.5 billion

That's how much Lending Club, the leading online-lending-marketplace, could be valued at after its IPO on Thursday. It will be the first among several fast-growing financial start-ups expected to go public in the peer-to-peer lending industry.

300 million users

Instagram passed that benchmark Wednesday, edging out Twitter and getting that much closer to Mark Zuckerberg's billion-user gold standard. Comparing social networks isn't a perfect science, but Re/Code has a look at how active users compare across services. 


42.9 million

That's how many Americans have unpaid medical bills according to the findings of a new report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That's nearly 20 percent of consumers.

$634 million

Universal's cash flow for the first nine months of 2014, putting the studio on track for its most profitable year ever. What's notable is that Universal did it without a big summer tent pole, Forbes reported. The studio's film slate, which is nearly complete, was full of projects with modest budgets. There weren't any earth-shattering successes or flops, but lots of return on investment.

Drug cartels find new ways to make money

Thu, 2014-12-11 02:00

Mexican and Colombian drug cartels are diversifying their sources of income, according to a new investigative report from Univision News. The report, “Los Nuevos Narcotesoros” (New Narcotreasures), details how illegal mining of gold and iron ore is fast becoming a profit center rivaling that of drug trafficking.

Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio speaks with Gerardo Reyes, director of Univision’s investigative news unit, about the business and violence behind illegal mining.

Click on the audio player above to hear more.

Spanish speakers can learn more on Twitter via @UniNoticias.

An illegal mining site in Peru.


Miner vs Miner: A different kind of mineral conflict

Thu, 2014-12-11 02:00

Biyamungu Ngalikyana, in his mid twenties, sports shiny white rubber boots and a mining helmet as he walks down a dirt road in the mining town of Luhwindja in South Kivu, DRC. A former Mai Mai rebel fighter, he now digs for gold hundreds of feet beneath the surface. He’s what’s known as an ‘artisinal miner,' which means he’s just a regular person with hand tools, as opposed to a mechanized industrial outfit.

Mining in Eastern DRC has, over the past two decades, become an important source of revenue for individuals and towns during periods of insecurity and war. There are an estimated half million artisanal miners in Congo. At Luhwindja, 6,000 people in this town depend on the gold in the hills.

Perhaps not for much longer.

“Banro comes and tells us to leave fairly regularly,” says Ngalikyana. 

Banro is an industrial mining company that has held concession rights to this land for decades. 

“These miners are a handicap,” says Maitre Crispin Mutwedu, in charge of stakeholder relations for Banro. “The law that says no [outside] miner is allowed to work inside these areas covered by the concession, and yet every time we show up at a place, we find we were beat to it by several years by artisanal miners.” 

The Democratic Republic of Congo has granted thousands of mining concessions to industrial mining companies over the years. Industrial mines, when they can operate in conflict free areas, can prevent minerals from seeping into the black market or funding armed groups. They also provide tax revenue or infrastructure construction services. 

They do not, however, come close to providing the kind of employment that less efficient hand-mining provides to communities. And in regions that have been courting war for decades, unemployment can have dire consequences.

“I’m not leaving,” says Ngalikyana. “There’s nowhere else to go, there’s no work. If I end up in the street, I”ll go back to the bush and start robbing people again, and maybe I’ll rob Banro.”

These risks are not lost on Mr. Mutwedu with Banro.

“These people who are here, these are people who we have to take seriously. Because if you don’t, and if they’re out of work, you will be too,” he says.

More than most mining companies, Banro has engaged with communities to determine compensation packages or the possibility of relocating to ‘artisinal zones’ set aside elsewhere. 

Valentin Lubala, president of the miners association at a mine called Mukwunge (also in the Banro concession), is frank about the reality: “We understand the site belongs to them. We negotiated, and Banro said they’d give us some time, and the government could help us relocate.”

“The problem comes from the regional government,” he says. 

Technically, it’s not legal to share a concession with artisanal miners, and the regional minister of mines, Adalbert Murhi, has refused to sign off on their agreement. 

A group of NGO’s in South Kivu has accused him of mismanagement and corruption, charges which he firmly denies. 

Meanwhile, groups are trying to convince the government to alter the law or be more flexible. For the moment, it’s easier to find gold than solutions.

Google News shuts down in Spain

Thu, 2014-12-11 02:00
3.5 million visitors

That's how many visitors Google News in Spain receives per month. Google announced it would be shutting down Google News in Spain in response to a new law that would charge the news service every time content from Spanish newspapers and publishers appeared.


The total mentions of waterboarding, and other interrogation methods involving water or temperature in the Senate's long-anticipated CIA torture report. The Washington Post published a graphic letting users explore all instances of "enhanced interrogation" described in the report. Or, if you'd prefer, here's a visualization of the report's redactions.

$4.5 billion

That's how much Lending Club, the leading online-lending-marketplace, could be valued at after its IPO on Thursday. It will be the first among several fast-growing financial startups expected to go public in the peer-to-peer (P2P) lending industry.

300 million users

Instagram passed that benchmark Wednesday, edging out Twitter getting that much closer to Mark Zuckerberg's billion-user gold standard. Comparing social networks isn't a perfect science, but Re/Code has a look at how active users compare across services. 

A graph of Active Users on the top social networks.

Re/code 42.9 million

That's how many Americans have unpaid medical bills according to the findings of a new report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That's nearly 20% of consumers.

$634 million

Universal's cash flow for the first nine months of 2014, putting the studio on track for its most profitable year ever. What's notable is that Universal did it without a big summer tent pole, Forbes reported. Their film slate, which is nearly complete, was full of projects with modest budgets. There weren't any earth-shattering successes or flops, but lots of return on investment.

Lending Club goes public

Thu, 2014-12-11 02:00

Lending Club—the leading online-lending-marketplace, based in San Francisco—goes public on Thursday. The IPO will be the first among several fast-growing financial startups expected to go public in the peer-to-peer (P2P) lending industry, and could raise $800 million or more for the company, giving it a total market value of in the range of $4.5 billion.

Lending Club matches individuals and businesses that want to borrow with lenders—mostly hedge funds, wealth managers and institutional investors. Borrowers pay interest rates ranging from 7.6 percent to 24.9 percent, based on their credit-worthiness, according to Lending Club’s website. Lenders on the site, meanwhile, can realize attractive net returns, in the 7 percent to 9 percent range.

Loan applications and underwriting are done online, cutting some of the cost and hassle of borrowing from a regular bank. That could help P2P lenders disrupt the established banking business and grab market share.

10 of the most expensive TV shows ever made

Thu, 2014-12-11 00:12

Netflix's newest series, “Marco Polo,” will cost $90 million for a 10-episode season, making it one of the priciest TV shows ever ... pretty steep for a show that won't actually air on TV.

How did TV shows become so expensive? 

In honor of "Marco Polo's" premiere, here is a list of some of the most expensive TV shows ever made. 

10. Terra Nova (2011): $4 million per episode


“Terra Nova” was an ambitious flop, and proof that a big budget does not necessarily equal commercial success. Despite a pilot that reportedly cost at least $10 million, Fox cancelled the sci-fi epic after a few weeks.

9. Deadwood (2004-06): $4.5 million per episode

(Warning: An obscenity is uttered at the end of the trailer)

“Deadwood” is a western that aired on HBO for three seasons. Between horses, wagons, livestock coordinators and a large ensemble cast, the show was gorgeous to look at, but as with many other HBO shows, that quality came at a price.

8. True Blood (2008-14): $5 million per episode



Sure, vampires are trendy and oh-so pretty, but in this case they also come with a hefty price tag. “True Blood” is one more example of HBO 's willingness to shell out to create good-looking television. Unlike other high-budget HBO shows that aired for for only two or three seasons, “True Blood” got seven thanks to a vocal committed fan base.

7. Boardwalk Empire (2010-14): $5 million per episode


At about $5 million per-episode, “Boardwalk Empire” is an expensive production – but the most staggering number is the nearly $20 million it took to make the pilot. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the show built a $5 million, 300-foot-long boardwalk to re-create Atlantic City in the '20s.

6. Game of Thrones (2011-present): $6 million per episode


HBO, again: “Game of Thrones” premiered on the network in 2011, and is currently one of the most popular shows on television. It made headlines when $8 million was spent on one particularly epic second-season episode – it cost $2 million more than the average "Thrones" episode. (By comparison, an average cable show costs $2 million per episode.)

5. Camelot (2011): $7 million per episode (Starz)

It was received moderately well by audiences, but “Camelot” was not the success the Starz network hoped for. One problem: It had the misfortune of premiering around the same time as “Game of Thrones,” which would win the battle of the period dramas. “Camelot” was cancelled after one season. 

4. Rome (2005-07): $9 million per episode

The two-season historical drama had all the elements of an expensive production: Elaborate sets and costumes, overseas locations and a large cast. Series creator Bruno Heller has laid claim to being a pioneer, saying that “Rome” paved the way for other big-budget dramas like “Game of Thrones."

3. Marco Polo (2014-present): $9 million per episode

“Rome” also may have paved the way for the new show, “Marco Polo." The Netflix show, premiering on Dec. 12, has many of the trappings of other recent high-budget shows: It is a historically based drama filmed overseas in Italy and Kazakhstan, and produced in Malaysia.

2. Friends (1994-2004): $10 million per episode (season 10)

(Getty Images/Handout)

Over the course of 10 seasons, “Friends” became a cultural icon, a huge commercial success and produced no shortage of awkward cast photos. By the final season, the six co-stars each made $1 million per episode, a major reason the otherwise low-budget sitcom ended up near the top of this list. 

1. ER (1994-2009): $13 million per episode (at its peak)

(Getty Images/Handout)

“ER,” like "Friends,” was not always so pricey. But after re-negotiations in 1998, NBC agreed to pay Warner Brothers $13 million per episode. One TV producer called the deal “the half-a-billion-dollar blunder,” since the show cost the network $440 million over a two year period – but the "blunder" had staying power. "ER" ran until 2009, ending after 15 seasons and 331 episodes. Some might say the money was worth it just so George Clooney's million-dollar eyes could seduce the camera. Do you see it?

(Getty Images/Handout)

Yup, there he is.

(Note: Dollar amounts have not been adjusted for inflation.)