National News

Tesla is disrupting more than just the car business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Sat, 2016-02-06 16:01

Tesla Motors is building the world's biggest battery factory just outside of Reno, Nevada. The company is calling it the “gigafactory,” and when it’s up and running in 2016 it’s expected to make Tesla’s electric cars much more affordable. 

“In a single factory we're doubling the worldwide capacity to manufacture lithium-ion batteries,” says J.B. Straubel, Tesla's chief technology officer. 

That's significant enough. But the company also plans to develop batteries for use with solar-power generation – giving Tesla a shot at challenging public utilities as an energy source, Straubel says.

“At the price points that we're expecting to achieve with the gigafactory ... we see a market that is well in excess of the production capability of the factory,” says Straubel.

The market for batteries is an offshoot of the booming business for solar panels, particularly in states such as California, where solar is becoming commonplace.

“We sign up approximately one new customer every minute of the workday," says Will Craven, director of public affairs at California-based SolarCity.

Much of the excess energy harnessed by solar panels is returned to the power grid, Cravens says. This means homeowners and businesses may earn a credit from their power companies, but have no say over when and how that energy is used.

The partnership with SolarCity will use rooftop solar panels fitted with Tesla’s battery packs to allow customers to keep that energy in-house. That means they can use it however, and whenever, they want. The concept puts Tesla in direct competition with utility companies.

“Stationary storage, or backup storage, is really being considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of renewable electricity generation,” says Ben Kallo, an analyst with the Robert W. Baird financial services firm.

Kallo points out that the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources makes them less reliable because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.  But with the ability to store that energy, renewable energy sources can compete head-to-head with utility companies for customers.

“There are still many utilities out there who kind of have their head stuck in the sand and just hope that this goes away. What we're seeing is really building momentum,” Kallo says.

Forward-minded utilities might look at Tesla’s business model as an opportunity, he says.  Energy-storage technology could be used to build capacity in their existing grids, and also build new infrastructure for battery-powered cars and homes.

 

LeBron Books 5th Straight NBA Finals Trip As Cleveland Sweeps Atlanta

NPR News - 1 hour 54 min ago

The Cavaliers, making their second-ever trip to the finals in James' first season back with the team, will face the winner of the Golden State Warriors-Houston Rockets series.

» E-Mail This

Nebraska Governor Vetoes Bill That Repealed Death Penalty

NPR News - 5 hours 58 min ago

The move sets up a showdown Wednesday with lawmakers in the state's unicameral legislature. A close vote is expected as lawmakers try to override the veto.

» E-Mail This

Heat Wave Claims More Than 750 Lives In India

NPR News - 6 hours 14 min ago

Most of the deaths have occurred in southern Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states. But high temperatures persist across much of the country of 1 billion people.

» E-Mail This

Test Of '1 Person, 1 Vote' Heads To The Supreme Court

NPR News - 6 hours 51 min ago

Analysts have noted that dividing districts based on eligible voters rather than total population would tend to shift representative power to localities with fewer children and fewer immigrants.

» E-Mail This

How Dorothea Lange Taught Us To See Hunger And Humanity

NPR News - 7 hours 34 min ago

Perhaps no one did more to show us the human toll of the Great Depression than Lange, who was born on this day in 1895. Her photos of farm workers and others have become iconic of the era.

» E-Mail This

Out Of The Classroom And Into The Woods

NPR News - 7 hours 49 min ago

In this Vermont kindergarten, every Monday is "Forest Monday" a day that gets students out of the classroom and into nature.

» E-Mail This

Hackers Stole Data From More Than 100,000 Taxpayers, IRS Says

NPR News - 7 hours 54 min ago

The thieves used the data to file fraudulent tax returns. The IRS commissioner said less than $50 million had been successfully claimed from the agency.

» E-Mail This

Sip It Slowly, And Other Lessons From The Oldest Tea Book In The World

NPR News - 8 hours 2 min ago

Over 800 years before tea was known in the West, a Chinese master penned the The Classic of Tea. In it, he blends the practical with the spiritual and emphasizes rituals from cultivation to drinking.

» E-Mail This

How Worried Should We Be About Lassa Fever?

NPR News - 8 hours 15 min ago

The tropical virus has killed a man who returned to New Jersey from Liberia this month. But chances that he could have spread the disease are remote.

» E-Mail This

Texas floods have business owners singing the blues

Flooding has disrupted life for many in the Lone Star State. Kellie Moore was at her bakery in Austin yesterday when the water levels began to rise.

"It was crazy," Moore told Kai Ryssdal. "I looked in the back room and I noticed that water was coming through the building ... [I] was trying to sop it up, but then it started coming into the kitchen and into the front of our showroom, and there was no way to stop the water."

Press the play button above to hear more of Kellie's story. 

Chrome extension turns word 'millennials' into 'snake people'

This story comes as, I guess you might say, a mea culpa for the aspersions I cast on millennials the other day.

Maybe this'll ring a bell: 

I'm sharing this so I can tell you about what I saw on Buzzfeed today.

There's an extension for Chrome that will replace the word "millennials," wherever it pops up on line, with the words "snake people."

Buzzfeed

There are 14,000 lobbying groups in Washington

To see just how ubiquitous lobbying has become in Washington, I make an appointment for lunch with Lee Drutman. He's a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of "The Business of America is Lobbying."

He’s waiting for me at the buffet, and we're about to zero in on the food business: loading up our plates, then dissecting them to see which foods have lobbyists at the table. 

Drutman pulls out a laptop with a list of lobbyists, and I tell him what’s on my plate, starting with beef.

“There’s 17 beef organizations here in Washington," Drutman says. "We’ve got the Center for Beef Excellence, U.S. Premium Beef, Beef Products Incorporated…”

You get the idea. Every single thing on our plates had somebody representing it on Capitol Hill. Sometimes lots of somebodies. For rice, seven associations. Ditto for shrimp.

Some of the trade associations are pretty obscure. Like the International Natural Sausage Casing Association, or the American Dehydrated Onion and Garlic Association.  

I reach for a bag of chips, which reminds me: I interviewed the CEO of the Snack Food Association, Tom Dempsey, because I was wondering – what are all these food folks lobbying for? Turns out it’s stuff like labeling on packages, and the federal government’s new dietary guidelines.

“What the association does is tries to stay out in front of issues that may not impact the industry tomorrow but will impact it down the line,” says Dempsey.

Other food lobbyists are focused on some proposed new trade deals. There’s one with Europe that’s gotten the attention of the International Dairy Foods Association — Europe wants to trademark the names of certain cheeses. But there are 35 dairy lobby groups. I ask Dave Carlin, the Association’s chief lobbyist why there are so many.

“We have to tell our story," he tells me. "Because if we don’t tell our story nobody else will.”

Nancy Marshall-Genzer & Tony Wagner/Marketplace

There’s an old saying in Washington: if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu, which brings me back to the buffet, with Lee Drutman. 

We’ve started talking money. He says there are 1,114  different food lobbying organizations in Washington, spending about $130 million a year.

Drutman says all the registered lobbyists in town spend about $3 billion a  year. I wondered when lobbying got to be such a big business. Drutman says the food folks started around the time of FDR’s  New Deal, when a lot of agricultural subsidies were born.

“It caused a lot of people in the agricultural industry to pay attention to politics,” he says.

Drutman says corporations started lobbying more in the '70s and '80s, in the wake of increased government regulation. And it’s just kept growing. Now, lobbying kind of feeds on itself.

“Once companies and associations set up shop in Washington they rarely leave because they’ve hired lobbyists who can keep them interested in all the issues," says Drutman. "So once you start lobbying, you tend to keep lobbying, and there’s a self-reinforcing stickiness.”

Because you certainly don’t want to be the one who’s not at the table.

Home prices and sales are up, but who's buying?

Home values in 20 U.S. cities rose 5 percent for the year ending in March, according to the S&P Case-Shiller index out on Tuesday.

Five percent is better than economists expected and is pretty solid, especially when you throw in that the pace of new home sales sped up substantially to 6.8 percent in April, according to the Commerce Department. 

One of those new home sales was courtesy of Tara Ilsley Murillo, 28, and her husband in Durham North Carolina. 

“It was cheaper than renting,” she says. And she was able to find a home that was significantly below the national average of $297,300. “Yeah I’m young, it’s my first home, so it was very below the average.”  

Economists the country over are happy for Ilsley Murillo, whether they know it or not. Not simply because she is spending as new home owners do – “we started a garden, we’re putting up a fence for our crazy dog” – but because she is part of an elusive group. 

The 25-34 year olds who have not been as present in the housing market as they need to be in order to drive the housing market, and the economic growth tied to it, back to pre-recession levels.

“The percentage of 25-34 year olds with a job has increased,” says Steve Blitz, chief economist for ITG. “It’s recovered about two-thirds of the drop from the pre-recession high,” he says, “and leaving that one-third out is one of several reasons why the level of home sales has recovered but not to pre-recession levels." 

Blitz says the growth in home sales may just be things getting back to normal after this past winter, which proved sluggish for housing and gross domestic product growth as a whole. 

And it's very unlikely the rise in home prices is about young first time homeowners.

“I think it means there’s some places in the country like San Francisco, Denver, and Dallas where there’s not enough houses to buy right now,” says David Blitzer, director of the S&P Dow Jones Indices which releases the Case-Schiller Index.

The places where home prices are rising precipitously aren’t where the Tara Isley-Morillos  are buying, it’s where they can’t. 

“The low end is clearly not participating and that’s a lot of new homes and first time homebuyers,” says Blitzer. 

This situation has some cruel ironies to it. Those least able to buy are the ones who are paying the most, according to real estate data provider Zillow. Renters are on average paying double the percentage of income that owners do.

Home-price growth is outstripping income growth on the whole as well.

If, over the years, says Blitzer, “you continue to see home prices rise faster than wages and salary and income, unless something else gives like banks become more open-minded about giving everyone mortgages, it has to narrow the pool” of those who can afford to own a home.   

What Will The Next President Face On #Day1?

NPR News - 9 hours 7 min ago

This week, NPR looks at four seemingly intractable problems that await the 45th president: stagnant wages, violent extremism, cybersecurity and the federal debt.

» E-Mail This

NYU Changes Its Policy On Reviewing Applicants' Criminal Background

NPR News - 9 hours 15 min ago

NYU has announced that when looking at applications, it will initially overlook the criminal record of prospective students.

» E-Mail This

Higher-Tech Fake Eggs Offer Better Clues To Wild Bird Behavior

NPR News - 9 hours 19 min ago

Faux eggs made with 3-D printers are better than sculpted versions, researchers say, because it's easier to systematically vary their size, weight and other features. Next goal: 3-D fragile shells.

» E-Mail This

Blind Waiters Give Diners A Taste Of 'Dinner In The Dark' In Kenya

NPR News - 9 hours 20 min ago

It's a worldwide chain that lets "the blind become our eyes." But there's a difference in the new Nairobi branch. The servers themselves had never eaten in a restaurant before.

» E-Mail This

Shhh ... we're talking about Fight Club

The first rule of Fight Club is … do not talk about Fight Club. We’re going to break that rule, because there is now a sequel and it’s written in a completely different style than the original. Author Chuck Palahniuk teamed up with artists David Mack and Cameron Stewart to release a 10-part comic book that brings back Tyler Durden.

The first issue of Fight Club 2 hits shelves on Wednesday. Earlier this month, Palahniuk released a collection of short stories called Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread.  

On why he chose to bring back Fight Club:

I finally had the time to learn a new storytelling skill. I had about a year off, because my story collection was done. I was invited, kind of ambushed, at a dinner party by a bunch of comic people, including Brian Bendis and Matt Fraction. They really hammered on me about creating Fight Club 2 as a graphic novel, so I had the time and I had the peer pressure so, what the hell?

On how to write a comic book:

There’s so many different parts of that skill. As you see the two pages, the reader scans them all (to get) a general idea of what’s going to happen. The only moment you can surprise or shock the reader is when they turn the page. It’s called the page-turn reveal. So you’ve got to have a set up at the bottom of the right hand page, and you have to have a payoff at the top of the left hand page as they turn that page every time. It drives you crazy to pace a story so artificially!

On what his life has been like the past 19 years since Fight Club came out:

You know the biggest change, if I can be honest, is that both of my parents died. My father was killed in ‘99 and my mother died in 2009. I had to come to terms with how much of my performance was based on pleasing them and getting their approval and I had to find a way to motivate myself now that they were both gone.

On the sense of loneliness that his characters have:

So many of us think that if we can get money enough, we can kind of isolate ourselves in the country or in the penthouse, then we will be happy because we won’t be dealing with Sartre’s “other people,” and then when we do achieve that isolation, we realize we’ve never been more unhappy.

On the marketing of Fight Club 2:

I’ve been really pulled into the whole creative, the whole enterprise. I had to answer the letter columns. I had to write 200 haikus as Tyler Durden so those could be tweeted out gradually. I had to come up with all these little extras whenever there was a blank page, and I had to design a lot of the marketing things because this is supposed to be my baby…and that’s exciting.

Will there be a new movie?

There’s been interest, there’s also been some television interest — so people are just kind of holding their breath right now.

Photographer Mary Ellen Mark Dies At 75

NPR News - 9 hours 32 min ago

The influential photographer was known mostly for her humanist work.

» E-Mail This

Pages