National News

Quick Facts About Ebola

NPR News - 41 min 10 sec ago

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has led to thousands of deaths and a maelstrom of misinformation. Here's a primer on what you need to know about the virus and the response to it.

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Pew: Gaming Is Least Welcoming Online Space For Women

NPR News - 1 hour 21 min ago

The Pew Research Center's first study on online harassment shows it happens to most of us. But gender disparities are starkest in online gaming.

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Congolese Doctor Denis Mukwege Receives Sakharov Prize

NPR News - 1 hour 43 min ago

The gynecological surgeon's Panzi Hospital in eastern DRC has treated thousands of women who were victims of rape.

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Banned Drugs Still Turning Up In Weight-Loss Supplements

NPR News - 2 hours 35 min ago

Just because the Food and Drug Administration recalls a supplement because it contains dangerous substances, doesn't mean the product disappears from the market.

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Hong Kong Students March On Chief Executive's Residence

NPR News - 2 hours 47 min ago

About 200 pro-democracy activists held signs and shouted slogans in front of the home of Leung Chun-ying, a day after student leaders met with government officials in an effort to defuse the crisis.

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Pentagon Says It Will Investigate Stray Arms Drop Over Syria

NPR News - 3 hours 48 min ago

The self-declared Islamic State has released a video purporting to show its fighters rifling through a crate of grenades airdropped by a U.S. military cargo plane.

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American Freed By North Korea Arrives Home

NPR News - 4 hours 19 min ago

Jeffrey Fowle, 56, who was arrested in North Korea in May after allegedly leaving a bible in a club for foreign sailors, arrived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base this morning.

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Governors are winning the TV ad race

Everybody’s focused on the races for Senate seats in the November election. But it turns out more money is being spent on TV ads in gubernatorial races. All you have to do is look at the numbers.

“As of the 9th of October, to date we have about $426 million spent on gubernatorial campaign ads," says Michael Franz, a professor of government at Bowdoin College and  co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which also tracks spending on TV ads for Senate campaigns this election. Franz says about $337 million has been spent on Senate races — $90 million less than the spending on gubernatorial races. 

Why? Franz says the tightest Senate contests are in relatively cheap media markets, like Iowa. But money is also pouring into the governors’ races because of the gridlock in Washington. 

“People think governors can get something done," says Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University. "They have no hope that anything is going to get done in the congress, which has approval ratings lower than Attila the Hun.”

The result? Almost 22,000 TV ads in a recent two-week period, in just the gubernatorial race in Florida.

Dodd-Frank spawns software to comprehend Dodd-Frank

A MAZE

Donald Lamson points to a red and blue maze on a screen at law firm Shearman and Sterling. 

“This is a maze,” says Donald Lamson, a partner at Shearman and Sterling. “It’s a metaphor to reflect the complexity that institutions must go through as they encounter an increasingly bewildering array of regulatory requirements they must deal with.”

Banks have until July 21, 2015, to follow one of those requirements, the Volcker Rule. 

That is the part of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that says banks can’t own hedge funds or invest for their own benefit; they have to stick to just helping their customers make money. 

“I wrote the first draft,” Lamson recalls, “which was a page and a half.”

It is not, however, a page and a half anymore. 

“The final regulation implementing the Volcker Rule has ballooned to several hundred pages of small type in the federal register,” he says. There are hundreds of footnotes, some of them quite detailed.

50...000 SHADES OF GRAY

There are also a great many gray areas and exceptions for when activities are allowed or not allowed, says Mike Konczal, a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute.

“Volcker and Dodd-Frank wanted to make sure that banks could still do what we want them to do — interact with clients, do market making, buy and sell things for their clients — and what happens is a lot of that activity kind of blurs with proprietary trading,” he says. Another reason the rules have become complicated is that, simply put, a lot of people have sued.  The rules have had to become extra detailed to pass scrutiny. 

"These rules from Dodd-Frank have come under extensive criticism in the courts,” says Konczal. “We want that kind of scrutiny it’s important to have it, but it’s become so obsessive and so burdensome that it’s actually made the rules a lot clunkier than they need to be.”

SIRI... YOOHOO...OH, SIRI?

For banks with hundreds of billions of dollars in thousands of different funds, compliance is a massive undertaking. This summer, the Federal Reserve said 11 out of 20 banks totally failed to meet the last big chunk of Dodd-Frank rules, in part because they weren’t thorough enough or made mistakes in their reporting. In some instances, some financial institutions had a 70% error rate according to Robert Marks, CEO of Casewise Financial Solutions and Lamson’s business partner.  

Lamson and Marks’ solution: a computer program, called the Volcker Assistant. It is, for all intents and purposes, like a Turbo Tax for banks trying to comply with financial regulations. 

Step by step, the software leads Lamson — who would in the real world be likely hundreds of different people across a large company from a fund manager on up to an auditor — through an assessment of which investments pass legal muster and which do not. A lawyer signs off at the end. 

Once the program figures out whether a bank is following the rules, it remains as “a management tool”, says Lamson — calculating legal exposure based on changing circumstances (a credit downgrade, for example). 

There is at least one other such automated legal compliance tool on the market, called the Volcker Portal by firm Davis Polk. 

“Software use has just not penetrated in the legal profession as it has in other professions at this point such as banking for example where it really has saturated the space,” says Lamson.

“Lawyers have a way, if they want to, of obfuscating, where the answer to so many questions begins with, 'it depends.' It’s used as a device to preserve options,” he says. “Digitizing and rendering into computer based format removes those options. And as a result, the fear among lawyers is that they will become less relevant to the process when actually they will become even more relevant.”

LAWYERS WILL STILL HAVE JOBS

History may prove Lamson right. One section of law where digital tools have penetrated more successfully is in discovery — searching through documents for evidence before a law suit gets going. Highly sophisticated algorithmic tools that could search documents better and faster began gaining prominence several years ago, and raised the specter of lawyers losing jobs to software programs. 

“Just a few years ago, we had hyperbolic headlines of ‘will computers replace your lawyer?’ and there seemed to be a fear among lawyers of technology and what it might do to the legal profession,” says David Horrigan, an analyst and counsel for information governance at 451 Research. That fear has not come to pass, he says. “That fear is still the case with a lot of lawyers, but a lot of law firms are embracing it,” he says.

Teams of junior lawyers may not be digging through boxes of paper as they once did, but lawyers are still needed to work with the data and legal questions that digital tools raise. 

“The law is changing,” says Horrigan. “But as far as trying a case you’re not gonna see Watson before the Supreme Court any time soon.”

Yes, U.S. oil exports would cut gas prices. Probably.

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office says that lifting 40-year-old restrictions on exporting U.S. crude oil could drive down gasoline prices at home. The idea is that more oil on the world market means lower prices.

However, the report was written more than a month ago — That is, before world oil prices, and U.S. gasoline prices, went down sharply on their own. It's worth asking if those declines change the equation.

In a way, U.S. crude is already affecting world markets, by reducing U.S. imports. That leaves oil exporters like Nigeria looking for takers and lowering their prices. So, do world markets really want U.S. crude right now? 

"Nobody can be certain," says energy consultant Geoffrey Styles. "We’re really exploring new territory here. The new crudes that have brought all this about came to the market when prices were pretty high. These are not-inexpensive crudes to get out of the ground."

So, it might not be worthwhile for U.S. drillers to increase production if world prices stay low.

Which is still an if.

"I don’t think anyone knows what the price of oil will be in a year," says Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The big news in the oil markets is not just lower prices — it’s the return of volatility, and volatility works in both directions."  

Either way, it’s not an argument for keeping the export ban. "In the worst case," he says, "relaxing the ban doesn't do anything."

 

Halloween-Thanksgiving-Hanukkah-Christmas-New-Year Buying Begins

NPR News - 5 hours 31 min ago

Most retailers are feeling optimistic as analysts forecast rising sales over this long shopping season. They are hoping Halloween will give them a good bounce into the peak spending time of the year.

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The 2014 Campaign Ads That You Just Can't Stop Replaying

NPR News - 6 hours 51 min ago

States that could determine which party controls the Senate next year have been barraged for months with campaign ads. For better or for worse, here are some of the most noteworthy.

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3 American Teens Reportedly Suspected Of Trying To Join ISIS

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 23:10

Three Denver teens were stopped at a German airport and sent home to the U.S. Their disappearance was originally treated as a standard runaway case.

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Giants Pummel Royals From The Start In Game 1 World Series Win

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 19:46

A three-run first inning was all San Francisco needed to top Kansas City and steal home field advantage. They tacked on another four runs anyway to win 7-1.

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Ben Bradlee, Who Led 'Washington Post' To New Heights, Dies At 93

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 16:09

As editor, Bradlee led the newspaper to national eminence with charm, drive, instinct and, most notably, an epic confrontation with the Nixon White House.

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Legendary 'Washington Post' Editor Ben Bradlee Has Died

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 15:58

Bradlee was the editor who ushered in the paper's golden era, overseeing its reporting during the Watergate scandal.

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NBC News Photojournalist Is Now Ebola Free, Says Hospital

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 15:13

The Nebraska Medical Center says Ashoka Mukpo was cleared by the CDC and will be discharged on Wednesday.

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Quiz: Gauging the liberal arts gap

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 15:01
The median earnings gender gap is largest for graduates in which humanities major?

Women with bachelor's degrees in the humanities earn less than men in other majors, according to a report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Missouri Governor Announces Creation Of 'Ferguson Commission'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 14:19

The panel will study the social and economic conditions that fueled violent protests over the killing of an unarmed teenager this summer.

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Ebola Vaccine Could Start Testing In Africa By January

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 14:08

The World Health Organization says two vaccine candidates now undergoing small-scale tests of dosage and safety in people might be ready for broader deployment in Africa by early 2015.

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