National News

South Korea President Promises To Raise Sewol Ferry, One Year After Tragedy

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-16 03:43

Speaking on the first anniversary of a catastrophe that killed 304 people, President Park Geun-hye has pledged to salvage the Sewol ferry.

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Toyota's expansion

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 03:00

Airing on Thursday, April 16, 2015: There's word today that Japan has overtaken China as the number one foreign holder of US treasuries. I'm speaking of Japanese pension funds, the Japanese government and other Japanese investors. We consult Adolfo Laurenti, chief international economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago on the shift to US debt. Plus, the world's largest car maker by volume, Toyota, is saying it plans to invest $1.4 billion to build two new factories in Mexico and China. The announcement marks an end to three-year freeze on expansions that Toyota imposed on itself. More on that. Electronic payments-through companies like PayPal-are supposed to make it easier and safer to buy things online. But we found that it doesn't always translate when you're trying to make a purchase across borders.

Ocean Search Area For Lost Malaysian Airliner Is Set To Double

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-16 02:51

It's been more than a year since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 was lost with 239 people on board. Officials now say they'll double the already huge search area to 46,000 square miles next month.

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Ivy League schools key into online courses

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 02:03

Yale University’s School of Medicine is deciding whether to create an online version of its physician’s assistant master’s program. Its first attempt failed because it couldn't get accreditation.  Yale says it’s “reviewing the matter” and may try again.

Yale’s partner in all this is the education technology company 2U, which has plenty of other customers, many of them Ivy League schools.

“There’s a lot of demand for us right now,” says Chip Paucek, CEO of 2U. He says universities want to enroll students online to address shortages of workers in some fields. But online degrees also bring in more tuition dollars.

“A university needs to figure out how to pay its bills and be sustainable," he says. "Just like any enterprise.”

But some degrees lend themselves more to online learning than others.

“So learning statistics or data science online, certainly learning some of the computer sense, skills and knowledge,” says Andrew Kelly, education scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Kelly says degrees that require hands-on training, like physician’s assistant’s programs, are more difficult, because universities have to find hospitals where online students can train. 

A hand-crafted IPO

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 02:00

Ahead of its IPO, Etsy priced its shares at $16, with an estimated value of $1.78 billion. But Thursday saw those numbers explode, with shares opening at $31, which placed the company value at $3.4 billion.

The 10-year-old marketplace for vintage and handmade goods, is a ‘B Corp,’ or ‘benefit corporation’ - i.e it’s certified as a company that benefits the community. It's notable because very few (Etsy is only the second) for-profit companies with B Corp certification go public.

“If it can do good for the community, for the consumer, for the vendors, it satisfies the B Corp requirement and gives them a good rating,” said Santosh Rao, head of research at Manhattan Venture Partners.

The other reason, Rao added, is strategic: “They need to keep the vendors happy. 80 percent of their business is repeat customers and loyalty is important for the company.”

Etsy’s vendors, however, are mostly small businesses that, on average, don’t make much more than the U.S. median income. That means they aren’t nearly as wealthy as those who typically invest in the stock market.

It’s always risky to buy stock in any company, Rao said, but “nothing wrong in having them come in and especially this one where they are committed to the community.”

Although Etsy hasn’t been profitable recently, the IPO is likely to help, according to Rao. It would help them raise the money to grow bigger and expand beyond the U.S.  

But the bigger Etsy gets, the higher the chances of its business becoming more commercial. That could be a problem since many, including Rao, believe its loyal customer base is the result of its stated mission to promote the opposite: artisanal goods and small, community-based businesses.

“It was designed originally for that,” said Rao. “It wasn’t meant to be a big, high-scale commercial operation and that’s where they made the market.”

Etsy could keep the commercialism at bay, said Rao, because it was a ‘B Corp.’

“They don’t have to necessarily look at the bottom line every quarter,” he said. “In the end they have to show a path to profitability to show they they are a good business but there’s no near-term, absolute imperative to show a profit.”

But even Rao believes there’s a strong likelihood of it being bought over by a bigger company. “I’ll give 60 percent odds that they will be acquired,” he said.

 

Big coal gets its day in court against the EPA

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 02:00

Coal-mining companies Peabody Energy and Murray Energy have sued to block the Environmental Protection Agency from finalizing its Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s broadest plan to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants. Today lawyers present oral arguments in the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

In general, the law favors the EPA, according to Harvard law professor Jody Freeman, a former attorney for the Obama White House who wrote the book on climate change and U.S. law, published by the American Bar Association. 

If the court allows the case to move forward, "I would be very surprised," she says. "Now, of course, look: Courts sometimes do unusual things."

A decision against the EPA—  even if reversed later— would mean delay, which could be costly to President Obama, who has a tight timeline.

"He wants to get this done by the time he leaves office," Freeman says. Otherwise, a Republican president might easily undo it in 2017.  

"So, this is for all the marbles," Freeman says. "This is a very high-stakes case that is playing out in the courts and will keep playing out in the courts."

The plaintiffs have trouble, win or lose. According to a new analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, this will be a record year for the closing of coal-fired power plants.

"That is driven by multiple factors," Bloomberg analyst Ethan Zindler says. "In the short-run, it’s really not being driven by the Clean Power Plan."

There have been other regulations, plus competition from cheap natural gas, and the inefficiency of many plants, some of them 50 years old. 

One of the plaintiffs, Peabody Energy, was removed from the S&P 500 stock index in September 2014.

At a conference a few days later, the CEO of Murray Energy— the other plaintiff— talked about his industry’s “absolute destruction.” He said, "It’s not coming back.”

Toyota ramps up expansion plans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 02:00

The world’s largest carmaker by volume, Toyota, says it plans to invest $1.4 billion to build two new factories in Mexico and China.

The announcement marks an end to a three-year, self-imposed expansion freeze. The new plant in Guanajuato, Mexico, will turn out 200,000 compact Corollas per year by 2019. The plant in Guangzhou, China plans to start production in 2017 with a capacity to make around 100,000 cars a year.

The free-trade agreements between Mexico, the U.S., and Europe, coupled with Toyota’s new super-efficient global architecture has the potential to set a new competitive threshold for the car industry.

Recycled bikes provide affordable transportation

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 02:00

Mohammad Wasiq works at one of the hotels on Savannah’s downtown riverfront. His job is just shy of a mile and a half from his apartment - an easy bike ride. He says it usually takes him less than 10 minutes.

Before Wasiq got the bike, he had to take the bus, and that was a different story. “First ten days, I was late sometimes, sometimes early,” he says, “because I couldn’t wait for the bus so I was just walking from here.”

Wasiq’s bike came from the Savannah Bicycle Campaign’s recycling program. The group takes donations of used bikes and parts. Then volunteers refurbish them and outfit them with accessories the users might need, like racks for groceries. A refugee placement organization called Lutheran Services of Georgia connects the Bike Campaign with people who need the help. Each user gets a helmet, a lock, and a light.

Lauren Cruickshank works with the refugees. “The fact that they can get a bicycle for free means that they’re not spending money on the bicycle,” she says, “and it also means that maybe they don’t have to spend money on a bus ticket each time they’re going to their ESL class or each time they’re going to the grocery store.”

The program also offers a mobile repair trailer and helps people learn about bike maintenance. Manager Jen Colestock says that’s also key when every penny counts.

“Especially if you’re somebody who bikes by necessity, and wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford that repair at a bike shop but might have access to tools to fix it, that’s another ten, twenty, thirty dollars that you’ve saved then,” Colestock says.

A spokesperson for the League of American Bicyclists says recycling programs like this one have been around for a while, and they’ve seen a rise around the country as biking has gotten more popular. They have a lot of different goals - from increasing economic freedom to helping the environment.

 

Why Nicaraguan businesses can't take PayPal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 02:00
"Pay securely. Here, there, anywhere." That's the slogan currently on PayPal's website, and one of the central promises for digital payments of all kinds. But so far, the promise isn't accessible "anywhere."  For instance: Nicaragua. 

On the country's Pacific coast, in a remote beach town, there is a Spanish school called Pie de Gigante. It draws an international crowd to its website. But its founder, Juan Delgado, says it has sometimes failed to convert them into real-world visitors, thanks to its website's inability to let them pay online to reserve a space.

"Right now, we're using a system that's a little bit complicated," he says, speaking in Spanish. "We use a system of paying via Western Union or in cash."

 PayPal isn't an option. 

"In most of Latin America today, the only way you can take money out of your PayPal account is having a U.S. bank  account," says Arnoldo Reyes, head of financial services and business development for PayPal in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

The exceptions have required the company to navigate local regluations and to partner directly with individual banks. It's this kind of extra work that pushes companies like PayPal to focus first on bigger, wealthier markets. (Nicaragua is the second poorest country in all of Latin America, after Haiti.) 

"I mean, you can't take an Uber in Nicaragua," says Reyes.

"We're basically closed off," says Marcella Chamorro, an entrepreneur who first ran into the payment problem when trying to create a kind of Nicaraguan Ticketmaster. 

"I know a bunch of small business owners who need to find like a cousin in California who can open a bank account for them and then sell through PayPal to this bank account and then their aunt comes three months later to bring the cash," she says. "It's really complicated."

It makes it harder for locals than for people like Chris James--a British ex-pat who runs the Hostal El Momento in Granada, Nicaragua. He has a local, Nicaraguan bank account for cash and credit cards. But he also has a U.S. bank account, which he uses for receiving PayPal payments. 

"It's easier to have both really: accounts here and out of the country as well," he says. "That's what I find anyway."

The situation has been changing. In the last few years, PayPal has partnered with local banks to make receiving payments possible in Peru, Chile, Costa Rica and--on Monday--the Dominican Republic. But as for Nicaragua, Reyes says while the country is on PayPal's radar, the company couldn't give any specific timeline.

In Record Drought, Calif. Course Ethically Keeps Greens Green

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-16 01:06

Golf courses are water hogs, and that thirst is especially notable as California's drought grows in severity. At Pelican Hill, a top golf course near Los Angeles, water conservation is an obsession.

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Hacked Touchscreen Voting Machine Raises Questions About Election Security

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-16 01:03

Virginia found 1-in-5 of its touchscreen machines vulnerable to attack with passwords as easy as "abcde." As more voting goes automated, more concerns are being raised.

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Binge watching for 10 billion hours

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 01:00
10 billion

That's how many hours of content Netflix users streamed in the first quarter of this year, according to the company's most recent earnings report released Wednesday. Quartz points out that's about 55 hours per month, per person.

3 years

That's how long Toyota's self-imposed expansion freeze. The world's largest carmaker by volume has just ended the freeze by announcing plans to invest $1.4 billion to build new factories in Mexico and China. 

$16

This is how much Etsy, the online retailer platform, has been priced in its IPO. The deal raised about $267 million by selling 16.7 million shares and gives Etsy a valuation of $1.8 billion.

$6.6 billion

That's 10 percent of Google's annual sales, and the fine the tech giant could pay in an antitrust suit brought by the European Union Wednesday. The EU is accusing Google of privileging its own services in search results. New tech correspondent for Marketplace Molly Wood tells us how Google's mission makes this case somewhat inevitable, and how the company can adjust its model to get out of this.

$1.224 trillion

This is Japan’s total holding of US government debt. Now the third largest economy in the world has surpassed the second in U.S. bond holdings. According to the Financial Times, China pegs its currency to the dollar, which has recovered strongly this year. Meanwhile, growth in the Asian giant is slowing, leading it to reinvest more of its foreign earnings domestically. However, U.S. investors still remain the number one buyer of U.S. bond. 

$15 per hour

The starting wage for employees at the East Village restaurant Dirt Candy, three times New York's minimum wage for tipped employees. Dirt Candy has gotten rid of tipping entirely, instead adding a 20 percent "administrative fee" to every meal. It's something of a reaction to the way tipping habits have changed, the Washington Post reported, though it's not always easy to ditch the tradition without raising prices or sacrificing service.

Hope Builds For Islanders Displaced In Shameful Chapter Of U.K. History

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:59

Britain forced thousands off Diego Garcia, a remote Indian Ocean island, in the '70s to make way for a U.S. military base. For 40 years residents have fought to return. Now they have a growing chance.

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A North Dakota Family Breaks The Silence On Gay Marriage

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:51

Author Melanie Hoffert grew up gay in rural America, where coming out was difficult. But that hasn't stopped her family from having a frank and challenging conversation about same-sex marriage.

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How Almonds Became A Scapegoat For California's Drought

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:51

The relentless drought has turned almonds into a target for water conservationists who bemoan that it takes one gallon of water to grow one almond. Growers say the bad rap is unfair and misleading.

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Tylenol Might Dull Emotional Pain, Too

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:49

People who took acetaminophen responded less strongly to happy or sad photos in a small study. It's one of several studies suggesting that there's an overlap with pain and other feelings.

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An American Journalist Explains Why He Had To Flee Iraq

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:46

Ned Parker has covered Iraq for more than a decade. But the Reuters bureau chief abruptly left the country last week after a report of human rights abuses prompted threats from a Shiite paramilitary.

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Nut So Fast, Kind Bars: FDA Smacks Snacks On Health Claims

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 14:37

The FDA has issued a warning letter to Kind about the labeling of its fruit-and-nut snack bars. It argues that the bars contain too much fat to bear the label "healthy" printed on the wrapper.

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Street Food No More: Bug Snacks Move To Store Shelves In Thailand

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 13:52

Many Thais, and others around the world, eat insects. An entrepreneur is trying to grow the market in Thailand by bringing deep-fried insects off the street and into convenience and gourmet shops.

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Why Knuckles Crack

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 12:59

A little MRI video seems to settle the decades-old debate about that loud pop of the joints: It's all about bubbles. But imagine an air bag inflating, not the bursting of a balloon.

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