National News

Is London too expensive for poor Londoners?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 02:45

London may have opened its doors to the rich from around the world– at the latest count the city had 72 billionaires - but some of the British capital’s poorest, indigenous residents are not feeling quite so welcome. They are being priced out of their hometown. 

Twenty-nine single mothers on welfare in the east London borough of Newham claim that they were threatened with exile from their own city. The mothers were living in the Focus E15 hostel for the homeless and when the hostel faced closure, the local authority reportedly advised the women to relocate to cheaper parts of the country.

One of the mothers -- 20-year-old Samantha Joanne Middleton -- was angered by the advice: “They’re trying to move me away from my family. I mean, I’m born and bred. My mum and my dad are from Newham. Their family’s from Newham. It’s not right. It really ain’t right.” she says.

Middleton became homeless after a domestic dispute. 19-year-old Jasmin Stone was in the same predicament when she went to live in the hostel, and she claims she too was told by the local authority that although she was born and brought up in Newham, she’s now too poor to live in the borough: “East London was a place for the poor. But it’s not anymore. You see so many luxury apartments everywhere. The rents are so expensive. London’s being made a place for just rich people.”

Some of those rich people are foreign investors buying new luxury apartments in the city off-plan. That makes Middleton feel even more alienated. 

“We’re the minority of London now,” she says. “Londoners don't live in London anymore.” 

The 29 “Focus E15” mothers will be living in London for a while longer. Thanks to a protest campaign organized by local activist Hannah Caller, the mothers have been given a reprieve; they will stay in the neighbourhood in private rented accommodation for the immediate future. But Hannah sees this as only a temporary fix.

“The fundamental problems remain for poor people across the capital,” says Caller. “Both Labour and Conservative governments have failed to build enough public housing for low-income families. And now the present coalition government is also squeezing the incomes of the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community by cutting and capping welfare benefits.”

Caller accuses Britain’s main political parties of not caring about the poor and focusing only on the money that big business and rich individuals can bring into London. 

No one at the Newham Borough Council was available for comment.

Local activist Hannah Caller pictured next to a campaign poster says “ British governments don’t care about the poor.” 

Stephen Beard/Marketplace 

President Obama makes a sales pitch for the U.S.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 02:44

President Obama will meet with business executives Tuesday morning with the goal of getting more companies to invest in the United States. 

The Obama administration is the first White House to actively campaign for foreign investments. And its intervention is none too soon.

Last year, foreign investment in the U.S. was roughly $193 billion -- down from its peak of $310 billion in 2008.

Dartmouth’s Matthew Slaughter says the U.S. attracts investments from foreign companies by telling executives that the U.S. is "the most innovative, open, largest economy on the planet.”

But Slaughter says many foreign company leaders respond by saying growth in the U.S. has slowed compared to developing countries like China, not to mention an aging infrastructure, complicated immigration system and high corporate taxes.

In 2011, the White House set up an office to attract foreign investments; work that until then had been left up to cities and states.

Nancy McLernon is president and CEO of the Organization for International Investment, which represents U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies.

She says it’s still too soon to know whether the White House strategy is working, but it can’t hurt.

“Competition around the world has gotten more intense and fierce," McLernon says, "It was getting harder for Ohio to go compete against Singapore.”

Video gaming as a spectator sport

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 01:10

According to Variety, Google is in talks to buy Twitch, a live video game streaming service, for close to $1 billion.

According to the tech news site Re/code, "When Twitch started up in June 2011, it claimed five million users a month. In 2012, it was up to 20 million. By the end of last year, that number had jumped to 45 million. Broadband service provider Sandvine says Twitch now accounts for 1.35 percent of Internet traffic during peak hours in North America. That’s more than HBO Go’s 1.24 percent."

But how much can streaming video game play actually be worth?

"Streaming is essentially broadcasting yourself and your gameplay online in the gaming world," says former professional gamer Mike Rufail. "We have what is a growing sport, and there's a lot of interaction between the person who is streaming and the viewer."

Here's a live stream here:

TSM_WildTurtle !function(a){var b="embedly-platform",c="script";if(!a.getElementById(b)){var d=a.createElement(c);d.id=b,d.src=("https:"===document.location.protocol?"https":"http")+"://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/platform.js";var e=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];e.parentNode.insertBefore(d,e)}}(document);

"Google would be interested in this from a pure investment standpoint," says Rufail. "It's grown to a point now where the advertising revenue generated from these online broadcasts rival major television networks and surpass many of them as well. So I think, a lot of people, are cutting off their televisions and taking in the things on the web."

In London, food banks feel the strain

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-05-19 23:56

At the Tower Hamlets Food Bank in East London, staff make up bags of groceries for the dozens of people who attend the center daily because they can’t afford to feed themselves. The food bank is just a few minutes away from the wealth of London’s Canary Wharf financial hub, yet Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest boroughs in Britain.

Those who use the food bank are referred by their doctor or local social services department. One man – unwilling to give his name - said he’d recently lost his job, and that he didn’t want to be at the food bank.

“I just never thought I would end up here,” he said.

 In the last year alone, there’s been a 160 percent increase in people using food banks, according to the Trussell Trust, a Christian charity that runs almost 40 percent of the UK’s food banks.

Amy Kimbangi, project coordinator at the Tower Hamlets food bank, says it now feeds about 200 people a month. She rejects accusations in some newspapers here that some who go there are just freeloaders abusing the system.

“The majority of people who come here do not want to be at the food bank," she says. "People who come here feel ashamed, feel embarrassed.”

She says a system is in place to ensure that the people helped are those who really need it.

Some say the surge in poverty and the resultant increase in the numbers of people using food banks is the result of sweeping government cuts in welfare benefits. They say people shouldn’t have to rely on food banks in a relatively rich country.

Others disagree. John O’Connell of the Taxpayers Alliance, a campaign group that backs the government cuts, say the greater use of food banks is a good thing.

“The answer isn’t always government hand-outs. It’s endemic of the growth of the benefits system which engenders a culture of dependency in the UK.”  

“The government,” O’Connell says, “can’t take care of everyone.”

Faarea Masud/BBC

 

Opportunity cost and the home

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-05-19 23:40

I met someone recently who bragged that she and her husband had saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years because they did all the work around their house themselves. That means yardwork, maintenance, the whole nine.

But did they really save money? What if they ran the numbers on that opportunity cost equation and found they actually lost money?

I'm thinking a lot about this right now, because I bought a new house recently, and there's plenty of maintenance to be done. In fact, right now, there's a guy out back fixing a busted pipe in my sprinkler system. And I’m feeling a bit guilty: Should I be out there fixing that thing? It doesn't look that difficult – all it really amounts to is replacing a piece of broken plastic piping.

The case for outsourcing

  1. I know nothing about sprinkler systems. Nada. Zip.
  2. I have no specialized equipment, or materials, so I’ll have to find out what I need to buy and then go buy it. And then get distracted in the grilling section of the hardware store. And end up spending way more than I really should.
  3. I’ll probably make a mess of it the first time and have to do it over. Plus there’s that vital part that I didn’t get at the store, so I have to make another trip.
  4. It’s what time? Where did the day go?
  5. I didn’t even start writing this blog, and now I might get fired.
  6. My sprinkler guy will take 30 minutes and charge me $50. Boom.

The case for DIY

  1. I’m gaining valuable experience. Once you’ve done something once, whether its stucco, or concreting or sanding a painting a deck, you know what to do, what equipment to buy or lease and how much time it takes. And that investment could mean that every time my sprinklers go kablooey, I have the confidence, know-how and gear to fix them myself in short order, and for next to nothing.
  2. I’m not making any money during the time that the sprinkler guy is fixing my stuff: I’m an exempt employee and I don’t’ get paid overtime.
  3. I get huge satisfaction out of fixing stuff myself. I feel like a provider, a fixer, someone who can be relied on to get things done when things break down. I feel like Magyver. I feel … like a man!
  4. Fixing stuff is fun. Plus you have bragging rights. 

If opportunity cost is "the road not traveled," then the cost of outsourcing is the improvement in my expertise and sense of satisfaction. The cost of DIY, on the other hand is all the time (and maybe money) that I could otherwise spend either making money or relaxing (hey, it's the weekend).

Which means that the opportunity cost calculation of whether or not to outsource household chores becomes a very personal one. People calculate it when they decide whether or not to get groceries delivered, to have a gardener come to work on their yard, or to have their house cleaned by someone else. And a big factor in the decision is how much you enjoy doing those chores yourself. If you really, really hate it, and it takes forever, and you'd enjoy that time so much more doing something else productive or fulfilling or rewarding, then go ahead and outsource.

For a lot of people, of course, there is no question of doing an opportunity cost calculation: they simply don't make enough money to even consider paying someone else to do something for them, so they have to do it themselves. Which means that if you're in a position where you find yourself wondering about opportunity cost, it means you're lucky. Even if it does mean doing some math.

Pope To Travel To Holy Land With Rabbi And Muslim Leader

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 23:33

Pope Francis will head to the Middle East this week to preach peace and has asked two friends from Argentina to accompany him, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Islamic studies professor Omar Abboud.

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Oklahoma's Latino Community Prepares For The Next Tornado

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 23:31

A devastating series of tornadoes struck Oklahoma a year ago. Hispanics were among the hardest hit by the storms due a lack of preparedness and information available in Spanish.

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Thai Army Declares Martial Law But Says It's No Coup

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 15:25

After six months of anti-government protests and the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the army says it is needed to "keep peace and order."

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Credit Suisse Pleads Guilty To Helping U.S. Tax Evaders

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 14:59

The Swiss bank has agreed to pay $2.5 billion in penalties to U.S. authorities for helping Americans use tax havens to hide from the IRS.

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GM doesn't want employees using these words in memos

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-05-19 14:16

A quick follow-up to last week's story about the $35 million fine General Motors is going to pay for not telling the truth about its ignition switch problems.

As part of the document dump related to that case, there's a PowerPoint presentation about how to describe the recall process. Words employees were never to use? "Grenadelike," "Kevorkianesque," "widow-maker," and "rolling sarcophagus," and more:

U.S. Coast Guard Calls Off Atlantic Search For 4 British Sailors

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 14:08

The U.K.'s most famous yachtsman has joined families of the missing crew members of a 40-foot sailboat in urging that the search resume. The yacht disappeared Saturday.

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Task Force Says Asking All Patients About Suicide Won't Cut Risk

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 13:57

Suicide is a major cause of death, and there's no evidence that screening everybody will reduce the toll, a federal panel says. But doctors, family and friends can help, researchers say.

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A coffee plant disease threatens more than prices

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-05-19 13:37

Farmers and harvesters in Central and South America have been hit hard by Roya, or "coffee rust," a fast-spreading fungus that infects the leaves of coffee plants. Roya has caused an estimated $1 billion in damage, and threatened the livelihoods of more than half a million families from Mexico to Peru.

"Entire fields have just been devastated by the rust," said Jonathan Rosenthal, executive director of Cooperative Coffees, who saw the impact of the rust in Honduras. "The trees have turned to skeletons. It's like a ghost town." 

The U.S. is stepping up its efforts to help eradicate the disease, partnering with Texas A&M's World Coffee Research Center. Coffee farming has lifted many families in Central and South America out of poverty. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah says the organization's Feed the Future program has connected thousands of coffee growers to companies including Starbucks and Peet's. In some cases, Shah said, those farmers have seen their yearly incomes double or triple. He warns that as families fall into poverty, they become increasingly susceptible to the influence of drug traffickers and gangs.

"They prey upon communities that are poor, where lots of children are hungry, and they offer them an illicit income opportunity by producing drugs and selling drugs," Shah said. 

Fungicides are able to treat the blight, but many small farmers can't afford them. 

"The fungicide requires investment; the tools that are used to apply the fungicide require investment," said Lindsey Bolger, vice president of coffee sourcing and excellence for Keurig Green Mountain. "In some cases, these farmers just don't have the resources that they need." 

U.S., Nigeria Reach Deal On Intelligence Sharing

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 13:34

The U.S. will now provide intelligence analysis to Nigeria in an effort to find the more than 200 girls kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram.

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Unpacking the AT&T-DirecTV deal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-05-19 13:29

Over the weekend, AT&T announced it plans to buy DirecTV for $48.5 billion. That is, of course, pending approval from federal regulators that are already busy sorting out a different telecommunications merger: Comcast’s bid to buy Time Warner Cable.

“Big fish are swallowing small fish,” says Reed Hundt, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, of the changing media landscape. “And if you want to avoid being swallowed, you need to be a bigger and bigger fish.”  AT&T, which is primarily a wireless provider, wants to diversify – to be able to sell customers phone service, internet access, and television.

And its advantage in selling regulators on the deal? Its size. "In terms of the pay TV business," says Todd Rethemeier of Hudson Square, "AT&T is a relatively small player."

Fiery British Imam Found Guilty Of Terrorism Charges

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 13:00

Abu Hamza, an Islamic cleric alleged to have started an al-Qaida camp in the U.S., has been convicted on terrorism charges in a New York courtroom.

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AT&T And DirecTV Mega-Merger Spells Changes For Media Landscape

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 12:16

AT&T's $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV now faces regulatory scrutiny. Meanwhile, a deal merging Comcast and Time Warner Cable is also in the works. Consumer advocates worry about consolidation, but many observers think the deals could hold down costs for the merged companies.

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In Rare Concession, Credit Suisse Admits Criminal Wrongdoing

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 12:16

Credit Suisse will plead guilty to criminal charges and pay over $2 billion in fines in connection to allegations of tax evasion. But the CEO and chairman are reportedly expected to keep their jobs.

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The Blogging Battlegrounds Of Eastern Ukraine

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 12:16

A social media struggle is unfolding in eastern Ukraine, as bloggers on both Ukrainian and separatist sides plead their cases. But many find they face surveillance, trolls and threats as they work.

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In 'Raging Bull' Ruling, High Court Sides With Co-Writer's Daughter

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 12:16

The Supreme Court delivered a blow on behalf of writers, giving a screenwriter's daughter a chance to prove in court that the critically acclaimed movie Raging Bull infringed her father's copyright.

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