Air pollution -- like the prevailing winds that carry it -- tends not to notice the borders between states. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does. That discrepancy sits at the heart of two stories playing out this week.
Today, governors from eight northeastern states are asking the EPA to crack down on certain Midwestern and Appalachian states.
They want their neighbors -- states like Ohio and Kentucky -- to play by the same kinds of rules that the northeastern states have been observing since the 1990s.
Air quality in the northeastern states has been -- and is -- pretty bad. So the EPA has required those states to enact strict pollution controls, as part of plans to bring their air up to national standards.
According to a New York Times report, the governors from these states say they’ve done everything they can.
They say the real problem -- the source of their bad air quality -- is pollution blowing in from Midwestern and Appalachian states with less-stringent controls.
Those states also produce a ton of emissions, but prevailing winds carry the bad stuff to the northeastern states. So states like New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts say they get left holding the bag.
Meanwhile, the EPA itself is asking the U.S. Supreme Court for permission to enforce rules similar to the one the governors are asking for.
It actually made such a rule in 2011, as part of a requirement that’s built into the Clean Air Act. The official name is the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, but people call it the “good neighbor rule.” An appeals court ruled that the EPA’s 2011 rule went too far.
The good neighbor rule would have affected 28 states with coal-fired power plants, where emissions blow downwind and mess up the air in neighboring states. The polluting states would have had to cut way down on emissions -- probably by burning less coal or even shutting down some power plants.
Some of those states, along with companies that run coal-fired power plants, sued, saying the EPA was over-reaching. They won the last round, the EPA has appealed, and the Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow.
Today is the deadline for Switzerland's private banks to decide whether to cooperate with U.S. demands to combat tax evasion by handing over client information -- a move that would finally end the long tradition of banking secrecy.
For 5 years, the U.S. has been pressuring Swiss banks to hand over information on American clients who may have untaxed cash in Switzerland. Washington, struggling with a massive budget deficit, is chasing every last cent of tax revenue. But the deal offered -- hand over the information and face fines, or don't hand it over, and face prosecution -- has caused fear and anger, says Swiss member of parliament Christian Lüscher.
"Everyone is very afraid. Let's be completely honest, people are terrified, and that fear is legitimate, because no one is really sure how they will be treated," Lüscher says. "They could be eaten alive by the U.S. authorities."
The Swiss government says the banks should comply, the logic being fines are better than going out of business altogether. Many banks have already got rid of their American clients and probably will cooperate, marking another stage in the long death of Swiss banking secrecy.
Anti-government protesters have now occupied for Kiev's city hall for more than a week. Police are tearing down barricades that were put in front of municipal buildings, the AP reports, and an opposition party says their offices were raided.
During the Cold War, successive U.S. leaders supported the white South African government because it staunchly opposed communism. Mandela's African National Congress, meanwhile, had many ties to the Soviet Union and viewed it as more sympathetic to their cause than the U.S. and other Western countries.
Not that long ago, gold was trading near $1,900 an ounce. Today it’s fallen to just above $1,200.
What’s that tell us about our economic confidence? Andreas Hauskrecht, a professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, is adamant about the answer. Not much. “Gold is the worst indicator for how people feel about the economy,” he says.
But if we can’t say what falling gold prices mean, we might be able to answer why gold prices are falling.
One theory is that rising interest rates are luring investors to other investments.
Another theory is that we’re a little less freaked out about the economy than we have been.“Gold has traditionally been thought of as something that is a disaster protection,” says Campbell Harvey, a finance professor at Duke University. “Now that the economy is returning to a more normal situation, that disaster demand is evaporating effectively.”
But his research finds gold isn’t the great hedge that investors think it is. Prices, he says, are just too volatile.
Think of the U.S. Congress as a procrastinating undergrad, prone to sleeping in. Lawmakers don’t hesitate to hit the “snooze button.”
Congress has a deadline for, say, passing a budget; the alarm clock goes off; and we get another short-term spending bill. The alarm sounds again when we get perilously close to that debt ceiling; but, there is some horse trading, and we’re solvent for a few more months.
“This is the symbol of how dysfunctional congress and the president have become,” says Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University and a fellow at The Brookings Institution. “The issue here is, why do they keep setting up the alarm clock that enables them to push the snooze button?”
Binder says one reason is that, if leaders make a serious proposal too soon, they give up bargaining power.
So, what’s a solution? Maybe the deadline has to be a real deadline, says Laura Stack, an efficiency expert who calls herself “The Productivity Pro.”
“The problem is congress never seems to make one that is immovable,” she explains. “It always seems to be a moving target.”
Stack, who works with corporate clients, says she can’t believe the lack of urgency in Washington.
“This is not how I’m used to things happening in business,” she says. “I mean, we need to move, move, move!”
According to Bob Pozen, the author of a book called “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours,” “You could look at what Congress is doing as procrastinating.”
“People have lots of reasons for procrastinating, but probably the best reason is this is a very difficult task,” Pozen says.
In this case, it’s a budget or tax reform.
Norm Ornstein is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of “It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.” He says there is a consequence to congress making and missing so many deadlines: “We’ve become deadened to them to a degree.”
Next Friday’s deadline? There is no real consequence for missing it.
“The December 13 deadline is a real one,” Ornstein says. “But it’s not the real, real one.”
Which makes it easier to put off until tomorrow -- or until January 15, when the government could shut down again -- what lawmakers could have done today.
Three years ago, guess where the highest density of black bears in the entire country was?
The Northwest Corner of New Jersey. I know, I know, that area is much better known for not being known for anything. But, in the words of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese, “We were at more than three bears per square mile; it was an out of control situation.”
The bears were getting into people’s trash, even breaking into their homes. So in 2010 the state started an annual week long bear hunt. (For the record, they did other stuff too, including getting people to not leave their trash in places where bears could get it and launching an educational campaign). New Jersey’s fourth consecutive black bear hunt starts today, about a half hour before sunrise.
It’s great for business if you’re Chuck Rogers, who runs Killer’s Deer Processing. Up to his arms in deer guts, he explains that “The bear hunt brings a lot of guys that wouldn’t necessarily hunt in those areas of New Jersey. Your local delis and diners, their business, the bear hunt bumps it up 25 percent, especially in the northern part of the state.”
It can cost anywhere from $200-$500 to process a bear, and $600 to turn it into a rug. Not to mention mounting it, which many people do. With 5,000 bears hunted last year in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey last year, that adds up to a nice little earner for some businesses.
And it's had a huge, positive impact on “human-bear interactions,” Larry Ragonese says. Last year, the number of so called “Category 1” incidents -- really aggressive stuff like bears entering homes, was down 43 percent last year. “It’s good for people and it’s good for bears,” he argues.
But not everyone is bullish on the bear hunt, even from a business perspective. “A damn nuisance is what they are," says John Person, who runs Game Butcher in Lebanon, New Jersey.
He says bears take three times as long to process as deer and don’t make him as much money. They are cumbersome to deal with, he says, and they get in the way of his deer business.
Plus, some hunters don’t really know what they’re getting into sometimes. “They envision a nice bear head rug in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine, but it comes at a price,” Person says, one hunters are not always willing to pay. “I’ve had the guys say, ‘Well can I give you some of the meat for payment,’ I say heck no! They don’t think before they pull that trigger and know how much that money will cost them.”
So really, one way or another, it’s going to be a bear market in Jersey this week.
Winter won't officially begin until nearly two more weeks pass, but snow, ice, and freezing rain are blanketing a large swath of the U.S. As of Monday morning, more than a thousand flights were cancelled.
In the last few days, Shanghai has experienced its worst air pollution on record. A toxic cloud over the city has reduced visibility so much that flights have been canceled, city vehicles have been ordered off the roads, and schools have cancelled all outdoor activities as people stay indoors, hunkering down around their air filters.
News like this has been common place in northern China for years, where in cities like Beijing and Harbin, the media has dubbed crippling smog the "airpocalypse." But Shanghai has typically been thought of as having relatively cleaner air quality, says Marketplace China bureau chief Rob Schmitz, who lives in Shanghai with his wife and children.
The level of what's called PM2.5 -- or particulate matter small enough to enter your bloodstream -- was 25 times higher than what the World Health Organization considers unsafe on Friday, and it's pretty close to that level today.
Schmitz says the poor air quality lead his wife and him to purchase expensive air filters for their homes, and that while it has always been common for expats living in China to take precautions when it comes to air quality, only recently have Chinese nations caught on.
"A couple years ago, my wife and I made a tough decision to spend a big chunk of cash on hospital-grade air filters for our home. We put one in each of our sons' rooms and one in our room when we sleep. So on Friday, when we had a horrible air day, and today, which wasn't much better, I turned the filters on high and kept my 5-year-old home from school. He stayed inside all day. When I finally did venture outside, I noticed a surprising number of people here in Shanghai wearing the latest industrial air filtration masks. So the interesting thing here is that unlike a few years ago when many Chinese people that I knew would label the smog fog and not worry about it, it's clear that now most people know that this is not just fog, and they're taking precautions to protect themselves."
While the people are the ones primarily suffering under the dirty cloud engulfing Shanghai, Schmitz says the news could not have come at a worse moment for the Chinese government, who are trying to rebrand Shanghai as a global financial capital.
"It's not great timing, because the government has been wrapped up in promoting a new free trade zone here in Shanghai that they hope will attract all sorts of foreign business and investment," Schmitz says. "You know, China wants to make Shanghai the financial center of the world that would rival New York City, but it's becoming harder to make a case for that and for a free trade zone itself, when the people in the city aren't even free to breathe clean air on most days, you know, living in China has become very bad for your health."
As a Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for health insurance that starts Jan. 1 looms, New York state is staffing up its call center and smoothing out the rough spots on its application to meet growing demand. As time runs down, the state is trying to fix technical and design issues that came up when the site debuted in October.
New York state is gearing up for what officials hope is high volume on its health insurance exchange website in the weeks leading up to the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline. It's fixing technical and design issues that came up when the site debuted in early October.
Since 2001, more than 100,000 troops have left the military with an other than honorable discharge. The "bad paper" puts benefits and medical care out of reach, even for those who served in combat. Which raises a simple question: What does America owe those who serve?
November is over and so is the big fall TV season. But there are bright gifts among the off-season also-rans, including TNT's Mob City and a French series about the undead.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a popular Democrat, former governor and strong proponent of the Affordable Care Act, is taking some heat back home for the problems with HealthCare.gov. She faces re-election next year, but a formidable Republican opponent has yet to emerge.
When doctors stick electrodes into the brain of a patient with epilepsy, they're hoping to find a cure for debilitating seizures. But they're also exploring a still-mysterious landscape. And they couldn't do it without a patient willing to help.
Vitali Klitschko has emerged as one of Ukraine's most popular opposition figures, in part because he earned his wealth in the ring and appears to be untouched by the country's corruption scandals. The boxer known as "Dr. Ironfist" has his eye on the presidency, but there are concerns about his lack of experience.
David Greene talks with Sylvain Groulx, head of mission for Doctors without Borders in the Central African Republic, about the state of the violence there and the hopes for peace now that French troops have arrived.
Eight tech giants — including Google, Apple and Facebook — have written an open letter to the president and Congress warning that current government surveillance practices are undermining freedom. This follows leaks showing tech firms were part of widespread NSA surveillance programs of email and phone records.
Officials from 159 countries took a big step forward in promoting global trade over the weekend at World Trade Organization talks in Indonesia.
An increasing number of people are signing up for health insurance through the government's new exchange, suggesting the Obama administration has made progress in fixing its broken website. But the exchange is just one part of the health care law, which remains politically divisive almost four years after its passage.