National News

Crowdfunding for investors may soon get easier

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-21 04:54

We’ve all heard of websites like Kickstarter, where you can donate to projects you believe in. Well what if, instead of just donating, you could go online and buy an equity slice of a small business? This crowdfunding of investment is what the JOBS Act is trying to promote. And it’s how one real estate company in Washington D.C. wants to shake up local development.

Sharon Lewis is a hairstylist who’s lived along the H Street corridor for decades. When she describes how the neighborhood’s changed, she chooses her words very carefully.

“On H Street, it used to be a lot of hairdressers,” she says. “But now it’s a lot of bars.”

It used to be a black neighborhood, now it’s gentrifying. And booming. You can’t park on a Friday night. But developer Ben Miller says, until now, it’s been impossible for local people to invest in development right across the street.

“Who owns your environment? You don’t know,” he says. “Who’s building your environment, who’s building your city? Not you.”

Miller is co-founder of the group Fundrise, which has started selling shares of private real estate projects to the public online. A tiny slice of ownership for a hundred bucks a pop.

First they bought 1351 H Street with private capital, then crowdfunded about a third of it.

“This building has almost 180 owners,” Miller says.

It’s going to be an Asian night market. 906 H Street has 360 owners. And at 1300 H St, there’s a funky, shuttered library. Fundrise wants to buy the site from the city and turn it into apartments.

“It could have ten thousand investors,” he says.

To solicit small investors now, Fundrise goes through a lengthy review with the Securities and Exchange Commission. These equity shares are securities, after all, and the SEC wants to protect small investors.

But once the JOBS Act is implemented, crowdfunding could take off nationally. Companies will be able to crowdfund up to one million dollars a year from small, unaccredited investors. If they choose to qualify with the SEC the way Fundrise does now, they should be able to raise $50 million a year from small investors (up from $5 million currently).

The whole idea is to create new avenues for small businesses to access capital. But there are risks to this deregulation.

“Do not invest money in crowdfunding that you can’t afford to lose,” says Rick Fleming, deputy general counsel of the North American Securities Administrators Association, the organization of state level securities regulators.

Fleming says crowdfunding can be an important tool. But he warns that most small businesses fail. Lighter regulation of crowdfunding to come could lead to more fraud. And you can’t sell your crowdfunded shares on the stock exchange.

“You’re not going to be able to get that money back anytime soon. These are going to be illiquid investments, because there’s no secondary trading market for these types of securities,” he says.

Still, a lot of people investing in Fundrise think it’s just fun and interesting. Elan Schnitzer lives on H Street. He expects a seven percent return.

“My first $7 dividend check, I will take right back to the restaurant that comes in and get a sandwich,” he says.

Actually, Schnitzer bought two shares, so he might be able to afford dessert. He won’t have much say in the property he owns, but at least he’ll get lunch.

What Is This Bombogenesis And Why Is It Dumping Snow On Us?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 04:15

The type of storm that's blowing up the East Coast of the U.S. on Tuesday has an explosive-sounding name. Add bombogenesis to the growing list of weather terms we're learning about this winter — a list that also includes polar vortex.

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Palestinian Herders Pick Up The Pieces After Homes Destroyed

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 03:07

Up a barren, narrow valley in the West Bank hills, a small community of herders raises sheep and goats. But it is also an Israeli military zone. NPR's Emily Harris visited the community one day, and returned the next to find their flimsy homes bulldozed by Israeli court order.

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Diabetes, Cost Of Care Top Health Concerns For U.S. Latinos

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 02:04

A poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health finds that nearly 1 in 5 Latinos say diabetes is the major health concern for themselves and their family. In East Los Angeles, where obesity and diabetes are common, community activists are committed to turning the problem around.

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Poll Focuses On Views From A Wide Array Of Latino Americans

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 02:03

It's a cliché and an understatement to say Latino-Americans aren't a monolithic group. But our survey of nearly 1,500 Latinos underscores the variety of different experiences collapsed into the term "Latino."

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A Union For Home Health Aides Brings New Questions To Supreme Court

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 00:19

An Illinois case examines whether states may recognize a union for workers who care for disabled adults in their homes instead of state institutions, and whether non-union members must pay for a contract they benefit from.

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After Tragedy At 2010 Games, Sochi Slows Down The Sled Track

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 00:19

The Winter Olympics bobsled, luge and skeleton track was designed with safety in mind, not just speed. It was constructed after an athlete died in a violent crash, and others complained of out-of-control speed, at the Olympics four years ago.

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Brain Games: Move Objects With Your Mind To Find Inner Calm?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 00:18

"Hands-free" is taking on a new meaning. Games hitting the market use EEGs so you can move a toy helicopter with your mind or play the brain like a musical instrument. It's the stuff of sci-fi movies, but potentially with an added health benefit.

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Mild-Mannered Stingrays Can Inflict A World Of Hurt

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 00:17

These cousins of the shark send thousands of waders and surfers yelping for medical help each year. A powerful toxin in the barb of the ray's tail triggers a "knifelike pain" that can last for hours. Best prevention? Do the "stingray shuffle."

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2 Nabbed At Texas Border In Credit Card Fraud Case

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-20 23:03

A South Texas police chief said the 2 Mexican citizens used account information stolen during the Target security breach to buy tens of thousands of dollars' worth of merchandise. A federal official said later there currently was no connection between the arrests and the retailer's credit card data theft.

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Wendy Davis' Story May Have Misstated Details

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-20 22:55

In Texas, Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis' rise from a teenage single mother living in a trailer park to Harvard Law School is a centerpiece of her campaign for governor. Some of the details of her personal story, however, may be fuzzier than first thought.

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Soba: More Than Just Noodles, It's A Cultural Heritage ... And Art Form

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-20 21:00

The United Nations has named traditional Japanese cuisine — known as Washoku — an intangible cultural heritage. One of the oldest foods of Washoku is the soba noodle. But what most Americans call soba is a pale comparison to the actual cuisine. One woman in Southern California is trying to keep the true traditional noodle alive in America.

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Two Killed, Others Hurt In Omaha Plant Explosion

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-20 14:29

Authorities say there have been deaths and a number of injuries at the animal feed processing plant, but haven't given specifics.

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Nuclear Inspectors Enter Iran, With Eyes Peeled For Cheating

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-20 14:02

This week in Iran, international inspectors are stepping up surveillance of the country's nuclear program. The inspections are at the heart of a landmark deal that freezes Iran's uranium enrichment in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from sanctions, but they are just a first step.

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Cheap seats anything but at the Super Bowl

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-01-20 13:58

This final note is about football. Nope, not about all that Richard Sherman hubub. C'mon people, this is a business show.

We're talking about ticket prices for the Superbowl.

If you're a Broncos or Seahawks fan and want to check out the big game in New Jersey on February 2, you better start saving now. The cheapest ticket options right now are $2,500 on StubHub. For $200 more, you can pick a pair up on the NFL's second-hand marketplace.

What do you get for that price? Good ol' fashion nosebleed seats at the Meadowlands.

We prefer the couch. It's free, mighty comfortable and the nachos are better.

Mentally Ill Are Often Locked Up In Jails That Can't Help

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-20 13:50

Over the past decade, thousands of mentally ill people have been funneling in and out of the nation's jails, landing in places that are ill-equipped to treat them. Illinois' Cook County Jail has some of the most innovative programs in the country, but staff say it's a far cry from actual treatment.

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The food chain of rodenticide

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-01-20 13:43

Alright, weak-stomached listeners, we've got a story for you now about rats. Well, actually about rodenticide, the chemical products people use to kill rats. Some of them are poised to come off the shelves since the chemicals can affect other wildlife.

Many rodenticides act as anticoagulants, killing pests by making them bleed internally. They're great at killing rats, but they're also killing animals that eat rats.

Stella McMillen, a scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says lots of animals eat rodents: coyotes, foxes, birds of prey — and the chemicals are making it to the top of the food chain.

Scientists worry the compounds may be making predators more prone to disease or may be hurting reproduction. The most toxic are the second-generation anticoagulants, one of which is brodifacoum.

The products are at the center of a long and messy fight between the company that owns the product and the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA's been trying to restrict second-generation anticoagulants to professional users. All companies but one have complied. Reckitt Benckiser has about a dozen products that would be canceled, and it's been fighting to keep them in homeowners' hands. That fight's been going for more than five years.

Reckitt did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Its appeal to the EPA could take years to decide. In the meantime, it's still on shelves.




New Zealand Quake Shakes Eagle Sculpture From Airport Perch

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-20 13:07

The giant bird was being used to promote The Hobbit film trilogy, which was shot in the Pacific nation. Authorities say no one was hurt when it came crashing down during a 6.3-magnitude temblor.

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Who's enrolling for health insurance? Not the uninsured

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-01-20 13:06

Citing a new survey from McKinsey & Co., the Wall St. Journal reports that only 11 percent of the 2.2 million Americans who have purchased health insurance on state or federal exchanges were previously uninsured. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t released any data on this yet.

The insurance companies aren’t thrilled. The industry expects the Affordable Care Act will ultimately lead to millions of new customers.

In a certain way, this could be seen as a positive for the companies. There’s a general concern that the uninsured will get coverage and need lots of procedures and tests, costing lots of money. If the number of uninsured patients remains modest that means that most of the customers have had insurance before. That means a potentially less expensive customer – which is what the insurance companies want.

In the report, 30 percent of consumers sited technical trouble purchasing plans. 52 percent said plans were cost prohibitive. Many healthcare observers expect previously uninsured people to sign up for plans prior to the March 31st enrollment deadline.

Even if they don’t, PricewaterhouseCoopers Ceci Connolly says insurers are well aware the new healthcare law is just beginning.

"They are really viewing 2014 as the learning year. It’s almost as if we’ve got our bicycle and our training wheels because so much of this is brand new territory,” Connolly says.

Another Week, Another Mayor: The Christie Scandal Widens

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-20 13:00

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is facing new allegations about whether he used the powers of his office to punish a local politician. This time, the charge is that he withheld a city's federal recovery money for Superstorm Sandy because the mayor wouldn't support an ally's redevelopment project. Matt Katz of member station WNYC reports on the unfolding accusations.

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