National News

Britain is giving subsidies for rock music

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-05 11:09

In Britain, government subsidies for the arts have traditionally been focused on ballet, opera and theater. But now, they are giving a boost to a rather less exalted area of creativity: thrash metal bands, acid punk and nu-grunge groups.

The aim is to promote British musical talent abroad by subsidising the cost of mounting a foreign tour. The grants – which have so far totaled more than three quarters of a million dollars – have caused outrage in conservative circles and have stirred criticism from low-tax campaigners.

But the recipients have defended the subsidy.

"As a band trying to break through, the cost of touring abroad can be prohibitive," argues Dave Silver, lead singer of the heavy metal band Savage Messiah. The band is getting $25,000 of public money.

Is this sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll at the taxpayers’ expense?

“Absolutely not !” says Silver “ There are strict controls on how you can spend the money. It can only be used for things like marketing costs, tour support, venue costs, international travel and so on.” 

The taxpayer will not be footing the bill for: tattoos, studs, chin spikes or other body piercing… let alone picking up the tab for wrecked hotel rooms and wild parties. Not that Silver indulges in such excesses.

“I don’t actually drink alcohol at all. I don’t smoke. I don’t take drugs. So yeah, we’re pretty well behaved, really," he says.

The bands say they need state aid because they’re losing money from illegal downloads. And the only way to make a decent living is to break through into the live touring circuit. 

The government clearly believes that it’s worthwhile offering a helping hand to up and coming talent and supporting the smaller, independent record labels.

Music is an important export for Britain. The British Recorded Music Industry – a trade body – claims that one in ten of all the albums sold in the United States are by British artists; the figure for continental Europe is one in four. 

None of this cuts any ice with the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a group that campaigns for lower taxes. Political director Dia Chakravarty claims that the touring subsidy is wasteful and  unnecessary. 

“British bands have a long history of breaking overseas markets but that’s because they had great songs to sing, not because of taxpayers’ subsidies,” she argues.

Chakravarty takes a keen personal interest in the music industry. 

“I’ve actually just finished working on my first album of Bangladeshi songs but I’ve supported that by having a day job….working at the Taxpayers’ Alliance,” she says. “I’ve not taken a single penny from taxpayers.”

Oddly enough, her argument against subsidy strikes a chord with Dave Silver. The lead singer of Savage Messiah divides his time between headbanging and studying economics and he’s a real fan of the Austrian School of Economics which favors the free market. So why accept the government grant?

“We’re a band. We’re four people in the band and not everyone in the band is of the Austrian School, so what can we do?" saysSilver. And he laughs: “ Yeah in an ideal world privatize everything that moves  and have no state intervention in the economy. But that’s not where we’re at now. We've got to break into overseas touring.”

Taking More Time Between Babies Reduces Risk Of Premature Birth

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 11:02

Getting pregnant again within a year of giving birth boosts the chance that the second baby will be born prematurely, a study finds. The risk was especially high for black women.

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Senate Confirms Burwell To Top Post At Health And Human Services

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 10:59

In a 78-17 bipartisan vote, lawmakers approved Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

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Now That Russia Has Crimea, What Is Moscow's Plan?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 10:42

Moscow is pouring in billions in an effort to make Crimea a showcase of development. But Crimea has a deeply entrenched reputation for organized crime, which already taints some of its new leaders.

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Amid Horror At Mass Graves Of Children, Calls In Ireland For An Inquiry

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 10:37

After hundreds of children's bodies were found at an old church-run facility, a group of government officials met to discuss possible investigations into former homes for unwed mothers.

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Fewer homeowners drowning in mortgage debt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-05 10:24
Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 16:22 Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A U-haul truck is parked in front of a home in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The Tampa area has more underwater mortgages than anywhere else in America: roughly 30 percent. But even there, things are getting better fast. That’s down from nearly 41 percent this time last year, according to CoreLogic

“We’re seeing fewer people who are underwater. Prices have come back up,” says Brad Monroe, director of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. 

Homeowners are telling his members they’re finally out from under their mortgages and ready to move. “Calling them back and saying, 'It’s time now. Prices are there and we can do it,'” he says. 

Data from CoreLogic show that nationally, about 12 percent of homeowners owe more than their homes are worth. That’s a big drop from the first quarter last year when the number was around 20 percent. 

“Which is really good news for the housing market,” says Mark Fleming, CoreLogic’s chief economist. 

“So many homeowners didn’t have equity or were under equity and didn’t participate in listing their homes for sale. And that’s why house prices increased over the last year or two so dramatically in those markets,” Fleming says.  

This is a virtuous cycle. Rising home values brought back equity to a lot of homeowners. That means more people can move if they want to. And, more homes on the market keeps prices from rising too fast. 

But just because people are no longer underwater in their mortgages doesn’t mean they can move right away. They need enough equity to pay for the expense of selling one home and a down payment on a new one.

“Paying broker’s fees, for example,” says Kostya Gradushy, project manager at Black Knight Financial Services. “And, if you only have 5 percent equity in your house, you’re not going to be able to cover those costs.” 

Black Knight says one in five homeowners today doesn’t have enough equity in their current home to afford a new one.

Marketplace for Thursday June 5, 2014by Dan BobkoffPodcast Title Fewer homeowners drowning in mortgage debtStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

What negative interest rates mean for the Eurozone

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-05 10:21
Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 16:17 Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Traders work under the index board that shows the DAX has broken the 10,000 mark for the first time ever at the Deutsche Boerse exchange on June 5, 2014 in Frankfurt, Germany. The rise comes after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi announced record low interest rates. 

Remember when bottled water first came out? I remember thinking, "Who would actually ever pay for water?" I also remember balking at a 75 cents ATM fee years ago.

I imagine that's exactly how European banks are feeling right about now. The European Central Bank's new policy of negative interest rates is, essentially, charging banks for something that it used to pay banks for. 

"Negative interest rates. What that means is that they are now charging commercial banks for leaving money at the central bank," says Beth Ann Bovino, U.S. chief economist at Standard and Poor's.

You know how banks usually pay you for storing your money with them? Now the ECB is actually charging European banks for the privilege. 

So... how does this help the European economy?

"The ECB... is trying to create a hot seat," says Paul Kedrosky, a partner at SK Ventures. "They just want to make it so darn uncomfortable to continue sitting there with your deposits, that you say, 'Oh, screw it! I’ll lend it out.'"

Lending is exactly what European banks haven’t been doing. They’ve been playing it safe and stashing their money at the ECB. Businesses and individuals aren’t getting loans, so they aren’t hiring or buying and Europe’s economy is grinding to a halt.

"The Central Bank, their business is to get the real economy going," says Bovino. To do that, The ECB is making it expensive for banks to save. "Hopefully that means more lending to households and businesses."

So… will it work?

"Many banks in Europe are still fragile and recovering from the trauma of the world financial crisis," says Matthew Slaughter, a professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. "How much more likely they will be to make a lot more loans is an open question."

Slaughter says banks might just put their money in another safe haven, like U.S. Treasury Bonds. That would be good for the U.S., but wouldn’t help Europe much.

The ECB can only make the seat hot, now it’s up to the banks to decide where to move their assets.

And maybe Marketplace will convince me to pay them one of these days...

Marketplace for Thursday June 5, 2014by Stacey Vanek SmithPodcast Title What negative interest rates mean for the EurozoneStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Sprint Is Reportedly Close To Deal To Buy T-Mobile For $32 Billion

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 10:17

If the sale goes through, T-Mobile would join Sprint as the second U.S. wireless company acquired by Japan's Softbank. It would unite America's third- and fourth-ranked carriers.

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The GPS In Your Head May Work A Lot Better Than That Phone

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 10:07

The human brain uses two different specialized regions to navigate, scientists say, with one charting a straight line to the destination, and the other figuring out the turns along the way.

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Data: The secret ingredient in hospital cooperation

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-05 08:51

If you’ve got to go to the hospital   – one that’s near your home or very far from it – you’d want your prescriptions, past procedures, and all the rest at your doctor’s finger tips.

And while sharing that kind of data could reassure consumers and save perhaps as much as $80 billion a year, it remains a fantasy for most patients.

“Everybody in the medical field knows there are economies to be gained there if we would just work together and share the information,” says former Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CEO Paul Levy. “And yet the industry, for the most part, is dead set against doing that.”

After nearly ten years running one of the premiere institutions, Levy says he came to see that hospital executives don’t trust each other enough to work together. But what is out of reach for most patients in America is becoming a reality in one of America’s poorest and most troubled cities, Camden, New Jersey.

It’s a potential blueprint, say executives involved in the program.

“You get three health systems to come together who are competitors who on Monday, Wednesday and Friday want to kill each other in the marketplace, but on Tuesday and Thursday are putting together a coalition that is taking better care of patients at lower costs,” says Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli, a Senior Vice President at Cooper University Health System in Camden.

Cooper, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and the Virtua health system have all agreed to share patient data on the city’s 30,000 residents enrolled in Medicaid. They’re doing that through what’s called a health information exchange – or HIE.

The Virtua Health Systems building. (Photo: Jessica Kourkounis)

The value, says Virtua attorney Deborah Mitchell, is that doctors and hospitals can track who is where, when they are there, all in real time.

“Now a doctor will know, 'This patient was at Cooper yesterday, now why are they are Virtua’s ER today? What’s happening with this patient?'” she says.

To put Camden in context, there are only 119 HIEs around the country and they’re generally more limited. University of Michigan health policy professor Julia Adler-Milstein explains for most of us our information may be shared with some doctors and hospitals.

For Medicaid patients in Camden the HIE involves virtually every health provider.

“Is what is happening in Camden in the best interest of their patients?” Adler-Milstein says. “You would say yes. You go to most other places, you would say no.”

Adler-Milstein says it’s hard to criticize hospitals and physicians. After all, she says, they’re just following the economic incentives they see.

In that way, Camden’s hospital executives are no different.

“The common denominator is we all can kind of win,” says Cooper’s Mazzarelli.

What’s different in Camden is data.

Long before the HIE, Dr. Jeff Brenner began tracking some of the city’s sickest and most expensive patients, the patients hospitals had lost money on for decades. And he told docs and executives often mesmerizing and horrific stories -- like one guy who had 300 emergency room visits in a year.

“I mean there’s only 365 days,” says Mazzarelli. “I think before this every health system thought they were carrying the burden and now you realize, ‘Wait, wait, we are all carrying this unbelievable burden on the same patients.’”

Those stories cracked opened the door to modest data sharing in the city. And that helped the hospitals get their arms around the problem.

Pretty soon, Kim Barnes, with Our Lady of Lourdes, says everybody could see it was in their economic best interest to share patient data, at least on their Medicaid patients.

“You realize that problem is going to be solved by partnering, by developing better transitions and handoffs among providers,” she says. “Those pictures are painted very clearly when you see the data.”

What took Camden so long to do might be quicker in San Diego, Kansas City and Miami as incentives move and more and more providers get paid to keep costs down.

Mazzarelli predicts that’ll be enough to get hospital executives over the hump to break bread with their competitors.

“Executives, I think – and I can say this, being one myself – I think we look at where our incentives lie,“ he says. “I wish that shifting the incentives of how people get paid didn’t change things in our healthcare system, but it’s becoming pretty clear it probably will make a difference.”

Executives at all three Camden hospitals say they imagine a day soon when they’ll exchange data for all their patients. Mazzarelli says the incentive undertow is so strong that the patients the hospitals have gone to war over for decades – gold-plated privately insured patients – are now more valuable as something shared than something guarded.

Cooper University hospital. (Photo: Jessica Kourkounis)

'Guns Kept People Alive' During The Civil Rights Movement

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 08:49

In his book, This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible, former activist Charles Cobb Jr. says weapons kept people and communities safe during that era.

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Couple Goes High-Tech And Low Cost For Their Big Day

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 08:48

Putting on a wedding in New York City can be financial suicide. But one young couple, profiled in Fast Company, say they priced their upcoming celebration at just $10,000 by using online startups.

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When LeBron James Speaks, Do People Stop And Listen?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 08:44

NBA star player LeBron James and his Miami Heat take on the San Antonio Spurs in the finals today. But The New York Times columnist William Rhoden says James is also gaining influence off the court.

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Values Collide In Texas Over 'Open Carry' Protests

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 08:43

Texan gun advocates have been visibly bringing guns into stores and restaurants as part of "open carry" protests, but some business owners are unhappy. What does this mean for Texas gun politics?

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The number 2,000: Economic lessons from Brazil

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-05 08:35
Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 08:39 BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

CAMP DAVID: President George W Bush waves while driving a golf cart with Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2007 at Camp David, Maryland.

You know I'm a sovereign debt geek, so my number would be 2,000. That's the spread over Treasuries, in basis points, of Brazil's sovereign debt in 2002.

Which — OK! I know that's super-geeky and hard to explain. But let me try!

Back in 2002, Brazil had just elected a leftist president, Lula, and it was right next door to a bona fide basket case, Argentina. It had a lot of short-term debt maturing very soon, and no easy way to roll that debt over, since the capital markets were pretty much closed. (No one trusted Lula.) So in a self-fulfilling prophecy, the markets started pricing in a massive default on Brazilian debt.

What that meant in practice was that you could buy a Brazilian bond — any bond — and its yield would be more than 20 percentage points higher than the yield you could get on a U.S. Treasury bond with the same maturity. Not 20 percent higher, 20 percentage points higher. So if the Treasury bond was yielding 5 percent, the Brazilian bond wouldn't yield 6 percent, it would yield 25 percent.

At the time, no country had ever seen its debt trade at 2,000 basis points over Treasuries without defaulting, and it's easy to see why. At those levels, you can't refinance your debt as it comes due, which means that you have no choice but to default on it.

Except, Brazil proved the exception to the rule. Lula was fiscally conservative, and he appointed a George Soros aide, Arminio Fraga, to run the central bank. Between them, Lula and Fraga managed to muddle through the crisis and get Brazil's debt back onto a sustainable footing. And anybody who bought Brazilian debt in the summer of 2002 ended up making an absolute fortune. (The person who bought the most, and who made the biggest profits? Mohamed El-Erian, then of Pimco, later of Harvard, and later still of Pimco, again.)

I learned a huge amount from this episode. Firstly, and most importantly, just because something has never happened before, doesn't mean it's impossible. Secondly, sovereign debt can be even more volatile and risky than stocks — and provide even bigger profits. Thirdly, policymakers can make an enormous difference. And fourthly, markets aren't always rational, or correct: there's a wisdom of crowds, to be sure, but it has its limits.

So the next time you see a country's debt trading at 2,000 basis points over Treasuries, and you hear me saying that default is inevitable, remind me that I said exactly the same thing back in 2002. And I was wrong then.

by Felix SalmonStory Type BlogSyndication PMPApp Respond No

Pope Replaces Financial Watchdog's Board

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 08:06

The five Italians who were replaced were associated with the Vatican's discredited old guard. The new members are from four countries, and include a former Bush administration official.

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At 'Pestaurant,' Grasshopper Burgers Win Over Eaters Who Say 'Yuck'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 07:53

A pest control company and a venerable Washington, D.C., grill teamed up to offer gourmet bugs to anyone who'd try them. The selection included roasted crickets, spiced mealworms and ant lollipops.

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'Open Carry' Gun Laws Spark Texas Backlash

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 07:46

The unnerving presence of young men carrying big guns in fast food restaurants and retail stores is causing consternation — even in firearm-friendly Texas.

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Manhunt Underway In Canada After 3 Police Officers Killed

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 07:45

Residents have been asked to stay indoors as police search for the gunman. A 24-year-old suspect has been identified in shootings that took place Wednesday night in New Brunswick.

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Saudi Arabia To Test Camels And Livestock For MERS

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-05 07:45

Now that it's clear that camels can infect humans with Middle East respiratory syndrome, Saudi Arabian officials are expanding testing of the animals in the country.

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