National News

Tiananmen: More than just students and democracy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 03:03
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 04:54 Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Chinese Paramilitary soldiers stand guard in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. Twenty-five years ago on June 4, 1989 Chinese troops cracked down on pro-democracy protesters and in the clashes that followed scores were killed and injured.

Twenty-five years ago today, Chinese troops and tanks cleared protesters from Tiananmen square, shooting and killing hundreds – some say thousands – of unarmed civilians. The violence capped weeks of student protests demanding a better government.

But Tiananmen was more than just students and democracy. There were also hundreds of thousands of blue collar urban workers who were involved in the Tiananmen demonstrations. Some of these workers may have been interested in democracy and the other demands students were making on China’s leaders, but most of them were more concerned with their own economic status and future economic opportunity for their children in an economy that was moving away from socialism.

In 1989, most Chinese urbanites made the same wage, a fact that helped unite the Chinese during the protests that year. If you lived in a city back then, you made a wage set by the state, it was very low, and you belonged to a Danwei - a work unit - which took care of your housing, your kids’ education and pension. Back then, the price of food was set by the state, but in 1988, that changed.

China’s government begin to lift price controls, in favor of the open market, and suddenly prices climbed. Inflation in 1988 and 1989 surpassed 18%. Suddenly, it was hard to afford anything. The pressure workers felt spurred them to join the students to protest. After the government's brutal crackdown of demonstrators on June 4th, 1989, China passed a slate of economic reforms.

“It allowed people who were going to be successful to be successful," says University of Michigan Political Science Professor Mary Gallagher. "It allowed migrants who were desperate and would’ve worked for pennies to squeeze out people in the middle. When you look at people who protested in 1989, the urbanites who protected the students, those people eventually lost out.”

Urban workers in China are still protesting today. Case in point: there are dozens of worker strikes each week in China, and according to labor groups, even as China's economy cools down, the number of strikes this year is up by more than a third.

 

 

 

Marketplace Morning Report for Wednesday June 4, 2014Interview with Rob SchmitzPodcast Title Tiananmen: More than just students and democracyStory Type InterviewSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

How Chocolate Might Save The Planet

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 03:03

Honey is nature's gift. It's natural. Made by bees. Chocolate is the opposite, a great engineering creation that could, just possibly, just maybe, help save our planet.

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Complying with the EPA, state by state

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 02:54

The EPA’s plan to curb carbon-dioxide emissions lets each state figure out how its going to reach its goal. 

There are already big differences among states in one area: the cost of electricity for their residents.

In March, folks in Wyoming were paying ten cents per kilowatt hour, but people in Massachusetts paid nearly double.

“The biggest factor here is that there’s just a lot of different generation mixes across the states," said Harrison Fell, a professor with the Colorado School of Mines.

Wyoming gets almost all of its energy from coal, while in Massachusetts it’s mostly natural gas, according to the Georgetown Climate Center.

 “The more coal intensive you are, the bigger impact the rules will be,” said Andrew Kleit is a professor of energy and environmental economics at Penn State.

Sharing our personal health data – for good

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 02:33

Health privacy can, at times, be at odds with a major cultural shift happening in healthcare: a demand for greater transparency.

The Health Data Exploration project is another example where sharing trumps privacy.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – in collaboration with several California schools – aims to convince consumers to share the personal health data that’s being generated from an avalanche of apps and wearable devices like Fitbit.  

The question behind the Health Data Exploration project is how to harness that data, and do something other than make money off of it.

“With these technologies, we can get to a space where we are getting more realistic data. It’s capturing that everydayness of heatlh," says Matthew Bietz with the University of California Irvine, and one of the project’s lead investigators.

Bietz says the data would allow researchers to look at how stress affects eating, or how caffeine impacts sleep, on a scale that’s currently impossible.

This project will launch a research network that helps link businesses and their consumers with researchers.

University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Anita Allen says before consumers share their data to help solve some of healthcare’s most pressing questions, consumers must know they will be protected.

“Like it or not, some employers might find out information about us and use it against us when it comes to making hiring decisions,” she says.

“Are you a smoker? Are you overweight? Do you have diabetes? Do you have an irregular heart beat? These kinds of things might be used to our disadvantage.”

Bietz agrees that one of the trickiest tasks ahead is figuring out how to best protect consumer privacy.

Though, if done correctly, Bietz is convinced that “we could actually say new things about connections between the way we live and our well being.”

American Express: from exclusive to inclusive

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 02:03

A new documentary from the director of "An Inconvenient Truth" is called "Spent: Looking For Change."  It’s about people living on the margins of the American financial system. And it has an unlikely sponsor: American Express.

"Spent" profiles several families as they navigate check cashing services, payday lenders and, of course, the fees that come with low balances and overdrafts.

About one in three Americans has no relationship with a bank at all, or a tenuous one. All told, this segment of the population spends around $90 billion a year on fees. AmEx wants a piece of that pie. The company, which has traditionally focused on the wealthy, is redirecting that focus to low income consumers.

"We really want to move our brand from being an exclusive brand to being a welcoming and inclusive brand," says Dan Schulman, president of enterprise growth at American Express.

Amex teamed up with Walmart to offer an all-mobile banking service called Bluebird. They've also rolled out a line of pre-paid cards. The services don’t rely on steep fees that usually come with financial products targeted at low-income customers.

"We’re trying to reimagine the consumer financial services landscape in a way that’s very different from traditional bank branches," explains Schulman.

Thanks to the ubiquity of smart phones and internet access, there’s currently a race to the bottom in financial services.

"We’re talking about tens of millions of people," says Andrew Zolli, author of "Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back." "Not all of them with lots of money, but if you put them together, it’s real money."

Case in point: last year, venture capitalists put almost $1 billion into financial start-ups, mostly catering to low and middle income Americans.

"We're talking about new kinds of accounts that provide the same kinds of functions of a traditional financial services relationship without the same kind of high cost," says Zolli.

American Express is the first major financial institution to aggressively target lower income consumers in this way, but Zolli expects other big players will soon follow suit.

Tiananmen: More than just students and democracy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 01:54

Twenty-five years ago today, Chinese troops and tanks cleared protesters from Tiananmen square, shooting and killing hundreds – some say thousands – of unarmed civilians. The violence capped weeks of student protests demanding a better government.

But Tiananmen was more than just students and democracy. There were also hundreds of thousands of blue collar urban workers who were involved in the Tiananmen demonstrations. Some of these workers may have been interested in democracy and the other demands students were making on China’s leaders, but most of them were more concerned with their own economic status and future economic opportunity for their children in an economy that was moving away from socialism.

In 1989, most Chinese urbanites made the same wage, a fact that helped unite the Chinese during the protests that year. If you lived in a city back then, you made a wage set by the state, it was very low, and you belonged to a Danwei - a work unit - which took care of your housing, your kids’ education and pension. Back then, the price of food was set by the state, but in 1988, that changed.

China’s government begin to lift price controls, in favor of the open market, and suddenly prices climbed. Inflation in 1988 and 1989 surpassed 18%. Suddenly, it was hard to afford anything. The pressure workers felt spurred them to join the students to protest. After the government's brutal crackdown of demonstrators on June 4th, 1989, China passed a slate of economic reforms.

“It allowed people who were going to be successful to be successful," says University of Michigan Political Science Professor Mary Gallagher. "It allowed migrants who were desperate and would’ve worked for pennies to squeeze out people in the middle. When you look at people who protested in 1989, the urbanites who protected the students, those people eventually lost out.”

Urban workers in China are still protesting today. Case in point: there are dozens of worker strikes each week in China, and according to labor groups, even as China's economy cools down, the number of strikes this year is up by more than a third.

 

 

 

My six weeks with Google Glass

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 01:53

Google Glass may be the product you've heard most about without ever having been able to try. It's certainly still a hot ticket item: the company is set to unveil new, limited edition frames for Google Glass from fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. But in terms of its actual functionality, not that many people can say they've gotten a chance to really ingrain the technology into their daily life.

That's why Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent for the BBC, has been rocking Google's frames for six weeks, and fielding questions about the device from curious strangers. The most common question: "What's it for?"

Cellan-Jones says it's great for taking pictures, but he found that the Glass's voice command feature - the easiest way to navigate through its interface - had trouble translating from "English English" to "American English": 

"I wanted to put a caption on a photo I took of my garden. And I wanted to say, 'Garden looking unusually tidy,' in a rather British way, and it came out as, 'Gordon looking for usual Thai tea.'

Unfortunately, translation issues aren't the only problem Cellan-Jones found with the smart frames. He says that because of its lack of functions, and its generally clunky feel, Google Glass is still a ways off from being the must-have item that everyone will rush to buy.

The man behind Fannie and Freddie

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 01:50

In the world of real estate, few people are more powerful than Mel Watt, the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Together, the two mortgage giants guarantee about 60 percent of all new home loans. 

Watt hasn’t made a lot of public appearances since he was appointed head of the FHFA in January. In fact, his first major speech wasn't until May 13, at the Brookings Institution. 

“We’re balancing, in a number of instances, contradictory mandates,” he told the audience.

For example, the mandate to protect the taxpayers while trying to get banks to lend more but not make risky loans, which Fannie and Freddie would still have to guarantee. After the speech, Watt hung around outside Brookings and chatted for a while -- Maybe not what you’d expect, but perhaps a throwback to Watt’s previous job. He served in Congress for more than two decades, representing the banking hub of Charlotte, North Carolina. 

The Senate Banking Committee has passed legislation that would gradually wind down Fannie and Freddie, something Watt’s predecessor also tried to do, but without input from Capitol Hill.  

But Congress isn’t likely to act this year, leaving Watt in charge of Fannie and Freddie’s fate.  

“I think he’ll work cooperatively with Congress,” says David Stevens, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, who adds that he thinks Watt will let Congress decide what to do with the mortgage giants.

“He gets it.  Mel understands his role," Stevens says. "He understands the role of Congress.”

Watt’s role also involves dealing with a lot of money. Since Fannie and Freddie were taken over by the government in 2008, their profits have gone to the U.S. Treasury.

“Even in this town, $25 billion a year is a lot of money,” says Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending, a homeowner advocacy group.   

Sitting in Calhoun's Washington office, I ask him whether all that money led to pressure on Watt, maybe from people in the White House who don’t want to change Fannie and Freddie because they’re afraid of cutting off the spigot of cash. But Calhoun doesn't think that'll happen.

“They know he is going to be independent.  He’s in his mid 60s," Calhoun says. "He’s quite comfortable standing his ground.”

If we were to replace the Dow Jones?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 00:53

Okay, so this is going to be interesting. And by the end of it I may or may not still have a job. But here goes.

If you've been listening to Marketplace this week, you know we've been airing some stories and interviews from the debut of our new live stage show.

We premiered in Washington,D.C., with WAMU in late April – we're in a handful of cities around the country this summer and fall. (Complete tour information here.)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Numbers is just that: An exploration and explanation of the flood of numbers we're deluged with when talking about business and the economy. You know 'em as well as I do, so I won't belabor the point, other than to say this (which will, eventually, get me to my point): sometimes, the numbers aren't all they're cracked up to be.

Case in point: the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Now, I like the Dow as much as the next guy. I mean, we do it on the show every day.

(Little known Marketplace fact: the only segment that's appeared on each and every broadcast, going all the way back to Show No. 1? The Numbers.)

But really, a non-inflation adjusted, stock-price sensitive index made up of 30 lousy companies as a proxy for the entire $16 trillion American economy? C’mon.

There are plenty of reasons to still keep a daily eye on the Dow. And a whole bunch of reasons not to.

But if – and I'm just saying "if" here (thinking out loud, if you will, quite possibly at the risk of my job) -  if we were going to stop tracking the Dow, what's something better to replace it with?

The Wilshire 5000 and the Russell and all the rest we can come up with ourselves. Gimme your ideas. Hit me up in the comments below, or tweet us.

@Marketplace is the show, @kairyssdal is me.

Will A Triple Crown Win Save Horse Racing? Don't Bet On It

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 23:38

Many in the horse racing industry are looking to Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome to revive interest in the sport. He wants to believe it, but commentator Frank Deford says that's a fantasy.

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Into The Virtual Reality Lab With Pioneering Researchers

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 23:37

Facebook's acquisition of Oculus VR has raised hopes for a decades-old technology. Some researchers believe virtual reality has the potential to transform everything from medicine to teaching.

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As Banks Open In Schools, A Chance For Students To Learn To Save

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 23:36

The closest many kids once got to banking was handling colorful Monopoly money. Today, students across the country can go to — and work at — student-run bank branches inside their schools.

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As Myanmar Modernizes, Architectural Gems Are Endangered

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 23:25

Myanmar's biggest city Yangon has a distinct old-world feel: blocks of colonial buildings, untouched during decades of poverty and isolation. Now, development could bring them crashing down.

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Cochran, McDaniel Neck And Neck In Mississippi Senate Primary

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 19:23

Veteran GOP Sen. Thad Cochran is in danger of losing his bid for re-nomination to a seventh term against Tea Party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel.

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Website Linked To Stabbing Of 12-Year-Old Posts Disclaimer

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 16:49

Two girls charged in the near-fatal assault tell investigators they were inspired by a fictional online character known as Slender Man.

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Lessons on dying, to be learned from doctors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 15:07

A New England pediatrician – writing under the pseudonym Russell Saunders – wrote an article in the Daily Beast today about a new study that confirms something we’ve known for years: Physicians do not want to prolong the end of their lives unnecessarily.

An overwhelming number of them (88 percent) said they would want an “advance directive that would stipulate ‘do not resuscitate’ (or DNR) status at the ends of their lives,” Saunders wrote, something I, too, learned as I wrote an article for Marketplace and the New York Times last fall:

“When it comes to dying, doctors, of course, are ultimately no different from the rest of us. And their emotional and physical struggles are surely every bit as wrenching. But they have a clear advantage over many of us. They have seen death up close. They understand their choices, and they have access to the best that medicine has to offer.” 

Examining the choices doctors make about their own final days can help the rest of us. While most people want to die at home, Medicare data shows that more than 50 percent of patients spend their final days in the hospital or a nursing home.

Part of the problem is most patients don’t know when the game is up. Simply, it’s hard for someone who lacks medical training to know whether there’s a chance to throw that Hail Mary and still win the game. Doctors know better.

The question is how to get our physicians to do a better job giving us the kind of information they have, thanks to their training and exposure to life-and-death situations. One obvious answer is to pay doctors to sit down and have these conversations with their patients.

It’s clear talking about death is difficult, sometimes near impossible. That’s true for some physicians, too. But as this new study suggests, doctors are arguably more thoughtful than the general public. And that gives doctors a chance to consider carefully whether the next procedure they order for their dying patient is a procedure they would order for themselves.

Move Over Benghazi; Here Comes Bergdahl

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 14:41

The controversy over the exchange of a U.S. soldier for five senior Taliban fighters at Guantanamo Bay could rival or even surpass Benghazi.

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Lessons on dying, to be learned from doctors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-06-03 14:10
Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 18:07 Michael F. McElroy for The New York Times

Doctor Elizabeth (Lissa) McKinley is in the last few months of her life and is receiving hospice care at her home in Cleveland Heights. Lissa's sister Brent McKinley organizes her medication.

A New England pediatrician – writing under the pseudonym Russell Saunders – wrote an article in the Daily Beast today about a new study that confirms something we’ve known for years: Physicians do not want to prolong the end of their lives unnecessarily.

An overwhelming number of them (88 percent) said they would want an “advance directive that would stipulate ‘do not resuscitate’ (or DNR) status at the ends of their lives,” Saunders wrote, something I, too, learned as I wrote an article for Marketplace and the New York Times last fall:

“When it comes to dying, doctors, of course, are ultimately no different from the rest of us. And their emotional and physical struggles are surely every bit as wrenching. But they have a clear advantage over many of us. They have seen death up close. They understand their choices, and they have access to the best that medicine has to offer.” 

Examining the choices doctors make about their own final days can help the rest of us. While most people want to die at home, Medicare data shows that more than 50 percent of patients spend their final days in the hospital or a nursing home.

Part of the problem is most patients don’t know when the game is up. Simply, it’s hard for someone who lacks medical training to know whether there’s a chance to throw that Hail Mary and still win the game. Doctors know better.

The question is how to get our physicians to do a better job giving us the kind of information they have, thanks to their training and exposure to life-and-death situations. One obvious answer is to pay doctors to sit down and have these conversations with their patients.

It’s clear talking about death is difficult, sometimes near impossible. That’s true for some physicians, too. But as this new study suggests, doctors are arguably more thoughtful than the general public. And that gives doctors a chance to consider carefully whether the next procedure they order for their dying patient is a procedure they would order for themselves.

How doctors dieThe new math of healthcareby Dan GorensteinStory Type BlogSyndication PMPApp Respond No

Why Is It So Hard For A Horse To Win The Triple Crown?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 14:09

It's been 36 years since a horse won racing's ultimate trifecta. For California Chrome to break the drought Saturday, the colt must contend with challenges that have stymied a dozen horses before him.

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Norovirus: Far More Likely To Come From Restaurant Than Cruise Ship

NPR News - Tue, 2014-06-03 14:04

Cruise ships account for only 1 percent of reported norovirus cases, while 25 percent come from contaminated food. Sick workers at restaurants and cafeterias often spread the virus.

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