National News

Former FBI Agent Speaks Out: 'I Was Not Protected'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 11:38

Robyn Gritz investigated major national security threats, but says the FBI drummed her out of a job after she fell out of favor with her supervisors. She went on to sell cosmetics and answer phones.

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China's growing at (just) 7 percent

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-15 11:29

The world's fastest-growing major economy is slowing its roll, just slightly. China's announced a 7 percent growth rate in the most recent quarter, on an annualized basis.

 And if you're saying to yourself right now, "I'd love to hear numbers like in the U.S., or in Europe," yes, you're right. Seven percent is huge. But compared to the past few decades, when China's growth seemed unstoppable.

 Lately, China-watchers have wanted it both ways: a more balanced and stable economy that continues to push global growth with its breakneck pace. 

 "It's probably an irrational expectation," says Matthews Asia investment strategist Andy Rothman. 

 Even at 7 percent, though, China is driving a third of global growth. That's more than the U.S. and Europe combined.  Constant economic growth has fostered a culture of entrepreneurship in the Communist state. 

 "When I started there in '84, there were no private companies at all. Today, 80 percent of employment is private, all the new job creation is private," Rothman says. "People starting up businesses in garages, just like the U.S."

 More than GDP figures, today Rothman focuses on the job market and income growth. China is doing well by those measures, he says. In his talks with small, private companies, he finds that businesses are having to give raises to both skilled workers and those on the factory floor alike, to hang on to the workforce they need. 

 While that's a good sign for China, the average person still can't buy a car or home. Despite massive urbanization, half of the population is in the countryside, where incomes are much lower. 

 As this all settles out, Rothman says, we should be prepared for the day when China's growth range matches other industrial nations: plus or minus 3 percent a year. 

 And as deceleration of Chinese growth continues, Rothman says we'll have to brace ourselves for the hyperbole.

 "Every quarter, people are going to be telling us, 'Hey, that was the slowest quarter since the Tang dynasty,'" Rothman says.

Diamonds: pricey, but not valuable

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-15 11:10

Jason and Kristen Sarata won a diamond at a charity raffle, but when the couple couldn’t agree on whether to sell the diamond or not, Jason hid it in the laundry room.

“The diamond became part of this vast repository of what I’ve learned is known as the overhang,” says “Freakonomics” author Stephen Dubner.  

According to diamond expert Edward Jay Epstein, “The overhang is every diamond ever sold in history that is on someone’s finger or in a bank vault, or in some drawer somewhere.”

Dubner says when people stash away their prized diamonds, it makes them more valuable. “All those unsold diamonds that people keep because they think of them as investments makes them valuable because they are constricted,” he says.

And the common belief that diamonds are inherently valuable? It’s just not true.

“[The diamond industry has] kept prices high over the years by constricting demand, kind of matching demand to the number of engagements, for instance, for engagement rings,” Dubner says.

In fact, reselling a diamond for top dollar isn’t all that easy. “The markup from a jeweler is huge, so you can’t expect to get all that much if you sell it back to a jeweler and you don’t have that many choices. It’s what economists call a thin market.”

Which is why the Saratas have decided to skip over the middleman and sell their diamond on eBay (they’ll also donate fifty percent of the sale back to the charity they won the jewel from).

“If you know anybody that wants to buy a diamond, not just any diamond, a diamond that was won at a raffle and fought over and hid in a laundry room and fought over some more, head over to eBay and search for 'Freakonomics Charity Diamond,'” Dubner says.

Fun facts from the Beige Book

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-15 11:00

The Federal Reserve was out with its eight-times-a-year regional look at the American economy on Wednesday. Sure, fine, call me a dork if you will — but I do love me some Beige Book.

The Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog read it so we don't have to. The choicest nuggets...

  • First of all, the weather in the Northeast: restaurant revenues in the Boston area were down 30 to 40 percent with all that snow on the ground.
  • Apparently, it's been raining a lot in Mississippi and Alabama: really wet ground there means farmers are behind on their corn planting. They might switch 'em over to soybeans, in fact.
  • And, from the "yes, it is a tech bubble" category: backlogs for architectural companies in San Francisco are the biggest they've been since the recession.

Why it's hard to tell good monopolies from bad

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-15 11:00

On Wednesday, the European Union's antitrust division officially hit Google with an antitrust case, which could cost the search giant as much as $6.6 billion, according to Margrethe Vestager, the European Union competition commissioner. The accusation is that the search giant abused its power in the European market, by privileging its Google Shopping service in its Google Search results. 

But are monopolies always bad? Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land, says Google has been dominant in the European market for more than a decade.

"Having a big market share by itself is OK," says Nicholas Economides, Professor of Economics at NYU Stern School of Business. He says the problem is when companies abuse that market share by taking anticompetitive actions that hurt its competitors and its customers.

Determining when competitors and customers are harmed is hardly straightforward, according to Peter Passell editor of The Milken Institute Review.

But some say when you look at Google's business model, that debate is inevitable. Says Marketplace's Molly Wood, "Google's goal—and it's a mission-driven company—is to organize the world's information ... And if that means occasionally buying a company so that they can deliver results from a company they already own, so be it."

When asked if she thinks there is a possible happy ending in this situation, Wood points to the need for Google to return to filtering results, not owning them: "Let Yelp surface for restaurant reviews instead of having your own restaurant reviews."

And as far as the possibility of an outcome affecting policy in the states, Wood says, "The EU has had a different standard, but I will say, if they have solid findings, it could cross the pond."

Personalizing Cancer Treatment With Genetic Tests Can Be Tricky

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 10:49

Genetic profiling of cancer cells can help guide treatment, but such profiles can be ambiguous. Results would be more accurate if all labs tested normal cells from each patient, too.

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Dog Team Races To Rescue Lost Hiker In The Himalayas

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 10:34

A 47-year-old man disappeared 11 days ago on a popular trail. The weather is so bad that helicopters can't help. His only chance of survival is via a small search team with four dogs.

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Documents Show Global Outpouring Of Grief Over Lincoln's Assassination

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 10:29

The State Department has released documents from 1865 that highlight the disbelief and and profound sympathy over Lincoln's death from governments and private citizens the world over.

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Gyrocopter With Single Occupant Lands On Capitol Grounds

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 10:03

A Capitol Police spokeswoman said one person has been detained. The identity of that person is unknown.

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U.S. Predicted To Be Net Energy Exporter In Next Decade; First Time Since 1950s

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 09:28

Citing a boom in natural gas as well as shifts in demand, the Energy Information Administration says the U.S. could stop being a net energy importer "sometime between 2020 and 2030."

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Pentagon To Exhume Remains Of Sailors Aboard USS Oklahoma

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 08:39

The ship with 429 sailors and Marines sank Dec. 7, 1941, in the attack on Pearl Harbor; 388 remain unaccounted for. The Pentagon decision, citing scientific advances in DNA testing, marks a reversal.

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Who's On The List Of State Sponsors Of Terrorism, And Why

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 08:26

The White House said Tuesday that President Obama would remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Iran, Sudan and Syria are also on it. But some states have made it off, too.

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Some Doctors Still Dismiss Parents' Concerns About Autism

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 08:20

Most children don't get diagnosed with autism until they start school, a study finds, though the signs may be visible much earlier. Earlier diagnosis means more time to get therapy.

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Real-World Math: A Bit Of Trig And Hay For The Horses

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 08:03

The Common Core math standards say students need more than a textbook understanding of concepts like the Pythagorean Theorem. So two Colorado teachers teamed up for a lesson in real-world math.

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Congress Says It Will Not Tolerate 'Agents Gone Wild'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 07:40

The latest episode: sexual misconduct and security lapses by employees at the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Secret Service.

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A Year After Deadly Ferry Disaster, S. Koreans Still Awaiting Answers

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 07:38

As South Korea marks the first anniversary of the accident that killed 304 people, the root causes of the sinking are still unclear, and parents of the victims are embroiled in a political tug-of-war.

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Guilty conscience: the 1099 economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-15 06:44

Mat Honan is the San Francisco bureau chief for BuzzFeed News, and writes about the technology industry and its impact on society. Honan recently wrote about the guilt one may feel when taking part in the on-demand economy. The full article, "LOL Everything Matters When Everyone Is Connected,"can be found on BuzzFeed:

Our washing machine is broken. Or, at least, the pipe it drains into is. Despite all my attempts to fix it, crawling around on my belly with a pipe wrench and a plumber’s snake, all I have to show is a broken PVC pipe, a minor chemical burn, and a mountain of laundry that our family of four has piled up. So last night, I put in an order with Washio, an on-demand laundry service. And this morning, an extremely nice and highly professional woman showed up at our door, promptly at 7 a.m., took away our laundry, and left us with a chocolate pastry from a bakery in Oakland.

It was amazing, and I feel conflicted about it.

It’s the same kind of feeling I have whenever I take an Uber, or Lyft, or use Instacart to pick up groceries, rather than going myself. I found myself apologizing to the woman who picked up our laundry. “Our washing machine is broken,” I explained. “Well that’s good business for us,” she countered. And it’s true, I guess. Why wouldn’t she be happy to have work? A job is a job when you need one.

And yet my guilt stems not from whatever her own personal experience is as much as it does the remaking of the great American economy into a vast labor market of contract workers — the 1099 economy — whose days are dictated by the whims of mobile software and whose job security is often determined by the numerical star rankings of a capricious and harried market.

Continue reading, "LOL Everything Matters When Everyone Is Connected"

Former NFL Player Aaron Hernandez Found Guilty Of Murder

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 06:26

In 2013, Aaron Hernandez was a three-year NFL veteran who was accused of killing the boyfriend of his fiancee's sister. A jury found him guilty of first-degree murder Wednesday.

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When Keeping A Secret Trumps The Need For Care

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 06:08

Young adults covered by their parents' health plans may balk at getting treatment for mental health or other conditions they would rather not have show up on family insurance statements.

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You Didn't Check The 'Presidential Election Campaign' Box On Your Taxes, Did You?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 06:03

The little box is for presidential public financing. At first, it was relatively popular but now fewer people are checking the box and more candidates are rejecting the funds.

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