National News

Doubling a country's economy with the click of a mouse

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-24 02:00

Imagine a country being able to double the size of its economy, almost at the touch of a button, or the click of a mouse. The tiny Baltic state of Estonia aims to do just that. Next month, Estonia will become the first country in the world to offer foreigners so-called “ e-residency,” which could hugely expand its customer base without increasing the size of its physical population of 1.3 million people.  

Estonia is trying to cash in on what it calls its digital infrastructure. It’s one of the most e-connected places on the planet with almost every home, office, factory and classroom hooked up to the internet, and most government business conducted online; Estonia even uses e-voting in its general elections. 

Now, foreigners will be invited to sign up, pay $64, and become an e-resident of Estonia.

“E-residency is basically a government-guaranteed digital identity,” explains Siret Schutting, Estonia’s e-ambassador. “We are allowing foreigners to acquire what every Estonian already has: a digital signature. This means they can securely sign documents online. It’s legally the same as a handwritten signature.”

You “sign” by using a unique code along with your own smartcard and reader. E-residency won’t give you right to live in Estonia or even to visit the country, but Taavi Kotka of the Ministry for Economic Affairs in the capital Tallinn says it will let you do business there. 

“You can open up a bank account, start a company, run a company, all that stuff," he says. "We’re aiming to sign up 10 million e-residents. That would give a big boost to the Estonian economy. More customers for our banks, for telecom companies ... for everybody.”

Kotka claims e-residency will be totally secure. To qualify, you must supply biometric data — like finger prints — and be vetted. However, Ian Bond, a former British ambassador to neighboring Latvia, is not entirely reassured.

“I would have some concerns about who exactly would be getting e-residency. With Russia on its doorstep, there is a risk of money laundering. There is a risk of exploitation by organized crime. $64 won’t pay for much in-depth vetting,” he says.

Estonia knows all about cyber problems from its mighty neighbor; the country suffered a massive attack from Russian hackers in 2007, apparently because it planned to relocate a Soviet-era war memorial. Estonian government, bank, police and other emergency websites crashed under a bombardment of service denial messages. But the Baltic state weathered the storm and it is now host to NATO’s cyber security headquarters. Estonia reckons that although it is small, it can defend itself — and its residents — in cyberspace.   

What might happen after Iran sanctions are lifted

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-24 02:00

Monday is the deadline for Iran nuclear talks. Negotiators are considering a deal that would limit Tehran’s nuclear enrichment ability, in return for lifting international oil and banking sanctions.

These sanctions helped bring Iran to the talks in the first place—Its markets were cut off, oil exports fell, recession came.

Karim Sadjadpour at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has tallied the cost of Iran’s nuclear program, in terms of sanctions, lost revenue and lost investment. His number: $100 billion dollars.

Separately, a former Iranian foreign minister put the cost at $450 billion.

“When you look at these enormous costs and you weigh it against what Iran’s nuclear program can really provide in terms of energy, it’s an economic catastrophe,” Sadjadpour says. “This is a nuclear program which can at best provide only two percent of Iran’s energy needs, and in the process of building this nuclear program, they’ve cannibalized their main source of revenue, which is oil and gas.”

And yet, Sadjadpour notes, Iran’s supreme leader does not make decisions based on economics. It’s politics.

Click below to hear more of Sadjadpour's interview:


If there is a deal, Iran will want to sell more oil and return to previous levels. This despite today’s global glut, and despite the fact that Iran and other OPEC members are considering overall production cuts. That would put upward pressure on oil prices, currently down some 30 percent from June.

So, which OPEC member would bear the pain of lost business? Likely not Iran, says analyst Amrita Sen of Energy Aspects in London.

“They have already lost out on so many billions of dollars of revenues,” she says. “That’s really where it becomes a challenge for OPEC.”

The group meets on Thanksgiving day.





Marriage and the class divide

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-24 02:00

The rise of single-parent households isn’t just a social and cultural phenomena—it has import economic implications. That’s the gist of a new study put out by the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, who argues that stronger marriages could help bridge the ever-growing class divide. But trying to pin down the root causes of the gulf between the haves and have-nots is a bit like hitting a moving target.

In 1980, approximately 78 percent of families with children were headed by married parents. In 2012, married parents account for only 66 percent of families with children.

Bradford Wilcox is the Director of the National Marriage Project and a co-author of the AEI study, which is titled "For Richer, For Poorer." He says this retreat from marriage accounts for 32 percent of the growth in family-income inequality between 1979 and 2012, and falls particularly hard on the poor and working class.

“So, not only are they earning less, comparatively speaking," says Wilcox, "but they’re also less likely to pool their incomes and to build common assets as married families."

On average, Wilcox says the data show married men earn about $16,000 more than their single peers. Likewise, children from married families are much more likely to get a college degree. But others say this marriage effect is a bit overblown.

“The big changes in distribution of income since 2000 have been near the top,” says Christopher Jencks, a professor of Social Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He says the massive growth in incomes by the "one percent" is a more plausible explanation for inequality.

“It’s a little hard to think that, 'well, that’s all driven by single parent families.' That’s a big factor at the bottom [of the income scale], but the bottom hasn’t changed much," explains Jencks.

He points to wage stagnation and fewer manufacturing jobs as other explanations for growing economic inequality.

Action On Immigration Meets Silence, Skepticism In Silicon Valley

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-24 01:16

As an organized sector, the tech industry did not applaud President Obama's executive action on immigration; and the future of the joint campaign for a comprehensive bill is unclear.

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Combat Training: Can Female Marines Get The Job Done?

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 23:42

The Marine Corps have begun a year-long experiment to decide if women can enter ground combat. Hundreds of men and women began training a few weeks ago at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

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Upfront Costs Of Going Digital Overwhelm Some Doctors

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 23:40

Physicians with small practices may be especially hard hit by federal regulations that aim to bring doctoring into the digital age in 2015.

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An African Village Inspires A Health Care Experiment In New York

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 23:38

Dr. Prabhjot Singh lives and works in Harlem, a neighborhood plagued by chronic disease. He thinks an African model of health care can help — training people in the community to be health educators.

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With Deadline Looming, Whispers Of Extension Begin In Iran Nuclear Talks

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 12:19

The two sides have been trying to hammer out a historic accord curbing Iran's nuclear programs, but with less than 24 hours before a self-imposed deadline, there is still no news of a deal.

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Marine Corps Finds It Tough To Shut Down Sexist Facebook Groups

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 10:50

Female Marines are being humiliated and generally degraded by their peers on Facebook. The groups' pages are frequently shut down, but return within days due to a dedicated following.

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Running Late? Nah, Just On 'CPT'

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 10:38

In this installment of our semi-regular Word Watch series, we look at a popular term for the practice of never being on time.

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First (Lots Of) Snow, Now Rain And Flooding Threaten Western New York

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 09:23

By Monday, Buffalo could see a high temperature of 60. Authorities warned that the quickly-melting snowpack could cause some serious flooding.

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Families Feel Sidelined As U.S. Reviews Hostage Policy

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 08:01

The White House is reviewing how it handles hostage crises following the brutal murders of Americans abroad, but families of hostages say they're often left out of the conversation.

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12-Year-Old Boy Carrying Toy Gun Dies After Cleveland Officer Shoots

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 07:58

Police say they asked the boy to put his hands up, instead he reached for his waist-band and one officer shot twice. The boy died at the hospital.

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Tunisia Holds First Presidential Election Since Revolution

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 06:50

Tunisia's revolution is important because it set off the greater Arab Spring. Today, it marked a milestone, a Tunisians cast ballots for their next head of state.

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Ugly Christmas Tree Will Be Replaced In Pennsylvania Town

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 05:30

Unlike Charlie Brown, the residents of Reading didn't see beauty in a 50-foot spruce with few branches and an unseemly shape.

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MTA Targets 'Man-Spreading' And Other Subway Faux Pas

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 03:14

New York's MTA is planning a new campaign to encourage courtesy on subways. NPR's Rachel Martin gets dos and don'ts from Jake Dobkin, who writes's Ask A Native New Yorker column.

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Ferguson Clergy Call For Peace From The Pulpit

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 03:14

Religious leaders await a grand jury's decision in St. Louis. Many faith leaders there have been deeply involved with demonstrations following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.

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U.S. And Turkey Discuss Strengthening Syrian Opposition

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 03:14

Vice President Biden wraps up his trip to Turkey, where he held talks on strengthening the fight against ISIS. The U.S. and Turkey disagree on how to deal with the threat of the so-called Islamic State.

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Iran Talks Intensify On Day Before Deadline

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 03:14

The deal that lifted some economic sanctions in return for inspections of Iran's nuclear program expires Monday. Intense negotiations are underway this weekend to reach a more permanent agreement.

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Women Sweat The Test To Show Marines They're Combat-Ready

NPR News - Sun, 2014-11-23 03:14

The Marine Corps is running a test to see if women can serve in ground combat. "A lot of people think that we can't do it," says one Marine who's trying to make the cut. "I don't think the same."

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