National News

U.S. Officials Try To Gauge Threat From American Fighters In Syria

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 23:39

Dozens of Americans have gone to Syria to fight against the government, some with groups the U.S. considers terrorists. U.S. officials have to sort out which could be dangerous when they return.

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Golf May Be Too Polite A Sport For Presidential Politics

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 23:33

President Obama has been widely criticized for not being combative enough. Commentator Frank Deford says we elected a basketball player, but ended up with a golfer.

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The LA School iPad Scandal: What You Need To Know

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 23:32

The Los Angeles Unified School District has shut down a half-a-billion-dollar deal with Apple and Pearson to provide classroom technology. Here's what happened.

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Driven By Climate Change, Cotton Buyers Look For Alternatives

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 23:30

One clothing company whose bottom line was hurt in the wake of bad weather events decided to look to polyester fibers made from recycled plastic bottles.

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Hello, May I Help You Plan Your Final Months?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 23:28

The company Vital Decisions hires social workers to help people make end-of-life plans in advance, over the phone. But the counselors are paid by insurers. Critics see a conflict of interest.

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Build A Toothbrush, Change The World. Or Not

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 23:27

You think bringing a new toothbrush to market is easy? The seven-year saga of two dental entrepreneurs struggling to bring their patented brush to consumers suggests otherwise.

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American Reportedly Fighting Alongside Extremists In Syria Dies

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 16:31

The White House says it was aware that Douglas McAuthur McCain was in Syria, though it did not confirm he was fighting with the Islamic State. The terrorist group claims McCain died in battle.

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Emmy Awards 2014: Safe Choices In A Time Of Groundbreaking TV

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 14:56

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says Monday's Emmy Awards promised to recognize TV's emerging future — but ultimately rewarded comfortable favorites over disruptive upstarts.

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Colorado's Pot Brownies Now Come With Instructions

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 14:02

Colorado is rolling out regulations for the edible-marijuana sector, including "emergency rules," which spell out serving sizes. But for now, most of the dosage education is falling to pot shops.

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Crowdfunding the path to college

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-26 13:50

When Salina Vang begins her studies at the University of Minnesota-Duluth next week, loans and scholarships will cover most of her expenses. To cover the rest, she launched a fundraising campaign on the website GoFundMe, which allows users to pull in donations from friends, family and strangers.

“I needed the extra money to go buy materials like school supplies, bed sheets, a laptop,” she says.

Initially, Vang figured she'd get small contributions from friends and relatives and raise a few hundred dollars. But then she boosted her goal to $3,000 in order to have more of a financial cushion. She's two-thirds of the way there.

Vang's parents, immigrants from Laos, don't make much money selling vegetables, and they have ten children to support. But, Vang says, they don't like the idea of their daughter asking for hand-outs. 

“My parents grew up in a culture where it's embarrassing to do that. But I think I have tried to tell my parents that in this generation you need to put yourself out there in order to get help,” she says.

More than 150,000 students have tried raising money on GoFundMe, up from a couple hundred students just four years ago. Other sites, like GreenNote and GiftofCollege, focus exclusively on raising money for educational expenses.  The sites charge a fee or take a cut of the donations. GoFundMe takes 5 percent.

Students are turning to these sites at a time when tuition and student loan debt levels are on the rise. Ruth Hedges, executive of the Global Crowdfunding Convention and Bootcamp,  says many students’ efforts fail.

“There's this misconception that if you build it they will come. And the truth of the matter is it's much more complicated than that,” says Hedges.

Hedges says you should launch a campaign with a few donors lined up in advance so that a quarter of the goal is met in the first week. That kind of success breeds success.

 

 

How to get the most from your crowdsourcing campaign 

 

  • Look successful. Get donors to commit funds before launching the campaign, so that you have 25 percent of your goal met in the first week. You want a rush of activity when the site goes live. 
  • Create a sense of urgency.  Limit your campaign to 30-45 days.
  • Get social.  Start hitting social media days before the launch, and keep it up throughout the campaign.
  • Sell yourself.  Make a compelling case for why strangers should donate to your campaign. Explain how you’ll use the money productively for college.
  • Smile for the camera.  Include a video with  your profile.

Source: Ruth Hedges,  Global Crowdfunding Convention and Bootcamp

 

She notes that kids entering college are actually well poised to raise money through social networks because they have a lot of them – think school orchestras or sports teams.

“They have more groups of crowds in their lives than they may have later on in life, when they get older and they're not involved in so many activities,” she says. “And that's the time to compel those groups to support you.”

There are some risks to raising money for college this way, though. Scott Weingold, managing director of College Planning Network, says successful campaigns could jeopardize financial aid. 

“It appears that some schools may treat that as outside funds and simply diminish the amount of aid that the family would've otherwise been eligible for,” he says.

In that case, the crowdfunding campaign might do more to help the college lower its costs than it would the student.

Depressed Teens May Need Extra Support To Stick With Treatment

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 13:30

Enlisting parents to make sure teens get counseling is a start, but a lot of families need more support, research suggests. Even finding the right therapist can be daunting.

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A 'knee defender' diverted a United Airlines flight

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-26 13:25

Today I learned about a device called a "knee defender," built to combat the problem of legroom on airplanes - or, rather, the lack thereof.

It's supposed to prevent the person in the seat in front of you from reclining. Some airlines have banned it, otherwise my 6-foot-1 self would be halfway through ordering one right now. This is how it works:

Anyway, a passenger used one of these on a flight from Newark to Denver - starting a fight that ended when one passenger threw water on the other.

The plane was diverted to Chicago.

The kicker?

Both of them were seated in United's Economy Plus section, which means they had up to five inches of additional legroom - something the airline considers "spacious."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the FAA has banned the Knee Defender. The text has been corrected.

High Prices Aren't Scaring Consumers Away From The Meat Counter

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 13:19

Several factors — from a virus sweeping through hog barns to a drought in the Plains states — have driven up the price of pork and beef. But consumers keep buying it.

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VA's Inspector General Finds Faked Data At Hospitals Across U.S.

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 13:13

President Obama addressed the annual convention of the American Legion in North Carolina with a raft of new proposals for vets.

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Obama Considers Widening Strikes Against Islamic State Militants

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 13:04

The president has approved surveillance flights over Syria to search for targets for possible airstrikes. But critics of the administration say that may not be enough.

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Kiev Claims Russia Has Sights Set On New Eastern Ukrainian City

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 13:03

Ukraine has accused Russia of trying to open a new front in the war between the government and pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.

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4 questions to ask if you're offered a late-career buyout

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-26 13:01

To cut costs, Time Warner Inc. has reportedly made a buyout offer to Turner Broadcasting employees over the age of 55, who have been with the broadcaster for 10 years. Offering buyouts in advance of other cuts is a common strategy.

Here are a few things to think about if you're an older worker — but not one who's ready to retire — considering a buyout offer. 

1. Do you really have a choice?

In other words... "The first thing you have to consider is: Why is the company doing this? And what is the probability of their asking me to leave, one way or another?" says Robin Pinkley, a business professor at Southern Methodist University.

In this case, Time Warner has already told employees that other cuts will follow the buyouts— maybe 15 to 20 percent reductions, according to one story.  So if you’ve got any worries about getting laid off, you might want to take the buyout.

In a case like Time Warner, the buyout won't be enough to retire on, at just a bit better than the standard severance package. Though, that could help fund a job search, which is likely to be no picnic.

2. Are you ready for a tough job search? 

Looking for work after a mass exodus from your workplace is especially hard, says Pinkley.

"It’s not just you who’s entering the marketplace at this time," she says. "There are a bunch of yous."

People with your same resume, who took the same buyout you did. Your company’s probably targeting well-paid older workers because they hope cheaper 28-year-olds will make good replacements.  

3. Are you ready to deal with age discrimination? 

"It’s a fact that age discrimination exists," says John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement firm Challenger Gray and Christmas. "I don’t think it’s as virulent as it was, say, a decade or more ago, but it’s still there."  

4. How do you feel about temp work? 

Greg Simpson, who leads the career transition practice at Lee Hecht Harrison, offers a glass-half-full perspective. He acknowledges the chance of walking into a similar job, with comparable pay, without having to move, is low.

However, he says, companies do need people. Just not full-timers.

"They’re looking for alternatives to hiring on full-time labor," he says. "If you’re open to making alternative arrangements with an employer, there’s an enormous talent shortage."

So, if hustling for short-term contracts sounds like a fun way to spend the next few years, that could be an option.

If that sounds grim, just be thankful it’s not 2009. "People are coming into a much better job market than it's been for some time," says Challenger. "It's been getting better, consistently, slowly, over the last few years."

The credit card delinquency rate is at a 7-year low

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-26 13:01

If you skip a credit card payment — a.k.a you just don’t pay your bill for a month — you’re considered delinquent. 

Today, TransUnion reported that the 90-day delinquency rate has fallen by about half since 2007. Antoni Guitart is their director of research and consulting.

He says credit card delinquencies are trending steadily downward.

“They’re even considerably lower than they were before the recession ever hit," he explains. "So, it’s been quite an improvement.”

Of course, banks ding us with late fees if we’re delinquent. So, if more of us are paying on time, is that bad news for fee-hungry institutions? 

Not according to Curt Long, chief economist at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions: “We think this is a positive trend for credit unions.”

He says banks and credit unions still make money if we carry a balance on our credit cards. Even if we don’t, they get a swipe fee every time we charge something.  

Long says delinquencies can turn into charge-offs — loans that are never paid back.

“Thankfully we’ve seen charge-offs decline as well,"Long says. "Fewer of those loans are going bad.”

The fall in delinquencies is even leading banks to give credit cards to people with lower credit scores. 

Lawrence J. White teaches economics at the NYU Stern School of Business. He says it makes sense for banks to loosen up credit right now for the less-than-perfect consumer: “Because the economy is better, he or she is more likely to stay employed and be in a position where he or she can repay.”

And White says consumers have learned not to live beyond their means; they don’t want to slide back to where they were during the Great Recession, and are using credit more wisely.

Here's why the durable goods number is soaring

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-26 13:01

Orders for durable goods — things like washing machines or drills or escalator parts — surged 22.6 percent in July. That number got a great response from Wall Street guys today.

“A sharp increase.” - Wells Fargo Advisors’ chief macro strategist Gary Thayer

“It was stunning.” - Ben Herzon, senior economist with Macroeconomic Advisors

“Massive.” - Wrightson ICAP’s chief economist Lou Crandal

But then they said this:

“Modest.” - Thayer

“Don’t have much bearing.” - Herzon

“Pretty much irrelevant.” - Crandal

So what gives?

It turns out, most of the surge in durable goods is due to one company, Boeing. It got a bunch of new orders for expensive airplanes. Airplane orders take a long time to fill and could conceivably be canceled, so while the plane orders is great for the long term, it's not such good news for right now.

“A lot of that won’t translate into immediate production increase so you really need to factor that out,” Thayer says.

So forget airplanes — forget washing machines, even. In fact, you can forget most of the stuff in the durable goods report, Crandal says.

“Most of the durable goods report is of very little relevance because there are better measures of almost everything that forms the various components of this report,” he says.

Surveys of auto sales, for example, are more accurate and early than the auto sales data in the durables report — in particular, the advance report which is subject to significant revision.

“The one thing that’s really crucial is the performance of capital goods orders,” says Crandal. Specifically, non-defense durable capital goods.

That’s the equipment businesses buy in order to make things businesses sell.

“To put equipment in place, businesses have to be confident that they can sell the stuff that equipment is going to produce,” Herzon says.

Those numbers are up 11 percent over last year with some revisions that make June look really good too (from 1.4 percent up to 5.4 percent). It means businesses are more confident. Consumers seem to be, too.

“There’s been a sea change in the way that people respond to questions about whether jobs are plentiful or hard to get,” says Crandal.

In four months, the number of people who think jobs are plentiful jumped from 13 percent to 18 percent — more than that number rose in the past two years combined.

“I don’t think it’s a sign the economy’s about to start booming, however it is reassuring that we may have some momentum going into next year,” says Crandal.

A lot of businesses and consumers seem to think so too.

VA Deputy Secretary On Wait Times: 'We Owe The American People An Apology'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-26 13:00

Melissa Block talks with Sloan Gibson, the deputy secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, about the results of a recent probe into wait times at VA facilities.

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