National / International News

China's economic boom leaves a trail of ghost cities

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-02 13:09

Nearly a year ago, I visited a replica of New York City under construction outside the Northern Chinese city of Tianjin. Workers were constructing dozens of skyscrapers on a piece of swampland inside a bend in the river, giving it an uncanny resemblance to the island of Manhattan. There were plans for a Lincoln Center, a Rockefeller center, and much more.

Lin Lixue, a salesman for one of the developers, was beside himself. “Our goal is to create the world’s largest financial center, right here, within ten years!” Lin told me. “We’re building skyscrapers, we’ve got China’s largest high-speed railway station coming soon, we’re building a tunnel under the sea, and we’ll soon build several subway lines.”

A year later, construction on this city, named Yujiapu, has all but grinded to a halt. Investors have pulled out. And a cluster of skyscrapers sit, half-finished – Manhattan on hold.

“It was a failure before it even started,” says Gao Fei inside the Tianjin office of Centaline Property, where he works as director of investment consulting. “The most important thing for Tianjin’s government has always been a high GDP rate. That means the government has to spend a lot of money on huge projects like this one. In China, these kinds of wasteful projects are everywhere.”

For years, high GDP growth has ensured local officials promotions within the Chinese Communist Party. In the case of the faltering Manhattan replica of Yujiapu, it helped boost Tianjin’s GDP growth rate to around 16 percent for three years, the fastest in China at the time. And that helped former Tianjin mayor Zhang Gaoli get promoted – to Vice Premier of China. In Zhang’s rearview mirror on his way to Beijing: a failed project and mountains of debt.

Hundreds of miles away lies China’s most infamous example of a colossal waste of investment: The city of Kangbashi, where on most mornings, you can watch staff members of the local hotel do a choreographed dance to techno music sprinkled with horse calls while taxi drivers pull up to watch.

There’s really nothing else to do here. The city – built for a population the size of Pittsburgh – is nearly empty. It was built a decade ago to house around a half a million people. At the time the region, known as Ordos, was rich from selling coal – Ordos sits atop one of China’s largest coal deposits. But today, coal prices are at an historic low, and according to state media, Ordos is in so much debt that it had to borrow tens of millions of dollars from a local developer just to pay the salaries for its city employees.

Xiong Gang, a migrant from faraway Sichuan province, came here to set up a restaurant to serve them. “Everyone knows this is a ghost town, so our restaurant doesn’t have to pay rent for three years,” says Xiong. “The government gave it to us for free so that they had a place to eat – they also hoped more businesses would come. “

The Ordos shopping mall next door is five floors of emptiness. Red banners hanging from the central atrium congratulate the mall on its grand opening. They dangle over a single squatter living in a tent in front of the first floor’s vacant information booth.

Across an empty public square filled with giant bronze statues of Genghis Khan’s family, I walk through the dark corridors of an office building, where dozens of doors have "for rent" signs on them.

I see a woman coming out of one of them. She says she works at a grocery store serving city employees, she came here from the countryside, and she pays the equivalent of $75 a month to sleep in an empty office space. She washes herself in the building’s public bathroom down the hall. She’s not alone. More than a hundred migrant workers live here, too – all trying to make what they can off of what’s left of this city.

Ordos’ government just issued a ban on all construction. But before it goes into effect, the city just can’t seem to help itself. It’s building a new skyscraper park near a manmade lake and three sports stadiums for the 2015 Chinese ethnic minority games costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Next door to that: a Formula 1 racetrack. Porsche used to sponsor the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia here until last year when sewage reportedly filled the pit stops and racers complained about the quality of the track.

Back in Tianjin, real estate analyst Gao Fei isn’t optimistic about China’s efforts to prevent future economic waste like Yujiapu and Ordos. “You can’t do anything about it,” says Gao, shaking his head. “Local officials are too powerful. They’re only concerned with the problems during their 5-year terms in office. If they can produce good numbers, they’ll be promoted. They’re not interested in the long-term plan."

Gao hopes for a day in China when government officials are evaluated for more than just local GDP growth. He says what really matters is the income of the people they govern, access to good health care and education. If these were the new goals in China, he says, all of this would be pretty easy to solve.

A glimpse into China's most-famed "ghost cities"

Abbas swears in unity government

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-02 13:06
A new Hamas-backed Palestinian unity government is sworn in, marking a key step to ending a major rift between factions in the West Bank and Gaza.

IPCC to investigate Lawrence police

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:55
Claims of "discreditable conduct" by Metropolitan Police officers after the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence are to be investigated by the police watchdog.

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Despite Expansion, Many Pre-K Programs Fail To Reach Immigrant Kids

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:28

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Civil Rights Activist Yuri Kochiyama Dies At 93

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:22

Prominent activist Yuri Kochiyama has died of natural causes at 93. The civil rights champion successfully fought for reparations to be paid to Japanese-Americans interned during World War II.

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Supreme Court: Case Involved Romantic Jealousy, Not Chemical Weapons

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:22

The justices ruled that federal authorities erred by invoking the chemical weapons treaty in prosecuting a woman who attacked a romantic rival with chemicals.

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As Bergdahl Returns Home, Accusations Of Desertion Surface

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:22

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl recently returned to the U.S., released from Taliban captivity in a deal that also released five Guantanamo Bay detainees. A member of Bergdahl's squad tells of a young soldier who turned sour on the Afghan mission and deserted. If true, the Army would have to consider the circumstances of his capture and whether it warrants charges.

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Palestinian Split Shows Signs Of Healing, But Israelis Aren't Pleased

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:22

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in the cabinet for a unity government joining his Fatah party with Hamas. It resolves a 7-year-old split but also draws condemnation from Israeli leaders.

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NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:22

The king of Spain says he is stepping down, ceding the throne to the crown prince. King Juan Carlos has been in ill health, and his popularity has dropped recently after a series of scandals.

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With New EPA Rules, McCarthy Sees Economic Upside In Health Savings

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:22

For more on the new pollution regulations, Robert Siegel speaks with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy about her agency's carbon emission plan.

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EPA Lays Out Centerpiece To Obama's Climate Change Policy

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:22

The Obama administration is announcing new pollution standards Monday. The rules, key elements of President Obama's climate change policy, may decide the fate of coal-fired power plants in the U.S.

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NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:17

Each year, 1 percent of children are abused or neglected, usually by their parents. By the time children turn 18, about 1 in 8 of them is likely to have been maltreated, an analysis finds.

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Harris daughter's 'shock at affair'

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:12
Rolf Harris's daughter tells a court of her "utter shock" and suicidal feelings at being told the entertainer had an affair with her friend.

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NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:06

Patrick Cannon is accused of having accepted $50,000 in bribes. He will plead guilty to fraud on Tuesday. Cannon stepped down as mayor in March, less than four months after he was sworn in.

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Lallana wants to leave Southampton

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-02 12:00
Southampton captain Adam Lallana tells the club he wants to leave when he returns from the World Cup in Brazil.

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NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-02 11:56

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Gillian Flynn on the economics behind 'Gone Girl'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-02 11:55

Success in publishing is about a lot of things. Sales, of course. Staying power. And the business of words.We've asked some of our favorite contemporary authors to share the numbers they think about as they write -- how they infuse the economic world around them into storytelling.

Here's a number for you: 78.

That's how many weeks author Gillian Flynn's book, "Gone Girl", has been on the New York Times bestseller list.

Flynn started writing her smash-hit of a novel at the height of the Recession. She had just lost her job at a magazine, and she found herself intrigued by what it meant to lose a job. Her main characters -- Nick and Amy -- wrestle with the economy in the most personal of ways.

“I wanted to explore what it meant to lose a job, what that meant to people of our age, people in their late 30s," Flynn says. "I had Nick and Amy, two people who had always thought their jobs would be very safe. And then, to have that taken away from them...to be forced to reinvent themselves a little bit. What that meant to them, what that meant to their marriage.”

Listen to the full commentary in the audio player above.

Gillian Flynn on the economics behind 'Gone Girl'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-02 11:55

Success in publishing is about a lot of things. Sales, of course. Staying power. And the business of words.We've asked some of our favorite contemporary authors to share the numbers they think about as they write -- how they infuse the economic world around them into storytelling.

Here's a number for you: 78.

That's how many weeks author Gillian Flynn's book, "Gone Girl", has been on the New York Times bestseller list.

Flynn started writing her smash-hit of a novel at the height of the Recession. She had just lost her job at a magazine, and she found herself intrigued by what it meant to lose a job. Her main characters -- Nick and Amy -- wrestle with the economy in the most personal of ways.

“I wanted to explore what it meant to lose a job, what that meant to people of our age, people in their late 30s," Flynn says. "I had Nick and Amy, two people who had always thought their jobs would be very safe. And then, to have that taken away from them...to be forced to reinvent themselves a little bit. What that meant to them, what that meant to their marriage.”

Listen to the full commentary in the audio player above.

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