As January quickly approaches, it’s time to consider resolutions for the new year. Eat healthier, drink less and “live life to the fullest” are all standbys, but personal finance goals often top these lists. Carmen Wong Ulrich, host of Marketplace Money, joins host David Brancaccio to discuss.
“If you want to make your resolutions to stick, one of the key things to do is to make them very concrete,” she says.
Do you want to save money this year? How much? Over what period time? And what for? Specific benchmarks can make all the difference -- click the player above to hear more.
Thanks to the fracking boom, the United States has become the world’s largest oil and gas producer. But it’s still illegal for energy companies to export crude oil. Exxon has just become the latest oil company to say it’s time for the U.S. to lift the ban on oil exports.
One question that comes up is whether U.S. consumers would see higher gas prices. Another is: Wait, does the U.S. actually have an oil surplus?
Not overall. “The US has not yet become a net producer of oil,” says Simon Wardell, an energy analyst with IHS. “It still consumes more than it produces by quite a margin.”
But it turns out that the places where oil is being produced in the U.S. are actually closer to foreign markets than to domestic ones: West Texas -- right by Mexico. North Dakota, next to Canada.
Meanwhile, U.S. refineries that can handle this oil are farther away. There’s a bottleneck there. Wardell says it could be more efficient to ship some of that oil to our neighbors -- and buy more on the global market. When it comes to prices, he says the impact could be more complicated than U.S. supply and demand.
“Oil is a global commodity,” he says. “You can ship oil very cheaply, and what you tend to find is, the price of oil converges globally.”
And by the way, he says, if there was some new threat to imports, we could just impose an export ban again.
For what it’s worth, oil companies aren’t the only ones saying it’s time to reconsider the ban. The Council on Foreign Relations published a memo last summer saying the same thing.
See what happens when the Canadian airline makes passengers' wishes come true by surprising them with gifts at baggage claim. You just may tear up.
Officials say it's difficult to account for shifts caused by factors related to the holidays and separate them from the trends more closely linked to the economy's underlying strengths and weaknesses.
You've probably heard of patent trolls. But what about porn trolls? In Germany, 10,000 people are getting letters from a law firm claiming they owe cash for watching pornographic videos online. And unique addresses of computer users are part of the legal filing.
"They write to them and they say, 'Okay, we know that you've viewed one of a handful of films that our client holds the intellectual property for, so we want you to pay us 250 euros to make future law suits go away,'" explains Cyrus Farivar, the senior business editor of Ars Technica.
So if you do the math, that's 10,000 people being told to pony up about 300 bucks a pop... That's over $3 million this law firm is trying to get for its client in Switzerland, which Farivar says is called the Archive.
"The website of the Archive looks like it was something that somebody slapped together in about 10 minutes," he says. "There is a street address and a phone number in Switzerland. I called that number, it kept ringing and ringing, I didn't even get a voicemail or anything like that."
Now take this out of the world of pornography for a minute, and imagine you, as a viewer, getting charged for watching a YouTube music video somebody else uploaded. While there's not a lot of legal precedent for that, Farivar says whether or not the law firm's case stands up in court, people might still pay just to make it all go away.
This month federal regulators are expected to come out with new rules around Black Lung. The Department of Labor, which is writing the new requirements for how mining companies reduce the exposure of miners to respirable coal dust, particles of dust small enough to be breathed in by miners, won’t disclose what they say. But for the miners, tighter restrictions can’t come too soon.
In 2010 the Mine Safety and Health Administration, an office of the Department of Labor launched an initiative to end Black Lung. “Act Now!” says a project website in red type with all caps. But three years later the new rules that would help to prevent the disease still haven’t been issued, and five to eight hundred miners continue to die of Black Lung each year.
“Not only are we seeing more advanced cases, but we’re seeing the advanced cases in younger coal miners, ” said Timothy Bailey, a lawyer in Charleston, West Virginia, who represents sick miners against the industry. “These men are reporting the dust is so thick you can’t see in front of your face. The man operating the continuous miner can’t see the other end of the continuous machine.”
One explanation for the increase in cases, says Bailey, is a change in coal mining strategy. As we run out of pure seams of coal, he says mining companies are increasingly turning to sources that have more rock mixed in. As a result, miners are breathing in more rock dust, quartz, or silica, than they used to.
In 1968 a deadly explosion at a coal mine in Farmington, West Virginia killed 78 people. A year later, in new mine safety rules were created. But in the four decades since there haven’t been many changes to rules about dust in mines.
“It’s clear that the science that was used to set original standard wasn’t as accurate as it could have been,” says Dr. Edward Petsonk, a professor of pulmonary medicine at West Virginia University. Dr. Petsonk notes that the amount of dust, as well its toxicity, must be increasing. But Phil Smith, Direct of Communications for the miner’s union, United Mine Workers of America says some of the blame belongs elsewhere. “It’s a lack of will by the companies to follow the law that exist. And in some cases a lack of will by the government to enforce the laws that exist,” he says.
“If you’re going to cheat and not going to enforce the law,” says Timothy Bailey, “it doesn’t matter what the limit is.”
The National Mining Association, which represents mining companies, declined an interview on the expected new rules. But it did a issue a written statement saying it doesn’t deny there’s a problem. But it does disagree with the Mine Safety and Health Administration over the extent and proper response. The statement questions whether MSHA was "using a narrow problem in a tight geographic area as justification for imposing a new, reduced standard on the entirety of the industry -- where no documented problems exist.”
Whether it’s politics, science or companies running afoul of the law causing the problem, Dr. Petsonk just wants a solution, and quick. “I think the people who do this work deserve the best protection, the best science, our country can give them,” he says.