National / International News
The killing of the beloved lion, hunted for sport, has been condemned by wildlife conservationists. A conservationist in Zimbabwe says a ban should be imposed on the hunting of endangered animals.
Something stinks in Lebanon. For a week, 3,000 tons of garbage per day have piled up on the streets, left to rot in the heat wave while Beirut sorts out problems with waste disposal.
The trash crisis prompted demonstrations and protests, and some residents burned garbage in the cans, sending toxic fumes into the already reeking city.
The government has reportedly come to an agreement to start picking up trash again, but even the solutions seem unsustainable. Waste is carted to new locations, shifting trash problem from place to place.
Behind the week of stench in Beirut is a road closure blocking Lebanon's Naameh landfill — an overflowing disposal ground that was initially supposed to be a temporary solution.
Brooke Anderson, a Beirut-based reporter for the BBC, says that part of Lebanon's trash problem is rooted in other systemic issues, including a lack of clean drinking water and a real recycling program.
"The tap water doesn't taste good enough to drink, so everyone drinks bottled water," Anderson says. "The bottles pile up.... It piled up very quickly."
Combine the extra-high amount of waste with a lack of a well-running recycling program, and the garbage problem grows and overflows into streets, slowing traffic and disrupting business.
For now, government-contracted Sukleen is back on the streets picking up the heaps of trash and carting it to undisclosed locations, but people in Lebanon are eager to find more permanent and sustainable solutions to an ongoing problem.
George Washington University is the latest and one of the largest private universities to drop its admissions testing requirement.
Already, researcher Stuart Russell says, sentry robots in South Korea "can spot and track a human being for a distance of two miles – and can very accurately kill that person."
Volkswagen's very public goal has been to be the biggest car maker in the world. And it reached that goal in the first six months of this year, selling 5.04 million vehicles and moving past Toyota.
If you think of Volkswagen’s car brands as if they were part of a stock portfolio, it would be pretty diverse. And that’s a good thing, says Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader at Gartner.
"As a large company that owns multiple brands, it is important that you have to have a balanced approach,” he says, “a premium brand and volume brands.”
For Volkswagen, that volume brand is Volkswagen. Audi, another Volkswagen brand, has had very healthy profit margins. And, “a company like Porsche, which is also branded within the Volkswagen group, has the highest profit margin of traditional auto manufacturers that is out there,” Koslowski says.
But just because a car company is number one in sales doesn’t mean it’s making money, Steven Szakaly, chief economist with the National Automobile Dealers Association, says.
“Realistically it doesn’t really mean anything in terms of profitability, popularity of models,” he says.
Szakaly says Volkswagen’s aggressive global push adding factories and brands could work against the company: “A large system that produces a large volume of motor vehicles is also very expensive to run and it’s also very expensive to maintain.”
But that global expansion got it to number one. Mike Austin, editor in chief of Autoblog.com, says the company’s sales in China have been a major plus. In Europe, of course, it’s a slam dunk. On the other hand, he says the company is struggling in the U.S.
“They only have about 30,000 units so far this year,” he says. “It’s one-sixth the size of Toyota in terms of sales.” He says Volkswagen and Toyota are so close, it’s anyone's game for the next six months.
Microsoft is rolling out its new operating system, Windows 10, tomorrow. Analysts say the company is hoping for a smooth deployment that might mend fences with customers and businesses still bitter about the last big update in 2012.
Microsoft is giving the new operating system away for free as an update, a first for the company, trying to lure back consumers who gave up on Windows for mobile devices, says David Johnson, a principal analyst at Forrester.
“Microsoft faces an uphill battle here to win tablet users back to the Microsoft platform, and phones back to the Microsoft platform," he says. "So it’s by no means certain.”
Windows 10 aims to synchronize the PC and mobile experience, says Darren Hardman, COO for North America at Avanade. But he knows Windows 10 won’t send consumers flocking to buy Windows phones. Avanade is a Microsoft partner that helps deploy Windows software and other tech for large corporations.
“Absolutely we expect for the clients to continue using multiple sources of brands and devices — that’s just the world we live in," Hardman says. "And I think we’ll be successful, both Microsoft and Avanade, if we’re helping our clients support interoperability across devices into a strong Windows platform.”
Alan Lepofsky of Constellation Research says the focus in Windows 10 on allowing users to move "seamlessly" from device to device reflects a changing Microsoft that’s more responsive to consumers, and to the reality of how businesses use technology.
“I think we saw a decade of Microsoft a little bit stagnant," he says, "and I think in the last two to three years...it’s a new Microsoft.”
Consumer confidence is one measure of how we feel about the economy – and our confidence was way down in July.
You might think the Federal Reserve, which is meeting this week on interest rates, would be concerned with how we feel. But while feelings are important, on their own, an economy they do not make.
“Consumer confidence is a low-ranking indicator to policymakers at the Federal Reserve,” says Richard DeKaser, corporate economist for Wells Fargo & Company. “The Fed’s primary focus remains on two indicators: the labor market and inflation.”
That is, of course because the Fed is legally obligated to deal with the labor market and inflation. DeKaser says consumer confidence tends to follow these things, not predict them. And when it comes to feelings about the future, he says “people say one thing and then do another.”
“Consumer confidence measures don’t have such a strong link to economic performance,” says Carl Tannenbaum, senior economist for Northern Trust. “They don’t lead the way you think they might.”
But, he says “ignore them at your peril.” Just because the Fed doesn’t parse them , doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t important.
“We should care about feelings because consumers have been excellent predictors of recession,” says Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators for the Conference Board, a key source of consumer confidence data. “They can give us advance notice of when the economy is heading south.”
Consumer expectations tend to be a little ahead of the game when it comes to the bounce back from a recession, Franco says. She says consumer confidence is also "a good indicator of people’s willingness to buy.”
Northern Trust’s Tannenbaum says the Fed does pay attention to our feelings on some level, because they reflect how the Fed's message is being received.
“When the Fed communicates with the public, they’re figuratively trying to put their arm around our shoulders and assure us that what they’re doing will be something that pleases us all,” he says.
So consumer confidence is, in a way, also a sign of how well we feel the Fed is doing its job.
Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee is wearing a big smile these days.
"We've turned expectations on their head and delivered affordable rates for all Californians," he says. "That's a big deal."
Lee is excited because for two years in a row, premium increases on California's healthcare exchange are about 4 percent - well below the 10 percent increases California consumers paid in the years running up to the Affordable Care Act. That ranks among the top performances compared to other states that have released rates, according to industry group Avalere.
California does have an edge.
Insurers want to play in this lucrative pool, with two new companies signing up earlier this month. The state embraced Obamacare, giving Covered California a lot of authority most states declined to give their exchanges. That includes negotiating directly with the insurers.
Lee chalks up a chunk of their success to this power. But this is negotiating with a twist.
"Health plans in California win by enrollment, and what we want to do is help them win, get people enrolled in the plans that get them the care they need," he says.
The secret sauce, says Lee, is rather than pound premium prices down like hamburger patties, the exchange shares data with companies.
The goal is not to find the lowest price, but the right price. That means urging companies to come in around the same premium, so nobody gets rich, but nobody loses their shirt either.
Kaiser Permanente's Bill Wehrle says when he's come in too high, he's been told to "sharpen his pencils" or risk losing business.
"It's never something you want to hear," Wehrle says. "But it's certainly important to know, because it does force us to go back and figure out whether there's anything more we can squeeze. And I don't want to get into details, but that's happened."
Covered California says this kind of back and forth has shaved $200 million off of insurance premiums this year.
While rates will go up for many, 20 percent of consumers will pay less, most between 1 and 4% less.
Covered California looks at these results and thinks the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, should follow suit.
"I don't see the federal government being in a position to actively negotiate with insurers," says Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Levitt says it's hard to imagine the federal government getting approval to negotiate on behalf of 30-some states.
But he does think healthcare.gov could standardize plans, another essential ingredient that's helped keep rates down in California. While the ACA requires basic benefits for all plans, Covered California goes a step further and standardizes things like deductibles and co-pays, what Levitt calls bells and whistles.
"It's a classic strategy for companies to add bells or whistles to their products and get consumers to pay more," he says.
So in California, here's the trade-off: Consumers have fewer options, but it's easier to shop, because they are comparing based on price and networks of doctors and hospitals.
But if the goal of Obamacare is to get lots of people to sign up, Avik Roy, with the Manhattan Institute, questions the approach.
"Some consumers might want a different range of copays and deductibles," he says. "These things can't be done if the government is preemptively limiting the range of products they can choose from."
It's a classic free-market versus regulated market argument. The question for the Obama administration is: Does it want to enter a fight over limiting consumer choice in the name of lower healthcare costs?
This summer, even the most crowded pools are struggling to hire enough lifeguards, and are cutting hours as a result. In a rebounding economy, teens are opting for higher-paying jobs or no job at all.
Twitter reported profits on Tuesday afternoon. Turns out it's doing pretty well; revenue is up 61 percent. No news on a full-time CEO. Boom.
Not counting the bit after "boom."
The Summer Olympics will be coming to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016, but is the city prepared for it? Since the country won the bidding process, it has undergone all sorts of economic changes. Juliana Barbassa, author of "Dancing with the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink," has been covering Rio de Janeiro's evolution as it prepares for an influx of visitors and worldwide attention.
Barbassa grew up in Rio and returned in 2010. As she tells Marketplace, she'd noticed that Brazil had transitioned from political instability and economic difficulty to an effervescent country that was evolving.
“As a journalist, this was a big story. Brazil had always been the country of the future and now it looked like the future had arrived…or was arriving, and I wanted to be there to cover that story,” Barbassa says.
The country has been preparing for the Olympics by building transportation systems, adding hotel rooms and expanding capacity at stadium, she says. However, these changes are benefiting the already wealthy west side, and ignoring the needs of the working class and poor, Barbassa adds.
“I feel like those events were...promoted to the Brazilian population as ways of showing the world that we’ve made it," she says. "That’s what people wanted. What they had not known (was) the sheer financial cost of building all that infrastructure,” she says.
Just a few years ago, Barbassa says, Rio de Janeiro was once an optimistic place with economic opportunity, but it is now stagnant. Inflation rates are ticking back up and the president’s approval ratings are very low, and “there’s a deep ambivalence about hosting these big events in the country that Brazil is today,” she says.
Yelp is good for a couple of things — finding restaurants in your neighborhood, locating the nearest free Wi-Fi. Now, it would seem public shaming could be added to that list.
Walter J. Palmer, a dentist from Bloomington, MN, was on a safari hunt in Zimbabwe when he shot a lion with a bow and arrow, according to the StarTribune. Palmer had paid $54,000 for a professionally guided hunting trip. Unfortunately for both him and his prey, that lion turned out to be the beloved Cecil, a resident of a national park who was part of an Oxford University research project.
As our colleagues at Minnesota Public Radio reported, Palmer said he had no idea of the lion’s importance in a written statement released Tuesday. His guides allegedly lured Cecil out of the park, and then removed his collar.
In the statement according to MPR, Palmer also apologized for the killing, writing “...I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."
But that hasn’t halted the vitriol of the internet, with Yelp users taking to Palmer’s dentistry page to voice their frustrations.
"You should pay for what you have done, and you should financially pay to support Lion Conservation!" says user Charmie P. in one review.
The Obama administration offered help to non-violent offenders like Dana Bowerman, but more than half the applications sent to the Clemency Project 2014 have not been processed.