National / International News

Happy reminder, courtesy of the Labor Department

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-13 11:00

There were, as of the end of November, 4.97 million open jobs in this economy.

That's more than there have been in 14 years.

That number comes from the Labor Department, and is taken by many – including Janet Yellen – as a good sign for the overall economy.

Pietersen has 'no chance' of recall

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-13 10:49
Former England bowler Steve Harmison says Kevin Pietersen does not have "a cat in hell's chance" of a recall to the side.

Weiss withdraws but will still work at Treasury

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-13 10:44

The president's nominee for the number-three job at the Treasury Department, Antonio Weiss, sent a letter to the White House, withdrawing from the process, after a confirmation fight driven by Senate Democrats. Instead, Weiss will become a top adviser to the treasury secretary. 

These types of arrangements are becoming more and more common, as nominees either can’t get confirmed or don’t want to go through the confirmation process.  

So, what’s difference, really? Does the adviser have the same amount of power, without the pain of confirmation? 

Depends who you ask.  

“He'll have, perhaps a secretary, but no staff.  And he’s not part of the established task forces in the White House,”  says Robert Shapiro, an undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration.

Shapiro says advisers don’t have the legal authority of someone who’s been confirmed. Still, advisers who are close to a secretary or president can be quite influential. Especially if everybody knows they’re close to power. 

"A lot just depends on the individual relationship and the reputation of that person in the Washington community.  The reputation for power is power," says Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

All those powerful people aren’t cheap. Paul Light, who teaches public service at NYU,  estimates that President Obama has 1,500 to 2,000 advisers.  Light says all those bodies can cause inefficiency.  

“Well, it’s like the childhood game of telephone, where you tell a secret to the person next to you, and that person passes it on, and eventually it gets distorted or dropped,” he explains.

And Light says whoever’s responsible for the drop or distortion doesn’t get in trouble, because there’s little accountability for advisers. Congress can’t collar them and call them on the carpet, the way they could with someone whose nomination they’d approved. 

OPEC's Decision To Keep Production Steady Starts To Hit Members

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-13 10:36

Venezuela's leader was in Qatar this week seeking billions to shore up his flagging economy. Oil prices have fallen by nearly 50 percent since last year and are now near a six-year low.

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How Do We Grow To Like The Foods We Once Hated?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-13 10:27

A psychologist says we have to be taught to like chili pepper and other foods we may initially dislike. The experience of eating it often somehow converts what's an aversion to a preference, he says.

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When Islamic Radicals Turn Moderate

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-13 10:27

The world has been focused in recent days on Muslims who have been radicalized. Here's the story of a radical who turned moderate.

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Brother doubts killer will be caught

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-13 10:20
The brother of an 86-year-old woman murdered two years ago says he doubts her killer will ever be brought to justice.

VIDEO: Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-13 10:17
Tony Blair gives evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

VIDEO: Pope Francis looks East to Asia

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-13 10:02
Pope Francis is trying to shift the focus of the Catholic Church away from Rome - and towards millions of Asian followers.

'I saw people's heads stamped on'

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-13 09:50
What's life like in Feltham young offenders institution?

Tech's favorite metric may be broken

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-13 09:33

Twitter bucked the downdrafts on Wall Street today. Shares picked up half a percent or so, to almost $40 apiece at the close in New York.

Dick Costolo, CEO of the 140-character social network, has sold $25 million worth of company stock since November amid rumors of that some big investors aren't all that pleased with Twitter's numbers.

Not strictly numbers from the bottom line, though. Instead, it's the numbers that measure how often you and I – and millions of others – are on Twitter and every other online site. In industry speak, monthly active users, or MAUs.

"This is an important number," Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson says. "Someone went to your site, used your service, played with your app, once a month."

For investors in quickly growing companies, like tech startups, it's a useful way to distinguish the total amount of attention a company has received from the longer-term love people show a service or social network as they repeatedly return to the site.

But even that is too little information, according to Evan Williams,who runs the publishing platform Medium and is a cofounder and former CEO of Twitter. 

"You can land on a website and stay for three seconds, or you can land there and read something for five or 10 minutes," Williams says. "When you talk about the dimension of people who stop by as the only thing you talk about, what value are you measuring, either to the people or the company?"

Spending quality time with a product, service, or app, is something the monthly numbers simply don't reveal. But since the monthly active user measurement is the industry standard for venture capitalists, user numbers start to stand in for value. Particularly for companies that are not publicly traded and have yet to make much revenue.

The metric was important when news broke that Instagram had surpassed Twitter in its total number of MAUs — 300 million to Twitter's 285 million. Twitter investors started getting nervous, another reason Twitter CEO Costolo may soon be on his way out. 

But Johnson warns that MAUs probably won't always be the end-all, be-all. Investors and advertisers are ultimately looking for ways to reach the right customers, at the place and time they are completely engaged. Namely, on their phones. And blanket monthly numbers aren't nuanced enough to reach them. 

"In the next few years, we're going to see the things we do on our phone really, really fragment and go niche, and we're going to see advertisers actually start to use the data they're collecting on us all the time, to create ads that are actually useful to us," Johnson says. 

Their hope? More money for advertisers, better ads for consumers. 

In other words: "The next generation of advertisers isn't going to be buying ads for the Super Bowl. It's going to be buying ads for curling equipment for the curling championships."

Tech's favorite metric is broken

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-13 09:33

Twitter bucked the downdrafts on Wall Street today. Shares picked up half a percent or so, to almost $40 apiece at the close in New York.

Dick Costolo, the CEO of the 140-character social network, has sold $25 million worth of company stock since November amid rumors of that some big investors aren't all that pleased with Twitter's numbers.

Not strictly numbers from the bottom line, though. Instead, it's the numbers that measure how often you, and I, and millions of others are on Twitter and every other site online. In industry speak, monthly active users (MAUs).

"This is an important number," Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson says. "Someone went to your site, used your service, played with your app, once a month."

For investors in quickly growing companies, like tech startups, it's a useful way to distinguish the total amount of attention a company has ever received, from the longer-term love people may begin to feel for a service or social network, coming back again and again. 

But even that is too little information, according to Evan Williams,who runs the publishing platform Medium and is a cofounder and former CEO of Twitter. 

"You can land on a website and stay for three seconds, or you can land there and read something for five or 10 minutes," Williams says. "When you talk about the dimension of people who stop by as the only thing you talk about, what value are you measuring, either to the people or the company?"

Spending quality time with a product, service, or app, is something the monthly numbers simply don't reveal. But since the monthly active user measurement is the industry standard for venture capitalists, user numbers start to stand in for value. Particularly for companies that are not publicly traded, and may not have made much revenue yet. 

The metric was important when news broke that Instagram had surpassed Twitter in its total number of MAUs — 300 million to Twitter's 285 million. Twitter investors started getting nervous, another reason Twitter CEO Costolo may soon be on his way out. 

But Johnson warns that MAUs probably won't always be the end-all, be-all. Investors and advertisers are ultimately looking for ways to reach the right customer, at the place and time where she is completely engaged. Namely, on her phone. And blanket monthly numbers don't contain the nuance to reach her. 

"In the next few years, we're going to see the things we do on our phone really, really fragment and go niche, and we're going to see advertisers actually start to use the data they're collecting on us all the time, to create ads that are actually useful to us," Johnson said. 

Their hope? More money for advertisers, better ads for consumers. 

In other words: "The next generation of advertisers isn't going to be buying ads for the Superbowl. It's going to be buying ads for curling equipment for the curling championships."

Mitt Romney 'likely to run in 2016'

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-13 09:28
Defeated in 2008 and 2012, Mitt Romney is reviving his network of supporters as he seriously considers a third White House bid, US media say.

Game Digital sees festive sales fall

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-13 09:23
Game Digital, the video games retailer, has blamed a "highly competitive Christmas trading period" for a drop in sales over the festive period.

Fracking makes sand a $10 billion industry

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-13 09:20

On a square of clay and gravel about 40 miles north of downtown Denver, Joel Fox’s colleagues are starting a frack on an oil well. Fox — who runs fracking operations for Encana Corp., a $9 billion oil and gas company — points to the action we’ll be able to see from our safe distance.

“Once they start the sand,” he says, “you’ll see it coming out of that hopper.”

The hopper is connected to a Sand King — which looks like a giant purple dumpster, 40 feet long, one end tilted into the air.

Seconds later, we see sand flowing into a trough that feeds a giant blender, which mixes the sand with water. Together, they’ll get pumped into the well, shattering the shale rock below ground.

Over the next hour or so, the Sand King will dump about 100 tons of sand into the blender. All the while, trucks move in and out of the well site, with 25-ton partial-refills for the Sand King.

Fox will repeat this process 20 times for a single well.

“So, what’s that? 2,000 tons in a well,” he says, doing some quick calculations. “And I got seven wells.”

That’s just on one site north of Denver, a two- or three-week fracking operation.

Multiply that out by more than 20,000 wells fracked in a year, according to PacWest Consulting Partners, which tracks the oil and gas industries. It comes to more than 100 billion pounds.

Thanks to the fracking revolution, sand — one of the most common substances on earth — has become a $10 billion industry. At times, some oil and gas producers have not been able to get enough. Even with low oil prices likely to mean less drilling in the next year, the question with sand is whether the oil industry’s demand will stay the same, or go up.

At the wellhead, Fox explains just what the sand and the water do in the well.

“The water provides the force to crack the rock open,” he says. The pressure – 5,000 pounds per square inch – makes tiny cracks in the rock, flows into them, and brings the sand with it.  

“And then when I flow the well back,” says Fox, meaning, he pulls the water back out. “I leave the sand in the fractures.”

The sand keeps these tiny little fractures propped open, so Fox’s colleagues can suck the oil out through them.  

The "frac sand" business has grown to the point where several companies have gone public. The biggest players will win over time, says Brandon Dobell, an analyst who follows the oil and gas industry for William Blair and Co. He thinks scale and coordination will be critical, like it was for FedEx and UPS.

“When overnight delivery started, you had a bunch of companies doing overnight delivery,” he says. Now there are two. “And the reason there’s two is because it’s really difficult to get a package from Point A to Point B in a very short amount of time, no matter where the Point A or Point B is, and no matter how big or small that package is.”

The comparison is more direct than it may seem: Delivering packages on time is a big part of what sand companies do. In this case, the packages are 25-ton truckloads. Over the course of two or three weeks, Fox will use 560 truckloads of sand at his seven wells north of Denver.

If the trucks don’t show up on time, then workers here — there are dozens, scheduled in shifts that go around the clock — sit around waiting. So do the Sand Kings (there are three) and the blender, the truck-size pumps (there are 10) and everything else.

According to PacWest, transportation can account for about two-thirds of the price that operators like Fox pay for sand. Some sand companies control railcars and loading facilities, as well as mines.

However, supply has been the first concern.

“You would think: ‘There’s sand everywhere. How can there not be enough supply?’" says Dobell. "Well, this sand’s different. And it’s only in a couple of places.”

The best sand for fracking is called Northern White. It comes from Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and especially Wisconsin. The rush to grab it has turned some rural areas inside out.

That sand rush may continue, and the business may keep growing, despite low oil prices, because Fox uses sand conservatively. Dobell describes what other producers have been finding: “Shoving a lot of sand down into each frack generates a lot more oil production.” That means some companies now put two to five times as much sand into each well.

Sand is expensive, but it’s a small part of the total cost of a fracking operation. “They’re using the same days on drill, and they’re using the same equipment,” says Dobell, “but they’re putting a lot more sand in, and they’re going to get a lot more oil out.”

PacWest does not factor this trend into its projections. “We’ve been extremely conservative,” says Samir Nangia, the PacWest principal who oversees sand-industry estimates. His numbers for the next two years show demand as steady — neither growing substantially, nor shrinking.

Fracking made sand a $10 billion industry

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-13 09:20

On a square of clay and gravel about 40 miles north of downtown Denver, Joel Fox’s colleagues are starting a frack on an oil well. Fox — who runs fracking operations for Encana Corp., a $9 billion oil and gas company — points to the action we’ll be able to see from our safe distance.

“Once they start the sand,” he says, “you’ll see it coming out of that hopper.”

The hopper is connected to a Sand King — which looks like a giant purple dumpster, 40 feet long, one end tilted into the air.

Seconds later, we see sand flowing into a trough that feeds a giant blender, which mixes the sand with water. Together, they’ll get pumped into the well, shattering the shale rock below ground.

Over the next hour or so, the Sand King will dump about 100 tons of sand into the blender. All the while, trucks move in and out of the well site, with 25-ton partial-refills for the Sand King.

Fox will repeat this process 20 times for a single well.

“So, what’s that? 2,000 tons in a well,” he says, doing some quick calculations. “And I got seven wells.”

That’s just on one site north of Denver, a two or three-week fracking operation.

Multiply that out by more than 20,000 wells fracked in a year, according to PacWest Consulting Partners, which tracks the oil and gas industries. It comes to more than 100 billion pounds.

Thanks to the fracking revolution, sand — one of the most common substances on earth — has become a $10 billion industry. At times, some oil and gas producers have not been able to get enough. Even with low oil prices likely to mean less drilling in the next year, the question with sand is whether the oil industry’s demand will stay the same, or go up.

At the wellhead, Fox explains just what the sand and the water do in the well.

“The water provides the force to crack the rock open,” he says. The pressure— 5,000 pounds per square inch— makes tiny cracks in the rock, flows into them, and brings the sand with it.  

“And then when I flow the well back,” says Fox — meaning, he pulls the water back out -- “I leave the sand in the fractures.”

The sand keeps these tiny little fractures propped open, so Fox’s colleagues can suck the oil out through them.  

The frac-sand business has grown to the point where several companies have gone public. The biggest players will win over time, says Brandon Dobell, an analyst who follows the oil and gas industry for William Blair and Company. He thinks scale and coordination will be critical, as it was for companies like FedEx and UPS.

“When overnight delivery started, you had a bunch of companies doing overnight delivery,” he says. Now there are two. “And the reason there’s two is because it’s really difficult to get a package from Point A to Point B in a very short amount of time, no matter where the Point A or Point B is, and no matter how big or small that package is.”

The comparison is more direct than it may seem: Delivering packages on time is a big part of what sand companies do. In this case, the packages are 25-ton truckloads. Over the course of two or three weeks, Joel Fox will use 560 truckloads of sand at his seven wells north of Denver.

If the trucks don’t show up on time, then workers here — there are dozens, scheduled in shifts that go around the clock — sit around waiting. So do the Sand Kings (there are three here) and the blender, the truck-size pumps (there are 10) and everything else.

According to PacWest, transportation can be about two-thirds of the price that operators like Fox pay for sand. Some sand companies control rail cars and loading facilities, as well as mines.

However, supply has been the first concern.

“You would think: ‘There’s sand everywhere. How can there not be enough supply?’" says Dobell. "Well, this sand’s different. And it’s only in a couple of places.”

The best sand for fracking is called Northern White. It comes from Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and especially Wisconsin. And the rush to grab it has turned some rural areas inside out.

That sand rush may continue, and the business may keep growing, despite low oil prices, because Joel Fox uses sand conservatively. Brandon Dobell describes what other producers have been finding: “Shoving a lot of sand down into each frack generates a lot more oil production.” That means some companies now put two to five times as much sand into each well.

Sand is expensive, but it’s a small part of the total cost of a fracking operation. “They’re using the same days on drill and they’re using the same equipment,” says Dobell, “but they’re putting a lot more sand in, and they’re going to get a lot more oil out.”

PacWest does not factor this trend into its projections. “We’ve been extremely conservative,” says Samir Nangia, the PacWest principal who oversees sand-industry estimates. His numbers for the next two years show demand as steady — neither growing substantially, nor shrinking.

EU-US trade talks hit by complaints

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-13 09:11
EU-US negotiations on a major free trade deal have met with "huge scepticism" in Europe, the European Commission says.

Sarah Ferguson defends Andrew on TV

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-13 09:09
Prince Andrew's former wife, Sarah Ferguson, defends him on US TV from "shockingly accusatory allegations" he had sex with an underage teenager.

VIDEO: Balotelli, Lambert to leave Liverpool?

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-13 09:08
BBC Sport's Ben Smith rounds up the latest transfer stories, including possible departures for two Liverpool strikers, and Manchester United's targets for the January window.

U.S. Funding of Health Research Stalls As Other Nations Rev Up

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-13 09:00

It's not just government-sponsored medical research that's dwindled in the last few years in the U.S. Drug firms have curbed their investment, too, especially in early-stage hunts for new drugs.

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