National / International News

The journey from Bedouin to billionaire

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 15:11
Mohed Altrad was born a poor Syrian Bedouin. His journey to scaffolding billionaire is an extraordinary tale of quiet perseverance.

Boozy Brits, pensions and 'Mr Micawber' economics

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 15:03
The behaviour of Brits abroad, Chancellor George Osborne's budget surplus plans, and "chaos" in his pensions "revolution" compete to make front-page headlines.

US pool party policeman 'quits'

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 14:37
The US police officer filmed pinning a black girl to the ground and pointing his gun at teenagers in Texas resigns, local media report.

VIDEO: Slides and sky-high rides at Hayward gallery

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 14:31
Artist Carsten Holler's latest exhibition allows visitors to be part of the show, as Will Gompertz finds out.

IRA 'and state' blamed over murder

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 14:15
The daughter of a woman murdered by an IRA unit allegedly including a key British double agent, says she blames both the IRA and the intelligence services for her mother's death.

How Moon River became a hit

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 14:08
How a tale of 'two drifters off to see the world' became a hit

How Apple Hopes To Take A Bite Out Of The News Business

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-09 14:07

With its new News app Apple is doing something that has already been done, but it has an undeniably large built-in consumer base: hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users.

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US solitary inmate release delayed

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:54
The release of a man who has spent more than four decades in solitary confinement is delayed after a request by Louisiana's top lawyer.

NPR Red Cross Investigation Prompts Call For A Congressional Hearing

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:52

The joint NPR/ProPublica probe found the charity raised nearly half a billion dollars after 2010 Haiti earthquake, but has little to show for it.

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England strong in defeat - Sampson

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:50
England head coach Mark Sampson urges fans to "stick with us" after defeat by France in their Women's World Cup opener.

VIDEO: HSBC's savings drive - in 55 seconds

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:47
HSBC, Europe's biggest bank, is planning to cut 8,000 jobs in the UK as it tries to reduce costs.

Costs Of Slipshod Research Methods May Be In The Billions

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:43

Up to half of all results from biomedical research laboratories these days can't be replicated by other science teams. Why not? Myriad flubs slow progress in the hunt for cures.

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England 'close to perfect' in NZ win

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:39
Captain Eoin Morgan says England were "close to perfect" in their 210-run win over New Zealand at Edgbaston.

'Headless Body In Topless Bar' Headline Writer Dies

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:28

Vincent Musetto, who wrote what some consider one of the best headlines of all time, died Tuesday at the age of 74.

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England offer glimpse of new dawn

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:18
England's stunning win over New Zealand was the perfect response to put their World Cup nightmare behind them, says Jonathan Agnew.

Court cuts Texas abortion access

BBC - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:15
Most of the abortion clinics in Texas will be closed, following a federal court ruling that requires clinics to operate more like hospitals.

How bad are Chicago's debt problems, really?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:00

Chicago is in serious financial trouble, with hundreds of millions of dollars due on a pension debt of more than $20 billion. The city’s school district also faces a deficit of a billion dollars or more.

The troubles have prompted bond-rating agency Moody’s to downgrade the credit ratings for the city, the school district and the park district to junk status — giving Chicago the worst credit rating of any big city after Detroit.

In our third biggest city, how does that even happen?

As a Chicago native, I know it’s bad, but the idea that Chicago invites serious comparisons with Detroit is surprising. For an outsider’s perspective, I call Todd Ely, who teaches public finance at the University of Colorado.

“As an academic — and one who goes to conferences on exciting things like budgeting and financial management,” Ely says, “whenever the folks from Illinois stand up to talk, everybody kind of looks and says, ‘Soooo, tell us what’s happening now...’”

A local expert confirms Ely’s judgment that even in a moment when state and local finances seem under pressure everywhere, Chicago and Illinois look especially bad.

Ralph Martire, who runs the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a local policy group, responds with a sigh when I ask, "are we really the worst?"

“Yeah, kind of we are,” Martire says. “Our debt per capita is really some of the highest in the nation.”

The reason will sound familiar. We owe our pension plans, like a lot of other places, but more.  We skipped payments — a lot of them, more than most. We said we’d pay it back eventually, and, as Martire says, “This is eventually.”

Chicago faces an additional obstacle to digging itself out: the Illinois constitution. Ours, unlike most, explicitly forbids reneging on pension benefits. The state supreme court issued a stern reminder to that effect on May 8, in a ruling that put a damper on plans to address the problem by cutting benefits.

The ruling triggered the downgrade from Moody’s — the downgrade itself also threatens to be expensive for the city, triggering higher interest rates when we borrow money, and possibly some penalties.

“We really don’t know what the fiscal impact will be,” Martire says, “but it’s not going to be insignificant.”

The problem can’t be fixed simply by cutting wasteful spending, he says. Not that waste and abuse aren’t a problem here — they are — but overall spending isn’t lavish.

“You look at the city of Chicago, spending’s been cut,” Martire says. “You look at the state of Illinois, spending’s really been cut. We’re one of the lowest-spending states in the nation, across the board, despite having the fifth-largest population.”

To see what below-average spending looks like, I went to visit another set of local experts: Erika Wozniak, a fifth-grade teacher, and her students at Oriole Park Elementary School on Chicago’s Northwest Side. On the morning of my visit, the students discussed how a financial meltdown for Chicago’s public schools — called “CPS” by locals — would affect them.

“If CPS went bankrupted, the classrooms would be too small to fit the students,” said one student. “And if you ever had a question for the teacher, you wouldn’t be able to get to the question, because there’d be too many kids in the classroom.”

“And how many students do we have in our classroom?” Ms. Wozniak asked the class.

“Thirty-six.”

There are no desks in the classroom. Instead, the students crowd around tables, with a crate of books and supplies beside each child’s feet.

However, Ralph Martire has a proposal to sort this out. “It’s not rocket science,” he says. “It’s something we call ‘math.’”

It also involves something politicians find distasteful: raising taxes. Economically, this is something Chicago could probably do.  

“Chicago is a regional, national, and global hub,” says William Glasgall, who watches state and local finance for the Volcker Alliance. “It’s an information-based economy. The financial-services industry in Chicago is large and powerful."

In other words, unlike other cities with big problems — say, Detroit — Chicago has a tax base. And compared to New York or California, taxes here are relatively low.

It is true that compared to neighboring states like Indiana or Kentucky, they’re on the high side. However, Glasgall says, taxes are not necessarily the only reason businesses choose locations. “Are all those financial services firms really going to move to Wisconsin?”

In terms of its tax base, Chicago might do itself more damage by failing to raise taxes, says Todd Ely, the public-finance scholar. He says he’s been wondering, "Would entrepreneurs choose Chicago as a place to start a business right now?"

“Personally I wouldn’t,” Ely says. “Even though I think it’s a great city.”

Not, he says, because taxes are too high. But because all the chaos — under-funded services, fiscal uncertainty — is bad for business.

“When do you start having businesses leave,” he asks, “that are concerned about the schools? That are worried about — I mean, uncertainty’s bad for business.”

At least one of the kids at Oriole Park has the same idea.

“If CPS goes bankrupt, then I'll end up going to a different CPS,” says one boy. “California public schools.”

So, that’s one family ready to vote with their feet … for higher taxes. 

How screwed is Chicago, really?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:00

Chicago is in serious financial trouble, with hundreds of millions of dollars due on a pension debt of more than $20 billion. The city’s school district also faces a deficit of a billion dollars or more.

The troubles have prompted bond-rating agency Moody’s to downgrade the credit ratings for the city, the school district and the park district to junk status — giving Chicago the worst credit rating of any big city after Detroit.

Is our third biggest city completely screwed? How does that even happen?

As a Chicago native, I know it’s bad, but the idea that Chicago invites serious comparisons with Detroit is surprising. For an outsider’s perspective, I call Todd Ely, who teaches public finance at the University of Colorado.

“As an academic — and one who goes to conferences on exciting things like budgeting and financial management,” Ely says, “whenever the folks from Illinois stand up to talk, everybody kind of looks and says, ‘Soooo, tell us what’s happening now...’”

A local expert confirms Ely’s judgment that even in a moment when state and local finances seem under pressure everywhere, Chicago and Illinois look especially bad.

Ralph Martire, who runs the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a local policy group, responds with a sigh when I ask, "are we really the worst?"

“Yeah, kind of we are,” Martire says. “Our debt per capita is really some of the highest in the nation.”

The reason will sound familiar. We owe our pension plans, like a lot of other places, but more.  We skipped payments — a lot of them, more than most. We said we’d pay it back eventually, and, as Martire says, “This is eventually.”

Chicago faces an additional obstacle to digging itself out: the Illinois constitution. Ours, unlike most, explicitly forbids reneging on pension benefits. The state supreme court issued a stern reminder to that effect on May 8, in a ruling that put a damper on plans to address the problem by cutting benefits.

The ruling triggered the downgrade from Moody’s — the downgrade itself also threatens to be expensive for the city, triggering higher interest rates when we borrow money, and possibly some penalties.

“We really don’t know what the fiscal impact will be,” Martire says, “but it’s not going to be insignificant.”

The problem can’t be fixed simply by cutting wasteful spending, he says. Not that waste and abuse aren’t a problem here — they are — but overall spending isn’t lavish.

“You look at the city of Chicago, spending’s been cut,” Martire says. “You look at the state of Illinois, spending’s really been cut. We’re one of the lowest-spending states in the nation, across the board, despite having the fifth-largest population.”

To see what below-average spending looks like, I went to visit another set of local experts: Erika Wozniak, a fifth-grade teacher, and her students at Oriole Park Elementary School on Chicago’s Northwest Side. On the morning of my visit, the students discussed how a financial meltdown for Chicago’s public schools — called “CPS” by locals — would affect them.

“If CPS went bankrupted, the classrooms would be too small to fit the students,” said one student. “And if you ever had a question for the teacher, you wouldn’t be able to get to the question, because there’d be too many kids in the classroom.”

“And how many students do we have in our classroom?” Ms. Wozniak asked the class.

“Thirty-six.”

There are no desks in the classroom. Instead, the students crowd around tables, with a crate of books and supplies beside each child’s feet.

However, Ralph Martire has a proposal to sort this out. “It’s not rocket science,” he says. “It’s something we call ‘math.’”

It also involves something politicians find distasteful: raising taxes. Economically, this is something Chicago could probably do.  

“Chicago is a regional, national, and global hub,” says William Glasgall, who watches state and local finance for the Volcker Alliance. “It’s an information-based economy. The financial-services industry in Chicago is large and powerful."

In other words, unlike other cities with big problems — say, Detroit — Chicago has a tax base. And compared to New York or California, taxes here are relatively low.

It is true that compared to neighboring states like Indiana or Kentucky, they’re on the high side. However, Glasgall says, taxes are not necessarily the only reason businesses choose locations. “Are all those financial services firms really going to move to Wisconsin?”

In terms of its tax base, Chicago might do itself more damage by failing to raise taxes, says Todd Ely, the public-finance scholar. He says he’s been wondering, "Would entrepreneurs choose Chicago as a place to start a business right now?"

“Personally I wouldn’t,” Ely says. “Even though I think it’s a great city.”

Not, he says, because taxes are too high. But because all the chaos — under-funded services, fiscal uncertainty — is bad for business.

“When do you start having businesses leave,” he asks, “that are concerned about the schools? That are worried about — I mean, uncertainty’s bad for business.”

At least one of the kids at Oriole Park has the same idea.

“If CPS goes bankrupt, then I'll end up going to a different CPS,” says one boy. “California public schools.”

So, that’s one family ready to vote with their feet … for higher taxes. 

Why even small telecoms are merging

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:00

Merger mania has hit the telecommunications industry: Time Warner Cable and Charter, Dish and T-Mobile, AT&T and DirectTV — and Atlantic Broadband and Metrocast Communications of Connecticut. 

Yes, even small regional cable companies are growing through acquisition. Greg MacDonald, head of research at Macquarie Canada, says it's for some of the same reasons as the large ones: economies of scale, and maybe some bargaining muscle.

But SNL Kagan analyst Ian Olgeirson says the small fry don't get the same advantages as the mega-mergers when it comes to striking deals with the companies that sell programming. "What they're really looking for is, you don't need two accounting departments, you don't need two HR departments," he says. "Those kinds of fairly straightforward type of operating efficiencies."

But those smaller benefits don't necessarily come with a smaller per-customer price tag, which is one reason law professor Peter Carstensen says the urge to merge is often irrational. In fact, he says, most mergers fail.

How Ford is competing with Google

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:00

“Overall, when we step back, we are in a growth industry.”

That’s what Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields has to say about the car and truck business. He points to the fact that, globally, an increasing number of mega-cities are home to 10 million or more people, some of them in the middle class — and he says when people reach the middle class, they want to buy a car. 

Fields agrees it’s true that, in many urban areas, car ownership will decline as people decide to use alternate modes of transportation. But he sees Ford as more than just a car and truck company. According to Fields, as a "mobility company," Ford is experimenting with projects outside of the traditional powertrain. What are some of these experiments?

“It runs the gamut from ride sharing in London, to car-swapping in the U.S. to parking identification,” Fields says.  

Fields knows Ford will have competition as it continues to experiment with wrapping more and more technology into its business model. While he sees traditional car manufacturers as competition, Google, Uber and Apple are creeping onto the rivals list.

“The addressable market on the car business dwarfs smartphones, dwarfs wearables, you name it,” Fields says. “And there’s a lot of folks looking at the auto industry and that gives us a lot of motivation.”

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