National / International News

Senate panel: Benghazi 'preventable'

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:27
The deadly September 2012 attack on the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi could have been prevented, a US Senate committee finds.

VIDEO: Boarding school pupils 'flee abroad'

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:26
Two teenage pupils have gone missing from a boarding school in Lancashire and are believed to have flown to the Dominican Republic.

The 'Downton Abbey Law' Would Let British Women Inherit Titles

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:24

British hereditary peers have always been able to pass down titles and estates to their male relatives. But now Parliament is considering a bill that would allow daughters to inherit as well.

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Apple to refund $32.5m to parents

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:18
Apple will pay at least $32.5m (£19.9m) in refunds to parents whose children made in-app purchases without their consent.

First minister's rugby talks offer

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 10:16
First Minister Carwyn Jones says he is prepared to talk in private to all the parties in the row which has cast Welsh rugby into crisis.

'Teacher quality' Hunt's priority

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:58
Labour's Tristram Hunt says that improving schools is about the quality of teachers and not structural change.

Blackstone-backed real estate firm learns how to be a landlord

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:57

A number of big companies are betting against the American Dream. They think lots of people are going to want to rent instead of buy a home. One of the biggest bet-makers, with 40,000 rental properties under its belt, is Invitation Homes.

Realtor Jim Tice first noticed the company popping up as a buyer in a Minneapolis suburb. He was trying to sell a client's house that was headed to foreclosure. Then the client got a cash offer from Invitation Homes. Tice says the company provided a bank statement to prove it had enough cash to cover the deal. He says the account balance was eye-popping.

"A buyer usually isn't showing you millions of dollars of savings in order to buy. So it was pretty impressive in that respect," Tice says.

Invitation Homes is a subsidiary of the Blackstone Group, the world's largest private equity firm.  And over the past year and a half, it has spent a whopping $7.5 billion buying those 40,000 properties—1,000 of them in the Twin Cities.

Invitation Homes largely buys low-priced foreclosures. Then it spiffs them up and rents them out. Experts say large-scale purchases of foreclosures by investors like Invitation Homes have helped housing markets heal.

"Had it not been for them, prices would've fallen further and it would've taken longer to recover," says Elliot Eisenberg, a housing economist.

Eisenberg says since the foreclosure crisis, credit standards have tightened and a lot of people can't get a mortgage. As a result, Invitation Homes and other big investors are betting that home rentals will become increasingly popular.

"It's certainly a bet. Whether it's worth making -- we'll know in a couple years how it turns out," he says.

Until recently, it's largely been mom and pop outfits that rent houses. Eisenberg says big investors could potentially run that business more professionally.

So far, Micheal Apple has had a good experience renting a four-bedroom house from Invitation Homes in a Minneapolis suburb. Apple says if something's broken, his property manager jumps right on it.

"Either I call her or I email her, and she gets back to me within a day or so," he says.

Not so for another Twin Cities renter, Brad Dukes. He's got a beef about the "throne" in his rental home. When Dukes sits on the toilet, his knees barely clear the wall in front of him.

Dukes says the house was advertised as having two bathrooms. But one was just a free-standing toilet in the basement. Invitation Homes agreed to frame up a real bathroom and dropped a few thousand dollars to add walls, a shower and a sink.

Still, Dukes is dismayed by the end product.

"The exterior of this box they put in this unfinished room is going to remain. I'm going to be looking at sheetrock," he says.

Renters in other markets have panned Invitation Homes in online reviews. But in the Twin Cities at least, the company may not have enough renters yet to establish a clear track record. I checked out a random sample of homes the company's purchased. All of them were vacant, some for more than six months.

Andrew Gallina is a spokesman for Invitation Homes. He's aware of the empty houses and complaints from renters. Gallina admits the company is still learning the ropes. It has, after all, purchased 40,000 homes in a short period of time.

"There are times we're going to be disappointing to a resident. But at the same time, we have a real commitment to getting it right," he says.

Of course, if the landlord gig doesn't work out, the firm always has an exit strategy: Sell the homes at a profit as prices rise.

Wilshaw warns staffroom 'moaners'

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:54
Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw says that teachers should stop presenting themselves as "victims".

My Nick Jr. personalizes TV -- and it smells like Netflix

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:53

If you've got kids, you're probably well-acquainted with Nickelodeon programming. Not just Nickelodeon, but Nicktoons, TeenNick, and Nick Jr. for the pre-school set. Well, soon you can add My Nick Jr. to that roster. It's an interactive channel that will allow parents to customize their kids' viewing experience.

Here's how it will work. You can program your kids' TV channel to only play certain Nick Jr. shows --think Dora the Explorer --or shows about certain themes, like problem solving or friendship.

"After each episode, the child would be asked to rate the show," says Verizon spokesman Bill Kula. "And if no action were taken then the next episode would begin."

My Nick Jr. is pretty much a direct response to the way streaming services like Pandora, Netflix and Amazon are changing media consumption.

Paul Sweeney of Bloomberg Industries says people are getting used to viewing programming, "When they wanna watch it, where they wanna watch it, and on whatever device they want to watch. No longer are consumers content to simply watch programming as scheduled by an existing network."

Brad Adgate of Horizon Media says customized channels like My Nick Jr. are the wave of the future. But he has a warning.

"Not only can this endeavor hurt rivals like Disney, who's probably their biggest rival, and Cartoon Network, but it's also something that could cannibalize Nickelodeon themselves," Adgate says.

That's because little kiddos might abandon old Nickelodeon channels for the interactive -- and now ad-free -- My Nick Jr.. Adgate says that could hurt ratings and decrease advertising revenue for the old school channels of the Nickelodeon family.

My Nick Jr. has already debuted in France. Verizon's FIOS TV service will make the new channel available to its customers in the U.S. within a few months.

Bipartisan Report Calls Benghazi Attacks 'Preventable'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:46

The Senate Intelligence Committee points to a failure by the State Department to provide adequate security. The panel also says that some members of Congress have mischaracterized the Obama administration's statements in the days immediately after the 2012 attacks.

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Buckingham Palace knifeman jailed

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:41
A man armed with a six-inch knife who was rugby tackled to the ground by police outside Buckingham Palace is sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Arrests after rape of Danish tourist

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:32
Police in India arrest two men in connection with the gang-rape of a 51-year-old Danish woman close to her hotel in the capital Delhi.

VIDEO: Mental health issues rising - GPs

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:32
There has been a sharp increase in the number of young people suffering from mental health issues since the recession, says the Royal College of GPs.

Biceps Curls And Down Dogs May Help Lower Diabetes Risk

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:24

Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of diabetes. But it looks like muscle-strengthening exercises help, too, according to the Nurses Health Studies. Even supposedly lighter forms of exercise like yoga and stretching reduced women's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

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The Koch brothers are spending on the midterm elections. Already

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:19

The midterm elections are more than nine months away, but if you live in a state where the race for a U.S. Senate seat is going to be close, it may feel like Election Day is a lot closer.

That is because political advocacy groups, including Americans for Prosperity, are pouring millions of dollars into those races. Their decision, to run ads early, goes against conventional wisdom, which says it is a better investment to air ads closer to an election.

“I’m not sure there is conventional wisdom anymore,” says Whit Ayers, a Republican political consultant and the founder and president of North Star Opinion Research.

That is thanks, in part, to outside spending. It used to be groups wouldn’t spend a dollar now, because they were worried about running out later. With many more dollars in play, the economics of campaigning have changed.

“This is a whole new world of politics, where there is certainly no cookbook on how to do things right,” Ayres says, noting conservatives see an opportunity to make the Affordable Care Act the defining issue of 2014.

“It makes a lot of sense, from my perspective, to strike while the iron is hot.”

That is what an organization called Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the Koch brothers, is doing. I reached Tim Phillips, the group’s president, in Montana, where he just announced a $1.8 million ad buy.

“We are determined to make Obamacare front and center, the number one issue for the American people,” he says.

The organization’s strategy has been to use politicians’ words against them, as in this ad, targeting Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA).

So far, Phillips says Americans for Prosperity has spent $22 million, adding “we expect to spend substantially more than that in coming months.”

Democrats are in a tough spot, says Steve Jarding who managed senate campaigns for Democratic candidates before he became a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. 

“They could spend early money to try to compete with this, and actually run out of money late,” he says.

That is not something Republicans have to worry about. Jarding says that, before long, we will be inundated by ads.

"Pretty soon you have ads going essentially year-round year after year.”

And that is what groups like Americans for Prosperity want. Its president says the organization will keep at it after the election is over.

Chelsea re-sign £21m midfielder Matic

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:19
Chelsea complete the £21m re-signing of Benfica's Serbia midfielder Nemanja Matic on a five-and-a-half-year deal.

Chinese villagers build 'money wall'

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:12
Villagers in China build a wall of money after a massive payout in annual dividends from their rural co-operative.

Just how seriously should we take the latest bank earnings?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:10

It's a big week for the big banks. Bank of America beat expectations with its earnings report today, $3.4 billion last quarter. Earlier this week, Wells Fargo announced record profit. JP Morgan had better than expected earnings.

"You can tell that the banking industry is recovering, and that our economy is on a recovering path," says Ken Carow, a finance professor at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.

But, turns out these banking numbers maybe smell a little sweeter than they really are. The effects of the housing crisis linger on these balance sheets. Banks are writing fewer mortgages. They're facing lawsuits, government settlements.

One thing propping up these earnings reports—accountants. Big banks are adding billions of dollars from reserves that they'd set aside for loan-losses that never came to be. "Now they are reducing the reserve for the bad loans, and are going to have a positive income effect," says Anne Beatty, an accounting professor at Ohio State University. But, be very clear, "there's no cash flow associated related to this income being created. It is a pure accounting effect."

So what's a regular investor to do?

Fight back, with some math of your own.

"Do some accounting," says David Stowell, a finance professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, "it's not easy to do, and you have to look carefully at the financial statements." But, he says, it's worth it. There's a lot of accounting noise in these earnings reports, obscuring the actual business of banking.

Ariel Sharon, Whose Life And Career Shaped Israeli History, Dies

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:09

The former prime minister, who had been in a coma after suffering a massive stroke in 2006, died on Saturday. Sharon's career spanned the birth of the nation and most of its essential turning points. Israelis had a love-hate relationship with him that was beginning to soften only shortly before his death.

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Parents fined for term-time holiday

BBC - Wed, 2014-01-15 09:08
A couple who took their three children on a week's holiday to Greece during school term time are ordered to pay nearly £1,000 in fines and costs.

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