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Episode 522: The Invention Of 'The Economy'

Mar 15, 2017

The Great Depression brought unemployment, hunger and anxiety, but it also brought us a great new acronym: The GDP. In the midst of the United States' worst economic downturn — the GDP, Gross Domestic Product — was born. It was a number and an idea that changed the way we talked and thought about the world.

Until the concept of GDP came around, no one really had figured out a way to measure what was happening, economically. There was no way to compare one year to another.

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The Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee has voted 9-1 to increase its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point and said it aims to raise interest rates twice more by the end of the year.

The only dissenting vote came from Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve's regional bank in Minneapolis, according to the Fed's statement.

Wednesday's move brings the federal funds rate to a range of 0.75 percent to 1 percent. The increase was expected by the market and is consistent with what Fed officials had been signaling.

Two years ago, a U.N.-sponsored scientific agency declared that the popular weedkiller glyphosate probably causes cancer. That finding from the International Agency for Research on Cancer caused an international uproar. Monsanto, the company that invented glyphosate and still sells most of it, unleashed a fierce campaign to discredit the IARC's conclusions.

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool is down.

If those words don't send a shiver up your spine, it means you're not a high school senior or college student rushing to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The FAFSA is the form — famously complicated and difficult to finish — that stands between many low-income students and the federal, state and institutional aid they need to pay for college.

Carlos Roberto Gomes spends his days leaning on a stone wall with a big, brightly colored sign around his neck.

His sign advertises the services that he offers to passersby on the downtown street where he earns his living.

It says that Gomes buys gold. He can fix you up with a tattoo or some body piercing.

Read the sign closely, and you'll also see that he might be willing to lop off your hair and purchase it from you.

Top-quality human hair from Brazil fetches a good price in Europe's salons, where it's sold as extensions and wigs, explains Gomes.

After missing two chances to control the compositions he co-authored while in The Beatles — once in 1969 when he and John Lennon were outbid and again to Michael Jackson, in a duplicitous move by the King of Pop, in the '80s — Paul McCartney is not taking any chances.

Updated at 2:40 p.m. ET

The Justice Department has announced charges against four people, including two Russian security officials, over cybercrimes linked to a massive hack of millions of Yahoo user accounts.

On a Friday evening in January, people spilled out of a storefront into an alleyway in San Francisco's Chinatown. Neighborhood business owners, parents with young children, and artists in warm coats chatted with one another. Nearby, youth from a martial arts school practiced with wooden staffs under the alleyway lights.

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U.S. automakers may not have to reach fuel efficiency standards that were set during President Obama's administration, as the Environmental Protection Agency says it's reopening a review of the rules.

President Trump is expected to make that announcement Wednesday in meetings with auto industry executives and workers in Michigan.

In Washington, a senior White House official said the president wants to "set standards that are technologically feasible, economically feasible and allow the auto industry to grow and create jobs."

"It tasted like rotten compost," recalls Max Falkowitz, executive digital editor of the food and wine magazine Saveur, of the time in college he sipped one of the most sought-after teas in the world. That would be pu'er — a legendary, fermented dark tea sourced from ancient trees in the isolated forest canopies of the Yunnan Province in southwest China.

The makers of the We-Vibe, a line of vibrators that can be paired with an app for remote-controlled use, have reached a $3.75 million class action settlement with users following allegations that the company was collecting data on when and how the sex toy was used.

Standard Innovations, the Canadian manufacturer of the We-Vibe, does not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement finalized Monday.

When the Congressional Budget Office on Monday announced that the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would lead to 24 million people losing insurance coverage, Tom Price cried foul.

Price, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said the estimate that 14 million people would lose insurance in a year, and another 10 million over the following nine years, was "virtually impossible."

Updated at 4:05 p.m. EDT

The Trump era has opened with the promise of a White House foothold for media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

It looks to be the kind of warm and solicitous reception in the corridors of presidential power that he has long enjoyed abroad.

Murdoch has told close associates that the nation's 45th president calls to confer frequently — as often as multiple times a week — and that he has visited the White House to meet with Trump more than once.

Last month, Nike released a new digital ad targeted to women in the Arab world. It features different women athletes in the Middle East, including figure skater Zahra Lari from the United Arab Emirates; fencer Inès Boubakri from Tunisia and boxer Arifa Bseiso from Jordan.

A Muslim woman who was fired over her wish to wear an Islamic headscarf at her job in Belgium did not suffer from direct discrimination, according to the highest court in the European Union. Because her employer had a general rule against religious or political displays, the court says, the woman wasn't treated differently than other workers.

The streets of Dalianhe, in China's frigid northeast province of Heilongjiang, are lined with black snow. The town is home to one of China's largest open-pit coal mines. Workers drive through its front gate into a massive gorge with cliffs the color of ink — a canyon of coal. Thousands of feet below, it's silent but for the drip of melting snow.

One hundred seeds: That's the number Minara Begum needs to plant in her Detroit backyard in order to grow enough vegetables such as squash, taro root and amaranth greens to feed her family for the year.

She learned to cook and garden at a young age in Bangladesh. In the two years since she moved to the U.S., she's grown traditional South Asian crops to feed her family — and whoever visits — on any given day. There's always a pot, or several, on the stove.

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RadioShack has filed for bankruptcy for the second time.

Just over two years ago, the electronics chain declared bankruptcy and then reorganized its business, closing thousands of stores and selling others to a hedge fund called Standard General, which took over the remaining business through its affiliate General Wireless.

Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET

WikiLeaks will be sharing alleged CIA hacking techniques with major technology companies such as Apple and Google to allow them to develop fixes for vulnerabilities in their phones and other electronic devices, according to Julian Assange.

In a lengthy address from Ecuador's Embassy in London, where he remains holed up since 2012, the WikiLeaks founder said the group would work with manufacturers to "disarm" purported CIA hacking tools. When the fixes are in place, he said, WikiLeaks would publish the code for those tools online.

"Gender equality benefits all of us," Iceland's Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson said on International Women's Day, as his government works on a law to require companies to show they pay men and women the same salary for the same work.

Benediktsson discussed the plan in New York, where he attended an International Women's Day summit and other meetings this week.

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This episode first ran in 2015 and contains explicit language.

Every time there is a big new release of some software, an operating system or a new browser, hackers get to work. Each new release is the start of a race because there are all these giant players who desperately want to find the new flaw in the software.

Georgetown, Texas, is a conservative town in a conservative state. So it may come as something of a surprise that it's one of the first cities in America to be entirely powered by renewable energy.

Mayor Dale Ross, a staunch Republican who attended President Trump's inauguration, says that decision came down to a love of green energy and "green rectangles" — cash.

When you think of illegal immigration in the U.S., do you picture a border crosser or a visa overstayer? A family or a single person? A farmworker or a waiter?

People living in the U.S. without legal status are frequently invoked in American politics especially in recent months. But the conversation is often short on facts about the millions of people who fall into this category.

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