When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

Alabama authorities say a home burglary suspect has died after police used a stun gun on the man.  Birmingham police say he resisted officers who found him in a house wrapped in what looked like material from the air conditioner duct work.  The Lewisburg Road homeowner called police Tuesday about glass breaking and someone yelling and growling in his basement.  Police reportedly entered the dwelling and used a stun gun several times on a white suspect before handcuffing him.  Investigators say the man was "extremely irritated" throughout and didn't obey verbal commands.

It can be hard to distinguish among the men wearing grey suits and regulation haircuts on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. But David Margolis always brought a splash of color.

It wasn't his lovably disheveled wardrobe, or his Elvis ring, but something else: the force of his flamboyant personality. Margolis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, didn't want to fit in with the crowd. He wanted to stand out.

Montgomery Education Foundation's Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy was spotlighted Wednesday at Carver High School.  The academic-enrichment program is for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School system.  Community Program Director Dillion Nettles, says the program aims to prevent learning loss during summer months.  To find out how your child can participate in next summer's program visit Montgomery-ed.org

A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.


Small Businesses: "Show Me The Credit"

Dec 4, 2012
Originally published on December 5, 2012 12:33 pm



And now to matters of personal finance. We all remember the financial crisis the country faced four years ago. The numbers suggest that the economy is improving slowly but surely. Interest rates are at near record lows, but our next guest says - and this is something you might have experienced yourself - a lot of people are still having a difficult time getting access to credit, especially small-business owners and home owners with less than perfect credit.

Joining us once again is Bloomberg Businessweek contributor, Roben Farzad. Roben, welcome back. Thank you for joining us once again.

ROBEN FARZAD: Thank you. How are you? How are you, Michel?

MARTIN: Great. Thank you. Now, Roben, you've been telling us that a lot of small businesses and average people, including people with good credit, cannot get access to these low interest rates that are so widely advertised. Why is that?

FARZAD: This is up to the banks. Small businesses are dependent on the banks. You can go back to "It's a Wonderful Life." I mean, that's the institution that kind of has its ear to the ground, locally. Ultimately, a small-business owner is that the mercy of banks, which have increasingly been consolidated and a handful of banks in most cities are making the majority of decisions.

MARTIN: And you're very concerned about this. I mean, why is this such an important issue for the economy?

FARZAD: Well, small businesses, they're the indicator species for the health of the economy. You know, they represent half of private economic activity and half of the private workforce in our country and you're seeing small-business optimism at recessionary levels.

Now, there are lots of things behind it. Obviously, sales have been lagging. Small businesses, mom and pops are worried about the effect of Amazon and Wal-Mart. There's the fiscal cliff. There are concerns about health care and taxes, but if they don't start feeling their oats, they're not going to hire and you're going to see the economy chronically mired in the higher unemployment that it has right now.

MARTIN: Now, we reached out on Facebook to ask small-business owners what their experiences have been and we got a lot of responses. Most of the people who replied told us that banks were not willing to lend money to them for a variety of reasons. Here's just one of the responses that we got. This was from Doug Hamilton from Oxford, Ohio, and this is what he told us.

DOUG HAMILTON: I went to five different banks with eight years of positive track record in my industry, which is specialty bicycle retail, looking for a modest line of credit for my burgeoning custom bicycle wheel business, which has had steady increases in sales throughout the recession. I was told everything from, our underwriters frown on commercial loans to, sure, no problem. We'll loan you as much money as you can put up for collateral. In short, no was the only answer I received.

It has been very disappointing, to say the least. We could hire at least three more people in my shop if only the banks would act grateful for being bailed out at taxpayer expense and take a chance on the well-run small businesses in their communities.

MARTIN: You know, what about that point that Doug makes? You know, the bailout money went from the taxpayers to these large institutions and prevented quite a few of them from going underwater after the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. And so he's asking, where's the evidence or is there any evidence that that money is actually - you know, where is that money, I guess is his question. Why isn't he getting any of it?

FARZAD: There isn't any evidence, truly, I think, en masse, and the problem is kind of really threefold. One, you never had the Treasury Department, when it was pushing through the bailout, actually hold these bank executives' hand to the fire and say, we're going to give you this money. You're going to take it and you'd better darn loan it out, or else. It was more kind of do it on good faith.

And, in fact, a lot of them turned around when they were profitable again and paid back their bailout money. They started paying dividends back to shareholders. But then again, you have the government telling all of these banks, go out there and heal thyself. Repair thy balance sheet. And you do that by not making risky loans like so many of them did during the subprime crisis.

On the other hand, point number three is, if banks not only got that bailout money, but are paying you and me, you know, hundreds of millions of Americans, nothing on their savings and checking deposits, it behooves them to turn around and loan that money out on reasonable terms, but they are saying that we are kind of once bitten, twice shy. We're not going to do anything near the stupid lending mistakes that we did in the early part of the last decade.

MARTIN: From a bank's perspective here, the National Federation of Independent Businesses released its Small Business Optimism Index for November. They surveyed small-business owners on how they say they feel about the future of their businesses. The indicators are trending upwards. The NFIB still describes the results of the survey as, quote, "solidly pessimistic," and just one other indicator that Thomson Reuters PayNet Small Business Lending Index does indicate that lending is inching upward. It's not nearly as bad as it was in 2009 at the, you know, height of the recession, but it's not back to the levels that it was prerecession, but it's inching back upwards.

So how do you respond to that?

FARZAD: Well, something has to break this cycle, or this impasse. Banks are saying that we don't see the momentum out there. We don't see small-business optimism or sales or a trajectory enough for us to go out there and loosen the purse strings. Small business owners are saying, if we can't get the credit, we can't hire more people. We can't bring the unemployment rate down. We can't stimulate the economy in a way that will bring about sales and the virtuous cycle that the Federal Reserve, after all, which keeping rates at near zero for four years, is trying to stoke.

So that has to break, especially in light of the broader, huge bull market you've seen in bonds for corporations and municipalities and when investors have thrown a trillion dollars in terms of fixed income for corporations and municipalities, you'd think at least a good chunk of that would roll over into banks and small businesses. And so the hope is that this will finally reach a tipping point.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm speaking with Roben Farzad. He's a contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek. We're talking about why it is that small-business owners and homeowners are still having difficulty getting access to credit.

You know, Roben, we actually had an interview last week with Stephanie Clifford from the New York Times, who reported on how people are getting around the traditional banks for loans and credit. Big box stores, like Home Depot - the Home Depot and Sam's Club are offering financial services now and some of these retailers are even offering small-business loans. Now, the people who've gotten these loans say that, often, the terms are more restrictive. They can only spend it in certain places, like in the store itself. They can't get as much of a credit line as they would like. But do you think that this is what's going to break the logjam?

FARZAD: Yes, Michel, and then some. Not only are retailers realizing that there is an impasse that they need to break. In addition, earlier this year, President Obama signed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, which allows for smaller companies to raise up to a million dollars in equity through crowd funding. I mean, you've heard of Kickstarter. The internet is disrupting so many models the way Amazon is killing Best Buy, the way, you know, shoe retailers have to deal with Zappos.

You can't help but imagine that, in short order, the internet is also going to disrupt the traditional model of lending, which banks have monopolized for time immemorial.

MARTIN: You've been telling us how difficult it is to get a small-business loan. You're saying that the banks are sitting on a pile of cash that they are not lending out, but investors are buying up bonds from large corporations and municipalities instead. And you're saying that this could lead to another market bubble. Could you talk about why that is and what your concern is about that?

FARZAD: Investors and depositors are so starved for yield with the Federal Reserve at interest rates at zero for four years that they're going out there and giving money to corporations, both creditworthy corporations and kind of more junky corporations and municipalities at record low rates because, you know, when you compare it to a 0.5 percent or 0.25 percent you get on a savings account, something like 2.5 percent from a corporation for a 30-year loan, you know, you're willing to fork that over to them. And that sets up something that's potentially catastrophic. If people lend first and ask questions later, you see something akin to the subprime bubble. Is that happening with corporations? Is that happening with municipalities? That's really the fear as 2012 - a record year for the bond market comes to a close.

MARTIN: Roben Farzad is a contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek. He joined us from member station WCVE in Richmond, Virginia. Roben, thanks so much for joining us once again.

FARZAD: Always a pleasure, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.