April 28, 2014

For everyone who wants the United States to become a (bigger) manufacturing powerhouse again — so, most people in the U.S., and every member of Congress — a recent report from the Boston Consulting Group is a mixed blessing. On Friday, BCG released its rankings of cost competitiveness in manufacturing around the world, and the U.S. came in second place, after China. It is now more cost effective to produce goods in the U.S. than Brazil, the report found.

The U.S., along with Mexico, is one of the BCG's "rising stars" of global manufacturing, for having "significantly improved relative to nearly all other leading exporters across the globe." At least 300 companies have brought their manufacturing back to the U.S. from overseas, because "it just makes economic sense," BCG senior partner Hal Sirkin, a co-author of the report, tells Yahoo News. "The gap is closing and, when you add the transportation costs, it makes a lot more sense for a lot of products to be made in the U.S. than in China."

That sounds great, right? But remember what made China so alluring to manufacturers in the first place — low labor costs, lax environmental standards, and overworked factory workers? Here's BCG's explanation for why the U.S. is back in the manufacturing game:

The key reasons were stable wage growth, sustained productivity gains, steady exchange rates, and a big energy-cost advantage that is largely driven by the 50 percent fall in natural-gas prices since large-scale production of U.S. shale gas began in 2005. [BCG]

Another way of saying that: Fracking, foreign exchange rates, and that "stable wage growth," which Reuters calls "a euphemism for the fact that, in inflation-adjusted terms, industrial wages here are lower today than they were in the 1960s even though worker productivity has doubled over the same period of time." The only one of those factors that isn't controversial is the stronger yuan.

As this chart from The New York Times shows, the jobs that have been created in the post–Great Recession recovery have skewed toward the low end of the pay scale:

Most manufacturing jobs pay pretty decently, especially compared with fast food service. But as we celebrate the return of the American manufacturing sector, it's worth remembering that it's only partly because "Made in China" is becoming more expensive — "Made in the USA" is also becoming cheaper, for better and for worse.
Peter Weber

5:17 p.m. ET

Donald Trump met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Wednesday, after which the two men gave a joint press conference. Trump called Peña Nieto's invitation a "great honor," and said the the U.S. and Mexico are "united by our support for democracy, a great love for our people, and the contributions of millions of Mexican-Americans to the United States." Trump said he has a "tremendous feeling" for Mexican-Americans, explaining that not only does he have several friends of Mexican descent, but he has also employed "tremendous numbers" of Mexican-Americans in the United States.

Trump then laid out five shared goals for the U.S. and Mexico: 1) ending illegal immigration, which he called a "humanitarian disaster"; 2) having a secure border; 3) curbing the drug trade; 4) improving the NAFTA agreement; and 5) keeping manufacturing wealth in the continent. Regarding Trump's infamous border wall, the GOP candidate said that while both he and Peña Nieto "respect and recognize the right of either country to build a physical barrier," paying for the wall was not discussed; Trump has insisted throughout his campaign that Mexico would foot the bill for such construction.

Peña Nieto spoke briefly, saying that he had invited both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to visit, and Trump's camp responded quickly in the affirmative. He also said he recognized that many Mexicans had been offended and aggrieved by some of Trump's remarks as a candidate, but that as Mexican president, it is his job to work toward a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship with the United States and to respect the American electoral process.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump's advisers said they hoped the visit would provide a presidential photo op for the candidate — but there was no American flag on stage with Trump and Peña Nieto, only a Mexican flag. Next, Trump will give a speech later Wednesday in Arizona on his immigration policy. Kimberly Alters

4:21 p.m. ET

Hillary Clinton dismissed Donald Trump's meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto as being nothing more than a "photo op," and even Trump's own team seems to agree. But if that's true, it is about the worst photo op in history:

It does appear from the footage of the joint statement that the stage is conspicuously lacking an American flag:

As Trump has vowed to make Mexico pay for the border wall, it is perhaps not such an encouraging sign that he seemingly couldn't even negotiate getting an American flag on stage. In his defense, though, there is such a thing as too many American flags. Jeva Lange

3:55 p.m. ET

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday that frozen strawberries imported from Egypt are the cause of an outbreak of hepatitis A spanning six states. The outbreak was initially traced to smoothies from certain Tropical Smoothie Café restaurants, but upon further investigation, the CDC deduced that the imported berries in the smoothies were the cause.

An estimated 55 people people have gotten sick, with the majority of those cases in Virginia, where the outbreak originated. "About half" of the 44 people infected in Virginia have been hospitalized because of the viral liver infection, CNN reported.

Because hepatitis A has a long incubation period, the CDC predicted that still more people will begin experiencing symptoms, which include jaundice, fever, fatigue, and nausea. Though highly contagious, hepatitis A does not cause any chronic illness. Becca Stanek

3:51 p.m. ET

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has been known to turn the sass dial up to 11 when commenting (or not) on Republican nominee Donald Trump. Earnest certainly put his sarcastic sense of humor to use Wednesday when asked about Trump's trip to Mexico to speak with President Enrique Peña Nieto.

"It is not uncommon, of course, for the leading presidential candidates to make trips overseas," Earnest said, apparently referencing President Obama's own trip to Europe in 2008. "One of the highlights was a trip to Germany, where the president spoke in Berlin to a crowd of about 100,000 Germans who warmly received him and enthusiastically cheered his speech," Earnest went on. "We'll see if Mr. Trump is similarly received."

We shall indeed. Jeva Lange

3:27 p.m. ET

Scientists estimate that before European colonization, the elephant population in Africa numbered around 20 million. By 1979, that number was a mere 1.3 million. But now, following the first major study of its scale and kind, the population of elephants living in Africa is estimated to be just over 350,000, CNN reports.

Due primarily to rampant poaching, between 2007 and 2014 the number of elephants in Africa dropped by 30 percent. In some regions, it dropped by more than 75 percent:

"When you think of how many elephants occurred in areas 10 or 20 years ago, it's incredibly disheartening," says [Mike Chase, the lead scientist of the Great Elephant Census].

"Historically these ecosystems supported many thousands of elephants compared to the few hundreds or tens of elephants we counted."

The current rate of species decline is 8 percent, meaning that elephant numbers could halve to 175,000 in nine years if nothing changes, according to the survey — and localized extinction is almost certain.

Even before the census offered proof, scientists calculated that far more elephants were dying than being born. Now the species has reached a tipping point. [CNN]

To reach their conclusions, the team of 90 scientists and 286 crew members spent 10,000 hours over 18 African countries to count the elephants from the air. South Sudan and the Central African Republic were not included in the study results due to armed conflict, nor was Namibia, which refused to release numbers.

"[Elephants] are our living dinosaurs, the romance of a bygone era, and if we can't conserve the African elephants, I'm fearful to think about the fate of the rest of Africa's wildlife," Chase said. Read the full report on the elephant census at CNN. Jeva Lange

3:06 p.m. ET

Donald Trump is traveling to Mexico on Wednesday reportedly in hopes of securing a picture-perfect moment. Trump campaign officials told CNN that the "goal" of Trump's visit with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is to snap a photograph that highlights the Republican nominee's presidential potential. "You've just got to throw in a little theater now and then," a Trump adviser told CNN.

But as much as Trump's advisers hope the trip can prove their candidate's ability to establish good rapport — despite his derogatory comments about Mexico and Mexicans just minutes after launching his campaign last year — even one of Trump's advisers admitted the trip could easily go off the rails. The adviser told CNN that Trump is "either going to have a very cordial ... conversation with [Peña Nieto] and they're going to say, 'We can work together,' or they're going to have a meeting and this guy is going to blow Trump up afterwards."

After his meeting with Peña Nieto, Trump will deliver a speech in Arizona on Wednesday night outlining his immigration plan, which so far has been highlighted by proposing a wall be built along the U.S.-Mexico border and be paid for by Mexico — an idea Peña Nieto blasted earlier this year. Becca Stanek

2:29 p.m. ET
Museum Vestsjælland

A pair of amateur Danish archaeologists discovered a 3,000-year-old sword while going for an evening walk near the town of Svebølle, The Local reports. Ernst Christiansen and Lis Therkildsen were wandering through a field with their metal detector when it notified them that there was something to be found beneath their feet.

The pair dug down about 11 inches and stumbled upon a sword hilt; they then contacted the Museum Vestsjælland about the discovery. The next day, museum inspector Arne Hedegaard Andersen helped the pair uncover the rest of the Bronze Age sword, which the museum described in a press release as being "so well-preserved that you can clearly see the fine details. And it is even sharp."

There have been so many recent discoveries of ancient treasures in Denmark in the past several months that the national museum is no longer able to keep up with the processing of such items, The Local reports. In other words, if you're looking for a place to take your metal detector, you might want to start checking that airfare to Copenhagen. Jeva Lange

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