National News

Skechers a winner this Boston Marathon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 14:33

It was a big day for the Boston Marathon, of course, and also for men's winner Meb Keflezighi. 2:08:37 was his winning time.

Also enjoying a victory lap today, if you will, are Skechers. Yes, the sneaker company voted most unlikely to be associated with marathon winners.

Keflezighi was wearing them for their first marathon win ever.

Alaska OKs Bill Making Native Languages Official

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 14:05

If you're inclined, you could soon speak Tlingit, Inupiaq, or Siberian Yupik in Alaska with the knowledge that those and 18 other languages (including English) are officially recognized by the state.

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Why it makes economic sense to send a letter for $0.49

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:52
Monday, April 21, 2014 - 16:30 David Weinberg/Marketplace

Postal worker Dalyncia Stevenson at the sorting facility in Los Angeles, where she took our letter and sent it on its way to a small island in the South Pacific.

Every other week we try to answer some of the questions that you've submitted for our series, I’ve Always Wondered. This week, we are going to answer a question from listener Mark Robbins: "How is it possible that for less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can send a letter halfway across the globe to a remote island in the South Pacific?" 

Marketplace reporter David Weinberg wanted to know, too. And thus his week-long experiment began: 

Robbins sent us his question via email. He chose, for his example, the island of Tanna, about a thousand miles West of Australia. I found an address for a bar on the island, and before I sent the letter, I called Mark to ask he had anything he'd like to say to the people of Tanna.

“Hello from chilly northeastern Pennsylvania. Wish I were there.”

I dropped the letter in the mailbox with a $1.15 global forever stamp. From there, it was taken to the main Los Angeles sorting facility, a 1 million square foot building  where I met Ken Starks, the acting manager of plant support operations.

And herein lies the answer to Mark’s question: The reason you can send a letter across the ocean for less than the price of a cup of coffee is because of the staggering economy of scale of the USPS.

Take, for example this one machine:

This delivery bar code sorting machine processes 30,000-40,000 pieces of mail per hour. The minimum amount of postage required to send a letter is $0.49. So nearly every day, this one machine processes at least $20,000 in postage revenue per hour. And this is just one of several machines in a single sorting facility.

The USPS handles half of all the mail in the world. In 2013 the postal service generated $65.2 billion in revenue. It has more retail locations in the U.S. than McDonald's, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart combined. It's the second largest employer in the U.S. behind Wal-Mart, and the median salary of a U.S. postal worker is about $53,000.

So for every letter that travels across the globe, there are millions that travel much shorter distances. They subsidize the cost of international letters.

The story of this letter's journey will continue throughout the week.

Marketplace for Monday April 21, 2014

Answers to the big questions behind small, simple, ubiquitous things in the world of business.

by David WeinbergPodcast Title Why it makes economic sense to send a letter for $0.49Story Type FeatureSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

U.S. Marshal Fatally Shoots Defendant In Utah Courtroom

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:52

The alleged gang member was killed when he reportedly lunged at a witness and was shot several times in the federal courtroom in Salt Lake City.

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Fertilizer for farmers competes with oil for rail cars

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:37

It’s just about time for spring planting season in the Upper Midwest. But to plant, farmers need fertilizer, and the trains that ship fertilizer are busy. Shipments of crude oil have squeezed out other freight and now the federal government has stepped in, ordering two railroads to make room. 

To farmers waiting for their fertilizer, the problem seems obvious. Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmer’s Union, says agricultural shipments are way behind: "What I’m hearing from farmers back home is that these oil cars are moving just like clockwork. And there is very much the sentiment: They have been given some sort of priority treatment by the railroads.”

The government has ordered two railroads, BNSF and Canadian Pacific, to ensure the delivery of fertilizer for spring planting. A BNSF spokesperson said in an interview that the railroad is not favoring oil over fertilizer. Traffic is up, but consumer products are the growth leader, not crude oil. BNSF does say it sets rates individually, according to the market.  Canadian Pacific says it also sets rates individually, depending on the type of freight. 

“It’s called differential pricing,"  says Steve Sharp,  president of Consumers United for Rail Equity. "The railroads charge different prices per car or per pound or whatever, depending on the commodity and what they think the market will bear.”

Sharp notes that  power companies trying to get shipments of coal are having problems, too. He says, because a lot of the shipping contracts are private, it’s hard to compare prices for shipping oil via train with other commodities.

“That’s one of the issues as shippers we have," he says, "we don’t have access to a lot of good current data to really tell where we are.”

The National Surface Transportation Board, which issued the order, says it’s tracking the railroads’ fertilizer shipments. Their first reports are due this Friday.

Why it makes economic sense to send a letter for $0.49

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:30

Every other week we try to answer some of the questions that you've submitted for our series, I’ve Always Wondered. This week, we are going to answer a question from listener Mark Robbins: "How is it possible that for less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can send a letter halfway across the globe to a remote island in the South Pacific?" 

Marketplace reporter David Weinberg wanted to know, too. And thus his week-long experiment began: 

Monday

Tuesday

 

Monday

Robbins sent us his question via email. He chose, for his example, the island of Tanna, about a thousand miles West of Australia. I found an address for a bar on the island, and before I sent the letter, I called Mark to ask he had anything he'd like to say to the people of Tanna.

“Hello from chilly northeastern Pennsylvania. Wish I were there.”

I dropped the letter in the mailbox with a $1.15 global forever stamp. From there, it was taken to the main Los Angeles sorting facility, a 1 million square foot building  where I met Ken Starks, the acting manager of plant support operations.

And herein lies the answer to Mark’s question: The reason you can send a letter across the ocean for less than the price of a cup of coffee is because of the staggering economy of scale of the USPS.

Take, for example this one machine:

This delivery bar code sorting machine processes 30,000-40,000 pieces of mail per hour. The minimum amount of postage required to send a letter is $0.49. So nearly every day, this one machine processes at least $20,000 in postage revenue per hour. And this is just one of several machines in a single sorting facility.

The USPS handles half of all the mail in the world. In 2013 the postal service generated $65.2 billion in revenue. It has more retail locations in the U.S. than McDonald's, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart combined. It's the second largest employer in the U.S. behind Wal-Mart, and the median salary of a U.S. postal worker is about $53,000.

So for every letter that travels across the globe, there are millions that travel much shorter distances. They subsidize the cost of international letters.

Tuesday

To send our letter to the island of Tanna, I purchased a global forever stamp for $1.15. By the time it arrives it will have traveled on multiple on-the-ground vehicles and airplanes in multiple countries.

This is what the inside of a postal truck looks like.

David Weinberg/Marketplace

So how does that $1.15 get divided among all nations?

Step 1: Receive Payment for Postage

The origin country of the letter gets to keep 100 percent of the postage revenue. For now…

Step 2: Weight it

The island of Tanna is in the country of Vanuatu, which is one of the 192 member countries of the Universal Postal Union. At the end of the year, every member of the UPU adds up the weight of all the mail it delivered for other countries.

Step 3: Pay Your Dues

The UPU has established a complicated system of terminal dues that countries pay each other for mail delivered outside its borders. So if the USPS delivered 2,000 kilograms of mail from Vanautu in 2013, and Vanautu only delivered 1,000 kilograms U.S. mail from the U.S., then Vanautu will have to pay terminal dues to the U.S. How does that money get divided up among the multiple countries that handle the letter? 

Google Maps

Short answer: It doesn’t get divided for each individual piece of mail. Instead, countries pay terminal dues based on the overall weight of mail shipped between them.

These rates are decided by The Universal Postal Union.

The story of this letter's journey will continue throughout the week.

The Tawdry Ballad Of A Man, A Casino And A Game Of Chance

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:28

The Ballad of a Small Player is set in the murky underworld of Macau's casinos. Reviewer Tash Aw calls the novel a masterful and thrilling collision of old Asia and 21st century glamour.

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Searching The Planet To Find Power For The Cloud

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:26

The quest for cheap, reliable electricity to power enormous cloud computing facilities is sending tech companies to the ends of the earth.

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Prefab apartment buildings on the rise

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:13

A new apartment building called The Stack is about to open in the Inwood section of Manhattan. By design, it looks like a collection of staggered Lego blocks. On the inside, it’s like any other modern rental building in New York. It has a sleek, simple design. 

What’s different is that these apartments were not built here in Manhattan, but almost entirely somewhere else. 

“The paint, the lighting, the kitchen cabinets, the appliances, the bathroom tile, fixtures, mirror, all of that is done in the factory,” says The Stack’s architect, Tom Gluck, with the firm GLUCK+.

Gluck has been an architect for years, but this is the first time his firm has built what’s called a modular building. 

Each apartment comes out of a factory from a company, like Capsys in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It looks like an auto plant, complete with assembly line run on a track in the ground. 

“Where we’re building pieces of building like you’d build a car in a factory. You get that repetition, that precision," says Tom O’Hara, director of business development at Capsys.

On one end of the plant, a team is joining steel beams to make the skeleton of a new apartment. On the other end, a crew is putting the finishing touches on a unit. One guy is tiling the bathroom. You could cook in this kitchen. There’s even a thermostat on the wall already. The apartments are so close to finished that they look like you could move in immediately, if they weren’t sitting on a factory floor.

An apartment module nearing completion at Capsys. It will soon be trucked to the building site and hoisted into place. (Photo: Dan Bobkoff)

But soon, this entire apartment will be put on a flatbed, trucked to the Bronx, then hoisted on top of all the other modular apartments. When the building’s done, you won’t even know it was built this way. 

There are many reasons proponents like O’Hara think modular construction is better: it’s built inside, away from weather and dirt. It’s faster because you can build the foundation and the building at the same time. There’s much less wasted material. And yet, while it’s popular in Europe, modular construction in the U.S. remains a rounding error, accounting for just a tiny percentage of new home and multifamily construction. 

“I think a lot of people really have misconceptions about the modular business,” O’Hara says.  “I think they feel somehow that there’s substandard construction in the factory.” 

He says most people think modular means mobile homes or boring, blocky buildings. To him, it just means it’s built better. 

“Why would I want my toaster built by a guy sitting on a bench with a ten snip banging things together. I want it out of a factory! Why shouldn’t the building come out of a factory?” O’Hara says. 

Modular has been seen as the future before, and yet never caught on beyond certain sectors like college dorms and hotels. 

But nearly everyone I talked to thinks this is the moment that changes.

“A lot of it truthfully has to do with this building that we’re standing in front of,” says Jim Garrison, an architect and professor at the Pratt Institute. We’re behind the new Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn, looking at what’ll soon be the tallest modular building: 32 stories of apartments. 

It’s funded by a big name developer. Garrison says it’s the biggest example that modular is possible, practical, and not necessarily cookie cutter. 

“We now have opportunities to build very interesting buildings using these systems. And, people are listening to the benefits that come with it,” Garrison says. 

That’s not to say modular doesn’t have downsides. Because it’s made of boxes, you end up with walls against walls, taking up valuable square footage in the building. Designers have to decide everything on the front end. But more developers are attracted to modular’s faster, and sometimes cheaper construction. And, with new projects in the works, maybe this time is different.

President Obama travels east, still pledging a 'pivot'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:11

President Barack Obama leaves on a diplomatic trip to Asia on Wednesday. First stop, Japan. Then, on to other allies in the region—South Korea, the Phillippines and Malaysia. He’ll be talking economics, and trade, and cooperation—to try to signal to these Pacific Rim allies that the U.S. is serious about its stated aim to ‘pivot’ toward them. Analysts say the President needs to convince them that the U.S. will back them up in their regional competition with rivals like China, as tensions have heated up over conflicts in the East China Sea.

For decades, America focused primarily on allies and enemies across the Atlantic. But, more and more U.S. trade and investment are happening across the Pacific. Stephen Biddle teaches international affairs at George Washington University, and is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He says so far, the shift of military capability toward the Western Pacific has been minimal.

“2,500 U.S. Marines, for example, were sent to bases in Australia,” he says. There are more ships going to Japan and Singapore, and ultimately the U.S. plans to put 60 percent of naval and air forces into the Pacific—up from 50 percent today. Key Pacific allies—Japan, South Korea, and Australia—plan to purchase American-made F-35 fighter jets, which will allow more cooperation and joint operations in the area.

“There’s going to be a different future budgetary fate for the parts of the U.S. military that are relatively better suited to the Pacific,” Biddle explains. He says Navy and Air Force units will be needed to cross the long distances, and to cover the large expanses of ocean in the Pacific Rim. Army and Marine Corps units, which have been deployed heavily in Europe and the Middle East, will be less useful there, and will likely be cut more as a result.

Right now, defense spending is not going up—due to the drawdown from Middle East wars, and Congress’s sequester budget cuts.

“In terms of dollars, frankly, we have not seen much of a shift in the way the Department of Defense has allocated its resources toward the kind of capabilities that I think might be needed in the future in the Pacific region,” says former Air Force official Mark Gunzinger, now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Gunzinger lists potential threats, starting with China, which has been boosting defense spending by double-digits: “Precision-guided anti-ship cruise missiles, advanced air defenses, undersea warfare systems, attack submarines . . .” Gunzinger says crucial shipping lanes, and strategic access to the area for the U.S. and its allies, could be blocked by these and other weapons that China is developing.

But defense analyst Mark Jacobson at the Truman National Security Project points out that the U.S. does not need to meet the security challenges in the region alone; nor are U.S. allies fatigued and depleted, as America’s European allies were at the end of World War II, when the current projection of U.S. power into the Atlantic sphere of influence was implemented.

“You’re talking about some of the world’s strongest economies,” says Jacobson. “With their power comes some responsibility for their own defense. And I don’t think this is lost on the South Koreans, the Australians, or the Japanese, at all.”

Powdered Liquor: Now Legal But Won't Be In Your Margarita Soon

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 13:09

The feds have approved dehydrated versions of vodka and even mojitos. Simply add water and voila! You've got a cocktail. But red tape will likely keep the high-proof powder off the market for a while.

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If life gives you eggs, make egg salad

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 12:59
Monday, April 21, 2014 - 13:33 David Silverman/Getty Images

Freshly-laid eggs being collected for delivery to the local packing plant.

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up April 22, 2014 :

  • President Obama is scheduled to visit the community of Oso in Washington State where last month's devastating mudslide occurred.
  • The National Association of Realtors reports on sales of existing homes for March.
  • It's director John Waters' birthday. He'll be 68.
  • A toast to the planet we live on. Tomorrow is Earth Day.
  • And speaking of toast, do you have a lot of eggs to eat? Maybe you dyed dozens of them for Easter. Then you may be among those observing Egg Salad Week.
Marketplace for Monday April 21, 2014by Michelle PhilippePodcast Title If life gives you eggs, make egg saladSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

To Keep Business Growing, Vendors Rebrand Pot's Stoner Image

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 12:54

In Colorado, where recreational pot is now legal, stores are working hard to stand out — marketing to fans of organic, locally grown produce and trying to liken using pot to enjoying a glass of wine.

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Don't drink coffee as soon as you wake up

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 12:38
Monday, April 21, 2014 - 15:35 FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images

Don't drink coffee first thing in the morning for maximum caffeination.

You’re probably going about your workday all wrong – if you’re trying to reach peak productivity, that is. Quartz’s Rachel Feltman gives some suggestions about how to optimize your workday:

1.    Don’t drink coffee when you first wake up in the morning.

“For the first couple of hours after waking up, your cortisol levels are going to start to peak anyway and that’s what really perks you up in the morning,” says Feltman. It’s a waste of the caffeine – better to wait until that initial morning buzz wears off, between 9:30 and 11 a.m.

2.    Send emails that don’t need to be answered right away at 6 a.m.

“6 a.m. emails tend to have higher opening rates than other times of the day,” says Feltman. However, she says, it may be a good time for reading the email, but not necessarily replying. She suggests sending emails that require more thought at 6 a.m., giving the receiver time to respond later in the morning.

3.    Brush your teeth at 2:30 p.m.

Feltman admits she hasn’t started doing this one yet, but the benefits are two-fold. You’re less likely to snack if you’ve just brushed your teeth, and it’s good to have breaks in the middle of the afternoon slog. “It’s a nice little interlude,” she says.

Read the complete guide to an optimized workday at Quartz.

Marketplace for Monday April 21, 2014Interview by Kai RyssdalPodcast Title Scheduling the ideal workdayStory Type InterviewSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Don't drink coffee as soon as you wake up

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-21 12:35

You’re probably going about your workday all wrong – if you’re trying to reach peak productivity, that is. Quartz’s Rachel Feltman gives some suggestions about how to optimize your workday:

1.    Don’t drink coffee when you first wake up in the morning.

“For the first couple of hours after waking up, your cortisol levels are going to start to peak anyway and that’s what really perks you up in the morning,” says Feltman. It’s a waste of the caffeine – better to wait until that initial morning buzz wears off, between 9:30 and 11 a.m.

2.    Send emails that don’t need to be answered right away at 6 a.m.

“6 a.m. emails tend to have higher opening rates than other times of the day,” says Feltman. However, she says, it may be a good time for reading the email, but not necessarily replying. She suggests sending emails that require more thought at 6 a.m., giving the receiver time to respond later in the morning.

3.    Brush your teeth at 2:30 p.m.

Feltman admits she hasn’t started doing this one yet, but the benefits are two-fold. You’re less likely to snack if you’ve just brushed your teeth, and it’s good to have breaks in the middle of the afternoon slog. “It’s a nice little interlude,” she says.

Read the complete guide to an optimized workday at Quartz.

Teen Stowaway Somehow Survives Flight To Hawaii In Wheel Well

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 12:05

The FBI is saying that a 16-year-old boy is lucky to be alive after he hid in the wheel well of a flight from San Jose to Maui. Severe temperatures and low oxygen would make survival difficult. Investigators are examining the case.

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A Year From Tragedy, Boston Marathon Laurels Go To American

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 12:05

The Boston Marathon is back, over one year since bombs rocked its finish line. NPR's Jeff Brady discusses the race, its heightened security and Meb Keflezighi, the first American to win it since 1983.

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Eastern Ukraine Town Sent Reeling After Checkpoint Killings

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 12:05

The killing of three people at a checkpoint in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk has increased tension in the town, where a government building is being occupied by pro-Moscow militants.

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Tennessee Bill Could Send Addicted Moms To Jail

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 11:58

The proposal awaiting the governor's signature has bipartisan support, despite doctors' opposition. Critics say it could deter expectant mothers from seeking help, or even encourage more abortions.

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Made In The USA: Childless Chinese Turn To American Surrogates

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 11:45

Growing numbers of Chinese have hired American surrogates, allowing a couple to get around China's ban on the procedure and its birth limits. It also guarantees a coveted U.S. passport.

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