National News

'Remember The Maine' — In Indiana!

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 12:30

How did a monument to the USS Maine, which sank in Havana Harbor in 1898, come to rest in Indiana? The answer tells a lot about the power and influence of veterans, years after war.

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In California, Technology Makes Droughtshaming Easier Than Ever

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 12:30

As California's drought continues, social media and smart phone apps let just about anyone call out water waste, often very publicly.

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Through Performance, Mississippi Students Honor Long-Forgotten Locals

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 12:03

Every year, a history teacher in Columbus, Miss., takes high schoolers to the local cemetery. There, they tell the stories of those who are buried, and learn more about their own place in the world.

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Through Performance, Mississippi Students Honor Long-Forgotten Locals

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 12:03

Every year, a history teacher in Columbus, Miss., takes high schoolers to the local cemetery. There, they tell the stories of those who are buried, and learn more about their own place in the world.

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For Women's World Cup, U.S. Soccer Fans Kick It Up A Notch

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 11:59

They've been supporting the men for years. But for the first time, the American Outlaws — a growing and influential U.S. soccer fan group — will cheer for the women's national team at a World Cup.

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Reports: Charter Communications To Buy Time Warner Cable For $55B

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 11:05

The deal would make the combined company a major rival to Comcast Corp. Comcast last month abandoned its own bid for Time Warner following concerns raised by the Justice Department.

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On Memorial Day, Obama Honors Sacrifices Of Service Members

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 10:09

The president called Arlington National Cemetery "more than a final resting place for fallen heroes." It is, he said, "a reflection of America itself."

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My First Job: Printing Professional

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-25 09:55

When Shahrouz Varshabi was about 17 years old, he was accepted to a college outside of his hometown in Iran.

This was good news for Varshabi, but it also meant a financial strain for his parents.

“I was feeling so bad about the situation because I was coming from a sort of poor family, and I didn’t want to have pressure on my father’s shoulders,” Varshabi says.

 When Varshabi couldn’t find a job in the city where his new school was located, he decided to get entrepreneurial and make one for himself. Varshabi was studying graphic design, and he noticed a common problem he and his fellow students were encountering: a lack of high-quality printers for their projects.

“The price of the printer is like the same as one month’s rent,” Varshabi says. “I paid my rent to buy a printer actually.”

But his risk paid off and, before long, Varshabi had an abundance of student customers for his printing business. "My parents was like, 'Hey you doing all right, you need money?' And I was like 'I don't really need money. If you want money, I can help you, actually,' " he says.

 As Varshabi will tell you, it was his entrepreneurial success in Iran that gave him the confidence to pursue other career goals.   

 “… I started from zero, and I made so much money that I paid my tuition, my rent and I bought a car, I had some savings,” Varshabi says. “So it just gave me so much confidence to do whatever I want to do for myself. I know that there’s no limits now.” 

A shot of 'America's native spirit'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-25 09:24

During the course of writing his book, “Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of American Whiskey,” Reid Mitenbuler learned a lot about “America’s native spirit,” as it’s known.

According to Mitenbuler — contrary to what you might assume from looking at bottle labels — today’s bourbons aren’t all made by bearded men wearing overalls.

“By the year 2000 you have eight companies, 13 plants, and they make about 99 percent of all the whiskey in America,” Mitebuler says.

Today, even with what Mitenbuler calls a craft distillery boom, smaller distillers only make about five percent of the bourbon in America.

But Mitenbuler says bourbon made by a big company isn’t necessarily bad bourbon.

“This is, for me, where the story really began, because those corporations, they actually do a very good job,” says Mitenbuler. “And they’re sort of an outlier in the food world and a lot of the popular conceptions we have about food where small is best.”

So, as a bourbon expert, what’s Mitenbuler’s advice for bourbon novices?

"It doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. Older isn’t necessarily better. It really kind of finds its sweet spot in the middle somewhere, where it's accessible, affordable and easy to find,” Mitenbuler says.  

To hear Reid Mitenbuler take Marketplace’s Adriene Hill through a bourbon tasting (and to hear a couple of his recommendations) click play on the Soundcloud player below.

Military families turn to food stamps

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-25 08:49

growing number of working people use food stamps to help make ends meet. Often they work in retail, food and service industry jobs, where pay is traditionally low. But there’s another group of working people turning to food stamps that might surprise you: active-duty military personnel and their families.

What do we know about food stamp use in the military?   Every year the Department of Agriculture publishes data about where food stamp benefits (officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) are being spent. The categories range from grocery stores and super stores to convenience stores and farmers markets. Also on the list, surprisingly, are military commissaries — those stores on military bases that sell groceries just above cost to active duty and retired military personnel and their families, as well as those in the reserves and National Guard.   In 2014 more than $84 million-worth of food stamp benefits were spent at military commissaries. That’s just a fraction of a percent of all the food stamps spent in the U.S. last year. But the number is sobering when you think of who is doing this spending — people who served or are currently serving our country and are still having trouble making ends meet.   Do we know how many active-duty military personnel are on food stamps?   The numbers are hard to come by. Neither the military nor the USDA tally those numbers, but recently the USDA estimated that between 2,000 and 22,000 active-duty military members used food stamps in 2012, the latest data available. (There’s an interesting explanation of how those vastly divergent numbers are arrived at in this PDF, a report from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission.) These estimates suggest that between 1 percent and 2 percent of active-duty military members used food stamps in 2012.   What about veterans?   The USDA estimates that in 2012, more than 1.5 million veterans used food stamps, or about 7 percent of all veterans.    How low does your income have to be to qualify for food stamps?   Pretty low — though it depends on how big your household is. A single person has to be grossing less than $15,180 a year. For a family of four, the annual income threshold is $31,008.    So what is military pay these days?   If you are a very junior member of the military on active duty, your annual base pay can be less than $19,000. Add in housing and food allowances and it can go up to the high $30,000s. But if you've got a big family, if your spouse isn't working (which, if you're moving around from base to base or if one parent is overseas can often be the case), that money may not go too far. You might very well qualify for food stamps, or at least find yourself struggling to get by.   What kinds of financial challenges face military families?   Jennifer Daelyn grew up in a military family and now runs the Hand Up Youth Food Pantry near Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base north of San Diego. When she tells people that she helps a lot of active-duty military families, “often people are really surprised that it's even needed,” she says. “They're like ‘they don't need that — that doesn’t really happen.' But it does.”   Daelyn says she hears common concerns from the military families she serves. “They might have things set up if everything is going as planned, but if unplanned costs arise — someone needed to get new tires for their car, or had an unexpected pregnancy, it's difficult to handle considering the financial situation that they're in.”   And then there’s the added challenge that military families are moved around a lot. “It can be hard to maintain family and social support networks,” Daelyn says. “People who are in different states than their parents, than the kids’ grandparent that was providing support for them emotionally, financially, just with coping.”   Does it matter if military personnel use food stamps?   You could look at the issue of military personnel on food stamps as academic — it’s all government money after all. Does it matter if lower-paid military members are getting part of their paychecks supplemented through one taxpayer-funded program, SNAP, rather than subsisting on their taxpayer-funded paychecks alone?   Others argue it’s just not right that wages for some of those serving in the military haven't kept up with inflation.

Iraq, Iran Push Back Against Defense Secretary's Comments On Iraqi Forces

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 07:38

In an interview Sunday with CNN, Ash Carter said Iraqi forces lacked the "will to fight" ISIS in Anbar Province and its capital, Ramadi.

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Charter near a deal to buy Time Warner

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-25 07:13

It's a cable company-eat-cable-company world out there.

The New York Times reports: 

Charter Communications is near a deal to buy Time Warner Cable for about $55 billion, people with direct knowledge of the talks said Monday, a takeover that would create a new powerhouse in the rapidly consolidating American cable industry.

Under the proposed terms of the deal, Charter will pay about $195 a share in cash and stock. That is roughly 14 percent higher than Time Warner Cable’s closing stock price on Friday — and 47 percent higher than Charter’s original bid for its rival from early last year.

You might remember that Comcast failed in it's bid for Time Warner after regulators were unhappy. Official word on the Charter deal could be out on Tuesday.

John Nash's 'beautiful' contribution to economics

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-25 06:57

John Nash, who died with his wife, Alicia, in a car crash Saturday at 86, was a mathematician, not an economist. 

But the phenomenon he described — known as Nash's Equilibrium — revolutionized the world of economics and game theory.

Around the end of World War II, game theory was gaining steam in academic circles, says Dale Jorgenson, a professor of economics at Harvard University. "But there really wasn't much evidence that this was having much effect on the way people thought about strategic situations," Jorgenson says. 

Before Nash came along, game theory was about zero-sum games: one party wins, one party loses. Nash provided a mathematical way of understanding games that more closely resemble the real world, where we don't necessarily have clear winners and losers. 

"When [people] look back at the Nash Equilibrium they think, 'Oh my God, this is so simple, it's amazing that it was so groundbreaking because it seems so obvious,' " says Alex Bellos, author of "Alex’s Adventures in Numberland." "And it seems so obvious because it's just become part of culture."

Today, game theory is used to describe myriad social phenomena, including those in business and politics. Bellos says every time someone says "zero-sum game," they owe a little credit to Nash. 

When Roger Myerson, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, was starting his academic career in the 1970s, Nash’s work was maturing. Even so, Nash had withdrawn from public life as he battled paranoid schizophrenia. 

"At that time I knew he was alive, but there was no hope we could ever meet him," Myerson says. 

Myerson says while Nash was out of the public eye, his work revolutionized the field of economics. 

"It’s moved economics from a focus on resource allocation to a focus on understanding how behavior responds to incentives," Myerson says.

After Nash reentered public life in the 1980s, he was famous. In 1994, he won a Nobel Prize, and in 2001, his life story was fictionalized for the film "A Beautiful Mind."

Takata, Toyota, GM: How do companies survive recalls?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-25 06:53

Takata’s recall of defective airbags in 34 million vehicles – equivalent to two years of sales in the entire U.S. auto market – is a juggernaut.  It isn’t the largest, however.  That title belongs to the 2004 recall of 150 million pieces of Chinese-made toy jewelry that had a high risk of containing lead. 

 

Nor is it the only major recall this year – Toyota just recalled 110,000 vehicles for faulty software. 

 

The fact is, recalls happen all the time. Just last week there were 11, including a stove that turns on by itself and a weight-training bench that can break. 

 

Major recalls can be costly, running into the billions of dollars, especially if lawsuits or fines are involved. And yet, “it’s extremely seldom that a recall leads to the ruin of a company,” says Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management.

 

Take GM in 2014. It recalled 30 million vehicles. That does not mean, however, that it replaced 30 million vehicles. 

 

“Almost always in the case of a recall it’s just a part getting fixed,” says David Whiston, an equity analyst with Morningstar. “Honestly, the people who make the biggest deal out of them are usually reporters.”

 

For GM, the cost so far is $2.5 billion. This shaved profits in North America from 8.9 percent to 6.5 percent in 2014, according to Whiston. Costly for sure, but not company ending. GM also had significant cash from its bailout, Whiston says.  

 

Between law suits and repairs, recalls also take a while (Takata’s is expected to take years). So does paying for them.

 

“The financial damage gets spread out over time, it’s not all at once,” Whiston says. Some firms even have recall insurance. 

 

Takata also has its size and importance going for it.

 

“The company’s essential to the auto industry,” says David Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific. It’s one of the few firms that provide critical safety equipment, including safety belts, to many manufacturers. “They have to survive – they’re too big to fail,” Sullivan says.

 

Reputational damage can be worse and more enduring than financial damage. 

 

“Arthur Andersen put themselves out of business because of their reputation,” says Bernstein, referring to the Enron accounting scandal. He counsels companies to be quick and thorough in their announcement of problems, acknowledge the feelings of their customers and then move on as quickly as possible. Stringing things along or having small details or negative news leak out intermittently over time withers a brand and consumers relationship to it. 

 

Takata didn’t have to worry about brand recognition, at least not until now, because it’s not a consumer-facing company; it sells to auto manufacturers. 

 

“For a company that’s primarily a business to business, one of their worst nightmares is their name becoming known to consumers in a negative way, because normally their name isn’t known to consumers at all,” Bernstein says. The company may now have to deal with a loss of trust from both consumers and the manufacturers it supplies. Analysts say Takata's recall is survivable, but even given its importance in the automotive industry, it won't be easy. 

Police: Malaysia Uncovers 139 Mass Graves Believed To Hold Migrants

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 05:53

Most of the victims are believed to be Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar. They are held until their families pay more money, which few can afford to do.

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Ex-Israeli Leader Ehud Olmert Sentenced To 8 Months In Corruption Trial

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 05:17

Olmert, who led Israel until 2009, unlawfully accepted money from a U.S. supporter. He is appealing the decision to the Supreme Court.

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More Heavy Rain Predicted For Texas, Oklahoma

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 04:52

Parts of the two states are reeling from weekend flooding that damaged and destroyed homes and killed at least three people.

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Colleges To Students: Don't Trash Those Dorm Castoffs, Donate!

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-25 04:03

As college students leave for the summer, many just throw away what they can't fit in the car for the ride home. But some schools are trying to find a new home for those campus castoffs.

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Funeral home fraud rose in 2014, FTC probe finds

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-25 03:00

Every year, the Federal Trade Commission conducts an undercover investigation to make sure funeral homes are following the FTC’s funeral rule to give customers a price list immediately and to not sell unnecessary, unwanted services.

The idea is for consumers “to be able to take a deep breath and look at a document that says, 'This is what I’m going to pay,' " says Lois Greisman, who heads the FTC’s funeral enforcement. " 'Can I really afford this?' ”

Greisman says in 2014, about a quarter of the funeral homes the FTC investigated broke the rule. 

“It’s certainly higher than we would like to see it,” says T. Scott Gilligan, general counsel for the National Funeral Directors Association. “It’s a complicated rule. It’s very easy to slip up. And the problem is, you’re only as good as your worst staff member.”

Funeral homes face fines of up to $16,000 per rule violation, but they can avoid fines by enrolling in a training program run by the funeral directors association.

PODCAST: Show me the money, airlines

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-25 03:00

Asian stocks spring while most of the world's stock takes a breather. More on that. Plus, lower fuel prices have translated into huge savings for airline companies. Very little of those savings are being passed along to customers. So, what are the airlines doing with all of that money? And on a quest to invent a smart smoker, a Harvard engineering class is partnering with Williams Sonoma. We check in on their results.

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