National News

9 ways to save on rental cars

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:55

Listeners wanted to know how rental car companies make money. The answer got us wondering -- what if they're making extra money off of us?

There are a lot of ways to pay less than top dollar on your next rental car. Here are a few tips based on our interview with Jack Gillis, director of public affairs at the Consumer Federation of America, and author of The Car Book.

1) Don’t go for a size -- or model -- upgrade. When’s the last time your suitcases didn’t fit in the trunk of a car? If you don’t need a mid-sized car or SUV, and an economy or compact is available, make sure to ask for it.  You’ll save on gas in a smaller car, too.

2) Ask for a free upgrade. If you want a bigger car, or more options free of charge, the counter clerk may do it.

3) Bring accessories, don’t rent them. A sophisticated GPS device might cost $7 to $9 per day to rent, and it only costs $100 or so to buy. After the first ten GPS rentals, the rental-car company is making pure profit from you. So bring your own. If you have a smart phone, buy a $10 dash-mount and use that to navigate.

4) Bring your own car seat. But make sure it’s not more expensive as airline carry-on than the additional rental cost.

5) Fill the tank yourself before returning the car. It’s the cheapest gasoline option. Paying for a full tank in advance is only worth it if you return the car with the gas tank completely empty.

6) Decline the additional insurance. You probably don’t need it if you own a car and carry private auto insurance yourself. Make sure to check with your insurance company to verify your coverage. Your credit card company may offer additional coverage, too.

7) Shop online early (and often) for rental deals. If you don’t like the rates for given dates at a given airport, make a reservation and then shop again days or weeks later. Because of demand-pricing, if rental-reservations are slack for a specific time-period, the rates are likely to go down to attract more business. Typically there is no penalty for cancelling a rental reservation made directly with the rental company.

8) Use online services like Priceline and Orbitz. Bid on rental cars using these and other services to get a better deal. A warning, though: These reservations may have to be paid in advance and will likely not be refundable.

 9) Make sure to use affinity discounts. AAA and Costco memberships may get you a better deal.

That's Just Like 'Her': Could We Ever Love A Computer?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:53

Joaquin Phoenix stars in the film Her, in which his character falls in love with an operating system. Will artificial intelligence evolve to that point? Apple's computerized assistant Siri clearly isn't there yet. This is what else needs to happen before we get there.

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Stuart Hall, 'Godfather Of Multiculturalism,' Dies

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:50

Sociologist and public intellectual Stuart Hall, who helped shape conversations about race and gender, has died at 82. For decades, the Jamaican-born Hall taught at Britain's Birmingham University.

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Sandwich Monday: Subway's Fritos Chicken Enchilada Sub

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:34

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try the new Fritos-laced offering from Subway. It's the latest creation in the Sandwich Efficiency Movement, in which side dishes become part of the main dish.

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Will Missouri football player Michael Sam get drafted?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:33

An athlete's sexuality isn't usually a business story.

But when University of Missouri football player Michael Sam announced he was gay to ESPN and the New York Times, it made some wonder if it would hurt his chances in the NFL draft later this year.

Sam is widely known to be a talented defensive player.

"He is one of the more decorated players you'll find in college football this season," says Holly Anderson, staff writer at ESPN's Grantland.

Anderson rattles off a list of Sam's achievements: being named a First Team All-American, winning Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC, getting voted Most Valuable Player by his own teammates -- after telling them he was gay.

"It doesn't seem like there would ever be a perfectly ideal time to do this," says Anderson about Sam's announcement, only weeks before the Combine, but months before the draft.

The National Football League is a business -- and Anderson says it's beginning to make business sense to welcome players without hesitations over sexuality. She points to the Mizzou team's reaction to the announcement, including players bragging about the team's "family environment" in support of Sam's announcement.

But the real implications for Sam's future aren't clear, though Anderson leans on the side of confidence. She says some teams may see Sam as a risk worth taking, while for others, it could be a non-issue.

"And realistically, we also don't know that there aren't teams feeding negative information about him, so they can get him at a steal."

Young And In Love? Thank Mom And Dad, At Least A Little

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:16

How well people got along with their parents as teenagers affects how satisfied they are with romantic relationships as young adults. But if you were a rebellious teen, don't fret. Researchers say it's just one of many factors that influence your romantic life.

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Health Law's Employer Mandate Hits Another Speed Bump

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:00

The Obama administration is again delaying a part of the Affordable Care Act that requires most companies to provide employees with health insurance. This time, smallish firms — those with fewer than 100 workers, but more than 49 — get a reprieve until 2016.

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ACA Employer Mandate Hits Another Speed Bump

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:00

The Obama administration is again delaying the part of the Affordable Care Act that mandates many employers to provide workers with health insurance or face potential penalties. This time, it has announced that smaller employers — those with fewer than 100 workers — can get an yearlong delay before facing requirements if they ask for it.

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Looking To Escape The Polar Vortex? Head North To Alaska

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:00

Many Alaskans are watching the lower 48 suffer through the cold and snowy winter with one reaction: envy. That's because Alaska is enduring the opposite, facing record high temperatures and extremely low snow totals. Alaska Public Radio Network's Annie Feidt reports that the unusual weather has made it difficult for residents to enjoy the winter sports, like skiing, that are popular in the state.

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Building Pressure May Mean Progress In Israeli Peace Talks

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:00

As political sparring has gotten increasingly nasty in Israel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has found himself caught in the crossfire for his role in the peace talks. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki points to this criticism as a sign that Israeli and Palestinian sides are getting down to the painful details. Neither side wants to be labeled as the one to end negotiations, but outsiders are nevertheless striving to exert diplomatic and financial pressure in order to ensure talks continue. Some say that this pressure alone may get a framework for peace signed.

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Legislators Make A Field Trip To Investigate W.Va Spill

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:00

Several members of Congress are convening a field hearing on January's toxic water crisis in West Virginia, gathering in Charleston to listen to officials testify about the safety of the water. While officials testified that the water was now suitable for drinking and bathing, there is one word nobody would use to describe the water: safe.

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In Britain, Deluge Shows No Signs Of Slowing

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:00

The winter weather in Britain is even worse than people expected this year. For more than a month now, the British Isles have been battered with storms that have destroyed train tracks, blocked roads and flooded large parts of the country. And as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from London, there's no end in sight to the dismal weather.

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Troubled Cease-Fire In Syria Still Leaves Some Evacuees Dead

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:00

Melissa Block speaks with Sam Dagher of The Wall Street Journal about the latest developments in the Syrian city of Homs. A temporary humanitarian cease-fire has been extended for three more days since the U.N.-brokered deal took effect Friday. Hundreds of civilians have been evacuated from Homs' Old City, a rebel-held territory that has been under siege by government forces for more than a year.

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For Openly Gay Football Player, Coming Out Came In Stages

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:00

Former University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced over the weekend that he was gay. Sam, who likely will soon enter the upcoming NFL draft, may become the first openly gay player ever in the NFL. Melissa Block gets the story behind Sam's decision from Cyd Zeigler, the editor and co-founder of OutSports, a sports news website that is dedicated to covering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes.

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Out Of The Closet And Into The Draft: Michael Sam's NFL Prospects

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:00

Former University of Missouri football player Michael Sam revealed over the weekend that he is gay. Sam, an All-American defensive lineman, may become the first openly gay player in the history of the NFL if he is selected in this year's draft. Since he made his announcement, reactions have streamed in from every corner of the football world.

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Fate Of Former New Orleans Mayor Now In Jury's Hands

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:00

The jury has begun deliberations in the federal corruption trial of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Nagin is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from businessmen in exchange for steering city business their way after Hurricane Katrina. NPR's Debbie Elliott was in court on Monday and speaks to host Robert Siegel about the day's developments.

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'Dancing Fish,' 'Ammonites' And A Literary Life Well-Lived

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 13:00

For 44 years, British author Penelope Lively has been publishing children's books, short stories and novels. Her latest book, Dancing Fish and Ammonites, is subtitled, "A Memoir," but critic Ellah Allfrey says it is "more a collection of thoughts, a scattering of advice and a reading list to treasure."

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The Science Of Munchies: Why The Scent Of A Burger Gives Us A High

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 12:39

Skipping a meal triggers the munchies in a similar way that marijuana does, a study in mice finds. And it works, at least in rodents, by boosting the sense of smell. Receptors in the brain that get activated when the animals are stoned also light up after they've been fasting.

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Interest Groups Gear Up For Next Supreme Court Vacancy

NPR News - Mon, 2014-02-10 12:38

With Republicans growing more confident about their prospects for taking over the U.S. Senate this fall, activists from both parties are starting to fire up the message machines for the next Supreme Court opening.

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AOL CEO Tim Armstrong: How many chances does he get?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-02-10 12:34

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is back in the spotlight for something he said.

A few days ago, he radically altered the company’s 401(k) program, making his employees mad. He implied the change happened because a couple of employees had difficult pregnancies that cost AOL a lot in health expenses. He called them “distressed babies,” which made a large swath of people across the country mad.

Over the weekend, he apologized and reversed the 401(k) changes.

This isn’t the first big apology for Armstrong. Last time, it was after firing an employee during a mass conference call because the worker tried to take a picture of him. The corporate board deciding his fate let him keep his job, despite widespread criticism from the public.

This time? "He’ll be cut some slack for these comments in large part because of the overall business performance," says Brian Wieser, senior analyst at Pivotal Research Group.

That’s not to say that AOL is doing fantastic. It’s recovering from the disastrous acquisition of the local news site Patch, and there are still big questions about its future. But the most recent earnings report showed an increase in revenue, and the numbers are ultimately what matter to corporate boards, even when CEOs say offensive things.

But when unlikable leaders have only numbers to protect them, it can be awfully lonely when those numbers change.

"You don’t realize that your enemies are lying in wait, and boom, when the performance goes south, you can get pushed out very, very quickly," says Stanford management professor Bob Sutton, author of "Scaling Up Excellence."

CEO gaffes are especially problematic for a company like AOL, which needs to draw an audience. There can come a point when bad press from bad behavior drags corporate numbers down.

"It becomes a pretty powerful force in the Twitter world, and on Facebook, and the bloggers talking about all the things they don’t like about this guy. That starts to add up," says Sydney Finkelstein, management professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. "It could have a business effect, a business impact."

Finkelstein is known for his annual list of the best and worst CEOs. Armstrong didn’t make the bottom five for 2013, but Finkelstein says he was "in the running."

There are signs investors are concerned about the impact of Armstrong’s behavior on the company. AOL’s stock dropped more than 3 percent Monday.

Mark Garrison: This isn’t the first big apology for Armstrong. Last time it was after firing an employee during a mass conference call because the worker tried to take a picture of him. Armstrong still has his job because a corporate board decides his fate, not an outraged public. Brian Wieser  is senior analyst at Pivotal Research Group.

Brian Wieser: He’ll be cut some slack for these comments in large part because of the overall business performance.

Not that AOL is doing fantastic. There are still big questions about its future. But the most recent earnings report showed an increase in revenue and that’s ultimately what matters to corporate boards, even when CEOs say offensive things.

Bob Sutton: As long as they’re bringing in the money, this is what I always say, you can be an incredible jerk.

But Stanford management professor Bob Sutton also points out that when unlikable leaders have only numbers to protect them, it’s awfully lonely when those numbers change.

Sutton: The problem you’ve got is you don’t realize that your enemies are lying in wait and boom, when the performance goes south, you can get pushed out very, very quickly.

CEO gaffes are especially problematic for a company like AOL, which needs to draw an audience. Dartmouth management professor Sydney Finkelstein says bad press from bad behavior can drag the numbers down.

Sydney Finkelstein: It becomes a pretty powerful force in the Twitter world and on Facebook and the bloggers talking about all the things they don’t like about this guy. That starts to add up. In other words, it could have a business effect, a business impact.

And investors may already be walking away. AOL’s stock dropped more than 3 percent today. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

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