National News

Why is it called 'Black Friday'?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-26 14:34

Black Friday has long signified the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season, but the tradition of lining up in the middle of the night to get a deal is starting to fade a bit as retailers are now pushing sales earlier and as more shoppers turn to the web. 

Shopping has been a major part of the day after Thanksgiving since at least the Great Depression, says Lars Perner, a marketing professor at the University of Southern California.

“Of course things back then weren’t as commercialized as they are today,” Perner says.

But when did we start calling it Black Friday?

“We have to go back to the Philadelphia in the 1950s,” says Bonnie Taylor-Black, a neuroscience researcher at the University of North Carolina and a self-proclaimed lover of words.  As a member of the American dialect society, she uncovered the history of the term “Black Friday."

“It was actually probably coined by a traffic cop or at least somebody in the Philadelphia Police Department,” she says.

People from all over came into the heart of the city for shopping and to see the Christmas parade and lights, says Taylor-Black. Even more people came into town for the Army-Navy football game, which took place the Saturday after Thanksgiving, she says.

“Traffic cops had a really hard time dealing with crowds in Philadelphia," she says. "Traffic cops were required to work 12-hour shifts. Nobody could have the day off. There was a lot of parking headaches. So some wag in the police department, kind of came up with this term as sort of a humorous pejorative.”

It stuck.

Taylor-Black discovered the story in an old public relations newsletter with the help of librarians at the University of North Carolina. She says the article from 1961 was about how Philadelphia merchants wanted to rebrand Black Friday as Big Friday.

The effort failed.

She says in the late 1970s there was another attempt to give Black Friday a positive connotation — and it’s the one you’ve probably heard many times before.  That explanation, she says, was that Black Friday marked the day that all merchants went into the black — as in the day they became profitable.

“That goes back to an old accounting practice where profits were recorded in black and losses for the day were recorded in red," she says. "So the idea is Black Friday is suddenly a great shopping day and retailers have hit pay dirt, so to speak. That’s wrong. That’s an invented explanation.”

So what does Black Friday mean today?

Well, not as much as it use to, says Taylor-Black.  With the advent of online shopping and deals coming earlier and earlier in November, shoppers can get a bargain without joining a stampede. 

A video tour of Ferguson, Missouri

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-26 14:11

Images of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, were inescapable when police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot teenager Michael Brown in August. They're just as ubiquitous this week, when a grand jury declined to charge Wilson, igniting sometimes-violent protests in the town.

Though Ferguson has been well-photographed, the footage hasn't provided much perspective on just how big the town is and where all of the protests are occurring. Marketplace reporter Adam Allington drove from one end of the town to the other, giving a time-lapse tour of key sites.

A tour of Ferguson, Missouri

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-26 14:11

Images of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri were inescapable when police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot teenager Michael Brown in August. They're just as ubiquitous this week, when a grand jury declined to charge Wilson, igniting sometimes-violent protests in the town.

Though Ferguson has been well-photographed, the footage hasn't given much perspective on just how big the town is and where all of the protests are occurring. Marketplace reporter Adam Allington drove from one end of the town to the other, giving a time-lapse tour of key sites.

Jacksonville Split Over Joining A Southern Port Dredging Frenzy

NPR News - Wed, 2014-11-26 14:01

Jacksonville, Fla., is racing to find funds to deepen its port. If it can't accommodate newer, bigger cargo ships from Asia, the city says, it will lose out to Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C.

» E-Mail This

For Two Men Who Helped Migrants In Mexico, A Brutal Death

NPR News - Wed, 2014-11-26 13:19

The pair fed and clothed Central American migrants on their way through Mexico. One of them, a transvestite, had been doing it for more than a decade and had received death threats.

» E-Mail This

Texas Execution Nears For Murderer Whose Competence Was Debated

NPR News - Wed, 2014-11-26 12:53

Next week, Texas is slated to execute Scott Panetti for murder. He has a long history of mental illness but was allowed to defend himself at trial, where he insisted he was a movie character.

» E-Mail This

How Ferguson Residents Are Giving Thanks This Holiday Season

NPR News - Wed, 2014-11-26 12:45

Following the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, Ferguson residents are hoping to take this Thanksgiving to grow and heal their community — and give thanks to one another.

» E-Mail This

Market forces catch up to OPEC

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-26 12:09

OPEC meets Thursday to set production levels, without much for its member countries to be thankful for. Oil prices have fallen quickly. And a new big rival is on the block: U.S. production of oil from fracking. Some analysts are already proclaiming “Move Over OPEC” and declaring “a new oil order.”

We’ll ask it this way: Are OPEC’s best days behind it?

Analyst Bob McNally, founder and president of the Rapidan Group, has argued for a while that OPEC is on the wane. In his view, it would be the third cartel-type oil group in history to peak and decline. The first:

“John Rockefeller and Standard Oil in the late 1800's,” McNally says, “who came along and thoroughly, some would say brutally, organized and controlled the pipelines, the refineries and the upstreams. And he brought stability to what was in the beginning wildly gyrating prices.”

Of course, trustbusters broke up Rockefeller’s company. Then came cartel 2.0: the Texas Railroad Commission. Starting in the 1930s, it pulled various levers to control prices.

The key was retaining so-called spare capacity. When prices rose and threatened to turn away consumers, the commission arranged to bring more oil to market and soften prices.

But by 1972, the North American supply tailed off. There was no spare left.

“What that meant was we were losing our ability to control the global oil price and to stabilize the market,” Rapidan says. “And that signified the transfer in power over to OPEC.”

Click below for more from Bob McNally:

 

OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, formed in 1960 to counter the power of multinational oil companies. Now it controlled elements of supply and prices. In 1973, OPEC’s Arab members cut off supply to the U.S. for political purposes.

Global crude analyst Jamie Webster at IHS Energy says a big moment recently for OPEC came in 2008: The group artificially withheld more than 2 million barrels of oil a day from the market. Oil prices revived.

Still, Webster says the world has changed. For one, embargoes may be history.

“The oil market has turned into a real, truly global interconnected market,’ Webster says. “You can’t just pick a country and say ‘We’re not going to deliver there.’ Somebody else will.”

Click below for more from Jamie Webster: 

And, many OPEC members today drill less oil than before. In the meantime, a supply competitor has shown up. Fracking in America coaxes oil from shale rock.

Shale oil has helped push today’s prices down. And the more they fall, the more likely shale could tail off and bounce prices back up. In other words, the U.S. may be the new price-controller.

“This massively undermines the ability of the OPEC nations,” says Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the Eurasia Group global consultancy.

In this low-price environment, Bremmer says OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia struggle fiscally. They rely heavily on selling expensive oil.

“The Saudis are trying to fund places like Egypt and Jordan to maintain stability in the region,” Bremmer says. “So they can’t really afford to try to drive prices down to compete with American producers. And so that means the United States is in the driver’s seat, right?”

Click below for more from Ian Bremmer:

Right? Perhaps, though outside the U.S. some analysts are calling hyperbole.

“I don’t think we need to talk about anything like a new pricing order,” says Robin Mills at Manaar Energy Consulting in Dubai, and author of “The Myth of the Oil Crisis.”

“There’s certainly no grand scheme behind this. It’s the simple working of the market and economics.”

As he sees it, this is just another bout of low prices, one that key OPEC countries can weather.

“They still have enormous sovereign wealth holdings that they can draw on for years to come to prop up a deficit,” Mills says. “And of course they can borrow. There’s nothing magical about borrowing.”

And perhaps nothing new about a new supplier on the block. Veteran OPEC watchers have seen this before.

“For example, in the North Sea and Norway and the U.K.,” says London energy economist Leo Drollas, who spent two decades at a think tank run by an ex-Saudi oil minister. “We’ve seen the great surge in Russian production in Kazakhstan. In a sense, the natural state of the oil business is one of imbalance.” 

But, how imbalanced is it today? How high and how long can the upstart U.S. shale story go? That is a key question for OPEC, tomorrow and beyond.

Why American Honey Importers Are Wary Of 'Turkish' Honey

NPR News - Wed, 2014-11-26 11:54

American honey importers say they've noticed an odd surge in cheap honey from Turkey. They think some of that honey really came from China, which is subject to U.S. trade restrictions.

» E-Mail This

In Darren Wilson's Testimony, Familiar Themes About Black Men

NPR News - Wed, 2014-11-26 11:11

Wilson's descriptions of Michael Brown reminded some people of negative depictions of African-Americans in history. Recent studies suggest these perceptions have deeper psychological roots.

» E-Mail This

Holiday drinks: A mix of science and clever marketing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-26 11:10

Starbucks has released its first new seasonal beverage in five years – the chestnut praline latte.

Formulating the drink  took two years of research and development, says Starbucks spokeswoman Linda Mills.  

The flavor was the one customers liked best during taste-testing. While it does not feature chestnuts, the drink does contain smoky chestnut flavoring. That, along with caffeine, sugar and fat, make for a holiday mix that packs a whole lot of nostalgia.

“It really is reminiscent of, you know, chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” Mills says.

Cue the music.

“Food marketing people are trying to take advantage of those warm fuzzy feelings, and they have been very successful,”  says MaryAnne Drake, a food scientist at North Carolina State University. 

It's not just clever marketing. There's some science behind our attraction to these flavors.  

The secret, says Drake, is in the scent.

The aromas in these holiday products are crafted to trigger emotions and feelings, she says. In the last five years, scientists have made huge steps in understanding how scents affect us neurologically. And the feelings aroused aren't always warm, fuzzy ones.

“There was a study," Drake says, "where they actually – forgive me for being indelicate – hooked up men and their private parts and then had them smell particular things to see which evoked the best response from their private parts. And pumpkin pie spice had a really strong response."

Pumpkin  kicked off this modern holiday flavor craze about a decade ago, Drake says. Starbucks, for example, has sold over 200 million pumpkin spice lattes since releasing the drink in 2003.

And then there's Trader Joe's.

Come October, its stores offer products like pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin ale, pumpkin rooibos tea, pumpkin cereal, and even salad with pumpkin seeds, pumpkin croutons and pumpkin vinaigrette. At a San Francisco store, a shelf stocker said that at one point the store featured 67 items with pumpkin flavor. Halloween, he says, has really just become pumpkin season.

Pumpkin is pretty much over now that it's late November. Companies are signaling the coming of winter with a whole new series of flavors. Market analyst Robert Eckard says some of the big ones this year are salted caramel, pecan pie, peppermint patty, sugar cookie and dark chocolate cognac. There are also some more surprising flavor trends this year, like mescal and smoke.

Companies have been playing with seasonal flavors for decades, Eckard says, but now chain corporations can afford to hire specialized flavorists who concoct powerful and addictive tastes. Flavoring has grown into a $2.7 billion industry, and seasonal drinks are a big part of it.

Eckard likes to call them “liquid deserts, or holiday in a glass.”

While corporations can giveth, they can also taketh away. Starbucks was going to stop serving its eggnog latte at certain locations this year but rethought the move after the company was flooded with letters. Customers complained that Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without it.”

So we have a new tradition: the commercially-developed, scientifically flavored, holiday beverage.

How EPA weighs costs, benefits of air pollution regulation

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-26 11:00

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to take up a case challenging limits on toxins found in emissions from coal-fired power plants, on the grounds that industry believed the Environmental Protection Agency should have taken the costs of regulation into account earlier.

On Wednesday, the EPA proposed a rule to lower the amount of smog-causing ozone allowed in the air. The rule was slated for 2011, but delayed by President Obama on grounds that it was important to reduce "regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover."

So how does the EPA weigh costs and benefits?

The agency is actually forbidden from taking costs into account when writing rules such as the limit on ozone, but EPA administrator Gina McCarthy says the health benefits nonetheless exceed the costs of compliance. The American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade group, comes to a very different conclusion in its analysis.

Richard Revesz , a New York University law professor and author of "Retaking Rationality: How Cost-Benefit Analysis Can Better Protect the Environment and our Health" says the EPA has generally underestimated, not overestimated, costs. But the whole argument over costs and benefits is largely about convincing the public and the politicians. 

On Turkey Day eve, have we reached peak chicken?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-26 11:00

Before we get to chickens, here's Marketplace's Paddy Hirsch explaining the short sale:

What do short sales have to do with chickens? With chicken prices skyrocketing this year, some traders are betting that stock in American chicken producers like Pilgrim's Pride Corp. and Sanderson Farms Inc. can only go down from here, according to Bloomberg reporter Megan Durisin.

"Some people are speculating that maybe the rising supplies of chicken is going to be pushing the price of chickens down," Durisin says.

But if Wall Street is ready to cash in on a bet that we have reached peak chicken, does that mean consumers can look forward to a cheaper chicken at the grocery store? According to Durisin, the answer is maybe.

"The wholesale and retail prices don't always move exactly hand in hand," she says, "but consumers certainly could see cheaper chicken next year."

John Deere doesn't expect it to be a happy new year

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-26 11:00

Deere & Company, the maker of John Deere farm equipment, said today that 2015 will be a tough year. The firm predicts it will sell fewer big machines to farmers thanks to a slump in crop prices. 

The price tags for the company’s farming equipment can reach well into the $200,000 to $300,000 range, and sales had been good. Net income attributable to Deere & Company in fiscal year 2013 was $3.5 billion (up from $3 billion in 2012), as the company rode a boom cycle in soybean and corn prices. 

“A lot of farmers were flush with cash and they traded for new equipment,” says John Hawkins of the Illinois Farm Bureau. Farmers were aiming to meet increasing demand from an industry boom in corn and soybean prices. 

“Farmers really geared up and spent a lot on their capacity to farm,” says Lawrence De Maria, co-group-head of global industrial infrastructure for William Blair & Co. 

The boom cycle, which began in the early 2000s, was fueled by demand from emerging markets and fuel-emission standards that required more corn for ethanol. 

“We’ve seen corn that’s dedicated to ethanol go from under 10 percent to almost 40 percent of the most recent crop, so that’s led to a tremendous boom,” says Morningstar Analyst Kwame Webb. 

But the EPA is now considering lowering the amount of ethanol that was supposed to be required for 2015. When it announced the idea earlier in 2014, the news began to dampen ethanol demand.  

“So the reality is you did have an industry sort of build itself up for greater ethanol consumption than what materialized,” Webb says. 

Add to that favorable weather this year, and the supply of corn – as well as soybean – is exceeding demand. Corn prices have dropped by 50 percent, and farmers are getting more conservative with their equipment purchases, Hawkins says. “They’re going to keep that combine or tractor a year or two longer than they probably thought they would.”

In addition, a tax deduction known as Section 179 expired in 2014 (along with many others). It had allowed farmers to deduct equipment purchase expenses. Whether those deductions will be extended for the 2014 tax year is now in limbo, but it’s already had the effect of making farmers less willing to take the risk on new equipment, says Hawkins. 

“I’ve been hearing, personally, from implement dealers that that’s the first thing the farmer will say is: Well, I don’t have that Section 179 expensing available, so I’m not willing to trade in right now for a new combine or a new tractor,” Hawkins says. 

The oversupply of crops and the decreased demand for them and for farm equipment spells trouble for John Deere, which reported a 20 percent fiscal fourth-quarter drop in profit from a year ago. The company believes industry sales for agricultural machinery in the U.S.  and Canada could decline 25 to 30 percent in 2015. 

"The slowdown has been most pronounced in the sale of large farm machinery, including many of our most profitable models,” Samuel R. Allen, company chairman and chief executive officer, said in a news release about the company’s fourth-quarter earnings.

“If you say that this is a bust, then they believe the forecast they’ve put out there represents pretty much the worst of the bust,” Webb says. 

The decline in sales also highlights John Deere’s previous successes in building up during the boom cycle, says De Maria, who adds that the company will have little choice but to wait out the downturn. 

“Certainly when it is a cyclical company, and the farm economy is cyclical … they’re susceptible to those declines as well,” De Maria says. 

The decline could last a long time, says De Maria. He points to the late 1990s and a downturn he says lasted six to seven years. 

“There’s only two ways to get out of a supply situation like we are in now, and that’s an upward increase in demand or a supply event, such as a weather event. And neither one of which we see right now” De Maria says. 

Low crop prices mean a tough outlook for John Deere

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-26 11:00

Deere & Company, the maker of John Deere farm equipment, said today that 2015 will be a tough year. The firm predicts it will sell fewer big machines to farmers thanks to a slump in crop prices. 

The price tags for the company’s farming equipment can reach well into the $200,000 to $300,000 range, and sales had been good. Net income attributable to Deere & Company in fiscal year 2013 was $3.5 billion (up from $3 billion in 2012), as the company rode a boom cycle in soybean and corn prices. 

“A lot of farmers were flush with cash and they traded for new equipment,” says John Hawkins of the Illinois Farm Bureau. Farmers were aiming to meet increasing demand from an industry boom in corn and soybean prices. 

“Farmers really geared up and spent a lot on their capacity to farm,” says Lawrence De Maria, co-group-head of global industrial infrastructure for William Blair & Company. 

The boom cycle, which began in the early 2000s, was fueled by demand from emerging markets and fuel emission standards that required more corn for ethanol. 

“We’ve seen corn that’s dedicated to ethanol go from under 10 percent to almost 40 percent of the most recent crop, so that’s led to a tremendous boom,” says Morningstar Analyst Kwame Webb. 

But the EPA is now considering lowering the amount of ethanol that was supposed to be required for 2015. When it announced the idea earlier in 2014, the news began to dampen ethanol demand.  

“So the reality is you did have an industry sort of build itself up for greater ethanol consumption than what materialized,” Webb says. 

Add to that favorable weather this year, and the supply of corn—as well as soybean—is exceeding demand. Corn prices have dropped by 50 percent, and farmers are getting more conservative with their equipment purchases, says Hawkins. “They’re going to keep that combine or tractor a year or two longer than they probably thought they would.”

In addition, a tax deduction known as Section 179 expired in 2014 (along with many others). It had allowed farmers to deduct equipment purchase expenses. Whether those deductions will be extended for the 2014 tax year is now in limbo, but it’s already had the effect of making farmers less willing to take the risk on new equipment, says Hawkins. 

“I’ve been hearing, personally, from implement dealers that that’s the first thing the farmer will say is: well, I don’t have that Section 179 expensing available, so I’m not willing to trade in right now for a new combine or a new tractor,” Hawkins says. 

The oversupply of crops and the decreased demand for them and for farm equipment has all spelled trouble for John Deere, which reported a 20 percent fiscal fourth-quarter drop in profit from a year ago. The company believes industry sales for agricultural machinery in the U.S.  and Canada could decline 25 to 30 percent in 2015. 

"The slowdown has been most pronounced in the sale of large farm machinery, including many of our most profitable models,” Samuel R. Allen, company chairman and chief executive officer, said in a news release about the company’s fourth-quarter earnings.

“If you say that this is a bust, then they believe the forecast they’ve put out there represents pretty much the worst of the bust,” says Webb. 

The decline in sales also highlights John Deere’s previous successes in building up during the boom cycle, says De Maria, who adds that the company will have little choice but to wait out the downturn. 

“Certainly when it is a cyclical company, and the farm economy is cyclical…they’re susceptible to those declines as well,” De Maria says. 

The decline could last a long time, according to De Maria who points to the late 1990s and to a downturn he says lasted six to seven years. 

“There’s only two ways to get out of a supply situation like we are in now, and that’s an upward increase in demand or a supply event, such as a weather event. And neither one of which we see right now” De Maria says. 

The government is literally buying tons of cranberries

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-26 11:00

The Department of Agriculture says it's buying $55 million worth of cranberries to reduce a huge market surplus and falling prices. They're facing pressure from the Congressional Cranberry Caucus, which is a real thing.

The agency will get 68 million pounds of cranberries and cranberry-related products, which will go to food pantries and other low-income food programs. 

We covered this very same cranberry crisis about a year ago, so if nothing else it's nice to get some closure.

The lingering cost of rioting

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-26 11:00

As Ferguson, Missouri, begins to quiet, there is a lot of work to be done to rebuild trust between citizens and law enforcement and to physically rebuild businesses that were damaged in the protests.

When those businesses reopen, some questions will linger: Will life in Ferguson ever be the same? How will these months of civil unrest and anger affect the area's economy, not just during this holiday shopping season but a year from now, five years, 10 years from now.

On a recent morning, I stopped by a park in South Central Los Angeles, a neighborhood that has its own history of unrest. It was just after sunrise when I met Fred Tarvin. He was starting his shift as a security guard at the Watts Towers, an otherworldly sculpture made of ornate spires that shoot up nearly 100 feet into the sky.

Tarvin grew up in this neighborhood.

"When I first saw the towers, being a young man fresh out of the service, I thought it was just a piece of junk," he remembers. Today he has a different opinion. He calls these spires a mighty work.

But most people familiar with the name Watts know it not because of these towers, but because of riots that burned much of the area nearly 50 years ago.

"A lot of people didn't want to come over because they figured Watts is just bad, because it's got a bad name," Tarvin says.

Watts struggled to recover economically after the riots, and it wasn't alone. Severe rioting erupted in poor black neighborhoods in Newark, Detroit, Washington, D.C. and other cities in the 1960s.

Two economic historians, William Collins and Robert Margo, studied owner-occupied housing data to see how much of those cities' economic declines could be attributed specifically to riots.

In places where severe rioting occurred, property values fell, Collins says, "by about 10 percent relative to where we think they would have been in absence of a riot, or in comparison to places with that had much less severe or no riots." Property owned by blacks saw values drop by as much as 15 percent.

But what was most surprising was that these losses lasted through the 20 years they studied. Some cities still haven't recovered.

"So a question that is especially relevant in the wake of an event like a riot," Collins says, "is 'Does a place bounce back quickly from this, and if it doesn't bounce back quickly, why not?'"

The reasons are complex. Many of these neighborhoods were poor before the riots, and each place has its own circumstances. But there are some common experiences after a riot. Insurance rates go up, cities tend to spend more on police and fire protection, and people who can afford to move away often do.

"So if your tax base is being diminished at the same time that you're increasing demands for police and fire, this is the sort of stuff investors might think of as potentially weakening the fiscal position of cities," Collins says. This makes it harder for to raise money for revitalization projects. It's harder to attract businesses and developers, and news coverage can paint a negative picture of a place.

The 1960s riots were dramatic and catastrophic.

"The events in Ferguson don't rise to the same level of severity that we saw in the 1960s," says Margo, "so that would lead you to suspect that they wouldn't have any long-run effect."

On the other hand the riots of the 1960s lasted only days, Margo points out, while the unrest in Ferguson has gone on for months.

Ferguson Documents: What Michael Brown's Friend Saw

NPR News - Wed, 2014-11-26 10:19

Dorian Johnson is a shadow figure in the Michael Brown case. Aside from officer Darren Wilson and Brown, he had the closest look at what happened. This is his story.

» E-Mail This

Justice Ginsburg Recovering After Heart Stent Implant

NPR News - Wed, 2014-11-26 10:05

The 81-year-old justice had the procedure to clear a blocked right coronary artery. She was expected to be back on the bench when the Supreme Court reconvenes on Monday

» E-Mail This

Those Phone-Obsessed Teenagers Aren't As Lonely As You Think

NPR News - Wed, 2014-11-26 09:58

Teenagers may not need as much face-to-face interaction as earlier generations to feel connected. And that may explain why a study finds they're not feeling as lonely, either.

» E-Mail This

Pages