National News

Liberte, Egalite, Gastronomie? France Rallies To Defend Its Food's Honor

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 09:42

With fast food now a staple at home and Danish and Spanish chefs in the limelight, France's culinary supremacy is no longer a given. The government has mobilized to save French food traditions.

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America's next financial crisis?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-23 09:40

Michael Lewis is always writing something, and, more often than not, something damning about the financial industry. Most recently, his book "Flash Boys" followed Brad Katsuyama, a Wall Street insider who saw significant problems in high frequency trading. 

In a new afterword for the paperback edition, also published in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, Lewis notes, "When I sat down to write 'Flash Boys,' in 2013, I didn’t intend to see just how angry I could make the richest people on Wall Street." 

The anger was simply a byproduct of what Lewis thought was a straightforward story. 

"The story was: what happens when a good man walks onto Wall Street and finds a problem," Lewis says. "But of course it irritated all the people who were making lots of money off the problem."

That problem was a result of high frequency trading, the transactions that happen in microseconds or nano-seconds. Traders at large firms had access to information moments before other investors, essentially a view a just fractions of a second into the future. Multiply a few pennies to their advantage over 2 million trades per second, it adds up. 

Katsuyama created his own exchange which, Lewis says, puts a few speed bumps in front of that supersonic trading to create a level playing field. Called IEX, it's growing, with backing from venture capitalists and institutional investors. Will that be enough to solve the problem?

"I think there's every possibility, over a period of five to ten years of market-based change," Lewis says. "I don't hold a lot of hope of other sources of change."

Other sources of change could include new regulation, or self-imposed discipline on the part of traders. Regulation would be the purvey of the Securities and Exchange Commission, but officials there have radically different views on how well the market is functioning. On one hand, chair Mary Jo White has told Congress that markets are operating well. Contrast that with former SEC official John Ramsay, who likened the structure of U.S. stock markets to the Death Star. Ramsay is among Lewis's sources, and has gone on to join IEX.  

As for self-discipline, there's too much money encouraging traders to stick with current habits. 

"If you go back to the financial crisis, what caused it wasn't really bad people, it was people badly incentivized," Lewis said. "This is that all over again. It's a very badly incentivized stock market."

And, depressing as that is, it gets worse. At least when Lewis asked the experts he featured in "Flash Boys."

"If the market continues to be structured as it is, you're looking at the next financial crisis."

If You're Going To Die Soon, Do You Really Need Statins?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 09:17

Many older people are taking a lot of meds, and some drugs may not be doing them much good. When terminally ill people went off statins, they said they felt better. And it didn't increase their risk.

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You Think Your City Is Full Of Trash? Ha!

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 08:56

Welcome to Kathmandu — or as some call it, Trashmandu. Even in the best of times, rubbish piles up everywhere. Now things have gotten worse.

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If animal feed were organic, could we afford eggs?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-23 08:50

The World Health Organization now says the weed-killer glyphosate, better known as Roundup, probably causes cancer. Most corn and soybeans produced in the U.S. are treated with glyphosate.

But, Americans don't eat much corn — not unless you live on Fritos, or maybe Coca-Cola, which is sweetened with corn syrup. We instead eat animals that eat corn: cows, pigs, chickens. Maybe we’re consuming glyphosate when we eat a nice, juicy steak or an Egg McMuffin.

If we ended up switching away from chemicals like the Monsanto-marketed Roundup — say, if all our animal feed were organically grown — how much would our eggs and milk cost? 

To start with: Organic corn costs more. From $11 a bushel to almost $14, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with conventional corn selling for less than $4

But animal feed is a relatively tiny part of the cost of our food. You know how many eggs you get from a bushel of corn? More than 200 eggs, which is less than two cents worth of corn per egg. Triple that cost, by using organic corn to feed the chickens, and you're only at six cents.

Higher feed prices do not tend to push up grocery bills, says Bruce Babcock, an economist at Iowa State University who studies corn.

"We did run this experiment where we doubled the price of corn," he says, and he’s not talking about an experiment in the lab, this was in the real world. The price of corn goes up and down, and you can see what grocery prices do.

"It wasn’t so long ago that we had $8 corn, not $4 corn," he says, "and people hardly noticed at the supermarket."

So, why did I pay almost five bucks for a dozen organic eggs yesterday? I asked David Bruce, who runs the egg program at the Organic Valley co-op. His members sold $50 million worth of eggs last year.

He says, organic producers do have other costs — and the distributor and the store both take a cut of my $5. But basically, he says, I paid that much because I wanted them — and so did a lot of other people.

"Demand is outstripping supply," he says. "You know, we’re filling orders at 60 percent," meaning, if a distributor asks for a 100 cases, a farmer can only send 60.

If the whole world went organic, there would be more supply — more organic corn, more organic chickens — and price would probably come down.

Quitting the Bakken: one oil worker walks away

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-23 08:38

In the past few years, workers from all over America have flocked to North Dakota for jobs in the booming oil industry. For a lot of people struggling through their own hard times, it’s been an opportunity for a second chance. And for some, it was their last resort. But since summer 2014, oil prices have dropped by half. Some 75,000 oil workers nationwide have lost their jobs, and more have had their hours cut.

Apryl Boyce is one of those workers. She's 42, tall, tough-looking and pretty, with long blond hair tucked beneath a crocheted beanie. She came to the Bakken last fall and has spent months driving a one-ton truck all over the oil field, at all hours of the day, as a hot shot, a driver who hauls equipment from one job site to another. Recently, things have slowed down a lot.

"It used to be you’d get called out at four in the morning and be doing runs until 10 at night," she said.

Now, she waits by the phone most of the day. There are 80 fewer drilling rigs here in North Dakota than there were six months ago. That means less to haul around.

At the office of Badlands Service Group, the small oil field company Apryl works for, owner Jim Levasseur said his work force is 40 percent smaller than it was a few weeks ago. He's been cutting people's hours — and then a lot of them have quit.

"They’re wanting 60 to 80 hours a week, and if they’re only going to get 40 hours a week, they’re going to go home," he said. "It may not be as much money, but at least they’re home every night and not sacrificing."

Given how dangerous the oil field is, Jim said, he doesn't blame them for leaving. "People get killed up here on a weekly basis. These are the worst conditions I’ve ever seen for working."

Safety is only part of why Apryl is leaving. Her unpleasant housing situation is another major contributor. A week ago, Jim combined employee housing to cut costs. He asked Apryl to move in with 11 young men in a tired old ranch house on what used to be the outskirts of Williston, which is now hemmed in by new apartment buildings.

"I try to wear bulky pajamas and heavy sweatshirts and try to be as unattractive as possible," she said. "Because I don’t want to provoke any unwanted comments."

Apryl looked for other places to live, but an average one bedroom here still runs over $2,000. Her ad on Craigslist seeking housing didn’t work, either: She received a bunch of offers of free rent in exchange for sexual favors.

"There weren't any legit, comfortable offers," she said.

But there's another reason, a deeper reason, why she decided to leave. Ten years ago, her mother died. At that time Apryl sold everything she owned (except a storage unit full of her mother's cookbooks) and began bouncing from job to job: oil field trucker in Colorado, cattle ranch cook in Wyoming. She was running, she said, from anything she used to do, anything that made her feel like herself — until she got to the Bakken.

"It took the absolute grungiest, dingiest, darkest part of life to make me realize you can stop running," she said.

The oil field slowdown has given her a chance to pause. To think about what brought her to the Bakken, and what no longer keeps her there.

"I lost myself in the oil fields," Apryl said. "I lost myself chasing money for all the wrong reasons, and I’m not going to let it happen again."

Two days later, Apryl left Williston for a mountain town in Colorado she had talked about a lot. She’s running again, but this time to a place that feels like home.

Quitting the Bakken: one oil worker walks away

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-23 08:38

In the past few years, workers from all over America have flocked to North Dakota for jobs in the booming oil industry. For a lot of people struggling through their own hard times, it’s been an opportunity for a second chance. And for some, it was their last resort. But since summer 2014, oil prices have dropped by half. Some 75,000 oil workers nationwide have lost their jobs, and more have had their hours cut.

Apryl Boyce is one of those workers. She's 42, tall, tough-looking and pretty, with long blond hair tucked beneath a crocheted beanie. She came to the Bakken last fall and has spent months driving a one-ton truck all over the oilfield, at all hours of the day, as a hot shot, a driver who hauls equipment from one job site to another. Recently, things have slowed down a lot.

"It used to be you’d get called out at four in the morning and be doing runs until 10 at night," she said.

Now, she waits by the phone most of the day. There are 80 fewer drilling rigs here in North Dakota than there were six months ago. That means less to haul around.

At the office of Badlands Service Group, the small oil field company Apryl works for, owner Jim Levasseur said his work force is 40 percent smaller than it was a few weeks ago. He's been cutting people's hours — and then a lot of them have quit.

"They’re wanting 60 to 80 hours a week, and if they’re only going to get 40 hours a week, they’re going to go home," he said. "It may not be as much money, but at least they’re home every night and not sacrificing."

Given how dangerous the oilfield is, Jim said, he doesn't blame them for leaving. "People get killed up here on a weekly basis. These are the worst conditions I’ve ever seen for working."

Safety is only part of why Apryl is leaving. Her unpleasant housing situation is another major contributor. A week ago, Jim combined employee housing to cut costs. He asked Apryl to move in with 11 young men in a tired old ranch house on what used to be the outskirts of Williston, which is now hemmed in by new apartment buildings.

"I try to wear bulky pajamas and heavy sweatshirts and try to be as unattractive as possible," she said. "Because I don’t want to provoke any unwanted comments."

Apryl looked for other places to live, but an average one bedroom here still runs over $2,000. Her ad on Craigslist seeking housing didn’t work, either: She received a bunch of offers of free rent in exchange for sexual favors.

"There weren't any legit, comfortable offers," she said.

But there's another reason, a deeper reason, why she decided to leave. Ten years ago, her mother died. At that time Apryl sold everything she owned (except a storage unit full of her mother's cookbooks) and began bouncing from job to job: oilfield trucker in Colorado, cattle ranch cook in Wyoming. She was running, she said, from anything she used to do, anything that made her feel like herself — until she got to the Bakken.

"It took the absolute grungiest, dingiest, darkest part of life to make me realize you can stop running," she said.

The oilfield slowdown has given her a chance to pause. To think about what brought her to the Bakken, and what no longer keeps her there.

"I lost myself in the oilfields," Apryl said. "I lost myself chasing money for all the wrong reasons, and I’m not going to let it happen again."

Two days later, Apryl left Williston for a mountain town in Colorado she had talked about a lot. She’s running again, but this time to a place that feels like home.

Why RadioShack's bankruptcy ended in an auction

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-23 08:36

A bankruptcy auction began for RadioShack Monday. One bidder is Standard General, a hedge fund that is also a major RadioShack shareholder and creditor. It wants to keep approximately half RadioShack's stores open through a deal with Sprint. But other bidders are expected to be liquidators, looking to simply sell off all RadioShack's assets. 

The bankruptcy auction is a different approach than the restructuring and relaunching that characterized, for example, American Airlines' bankruptcy. But Peter Gilhuly, co-chair of the insolvency practice at Latham and Watkins, says it's actually more common, especially for retailers. 

"Auctions are wonderful mechanisms for determining a price and allocating a resource," says Bob Hansen, professor of business administration at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

But bankruptcy auctions legally can optimize only that price, looking for the "highest and best offer" to pay back creditors — even though the different plans will have vastly different outcomes for the business. Standard General says its plan will save 9,000 jobs.

"That's what makes this news," says Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities. "We just don't know. And people's jobs are in the balance."

Big changes on the way to the NFL

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-23 08:30

Forget basketball and the NCAA tournament for a minute here. Let's talk football.

The NFL is having its annual owners meeting this week in Phoenix, out of which have come two things of note:

One: the NFL's gonna suspend its longstanding and much-hated blackout rule for this coming season. That's the rule that had kept home games off television in local markets unless they're sold out 72 hours before kickoff.

And two: the league will broadcast the October 25 Jacksonville vs. Buffalo game online via Facebook or YouTube.

When you consider that the NFL signed $27 billion worth of television contracts just a couple of years ago, it's an interesting first step.

Singapore Mourns Founding Leader Lee Kuan Yew

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 08:22

The city state began seven days of national mourning after Lee's death today at age 91. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was "grieved beyond words" at Lee's death.

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An Object Of Desire: Hope And Yearning For The Internet In Cuba

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 07:57

Without a doubt, the Internet in Cuba is tough. The politics are thorny; getting it is difficult. But there are signs that change is on the horizon.

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Yemen Descends Into Chaos As Foreign Minister Seeks Help From Neighbors

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 07:18

Britain reportedly has withdrawn its remaining special forces, days after a similar U.S. move, in response to the worsening security that the U.N. envoy for Yemen described as the "edge of civil war."

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Ted Cruz Makes It Official

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 07:05

The Texas senator is looking for a boost, as he trails other GOP presidential hopefuls. So he took the bold move of becoming the first to officially declare his candidacy.

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Is Ted Cruz Allowed To Run Since He Was Born In Canada?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 07:03

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to declare for president, but some question whether he's eligible since he was born in Canada. Legal scholars, though, believe he can.

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Paris Bans Some Cars For A Day To Battle Smog

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 05:38

According to one company that measures air quality, the French capital last week briefly dethroned New Delhi and Beijing as the world's most polluted city.

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How a poison pill works

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-23 05:33

For months, the biggest mall operator in the U.S., Simon Property Group (SPG), has been trying to buy the third largest, Macerich.

SPG has tried everything: SPG asked the board of directors from Macerich nicely, it has thrown money at shareholders, and now it's waging a nasty campaign in the press against the company's directors.

It's a classic example of a hostile takeover, and as SPG has gotten more and more hostile, Macerich has responded with some hostility of its own: a "poison pill."

A poison pill is essentially a deterrent designed to make a buyout very unpleasant for the acquiring company. Poison pills come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and have a variety of effects.

Poison pills come in two basic forms: They can either make an acquisition very hard to swallow, or they can have awful side-effects.

The Macerich poison pill falls into the first camp. If SPG attempts to buy up a huge chunk of Macerich — specifically 10 percent or more of the company — current shareholders will be able to buy one preferred share for every share of Macerich that they already hold. This will dilute the value of SPG's 10 percent stake, and also make it doubly expensive to buy Macerich.

Pretty hard to swallow, right?

There is one antidote to this poison, though, and that's money — and SPG has buckets of money. The company may decide it wants Macerich so badly it is prepared to spend the money and swallow the poison — with Macerich right along with it. 

How a poison pill works

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-23 05:33

For months, the biggest mall operator in the U.S., Simon Property Group (SPG), has been trying to buy the third largest, Macerich.

SPG has tried everything: SPG asked the board of directors from Macerich nicely, it has thrown money at shareholders, and now it's waging a nasty campaign in the press against the company's directors.

As SPG has gotten more and more hostile, Macerich has responded with some hostility of its own: a "poison pill."

A poison pill is essentially a deterrent designed to make a buyout very unpleasant for the acquiring company. Poison pills come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and have a variety of effects.

Poison pills come in two basic forms: They can either make an acquisition very hard to swallow, or they can have awful side-effects.

The Macerich poison pill falls into the first camp. If SPG attempts to buy up a huge chunk of Macerich — specifically 10 percent or more of the company — current shareholders will be able to buy one preferred share for every share of Macerich that they already hold. This will dilute the value of SPG's 10 percent stake, and also make it doubly expensive to buy Macerich.

Pretty hard to swallow, right?

There is one antidote to this poison, though, and that's money — and SPG has buckets of money. The company may decide it wants Macerich so badly it is prepared to spend the money and swallow the poison — with Macerich right along with it. 

Media Dissect Sen. Ted Cruz's Presidential Prospects

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 04:46

The Texas Republican's early focus will reportedly be fundraising and the caucuses. He faces what's likely to be a crowded Republican field for the 2016 presidential nomination.

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SpaceX Puts Its Images In The Public Domain

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 03:42

CEO Elon Musk's decision was prompted by a Twitter follower who asked him why SpaceX had merely placed its images on Flickr and elsewhere with a Creative Commons license.

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What You Need To Know About Ted Cruz

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-23 03:03

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced his presidential bid Monday on Twitter. If the early campaign trail is any indication of how 2016 will play out, he'll be exactly who he's always been.

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