National News

FBI: 51 Law Enforcement Officers 'Feloniously Killed' In 2014

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 15:36

After a sharp drop in 2013, the number of police and other law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty as a result of felonious incidents rose in 2014, from 27 to 51, the FBI says.

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Exotic Vinegar Flies Invade California After World Tour

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 14:39

One critter traveled around the globe from Australia on a eucalyptus tree. The other hitched a ride on a Central American flower. These flies are the tip of the invasive insect iceberg in California.

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Why Food Companies Should Be More Afraid Of Water Scarcity

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 14:10

An environmental sustainability group assessed how 37 U.S. food companies are responding to escalating water risks. It found most have a long way to go to improve water efficiency and other practices.

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NFL Suspends Tom Brady For 4 Games Over 'Deflategate' Scandal

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:56

Days after a lengthy report found it was "more probable than not" that quarterback Tom Brady knew of rule-breaking, the NFL suspends him for four games next season and fines his team $1 million.

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U.S. Gives Conditional OK To Shell Oil For Drilling Off Alaska's Arctic Shore

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:39

The company wants to resume drilling in the Chukchi Sea off of northwestern Alaska; it broke off that effort in 2012, due to safety problems.

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It's Infrastructure Week: More Potholes Than Tax Dollars To Fill Them

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:08

Money for federally funded road and bridge improvements is running low, and as usual, Congress is spinning its wheels trying to find a solution.

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Jeb Bush Would Have Authorized Iraq War — Even Knowing What We Know Now

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:06

The Bush last name is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to Jeb Bush becoming president. He says he's his own man, but over the weekend he said he would have also authorized the Iraq war.

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Family Doctors Who Do More, Save More

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:04

A study suggests that coordinated care, led by a family doctor who is judicious about referring patients to specialists, leads to cost savings.

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Why are ketchup packets so... unsatisfying?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:00

The H.J. Heinz Company says it sells about 11 billion of its nine gram ketchup packets every year.

We were directed to examine ketchup packets by Marketplace listener Kali den Heijer for the latest installment of our series, "I've Always Wondered." Den Heijer asked: "I've always wondered how they decided to make ketchup packets the size that they are."

Is that because one is never enough?

"Right, exactly," says writer Rich Cohen. And that's just the start. "You can't open them, and you gotta use your teeth, and you squeeze it out, and you never get enough, and it gets all over your hands."

In other words, there's a bigger question here: Why are ketchup packets so awful? Cohen thinks his Grandpa Ben played a role.

Ben Eisenstadt ran a diner across from the Brooklyn Naval Yard in the 1930s and 40s. It boomed during World War II, then went bust when all the sailors went home. Time for a new business.

"And he had this idea that he should package tea," Cohen says.

Eisenstadt worked in a tea-packing plant as a kid, and knew how the machines worked. He bought a machine to make tea bags, installed it in the empty diner and quickly found that this had been a terrible idea. Too much competition.

"So he didn't know what to do," Cohen says. "He's sort of out of money, completely out of ideas. And he goes out to a meal, at Cookie's in Brooklyn, with my Grandma Betty. And he's like 'What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?' And she says, 'Why don't you package sugar?'"  

She had worked with Ben in the diner, cleaning up the bowls people had dipped spoons into. Gross. Eisenstadt re-configured the tea bag machine to make sugar packets. It was the first modern food-service packet. Later, he packaged other things: duck sauce, soy sauce.

Choen's theory: "The Platonic form of all the packets is that original tea-bagging machine, turned into a sugar machine, in the Cumberland Diner."

People who have worked in the food-service-packet-engineering world for decades say this is as good a theory as any. They confirm Eisenstadt invented the sugar packet, and that was the first one. The size could be a remnant.

Descendants of Grandpa Ben's tea-bag machine now churn out up to 8,000 ketchup packets a minute in the Red Gold factory near Indianapolis. Red Gold has packed tomatoes since 1942. Later, the company expanded into ketchup.

Dave Halt came in 17 years ago to help crack the food-service market. He asked customers what they wanted.

"It became very clear that they wanted to buy their ketchup packets in a particular size," Halt says. "[I] still haven't quite figured out how they decided that nine grams is the size that was needed."

Red Gold offers seven-and 11-gram packets, but there's very little demand.

Cost is another consideration: keeping moisture and oxygen from getting in, and keeping highly-acidic ketchup from eating its way out isn't easy, or cheap.

"The actual cost of the package is really more than the nine grams of ketchup that's inside," Halt says.

It's not that nobody has tried to design a better ketchup packet.

"There was a time when McDonald's was hiring every designer under the sun," says Jeremy Alexis. He worked for one of those design firms. This was about 12 years ago. McDonald's wanted innovation and improvements. So, the way designers do, Jeremy and the others spent a lot of time observing exactly how people used McDonalds' products. That meant riding around with moms-on-the-go, getting drive-thru while they're on the phone.

"And at the same time," he says, "the kids would be yelling, 'I want the food now! I need it now!' So they'd be handing the food back all at the same time."

Alexis and his colleagues brought a lot of new packet designs to McDonald's leadership. He says it was like lambs being led to the slaughter, because the new packet would cost more. McDonald's gives ketchup packets away; each one might cost a nickel, and this is a nickel and dime business.

Then in 2010, after years of effort, Heinz actually did introduce a new ketchup packet. The Dip and Squeeze was three times larger than typical packets and boasted an easier-to-use design."Old ketchup packet heads for trash" the Wall Street Journal declared at the time.

Nope. The packet costs more than three times as much to make. Operators worry teenage clerks would still pass them out by the handful.

NFL accepted millions in taxpayer dollars to honor military

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:00

The NFL proves itself to be greedier than the greediness it has already demonstrated.

News broke this weekend that at least some of those ceremonies honoring the troops you've seen at games the past several years have been paid advertisements. Paid advertisements funded by taxpayer money. 

To cite just one example, the New York Jets got $337,000 from the New Jersey National Guard over the course of four years for Hometown Hero segments.

Maybe it's just me, but you'd sort of have hoped the NFL would do it—just because.

How much is a 10-year forecast for cheap oil worth?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:00

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries predicts oil prices will hang below a $100 a barrel for as long as a decade. At least that's what the cartel is forecasting in a draft strategy report obtained by the Wall Street Journal. OPEC did not respond to a request for the report.

Looking out to 2025, OPEC says crude will trade at about $76 a barrel in its most optimistic scenario.

Experts say it’s hard to predict what that would mean for the U.S. economy. One reason? The time frame isn't meaningful.

“It is always a fool's errand to be making predictions for oil prices — or frankly just about anything — 10 years ahead,” says Pavel Molchanov, an energy analyst with Raymond James.

Molchanov says cheaper oil has meant roughly a dollar-a-gallon decline in gas prices, translating into a $600 to $800 yearly benefit for a typical American household. But that benefit has been muted in the economy so far. 

“We had assumed the money would be treated as a windfall,  and consumers did better than that,” says Doug Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.

Handler says instead of using their savings at the pump to splurge on clothing or dining out, consumers have been conservative, stashing their money away or paying down debt. That does little to goose consumer spending, a key driver of the economy.

Handler says cheaper oil's benefits may be more noticeable in lower inflation, especially in combination with a stronger U.S. dollar.

“The lower inflation, of course, improves the buying power of consumers,” he notes. “We’re hopeful that that phase two of the impact will kick in this year.”

But the volatility of oil forecasts may complicate any prognostications about economic impacts.

“The average may be $70 a barrel, but the range could be $20-$150,” says Bob McNally, president of The Rapidan Group, an energy policy, market and geopolitical consulting firm. 

McNally says that volatility matters more for the economy, consumers and oil producers than oil’s average price.


Riding the oil price roller coaster in New Mexico

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:00

Asked where oil is being produced in Eddy County, New Mexico, Jake Marbach has a one-word answer: "Everywhere."

 He qualifies that with, "everywhere in the east two thirds of the county."  

There's always been oil in Eddy County. It's one of the major oil-producing counties in southeastern New Mexico, part of the Permian Basin that encompasses much of the West Texas oil patch. But in the last few years, fracking has opened up new deposits, with names like Bone Spring and Wolfcamp, and oil companies have been hiring firms like Marbach's Allied Land Services to find and purchase rights to do exploratory drilling.  But fracking is also expensive, and the economic viability of any new wells rides on the price of oil. Not that Marbach was following it last year, when it was up near $100.

"I'd look at it and admired it about once a week, just happy it was where it was at," he laughs. "But as far as actually tracking it? No. We were so busy and the companies kept ordering work, I didn't pay attention to it until it really started going down."

Last fall, he watched it with increasing trepidation as it dropped to $90, $80, $70 a barrel.

"When it went below $50, that's when they started pulling the plug on a lot of these projects," he says.

That happened in January, when his oil company customers cut him off en masse. He had to fire half his staff.

"I had one young guy that moved here from Fort Worth just specifically to work for me, and I had to lay him off," he says. "That was... that was rough."

Months later, oil has crept closer to $60, and his business is just starting to come back. You can see the mood in the records room of the county clerk's office where landmen like Marbach do much of their work. 

It's a room with six long narrow tables that double as bookshelves for hundreds of oversized hardbacks--full of deeds and mortgages going back to the 1800s. When oil was $100, Marbach says these tables were packed shoulder to shoulder, but now there are just four people at each, one of whom is Wesley Burnett—the guy Marbach fired.

"I mean, everyone kind of knew for a couple weeks, you know," he says of his firing. "It was like: 'When is it going to happen?'"

He spent a few unemployed weeks doing odd jobs and watching TV at home, but he's back doing land title research for oil companies. For now. 

"That's also a risk, like, everyone in this courthouse is taking, doing this kind of work," he says. "They kind of know that it can end at the drop of a pin."

But the ups and downs of oil don't only impact the people who work for it. In fact, oil has kind of remade the city of Carlsbad. 

The roads here are full of trucks: eighteen-wheelers hauling water and heavy equipment and pickups with oil company logos on the side or in the rear windshield. They fill the parking lots of restaurants like McAlister's and Happy's, and of the hotels that are the newest, tallest buildings in town. At least six have opened since the oil boom started.

"I would say that a good 75 percent of our guests, are tied to the oil and gas industry in some way, shape, or form," says David Burton, general manager of the Comfort Suites, which opened in October. 

Oil and gas industry workers are easy to identify, from their company shirts, company trucks or company credit cards. As the oil price fell, and companies began to cut back, they also cut back their hotel reservations — and their willingness to pay top dollar. 

"Our rates have come down probably close to a hundred dollars a night," says Burton. "They were about $350 and they've come down to about $250."

For permanent housing, supply has taken longer to meet demand. 

"We were short on housing before the oil boom started," says Jeff Campbell, director of marketing and business development at the Carlsbad Department of Development. 

That housing shortage worsened over the last five years, as the oil boom nearly doubled the population from under 30,000 to what Campbell tallies at more than 50,000 people. (This count is based on water usage and Campbell believes is more accurate than the lower Census figures.)

"Right now when the oil play is down a little bit it gives a little bit of a chance to catch up," he says.

The "catching up" comes in the form of new multifamily housing like the Copperstone Apartments, where contractors were recently spreading cement onto the last few two-story buildings.

"Oh yeah, there's a lot of work right here, bro," said Cesar Enriquez as he rinsed cement off his tools. "There's a lot of work right here and in Hobbs, too."

 Hobbs is another town in New Mexican oil country — where you can be sure a lot people are hoping the oil price rebound continues.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal on what makes a good leader

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:00

When retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal took control of a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Iraq, those in his charge were highly trained, and very good at their job. And yet, "what we found was, the outcomes were diminishing. I.e., we were losing the war in Iraq,” says McChrystal.  “We could either continue to be very, very good at what we did and fail — or we could change ourselves fundamentally, to be successful.”

It's that lesson that McChrystal thinks business leaders should take to heart, something he chronicles in his new book,  “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World."

On getting large, bureaucratic institutions to make changes

In the organizations that I was in, which are so elite, sometimes the aversion to change or resistance is even higher. Their very identity is wrapped up into how things have been done. But there still needs to be this creation of the idea of shared consciousness that we all understand what we're trying to do against a common understanding of what the problem is, so we can react quickly.

On "sharing information until it's almost illegal"

The old idea that we will only share information with someone who needs to know, that's sort of the tagline from movies and whatnot, is basically flawed because — who knows who needs to know?

On how technology might, or might not, change the way we do business:

What we see in Silicon Valley right now is a tremendous amount of innovation. But the idea that big data is suddenly going to give us the answer to the problem is something that, in the book, we find to be incorrect because the speed at which data is being created and changed stays ahead of our ability to harness it.

On his ideal leader of the future

I really believe it's going to be someone who creates an ecosystem. In that ecosystem, the leader allows a whole host of leaders inside that to interact and be effective, and that's where the power comes from.

On the Rolling Stone article that led to his eventual retirement

In the case of trusting your staff, I trusted my team in a case that, when sometimes things come out wrong, the most important thing is to learn from it quickly, learn from it immediately, keep the confidence of the organization up and move forward and that's what I think is really important.

Since his retirement, General McChrystal has also been an advocate of universal national service. Listen to the audio below for more of his conversation with Kai Ryssdal:

As upfronts begin, advertisers hedge bets on TV ads

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:00

Throughout this week, network TV executives and advertisers will be meeting in Manhattan to hash out deals for some $20 billion of TV ads for the upcoming year.  People in the business call these meetings the “upfronts.” There's a lot of showmanship. Univision's presentation on Tuesday features a panel that includes Bill Clinton and a performance by Ricky Martin.

At one time, about three-fourths of all TV ads were booked during the upfronts.  But as with most aspects of media these days, this is no longer the case.

Jon Steinlauf is president of ad Sales for Scripps Networks, which produces shows like House Hunters and Chopped.  He says access to more and more consumer data means advertisers are more strategic with their investments. 

"Is it better to make decisions early and get the cost savings that go along with it?" he said. "Or are we better off holding our money and making that decision closer and closer to air?"

Today’s ad buyers want both the broad reach of television and the flexibility of the internet. Steinlauf says the upfront still accounts for half of all Scripps' ad sales. 

And while TV viewership has been dropping for years now, the market for content is actually bigger than ever.

"We have to bear in mind that the definitions are very very much changing in the TV landscape,” said Macquarie Media analyst Tim Nollen.

Even though the upfront may be shrinking, the news is not all bad for the networks. Nollen points to the dramatic growth of mobile apps and DVRs in creating additional platforms to sell advertising.  

"How often do you see people sitting on a train, watching TV on their phone? Which was impossible to do even a few years ago," he says. "So, it’s just about everyone trying to grab pieces of that larger pie now."

Nollen notes that Nielsen ratings are still the metric used for assigning a dollar value to TV ads. However, the company is also looking at new ways to track eyeballs on things like digital ads for mobile aps.

Greece manages to make IMF repayment

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-11 13:00

Greece's finance minister on Monday authorized the transfer of 770 million euros to the International Monetary Fund, meaning the debt-saddled nation will meet this particular debt payment. But the Greek government will have very little fiscal liquidity for the month of May.  "This is absolutely the tightest it's been," says Douglas Elliott, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Athens will now hope to strike a new deal with European Union creditors that would unlock more bailout money without further tightening the screws on its battered finances. The country has approximately until the end of May or June until its newly-emptied coffers run dry. The question is: can Greece and the EU work out a new deal in time?

Germany's finance minister has said he wouldn't oppose a Greek referendum on the terms of such a deal, though the implication is that Greece's left-wing Syriza government would be supporting its passage. If Greek voters were to reject the terms of a new E. U. deal, Greece would likely exit the eurozone. John Psarapoulos, a blogger for The New Athenian, says "what [Syriza] is entitled to do is negotiate a controlled presence of Greece within the eurozone. It is not authorized to negotiate an exit, even a controlled one."

But even though Syriza has talked tough toward its EU creditors, it has moved to improve the country's finances, says Vicki Pryce, chief economic advisor at the Centre for Economic and Business Research. "In other words," Pryce says, "it's improved its fiscal position a lot more than many other countries have done."

So the EU may be moved by Greece's efforts... or frustrated enough to take a tougher line.

Why California Farmers Are Conflicted About Using Less Water

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 12:42

Cities in California have been ordered to cut water use. Farms have not, yet. Inside the industry, there's a quiet debate: Does it makes sense to invest in water-conserving tech now — or later?

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Tales From 3 Louisianans Who Got Subsidized Health Insurance

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 12:42

About 90 percent of people in Louisiana who signed up for Obamacare got a subsidy. Some worry they won't be able to afford health insurance if the aid is overturned by the Supreme Court.

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Using Investments And Technology To Rebuild Hawaii's Koa Forests

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 12:42

One company is undertaking reforestation with an innovative business model. Investors can track the coveted trees using digital IDs. Their money goes to plant new trees that won't be harvested.

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Low, Middle Income Workers Most Vulnerable To Loss Of Obamacare Subsidies

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 12:42

The Supreme Court may soon rule Obamacare subsidies illegal in about three dozen states. NPR's Audie Cornish talks to Linda Blumberg of the Urban Institute about the options those states would have.

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Preschool By State: Who's Spending And What's It Buying?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-11 12:40

A new, national report on state-funded pre-K sends a few mixed messages: Enrollment and funding are up ... but in many places still remarkably low.

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