National News

Oh Canada... the black hole for U.S. stores

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 13:29

Sears announced today that it lost more than $400 million in the first quarter and is planning to close more than 80 locations. One of the big losses for the company was in Canada, where Sears saw its biggest sales dive in five years. But Sears isn’t the only retailer that got a curveball from our neighbor to the north. This week, Target sacked the head of its Canadian operations after losing nearly $1.5 billion on its Canadian stores. Wal-Mart and Lowe’s have also had trouble finding their footing in the Canadian market. 

"We are different. People forget that we are different in terms of how we buy," says Debi Andrus, Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business. "We buy the same items and we’re still looking for value, but we have different purchasing behaviors."

Take Target, which charged into Canada last year, opening more than 100 stores. That might sound like over-reach, but Target was already popular with Canadians, who had been crossing the border to shop at its stores for years.

"I don't want to call it arrogance, I wouldn't want to say that," says Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with financial services firm Edward Jones. "There was too much complacency. They thought, 'We can go up to Canada and open these stores just like in the U.S. and people are just going to flock to stores. That didn't occur."

Yarbrough says part of the problem was Target tried to stock its Canadian stores the same way it stocked those in the U.S. "We have financial advisors up in Canada and we get these calls that are like, 'It’s the middle of October and it’s winter up here already and they don’t even have gloves in their stores."

Canadian retailers also upped their game in anticipation of Target coming to Canada, by lowering prices, stepping up marketing… with one notable exception. "Sears Canada wasn't changing as the other Canadian retailers were changing with the other American companies coming in," says Andrus. She says Canada is a competitive market. Although the country is huge, its population is relatively small. There are 35 million Canadians, compared with more than 300 million Americans. And there are only so many loonies to go around.

Billionaire Environmentalist Targets 7 Statewide Races

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 13:23

Tom Steyer, a California investor, is aiming to label Republican candidates as "science deniers" who are on the wrong side of the climate change issue.

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3 More Men Charged In Conspiracy Case Roiling Miss. Senate Race

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 13:03

The men are accused of conspiring to take and publish photographs of Sen. Thad Cochran's wife at her nursing home. His opponent in the June 3 primary denies any part in the matter.

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Mars Weathercam Spots Big New Crater

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 13:02

A scientist monitoring Martian weather for the Opportunity rover team noticed an inconspicuous dark patch that turned out to be a new impact crater half the size of a football field.

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Insurance Fee For Big Businesses Helps Fund Obamacare

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 12:21

Size does matter under the Affordable Care Act. Large companies such as Cleveland's Sherwin-Williams aren't likely to use the individual insurance marketplaces, but they will help pay for them.

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Superfood fads: Super distracting for global farmers?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 12:12

You may be sick of hearing about the virtues of foods like kale and blueberries. Superfoods, they're called -- so nutritious they're life-changing. But often they end up as fads. In a sense, this is happening in the developing world, too. Organizations have been promoting certain crops as panaceas to alleviate hunger and poverty. But they don't always work out.

Rosie Cabantac's farm is in Pangasinan, a northwestern province. It's an area known for rice. A few years ago, she started adding a tree called moringa. She heard about its potential: nearly every part, from roots to flowers, is edible or thought to be medicinal.

"Good for your body," she says. "Also, good medicine. Also, good for money!"

Cabantac says her monthly income doubled since she added about two and a half acres of moringa trees to her farm.

Moringa is one of many of these so-called superfoods. There's the grain, amaranth. The smelly jackfruit. Trendy quinoa. Even mungbean. If only farmers planted more of these, proponents say, hunger and poverty could be eased around the world.

"One tree can change a family's life for generations," said Josh Schneider, managing partner at Global Breadfruit, a company trying to get farmers to replace some staple crops with breadfruit trees. The fruit is more like a potato and can be made into french fries and flour. Gluten-free, of course.

"Tropical farmers can dominate this market," he said, "and it can really help grow their economies and lift these countries up out of poverty."

This gets at one of the biggest debates in international agriculture. On one side are people like Schneider, who believe that the secret to reducing hunger is to promote new and niche crops. On the other side are skeptics like William Masters: "People need to find the bright new thing to chase after," he said. 

Masters is chairman of the Food and Nutrition Policy Department in the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts. He says more often than not, so-called miracle crops like moringa or breadfruit are distractions. "Why [is] it that it didn't get identified as a huge success previously?" 

In other words, it's not like farmers haven't tried many of these crops before. Farmers experiment. They'll plant something new, and see how it does. And, over the years, many of these so-called superfoods failed for the most mundane of reasons. They take too long to grow, require too much labor or are prone to pests. It's not as easy to spread breadfruit as wheat.

"That search across all the available biodiversity has been going on for thousands of years," Masters said, "and it's led to a system that has found a half dozen or dozen major species that feed the world. And that's because those major species have some pretty amazing characteristics."

You know these: wheat, corn, rice and the like. Governments, foundations, and colleges should spend their money and time improving what farmers are already growing, he said.

That's not to say a niche crop can't ever explode and become a big part of the world's diet. Soybeans used to be regional. But in the last century, changes in breeding made it possible to grow them all over.

All of this comes down to economics. Do these new crops have a market, both at home and for export? Will fads lead crops to rise and fall? Moringa may be about to have its moment, winding up in teas and even bath gels.

Moringa facial oil.

Sunisa Ito/Flickr

That's partly why Cabantac, the farmer in the Philippines, is so excited.

"Eat more moringa!" she said. "Plant more moringa! And, that's it!"

Even so, she isn't betting the farm on moringa. Most of her acres still grow a boring old staple: rice.

Cannes: A film festival for business deals

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 12:04
Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 15:01 Ian Gavan/French Select

Talented filmmakers flock to the Cannes Film Festival in the south of France each year, hoping their masterpiece wins the covered Palme d’Or prize. But elsewhere at the festival, movies are bought and sold and distribution deals made in the most un-artistic-like fashion.

“There are movies here and people need to see them and there has to be some sort of facility to get that to happen and get these movies in theaters all over the world. And this is the number one place to do that,” says Wesley Morris, film critic at Grantland.

Morris says the festival this year has felt tame compared to years past. More of his coverage and film reviews from the festival are posted online at Grantland.

Interview by Kai RyssdalPodcast Title Cannes: A film festival for business dealsSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Cannes: A film festival for business deals

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 12:01

Talented filmmakers flock to the Cannes Film Festival in the south of France each year, hoping their masterpiece wins the covered Palme d’Or prize. But elsewhere at the festival, movies are bought and sold and distribution deals made in the most un-artistic-like fashion.

“There are movies here and people need to see them and there has to be some sort of facility to get that to happen and get these movies in theaters all over the world. And this is the number one place to do that,” says Wesley Morris, film critic at Grantland.

Morris says the festival this year has felt tame compared to years past. More of his coverage and film reviews from the festival are posted online at Grantland.

Big Flightless Birds Come From High-Flying Ancestors

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 11:59

We're sure glad ostriches and emus don't fly. But DNA evidence now suggests their small ancestors flew to each continent, where they evolved independently into giants with stubby wings.

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Sensitive To Gluten? A Carb In Wheat May Be The Real Culprit

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 11:55

Many people who don't have celiac disease say they feel better on a gluten-free diet. But scientists say some gut troubles may come from eating fructans and other FODMAP carbs rather than gluten.

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California Man Charged In Decade-Long Disappearance Of Teen

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 11:51

Isidro Medrano Garcia was charged with kidnapping and rape and is being held on $1 million bail. He allegedly abducted a 15-year-old girl, held her for 10 years and forced her to marry him.

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What Thailand's political climate means for the economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 11:28

Thailand’s been said to have a “Teflon economy”: Political instability has wracked the country in recent years, but its major industries haven't been very affected. 

Jonathan Head, a BBC correspondent based in Bangkok, said the current military coup might change that.

“A lot of the businesses that drive Thailand’s economy are based outside of Bangkok. Manufacturing, cars, electronics... those [exports] will continue as normal,” says Head. “Where there are real worries is that because of this long crisis big investment decisions have been delayed. And the political uncertainty has put off foreign direct investors too.”

Head says Thailand’s military leaders are stressing that the country is currently safe for tourists. But people with future travel plans to Chiang Mai or Bangkok might want to reconsider.

“For example [the military] is stressing that, although there is a curfew, tourists will be able to drive late at night to the airport and back. But in the end the element of uncertainty of whether there is going to be conflict is going to put tourists off." 

Head says right now, the streets of Bangkok are calm. It’s what the military coup means for the long term that is worrisome.

“When they took over in the last coup in 2006 the country was a lot less polarized, they faced very little resistance, and yet they were accused of completely mismanaging the economy..[Now] they have to do it again with consumer demand already collapsing, with a lot of people in debted after a consumer binge in the last few years. That could all make it very tricky for the army.”

Civilian Life Taught This Military Dog Some New Tricks

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 11:24

As a bomb-detecting dog, Zenit the German shepherd never chased his tail or dug holes. Those are skills he learned after he was adopted by his former professional partner, Cpl. Jose Armenta.

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Superfood fads: Super distracting for global farmers?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 11:22
Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 15:12 Wikimedia Commons

You may be sick of hearing about the virtues of foods like kale and blueberries. Superfoods, they're called -- so nutritious they're life-changing. But often they end up as fads. In a sense, this is happening in the developing world, too. Organizations have been promoting certain crops as panaceas to alleviate hunger and poverty. But they don't always work out.

Rosie Cabantac's farm is in Pangasinan, a northwestern province. It's an area known for rice. A few years ago, she started adding a tree called moringa. She heard about its potential: nearly every part, from roots to flowers, is edible or thought to be medicinal.

"Good for your body," she says. "Also, good medicine. Also, good for money!"

Cabantac says her monthly income doubled since she added about two and a half acres of moringa trees to her farm.

Moringa is one of many of these so-called superfoods. There's the grain, amaranth. The smelly jackfruit. Trendy quinoa. Even mungbean. If only farmers planted more of these, proponents say, hunger and poverty could be eased around the world.

"One tree can change a family's life for generations," said Josh Schneider, managing partner at Global Breadfruit, a company trying to get farmers to replace some staple crops with breadfruit trees. The fruit is more like a potato and can be made into french fries and flour. Gluten-free, of course.

"Tropical farmers can dominate this market," he said, "and it can really help grow their economies and lift these countries up out of poverty."

This gets at one of the biggest debates in international agriculture. On one side are people like Schneider, who believe that the secret to reducing hunger is to promote new and niche crops. On the other side are skeptics like William Masters: "People need to find the bright new thing to chase after," he said. 

Masters is chairman of the Food and Nutrition Policy Department in the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts. He says more often than not, so-called miracle crops like moringa or breadfruit are distractions. "Why [is] it that it didn't get identified as a huge success previously?" 

In other words, it's not like farmers haven't tried many of these crops before. Farmers experiment. They'll plant something new, and see how it does. And, over the years, many of these so-called superfoods failed for the most mundane of reasons. They take too long to grow, require too much labor or are prone to pests. It's not as easy to spread breadfruit as wheat.

"That search across all the available biodiversity has been going on for thousands of years," Masters said, "and it's led to a system that has found a half dozen or dozen major species that feed the world. And that's because those major species have some pretty amazing characteristics."

You know these: wheat, corn, rice and the like. Governments, foundations, and colleges should spend their money and time improving what farmers are already growing, he said.

That's not to say a niche crop can't ever explode and become a big part of the world's diet. Soybeans used to be regional. But in the last century, changes in breeding made it possible to grow them all over.

All of this comes down to economics. Do these new crops have a market, both at home and for export? Will fads lead crops to rise and fall? Moringa may be about to have its moment, winding up in teas and even bath gels.

Moringa facial oil.

Sunisa Ito/Flickr

That's partly why Cabantac, the farmer in the Philippines, is so excited.

"Eat more moringa!" she said. "Plant more moringa! And, that's it!"

Even so, she isn't betting the farm on moringa. Most of her acres still grow a boring old staple: rice.

Marketplace for Thursday May 22, 2014by Dan BobkoffPodcast Title Superfood fads: Super distracting for global farmers?Story Type FeatureSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

A grand tour of Marketplace(s) in London

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 11:00
Friday, May 23, 2014 - 12:59 Marie Keyworth

Brixton Market, London, May 2014.

While the Marketplace Morning Report team visited London to broadcast from the BBC this week, we've featured audio postcards in and around the city's many neighborhoods. 

We also enlisted our BBC colleague and producer Marie Keyworth to serve as our guide on the city's vast and popular markets, traveling to Smithfield Market, a popular meat market, to Portobello Road where antiques and other goods are sold. At each stop she helped us gather snippets of people selling foods and other goods.

We asked Marie to give us an overview of London markets, and her recommendations:

There are more markets than you can shake a stick at in London.  It’s impossible to suggest to a visitor which is ‘the’ market to go to. The conversation can quickly become a long exposition, listing the various, unique, and equally interesting options available. A London market is always a true sensory experience – it just depends which one you want.

If buying meat at 3:00 am from friendly foul-mouthed traders is your thing, then head to Smithfield Market in Farringdon.  It’s Europe’s largest meat market, and it’s been around since 1868. It’s the coal-face of the food industry in London, where restauranteurs and caterers of all shapes and sizes come to buy their meat each day. But members of the public are welcome to buy on a smaller scale, if you’re not put off by the odd trader in a bloody-splattered white suit, or rows of dead piglets lined up in a fridge as if they are just sleeping.

For those who want a more rarefied atmosphere, with a touch of Hollywood glamour, a twenty minute tube ride across town gets you to Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Road market. The area was brought into public consciousness with the help of the film ‘Notting Hill’ in which Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts fell in love in a house just a stone’s throw from the market itself. Head to Portobello Road on a Saturday and you won’t be able to move for antique dealers, jewelry makers, and general purveyors of bizarre curiosities you never knew you needed.

Glamour is in short supply in Brixton market, which is south of the river and well out of London’s centre. Here you shop with the locals – the ordinary people picking up groceries sourced from all over the world. I dare say you’ll never see so many yams in one place anywhere else in London. The area’s multicultural residents hailing from the likes of Portugal, Afghanistan, and the Caribbean, make this market a down-to-earth melting pot.  But the traders say the place is changing. Brixton market is getting quieter, as steady gentrification attracts more and more young professionals to the area. These people prefer to brunch and lunch in the champagne bars and gluten free cafes of the covered Brixton Village complex next door. This, too, is a hub of independent traders, but as the population of Brixton changes, the markets there evolve to suit their more ‘moneyed’ needs.

Check out Marketplace's full set of stories about London culture, life, and economics on the Mind the Gap series homepage

Marketplace Morning Report for Friday May 23, 2014 Marie Keyworth

Brixton Market. 

Marie Keyworth

Smithfield Market.

Marie Keyworth

Brixton Market.

Produced by Nicole ChildersStory Type BlogSyndication PMPApp Respond No

Prosecutors: Boston Marathon Bomb Suspect 'Readily Admitted' Guilt

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 10:50

Prosecutors revealed new details about the bombs that exploded at the marathon finish line in April 2013, defending FBI questioning of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as he recovered from gunshot wounds.

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House Passes Restrictions On NSA's Collection Of Phone Records

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 10:38

The measure, which now goes to the Senate, would require the National Security Agency to get permission before searching phone metadata. But critics say the bill doesn't go far enough.

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What Thailand's political climate means for the economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 10:31
Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 14:28 Rufus Cox/Getty Images News

Thai army soldiers secure the grounds of the venue for peace talks between pro- and anti-government groups on May 22, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Thailand’s been said to have a “Teflon economy”: Political instability has wracked the country in recent years, but its major industries haven't been very affected. 

Jonathan Head, a BBC correspondent based in Bangkok, said the current military coup might change that.

“A lot of the businesses that drive Thailand’s economy are based outside of Bangkok. Manufacturing, cars, electronics... those [exports] will continue as normal,” says Head. “Where there are real worries is that because of this long crisis big investment decisions have been delayed. And the political uncertainty has put off foreign direct investors too.”

Head says Thailand’s military leaders are stressing that the country is currently safe for tourists. But people with future travel plans to Chiang Mai or Bangkok might want to reconsider.

“For example [the military] is stressing that, although there is a curfew, tourists will be able to drive late at night to the airport and back. But in the end the element of uncertainty of whether there is going to be conflict is going to put tourists off." 

Head says right now, the streets of Bangkok are calm. It’s what the military coup means for the long term that is worrisome.

“When they took over in the last coup in 2006 the country was a lot less polarized, they faced very little resistance, and yet they were accused of completely mismanaging the economy..[Now] they have to do it again with consumer demand already collapsing, with a lot of people in debted after a consumer binge in the last few years. That could all make it very tricky for the army.”

Marketplace for Thursday May 22, 2014Interview byInterview with Kai Ryssdal and Jonathan HeadPodcast Title What Thailand's political climate means for the economyStory Type InterviewSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Jupiter's Dot And Mine. Why Life Is Unfair

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 10:26

Jupiter has a large red dot on its surface. I, too, have a dot on my surface. It's on my cheek. Jupiter just got lucky with its dot. Me? Not.

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Experimental Malaria Vaccine Blocks The Bad Guy's Exit

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 10:01

Most attempts at a malaria vaccine have unsuccessfully tried to keep the parasite from breaking into red blood cells. But a new twist that keeps the parasite from escaping the cells may work better.

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