National News

Military commissaries consider going generic

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 10:26
Monday, April 21, 2014 - 05:20 Wikimedia Commons

The commissary at the Fort Hood base.

Military commissaries, grocery stores that sell name-brand products to military families basically at cost, are facing a billion-dollar budget cut over the next three years. And defense officials are considering a sea change for commissaries: allowing them to stock generic.

That’s something Patt Donaldson would like, and steering two kids and two loaded carts, he and his wife Jessica Donaldson wrap up a big shopping trip.

She’s in the Navy and they live near the Fort Belvoir Commissary in Virginia. But they do these big runs off base – at ALDI, Costco, and Wegmans. They like the produce better, and all the store brands. Generic yogurt, canned fruit and pasta run down the belt to checkout.

“The generics we can get outside of the commissary is certainly far cheaper for us than what we can get buying name brands in the commissary,” says Patt Donaldson.

This is something military spouses often debate – where to get the best deals. Commissaries offer 30 percent savings on a typical basket of brand name goods, though some products see steeper discounts than others.

Currently, commissaries can’t sell generics. But now that the Pentagon has proposed a billion dollar commissary cut over three years, commissary prices are expected to rise. That has some officials wondering if stocking generics is a solution.

It’s an option Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Raymond Chandler described at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

“If I’m a young soldier and I choose to go to the commissary... the only thing I can buy is Green Giant or Hunt’s brands," he said. "But I can go to Walmart and get great value and that’s 30 cents less for a can of corn than it is in the commissary.”

So stock generics and everyone saves, right? Upsetting the commissary ecology has risks, says Tom Gordy, President of the Armed Forces Marketing Council, which represents military brokers who work with the name brands.

Say for example the Defense Commissary Agency went out and contracted for a store brand. Let’s call it Five Star Food. “That means the name brand products that are on the shelves will lose their shelf space, and they will also lose volume of sales,” he says.

Five Star Food would have costs, of course. To make it look as cheap as a generics in civilian groceries, Gordy says commissaries might have to mark up their remaining name brands even more.

“The manufacturers right now, most of them give best pricing to the Defense Commissary Agency,” he says.

They also provide marketing dollars. They even stock shelves. All, Gordy says, to support a military benefit. They might be less inclined to subsidize a military business.

Marketplace Morning Report for Monday, April 21, 2014 Kate Davidson/Marketplace

Military spouse Patt Donaldson after a recent shopping trip.

by Kate DavidsonPodcast Title Military commissaries consider going genericStory Type FeatureSyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Japan Says It Will Temporarily Scale Back Whale Hunt

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 10:02

After a U.N. court ruling last month ordering Japan to halt whaling in Antarctic waters, Tokyo said it was reducing its target catch to just 210 animals a year.

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Solar grows, with government help

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:56
Friday, April 18, 2014 - 16:55 Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy unveiled 891 photovoltaic modules on the roof of the the department's Forrestal building roof in Washington, DC. 

The White House announced new initiatives to support more solar development this week. But the Department of Energy’s inspector general cast a cloud, with a report slamming a $68 million loan guarantee gone wrong—shades of the Solyndra failure.  

However, solar has actually been growing by leaps and bounds. It provides a little less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity— enough to light more than two million households. Other numbers sound even more impressive.

"More solar has been installed in 18 months than in the previous 30 years combined," says Ken Johnson, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association.  "The cost of installed solar systems have dropped 50 percent since 2010."

"Over the last five years, costs have come way down, particularly for large-scale solar installations," says Severin Borenstein of the University of California's Haas School of Business.  "They are almost competitive in some areas now with regular fossil fuel power."

Home installations, he says, are more qualified.

"Some people can save money by putting in solar on their house," he says. "Most people still won't save money."

Solar is competitive only because of government subsidies— many in the form of tax breaks. Borenstein says the calculations are complicated, but federal tax breaks alone can give back almost 45 percent.

That investment is paying off, says Shayle Kann, senior vice president of research at Greentech Media. "It's created a market that has driven costs down year over year," he says. "And why the drop in price accelerates is because there's learning that is done from all these installations. There are economies of scale. 

"There's been a huge storyline about panel prices falling," he says. "Actually, in 2013, the price of panels rose a little bit, and despite that, system prices fell. And that’s where learning from increased deployments makes a huge difference."  

Marketplace for Friday April 18, 2014by Dan WeissmannPodcast Title Solar grows, with government helpStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Hunting For The Tastiest Egg: Duck, Goose, Chicken Or Quail?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:55

We hard-boiled them. We donned blindfolds. And we chowed down. In our eggsperiment, can you guess which bird prevailed in the ultimate showdown of duck vs. chicken?

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Marketing to men with razors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:54
Friday, April 18, 2014 - 16:52 Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

Brad Griffith of Woodhaven, Queens, New York shaves with the Gillette M3Power Micro-Powered Razor at Gotham Hall back in 2004 in New York City.

When it comes to marketing products to men, it helps to play up how technologically advanced they are, says Jean-Pierre Dubé, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

"Men love inscrutable jargon," he says.

And Gillette seems ready to take a page out of Dube’s playbook, with the ProGlide FlexBall, which features “a swiveling ball-hinge that allows the blade to pivot and comes with a high-end price,” The Wall Street Journal reports. The razor, which is expected to debut around Father’s Day, “cuts hairs 23 microns shorter.”

It’s just the latest innovation in high-end men’s shaving:

By Shea Huffman

The shaving arms race really kicked off with Gillette's MACH3 razor, marketed for its three blades that promised a closer shave.

Courtesy of Gillette.

Not to be outdone, competitor Schick decided to one-up Gillette with its quaduple-bladed razor, the Quattro.

Courtesy of Quattro.

It was at this point that people started to question the wisdom of simply adding more and more blades to razors. At least one noteable outlet asked, "What's next, five blades?"

As it turns out, that's precisely what was next. Gillette's Fusion ProGlide boasted a quintuple-bladed head.

Courtesy of Gillette.

Schick quickly came out with its own five-blade razor in response, the Hydro 5.

Courtesy of Schick.

With five blades in the razor already, what more could you do to impress the discerning man looking for a close shave? Of course! You attach a tiny battery-operated motor to the blades to make them vibrate. Thus the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Power Razer was born.

Courtesy of Gillette

With the disposable razor companies now venturing into the motorized trimmer business, it was only a matter of time before they just stuck an entire electric razor into mix. For your consideration, the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Styler 3-in-1 Men's Body Groomer with Beard Trimmer.

Courtesy of Gillette.

With a rotating-on-a-ball-hinge blade forthcoming from Gillette, what more could a man possibly want out of his shaving tools?

Razor companies will surely let them know.

And ladies, don't think you're immune to the razor marketing madness:

Courtesy of Gillette.

Marketplace for Friday April 18, 2014by David GuraPodcast Title Marketing to men with razorsStory Type News StorySyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

It's cheaper to buy than rent, but the gap is closing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:51
Friday, April 18, 2014 - 16:49 Scott Olson/Getty Images

A 'For Sale' sign stands in front of a house on May 31, 2011 in Chicago, Ill. Some homes in Gary, Indiana are selling for $1.00.

If you live in parts of California, or New York, or Hawaii. You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you.

But, it is true.

In most parts of the country, it can be a whole lot cheaper to pay a mortgage than to pay rent.

“Home values are still down about 13 percent from where they were at peak values in 2007,” said Stan Humphries, Chief Economist at Zillow, “pair that with historically low mortgage rates, and you have a real situation of affordability in the U.S.”

The situation for renters, on the other hand, is pretty awful.  Rents are way up. “We’re at the worse place we’ve ever been in terms of rental affordability,” said Chris Herbert, Research Director at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

Demand for rentals has jumped since the recession. Herbert says today half of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on accommodation.

Which might have you wondering—if it’s REALLY cheaper ... why don’t people just buy?

“For one thing, if you don’t have savings, you’re going to have a hard time making down payment constraints,” said Herbert, “and if you’re spending a lot of your income now for rent, it's going to be very hard to get that savings together.”

Also, since the housing crisis, it’s a whole lot harder to get a loan.

Right now, the difference between buying and renting is narrowing ever so slightly.

“Over the past year, rents have risen nationally almost four percent year-over-year” said Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Trulia, “but home prices have risen faster, home prices are up about ten percent nationally year-over-year.

The price gap between buyers and renters is shrinking. But housing is getting less affordable for everyone.

Marketplace for Friday April 18, 2014by Adriene HillPodcast Title It's cheaper to buy than rent, but the gap is closingStory Type News StorySyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

It pays to be polite in-flight

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:39

As evidenced in the video below, which has been viewed nearly 9.5 million times (and counting) on YouTube, Marty Cobb is one likeable flight attendant.

But even if the members of your cabin crew aren't hilarious, it’s important to make them like you, according to George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog.com.

Hobica, who was flying before he learned how to walk, believes that packing our manners on every flight is the right thing to do — and it has paid off for him in various ways, including class upgrades and complimentary cocktails.

9. Pens! People are always asking flight attendants for pens, whether to complete immigration and customs forms or to simply do the crossword puzzle. Bring a few extra cheap pens, bundle them up and give them to your crewmember. It may not be as enjoyable as a box of chocolates, but they will surely put them to good use.

Click the audio player to hear Hobica’s plea for in-flight politeness and read more tips for making flight attendants like you

Have travel tips of your own? Share them with a comment below or Tweet them to us @LiveMoney

And if you're curious about the airplane movie references in the interview, they're from "Airplane," "Midnight Run," "View From The Top," and "Soul Plane."

Peak beard theory

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:32

An actual academic study in the journal Biology Letters says, basically, "the more men who have beards...the less attractive those beards are."

It's called "negative frequency-dependent preferences and variation in male facial hair," and in plain language, it means: "We've reached peak beard. It's time for beards to go out of fashion."

To which I say: Amen, brother. I'm the clean cut type -- I wouldn't look good with a beard, even if I could grow one....


    

Why Scott Walker Is Looking Beyond His Fan Base

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:27

Governors in both parties routinely run for re-election while keeping coy about the White House. But there's no question what's on the Wisconsin governor's mind, long-term.

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Why Scott Walker Is Looking Beyond His Fan Base

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:27

Governors in both parties routinely run for re-election while keeping coy about the White House. But there's no question what's on the Wisconsin governor's mind, long term.

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Pot Smoke And Mirrors: Vaporizer Pens Hide Marijuana Use

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 08:29

Odorless and discreet, vaporizer pens for pot are growing in popularity. But the devices are a nightmare for parents because they make it hard to know if kids are using marijuana.

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Strong Quake Rattles Mexico, But No Injuries Reported

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 08:13

The magnitude 7.2 temblor's epicenter was about 80 miles northwest of Acapulco, but it shook up residents in the capital, Mexico City.

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Should College Dropouts Be Honored By Their Alma Maters?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 07:58

From a Top Gun sequel starring drones to Howard University's pick of Puff Daddy as its commencement speaker, the Barbershop guys weigh in on the week's news.

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Gefilte Fish Shortage: Best Thing Since The Parting Of The Red Sea?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 07:58

A shortage of gefilte fish is causing panic in the middle of Passover. But New York Times reporter Matt Chaban says some observant Jews are OK with not having to eat the love-it-or-hate-it appetizer.

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New York's Muslims Push For Public Schools To Close For Eid Holidays

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 07:57

President of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York Linda Sarsour discusses why she wants the city's public schools to close on holidays like Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

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To Fight Extremism, Don't Alienate Troublemakers At The Mosque

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 07:55

In the fight against Islamic extremism, the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council says that intervention within the community is more effective than external surveillance and secrecy.

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15 Years After Columbine, Are Schools Any Safer?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 07:51

The mass shooting at Columbine High School spurred schools to adopt "zero tolerance" policies. Do they work? NPR Education Correspondent Claudio Sanchez and former principal Bill Bond discuss.

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The resurgence of dot-com investment

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 07:49

Venture capitalists are pouring money into internet startups again: they’ve invested $9.5 billion in various startups so far this year, according to the latest MoneyTree report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters. 

The report claims we haven't seen this much venture capital floating around since 2001, as the dot com bubble was starting to deflate. Right now, web ventures are getting the most investment money, and biotech is a distant second. 

“The amount of capital that a startup requires now is much less,” says venture capitalist Peter Cohan, president of Peter S. Cohan & Associates. Cohan says startups are cheaper now because technology is so much more advanced than it was in the 90s.  And it costs a lot less.

Some startups that failed in the 90s are being tried again. Things like online currier services. They weren't feasbile in the 90s, because there weren’t any smart phones yet.

“It was very difficult to track curriers and pinpoint where they are so it was very difficult to deliver,” says  Jalak Jobanputra, founder of Future Perfect Ventures, another venture capital firm. 

Is all this startup money blowing up a bubble? Jobanputra says yes.  But it probably won’t pop. Instead, she expects it to deflate, slowly. 

Here's What Putin Didn't Tell Snowden About Russia's Spying

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 07:22

When the NSA leaker asked the Russian leader about his nation's electronic eavesdropping, Putin said there's no "mass system." The Center for Strategic & International Studies says there is.

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Wal-Mart To Offer Money-Transfer Service

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 07:07

The giant retailer will go head to head with Western Union and Moneygram in a market worth about $900 billion. But Wal-Mart says it will offer lower fees.

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