National News

A year in China: bad debt and an 'airpocalypse'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:05

As we look at the biggest stories of 2013, what stands out to Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz is the idea of "forced transparency" in two specific areas of China: bad air quality and bad debt.

AIR QUALITY. Some people may have first started paying attention to the air pollution in China during the 'airpocalypse' in Beijing earlier this year, along with this month's bad Shanghai smog. And that has shifted focus to the hard truths of China's economic growth. Lung cancer deaths are up, and so is frustration from everyday Chinese who must live with the heavy pollution. 


BAD DEBT. Then, there was an interbank lending crisis in China in June.  China’s credit bubble got too big, and the "shadow banking" industry posed a huge threat to the world's second-largest economy.  Schmitz says there is "tons of bad debt" in China's economic growth model, which is built on the premise of, "borrow, borrow, borrow; and build, build, build."  For years, China could hide it. But like air pollution, it's now out there for all to see.

"We'll see more events like this in 2014, where the government can no longer hide from its own people," Schmitz says, "because the fallout from 30 years of economic growth at all costs is becoming more and more obvious to everyone here."

Test Sites Chosen For Commercial Drone Testing

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 09:17

The locations are expected to produce jobs as companies try out ways to make money with "unmanned aircraft systems." The six sites stretch from Alaska south to Texas and then north to New York State.

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Inside the NSA's elite hacking unit

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 09:10

German publication Der Spiegel reports on just how far the National Security Agency might be going to build back doors into technology for surveillance in a story about a division called Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. The elite group of government hackers apparently intercepted packages carrying gear, like servers and computer parts, to install special monitoring equipment. Click the audio player above to hear more.

VIDEO: Volcano Erupts In El Salvador, Ash And Gas Soar

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 08:35

The Chaparrastique volcano blew for the first time in 37 years, producing a cloud that rose as much as six miles into the air. Airlines canceled many flight into and out of the country. While things are calmer today, gases are still rising from the volcano.

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Boeing Soars Despite A Turbulent 2013

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 08:28

The airplane manufacturer was one of the stock market's best performers this year, despite battery problems that grounded its entire fleet of new 787s for more than three months. But a labor dispute involving its largest union could have some Boeing customers looking to competitor Airbus for new planes.

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Billionaire Philanthropist, GOP Donor Harold Simmons Dies

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 07:57

He was a top donor to the Republican Party, but his philanthropy crossed political lines. The Dallas Morning News reports that Simmons died Saturday in Dallas. He was 82.

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PODCAST: Sprint CEO Dan Hesse

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 07:55

The Dow is up by 29 percent for the year on this penultimate day of trading for 2013.  A check on the markets for the year.

It was a big day Friday for the mobile phone carrier Sprint. It's stock rose 8.3 percent, amid unconfirmed chatter that it might one day merge with T-Mobile. Sprint's CEO, Dan Hesse doesn't comment on speculation, but he is willing to talk to us about all the equipment his troops have been ripping out this year -- at the cost of some disruption -- to provide data-sucking smart phones with more speed.  

2014 is going to be the wearable tech year, we swear

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 07:38

All this week, Marketplace Tech is going to be talking to guests about big tech trends in the coming year. Today, a topic that failed to live up to it's promise in 2013 -- wearable tech. CNET's Lindsey Turrentine thinks it's going to be big next year. Click the audio player above to find out why.

GOP Crafts New Rules To Shorten 2016 Primary Season

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 07:31

With a February start and a June convention, the party hopes to regain some control over the chaotic presidential nominating process. Among the proposed changes: a June convention.

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GOP Crafts New Rules To Shorten 2016 Primary Season

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 07:31

With a February start and a June convention, the party hopes to regain some control over the chaotic presidential nominating process. Among the proposed changes: A June convention.

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NFL Firings Begin: Browns, Redskins, Others Ax Coaches

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 06:58

With the 2013 regular season now over, teams are starting to fire coaches who produced disappointing results. The least surprising dismissal so far: that of Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. His departure had been rumored for weeks.

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New Year, new money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 06:26

We’re running to the gym and chewing carrots. It must be January!  

After a couple of months of ingesting, imbibing, spending and swiping, so begins our attempts to make 2014 the year when we get everything right.  Well, maybe just better.

And we can make things better, especially when it comes to our money.  In the spirit of knowing the ‘enemy’ to win the battle, let me introduce you to what tends to trip up our best New Year's money efforts and what we can do to make 2014 the year that works:

The Money Is Just the Wrapping

We had on the show recently a couple with the financial resolution for this year to save more money and get out of a paycheck-to-paycheck way of life.  The Mrs. is a professional bookkeeper and her husband builds spreadsheets to track their spending.  But despite all this tracking experience, they can’t stop spending too much.  I pointed out to them that though tracking a behavior can change the behavior, they’ve set their sights on tracking the wrong thing -- the price tags, the money.  The numbers are a reflection of spending, but not the act of spending itself.

I nudged them to think about focusing on the behavior, not the dollars, to write down physically, with pen, or pencil, and actual paper, what they spent every dollar on, every day for thirty days.  They should also note how much something costs but by writing down the actual item and having to focus on the "what" vs. the how much, they'd have to process what their spending behavior actually is which can lead them to spend less.  

It was an "Ah-ha!" moment for them. So ask yourself: If you haven't had success with a money resolution that required you to change your behavior, were you focused on the right thing -- the 'what?' 

Your Resolution May Be a Blob

Resolutions without parameters and definition are amorphous -- they're blobs.  Blobs don’t stay in place and they don’t get you where you need to be.  You need your resolution to live in concrete.  Or, at least to include a couple of bricks.  

If I asked you what your financial resolution is and you said: "To save more money." Would you be able to tell me how much money in total and within what timeframe and where the money would come from?  

Defining the how-much, the how-long and where-it’s-going-to-come-from takes away the psychological barrier of ambiguity.  To spell out your New Year's resolution with as much detail as comfortably possible is to give it a better chance at life.  

Want to save money this year?  How much money? (Looking for a realistic, hard number here, people!) Why are you saving this money? And where will it come from?

Now, break it down further:  How much time do you have? That will help determine how much you need to save every month to get to your goal. Cutting long-term goals down into shorter and shorter timeframes -- in effect, creating mini-goals -- helps us celebrate mini-victories.  Every time you reach a mini-goal, that pat on the back makes it more likely that you'll keep going.  

Make your resolution live: give it definition. Give it a timeframe. Make it realistic and write it all down. Soon your 'blob' of a promise to yourself will be rockin’ a six-pack.

Why Are You Going At It Alone?

There's a reason why it was a big deal for Tyra Banks and her studio audience to show up with t-shirts emblazoned with their weight.: How embarrassing!

The same goes for money. It's hard to share our financial reality and goals with others. But, for most of us, social support is just what we need to stay on track. And maybe it's not so much the cheerleading, but having to be accountable to someone else for what you do. Being watched changes behavior. Add to that surveillance folks who love you and want to see you succeed, and you’ve got a lot of 'juice.'

So many of us keep our money struggles private. (How's that workin'?) But before you start sharing your 'bidness' on Facebook, make a tally of those folks who are there for you in good times and bad and of course, who won't tell the world your bank balance. Create a Facebook mini-support-group. You can set this up so only people you chose can see what you’re doing, not all your 'friends.'  Tell them what your resolution is and ask for support. Report in often and let yourself be called out when you stray. Just think of the shared joy when you’ve made it.

Sometimes it takes a village to reach the finish line.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse says faster data and higher definition calls are his company's future

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 06:25

It was a big day Friday for the mobile phone carrier Sprint. It's stock rose 8.3 percent, amid unconfirmed chatter that it might one day merge with T-Mobile. Sprint's CEO, Dan Hesse doesn't comment on speculation, but he is willing to talk to us about all the equipment his troops have been ripping out this year -- at the cost of some disruption -- to provide data-sucking smart phones with more speed.  

"2013, first of all, has been a year of rebuilding, and we think our customers will see it as very worth it when we get it completed, which we hope to do sometime later next year," Hesse says of the infrastructure improvements Sprint has been working on. "Sometimes, we use the analogy of 'The Three Little Pigs.' We're the third pig whose building that brick house, who's taking a little longer, and there's a little bit of disruption. And so next year what you're going to see is Sprint Spark, which we announced on October 30 for five big cities."

Spark is Sprint's beefed up data network. "Basically what it means for the customer is your phone can work about 50 megabits per second," Hesse says. "A year from now it will be double that, and two years from now, triple that. So you're talking 150 megabits per second for the phone."

Hesse says that aside from a faster data network, Sprint customers should soon expect to have better quality sound on phone calls.

"We have announced something called 'high definition voice,' where your wireless phone will the be better of your devices, between your landline and your cell phone. So, today, somebody with perfect hearing hears about 10 octaves. The cell phone gives you about 4 octaves. 'High definition voice' will give you 7 of those 10 octaves, so I don't think it's going to be unusual at all six months from now for people to say, 'Let's get off this landline and let's have this call on a cell phone so we can hear each other better.'"

If those advances sound like they should be enough to catapult Sprit over Verizon and AT&T from its spot as the number three carrier, Hesse says his company is more focused on a long term strategy that doesn't involve becoming number one overnight.

"I still believe we'll be number three in size for some time. You know, Verizon and AT&T are so much larger than us," he says. "We can have five phenomenal years and still not necessarily not move into the one or two spot just because of the size of the big two."

Back in October, Marketplace Morning Report talked to T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who used words like "suck" and "bloated" to describe competitors AT&T and Verizon. But when we asked him to comment on Sprint, Legere took a more measured and complimentary tone. Does that mean a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint is on the horizon? As one would expect, Hesse is staying mum on the topic. But he seems open to the possibility.

"I will say that what T-Mobile has done and what we're doing is we have to be very innovative in a variety of areas, including price, because of the size of the big two," Hesse says. "The industry would be healthier and competition would be better if there was some consolidation, and number three was closer in size to one and two."

Saudi Arabia pledges $3bn to help Lebanon fight Hezbollah

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 06:13

Saudi Arabia has been throwing its cash around in an apparent effort to influence world affairs. It supports the rebels in Syria, and the kingdom is helping to bankroll the military-backed Egyptian government.

This morning, there's word Saudi Arabia has made a $3 billion pledge to help Lebanon buy arms to counteract the role of Hezbollah, the Shia militia and political group backed by Iran. The BBC's Carine Torbay reports on the latest from Beirut. Click the audio player above to hear more.

Third Icebreaker Fails To Reach Stranded Ship In Antarctic

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 05:57

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy has been stuck in the ice for a week. The 74 passengers and crew are safe, but may have to be airlifted to ships in open water. They continue to post messages and videos — some indicating that life on board may be getting a bit tedious.

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Over a million sign up for Obamacare, mostly in December

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 05:32

The Department of Health and Human Services says that more than a million Americans signed up, using between October 1, when the site had its problem plagued rollout, and December 24. Of those million-plus people, nearly ninety percent signed up this month, in December.

That could indicate a couple of things. First, that the people who signed up wanted coverage that would start this Wednesday. It also could mean that is working better and has gotten more reliable since October.

But it's not all good news. While the government is trumpeting these numbers, they’re still way lower than what had been forecast.

While the deadline for coverage that begins on January 1 has now passed, we're only half way through the six-month open enrollment period. The next big deadline is March 31. If you don’t have insurance by then, you'll be hit with a tax penalty.

 Over these next few months, we’re going to see more outreach both to Americans who can sign up and to Americans who have signed up, and are wondering what’s next -- what’s covered, what isn't, etc. And, we can assume that behind the scenes, there will be more work fixing and the overall rollout of the healthcare law.

D.C.'s traffic cameras go beyond just red lights

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 05:22

Drivers in Washington, D.C., today, beware. The city has a new digital dragnet and drivers who block the box, fail to yield to pedestrians, or take overweight trucks onto residential streets could be ticketed at close to 100 new locations throughout the city.

Automated traffic enforcement is so much more than just one camera at a stoplight.  “These are contractors, hired by the cities, to set up the cameras, maintain them and also submit all that data to the police departments,” says Mark Takahashi, automotive editor with

And it’s the cost of installing these systems, which can use radar, video cameras and even lasers to track violators, as well as wrangling with the contractors who maintain them, that can be a deterrent. Some cities, Takahashi says, wanted to make intersections safer by extending the duration of the yellow light before it turns red. But he says they were prevented by their contracts with the maintenance firms. “They weren’t allowed to extend that yellow light period,” he says, “because it would impinge on their earnings.”

Takahashi say some cities, like LA, have decided the systems are just too pricey to continue.  

Washington, where new cameras have been flagging drivers with warnings for about a month, will begin issuing tickets for everything from failing to yield to pedestrians to driving oversized vehicles in restricted areas. City officials declined to speak Friday about the program.

Traffic cameras, says Russ Rader with the Insurance Institute for Highway safety, should be about safety, not about revenue. And he says, urban planners should also keep in mind the financial realities the cameras bring. One red light camera, at one intersection, says can run $100,000. So when it comes creating budgets, municipalities should realize the cameras have diminishing returns. “Cities should not depend on camera revenue to fund programs indefinitely. Because as the cameras work, to change driver behavior, the revenue falls,” he says.

But cities are still trying to collect where they can.

John Townsend, public affairs manager for AAA's mid-Atlantic region, says there needs to be greater transparency about the kind of tickets imposed. The cameras are designed, he says, to stop the most serious violations. “This is why you have such a high buy-in rate for these programs,” he notes, but that’s not why most people get tickets. He says in many systems, drivers are flagged for illegal turns or going past an intersection's stop line.

Less than five percent of all crashes in the country occur when people make turns on red, notes Townsend. “If that’s what you’re going to use your device for then tell people,” he says.

Rader says research shows the cameras are have been proven effective at getting drivers to stop running red lights. But Takahashi says that research isn’t solid. While in some cases he agrees that fatalities have dropped, he says the cause isn’t clear. He says, aside from arousing ire in drivers around the country, who voice their annoyance on Twitter, Meetup and Facebook, without a police officer to physically hand out tickets, the cameras simply aren’t strong deterrents. Drivers, he notes, may run a red light, but not receive a ticket in the mail for weeks. Nothing to compare, he says, with that “sinking feeling in your gut when you see a police officer on the other side of the intersection.”

From revolting to revolt: Why is my office this color?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 05:13


Resist the urge to avert your eyes and take a look at this kitchen

It’s very likely a 40-year-old kitchen.  You can probably tell just by looking. How?

“Avocado Green,” explains Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.  “And Harvest Gold.” 

Those were the colors of the 70’s, with a nice helping of brown. “It was all so pervasive in that time,” Eiseman says – without derision, notably.

In the early eighties, the dominant color scheme was mauve, gray, and turquoise. Back then, color trends were virtually “dictatorial,” says Eiseman, “everyone marched to the same drummer.”

Then, consumers revolted. 

“Of course, what happened in the mid 80’s was you couldn’t sell anything avocado or harvest gold because people had really OD’d on that color scheme.”  She says it had a lot to do with women.   

“You had this empowerment of women saying I don’t want to do what’s prescribed anymore, I want to do my own thing -- I’m doing it with my skirt length I’m going to do it with color as well," Eiseman says.


Trends arise more organically these days, and a major place to start is the runway.

“Designers don’t follow trends, we start them,” says Nicholas Petrou of PetrouMan. At his Bleecker Street showroom, he produces some of the burgundy, ochre and, gold earth tones associated with his next collection, which he calls “Nomad.” 

“Traveling is a big part of who we are today, so many people travel, and nomads are the best example so I’m interested in that.”

If Petrou has successfully hit on a collective cultural nerve, his colors might be seen elsewhere. The measure of a color trend is whether it makes it from the runway into more durable products in the years that follow.   

Jane Harrington Durst manages automotive paints for PPG Industries, which supplies paint for everything from ships to cellphones. “In the late 90s,” she says, “Ralph Lauren made a big splash with dark greens in fashion and interior design, and many of the American Automotive designers [then] had a version of deep hunter green.”


Obviously it doesn’t all boil down to fashion. In the 2000s, Apple had a major influence in color trends.  

“That clean white that we saw in a lot of Apple products in the 2000s became really popular," says Dee Schlotter, national color marketing manager for PPG Architectural Coatings. She says Apple captured a spirit of unwinding, serenity, and de-cluttering. “There are a lot of societal influences in why [consumers] react to colors at a certain time,” says Schlotter. 

“During the recession, the colors we saw were all gray -- from walls to pillows to bedding. Even in fashion, we saw gray went into summer, which it doesn’t do.” After the recession, Schlotter says there was a reactive “explosion of color.”


Spotting a color trend and bringing it to market in the modern age is part science and part curation. 

“You still have to give consumers a pattern to follow so to speak, or else there would be mass confusion,” says Pantone’s Eiseman. “So when those of us who are forecasters are working on a  forecast, what we do is think in terms of more than one palette.” 

Forecasters now provide palettes that cater to different predominant attitudes. 

“We are thinking in terms of different lifestyles and how those lifestyles can best be served by certain color combinations and looks," she says.

But that still means looking everywhere to track what color schemes are on the up and up.

“It’s almost like my antennae start to quiver, and I see certain colors on the ascendancy, on the rise. We might see it in a concept car, a high end coffee maker, or it can come from a hot new film.”

Pantone’s color of the year for 2014 is Radiant Orchid. PPG’s is Buttercream Yellow. 

Don’t worry, though.  The Harvest Gold and Avocado Green combo isn’t coming back anytime soon.  

Hey commuters, your taxes are going up next year

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 05:00

Lots of companies, especially in big cities, have plans that let workers put aside pre-tax money for transit. Starting January 1, a change in the tax code will lower the amount they can put aside by more than 45 percent, costing the heaviest users more than $1,000 a year.  

It amounts to a small cut in public support for transit -- the public policy equivalent of an insult to Mom and apple pie. 

"Taking public transportation is good for everyone," says Robertson Williams from the Tax Policy Center in Washington, DC. "It takes cars off the road. It reduces pollution. It reduces transit times for almost everyone."

So people like Williams get annoyed that this transit tax break gets reduced, but a corresponding break for parking gets a little bump up.

One survey shows the transit benefit does get people on buses and subways:  About a fifth of those who signed up said they’d previously driven to work.

The maximum amount you can set aside is dropping from $245 a month to $130, which some riders may not even notice: A monthly pass on the New York subway only costs $112. People with long rides on commuter trains will feel the hit.

The Association for Commuter Transportation, which is supported by companies that administer the transit-benefit program, wants the tax break extended.  Jason Pavluchuk, a lobbyist for the group, says he doesn't get pushback on policy.  However, getting Congress to act can take heavy lifting.  "People aren’t, you know, marching on Washington to have their transit benefits," he says.

Doctors Unsure Whether Michael Schumacher Will Survive

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 04:50

The Formula One racing legend was critically injured Sunday when he hit his head while skiing in France. Doctors are "working hour by hour" to save him, but can't predict what will happen. At his peak a decade ago, Schumacher was among the most famous and highest-paid athletes in the world.

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