National News

PODCAST: I want a pony!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-19 03:00

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation announced Wednesday they've sold royalty rights to a powerful new drug it funded and helped develop. The payout, $3.3 billion, is 20 times last year's budget for the organization, and it dwarfs the money the nonprofit originally gave toward the development of the drug. More on that. And the Carnival Corporation, which owns Carnival and Princess Cruise lines among others, is starting a new social media campaign next week to drum up business from people who've never taken a cruise before. Now, there's an online ad contest, a Twitter campaign, and more designed to change the conversation from norovirus outbreaks on ships or ships that sink. Plus, the government says the cost of raising a child to age 18 in America is up 2 percent to $245,000 this year. What that statistic leaves out, however, is what happens if that child asks for a pony for a birthday or the holidays. This week, we're collaborating with the New York Times on on something called "A Guide to Buying Just About Anything."

Target tries to be cool

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-19 02:00

It's been almost a year since the data breach that sent some Target customers packing. And Target, which reports earnings Wednesday, is trying a number of strategies to get them back.

For one, it has a new CEO, Brian Cornell. And he’s not above admitting the company has problems. He says Target needs to be cool again.  

“What does it mean to be Target in today’s retail landscape?” says Amy Koo, a senior analyst at Kantar Retail. She says Target is trying to beef up customer service. “They’re doing beauty advisers, they’ve expanded to do baby advisers. You know, ask us if you need help.”

Target is also experimenting with smaller stores in cities.

One experiment that didn’t go so well? Opening stores in Canada. Canadians complained about the prices, and shortages of popular products. Some analysts are weighing whether Target should close those stores.

“If they can’t get it to be a profitable venture then they’re going to do what’s best for the shareholder,” says Sean Naughton, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray.

Naughton has already calculated how much it would cost Target to pull out of Canada: about $1.2 billion.

Carnival Corp. aims for a new set of customers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-19 02:00

Carnival Corp., which operates nine cruise lines worldwide, plans to launch an online social media campaign next week which it says is aimed at people who are new to cruising.

The plans include a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #LoveCruising and an online ad contest on its new website.

The cruise line shook up its management in 2013 after several high-profile incidents, the biggest of which were the Costa Concordia disaster in which 32 people died and the stranding of the Carnival Triumph at sea after an engine fire. Many of the headlines for the latter incident read "Poop Cruise."

Just last week, Carnival suffered more bad headlines with news of 172 passengers sickened with the norovirus on one of its ships.

In the aftermath of the Concordia and Triumph disasters, Carnival said it expected its image recovery to take two to three years. But Ken Jones, VP of Corporate Marketing for Carnival Corp., insisted that this latest online campaign is not intended to fight negative headlines.

“This campaign is not designed to combat any particular press that’s happened in the past. This campaign is designed to speak for the fact that, for the first time ever, as a corporation, we’re talking about all nine of our brands simultaneously,” said Jones.

The campaign’s efforts are to introduce new customers to its various lines which cater to differing types of customers, Jones said. To that end, the company’s new online website will include a “Cruise-a-nality” interactive tool.

Mitch Joel, president of the digital marketing firm Twist Image, said Carnival’s plans, specifically in terms of the Twitter hashtag, are “not only risky, but I don’t even understand why they would even engage in this.”

Joel said companies that run online campaigns need to know the answers to some crucial questions ahead of time. "Do people really, really care and really want to help us? Or are they going to turn this into a parody and a joke, and make matters a whole lot worse for us,” Joel said.

"There are times that you can do it, if there is strong brand affinity,” said Don Stanley, an online marketing consultant and professor at the University of Wisconsin.

But the Internet is littered with online campaigns that miscalculated, such as a failed McDonald’s hashtag campaign two years ago or a Home Depot tweet that led to apologies from the company.

"The biggest mistake I see companies make is they think through the potential benefits of a campaign, but they don’t plan for potential problems,” said Stanley.

Carnival’s Jones said they’re confident of their Twitter campaign, although they will “curate” the tweets. 

“We’re confident in the cruise public. From what we know they like to speak up about cruising, and we’re excited to hear what we hear,” Jones said.

Counting up votes for NSA reform

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-19 02:00

That was the final vote in the Senate Tuesday, striking down broad reform of the National Security Administration by two votes. The bill would have stopped the bulk data collection exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year, and it had bipartisan and White House support. Ultimately a divided Republican opposition—some thought the reforms went to far, others wanted them to go further—gathered enough votes to strike down the proposal, Politico reported. The bill is unlikely to come up for debate or vote before Republicans take over the Senate.


That's the number of passengers stricken with a norovirus just last week on a Carnival cruise. Reacting to the latest in a series of high-profile incidents, some fatal, Carnival Corp. is attempting to repair its image with a social media campaign.

$2 billion

The average cost of lost tuition after sexual assault, per college graduating class nationwide, the Washington Post calculated by estimating one in 50 victims misses a semester. A blog post explores the many hidden costs to students who were assaulted, from tuition to lost wages to moving costs to counseling.

$3.3 billion

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is set to announce on Wednesday the sale of rights to royalties for drugs it invested in 15 years ago. The initial investment was met with some skepticism: $150 million given to a biotechnology company to develop drugs to treat the disease. But as the New York Times reports, Wednesday's sale will bring in $3.3 billion, which is "20 times the foundation's budget for last year."

1/3 of a horse’s value

That's how much is generally charged in leasing a horse for a year. It's a lot of money when you consider that at a a place like Echo Farm, owner Callie Kuntz-Bauer has horses that range in value from $2,500 to $50,000. And that's just the beginning of the costs you end up paying in taking care of a horse.


Not technically a number, but that's unicode designation for the little pile of poo emoji. Special characters and emoticons all have a special designation to keep them consistent across all platforms. Companies have to design the icons themselves and - at least in Google's case with the poo - hide the emoji behind special commands. A new oral history from Fast Company explores not just the story of the poop symbol, but emoji's global appeal and standardization.

Sen. Bernie Sanders On How Democrats Lost White Voters

NPR News - Wed, 2014-11-19 01:03

Vermont's Bernie Sanders, an independent in the Senate, says he may run for president. He says Americans "do not see a party representing the working class of this country."

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Outside Of The Games, Are Sports Corrupt?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 23:49

Commentator Frank Deford discusses some recent sports-related scandals, including the abuse of young swimmers by their coaches, and fake classes created for college athletes.

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No 'Misteak': High Beef Prices A Boon For Drought-Weary Ranchers

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 23:48

If you've shopped for meat recently, you no doubt have noticed that beef prices are up. That may be hard on consumers, but the prices are helping ranchers purchase expensive feed and rebuild herds.

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Alice Lee, Sister Of 'Mockingbird' Author Dies At 103

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 22:19

Alice Lee, the sister of the famous To Kill a Mockingbird author and an influential Alabama lawyer and church leader in her own right, died Monday at age 103.

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Bill Limiting NSA Surveillance Practices Fails In Senate

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 16:51

The USA Freedom Act had the support of not only the White House and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy but also that of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. The House had already approved it.

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India Quarantines Ebola Survivor Because Of Infectious Semen

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 15:52

Ebola can linger in semen for months after a person recovers from the disease. So survivors are typically given condoms and a stern warning. But India is being more cautious.

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Millions More Airbags Need Recall, Department Of Transportation Says

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 15:06

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says a full national recall is needed for airbag inflators that have been found to sometimes pepper drivers with metal shrapnel.

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Former Georgia Gov. Carl Sanders, A Racial Moderate In A Split South, Dies

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 15:02

Sanders, who was thought of as a leader of the "New South," helped bring more racial integration to Georgia in the 1960s. He died in Atlanta on Sunday.

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Senate Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline Bill, In A Close Vote

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 14:20

The controversial project to expand an oil pipeline running from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico has failed to get the approval of Congress.

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Paying for upgrades under the tray-table

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-18 13:50

Flying is not what it used to be. What was once glamorous now feels like walking through a mall to get to a cattle chute. Airlines are expanding first class and squeezing coach passengers into tighter quarters. Every spare inch of space and every service from bag-checking to expedited security has a price.

So on a recent trip from Los Angeles to Chicago, I decided to try for my own upgrades. At every opportunity, I discreetly offered cash to airline employees, Transportation Security Administration employees and fellow passengers in exchange for a better seat or faster service. I wanted to know what would happen when institutional fees leave the institution and were offered instead on the black market.

I started at the United Airlines ticket counter, offering the agent a $20 bill for a seat upgrade. She refused, acting as though this kind of thing happened all the time. She pointed to a seat map on the screen. “This is the only upgrade I have,” she said. “It’s $85.” At security, I tried to slip a couple of twenties to the officer at the T.S.A. PreCheck line so I could breeze through. He gave me a look that said, “Nice try,” and pointed to the long line of people inching toward the body scanners.

Once I got to the gate, I approached the passengers in the roped-off section for premium fliers. I went down the line, one by one, offering cash for their seats. One man shook his head, barely looking up from his phone. Another appeared confused. I had to explain that I wasn’t trying to get on the plane; I had a seat in coach. He declined. “I’ve got to get some work done,” he said.

Nearly everyone seemed bothered by my offer. The closest I got to a yes was with a couple who did not want to split up for the flight; otherwise, they might have considered it.

On the plane, I could not persuade anyone in a seat with extra legroom to switch places for money. I was surprised; I said I was willing to go as high as $100 and told them I needed to sit close to the front to exit quickly once we landed.

Perhaps I appeared a little suspect to some people. I have a bushy beard and long hair. I could pass for a young Cat Stevens in the right light.

But I did talk to Debbie, a flight attendant who was not on my flight but who observes the behavior of hundreds of passengers every day. Debbie, who asked that I not use her last name, was a social worker at a mental hospital before becoming a flight attendant. “So I was used to working with unpredictable people,” she said, “and I was actually kind of surprised at the general rudeness and lack of caring about other people that I saw in passengers on planes when I first started.”

Now she’s used to it. She wasn’t surprised that no one took my offer of cash for a seat. She sometimes has trouble getting passengers to switch seats to accommodate families, even when she offers free drinks and a seat that isn’t a downgrade.

Once, while Debbie was flying off duty, the pilot announced that an emergency landing was needed. “The working flight attendants wanted to move me up front so that I could help with an evacuation if it was necessary,” she said. The crew asked first-class passengers if one of them would give up a seat for her, but none were willing to move. “Luckily we didn’t need to evacuate,” Debbie said. “But it was interesting that nobody wanted to move, even when a flight attendant is saying ‘This will help save your life.’”

I also ran my experiment by Tom Bunn, a former airline captain (whose employers included United) and a licensed therapist. He, too, was not surprised by the reactions I got, but for different reasons.

For many people, he said, the act of flying is incredibly stressful. It is not so much because of long security lines and cramped seats, but because of the psychological act of giving up control, of leaving solid ground. Settling into an assigned seat, he said, is part of the process of quieting their anxiety. “So any change they have to face, they would rather not face it,” Mr. Bunn said. My cash offer may not have been enough to justify restarting that process of calming themselves.

My own theory is that people considering my offer may have been afraid that they would be breaking a rule and could be kicked off the plane as a result. Recently, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men traveling from New York to Israel caused a flight delay when they refused to sit next to women for religious reasons. Many of the men offered passengers money to exchange seats, which, it turns out, is not against many airlines’ policies.

I contacted six airlines, including United, to ask about their policy regarding passenger-to-passenger transactions. Delta, United, American and Spirit responded. Delta and American said they had no policy that forbade passengers from exchanging seats for money. Spirit forbids only switching to an exit row or to larger front seats, the airline’s first-class equivalent.

Rahsaan Johnson of United said it was against company policy for employees to take money from a customer in exchange for a favor. But United does not have a policy against customers exchanging money for seat swaps. “Seat assignment is not specifically prohibited at this point. Changing cabins is,” Mr. Johnson said. So, for example, if you are in coach, you cannot switch with someone in first class.

Of all the upgrades I tried to get, only one could have landed me in any real trouble: offering cash for access to T.S.A. PreCheck. “That’s not how the program works,” said Ross Feinstein, T.S.A.’s press secretary. “Bribing a federal employee, I believe, is illegal.”

It does however, seem to be legal to buy your way to the front of the T.S.A. line. “The actual T.S.A. process begins where someone checks your ID,” Mr. Feinstein said. Before that point, anyone ahead of you in line is fair game for an offer.

Amid The Stereotypes, Some Facts About Millennials

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 13:23

"Millennial" is the demographic buzzword of the moment. But are young adults today really so different from previous generations? We charted some numbers to find out — and spotted interesting trends.

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Aid Groups See A Dropoff In U.S. Health Volunteers To Fight Ebola

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 13:19

International aid groups say the decline in volunteers is due to quarantine restrictions imposed by the states of New York and New Jersey.

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FAA Can Regulate Small Drones: NTSB Reverses Judge's Ruling

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 13:16

Overturning a federal judge's ruling that the FAA was wrong to fine a man $10,000 for flying a small drone, the NTSB says the agency can regulate such drones as "aircraft."

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Outreach Workers Look For Gains In Second Year Of Obamacare

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 13:02

Montana and Georgia sit on opposite sides of the country, but both have minority populations health advocates hope to enroll for coverage. They also fear many won't quality for subsidized coverage.

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Got A Thanksgiving Time Crunch? Food Is Just (A Few) Clicks Away

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 13:02

If you're scrambling to find the perfect cranberry sauce or a sumptuous dessert, the Internet can help. We've rounded up services to help you spend less time waiting in line and more time with family.

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Pricing a child's plea for equine ownership

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-18 13:01

In third grade, Amanda Ferrara persuaded her parents to let her take horse-riding lessons. She had always loved animals, and her parents, both Bronx born but living in a rural part of Westchester County, N.Y., agreed. Nine years later, her family owns one horse and leases two more.

She says she loves the pursuit and spends six days a week at the barn that boards the horses, taking the bus there after school and staying until dark, often doing homework or eating at the barn. Yet her afternoons are not spent entirely on horseback. For every hour she rides, she spends two to three hours getting her horse ready and cooling him down. “It’s my entire life now,” Amanda, 17, said.

When children express a desire for a pony, obliging parents in urban and suburban areas often vow that they will find a middle-class horse that will not cost more than a car (or a mortgage) payment. It is not easy, though it may not be impossible.

The Ferrara family boards all three horses — Cookie, Teddy and Rubio — at Echo Farm in South Salem, N.Y., which charges $1,300 a month per horse. That includes hay and grain, cleaning the stall and turning the horse out into the field every day.

At least the animals make the expense of boat ownership look reasonable.

Still, despite the cost, parents think the experience is worth it. They typically insist that horses provide deep life lessons in being responsible and caring for something that goes beyond themselves — or how well the animal can jump a fence.

“They’re learning a lot of responsibility at a young age,” said Callie Kuntz-Bauer, owner of Echo Farm. “You have to give up a lot of your social life. You can’t go out and party if you have a 6 a.m. horse show.”

So when children ask for a pony, what are parents to do? They would save a lot of money by steering the child toward another sport. But those parents who want to cultivate their children’s interest need to consider recurring costs that can continue for 30 years or more, long past the time when a child will be riding the horse.

Owners should expect the total spending for the animal’s upkeep to be far greater than the cost to buy it. “The real price is the monthly expenses,” said Carleton Henrich, a mother of four who grew up on 250 acres in southern Virginia.

Henrich recently bought a 5-year-old thoroughbred named Emery. A giant at 17 hands high (5 feet 8 inches at the withers), Emery is for her and her three daughters. (Her son is less interested.)

“He’s a big teddy bear,” she said, giving Emery a peppermint.

Henrich negotiated a two-week trial period to get a sense of the horse’s demeanor. But even during that period she had to have insurance to cover anything that might happen to him. She, like many owners of expensive horses, now has mortality insurance and medical coverage for the animal, which typically costs 3 percent of a horse’s value per year.

Even minor injuries can be costly in time as well as money. Amanda Ferrara said an injury a couple of years ago confined Cookie to his stall for six months. It took six more months for him to get back in shape. But at that point Amanda couldn’t jump with him anymore, so now her family just rides him for recreation.

Leasing a horse generally saves a family only on the upfront cost of buying one. Kuntz-Bauer said that a full lease of a horse is typically one-third of the horse’s value a year. The horses in her barn range in value from $2,500 to $50,000. And people who lease a horse usually take over all the responsibilities and ensuing costs as if they were the owner. A partial lease could spread the costs across multiple owners, but it also reduces riding time.

The list of expenses doesn’t end with room and board. Entry fees for competitions range from $500 for a one-day event to $3,000 to $6,000 for five-day events where the horses have to be transported, boarded and fed, Kuntz-Bauer said. There are also Interscholastic Equestrian Association events where competitors ride the horses at the host barn and don’t need their own horse to compete.

A veterinarian to assess a horse’s initial fitness will cost $1,500 to $2,000. Kuntz-Bauer said annual shots will run about $400. There are costs for dental visits and new shoes, too.

And some costs can rise rapidly.

Rachel Kosmal McCart, a lawyer specializing in horse issues in Portland, Ore., said local hay to feed horses in her area rose from $1 a bale 11 years ago to $5 a bale today. “People who were used to paying very little to feed their horses suddenly couldn’t afford to feed them,” she said.

Incidentals include saddles, bridle and blankets, as well as riding clothes and boots. Used gear is available, too; Georgina Bloomberg, a champion equestrian and daughter of the former New York City mayor, runs the Rider’s Closet to help make the clothes more affordable.

Not all areas are as expensive as Westchester County or other horsy enclaves filled with well-heeled parents and high land costs. Outside Portland, Ore., for example, it would cost $600 a month to board a horse.

In most areas, even wealthy ones, there are also opportunities simply to take lessons or buy time to ride. 

Horse clubs can defer costs further and still teach valuable lessons. In New Canaan, Conn., the New Canaan Mounted Troop aims to teach equestrian skills to children ages 7 to 17. The annual cost of $4,350 is not cheap, but it covers one lesson and one barn day per week during the school year.

The group started out as part of the Junior Cavalry of America, a sort of Girl Scouts on horseback, but today it functions like an equine version of Zipcar: Cadets can ride any of its 27 horses, all donated, as long as they have the ability.

But Margot Tucker, the student leader of the troop, said she got the most out of the barn days, when students help care for the horses. “If I could ride every day that would be awesome,” she said. “But what I really like about it is being part of the community. It’s the friendships we have.”

Those are the learning experiences that parents want their children to absorb from horses or any other activity.

This story is part of a collaboration between Marketplace and The New York Times called “A Guide to Buying Just About Anything.”