National News

Crocodile Meets Godzilla — A Swimming Dino Bigger Than T. Rex

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 15:31

It roamed land and sea and snacked on giant fish. The first few spinosaurus bones were discovered a century ago, but destroyed in WWII. A more complete, second specimen reveals a terrifying predator.

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SeaWorld Hopes New Orca Habitats Will Stem A Tide Of Criticism

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 14:27

The theme park says a 2013 documentary critical of its captive orca attraction has hurt its bottom line. Now, it's pushing back with a social media campaign and plans for new habitats for its whales.

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Parkour May Run, Flip, Dive And Slide Its Way Into Olympics

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 13:48

Some leaders of this extreme city sport where people run, jump and slide on streets and over buildings, hope to slip into the games by courting the International Olympic Committee.

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Twitter taps the bond market

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-11 13:41

This week, Twitter announced its plan to raise at least $1.3 billion by issuing convertible bonds. Unlike some companies that turn to the debt markets, the company doesn’t appear to be in dire need of cash. So what is their grand strategy?

“I don’t think it’s so much ‘What is the big strategy?’ I think the question many people will be asking is: ‘Is there a really meaningful strategy?’” says Nate Elliott, vice president at Forrester Research. He points out that Twitter’s user base, while large, is still closer to Google+ than Facebook, and the company is not yet profitable.

“If Twitter’s revenues matched its notoriety, it’d be doing just fine,” Elliott says.

But bond market investors are not in a skeptical mood, says David Krause, finance professor at Marquette University. “Companies are raising record amounts of debt right now.” 

The primary reason: With near-zero interest rates, other options are slim pickings — a rather unhappy economic indicator. “It’s the result of an economy that is still struggling, and it’s also due to what we’re seeing globally,” says Brian Rehling, chief fixed income strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors. “We’re seeing very weak if not negative growth over in Europe."

On the positive side, the drive to issue debt now may be motivated by a belief that the macroeconomic picture is going to change. “I think there is a sense from some that this is not going to last,” says Rehling.

“It’s a very opportune time for companies that may not be investment grade to be able to go out and lock in some long-term money at some very attractive rates,” says Krause.

Krause thinks Twitter’s offering will be very attractive to investors.

Even if all it buys Twitter in the short term is more time.

Goodbye, handshake. Hello, fist bump!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-11 13:41

You know how people have started sneezing and coughing into their elbows instead of their hands, because public health people convinced us that would reduce the spread of germs?

im loving how its finally cold BUT I DON'T LIKE HOW EVERYONE IS SPREADING THEIR GERMS. LIKE ITS NOT HARD TO SNEEZE INTO YOUR ELBOW.

— Kate Eslit (@kate_eslit) September 11, 2014

Well, turns out elbows aren't helping all that much. A study in the American Journal of Infection Control compared handshakes to fist bumps to high fives as transmission mechanisms: Turns out we'd all be a lot healthier if there was more fist-bumping.

Why the SEC is all about 'broken windows'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-11 13:41

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced Wednesday that it had charged 34 people and companies for failing to file timely disclosures about their dealings in company stock.

Nearly all the cases settled for fines of up to $150,000.

While the SEC says these charges represent important violations on their own, they’re also part of a larger "broken windows" strategy of enforcement, modeled after a policing theory first coined in the 1980s. The idea is that if you clamp down on little infractions, you're more likely to deter big-time crime.

“Focusing on these violations does keep people on notice that we are going to bring action in connection with violations big and small,” says Andrew Ceresney, the director of enforcement at the SEC. “It does create heightened focus and attention to compliance more generally."

He says the SEC has developed digital tools to allow it to go after these smaller cases without distracting it from bigger ones.  

“It’s an interesting experiment,” says John Coffee, a professor and director of the Center on Corporate Governance at Columbia University Law School.

By enforcing filing deadlines Coffee believes the SEC might head off larger problems, where company officials trade on stock before releasing good or bad company news.

“By forcing stricter disclosure, I think, in turn, you’re going to reduce the prospect of insiders exploiting material nonpublic information,” he explains.

The strategy is part of a wider effort to rehabilitate the SEC's reputation. Tom Gorman, a partner with the law firm Dorsey & Whitney, says the agency was once highly respected for its enforcement abilities. But its image has suffered due to its failure to prevent the Madoff and Stanford Ponzi schemes, and because of the public’s perception that the agency hasn’t netted a big fish in the wake of the financial crisis.

“It’s started to come back, but it still has a long way to go to get back to the days when it was really the most respected enforcement program in town,” says Gorman. “They haven’t really brought, recently, a huge financial fraud case, but they’ve brought some. It’s those kind of cases that are going to build their reputation to what they want it to be.”

Wednesday’s settlements might cause some companies to look at their compliance policies, says Michael Rivera, the chair of the Securities Enforcement and Compliance Practice at Venable LLP. But he doubts they will deter bigger criminals.

“The individuals that are going to engage in massive frauds, I don’t think, are too worried about these smaller cases,” he says. “The real way for the SEC to deter major frauds like that is to go after those major frauds.”

He also notes that these small wins will help the agency report higher numbers of successful actions.

However, the SEC stresses it’s important for the agency to feel omnipresent. Announcing the broken windows approach last October, SEC Chair Mary Jo White said, “Investors in our markets want to know that there is a strong cop on the beat — not just someone sitting in the station house waiting for a call, but patrolling the streets and checking on things.”

The NFL's power extends beyond the game

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-11 13:41

This year’s Super Bowl XLVIII was the most-watched event on U.S. television ever, attracting more than 111 million viewers. Its nearest competition? Other Super Bowls.

If a brand wants to play with the big boys in sports, it pretty much has to play with the NFL.

“The NFL stands out in all of the different revenue sources, and not just by a little bit, but by leaps and bounds over the other sports,” says Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist.

Those NFL revenue streams — from ticket sales, sports stadiums, TV rights, Super Bowl ads, and a lot of merchandising — bring in more than $9 billion annually to the league and team owners. Players endorsing shoes and credit cards generates more revenue, and also generates sales for sporting goods and apparel companies like Nike. Fantasy football betting is taking off, as well.

But the sport is now facing multiple controversies: former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s assault on his then-fiancée and how much NFL officials knew about it, last year's bullying scandal and concussions and their consequences.

Zimbalist doesn't see these problems undermining the NFL’s reputational value to sponsoring brands like Gatorade, Marriott or FedEx.

“Because [football] is the most popular spectator sport in the United States, it derives a certain amount of insulation from some of the social criticisms that it receives,” Zimbalist says.

Football’s popularity, especially as a spectator sport, can seem mysterious. The ball is only in play for about 20 minutes of the over-three-hour broadcast.

Jonathan Taplin at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab says even with the short ball-in-play time, the violence of football appeals to a desirable prime-age male demographic.

The pacing is ideal for broadcast, too.

“Football is actually a perfect collective viewing experience,” Taplin says, “because it’s actually the time between the plays when people can discuss things, get a beer, go over to the guacamole. A basketball game is so intense, if you’re in a room with a bunch of people and someone’s talking, they’ll shout ‘shut up and watch the game.’”

Taplin points out that all the major spectator sports are good for TV networks because fans want to watch in real time, rather than using a DVR and watching later — without the ads. Fans want to know how their team did, and how it affects their chances of making it into postseason play. Pro football teams only play 16 regular-season games, compared to about 80 in basketball or hockey and 162 in baseball. Marketers like that, Taplin says, because football fans form a mass market that’s heavily concentrated in fall weekend time slots.

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A Doctor Who Performed Abortions In South Texas Makes His Case

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 13:35

Texas restrictions on abortion providers have led many clinics to close. Poor women in some spots, like the Rio Grande Valley along the Mexican border, have lost their access to abortion services.

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The tricky balance of marketing to the affluent

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-11 13:29

The rich spend money very differently than the rest of us — or so we mere mortals with middle-class and lower-tiered bank balances imagine. Most of us don't have the first-hand shopping experience of rubbing luxury-garbed shoulders with the sumptuously perfumed rich.

“You don’t really typically see movie stars walking into the grocery store to pick up milk. They have a handler, they have a housekeeper,” says Kirby Rosplock, author of “The Complete Family Office Handbook,” and a fourth-generation member of a family business.

Rosplock, whom it might be accurate to categorize as wealthy, says, “I guess it depends on who’s categorizing me, because I’m not wealthy compared to a Warren Buffett or Carl Icahn.”

While you and I might be worried about our retirement, she says, the ultra-wealthy are saving their money for something else altogether — the future-future.

“They have to determine what they want for their lifestyle today," she says, "and what they want for their legacy when they’re not here.”

Like money for their grandchildren, a charity or an alma mater. After the recession, Rosplock says the wealthy are also likely to be more conservative with spending. 

She says it's easy for marketers to get the rich wrong.

“The biggest mistake I see is marketers trying to play into the stereotype of who they think these people are," she says. "They’re not necessarily wooed by those strategies of showing the chic, sexy model wearing the bedazzled necklace."

Andrew Sacks, president of AGENCYSACKS and The Affluence Collaborative, two companies that help brands target affluent consumers, says marketers need to learn to dissect the wealthy, correctly breaking them down into subgroups, each with their own unique characteristics.

“To try and appeal to the wealthy as a group is not a winning strategy,” he says.

About 90 percent of rich Americans, notes Sacks, didn’t grow up wealthy. So affluent shoppers can also be intimidated by fancy-schmancy stores.

"There’s a lot on the line," Sacks says. "When you’re buying a $500,000 diamond, you really don’t want to be the fool and buy the thing that’s the wrong thing."

Which is one reason it’s important for luxury brands to educate consumers on the brand’s history and product quality. When you buy a luxury product with a high price tag, he says, it can start to feel all too normal.

“So you might buy Tom Ford shoes for the first time and feel like 'holy cow, I just spent $1,600 on these shoes... I really went overboard!'" But that threshold, he says, "becomes your new floor.”

In case you're wondering, $1,600 is how much Tom Ford shoes cost.

“I’m embarrassed to say it is,” says Sacks, noting his own feet, clad in the designer's footwear.

It's become increasingly more important for brands to learn how to connect with consumers on a personal level.  They can begin, Sacks says, by saying thank you to their customers. Affluent consumers are spending a ton of money on products, and they’re not getting what they would expect in return.

For example, the time when Sacks and his wife bought a German car — for $80,000.

"We got nothing," he says. "We didn’t get a baseball cap. We didn’t get a letter. We really got nothing. Think about — could they have spent one-tenth of one percent, $80, on a gift to say thank you? I think they could have."

People are living longer than ever, says Sacks. "They’ve been wealthy for quite some time," he says. "At some point you run out of a need for stuff and you realize that your deepest human needs are not fulfilled by stuff."

Allentown bets big to shed its former image

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-11 13:02

Downtown Allentown, Pennsylvania, was once home to the most popular department store in the nation.

“Hess’s here did $190 million worth of retail sales in 1970,” says the city’s mayor Ed Pawlowski. “Think about that. They were the highest grossing retailer in the country, and they were here in Allentown. We were the major retail hub for the entire region.”

A city's troubled past

There’s a good chance the first thing that pops into your head when you think about Allentown is the song Billy Joel wrote about it. It’s a song about the coal and steel industries drying up and the city bleeding out.

But most folks in Allentown will tell you that song isn’t even about their city. It’s about neighboring Bethlehem, where there was a massive steel mill. If an autopsy was performed on Allentown, globalization and deindustrialization would just be footnotes.

The real cause of death would be the mall.

“When the malls got built, it sucked everything out like a giant vacuum,” Mayor Pawlowski says. Retail left downtown and people moved to the suburbs in hoards. “This city was like any other Rust Belt city in the Northeast and Midwest. Our economy was in the tank, we weren’t seeing growth and we weren’t seeing development. In fact, we would probably end up as the next Detroit, in bankruptcy.”

But in a span of only five years, that has all changed, the mayor says.

“We went from a multimillion-dollar deficit to a multimillion-dollar surplus. We’re seeing 4,000 new jobs come into the urban core and a billion dollars of new development," he said. "We’re now the fastest growing city in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and we haven’t raised property taxes in nine years.”

Allentown’s story of revitalization starts in 2008, when the gates of a brand new $50 million baseball stadium opened. Despite the city’s financial struggles and decades-long economic decline, Allentown has remained the third largest city in Pennsylvania, and because it’s less than 90 miles from the major media markets of Philadelphia and New York, Allentown city officials were able to lure in the Phillies minor league baseball team with some financial incentives.

Lee Butz is the president of Alvin H. Butz, Inc., a construction company named after his grandfather. The company built Coca-Cola Park, home of the team now named the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The Butz family operated out of Allentown for generations, but when downtown drained, they left too.

“In 1972 we moved from Allentown to the suburbs,” Butz says. “At that time, it seemed like not that important of a move. It was convenient and closer to our homes. But the problem was, almost everyone was moving out of the center city and in a couple of decades it became so severe that many people thought Allentown would never survive.”

But when the city got the IronPigs, Butz says there was a shift in mentality. Suddenly a town that had gotten used to losing felt what it was like to win. “There were a lot of people who said the Lehigh Valley will never support minor league baseball,” Butz says. “Not only did the people support it, it has been the best attended minor league ballpark in the country for several years.”

Butz says the success of the IronPigs proved that Allentown could be a viable market, and it drew him back to downtown. Just after the stadium went up, his company built a new office in the city and moved in.

“We came back because the community has been so good to us. We just felt, what’s the best way we can pay the community back? Let’s go to downtown Allentown and see if it makes a difference, see whether a lot of people will follow us downtown.”

The first several years were rough. “We thought maybe we’d made a terrible mistake,” Butz says. “We occupied two floors of our six story building and we hardly had any other tenants. We thought, oh, gosh, we can’t make this work. But then along came the NIZ. It changed everything.”

The turning point

The NIZ is the whimsical shorthand folks in Allentown use for a plan called the Neighborhood Improvement Zone. The plan is the brainchild of Pennsylvania state senator Pat Browne. It gives developers who chose to build in downtown Allentown a special incentive.  

“Any taxes they generate as a result of their operations in Allentown can be used by the developer to offset the costs of that investment,” Browne says.

The general concept of using state tax incentives and incremental financing is not new. Browne says the American railroads were built on the model back in the 1860s.

Construction workers put the finishing touches on the entrance way of the PPL Center in preparation for the arena’s first event, a sold out Eagles concert.

Tommy Andres/Marketplace

What makes the NIZ unique is the word "any." “We’ve never been able to pull together an incentive that uses the entire state tax portfolio,” Browne says. 

Here’s how it works: If a building is built in the NIZ, the developer can get back the sales tax on any purchase made in that building for 30 years. That developer can also collect state income tax from any employee who works in that building. Even the corporate tax on businesses can be tapped. The state and city oversee the distribution, and if the kickbacks exceed what the developer spent on the building, the rest of the money goes to the state.

The NIZ went into effect in 2012, and swept up around $14 million for developers that first year.

J.B. Reilly is one of those developers. He grew up in Allentown, then made his fortune in the suburban sprawl that led to Allentown’s demise. Now, he has come back to invest in downtown. “Not only did we see a financial opportunity,” he says, “We saw a community development opportunity.”

When it was commissioned for $50 million, Coca-Cola Park felt like a risky bet. But Reilly has raised the stakes immensely, putting down nearly a billion dollars on another sport: hockey. Reilly’s company, The City Center Management Company, is building the new home of the Philadelphia Flyers' minor league team, the Phantoms. His hope is that it will become the heart of a new city.

“There’s a million square feet of development in the arena block between the hotel, the office retail, the arena itself and around 900 parking spaces,” Reilly says.

Reilly says Coca-Cola Park may have helped the city’s outlook and image, but it didn’t do much to spur growth. “It ended up being built on the fringes of Allentown and really didn’t have a benefit to downtown.” Reilly is confident the new PPL Center hockey arena downtown will be different because it’s more than just an arena. The stadium is encapsulated by the new offices of the region’s largest employer, the Lehigh Valley Health Network. It also houses a membership gym and a brand new Marriott Renaissance hotel.

“We really had to approach this differently,” Reilly says. “We had to look at this as a kind of master-planned opportunity to redevelop an urban area and really started thinking about this as creating a place.”

The NIZ allows Reilly to charge cheaper rent, which has been attractive to prospective tenants. Reilly’s office is across the street in a new building called Two City Center, which is also the new headquarters of National Penn Bank, the first bank to call Allentown home in four decades. A new upscale restaurant called The Hamilton — one that never could have survived in the area five years ago — opened on the ground floor in July.

“There will be 3,000 more people working here [in September] than there were a year ago,” Reilly says. “And for a city like Allentown, that’s just extraordinary. Some may say it’s an expensive project, and there’s a lot of state subsidy in it. And there is, but what’s it worth to turn around the third largest city in the state of Pennsylvania?”

Still a tough road

In the shadows of all that new development, just four blocks up 7th Street, is the neighborhood where Julio Guridy grew up. Guridy was born in the Dominican Republic and was among the first of several waves of immigrants to move to Allentown almost four decades ago.

Row houses on 7th Street in downtown Allentown are now mostly home to first and second generation immigrants. At the end of the street is one of The NIZ’s new buildings.

Tommy Andres/Marketplace

Allentown is now nearly 50 percent Hispanic and Latino. Most of those residents are from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, and most moved from New York and New Jersey, not because of job prospects, but to escape rising costs of living.

"The big influx came about ten years ago,”Guridy says. “It's still a fairly new community. Many of them transferred from some other place with a Section 8 voucher. Some of them transferred with a welfare check."

Allentown’s population never stopped growing. As suburban sprawl drew the locals away, immigrants moved into downtown. Many are first generation and don’t speak much English. The result is a poverty rate in Allentown that is nearly ten times the national average.

So how will the NIZ help this burgeoning portion of the city?

“That’s the multimillion-dollar question,” Guridy says.

The residents on Guridy’s old street have all seen the new development and most have heard about the NIZ. And most believe it will bring in more people and more foot traffic. Zack Alali is from Syria and moved to Allentown from New York in the wake of September 11. He says the city knows what it's doing when it comes to big business.

“You think they’re going to spend $200 million on nothing? They’re not stupid,” he says.

But Alali also believes the city is ignoring small business owners in favor of the big developers, and says the feeling that he is an underdog is palpable.

“I applied for a loading zone in front of my shop. It took them three years to approve it,” he says. “The arena people changed the collection of the trash for the whole city in one week. So that tells you everything.”

Edis Farmin moved to Allentown from New York a decade ago. She owns a building and runs a salon in it called Dominican Beauty, just up the road from Alali’s store. She says the development that’s going on at the end of her street is for other people, not for her. She’s also upset because today she got a letter saying her taxes are going up. They aren’t city taxes — they’re state and county taxes — but she sees the new development and can’t help but link the two.

“That’s not fair,” she says. “They want Hispanic people to go back to New York. That’s all they want.”

Guridy says he’s not surprised at the mixed response from the changing neighborhood. “I think there has to be an opportunity for all,” he says. “And I think that opportunity is open. I think the issue is, are we as a Hispanic community and a small business community prepared to take on those projects? It’s going to be difficult at the beginning. It’s not impossible.”

Mayor Pawlowski says his city will never be able to build away all of its problems, but he’s happy with the city’s success so far. “Before, we were dealing with not being able to get anyone to invest in the city of Allentown,” he says. “It was a place where no one wanted to be. Now we’re dealing with the issue of maybe we’re gentrifying our community too fast. I’d rather have that problem. That’s a problem I can deal with and we can address.”

The mayor says that because of the NIZ, his city has pushed forward 20 years in two. “For years, I was like Sisyphus, just pushing that boulder up the hill. And every time we seemed to be getting to the top, it would roll back down. I think the boulder is now over the top of the hill.”

Allentown as a trend-setter?

It's too early to gauge success in Allentown. The city is only two years into a 30-year plan. But whether six square blocks of development can ripple through a city of 18 square miles doesn't seem to matter to Allentown's neighbors. The cities of Lancaster and Bethlehem each have their own state-funded development plans in the works. They call theirs "The City Revitalization & Improvement Zone," or CRIZ. 

If all goes according to plan, Allentown’s change in tune will debut on Sept. 12, when The Eagles open up the city’s brand new hockey arena with a sold-out concert. Sen. Pat Browne says he’s got tickets, but he’s more interested in the show outside.

“Leading up to the event, I’m not going to spend my time in the arena,” Browne says. “I’m going to spend my time outside looking at the waves of people coming downtown and seeing something I haven’t seen in 30 years. And it’s going to feel real good.”

FDA Approves New Diet Pill That's Made Of Old Medicines

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 13:01

Contrave will be available in pharmacies this fall. But the companies working on the drug's marketing won't say how much it will cost.

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Susan Rice: Islamic State Fight Will Not Be 'Iraq War Redux'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 13:00

In an interview with NPR, Rice said the U.S. will not be drawn into a ground war in Iraq and Syria, even if local forces are insufficient at containing the Sunni militants.

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Richard Kiel, Actor Who Played Jaws In Bond Films, Dies At 74

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 12:44

Kiel delighted moviegoers with his quiet menace and his metal teeth in the role of Jaws, the Bond villain henchman who not only survived his encounters with 007, but also lived happily ever after.

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Can The U.S. Military Turn The Tide In The Ebola Outbreak?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 12:09

Some say our military has a big role to play in bringing Ebola under control. But sending in troops is trickier than it sounds.

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Rare Virus Has Sickened Hundreds More Children, Hospitals Say

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 12:03

The rare virus is spreading fast, and doctors don't have an instant test to find out who has it. So parents should be ready to seek help quickly if a child has a cold that's rapidly getting worse.

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Obama's Plan: The Pros And Cons

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 09:48

The president has opted for an open-ended air campaign to fight the Islamic State. A look at what it will take to make the plan work and the risks that could cause it to fail.

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Some Things You Can Do In Your Sleep, Literally

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 09:32

For those who think there are not enough hours in the day, researchers may have just offered you a solution. The brain can continue tasks even while asleep, a study finds. Texting not included, alas.

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Suicide Is A Big Problem Where You'd Least Expect It

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 09:20

The conventional thinking is that suicide is a problem in high-income countries. But a new WHO report says that three-fourths of suicide deaths are in the low- and middle-income world.

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Boehner: House GOP 'Ready To Work With The President'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 08:55

The House speaker said Congress "ought to give the president what he's asking for" but also expressed skepticism, saying the White House plan to defeat Islamic State militants doesn't go far enough.

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Missouri Lawmakers Override Vetoes On Abortion, Guns

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-11 08:53

The state is set to expand gun rights and establish a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions after lawmakers overruled vetoes by Gov. Jay Nixon.

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