National / International News

Taxicabs without drivers could be just down the road

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2013-12-27 09:16

This year has been full of ‘what-ifs’ for the delivery industry. Like, “What if Amazon uses drones to deliver that coffee maker to your house?”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told CBS’ Sixty Minutes that’s a possibility.

Or, "What if driverless cars hit the road a lot sooner than expected?”

Representatives for Google and the California DMV say those cars could be on the streets by 2017.

We’re going to add one more – “What if the rideshare company Uber goes full robo-cab?”

That’s a question techand policy – bloggers have been asking all year long.

Right now, Uber acts a lot like a taxi cab you hail from your smart phone. You use an app to call a car, and the car shows up. That simplicity has earned the company a lot of fans, including Amber Leonti. She lives in Sacramento, and she loves Uber. One time, Leonti used Uber three times in the same day – and she kept getting the same driver. At first, Leonti says the driver was real perky and happy – but later in the night, the guy was just dragging.

“But he had like eight, king sized candy wrappers,” Leonti says, adding that the tired driver offered to share a candy bar with her. “I didn’t take it, because I don’t take candy from strangers, but I liked it. I liked that he was fueling himself on sugar.”

But what if a driver didn’t have to fuel himself at all?

What if the driver was a robot?

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick spoke at a tech conference earlier this year, and it sounds like that’s where his company is headed -- robo-cabs, without drivers, taking people where they want to go.

“We’re in the business of delivering cars. We’re delivering a car to you that you can do whatever you want with,” Kalanick told the crowd, before adding, almost as an afterthought:

“Um, well the car has a driver as a well.”

Well, for now at least. Uber has gotten almost a quarter billion dollars investment from Google, and the tech giant has been a leader in developing self-driving cars. Robo-cabs would work the same as driverless cars. They would use lasers and cameras to autonomously navigate the city streets. And for the almost 250,000 human drivers working in the US, that’s bad news. On average, these drivers make about eleven bucks an hour. Mark Rogowsky, a tech writer with Forbes, says those jobs will be lost when robo-cabs hit the roads.

“I think that whether the self-driving car shows up in five or ten years, once it does, the cab driver is an endangered species,” Rogowsky says.

Taxi driver Travis Johnson heads the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association, and he says cab drivers will actually be safer than automated cars.

“The big problem when you eliminate the driver is the automated vehicle can’t make snap judgments for safety or route…like you might have to break a law to safely avoid an accident,” Johnson says.

But tech experts say as more automated cars hit the road, the safer the cars will be. That’s because those cars will be able to communicate with each other when changing lanes or when they’re in gridlock.

Some expect the first robo-cabs to be on the road in as soon as five years. But that question of safety is a big concern for the insurance industry. Pete Moraga is with the Insurance Information network of California. He says insurers will have a hard time figuring how much risk automated cars pose.

“There has to be that transition period, where these cars get on the streets whether they’re robo-cabs or personal cars, and we have a history of how they operate,” Moraga says.

Many in the insurance industry say it'll be more than a decade before you can log into Uber, order a cab, and be whisked away by a self-driving car.

Lawro's predictions vs Danny John-Jules

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 09:15
BBC Sport's football expert Mark Lawrenson takes on comedian and actor Danny John Jules

AUDIO: 'UKIP to completely change UK politics'

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 09:04
The UK Independence Party will "completely change British politics" if it wins next year's European elections, according to the party's head of policy.

Three killed in fresh Egypt clashes

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 08:55
Three people are killed in fresh clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and police across Egypt.

The old-school basketball shoes that stepped up endorsement deals

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2013-12-27 08:43

Just 10 games into his comeback from a left knee injury, former NBA MVP Derrick Rose hurt his right knee last month. That’s bad news for the Chicago Bulls. And for Adidas, the maker of the D-Rose signature line of basketball sneakers. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant is also out with a knee injury, but his new Nike sneakers made their debut earlier this month.

Total retails sales of basketball sneakers hit $3.7 billion dollars last year. But before there were Air Jordans – long before – there were Chuck Taylors. The bestselling sneakers of all-time started out as cutting-edge basketball technology nearly 100 years ago. They bear the name of a Hall of Fame player, but the shoe’s days on the hardwood are over.

“I like to say the Chuck Taylor All Star was born on the basketball courts, raised by rock n’ roll and really adopted by street culture and fashion over the years,” Converse All Star Vice President Magnus Wedhammar says.

Converse, which is owned by Nike, sells about 70 million pairs of the canvas sneakers worldwide every year. But who was the man behind the signature on the iconic ankle patch?

Charles Taylor was born in Indiana in 1901. He played high school basketball and later, some semi-pro ball. Wedhammar says the All Star sneaker was already on the market when Converse hired Taylor as a salesman in 1922.

“Chuck Taylor himself was really the first endorsed performance athlete back in the day,” Wedhammar says. “And he really helped evolve the All Star to the Chuck Taylor All Star over time.”

Taylor put on basketball clinics all over the country, selling sneakers to high school and college teams. His name was added to the ankle patch in 1932. He retired in the mid-1960s and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor to the sport.

“People who were buying his shoes by the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and beyond, they just thought of Chuck Taylor as a brand. But there really was such a person as Chuck Taylor,” says Abraham Aamidor, author of the biography Chuck Taylor, All Star.

But when Taylor died in 1969, his sneaker was in crisis. So, Converse turned to Dr. J.

Julius Erving wore All Stars from his childhood right through his college career, but when he turned pro in the 1970s, Dr. J endorsed new, leather Converse sneakers. Adidas and Puma already sold leather basketball shoes and Converse needed to catch up.

“Converse actually called me in to talk to their engineers. And we spent a lot of hours in terms of the design and obviously, feel and comfort and durability,” Erving says.

All of that helped pave the way for Michael Jordan’s groundbreaking partnership with Nike in 1984. According to SportsOneSource, today the Jordan Brand controls more than half of the basketball market. Overall Nike holds a 92 percent share.

Marshal Cohen is the chief retail analyst at the NPD Group. He says Jordan’s post-career dominance as a spokesman is unprecedented.

“By being able to take the person and then ultimately become the brand, that’s a very rare exception,” Cohen says.

According to Cohen, 75 percent of all basketball sneakers are purchased for style, not performance, in part because of retro reissues.

“It’s all about brand, and it’s all about celebrity product,” he notes.

Fans aren’t the only ones picking up Air Jordans. Other elite athletes like the NBA’s Blake Griffin and baseball’s Derek Jeter are happy to sign with Jordan’s team and to wear his name and silouhette, too.

“Jordan as a brand, will certainly outlive Jordan the player,” says Cohen.

On the court, LeBron James, another Nike spokesman, has a chance to equal Jordan’s accomplishments. But don’t expect King James –- or anyone else -- to knock Jordan off the throne of sneaker endorsements anytime soon.

Two cheers for human rights

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 08:37
Are there times when human rights are not the solution?

PHOTO: Saturn's Holiday Closeup

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 08:35

NASA's Cassini spacecraft focused on one of the planet's poles, and produced an image that resembles a hand-painted Christmas ornament. There's also a new photo of Saturn's largest moons that makes it appear they're stacked on top of each other.

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Indian Nationalist Leader Says Violence Shook Him To The Core

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 08:02

But Narendra Modi's critics say he's to blame for the deadly anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state in 2002. Modi is widely expected to become India's next prime minister if his Bharatiya Janata Party wins next year's election. His supporters view him as an efficient administrator.

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Ambush kills dozens of Syria rebels

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:59
Dozens of Islamist rebels have been killed by a Syrian army ambush in a strategic area near the capital Damascus, activists and state media say.

Shells kill 13 at Yemen funeral

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:58
Artillery shells hit a funeral tent in the southern Yemeni province of Daleh, killing 13 people, reports say.

Why restaurants are scrimping on shrimp

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:41

In October, Jamie’s Italian, a British restaurant chain owned by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, pulled shrimp linguine from its menu. In the U.S., Red Lobster scrimped too: Its all-you-can-eat "Endless Shrimp" special lasted just six weeks this year instead of three months.

And some items were missing.

"Bring back the Parmesan shrimp, please," wrote Carolyn Quivers of Virginia Beach, Va., one of many dismayed diners to post on Red Lobster’s Facebook page. "My husband says we aren’t coming to Endless Shrimp again until you do!"

Red Lobster declined several requests for comment. But the apparent reason for the missing shrimp: Prices have soared to a 12-year high since a deadly illness called Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS) swept through shrimp farms in Thailand.

Shrimp has become Exhibit A in how the globalization of the food-supply chain has expanded to include not just commodities like coffee, sugar and beef, but virtually everything on the table. Once a local delicacy prized for freshness, shrimp is now produced at farms in Asia, South America and Mexico, and sucked up by distributors wherever the price is cheapest.

Shrimp reproduce quickly, can be frozen easily and have a freezer life of 12 months. That has spawned a multibillion-dollar global shrimp farming business and made the crustacean a popular item on menus at chains like Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and Panda Express.

But the shrimp trade also illustrates how volatile that global supply chain can be. A restaurant in Los Angeles can feel the effects of changing weather patterns, natural disasters, or disease on the other side of the world. 

These days, Santa Monica Seafood, the Southwest’s largest seafood distributor, says the Asian shortage has sent prices soaring for Mexican shrimp it buys. And, even with an upscale wholesale and restaurant clientele, Santa Monica Seafood isn’t passing along that extra cost, for now. Other restaurants, like Sizzler, don’t dare either.

"Most restaurants are cautious about menu price increases in this challenging economy," says Don Henry, vice president of purchasing and distribution at Sizzler. "And I know retailers are just as competitive - but seem to have some more flexibility in pricing."

In their own intense price competition, shrimp growers may have disregarded health and safety issues to cut costs, according to seafood buyers like Casey Hartnett.

"In Asia, the ponds are disgusting," he says. "Of course, if you have tons of shrimp [in a single pond], there’s going to be disease."

Hartnett, 32, is part of the global infrastructure that has emerged to help expand the shrimp trade. His three-person company, Global Seafood Brokers, sources shrimp and snow crab from around the world for U.S. distributors.  He says EMS has roughly doubled Asian shrimp prices in a year. A pound of jumbo white shrimp from Asia cost $8.40 a pound in October, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weekly report on frozen seafood coming into New York. Prices have subsequently dipped a bit. 

EMS first appeared in 2009, when an outbreak in China spread to Vietnam, Malaysia, and now Thailand. The bacterial infection produces toxins that slow growth, prevent reproduction, and eventually kill the shrimp. Infected farms have reported losses of up to 70 percent. Many farms have had to shut down, and Thailand's shrimp exports to the U.S. in July declined 58 percent, from a year earlier.

In May, researchers at the University of Arizona identified the cause of EMS: bacteria whose growth is fostered by overcrowding in ponds. But because farmers are reluctant to move to lower-density farming, shrimp production isn’t likely to return to pre-epidemic levels without significant increases in farmed area. Experts estimate it will be several years before Southeast Asia can eradicate the disease.

Shortages in Asia sent buyers to Latin America to fill the void. However, Mexico and Ecuador couldn't produce enough to make up for the losses.

That has created tension for businesses, such as Sizzler and Santa Monica Seafood, which have shouldered the extra costs.

"We [buy] three-quarters of a million pounds of wild Mexican shrimp," says Logan Kock, head of sourcing for Santa Monica Seafood. "EMS, which kills farmed shrimp, has caused this wild shrimp to move up more than 50 percent over the last year."

The company continues paying for a product its customers expect it to carry.

Shrimp is a big part of the menu at Sizzler, where it accompanies the steakhouse’s surf and turf entrees. Henry, the vice president of purchasing, says given the increased prices, the chain is buying shrimp from distributors in six-month intervals, instead of the usual year-long contracts.

As for Red Lobster, the EMS epidemic that likely prompted the quick end to its "Endless Shrimp" promotion this year compounded other financial woes. Parent company Darden Restaurants said in December it plans to sell the 705-restaurant Red Lobster chain or spin it off into a separate company.

Appeal over pond death 'mystery'

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:40
The death of a man in a pond in Kidderminster is described by police as "a bit of a mystery".

2013 Was The Year Bills To Criminalize Animal Cruelty Videos Failed

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:39

This year, 15 bills in 11 states attempted to make undercover videos on farms illegal. Not a single one passed. Activists say a broad-based coalition that tapped the grass-roots concern for animal welfare helped defeat the measures.

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2013 Was The Year Every New Ag-Gag Bill Failed

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:39

This year, 15 bills in 11 states attempted to make undercover videos on farms illegal. Not a single one passed. Activists say a broad-based coalition that tapped the grass-roots concern for animal welfare helped defeat the measures.

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The Price Is Wrong And You Know It: Do You Buy That Ticket?

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:25

Delta Air Lines will honor some incredibly inexpensive tickets it mistakenly sold on Thursday. Some cross-country trips were going for as little as $25. When it's obvious a seller has made a big mistake in your favor, is it OK to buy anyway?

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When Memories Never Fade, The Past Can Poison The Present

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:07

Only a rare few people have the ability to remember everything that happened in their lives. But that gift can seem like a curse, they say, keeping them marooned in the past and unable to enjoy the present. Forgetting, it seems, can be a good thing.

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PODCAST: The Weather Channel versus a weather channel

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:04

The 10-year bond hit a 3 percent yield. That comes after the Federal reserve announced its taper -- scaling back its bond buying program.

Driving while "texting" or while "holding" your cellphone falls under the category of "distracted driving." And while a lot of states have already cracked down on it, Russ Martin with the drivers' group AAA says there’s more to come in 2014.

If you happened to be channel surfing recently, you may have noticed new doppelganger of The Weather Channel. DirecTV subscribers now have WeatherNation, an all-weather channel located right next to The Weather Channel, a not so subtle move in what you might call the Weather Wars.

Man dead and woman hurt in shooting

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:03
A man is found dead and a woman is critically injured at a house they shared in Nottinghamshire.

McDonald's fast food advice becomes corporate PR lesson

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2013-12-27 06:59

McDonald's announced today it will take down its McResource website - an internal resource for employees to ostensibly get help on things from eating right to saving money. 

Why? A labor group used the website and resource line to ridicule McDonalds for paying its workers minimum wage. To be fair, McDonalds did make it kind of easy.  The third party vendor that put the website together included some suggestions that seemed a little... awkward.  For example, if you’re feeling stressed out, try taking at least two vacations a year.  Or there was an instance in which an alleged McResource agent tried to help an employee get on food stamps. 

There were tweets, there were videos, there were news stories.  It was a classic public relations nightmare:  company information gets out, without the accompanying context. 

“There’s always been information that the company didn’t want to get out, but now it’s so much easier to get it out,” says Lisa Orndorff, manager of employee relations and engagement at the Society for Human Resource Management. 

The line between internal and external has become treacherously thin in corporate America, and companies are taking notice. 

For starters, Orndorff says companies over the years have tried to clamp down harder on leaks, with things like confidentiality agreements and strict rules about who represents the company on Twitter or Facebook. 

“Justin Bieber did something similar for a party a few weeks ago," says Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at the Wharton School.  "[Bieber] had a party at his house and said, "Hey, if you’re going to be here, you have to sign a confidentiality agreement.  Three million dollars if you break it."  And Berger says companies have taken a similar approach. 

It’s no longer just the outside face of the company that needs managing.  Daren Brabham, who teaches public relations and new media at USC's Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, says internal communications, “or employee communications, or employee relations used to be this one domain of public relations that wasn’t necessarily ignored, but wasn’t necessarily emphasized either.” 

Brabham says one of the ways to prevent leaks is to improve company culture, which means internal information needs to be not just controlled, but managed.

It’s a testament to the fact that it only takes one leak to cause a flood of negative PR.  And that is a function of the era of social media, where a company can find itself retweeted onto the front page of Buzzfeed and a half million Facebook pages in minutes.

And just as decontextualized information can race across the internet, so can simple bad experiences.  Every bad tweet can become a public relations fail. 

“It’s much more of a microlevel management of individual relationships,” says Brabham, “because those things can tip out of control on social media and go viral.”

So what does this brave new world of digital peril mean?   A lot of new PR jobs.  The industry grew 8% last year.  

What's the cost when unemployment benefits expire?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2013-12-27 06:59

On December 28, 2013, federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits expire for 1.3 million Americans. Another 1.9 million of the long-term unemployed (those actively searching for work for six months or longer) will run out by mid-2014.

Before its Christmas recess, Congress passed a budget compromise but failed to extend the federal EUC program that pays benefits after people run out of state unemployment insurance checks, which typically last six months. Congressional Democrats say they’ll push to renew the program as soon as they’re back in Washington after the New Year. They argue that the U.S. has typically kept paying these extended benefits when unemployment is this high after a recession. Long-term unemployment, meanwhile, is at near-record highs, at 37.3 percent (November 2013).

Extending the EUC program next year would cost the federal government more than $25 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Advocates for the unemployed argue that cutting off the funding shrinks consumer spending in the economy by even more. Recipients tend to spend unemployment benefits right away in the local economy on basic necessities such as food, rent, utilities, and medicine. That supports neighborhood retailers and sustains employment in high-unemployment areas.

The cutoff will hurt most in states with high long-term unemployment, explains Mitchell Hirsch at the National Employment Law Project. He cites in particular California, Arizona, Nevada, as well as states in the Midwest and Northeast such as New Jersey, Michigan, and Illinois. He points out that EUC sustains many older workers who suffer disproportionately from long-term unemployment after they’re laid off; many of them had well-paying, steady jobs, were closely attached to the labor force, were eligible for unemployment compensation, but have trouble getting back into the workforce.

Dusty Miller is 51 and lives near Rockford, Illinois—unemployment 10.5 percent. “We’re still seeing plants closing, we’ve seen a lot of business leaving the area,” Miller says.

Miller was director of defense contracts at Ryan International Airlines, which shut down early this year—he was kept on until February to help wind operations down. He’s been on unemployment since then. His wife is retired, and he says they aren’t living hand to mouth--not yet.

“Fortunately, I was in a position where we had planned for this and had monies tucked away for it,” says Miller. “Worst case, I’d go out and work at a 7-11 or something if I had to.” At the moment, he’s pursuing several prospects for management jobs in aerospace and manufacturing that he thinks will obviate that need.

At Totally You Hair Salon just off Interstate 90 in Rockford, manager Tammy Parker says she doesn’t see a lot of drop-off in spending among her middle-class clientele. She thinks even the unemployed will keep coming in, at least for a while.

“I think you find a way to color your hair, cover the grey,” says Parker. “If I’ve seen any kind of slump it’s in our aestheticians. People are maybe not getting a facial that they might have treated themselves to prior.”

In San Bernardino, California—unemployment 9.8 percent—Troy Ballard at Troy’s Beauty and Barber Salon says his business will definitely suffer from the cutoff of long-term unemployment benefits.

“It impacts us greatly,” he says, “because if you’re not employed you can’t get your hair done.”

Ballard hears plenty of stories in the chair, so he knows right away if someone’s hit a rough patch.

“Sometimes if I have a customer who’s been coming to me on a regular basis,” he says, “if they lose their job, I’ll still try to let them keep coming. They’re still getting interviews” and need to keep looking their best, he says.

Ballard’s generosity while people are unemployed—especially if they’ve run out of benefits—will help them spend whatever money they have on necessities: food, rent, and utilities.

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