National / International News

Consumers cheer up as economy improves

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-06-12 02:00

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey for June is released Friday, June 12, and the consensus among economists is that it will start trending up again after a dip in May. Retail sales in May were up by 1.2 percent (1.0 percent after taking out auto sales), indicating a strong consumer rebound in mid-spring after the economy slowed sharply in the winter.

A major factor driving consumer sentiment is employment, and job-creation has been consistently strong recently. Wages have started rising, too, says Jamie Cox, managing partner at Harris Financial Group in Richmond, Virginia. “People are employed, people’s houses are selling, and I think people are not worried about what markets are doing and they’re not worried about their neighbor losing their job,” says Cox.

Cox says many of the people he advises on investments and financial planning are renovating houses, buying new cars, and going on nice vacations for the first time in years.

Retail analyst David Schick at the investment bank Stifel Nicolaus says American consumers have become more confident and willing to spend as the recession has receded into the past. But he says there are still plenty of scars. “We’re not so far removed from the financial crisis,” says Schick. “We have many new college grads whose spending attitudes were forged during a time when consumers had to be quite careful.”

Shick says earlier in the recovery, the wealthiest consumers led the growth in retail sales. Their assets and income rebounded more strongly and more quickly than people lower on the economic ladder. But Schick says now, lower- and middle-income people are driving retail growth as jobs return and wages rise.

Television: all binge, all the time?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-06-12 02:00

When you cozy up on your couch this weekend for a multi-episode, multi-hour reunion with Piper Chapman and the rest of the ‘Orange is the New Black’ characters, feel confident you are in good company ... at least, in my company.

We don’t know how many other people binge watch Netflix shows; the streaming service isn’t generous with its data. It may be part of the reason other outlets are doing their own come-and-get-it experiments.

NBC recently put all the episodes of its Charlie Manson drama ‘Aquarius’ on-line.

“I think what they are looking for is information,” says David Bushman, television curator at The Paley Center for Media. “I get the sense that everyone is watching — CBS, Fox, CW and so on — are all watching to see what happens.”

It seems, at least from the outside, that ‘Aquarius’ isn’t a show that will rewrite all the rules.

Bushman doesn’t think we’re headed to a world where every show is instantly binge-able from the moment of its creation.

But television, and the way we watch, is changing fast.

“We have this idea that we’ll have one set of standards, and I think that’s what we’re on the verge of now, is a world that there is no single set of standards,” says Grant McCracken, an anthropologist who studies American culture and has researched binge watching for Netflix.

He expects more and more experimentation — Throw out formulas for length, storytelling convention, style, when or how often episodes are released.

“I wonder if we’re not just a few years away in television where all of that variability is built in to TV as well,” says McCracken.

Changes in what we watch and how we watch will require a change in marketing and how what we watch gets paid for.

But, if content producers figure that out, television is likely to get more and more fun.

Magna Carta anniversary draws American support

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-06-12 02:00

Mark Wallis, boss of Past Pleasures, an historical re-enactment company, is fretting over the costume he will wear on his next job.

“It’s very heavy,” he says. "When you’re wearing it, you feel as if  there are two iron hands pressing you into the earth.”

It’s chainmail. And real chainmail. Not knitted string sprayed the color of silver. Wallis is playing the part of Robert Fitzwalter, leader of the rebel barons, in a reconstruction commemorating the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede on the banks of the River Thames, on June 15, 1215. Mark is determined that his performance should be authentic as possible.

“Our job is to bring alive the hidden stories of England’s dynamic history,” he says.

The reconstruction is part of a mass of commemorative events and medieval festivities marking the 800th anniversary of an episode that has even more resonance in the United States than in Britain.

“Magna Carta was initially a peace settlement between a bad king and his very, very unhappy barons,” says Justin Champion, Professor of History at Royal Holloway University. "But it became a symbol of resistance and protest, especially during the American Revolution in 1776.” 

The document not only inspired the revolutionaries but also formed part of the intellectual underpinning of the U.S. Constitution.  

Americans are playing a major role in the anniversary. Some 800 American lawyers have descended on London for a round of debates and seminars and for the re-dedication of the Magna Carta memorial at Runnymede, set up by donations from the American Bar Association in the 1950’s.   

The Association’s current President, William Hubbard, is leading the delegation in this anniversary year.

“This is a great opportunity for us to come and celebrate the foundation of much of the freedoms that we enjoy in the United States," Hubbard says.

Many of the lawyers will take time out to watch some ferociously realistic medieval combat — hand to hand fighting with mace and broadsword and jousting.

“You know lawyers are always into jousting,” says Hubbard. 


Profitable airlines face grumpy investors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-06-12 02:00

U.S. airlines are having a great year, but the major carriers’ stock prices have tumbled this week, thanks to growing fears that airlines will overreact to the the good times and mess things up for investors. 

The planes are fuller so they're flying with fewer empty seats. And fuel prices are extremely low.

Joe Schwieterman, a transportation professor at DePaul University in Chicago, says demand has been strong and ticket prices low, "so the fares out there are actually pretty attractive. And we really thought this was going to be a summer where airlines could, in effect, rake it in."

And investors don’t like it when airlines cut prices if it isn’t clear that will result in greater market share. In fact, in the past it’s given airlines quite the stomach ache when their expansion gets whacked by a spike in fuel prices or a reduction in consumer demand.

Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly, says "investors are worried that airlines are just going to put too much supply in the marketplace and grow more quickly than the economy."

"When we look at the schedules for the next bunch of months and into early 2016, airlines are indeed looking to grow more rapidly than the economy," Kaplan says. He adds that growing too fast can result in reduced profits and grumpy investors.

SNP official quits over Kennedy abuse

BBC - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:56
An SNP official resigns after making abusive Twitter comments about the late former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy during the election campaign.

Israel 'struck Gaza beach in error'

BBC - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:47
An Israeli military investigation clears its forces of wrongdoing over the deaths of four Palestinian boys in an attack in Gaza during the 2014 war.

Do not pass Go. Do not collect $122,874

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:45
14 million

That's how many government employees may have had their information stolen in what is being called the largest hacking of U.S. government data in history. As Bloomberg reports, this new number dwarfs the 4 million the government initially estimated. Victims include former and current government employees, as well as government contract workers.

4 percent

Thursday was the first time this year that mortgage rates rose above 4 percent, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. This leads some traders to believe that the Federal Reserve may soon raise short-term interest rates.


That's how much a Kickstarter campaign raised to fund the making of a board game called "The Doom That Came to Atlantic City." Unfortunately for everyone involved, that game never materialized. Now, the FTC has ruled that game creator Erik Chevalier failed to refund backers and did not deliver on promised rewards. As CNET reports, Chevalier has been prohibited from misrepresenting a crowdfunded campaign, will be forced to pay all refunds and was fined $111,793.71.

800 years

That's how many years ago the Magna Carta was sealed. It is credited as providing many of the underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution. Best warn the Brits that the Yankees are coming: Funded by donations to the American Bar Association, about 800 American lawyers are headed to London for the rededication of the Magna Carta memorial at Runnymede.

13 episodes

That's how many "Orange Is the New Black" episodes — the show's entire Season 3 — premiered on Netflix Thursday night. No doubt viewers have already taken to binge watching all of them in a row. But why not pause your marathon to take a look into the culture of binge watching TV, as we ask if it is, in fact, the future of television.

Tributes to gallantry honour soldier

BBC - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:42
Tributes paid later to a Scots soldier who won the Victoria Cross for rescuing a wounded officer from no man's land close to enemy lines.

Silicon Tally: These are not the fridges you're looking for

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:41

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? 

This week, we're joined by Greta Johnsen, co-host of the Nerdette podcast.

Click the media player above to play along.

UK construction falls in April

BBC - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:40
Output in the construction industry falls 0.8% in April compared to the previous month, but new housing contributes to a 1.6% increase in all new work.

VIDEO: Saudi blogger's 'slow death sentence'

BBC - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:23
The wife of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes, describes his punishment as "a slow death".

Osborne and Balls at Bilderberg

BBC - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:17
Chancellor George Osborne and former opposite number Ed Balls are on the list to attend the famously secretive Bilderberg conference in Austria.

Hull two shots back in Women's PGA

BBC - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:13
England's Charley Hull is two shots behind leader Jenny Shin after round one of the Women's PGA Championship in New York.

Fall in football hate crime charges

BBC - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:13
The number of people charged under the controversial football hate crime legislation has fallen slightly, according to Crown Office figures.

Missing mum and son search continues

BBC - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:11
The search is continuing for a woman who vanished 16 days ago with her son after a court ruled he should live with his father.

A Good But Not Great New Season For Netflix's 'Orange Is The New Black'

NPR News - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:00

Netflix debuts 14 new episodes of prison dramedy Orange is the New Black. NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans says the show remains compelling, despite the loss of a powerful character from last season.

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Organic Farmers Call Foul On Whole Foods' Produce Rating System

NPR News - Fri, 2015-06-12 01:00

Some organic farmers are protesting a new system Whole Foods is using to rate its suppliers. They say the system devalues the organic label because non-organic producers can earn the highest grades.

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In The Rolling Hills Of Galway, Spirit Of W.B. Yeats Lives On

NPR News - Fri, 2015-06-12 00:58

Saturday marks the 150th birthday of William Butler Yeats, one of the 20th century's greatest poets. In far western Ireland's County Galway, Yeats found inspiration in the people and landscape.

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Coming Home Straight From Solitary Damages Inmates And Their Families

NPR News - Fri, 2015-06-12 00:56

Says one public defender: "The frightening thing about solitary is that when it erodes your ability to interact with other human beings, in turn that trauma is inflicted on your family members."

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'Merkel phone' tapping probe dropped

BBC - Fri, 2015-06-12 00:56
Germany drops investigation into alleged tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone by US security agency