National News

FBI Chief Says U.S. Has Identified Man Who Beheaded Americans

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-25 10:34

The Islamic State released a video that appears to show a masked man beheading two American journalists. FBI Director James Comey would not name the suspect.

» E-Mail This

Airstrikes hit ISIS-controlled oil refineries

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 07:00

The U.S. and its allies are pursuing a new target in eastern Syria. A wave of airstrikes is being aimed at modular oil refineries controlled by ISIS. The revenue from those small refineries is believed to be helping ISIS finance its operations in the region.

Click the media player above to hear reporter Noel King in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio. 

The numbers for September 25, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 06:39

After nearly six years as attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr. will step down, according to several published reports. President Obama is expected to make the announcement Thursday. This is not a complete surprise. Holder had said earlier that he planned to step down before the end of the year. Word is he will stay at the Justice Department until a successor is chosen, even if it's not until 2015.

In the meantime, here's what we're reading — and the numbers we're watching.

$2 million

That's how much the Pentagon estimates ISIS makes every day from selling oil, now that the extremist group controls 60 percent of production in Syria. Last night, the U.S. and its allies hit about a dozen ISIS mobile refineries in an effort to choke that funding stream.

Seven

The number of television and movie companies expected to get Federal Aviation Administration permission on Thursday to use drones, the Washington Post reports. Commercial drone use has been effectively banned by the FAA for some time, but filmmakers will soon be able to use them for aerial shots in place of helicopters, saving money. 

$548

 The average price on StubHub yesterday for a ticket to Derek Jeter's final game with the Yankees, which is now in danger of being rained out. According to Business Insider, that's bad news for sellers, who would have to return the money they made — as much as $12,000 for the best seats — if the game is called off and not rescheduled.

The Airbnb of classical music

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 03:00

It’s not uncommon to sell the idea of a new startup based on the model of another (think: "It’s the Uber of pet adoption,” or “It’s like Tinder for baristas").

Sam Bodkin’s business is no different, even if he’s a bit reluctant to be categorized: “We refer to ourselves as the Airbnb of classical music,” he says.

The comparison isn’t unfair, though. Groupmuse — started in 2012 and run by Bodkin, Ezra Weller and Kyle Nichols-Schmolze — matches Groupmuse users looking to host a concert with willing musicians needing a venue to perform. Once a match is set up, other “Groupmusers” are invited to attend, creating an event that’s part house concert, part party, part social platform.

Where the sharing economy and the arts intersect

It’s a melding of some of Bodkin’s experiences: his travels through Europe using online platform couchsurfing.com to find people willing to host him, and his love of classical music discovered through musicians he befriended in Boston as an undergraduate student.

Combining his interest in classical music and the sharing economy of couch surfing, he came up with Groupmuse.

While the endeavor is inherently artistic, Bodkin isn't aiming to become a not-for-profit organization.

“We are absolutely a startup, and we fancy ourselves as such. It’s a social startup, built around a web platform,” he says.

There’s certainly a social network aspect to the experience: Members interested in attending a Groupmuse connect through Facebook, sending a message to prospective hosts to introduce themselves before the event. Additionally, musicians who regularly perform have access to guest lists of people who come to their performances and are regular Groupmuse attendees.

Have a problem? Found a startup.

If classical music and startup culture seem like odd bedfellows, to Bodkin, it only makes sense. Fading interest in classical music was a problem he wanted to address, and he sees this kind of entrepreneurial thinking as a solution.

“This is how, basically, people of our generation resolve to deal with these challenges that they see," he says. "We found companies.”

Groupmuse is currently up and running in three cities (New York, Boston and San Francisco), but there are still some aspects to be worked out as the company grows — for example, musicians are currently paid by donation, whereas ideally Bodkin envisions payment will eventually be built in to the Groupmuse platform.

While in the process of raising venture capital funding, Bodkin says he's also looking to partner with companies interested in hosting Groupmuse for their employees as part of a new funding structure.

Ultimately, aside from promoting the music itself, Bodkin would like to see it turn into a tool for musicians to manage their careers, building a fan base that is personally invested in their success.

He even has a startup buzzword for it: “Micropatronage.”

PODCAST: The number of uninsured Latinos drops

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 03:00

Here's why we have to be careful with headlines: There's news that orders for expensive, long-lasting merchandise fell more than 18 percent in August, the most precipitous drop on record. But all is not as it seems. And in health care news, there's data showing the percentage of Latinos who don't have health insurance in America has fallen by more than a third since the health care reform law kicked in. More on that. And we think we live in the future — Apple's new Dick Tracy watch might be evidence of that — but there is an argument that, in at least one regard, the United States currently is like Europe in the 19th century. 

Health care coverage reaches Latinos

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 02:00

The percentage of Latinos who lack health insurance has fallen by more than a third since the Affordable Care Act kicked in this year, according to a new report from The Commonwealth Fund, a health care policy group.

Historically, Latinos have been one of the least-covered groups in the U.S. when it comes to health insurance. Michelle Doty, the lead author of the report, says the low coverage has a lot to do with employment trends.

"For a long time, Latinos have tended to work in jobs that don't provide health insurance — low wage and small firms," Doty says.

But now that coverage gap is quickly being filled, Doty says, at least in states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. The uninsured rate for Latinos has dropped from 35 percent to 17 percent in less than a year.

That shift translates to fewer emergency room visits and more preventive care for patients at the AltaMed community clinics that Alfonso Vega runs in Southern California. The clinics serve many low-income Latinos, many with diabetes. Without insurance, Vega says, many patients would avoid health care until crisis hit, but that has been changing as more people have enrolled in Medicaid in the last few months.

"There's countless patients that we're seeing that are seeing a primary care doctor every 90 days like they're supposed to — getting all the tests that they're supposed to have done on a periodic basis," Vega says.

In the states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage under Obamacare — where more than 20 million Latinos live — their uninsurance rates remain basically unchanged.

Americans appear ready to go shopping again

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 02:00

Over the past seven years, Americans have pulled back on major purchases, such as houses and big appliances — they’ve paid down debt, shopped "deep-discount," tried to put money away for a rainy day.

Now, according to a survey in the latest issue of Consumer Reports, Americans are ready to spend it up again. Of the people Consumer Reports surveyed, 64 percent said they were planning a big-ticket purchase this year — a new or used vehicle, a new home, a home remodel or a major appliance.

The trend can be seen among the ranks of wannabe homebuyers in many urban markets that have rebounded in the past several years. Lee Ritter, 31, is a successful web designer who had been outbid recently for houses in Portland, Oregon. He’s very eager to buy.

“I see the market going steeper and steeper into territory that I can’t follow,” said Ritter. “And there’s lots of competition.”

That competition makes realtors happy, and makes homebuilders more willing to take the risk of breaking ground. It’s also good news for big-box stores and local chains that sell washer-dryers and big-screen TVs.

Tod Marks, senior projects editor at Consumer Reports, says survey data from the publication show that as the acute effects of the recession fade, Americans are more ready to spend.

“Nearly half of Americans either bought a new or used vehicle in the past year, or plan to buy in the year ahead,” said Marks. “And a third recently completed or are ready to undertake a major home remodeling.” Marks said the 2015 housing market forecast is the best in years.

Marks chalks up these increasingly robust spending expectations to the fact that Americans see more jobs being created; many also see their family balance sheets improving. Also, people put off purchases for so long, cars are breaking down now and houses are no longer big enough for growing families.

Most economists anticipate steady improvement, rather than a sharp upward spike in major retail purchases in the coming year, though. They say Americans are still loathe to take on debt, or pay more than they have to for anything.

Grading the political campaign manager

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-25 02:00

In sports, a team's record is very important. Coaches and managers are judged on how many games they have won and lost. Is the same thing true of campaign managers and consultants?

This week, the Atlanta Braves held a press conference. "We have announced this morning that we have terminated our general manager, Frank Wren," said John Schuerholz, the team's president.

That got David Berri's attention. He's a sports economist at Southern Utah University.

"They didn't have that bad of a season," he says. The team's record is about .500, and that will keep them out of the postseason. "Why are they firing their general manager? Because the Braves have very high expectations. They expect to compete for a World Series every year."

Politicians also have high expectations. They also want to win. So, it is surprising to Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, "how little accountability there is, given the amount of money that's being spent on consultants." And even if they lose, they continue to get hired.

According to Nyhan, this is because politicians have a hard time evaluating managers and consultants.

"It's the same kind of problem you face as a patient when you go into the doctor's office," he explains. You have to gauge how good someone is at something you don't know much about.

Ethan Roeder, the New Organizing Institute's executive director, has looked at what campaign managers and consultants get paid. He says they don't tend to advertise their records "because there is a general understanding that races are much more individual than that." What they will advertise are individual races in which they beat the odds.

Roeder points to a primary election in which a then-unknown Tea Party candidate defeated Eric Cantor, now the former House Majority Leader. The campaign manager known for helping David Brat win that race will always be the campaign manager known for helping David Brat win that race.

"You know he was probably working for peanuts, and they gave him a gas stipend and a flip phone and that was basically his compensation for the job," Roeder says.

The way the system is set up, there is no incentive for the best consultants to work on the toughest, most competitive races. Greg Martin, a professor of political science at Emory University, discovered that, along with Zachary Peskowitz, who teaches at The Ohio State University.

"Congressional elections, in general, are extremely predictable," Martin says, noting an incumbent is likely to win 90 percent of the time.

 

Tsarnaev Trial Will Stay In Boston, Start In January

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 18:34

The marathon bombing defendant's lawyers had hoped to move the trial to Washington, D.C., arguing media coverage in Boston had biased the jury pool. They'd also hoped to delay the trial 10 months.

» E-Mail This

Grand Jury Won't Indict NASCAR's Stewart In Driver's Death

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 14:43

The jury heard testimony from about two dozen witnesses and reviewed photos and videos in coming to its decision. The family of the driver who was killed says, "This matter is not at rest."

» E-Mail This

To Stop Picky Eaters From Tossing The Broccoli, Give Them Choices

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 14:34

When healthier school lunch standards went into effect, many worried kids would toss their mandated veggies. But researchers say letting kids pick what they put on their tray can cut down on waste.

» E-Mail This

'Made in Italy' may not mean what you think it does

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:59

If a handbag is stamped “made in Italy,” it may seem safe to assume that it is, well, entirely made in Italy. But it’s not so simple.

Patricia Jurewicz directs the Responsible Sourcing Network, an organization that advocates for more transparency in supply chains. She says, “It's extremely difficult to understand what companies are doing and how they have their products manufactured.”

In the U.S., there are some laws covering this. The “last substantial transformation” of a product must happen in the country of origin. Guillermo Jimenez of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York says that phrase can be stretched pretty far.

"If you have the handle of the handbag come from South America, and the leather panels come from India, and another part comes from another country, well none of that is a handbag yet," Jimenez says. But put all those pieces together in Italy, and presto: Italian handbag.

“That's legally allowable,” Jimenez says, “but arguably can be deceptive to the consumer.”

The only way to know for sure how a bag is made is to visit the company factories. Jimenez says U.S. customs and the Federal Trade Commission don't have the resources to keep tabs on all of them.

“With the dizzying number of handbag companies in the world,” Jimenez says, “it's hard for the FTC to stay on top of it.”

In fact, the trade commission has not brought a case against a fashion company for violating country of origin laws in over a decade.

That country of origin label is a powerful brand for Italy. As a symbol of craftsmanship and prestige, it brings in boatloads of cash to producers of luxury products. Italians considers the label a national economic resource. Many would like to protect that brand with a stricter definition.

"Made in Italy" is an initiative funded by the Italian government to provide an additional label for products completely manufactured in the country: components, design, the works.

"If you want to buy a real Italian product, it's easier if you actually have a certification that proves that," says Made in Italy representative Marco Tomassini. “It's just to be very clear what you are offering to the end user.”

This certification helps smaller Italian manufacturers stand out from global brands with sophisticated supply chains. It reassures customers that the products are made entirely in Italy.

Keanan Duffty, a designer and professor at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, wonders if customers today really care. “The younger consumer, I am not sure if they are concerned about where the goods are made,” he says. “I think they are more concerned about the label.”

Duffty says for many young people it's less about what the label actually means and more about what it signifies: status and luxury. And keep in mind, he says, “With luxury anything, you're buying a fantasy.”

Fantasy has always been a big part of fashion. If you need a refresher, just watch an “unboxing video.” They are part of a YouTube subgenre in which people post videos of themselves opening up new products so other people can watch. For handbags, big moment in these videos is when the person displays the country of origin label. Whether it is entirely true or just partly true, the “made in Italy” stamp makes owners proud.

'Made in Italy' may not mean what you think

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:59

If a handbag is stamped “made in Italy,” it may seem safe to assume that it is, well, entirely made in Italy. But it’s not so simple.

Patricia Jurewicz directs the Responsible Sourcing Network, an organization that advocates for more transparency in supply chains. She says, “It's extremely difficult to understand what companies are doing and how they have their products manufactured.”

In the U.S., there are some laws covering this. The “last substantial transformation” of a product must happen in the country of origin. Guillermo Jimenez of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, says that phrase can be stretched pretty far.

"If you have the handle of the handbag come from South America, and the leather panels come from India, and another part comes from another country, well none of that is a handbag yet," Jimenez says. But, put all those pieces together in Italy and presto: Italian handbag.

“That's legally allowable,” Jimenez says, “but arguably can be deceptive to the consumer.”

The only way to know for sure how a bag is made is to visit the company factories. Jimenez says U.S. customs and the Federal Trade Commission don't have the resources to keep tabs on all of them.

“With the dizzying number of handbag companies in the world,” Jimenez says, “It's hard for the FTC to stay on top of it.”

In fact, the trade commission has not brought a case against a fashion company for violating country of origin laws in over a decade.

That country of origin label is a powerful brand for Italy. As a symbol of craftsmanship and prestige, it brings in boatloads of cash to producers of luxury products. Italians considers the label a national economic resource. Many would like to protect that brand with a stricter definition.

Made In Italy is an initiative funded by the Italian government to provide an additional label for products completely manufactured in the country: components, design, the works.

"If you want to buy a real Italian product, it's easier if you actually have a certification that proves that," says Made In Italy representative Marco Tomassini. “It's just to be very clear what you are offering to the end user.”

This certification helps smaller Italian manufacturers stand out from global brands with sophisticated supply chains. It reassures customers that the products are made entirely in Italy.

Keanan Duffty, a designer and professor at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, wonders if customers today really care. “The younger consumer, I am not sure if they are concerned about where the goods are made,” he says, “I think they are more concerned about the label.”

Duffty says for many young people it's less about what the label actually means and more about what it signifies: status and luxury. And keep in mind, he says “with luxury anything, you're buying a fantasy.”

Fantasy has always been a big part of fashion. If you need a refresher, just watch an “unboxing video.” They are part of a Youtube sub-genre were people post videos of themselves opening up new products so other people can watch. A big moment in these videos for handbags is when the person displays the country of origin label. Whether it is entirely true or just partly true, the “made in Italy” stamp makes owners proud.

When the digital classroom meets the parents

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:52

The modern classroom is packed with digital technology that can record students’ academic performance in real time, as well as keep track of their attendance, assignments and more. All that data isn't just changing the classroom and the job of teachers. It's changing the role of parents, who are being asked to do more to keep up and keep tabs on their kids.

On a recent night at High Tech Los Angeles, a charter high school in Van Nuys, California, a group of parents got a lesson in just what that means. One of them was Nooneh Kradjain, who has two sons at the high school, and was busy scribbling notes. She said she was struck by how much things have changed since she was in school. “My parents just looked at the report card when it came home and said ‘good job, let’s go out to dinner.”

These days, being a school parent is more like a part-time job.

With so much access to information about their kids’ academic performance, parents are expected to be up on what’s happening. It’s on them now to know if their kids may be headed off track after flubbing a test or missing a homework assignment.

Mat McClenahan is a teacher at High Tech Los Angeles. He says the school needs parents as allies. “What we’re trying to do is develop learners who have the right habits to be successful in college and be successful in the workplace,” he says. “And that means to be on top of the workflow.”

McClenahan says he’s not trying to turn parents into surveillance machines, and they should resist the urge themselves. “The parents often feel like they have to be on top of everything that’s going on,” he says. “We have parents that check their child’s grades several times a day.”

Even if parents don’t go overboard, all the focus on grades and scores worries Alfie Kohn, who has written several books on parenting and education, including "The Myth of the Spoiled Child" says parents"are often asked to become the enforcer of the schools agenda.” “The more schools are encouraging parents to think about grades and tests and homework assignments, the more danger there is that meaningful learning will be eclipsed," he says.

And all that keeping up and keeping track can do a number on parents, too.

Kathy Gadany, who also attended the meeting for parents, has a freshman at High Tech Los Angeles.  “Oh, Lord,” she said. "Now, I have to keep an eye on my kids much more so over the internet instead of just nagging them for their homework.”

And, then, there are the objects of all this attention: the kids. Nooneh Kradjain, the mother whose parents used to take her out to dinner after a good report card, says her kids have asked her to trust them enough not to check their grades all the time.

She says she gets their point of view, but she also understands the lure of micro-managing a child’s education today.

“It’s a lot more competitive and there’s a lot more at stake,” she says and, trust or not, she’s not going to give up all of her digital oversight.

Kradjain is still going to log in to the school’s college-application program, to make sure her older son gets all his paperwork in on time.

Amazon Studios head on taking charge in a new TV age

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:34


Amazon will debut its new series “Transparent” on Friday, releasing all ten episodes to Amazon Prime subscribers at the same time.

It's a dramedy created Jill Soloway of "Six Feet Under" that follows an American family after they find out their father, played by Jeffrey Tambor, is a transgender woman. Critics are calling it Amazon's breakout hit and even the best new show of the fall. 

Roy Price runs Amazon Studios, the online retailer's original content arm, and he’s quick to say that “Transparent” and their other series make Amazon Prime more desirable to users.  

Price says it’s a good time to be in the television industry. That's where the quality is right now, he says, and great shows can engage viewers more than movies can.

“This is a really exciting space. A lot of people are investing and innovating,” he says. Here are three ways Price thinks TV will change in the next 25 years:

Everything inconvenient is going to be innovated away

Navigating all your options will get way easier, for example. Scrolling through hundreds of channels just doesn't make sense anymore.

“I’m literally scrolling through — 'Oh, there's channel 572,'" he says. "I think we can do better.”

It will work on your time

With the exception of sports and other live events, Price says tuning in at an appointed time or on a show in progress is antiquated.

“It should start when you start," he says. "You should be the boss ... not the schedule.”

You'll get logical suggestions for the next show to watch

Amazon is awash with data. Amazon Studios' "pilot season" is crowd-sourced, allowing viewers to pick which shows they want to see made. From television to books to toasters, Amazon is able to suggest new stuff users might like.

But there's one caveat: “One of the riskiest paths in entertainment is to be derivative and try to do the same thing," Price says. "That is the path to failure.”

ISIS and the future of the Tomahawk missile

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:22

At the United Nations, President Obama referred to the extremist group ISIS as a "network of death” on Wednesday. As part of the effort to dismantle it, the U.S. deployed a trusted weapon this week, launching more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Syria.

That could be good news for a weapon on the budgetary chopping block. By best estimates, the U.S. has about 4,000 Tomahawk missiles in its inventory. Or they did, until this week.

Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says Tomahawks are launched from ships or submarines, and can fly 1,000 miles to their targets.

“It has wings that fold out and a jet engine that turns on and it powers it like an airplane,” he says.

Raytheon makes the Tomahawks, which cost the military more than $1 million each.

“We had been buying them at a rate of almost 200 per year,” says Harrison, adding that the Department of Defense proposed phasing out Tomahawk purchases in its most recent budget request. The idea is to find the next-generation replacement.

“In 2016 and beyond, they had zeroed out that budget line,” says Harrison, “indicating they don’t plan to buy any more Tomahawk cruise missiles.”

Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense and military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, says some members of Congress had already wanted to extend the Tomahawk program, including lawmakers on key committees. She says this new campaign against ISIS could convince more lawmakers that’s necessary.

“The caveat for ending the program next year, by the Navy, was always that there would be no unanticipated events that would drain current stockpiles of Tomahawks before a new missile is ready,” she says.

Forty-plus missiles hardly drains the stockpile. But Gordon Adams, an International Relations professor at American University, agrees the product line could well be extended.

That’s good news for Raytheon.

“For any contractor that is making ammunition or building a piece of equipment that’s being used in the campaign against ISIS,” he says, “the campaign against ISIS is good news about the near term future of that program.”

Not to mention for the company behind it. 

More unmarried Americans, thanks to economic woes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:12

The number of American's who've always been single and plan never to marry is at an all time high, according to the Pew Research Center.

On the theory that having a job is an important feature in a future spouse, here's the slice of the data that makes it a Marketplace thing: Fifty years ago there were 139 single young men with jobs for every 100 single young women.

Now, there are 91 single men with jobs for every 100 single women.

Wal-Mart: From 'low prices' to fast banking

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:11

Is there anything Wal-Mart doesn’t want to sell you? The country’s biggest retailer has announced it will offer low-cost checking accounts to anybody 18 and older.

Wal-Mart is partnering with Green Dot, best known for prepaid debit cards.  Wal-Mart says many of its customers are looking for an alternative to high fees at traditional banks.  

“GoBank” is a mobile checking account with no overdraft fees, no bounced check fees and no minimum balance requirement. Wal-Mart has tried to obtain a banking license but bank regulators have rejected the idea. 

Mike Moebs, CEO of the economic research firm Moebs Services, says by partnering with a bank like Green Dot, Wal-Mart can still get a slice of that business.  “Wal-Mart has already done this with check cashing and with money orders and with money transfers and they’ve done it very, very successfully,” says Moebs.

 Moebs expects Wal-Mart to get a cut of the so-called “swipe fee” every time a customer uses GoBank’s debit card. Wal-Mart declined to comment on its financial arrangement with Green Dot.

It does say it’ll be quick to sign up for an account. Daniel Eckert, Wal-Mart vice president of financial services, says customers can literally sign up with a smartphone app “in the parking lot.”  Apparently that “always low prices” thing is now also “always fast banking.” 

Shifting Stance, Some GOP Candidates Back State Minimum Wage Hikes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:01

As free-market conservatives, Republicans are philosophically opposed to raising the minimum wage. But a handful in tight races are having second thoughts.

» E-Mail This

Pages