National News

GM Stays At The Top As U.S. Car Sales Surge In July

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 15:21

An analyst says GM might have benefited from the safety recalls that brought customers back to its dealerships. Many automakers saw strong gains compared to last year.

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Peak Index: The history behind the rise, and rise, and rise of kale

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-01 15:04

There is a phrase in economics ... when something has hit its high, saturated the market, it's peaked. We're starting a new economic indicator on our show, and we're saying it, we've reached Peak KaleWriter Jane Black explains



If you were a foodie at the dawn of the twentieth century - though, no one would call you a foodie - you probably would have paid attention to what Horace Fletcher had to say.

Fletcher was a wealthy businessman. But he was neither a scientist nor a chef. Still, he pioneered 'Fletcherizing,' or chewing each bite 32 times. It was soon accepted as a key to good health. "Nature will castigate those who don't masticate!" he warned.

The concept seems ridiculous today. But each food fad is a reflection of its time.

Now, we have kale: glamorous but respected; sexy but not in a cookie-cutter way. The Cate Blanchett of vegetables. Like any starlet that has hit the big time, kale is everywhere. It bumps romaine out of Caesar salads. It curls across pizzas and alongside locally raised pork chops. It's the muse for part-cookbook, part-love letter, 50 Shades of Kale.

Why kale? Why now?

To its credit, kale has a vibrant history. It emerged in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. By the Middle Ages, it became so popular in England and Scotland, 'kale' became another word for "dinner." During World War II, Britain urged home gardeners to grow kale for its "Dig for Victory" campaign.   Today it offers those who cook it a badge of honor. Rightly or wrongly, it signals a cook’s commitment to farm to table values, like buying local and, of course, eating your vegetables.

Yet, with every fad comes the inevitable backlash. The first haters are beginning to attack not kale’s pretensions of grandeur but its health credentials. Apparently, all those raw kale salads are a waste. To get the nutrients, you need to cook the stuff.

Yet, with every fad comes the inevitable backlash. The first people to hate on kale claimed it wasn't as healthy as everyone said. Then, they said .... 'only really snooty people eat it.'

Unlike France, Italy and China, the U.S. goes through food fads faster than a box of $4 cupcakes at an office party. So those critiques matter. And before kale was the "it" vegetable, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, portobello mushrooms and celery root each wore the heavy crown.

Still, the backlash has yet to change people's minds about kale. There's a petition on Change.org to make the first Wednesday of October National Kale Day. Folk artist Bo Muller-Moore is locked in a trademark battle with Chick-fil-A to allow him to keep selling T-shirts that read "Eat More Kale."

If the ubiquitous raw kale salad can't live up to its nutritious and culinary promise, perhaps the solution is to mix and match culinary fads.

Put that arugula, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes back into those bowls.

Anyone ready to Fletcherize?

The Market Basket protests

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-01 15:02

Across New England, a chain of Market Basket grocery stores saw protests this week. Protests in support, not against, former company President Arthur T. Demoulas.

Market Basket's board pushed him out in a massive family feud, and now the chain is losing MILLIONS of dollar as thousands of employees AND customers, have hit the streets.

We asked WGBH reporter Rupa Shenoy to get the bottom of this story.

What do sanctions do, anyway?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-01 15:00

The word sanctions gets tossed around a lot. The U.S. has sanctions on Iran, Russia, and even Cuba dating back to the Cold War. It's the go-to way to isolate and starve a bad actor, using money.

This week, the U.S. and the E.U. tightened the screws on Russia with even more sanctions.

So how do these things work, anyway?

To find out we met up with economist Sheryl King, director at Roubini Global Economics, outside the United Nations to explain their global impact.

Argentina defaults

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-01 14:57

Talks broke down between Argentina and some of its bondholders, triggering its second default in the past 13 years.

Tim Ferholz, reporter for Quartz, explains the situation and Argentina's past:

The whole reason for Argentina’s 2001 default was the string of currency crises in Asia and South America in the 1990s, with the IMF and other international financial leaders having bungled their responses to a series of problems in developing economies. Between the specter of contagion, local corruption, and an unwise attempt to peg Argentina’s currency to the dollar, foreign investment poured out of Argentina, and the economy slumped. Social unrest rose, and amid a volatile mix of political chaos, bank runs and high unemployment, Argentina defaulted on $100 billion of debt, going from a poster child for the Washington consensus to its biggest victim. 

Panel Says Plan To Cut Army Strength Goes Too Far

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 13:57

The Pentagon has recommended cutting troop strength to 450,000, but a bipartisan report says that given the global threats, the reduction is too big.

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Automakers could sell 16 million cars this year. What?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-01 13:23

Turns out, we snapped up around 1.4 million cars last month, an increase of around 9 percent over last year. That puts automakers on track to sell more than 16 million cars in 2014, the biggest auto sales number in eight years. 

So what's going on?

One of the big reasons car sales are so high this year? Banks have discovered the sweet business that is the auto loan.

"Banks have realized that when recessions hit, people may stop paying their mortgage payments, because it takes so long to get thrown out of your house, but very few stop paying their car payment, because those are so easy to repossess and you have to get to work," says Larry Vellequette, with Automotive News in Detroit.

Carmakers have done their part to sweeten that pot, too. "For example Ram, on one of its trucks right now has a 0 percent financing offer for 72 months," says Vellequette. "I mean, six years of free money and no payments for 90 days. That’s… I mean, a really attractive offer."

It's an offer many consumers have been waiting for. The average car on the road is more than 11-years-old, an all-time high. That means there's a lot of pent-up demand right now.

"They’re coming out of this really depressing time, when we had the big financial crisis," says Thilo Koslowski, Vice President and Auto Practice leader at Gartner

But cheap money and easy loans have some seeing signs of a bubble. "That's the $64,000 question right now," says Dan Picciotto, Senior Director at Standard and Poor's. He says the economic fundamentals of the industry seem solid, but, he says, the deep discounts and less-than-sterling loans needs to be kept in check. "Right now the industry is remaining relatively disciplined, but the track record of this industry is one where the risks emerge… It’s something that we continue to monitor."

The average incentive on a vehicle in July was more than $2,700, up 7 percent from last year. 

Everything in this store is made out of felt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-01 13:15

A British artist by the name of Lucy Sparrow - whose bio says she "sets the agenda for textiles within the urban art scene" - has created something called "The Cornershop."

It's being billed as the "fluffiest, furriest shopping experience imaginable." You walk into what was an abandoned store, and everything that you might find in a convenience store - and I mean everything - is there, but it's made entirely out of felt.

She's sewn felt newspapers...

...felt cigarettes....

...felt cheese...

...even felt Prozac...

She spent seven months doing this, and it really does look amazing. You can see some more pictures taken by the Mirror in the UK.  The store will be up for a month, and each of these 4,000 or so felt objects is for sale.

Procter & Gamble shaves off a few brands

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-01 13:15

Two ingredients. That’s all Procter & Gamble needed to launch its enormous brand empire.

“Fat and oils," says Davis Dyer, co-author of "Rising Tide: Lessons from 165 Years of Brand Building at Procter & Gamble." "Originally, those were the key ingredients of soap."

Ivory, to be exact. Dyer says P&G worked business magic at the time by branding a commodity like soap. After that, the company used its technology and those key ingredients to develop other products like shortening, peanut butter and detergents. The rest is classic corporate history, but now P&G is getting rid of lots of the brands it worked so hard to build.

“I’m actually surprised it’s taken this long," says Barbara Kahn, a professor of marketing at Wharton. She points out the company has a lot of redundant products, like shampoo. P&G doesn't just make Head & Shoulders, but also Herbal Essences, Pantene and Vidal Sassoon. 

"At one time that made a lot of sense," Kahn says, "because it allowed them to appeal to different segments. It allowed them to get more shelf space."

Kahn notes reaching audiences in the last century was a lot easier than it is now, when consumers' attention spans have splintered. It used to be much easier to build brand awareness.

“There used to be three networks, and everybody watched Ed Sullivan on Sunday night,” Kahn says.

Morningstar senior equity analyst Erin Lash says more problems face today's marketers, like today's increasingly global market.

“Some of their struggles, at this point, may have resulted from the fact that they have maybe tried to get into or tried to play in too many categories, in too many regions,” she says.

Tastes and preferences vary, says Lash. You can’t always take a product, like razors, that work in the U.S. and easily transport it to an emerging market.

Procter & Gamble hasn’t announced which brands it will be shaving away, but it says the products it’s holding on to account for almost all of its profit.

The world of brands at Procter & Gamble


easel.ly

More jobs, but wages stay flat

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-01 13:15

The monthly jobs report showed Friday that the U.S. economy gained 209,000 jobs in July. That's a decrease from the 298,000 added in June, but the overall trend still suggests the economy's on a slow but steady jobs recovery.

Still, when it comes to jobs in the U.S., the question is not just of quantity but quality. And in the quality department, there's a long way to go. Average wages are growing at about 2 percent a year, barely enough to keep up with inflation.

Stagnating wages aren't that surprising in an economy slowly plodding out of recession, where there aren't enough jobs to go around and the number of long-term unemployed Americans has stalled at 3.2 million.

"If you're an employer, you've got many applicants for a job. Some people have been out of work for quite some time and are quite desperate," says Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR, a financial consulting firm. That means employers "don't have to bid up wages to attract qualified people," Shapiro says.

Sure, wages are still growing fairly rapidly in some specialized fields like computer programming or engineering, which face a shortage of skilled workers. But wages are not accelerating for the "the broad, garden-variety worker," Shapiro says.

Wage growth should eventually accelerate, at least a little, if the economy continues to add jobs and labor markets tighten. But, beyond those supply and demand dynamics, there are deeper forces working against wage growth that got started long before the great recession, including the declining power of unions and the increasingly globalized economy.

"The sheltered economy that the U.S. had after World War II, which allowed us to have high wages and high benefits, is now being tamped down by countries with cheaper wages competing against American manufacturers," says Joseph Blasi, a professor of management at Rutgers University.

It's not just manufacturing that's feeling the pressures of globalization. Companies are increasingly outsourcing white-collar jobs like paralegals and architectural draftsmen. Meanwhile, many of the service jobs that still can't be sent overseas — like stocking shelves or flipping hamburgers — have traditionally paid low wages to begin with.

Damon Silvers, policy director for the AFL-CIO, says workers in those industries have started to demand higher wages but are struggling with confidence.

"Decades of anti-worker policies, and on top of that a profound economic crisis, have really put American workers through an experience of powerlessness," Silvers says. "Everything you see going on right now, in terms of worker protests at Walmart, at fast foods, even those people kind of want to know: is this going to work?"

One way or another, says Shapiro, we should all hope that wages will rise eventually for workers. "Because that's who buys stuff."

And buying stuff is what ultimately keeps our economy running.

NYC Man's Chokehold Death Was A Homicide, Medical Examiner Says

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:57

The controversial death of Eric Garner was captured in a video that showed his confrontation with police on a Staten Island sidewalk.

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As Flow Of Migrants Into Mexico Grows, So Do Claims Of Abuse

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:44

Like the U.S., Mexico is struggling with a surge in illegal migrants. Mexico criticizes how the U.S. treats its migrants. But it faces similar criticism from Central American migrants in Mexico.

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WWI Diaries Of Poet Siegfried Sassoon Go Public For First Time

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:39

Nearly a dozen notebooks and journals by the author, who fought in the British Army during the war, are being released to coincide with the centenary of the start of the conflict.

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Breast-Feeding Is Still Difficult For Many Moms

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:18

Access to lactation specialists is slowly improving in the U.S., according to a CDC survey. And that can help many women who want to breast-feed stick with it longer, health officials say.

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Some Public Pension Funds Making Big Bets On Hedge Funds

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:14

States and cities have been investing billions of pension money dollars in hedge funds. That's costing a lot of money in fees, and experts say the pensions don't have much to show for it.

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As Ebola Outbreak Worsens, West Africa Turns To Quarantines

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:10

Leaders of the three African nations hit hardest by the Ebola virus met to discuss ways to fight the outbreak. With the situation deteriorating, it's likely more of the region will be quarantined.

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President Obama Slams Congress As He Welcomes Economy's Gains

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:03

Citing 6 months of strong job gains, President Obama says America's recovery from a debilitating recession is well underway. But he says the economy "could be doing even better" if Congress helped.

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Fla. Judge Orders Lawmakers Back To Work On A New Congressional Map

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:01

A Florida judge has ordered the state legislature to come back from recess for a special session. Lawmakers will be expected to draw up new maps for congressional districts found unconstitutional. The judge says he may push back the November 4 election date and order special elections in the affected districts.

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In July Jobs Numbers, Fodder For Cautious Optimism

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:01

According to new numbers, the U.S. economy continued to add jobs at a steady pace in July. Employers added 209,000 jobs to their payrolls, and while the report showed the unemployment rate ticking up slightly to 6.2 percent, even that was a somewhat positive sign.

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