National News

Who's the dial-up user?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 02:59

Verizon's purchase of AOL will include not just AOL's digital content properties and online advertising business, but also about two million dial-up subscribers. 

They are among as many as nine million Americans who still use dial-up for a variety of reasons, including cost and geographic availability of broadband, says Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center, who looked into dial-up users.

"They're a little bit older," Smith says. "42 percent of dial-up users are over the age of 55. They're also a little bit different in their socio-economic makeup. About half of dial-up users have a high school diploma or less."

Smith says most dial-up users would switch to broadband if it was cheaper or easier to get. But he says a fifth of dial-up users are happy with the service, and just aren't interested in broadband.

So should Verizon make an effort to convert dial-up die-hards?

"The best [Verizon] can do is nothing," says telecom analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics. "There is a segment of the population that just wants to have occasional access to the Internet and only pay 10 dollars for it."

Entner says everyone who wants to convert to broadband probably already has. Except, he says, in the most remote and rural parts of the U.S., where a copper telephone line and a dial-up modem may still be the best way to get online. 

A Key Researcher Says 'Grit' Isn't Ready For High-Stakes Measures

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 02:43

Angela Duckworth worries that when it comes to measuring students' resilience, education policy may be getting ahead of science.

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NTSB Team On Its Way To Investigate Amtrak Derailment

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 02:34

The derailment, which happened just north of Philadelphia, left five people dead and dozens injured. Amtrak cancelled service between New York and Philadelphia.

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A look at Macy's bottom line ahead of a new strategy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 02:00

Macy's, which reports its earnings Wednesday morning, is trying out a new growth strategy. This fall, it will open four discount stores in New York City called Macy’s Offstage.

Other big retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus have already established themselves in the discount game and are seeing good results from it.

“What is the hottest sector in apparel retailing in America? Off-price,” says retail consultant Howard Davidowitz. Davidowitz says with the middle class shrinking, it's no wonder Macy's now wants to open off-price stores. He thinks it's slow to make the move, but has the chance to stand out against less upscale competitors.

“You can sell off-price, and it doesn't have to be ugly,” he says.

But retail analyst Paul Swinand at Morningstar says discount apparel may already be saturated.

“In my opinion, it's sort of skating to where the puck was,” he says. “I'm not so sure that off-price is going to continue its growth forever.”

Swinand says Macy's should maybe lean harder on online sales, where it's had a lot of success already.

Why Facebook is now a news publisher

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 02:00

On Wednesday morning, Facebook began its long-awaited foray into publishing, with so-called "Instant Articles" from publishers including the New York Times, Buzzfeed and National Geographic appearing natively in the latest version of Facebook's iPhone app, instead of linking out to their websites.

The social networking site touted the faster load times for these articles in a promotional video.

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); = id; js.src = "//"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

Introducing Instant Articles, a new tool for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook.

Posted by Facebook Media on Tuesday, May 12, 2015

But that's hardly the whole story.

"It is true that it will load and create a better experience for users, but it's also true that Facebook will get more data and also enable them to sell more ads," says Ben Schachter, Internet analyst at Macquarie Securities. Media partners can choose to sell their own ads and retain 100 percent of the revenue, but they can also rely on Facebook's ad network, and let Facebook take a cut of 30 percent.

Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab, thinks this deal may work out in the short-term for the nine publishers involved today's launch, but he worries about what will happen further into the future.

"Down the road, I think the dystopian vision is that this is another step toward Facebook becoming the Internet," he says.

Uber drivers struggle to pay subprime auto loans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 02:00

Richard Brunelle feels trapped. The 58-year-old says he has to drive for Uber.

Brunelle got a car through Uber's low-credit finance program and needs to make money for the loan. His payments are about $1000 dollars a month, and the loan has a 22.75 percent interest rate. That means by the time Brunelle finishes the loan, he will have paid twice the price for his Kia Optima.

At first, Brunelle thought he could cover the payments and still make a profit. Uber has since cut income to drivers. Now, Brunelle says he's working just to break even.

“It's like a ball and chain,” Brunelle says. “It's ridiculous.”

Brunelle says he has already fallen behind a few payments on the car, and that if he doesn't make a payment it could get repossessed. “I'm just trying to get by,” he says.

Here is how the financing program works: Uber connects low-credit drivers to dealers and lenders. Then it is up to the driver to negotiate the terms of the loan. Uber deducts loan payments directly from the drivers' earnings.

Uber says thousands have used the program. It had me talk with driver Jon Hutcherson, who says he's happy with the loan. Hutcherson says, “The thing about it being no hassle financing is really what attracted me.”

Hutcheron says working with Uber was easier than going to a dealer by himself because his credit isn't so great. Uber spokesperson Kristin Carvell says that's the point of the financing program. It helps people like Hutchinson get cars. And to boot, drivers get a little discount on the cost of the vehicle.

But if you don't drive, you still have to make the payments. Hutcherson says he had to dip into his savings when he stopped driving because of two accidents. He says, “When you aren't working for Uber, you make payments out of your own pocket like you do for a traditional loan.”

Another troubling aspect of the program is who Uber partners with. It's working with subprime lenders like Santander Consumer USA.

William Black is an economist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a former bank regulator. Black says Santander “is one of the most notorious sub-prime auto lenders in the United States.”

Black says Santander is known for predatory practices like sky high interest rates and hefty fees. Uber works with multiple lenders says spokesperson Carvell, and they provide loans for people with all kinds of credit.

Richard Brunelle isn't impressed. He feels like Uber would deal with anyone to get more drivers on the road. Brunelle says, “I feel like Uber not only tossed us to these wolves, but they intentionally did it and they are making bank it.”

Brunelle says he's stuck—it's either drive or meet the repo man. Now he is going online to tell others not to take the financing and get trapped like him.

Art auction at Christie's sets record for expensive art

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 02:00

This week, the art world saw two record breaking sales in the same auction. At Christie’s sale entitled “Looking Forward to the Past," Pablo Picasso's “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” sold for $179.4 million (with fees), shattering the previous record of $142.4 million for most expensive painting sold at auction. 

Alberto Giacometti's "Pointing Man" sculpture followed suit, eventually fetching a sale price of $141.3 million — the most paid for a sculpture at auction.

Given its origins in a well-regarded moment in Picasso's career, not to mention its size, “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” was considered by many art dealers to be an important sale, and a rare opportunity.

But don't count art critic Blake Gopnik among those who laud the painting as a work worth $179.4 million.

"One of the thing's about this picture is it's kind of a pastiche of earlier Picassos. It's like Picasso doing Picasso...And what do rich people want? They want Picasso-y looking pictures," Gopnik says.

Click the media player above to hear art critic Blake Gopnik's argument.

All the news that's fit to Facebook

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 01:56

That's how many publishers (the New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC News and The Atlantic) are involved in Wednesday's roll-out of content published directly to Facebook. Called Instant Articles, the partnership allows publications to put content directly onto the social media site's mobile app. Facebook has lured companies in by promising 100 percent of creative control and ad revenue. But as Re/code points out, that doesn't mean that Facebook can't change its mind down the road.

3.9 million

That's how many viewers watched "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" on average each night last quarter. Viewership is only a little lower for "The Late Show With David Letterman," a two-decade institution that airs at the same time on CBS. But online, it's no contest. Fallon's show churns out one viral video after another, and at a time when "late-night TV" is on TV and on late at night less and less, online success is crucial.

$179.4 million

That's how much Pablo Picasso's “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” fetched in a Christie's art sale this week. That number shattered the previous record for the most paid for a painting at auction. But art critic Blake Gopnik isn't so sure that the quality of the painting merits the hefty price tag.

2 million

That's about how many dial-up customers Verizon will inherit as part of its deal to buy AOL. Which, of course, begs the question: Who still uses dial-up?

$4.5 trillion

That's the size of the global "vanity capital" market, according to a new report from Bank of America Merril Lynch. Quartz points out that measuring the market on vanity is difficult and subjective — the report includes luxury goods and art as well as makeup and supplements — but its an interesting figure to pick apart, even if it's a rough estimate.


That's how much 58-year-old Uber driver Richard Brunelle pays each month towards a loan he took out to purchase his car. With a roughly 22.75 percent interest rate, loans like these can be incredibly difficult to pay off. Even more surprising? They're organized by Uber itself. As part of a program to help potential drivers with bad credit get into the company, Uber connects drivers with lenders. After the deal is negotiated between the lender and the driver, Uber deducts payments out of the driver's earnings. But economist William Black points out that Uber is using notorious subprime lenders like Santander Consumer USA to loan money to drivers.


That's how many discount stores Macy's will open in New York City in an attempt to improve sales. Called Macy's Offstage, the venture puts the retailer in the company of other stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus that are already in the discount market. Also worth noting: Macy's reported disappointing earnings Wednesday morning, with sales down 0.7 percent from last year to $6.2 billion.

Imprisoned Nuclear Activist Nun Granted Victory On Appeal

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 01:02

A federal appeals court thew out the most serious charge, sabotage, against 85-year-old Sister Megan Rice. Her case gained attention after supporters said she was being held in unfair conditions.

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The 13 Questions Hillary Clinton Has Answered From The Press

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 01:01

It has been more than three weeks since Hillary Clinton has answered a question from the press. That hasn't stopped reporters from trying.

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Puerto Rico Wants To Grow Your Next Cup Of Specialty Coffee

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-12 23:22

More than a century ago, Puerto Rico used to produce world-class coffee. Now farmers there are trying to rebuild the industry by focusing on growing higher-quality beans, which command higher prices.

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Jeb Bush Backtracks On Iraq, Says He 'Interpreted The Question Wrong, I Guess'

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-12 19:09

Jeb Bush is walking back comments he made on Iraq that he would have authorized the invasion even knowing what we know now. But he later said he actually doesn't know what he would have done.

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Amtrak Train Derails, Cars Roll In Philadelphia; Injuries Reported

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-12 17:59

The train, on its way from Washington to New York, went off the rails late Tuesday.

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China Smartphone Sales Shrink, Market 'Increasingly Saturated,' Report Says

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-12 15:41

Experts say nearly everyone in China who wants a smartphone has one. The challenge for manufacturers now is to convince them to upgrade.

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How Bird Beaks Got Their Start As Dinosaur Snouts

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-12 15:32

Hoping to help trace the history of how velociraptors evolved into birds, researchers at Harvard and Yale may have tracked a key beak transformation to two genes.

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Texas Sen. Doesn't Want Clergy 'Coerced' Into Officiating Same-Sex Marriages

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-12 15:12

In Texas, state legislators are considering a number of bills disapproving of same-sex marriage. They are also learning some lessons from the "religious freedom" controversy in Indiana.

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Obama: We Must 'Guard Against Cynicism' When It Comes To Poverty

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-12 15:08

"There's a lot we can do," President Obama said at a forum in Washington, D.C., Tuesday. Just across town, progressive leaders laid out plans to tackle poverty.

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You've Saved Money At The Pump. Why Aren't You Spending It?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-12 13:38

Falling oil prices haven't boosted economic growth as much as expected. That's partly because consumers have chosen to pay down debt and save some of the windfall rather than spend it all.

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Brain Boost: Mediterranean Diet May Fend Off Memory Loss

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-12 13:04

People in their 60s and 70s who followed the Mediterranean diet for four years held steady on cognitive tests, a study found. But the test scores of people following a lower-fat diet went down.

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Oil downturn takes men out of 'man camps'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-05-12 13:00

There was a time when the Capital Lodge 'man camp' outside Tioga, North Dakota was teeming with oilfield workers, as many as 1,000 at the peak.

The guests there occasionally made local headlines for brawls — a couple of them violent. But more recently, Capital Lodge’s name popped up in local papers for a very different reason. The owners are looking to downsize.

“This facility here has slowed down dramatically,” says Tony Miller, an oilfield worker who has stayed at Capital Lodge. “When I first started coming here right around December, you'd wait in line to get food. And now it's kind of come and go as you please.”

In March, David Brown, the vice president for operations, acknowledged that Capital Lodge was looking to move some of its units to other parts of the Bakken oil patch. Its investors also looked into the possibility of converting some of the mancamp into a commercial motel. Occupancy had dropped below 300 during the winter months, though Brown said some of that could be seasonal.

Trends in the oil industry do not favor a rebound for the man camp. Drilling rig counts and payrolls have both dropped off. Man camps in North Dakota and Texas are both taking a hit as a result, according to Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston.

“We know that the rates they charge per day have dropped in some cases by more than half,” says Hirs. “It really doesn't matter what the rate is. They don't have anyone there to pay $10 a day, let alone $100 a day.”

Hirs points out the man camps were always meant to be temporary. The goal was to replace them with new apartments and homes — but he says some of those more permanent projects are in trouble, too.

“I've talked to a one real estate developer who started a $30 million project in the heart of the Bakken with the idea that, 'Heck, this might be worth $60 million,'” Hirs says. “But now they're looking at trying to make due with less than half the projected occupancy and perhaps less than half the projected rental rates.”

The president of the Williston Area Builders Association, Dave Nordenstrom, says the spring inventory of homes for sale was elevated, another sign of softer demand. But he’s not worried about a glut of homes on the market.

“I think as time goes on here that will shake out and builders will slow down some of their production,” he says.

Like a lot of locals, Nordenstrom says a break from the frenzied pace of the oil boom is welcome. He argues that the oil industry may be down but not out. Experts say there’s likely a 20-year supply of oil in the Bakken shale area, and the workers who support the industry going forward will still need housing.

“The oil isn’t going anywhere,” Nordenstrom says. "It's still going to be there.”