National News

Even If Torture Doesn't Work In The Real World, TV Has Us Convinced It Does

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-12 11:07

Interrogation experts have tried to get shows like 24 to tone down the torture. But NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says that may not be as easy as it sounds.

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Where the surplus oil goes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-12 11:00

The price of oil continues to drop around the world, which means that countries are starting to stockpile crude in hopes that prices will soon rise.

This increase in inventories also presents challenges for producers. Storing oil on railcars and tankers is an effective temporary solution, but eventually producers will have to make a decision about scaling back production.

“It’s a fairly serious decision, you don't just start and stop these things without a consequence,” says Mark Routt of the energy consultancy KBC. A traditional oil well, he says, is usually not as productive after it’s been shut down. Some producers might be pushed out of the market as prices continue to drop and as inventories rise.

Why a little debt isn't such a bad thing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-12 11:00

The Federal Reserve says U.S. household debt is growing, but debt as compared to income is as low as it's been in years. It’s also lower in the U.S. than it is in places like Britain or Canada.

Economists would tell you "debt" isn’t a dirty word. An increase in borrowing means an increase in spending, which means an increase in demand, which helps the economy. But having too much bad debt is where people found themselves in the recession.

"Households went through a very painful process of de-leveraging in the past couple of years," says Bernie Baumohl, chief economist with the Economic Outlook Group. "Bottom line is they are trying to restore some balance between the debt they are trying to service and the income they are making.”

But having your own financial house in order doesn’t necessarily help the overall economy. 

“That’s been a drag on economic growth as consumers have been more cautious with their spending,” says Gus Faucher, an economist with PNC financial services .

But now that many Americans have largely dug themselves out of the holes created by the great recession, Faucher expects an uptick in debt – and in spending.

“I think there is room for consumers to take on a little bit more debt – not go hog wild – but take on some more credit to fund purchases of big ticket items," he said.

While many Americans have stabilized their balance sheets, Thomas Cooley, a business professor at NYU’s Stern School, said young people have staggered under the weight of growing student debt.

“That’s a constraining factor in their ability to and their willingness to take on mortgage debt and more auto loan debt and so on,” he said.

That’s one reason why the millennials are sometimes called "Generation Rent."

Turns out ... lefties make less

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-12 11:00

The left-handed population is in the minority (at only about 12 percent), but there's no shortage of them making history. Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and four of the last seven presidents of the United States, including Barack Obama represent the left-handed contingent. 

But according to a new study, being left-handed can impair economic parity. The median income of left-handed people was 10 percent of that of right-handed people. 

This information comes from the fall 2014 edition of The Journal of Economic Perspectives in an article titled "The Wages of Sinistrality: Handedness, Brain Structure and Human Capital Accumulation." The study was the first to document this income gap.

Why the Federal Reserve wants to see more inflation

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-12 11:00

If you’re one of those people out there worried about inflation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has a message for you: Don’t sweat it.

The bureau's gauge of prices at the wholesale or producer level showed a gain of just 1.4 percent over the year ending in November. That’s the smallest annual increase in months.

Prices aren’t growing much faster for consumers, either.

Though the Federal Reserve has set an inflation target of 2 percent, we’re just not there.

But why do we need inflation at 2 percent, anyway?

“A little bit of inflation seems to be the sweet spot,” says Robert Dye, chief economist at Comerica Bank.

Dye says if prices get too high, consumers lose confidence and wealth — they have to spend too much on goods and services. But if prices plunge too low, businesses lose money and may go bankrupt.

Still, why is 2 percent the sweet spot?

“Nobody really knows what the right number is,” says Alan Blinder, an economics professor at Princeton University and former vice chairman of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Blinder says even if the 2 percent target seems random, there's a lot of consensus around it; other central banks use it, too. Blinder says part of the reason for picking that number – and sticking with it – is just to create clear expectations about how fast prices will rise. You don't want to keep changing the target, which he says, would confuse people, “as if the length of the yardstick was changing every year.”

But some economists say you also want to avoid falling consistently short of that target, which has been happening in the U.S.

Blinder argues that's a sign the Fed should keep stimulating the economy – to try to nudge the inflation rate up a bit.

Weekly Wrap: Comsumers, Congress and commodities

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-12 11:00

Kai sat down with Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post and Sudeep Reddy of the Wall Street Journal to discuss highlights from this week's news.

NOAA Team Finds Shipwreck From The 'Titanic of the Golden Gate'

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-12 10:36

In 1901, the SS City of Rio de Janeiro went down in thick fog at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, killing 128 people — most immigrants from China and Japan.

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Growing Styrofoam out of mushrooms

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-12 09:55

In a college dorm room, under a twin XL bed, a company was born. Ecovative, a biodesign company based in Albany, NY, began as a science project for Gavin McIntyre and Eben Bayer -- they grew oyster mushrooms under their beds, in the hopes of using them to recycle farm waste, and eventually, create an alternative to soft plastics, like Styrofoam. 

The experiment worked. Using the roots of mushrooms, Ecovative turns agricultural waste into packing materials, insulation, and even surfboards. Their products replace harmful, carcinogenic plastics found in Styrofoam and in furniture made from wood composite. Their products are all biodegradable, compostable, and sustainable. 

Mushroom roots bind together particles of farm waste to make a foam that settles in a mold -- Ecovative is able to shape these to make the kind of packaging that protects computer parts or furniture during shipping. Their materials, called Myco Board, have a pretty typical look and feel, and they cost about the same about as unrecyclable soft plastics. 

Replacing packing materials made logistical sense for Ecovative -- Gavin McIntyre, co-founder and chief scientist at Ecovative,  says that the company "sees itself as a material science company, and a materials provider...similar to Dow and DuPont, who were the materials leaders within the 20th century, we seek to be the biomaterials leader in the 21st century."

"When a customer is going to buy a product, they're looking at price, and performance," McIntyre says, "the environmental story is a nice-to-have, but it's not a need-to-have. All of our product offerings are at price parity or below traditional plastic foams or woods." That pitch has swayed customers already. In 2007, Ecovative's first customer was a Fortune 500 company, Steelcase furniture. Now they work with many other companies, including Dell and Crate and Barrel. 

They've also allowed smaller companies to experiment with their materials, offering the option to grow their own Myco Board -- that's how most of the mushroom surfboards are made, by individuals or companies, mostly located on the West Coast, who use Ecovative's foam to shape their own boards. Standford also collaborated with Ecovative on the body of a drone, made from mushroom materials, that will decompose in nature. 

Ecovative is able to keep prices down because they don't rely on fossil fuels to produce materials. They don't have an expensive factory, just molds that hold the Myco Foam while it hardens. Oil independence gives Ecovative added stability, and they save on space and staffing. 

Right now, materials made from agricultural waste are only making a small dent in the amount of unrecyclable material going into landfills and oceans, but as the number of biomaterials producers grows and as these companies expand, the materials industry could get a lot 'shroomier. 

Growing a replacement for Styrofoam ... out of mushrooms

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-12 09:55

In a college dorm room, under a twin XL bed, a company was born. Ecovative, a biodesign company based in Albany, NY, began as a science project for Gavin McIntyre and Eben Bayer -- they grew oyster mushrooms under their beds, in the hopes of using them to recycle farm waste, and eventually, create an alternative to soft plastics, like Styrofoam. 

The experiment worked. Using the roots of mushrooms, Ecovative turns agricultural waste into packing materials, insulation, and even surfboards. Their products replace harmful, carcinogenic plastics found in Styrofoam and in furniture made from wood composite. Their products are all biodegradable, compostable, and sustainable. 

Mushroom roots bind together particles of farm waste to make a foam that settles in a mold -- Ecovative is able to shape these to make the kind of packaging that protects computer parts or furniture during shipping. Their materials, called Myco Board, have a pretty typical look and feel, and they cost about the same about as unrecyclable soft plastics. 

Replacing packing materials made logistical sense for Ecovative -- Gavin McIntyre, co-founder and chief scientist at Ecovative,  says that the company "sees itself as a material science company, and a materials provider...similar to Dow and DuPont, who were the materials leaders within the 20th century, we seek to be the biomaterials leader in the 21st century."

"When a customer is going to buy a product, they're looking at price, and performance," McIntyre says, "the environmental story is a nice-to-have, but it's not a need-to-have. All of our product offerings are at price parity or below traditional plastic foams or woods." That pitch has swayed customers already. In 2007, Ecovative's first customer was a Fortune 500 company, Steelcase furniture. Now they work with many other companies, including Dell and Crate and Barrel. 

They've also allowed smaller companies to experiment with their materials, offering the option to grow their own Myco Board -- that's how most of the mushroom surfboards are made, by individuals or companies, mostly located on the West Coast, who use Ecovative's foam to shape their own boards. Standford also collaborated with Ecovative on the body of a drone, made from mushroom materials, that will decompose in nature. 

Ecovative is able to keep prices down because they don't rely on fossil fuels to produce materials. They don't have an expensive factory, just molds that hold the Myco Foam while it hardens. Oil independence gives Ecovative added stability, and they save on space and staffing. 

Right now, materials made from agricultural waste are only making a small dent in the amount of unrecyclable material going into landfills and oceans, but as the number of biomaterials producers grows and as these companies expand, the materials industry could get a lot 'shroomier. 

Growing a replacement for Styrofoam...out of mushrooms

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-12 09:55

In a college dorm room, under a twin XL bed, a company was born. Ecovative, a biodesign company based in Albany, NY, began as a science project for Gavin McIntyre and Eben Bayer -- they grew oyster mushrooms under their beds, in the hopes of using them to recycle farm waste, and eventually, create an alternative to soft plastics, like Styrofoam. 

The experiment worked. Using the roots of mushrooms, Ecovative turns agricultural waste into packing materials, insulation, and even surfboards. Their products replace harmful, carcinogenic plastics found in Styrofoam and in furniture made from wood composite. Their products are all biodegradable, compostable, and sustainable. 

Mushroom roots bind together particles of farm waste to make a foam that settles in a mold -- Ecovative is able to shape these to make the kind of packaging that protects computer parts or furniture during shipping. Their materials, called Myco Board, have a pretty typical look and feel, and they cost about the same about as unrecyclable soft plastics. 

Replacing packing materials made logistical sense for Ecovative -- Gavin McIntyre, co-founder and chief scientist at Ecovative,  says that the company "sees itself as a material science company, and a materials provider...similar to Dow and DuPont, who were the materials leaders within the 20th century, we seek to be the biomaterials leader in the 21st century."

"When a customer is going to buy a product, they're looking at price, and performance," McIntyre says, "the environmental story is a nice-to-have, but it's not a need-to-have. All of our product offerings are at price parity or below traditional plastic foams or woods." That pitch has swayed customers already. In 2007, Ecovative's first customer was a Fortune 500 company, Steelcase furniture. Now they work with many other companies, including Dell and Crate and Barrel. 

They've also allowed smaller companies to experiment with their materials, offering the option to grow their own Myco Board -- that's how most of the mushroom surfboards are made, by individuals or companies, mostly located on the West Coast, who use Ecovative's foam to shape their own boards. Standford also collaborated with Ecovative on the body of a drone, made from mushroom materials, that will decompose in nature. 

Ecovative is able to keep prices down because they don't rely on fossil fuels to produce materials. They don't have an expensive factory, just molds that hold the Myco Foam while it hardens. Oil independence gives Ecovative added stability, and they save on space and staffing. 

Right now, materials made from agricultural waste are only making a small dent in the amount of unrecyclable material going into landfills and oceans, but as the number of biomaterials producers grows and as these companies expand, the materials industry could get a lot 'shroomier. 

Vatican, Citing 'Delicate Situation,' Rejects Dalai Lama Meeting With Pope

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-12 09:46

It's an apparent reference to the Holy See's relations with Beijing. They haven't had diplomatic ties since 1949. Tibet's spiritual leader is in Rome for a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize winners.

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The ups and downs of manufacturing jobs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-12 09:36

The labor department says 28,000 new manufacturing jobs were created last month.

For decades manufacturing was a way to make a solid living without a college degree, but was it hit hard by automation and off-shoring.

The manufacturing jobs being created now are different, they are often specialized, or regional. One plant leaves and  another comes ... bringing with it a few precious slots.

Kenny Reeves has been working in manufacturing in the south since he graduated high school in 2007.

Confusion Over Job-Based Insurance Can Shortchange Consumers

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-12 09:35

Some consumers mistakenly think that having access to skimpy coverage at work means they won't qualify for subsidies if they are interested in a more complete policy on the health care exchanges.

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Book publisher experiments with Twitter sales

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-12 09:24

The Hachette Book Group is experimenting with selling books directly to customers on Twitter, a departure from its usual practice of selling through Amazon or brick-and-mortar book stores.

The publisher offered 100 copies of Amanda Palmer's autobiographical book "The Art of Asking" Thursday, along with a signed copy of a manuscript page. The books could only be purchased through a buy button on Hachette's Twitter account. They sold out in 20 minutes.

Through its various imprints, Hachette publishes about 1,000 books a year, so its Twitter experiment — with just three titles — is limited. The next two are former astronaut Chris Hadfield's book "You Are Here," which will go on sale Monday on Twitter, followed by The Onion's "The Onion Magazine: The Iconic Covers That Transformed an Undeserving World" on Thursday. 

"We are always looking for ways to connect our writers with their readers," says Heather Fain, head of marketing strategy at Hachette. "And selling people books through Twitter, where they're already talking about books, seems like a very simple and direct way to do that."

Hachette's move comes after its very public spat with Amazon, which it recently settled by gaining the right to set its own prices on Amazon's website. But, Fain insists that the Twitter campaign is a social media marketing effort, and is unrelated to Amazon.

"This really is just an example of a new way to communicate to consumers," says Fain, "They're just not connected."

By contrast, Gumroad, which powers the buy button on Hachette's Twitter page, is firmly focused on e-commerce. The start-up has been courting authors and musicians, offering them an alternative to  iTunes and Amazon.

"There's a lot of opportunities for Gumroad and for a lot of other companies to be able to do things to empower creators to make more money, get more data for their transactions, understand their audience better," the company's Ryan Delk says. 

For example, Hachette will get the email addresses of those who bought books via Twitter, allowing the publisher to develop a direct connection with readers.

"It's an interesting experiment," NextMarket Insights analyst Michael Wolf says. "It won't serve as a direct alternative to Amazon."

Hachette and Gumroad are far from matching Amazon's scale, but it makes sense for Hachette to be thinking about how to rely on Amazon less in the long term, Wolf says.

"If you're Hachette, and you're looking at the future of your business, you don't want to put all your eggs certainly in one basket," Wolf says.

Hachette started its Twitter campaign with authors who have millions of followers. The publisher says its next move may be to see if authors with fewer followers can also sell on its non-Amazon platform.

Fla. Tomato Pickers' Wins Could Extend To Dairy, Berry Workers

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-12 09:13

In the last four years, 30,000 tomato pickers covered by a "fair food" program got a 50-to-70 percent pay raise. Advocates are now working with retailers and other industries to duplicate the model.

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Coming Soon To Iowa: Driver's License On A Smartphone App

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-12 09:03

The new app license will be available in 2015 at no additional cost to drivers, said Paul Trombino, director of the state's Department of Transportation.

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This year's must-have holiday gifts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-12 09:00

Comedians Sam Weiner and Daniel Kibblesmith are the authors of the book, “How to Win At Everything.”  Every so often, they provide us with a humorous take on the news we cover every day at Marketplace. Here, they present their satiric guide to the season's must have holiday gifts.

Every year brings a new wave of must-have holiday gifts, from Tickle Me Elmo in 1996 to the polio vaccine in 1956. But this season, the stakes are higher than ever — here are the holiday gifts your family literally cannot live without. 

1.  For your kids: They're probably already begging you for their very own "Disney’s Frozen Sparkle Princess Elsa Doll."

But what you might not realize is if your child is the only the kid at school without this coveted plaything, you’re dooming them to life as a social pariah. Friendless and desperate, their grades plummet. By age 10, your child will become addicted to huffing packing peanuts and selling their own eyelashes under a bridge, their sullen face caked with regret. They'll wail long into adulthood the day you cursed them by buying them the wrong doll.

2. For Mom: Everyone’s talking about the new iPad Air 2 — it’s the must-buy gift to bring Mom into the 21st century.  

And if you fail? Mom will start missing crucial email updates: engagement announcements, wedding invitations, and priceless photos of her first grandchildren. Soon, she’ll be entirely cut off from the family, focusing her love on an ever-expanding “family” of stray, feral cats. In no time, she'll forget the English language entirely and start subsisting on a diet of leaves and injured birds. If only you’d gotten her that iPad, you'd still have a mom instead of a gibbering cat queen.

3. For your teens: Here's a quick tip to remember which hot new video game console you have to buy for your teen:

"PlayStation 4, love evermore ... Xbox One, lose your son."

4. For the whole family: The gift your whole family desperately needs: A Sony 85-inch Ultra HD 3D television.

Without this glorious slab of distraction, your family will be condemned to the worst possible fate of the holiday season: Enjoying each other's company.

Whatever you buy this holiday season whether toy, gadget or entertainment experience, remember that the real perfect gift is love — the love of buying things.

Wealth Gap Between Races Widened During Recession, Study Says

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-12 08:45

According to the Pew Research Center, white, black and Hispanic households all lost wealth during the recession, but non-whites saw the disappearance of a much greater percentage of their net worth.

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Aerial Photos Are New Weapon In Organic Civil War

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-12 07:43

An organic watchdog organization says big organic egg and milk producers are violating organic rules. As evidence, it offers aerial photos — but some photos may not be of organic operations.

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Lost Disney Film, Featuring Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, Found In Norway

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-12 07:40

Archivists at Norway's National Library, at its vault in the Arctic Circle, found an almost complete version of Empty Socks, featuring the character who came before Mickey Mouse.

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