National News

What You Need To Know About Subprime Lending For Smartphones

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-22 13:50

A new startup focuses on offering loans for the purchase of top-of-the-line smartphones. But what seem like deals come with hefty markups.

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Attention, discount shoppers: The psychology of sales

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-12-22 13:42

We are in the final throes of the holiday shopping season and by this time you have been bombarded with discount offers and sales: 20 percent off, 50 percent off, buy one get one free, no money down, etc., etc.

So how do sales work, psychologically speaking?

“Imagine that a new car is $30,000 discounted to $20,000,” says behavioral economist Dan Ariely. “So you say to yourself, ‘Oh my goodness this is really worth $30,000, [but] right now it’s $20,000.’ It gives you an extra sense of value."

And because sales are temporary they create a sense of urgency says Ariely. “It’s a short time thing and you better take advantage of this.”

But do sales actually get people to spend more? Or are they used to lure shoppers in, so that store gets its slice of a zero-sum pie?

“This is not just specifically for the holidays, but we’ve been finding over time that more than half of all shoppers are saying they want to spend no more than they had in the past,” says Amy Koo, a retail analyst with Kantar. “That puts a pretty firm ceiling on what they are willing to spend.” 

Sales are also a good way to get people in the door ... but what’s really important is that they come back again after the sale is over.

“While people may be spending the same, they are actually concentrating their spending on fewer stores, which make a big difference in terms of making sure you as a retailer try to secure the loyalty of the shopper,” Koo says.

Stores do that by offering programs that give deeper discounts to loyal customers.

There’s also the low-price guarantee. Walmart for example, has the Savings Catcher program. Shoppers scan their receipt, and if they find the same product cheaper at a competitor, Walmart issues a gift card for the difference, ensuring a return visit.

At an intersection in downtown Glendale, California, I met Lejaun Smith waiting to cross the street. He had a shopping bag in his hand, and I asked him if he’d been lured into the store by a sale, and if so, did that sale get him to spend more. “Yes, on both answers,” he said.

“Yes, spend more money and yes, get me through that door. And it works every time.”

The psychology of discounts and sales

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-12-22 13:42

We are in the final days of the holiday shopping season and by this time you have been bombarded with offers and specials and sales: 20 percent off, 50 percent off, buy one get one free, no money down, etc., etc.

So how do sales work, psychologically speaking?

“Imagine that a new car is $30,000 discounted to $20,000,” says behavioral economist Dan Ariely. “So you say to yourself, ‘oh my goodness this is really worth $30,000, [but] right now it’s $20,000.’ It gives you an extra sense of value."

And because sales are temporary they create a sense of urgency says Ariely. “It’s a short time thing and you better take advantage of this.”

But do sales actually get people to spend more? Or are they used to lure shoppers in, so that store gets its slice of a zero-sum pie?

“This is not just specifically for the holidays, but we’ve been finding over time that more than half of all shoppers are saying they want to spend no more than they had in the past,” says Amy Koo, a retail analyst with Kantar. “That puts a pretty firm ceiling on what they are willing to spend.” 

Sales are also a good way to get people in the door ... but what’s really important is that they come back again after the sale is over.

“While people may be spending the same, they are actually concentrating their spending on fewer stores which make a big difference in terms of making sure you as a retailer try to secure the loyalty of the shopper,” Koo says.

Stores do that by offering programs that give deeper discounts to loyal customers.

There’s also the low price guarantee. Walmart for example, has the Savings Catcher program. Shoppers scan their receipt and if they find the same product cheaper at a competitor, Walmart issues a gift card for the difference, ensuring a return visit by that customer.

At an intersection in downtown Glendale, California, I met Lejaun Smith waiting to cross the street. He had a shopping bag in his hand and I asked him if he’d been lured into the store by a sale, and if so, did that sale get him to spend more. “Yes, on both answers,” he said.

“Yes, spend more money and yes, get me through that door. And it works every time.”

Services Offer A Means To Foil Widespread 'Elder Fraud'

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-22 13:31

The holidays are a time for giving — and for scams that prey on altruism, particularly among older adults. But several products on the market are designed to help fight fraud that targets seniors.

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Widespread Internet Outage Reported In North Korea

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-22 13:19

It comes days after President Obama pledged a "proportional response" to the communist country's alleged hacking of Sony Pictures. It's unclear what caused the outage.

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Why won't OPEC cut production ?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-12-22 13:00

Despite falling crude oil prices, key members of OPEC reiterated over the weekend that they intend to keep drilling and pumping.

Yesterday, the oil minister for Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest and most influential member, indicated the cartel would never cut production. Analyst Bhushan Bahree at IHS Energy points out that the cartel’s last supply cut in 2008 backfired when competitors ate into its market. OPEC does not want a rerun.

Persistent low prices could benefit the cartel long term: They could cultivate a new generation of car drivers who drive more and alleviate concerns in the oil patch that global demand for oil may soon peak. Political concerns are also in play: OPEC's supply-king, Saudi Arabia, could see low prices bankrupting its key nemesis, Iran. If Tehran runs out of money to support Syria’s regime, as well as its own nuclear ambitions, Valerie Marcel of the Chatham House think tank says that would go down as a victory in Saudi Arabia.

A Very Code Switch Christmas TV Special

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-22 12:58

It's that time around Christmas, when all we can see are a handful of stories on our TV screens. Frosty, and Charlie, and Ralphie, and Kevin, but there's not too much brown in this mostly white canon.

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Is Your Heart Doctor In? If Not, You Might Not Be Any Worse Off

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-22 12:31

Researchers find that high-risk heart patients in teaching hospitals fared better when their cardiologists were away at national conventions instead of working at their usual jobs. Why?

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Jailed Cuban Spy's Wife Is Pregnant — With A Little Help From The U.S.

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-22 12:23

The U.S. helped Gerardo Hernandez and his wife conceive through artificial insemination while he was in prison for spying. Hernandez was released last week as part of a prisoner swap.

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The Khoisan Once Were Kings Of The Planet. What Happened?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-22 12:22

In the landscape of modern Africa, they are a link to the long-ago past. They know everything about plants and animals. But their way of life — and language of clicks — may be doomed.

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'Dreamer' Immigrants Apply For Arizona Driver's Licenses

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-22 12:16

More than 22,000 young immigrants are now eligible to apply for a license in Arizona, something they were blocked from doing in 2012, thanks to an executive order by Gov. Jan Brewer.

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'Rolling Stone' Asks Columbia J-School To Investigate Flawed Rape Story

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-22 11:34

The magazine's story centered on a University of Virginia student who said she was gang-raped during a fraternity party in 2012. Several discrepancies were found in the story.

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Why aren't more urinals installed in homes?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-12-22 11:31

Nowadays, urinals – a somewhat primitive bathroom fixture – come in all different shapes and sizes. You can even get one coated in 24-karat gold leaf. And for the latest installment in our series “I’ve Always Wondered," we head to the men’s room to tackle one listener’s question.

It comes from Mike Dolan, who is in the military, but first and foremost, he’s a guy. “So my I’ve always wondered, why do you never see a urinal in a private home? I have a friend, my college buddy, who has four boys. That’s five males in a house, and they’re constantly flushing toilets and wasting all that water. And it’s like why don’t you just get a urinal?” Dolan asks.

Turns out they’re out there.

Marci Jones, manager of the showroom at GLS Plumbing Supply in Birmingham, Alabama, has sold a few on occasion. “It would be for the man-cave in the basement where the man’s going to be all the time, and this is something he’s always wanted in his home," Jones says, "and the wife says, 'OK, we’ll do it downstairs.'”

They remain uncommon fixtures in the home because “most women do not want urinals in their master bath,” Jones says.

Jones had some customers in the showroom, Terry and Eddie Higginbotham, that she used to make her point. With couples, the discussion about whether to put a urinal in the house usually goes something like this:

 “Would you like a urinal in your bathroom?” Jones asks Eddie. “Yes,” he says. “I’ve always thought about having one in my bathroom, because it does use less water. And it’s like a jet, it’s like, 'KUSHH!'" 

Jones asks, “What does the wife say?” On cue, Terry replies, “No.”

Homes with urinals are hard to find. I asked around and started getting odd tips, which brought me to the house of Al Troncalli. Grace Troncalli, Al's sister, inherited the house when Al passed away. 

“Look at this bathroom,” she says, “Is this the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen?” There is a urinal in here. And let’s just say Grace and a man she once dated appreciated it.

Even though they haven’t caught on in homes, urinals in some form have been around for centuries. The French even made them sound elegant. “The first 'pissoirs' as they were called, which were actually just barrels, were instituted under Napoleon III in the 1840s. This was part of his attempt to sort of clean up Paris,” says Andrew Howe, chairman of the history department at La Sierra University in Riverside, California.

Fast forward about 25 years to the United States, right after the Civil War. Howe says there was a huge population explosion, and workers took to the factories. Dumping urine by hand into rivers and behind bushes was impractical and gross. So in 1866 Andrew Rankin patented today’s urinal, which connected to a sewage system.

 “A lot of these factories and business owners put in bathrooms. And the urinal was much more space-saving than a sit-down toilet,” Howe says. “Much of the workforce was male, [so] urinals made a lot of sense.”

But wives were often making the decisions about the home, and why would they choose to have a urinal? Since it can’t replace a toilet, it was a luxury item ... one that many women still don’t like.

Back to our listener, Mike Dolan, and his buddy with four boys. Michele Marsden in Berryville, Virginia, is the mother of those four boys and says there’s no way she’d install a urinal in the house. “I think it’s ugly,” she says. “I think it’s absolutely ugly, yes.”

And she had a question for Mike Dolan. “I asked Mike if he’s ever cleaned toilets or if he’s ever cleaned a urinal,” she says.

The answer was no.

That brings us to the big question: Does a urinal save money? John Koeller, an engineer who studies the water efficiency of toilets and other fixtures, says a urinal won't save you much "in terms of the dollars on your water bill." While urinals use less water – as little as a pint per flush compared to a modern toilet that uses somewhere around 1.3 gallons per flush – a urinal would save you less than $40 a year.

Your best bet, according to Koeller:  “Get a dual flush toilet.”

It saves money, it saves water. And guys, it’ll save you grief from the women in your life.

When Humans Quit Hunting And Gathering, Their Bones Got Wimpy

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-22 11:03

Humans have lighter bones than other primates, and that change happened a lot later than anthropologists had thought. Blame our sedentary ways after our ancestors took up farming.

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The 85-Year-Old Widow Who's The Symbol Of Spain's Economic Woes

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-22 11:02

Carmen Martinez Ayuso was evicted from her apartment due to a loan her son took out and couldn't repay. Now she's been the recipient of unexpected kindness this holiday season.

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Man behind 'world's largest instrument'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-12-22 11:00

For the past 25 years, Peter Richard Conte has gone to work every day in the women’s casual department at the Center City Macy’s in Philadelphia. But he doesn't sell designer denim or stocking sweaters. He tickles the keys of what is billed as the largest instrument in the world: the Wanamaker organ.

Considered a national treasure, the organ is 110 years old and named for John Wanamaker, the department store magnate who bought it for his flagship Philadelphia store. He had it shipped from St. Louis in 11 freight cars. The organ now has 30,000 pipes and thousands of keys, buttons, levers and pedals. To play it well, Conte must be equal parts musician and athlete. 

“It’s a difficult instrument to play,” Conte says. “There are so many things going on. It’s multitasking at the nth degree. Literally for a five-minute piece of music I will spend up to 20 hours preparing it on an instrument.”

As the Grand Court Organist, Conte performs twice a day, Monday through Friday during most of the year. But during the holidays, the frequency increases as does the spectacle.

“At Christmas time we get thousands and thousands of people into Macy’s to hear this instrument,” Conte says. “And it actually accompanies the world famous light show. Thousands and thousands of LED lights and it ends up with this incredible finale when all the lights in the trees come on and the organ plays a really wonderful arrangement of O’ Tannenbaum. It’s a thrill because you get to have these huge audiences every couple of hours in the store. I just love what I do.” 

Organist who brings 'world's largest instrument' to life

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-12-22 11:00

For the past 25 years, Peter Richard Conte has gone to work every day in the women’s casual department at the Center City Macy’s in Philadelphia. But he doesn't sell designer denim or stocking sweaters. He tickles the keys of what is billed as the largest instrument in the world: the Wanamaker organ.

Considered a national treasure, the organ is 110 years old and named for John Wanamaker, the department store magnate who bought it for his flagship Philadelphia store. He had it shipped from St. Louis in 11 freight cars. The organ now has 30,000 pipes and thousands of keys, buttons, levers and pedals. To play it well, Conte must be equal parts musician and athlete. 

“It’s a difficult instrument to play,” Conte says. “There are so many things going on. It’s multitasking at the nth degree. Literally for a five-minute piece of music I will spend up to 20 hours preparing it on an instrument.”

As the Grand Court Organist, Conte performs twice a day, Monday through Friday during most of the year. But during the holidays, the frequency increases as does the spectacle.

“At Christmas time we get thousands and thousands of people into Macy’s to hear this instrument,” Conte says. “And it actually accompanies the world famous light show. Thousands and thousands of LED lights and it ends up with this incredible finale when all the lights in the trees come on and the organ plays a really wonderful arrangement of O’ Tannenbaum. It’s a thrill because you get to have these huge audiences every couple of hours in the store. I just love what I do.” 

Pope Francis is not feeling the holiday cheer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-12-22 11:00

Pope Francis gave his annual Christmas address to the priests, bishops and cardinals that run the Roman Catholic Church. And it wasn't all warm and fuzzy.

The pope chastised them for workplace ills that include office gossip, jealousy and pandering to the bosses, according to the New York Times.

It's reassuring to know these things happen pretty much everywhere.

FedEx and UPS do better this year, but Amazon lurks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-12-22 11:00

UPS and FedEx have spent a lot of money getting up to speed for this holiday season. And they’ve done well. But long term, they may need to do a lot better because Amazon is disrupting  the shipping business. The big carriers will have to think differently if they want to continue to compete, particularly if Amazon decides to get into the shipping game itself.

Price war brews over costly hepatitis C drug

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-12-22 11:00

The biotech industry has reaped huge profits in recent years by developing custom drugs that treat a wide variety of conditions, including cancer and arthritis. The massive cost of some of these drugs has caused lawmakers and insurance companies to push back. So it was big news today when pharmacy benefit-manager Express Scripts announced it was switching to a new hepatitis C drug by a different manufacturer.

At around $84,000 for a 12-week course of therapy, Express Scripts dropped the drug Sovaldi and its maker Gilead Sciences Inc., in favor of a new hepatitis C drug offered at a discount by rival company AbbVie. Even though having multiple drugs to choose from is a good thing, some clinicians say exclusive arrangements, like the one Express Scripts brokered with AbbVie, are not always best for the patient. 

"We don't want to have our hands tied, to be told that we can only offer drug A or drug B, because there may be a reason that the one that's not offered may be preferable to the patient in front of you," says Dr. Robert Fontana, a professor of hepatology at the University of Michigan.

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