National News

ABC is betting big on Shonda Rhimes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 13:19

While CBS airs football games on Thursday nights, ABC is hoping all the not-so-sports-inclined spouses settle in for a night of Shonda Rhimes.

Don’t know the name? Rhimes created "Grey’s Anatomy" and "Scandal." The two TV shows have been bright spots for a network that’s had a rough couple of years when it comes to prime time, says Horizon Media analyst Brad Adgate.

“Last year, they were last in adults 18–49. But when it came to women 18–49, they were second,” Adgate says.

Shonda Rhimes is credited, in large part, for that success. She's a creator and showrunner who champions strong female leads and a diverse cast. Adgate says that formula appeals to women, who now make up about 65 percent of the network’s audience. With network ratings sliding, he says, it’s not surprising that ABC would double down on its niche success.

So the network is promoting Rhimes to its audience. An advertisement for the Thursday night lineup edits together dialogue from each show to make the characters say "I love Shonda Rhimes."

Cynthia Littleton, TV editor at Variety, says while there have been powerful showrunners in the past, this may be the first time a network promoted one as a star.

“This branding and the three shows stacked on one night,” Littleton says. “That is absolutely a function of social media and how it has turned Shonda Rhimes literally into a marketable star for the network.”

Littleton says Rhimes was also masterful in using Twitter to promote shows and make herself a star with viewers.

The script. #Scandal #season4 pic.twitter.com/drTWONNODN

— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) July 24, 2014

But will this branding work?

“Network TV these days is a game of trying to do better than you did last year, which is hard to do,” says Joe Adalian, an editor with Vulture.

Adalian said by that measure, ABC’s Thursday strategy will work. The night is already filled with two hit shows, and with Rhimes' star status, the third has a good chance of becoming one, too.

Shonda Rhimes didn't initially set out to be a television writer, much less one of the industry's most powerful showrunners. According to a New York Times profile from last year, Rhimes decided to apply to USC's film school after graduating from Dartmouth because she read that it was more competitive than Harvard Law.

Rhimes got in, graduated, and initially broke through as a writer for HBO's Dorothy Dandridge biopic, starring Halle Berry. She went on to write Britney Spears' acting debut, "Crossroads," which was critically panned but a box office hit. She scored her first Disney credit with "The Princess Diaries 2" and sold "Grey's Anatomy" to the Disney-owned ABC around the same time.

"Grey's" was a midseason replacement but an instant hit, prompting a Rhimes-lead spinoff in 2007 that lasted six seasons. Broadcast TV is crowded with medical shows, but Rhimes' series distinguished themselves and became a cultural touchstone. Just ask the many, many people who tossed around nicknames like "McDreamy," "McSteamy," etc. in the late 2000s.

In 2013, Rhimes' shows were pulling in $300 million in advertising each season, Forbes reported, or about 5 percent of ABC's revenue. Since "Grey's" premiered, she has adopted two children, who, the Times wrote, regularly come to work with her.

After cementing her place at ABC with two hits, Rhimes created "Scandal," which she told the Times is her most unfiltered project, uninhibited by network notes, and appropriately insane and melodramatic.

"What were they going to do, fire me? I wasn't worried about what anybody else thought," she told the Times. "This one was for me."

Rhimes has said she doesn't want to be pigeonholed into a certain type of show. So, she's branching into another crowded space — the legal drama — with "How to Get Away With Murder," starring Viola Davis as a law professor who becomes embroiled in a homicide with four of her students. The show will follow "Scandal" to round out ABC's three-hour Rhimes block.

The European Central Bank whips out the big guns

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 13:19

Whipping out the big guns, monetarily speaking.

Europe’s Central Bank announced today it was stepping on the economic gas, giving the eurozone a shot, or whatever your choice of analogy. 

More specifically: It lowered its deposit rate for banks to negative-0.2 percent from negative-0.1 percent. 

“Nobody except the ECB has flirted with negative interest rates. Even Japan. This is unprecedented,” says Marc Chandler, Global Head of Currency Strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman.

A positive interest rate means banks earn money on what they hold on reserve with a central bank — whereas a negative interest rate means banks have to pay to park their money there. The idea is that this will push money out into the financial system and promote lending. 

Secondly, the ECB said it would start purchasing asset-backed securities, much like the United States Federal Reserve and the Bank of England has done (the quantitative easing strategy) to promote lending and inject money into the stock market and economy.

Why now?  

Second-quarter GDP growth flat-lined in Europe.

“The eurozone economy is failing to recover in the way that the U.S. or U.K. economy has been recovering,” says Andrew Lilico, head of Europe Economics. “You have countries with 25 percent and up unemployment that are still very much trapped. While it just got out of recession, the economy has gone from contraction to stagnation.” 

One symptom of this, says Chandler, has been that “lending has collapsed in the euro area as banks try to rebuild balance sheets and deleverage.”

The European Central Bank is preparing to take on new regulatory authorities. As banks brace for future stress tests, they have cut back on lending. At the same time, says Chandler, consumers and small businesses aren’t inclined to borrow.

Plus, the inflation rate has inched down over the past few months, reaching precariously close to zero. 

“We had the inflation rate of eurozone countries running at 0.5 percent  in June, 0.4 percent in July, 0.3 percent in August. It has been gradually declining,” says Abdur Chowdhury of Marquette University and chief economist at Capital Market Consultants. 

Chowdhury predicted the ECB’s move, contrary to many analysts who assumed the bank would wait until later this year to act. “The major concern that people have is they don’t want deflation, because that would create a vicious cycle” of economic contraction.

Early ECB assessments have pointed out that drops in inflation were occurring for “good” reasons — fuel costs were falling, for example. But Chowdhury says even if that’s true, the fact that the GDP isn’t benefiting from those good reasons makes the threshold of 0 percent inflation and the risk of crossing over into deflation territory dangerous, because deflation is a difficult problem to solve once it starts.

Why not sooner?

Hindsight is 20-20, but many economists argue some things are just plain easy to see coming.  “They should’ve done it four or five years ago,” says Lilico, a sentiment Chowdhury echoes.  

“The governing council that makes the decision has one member for each of the eurozone countries,” says Chowdhury. “These member look at national interest first and the interests of the eurozone second, to be honest.”  Still, he says, “better late than never.”

Will it work?

Chandler, who also anticipated the ECB’s move, says “probably on the margins.” He expects inflation to bottom out in the next few months, but not cross over into deflation territory, and he says the stimulus, rate adjustment and resulting slide in the euro may all contribute to this. 

As for what this means for the U.S., Chandler says, “It makes us look like a high yielder; it makes the U.S. look more attractive."

European investors may opt to put money into U.S. bonds and securities at the same time the Federal Reserve stops doing so. This could keep yields on bonds from falling precipitously as the Fed exits its stimulus. 

As rates fall and yields in Europe shrink, the euro will become a less attractive currency to hold and will fall in value against the dollar (1 percent shortly after the ECB’s news was announced). This means European goods will be cheaper for Americans to buy, but it also means Europe will become less hungry for American exports as they become more expensive in Europe.

'Fight For 15' Struggles To Organize Fast-Food Workers

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 12:49

The Service Employees International Union ssays that workers will strike in 150 cities to call for the fast food industry to adopt a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

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The Big Picture Of The Fast-Food Wage Dispute

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 12:14

The 150-city protest for a minimum wage hike comes at a time when other changes are putting more pressure on businesses to pay their workers more. Home health care workers joining the fight also raises the issue of overtime rules, which are expected out from the Labor Department in November.

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Holder Says Ferguson Probe Will Look For Source Of Police Mistrust

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 12:14

The Justice Department investigation is likely to last for months and could result in a court-enforceable agreement to improve things like hiring and training of police in the Missouri city.

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Federal Judge Decides BP Acted With Gross Negligence In Gulf Oil Spill

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 12:14

A federal judge has ruled that British Petroleum is guilty of gross negligence in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil spill. The decision means BP might be fined billions of dollars in penalties for its role.

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Shark Encounter Wasn't 'Jaws,' Exactly — But It Was Still Jarring

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 12:14

Two Massachusetts girls were knocked into the water by a shark while kayaking near Plymouth. After half an hour in the ocean, they were finally picked up by the harbor master.

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Guilty Verdicts For Former Gov. McDonnell And Wife In Corruption Trial

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 12:14

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has been found guilty on all 11 public corruption charges that he faced. His wife, Maureen, was convicted of eight of those same charges, as well as one additional charge of obstructing the grand jury investigation.

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Report: Violence Against Children Runs Rampant In Nigeria's Northeast

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 12:14

A group that tracks violence against children is reporting "grave violations" in Nigeria's fragile northeast. Violence there is getting worse, the group says, despite a state of emergency in some states and the "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign that raised awareness of the children kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram.

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Response In Ukraine Could Prove A Crucible For NATO's Future

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 12:14

To learn more about the NATO summit in Wales this week, Melissa Block speaks with Admiral James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and former supreme allied commander at NATO.

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World Leaders Descend On Wales To Help Decide NATO's Way Forward

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 12:14

President Obama is attending the NATO summit in Wales, which some people are calling the most important in decades. On the agenda are Russia's intentions in Ukraine and the threats posed by the Islamic State.

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Remembering Shacki: Liberia's Accidental Ebola Victim

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 12:03

Shacki Kamara went out to buy his aunt some tea. Then she heard from the neighborhood kids: "They shot Shacki." He died the next day. Eva Nah is still asking why.

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How to blow off steam – and the driver next to you

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 08:37

Tens of thousands of workers have flooded into rural North Dakota to take jobs created by the state's oil boom. Now, there's a shortage of housing and there's a shortage of restaurants. There's a shortage of workers for non-oil businesses. And at the end of the day, there's not a whole lot to do.

Some guys, though, have brought one hobby with them: tinkering with their pickups and showing them off. Todd Melby talked to a customizer shop about one distinct way to show off.

Listen to his story in the audio player above.

Diesel engines can be tuned so they pour out black smoke. In Williston, North Dakota diesel pickup truck owners turn to Mark Pyatt at Killer Diesel Performance.

Todd Melby

Todd's series "Black Gold Boom" is an initiative of Prairie Public and the Association for Independents in Radio.

As fast-food workers strike, unions get redefined

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 07:00

Fast-food workers in more than 100 cities plan to walk off the job Thursday. The goal is a higher wage: $15 an hour. The Service Employees International Union, the SEIU, is backing the workers.

“They are not giving up until they are heard, and $15 and a union becomes a standard of practice in all fast-food restaurants in the United States,” says Mary Kay Henry, the union’s president. Corporations argue that would be bad for business.

The SEIU has spent millions of dollars getting the word out, but it has also asked home-care workers, a group it recently unionized, to strike in solidarity with the fast-food workers.

“I think it is part of the redefinition of what a union really is and how unions operate,” says Thomas Kochan, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

According to Ruth Milkman, a sociologist at The Graduate Center, CUNY, this push for a higher minimum wage is part of “a comprehensive campaign with lots of different pieces” born out of necessity.

“The traditional approach to unionization that SEIU and other unions have used isn’t really working too well these days, and they recognize that, and they are interested in experimenting with new approaches and new methods,” she says, noting that less than 7 percent of private-sector employees are unionized.

The real question, argues Harry Holzer, a labor economist at Georgetown University, is: “Is there really pressure on employers to raise wages?” Sure, a daylong strike affects the bottom line, but, he points out, that is nothing compared to what it would cost them to raise wages and offer better benefits.

European Central Bank cuts interest rates

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 07:00

Very few were predicting the European Central Bank would cut interest rates today, but cut they did. The benchmark rate went from a super-low 0.15 percent to just 0.05 percent. 

Brenda Kelly, Chief Market Strategist at London-based IG Group, joined us to offer some context on the surprising move.

Click the media player above to hear Brenda Kelly in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

PODCAST: Fast-food strike

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 03:00

First up, more on the surprise move from European Central Bank, which cut key interest rates from pretty low to really, really low. And fast-food workers in more than a hundred cities plan to walk off the job today. The goal: the desire to get paid $15 an hour. Plus, an example of the consumer becoming the advertiser. In India, there's a trend that goes way beyond, say, wearing a hat with the logo of some brand you like. 

Americans face food insecurity despite economic growth

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 02:00

The number of American households suffering from food insecurity is down from its peak in 2011, the USDA said in a report released this week.

The decline was a modest 2.7 percent — bringing the number down to 17.5 million households where access to enough food for healthy and active living (how the USDA defines food security) was inconsistent or not dependable.

The report also said the number of households with severe food insecurity, including one member of the household who is going hungry, remained unchanged at almost 7 million. One out of five of these homes include children.

While researchers report that parents often shield their children from hunger, in 360,000 households, food availability was so poor that children were also affected.

“In these households, with very low food security among children, parents reported that children were hungry, but they just didn’t have enough money for food or that children were skipping meals, and in the most extreme situations going the whole day without eating,” says Alisha Coleman-Jensen, co-author of the USDA study.

Nevertheless, the number of extreme food instability households dropped from 1.2 to 0.9 percent.

Households with food instability are not evenly spread out around the country. There are more of them in urban and rural areas, and fewer in the suburbs. Southern states are hit hardest, while North Dakota, which is in the middle of an oil boom, has the lowest rate at 8.7 percent.

The nationwide numbers are grim, despite the fact that the economy has been improving, albeit modestly, and unemployment is decreasing. Coleman-Jensen says when researchers took into account employment, income and other factors, the most significant barrier for improved food security in the U.S. appeared to be inflation in food costs.

Graphic courtesy of USDA Economic Research Service.

“In certain categories, like proteins and dairy, they’ve been incurring double-digit inflation. You also have increasing demand for select commodities around the world, and that’s likely to keep an overall upward pressure on costs,” says Erin Lash, a consumer products analyst with the Chicago-based research firm MorningStar.

Lash says droughts are also partly to blame for higher food prices in certain categories. For example, beef prices rose 10 percent last year, and pork prices rose as much as 7.5 percent. Both meats will likely see price increases this year as well, as consumers feel the effects of a drought in Texas and Oklahoma, and a Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus that killed 7 million piglets last year.

In 2015, the USDA predicts food prices overall will see more normal levels of inflation, around 2 to 3 percent. But USDA co-author Coleman-Jensen says it is too early to predict whether that will significantly improve America’s household food security problem.

The jobs report: strong, steady job growth takes hold

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 02:00

The U.S. Labor Department's monthly employment report for August is expected to show some improvement in the job market from July. The consensus among economists is for 230,000 jobs to have been added to private and public-sector payrolls, and for the unemployment rate to have declined 0.1 percent to 6.1 percent.

The trend is now stable and well-established after five years of labor-market improvement that only came in fits and starts, says economist Gary Burtless at the Brookings Institution.

Burtless points out that private businesses have been adding more than 200,000 jobs per month.

“In the last six months, the government has joined the party,” Burtless said. “Public employment is now rising again, although very slowly. As long as these jobs reports continue, I think everyone should be heartened.”

Burtless and other economists are discouraged by anemic wage growth, though. In the years since the recession ended, paychecks for most Americans have just barely kept pace with inflation.

Economist Elise Gould at the Economic Policy Institute says that shows there’s still significant slack in the labor market. Employers don’t have to offer higher pay to attract and retain workers, and workers don’t have much bargaining power.

“Workers are really not seeing the growing productivity, the growing economy, in higher wages,” Gould said.

How reading on screens is rewiring our brains

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 02:00

Dr. Maryanne Wolf says that reading isn't something we're born to do — it's something we train our brain to do.

Wolf is the director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, and the author of "Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain." She says we rewire parts of our brain and build new circuits as we learn to read.

But something interesting is happening as we use new technology for the process of reading: The circuits we're building in our brain are different than those we build when we read books. And some of the implications are worrisome for our ability for deep thought.

Following other discussions for this week's series on technology and reading education, Wolf joins us to talk about reading, new tech and their impact on the brain.

Click the media player above to hear Dr. Maryanne Wolf in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

Ferguson Police Tactics Draw Justice Department Investigation

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-03 17:41

The department will launch an inquiry into the city's police force, NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, with a focus on looking for a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing.

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