National News

Truckers strike at key port for trade with Asia

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-08 02:00

More than a hundred truckers who work at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are on strike, calling for better pay and safety and accusing transport companies of hindering their efforts to unionize. The trucking companies say they pay fair wages and that drivers striking are only a small slice of the total workforce.

It’s the latest workforce disruption at an important trade gateway with a long history of labor unrest.

The ports are a key point for trade with Asia, with hundreds of billions of dollars in goods moving through. You probably own something with a "Made in China" label, and it most likely came through these California ports.

Right now, only three trucking companies are affected by the strike. Others are still rolling. The picketing isn’t large enough to cause a major disruption.

But if dockworkers walk off the job in support of the truckers, it could snarl trade, with nationwide impact if the strike drags on.

Is summer camp for coding or canoeing?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-08 02:00

Forget your typical summer camp experiences: swimming, campfires, telling ghost stories.

At computer camps around the country, kids are telling stories about Minecraft. They’re learning to code, not to canoe.

“I thought it was really cool to know how to make an app,” said Aurora, who is spending the week at iD Tech camp at UCLA. “I’m only a kid. I’m 11. You don’t see a lot of kids making apps in the app store that might actually sell. So I thought it would be cool.” 

The room at iD Tech — this one on the campus of UCLA — is humming. Kids are enthralled by their computers: clicking, staring, thinking, asking questions, clicking again. 

It’s mostly boys. The camp says 15 percent of its 36,000 campers nationwide are girls.

There are rows of students working on computers tucked inside individual cubbies. Bright signs on the wall say "Game", "Code", "Tech", and "Create."

There's no threat of poison ivy here. No surprise run-ins with spiders. No chance a water fight will break out.

“When I was younger, I had gone to more traditional camps, where it was all fun, all games,” said 14-year old Gavriel, who is learning 3D modeling and animation. “But I felt like it was time to get more serious about what I want to do for the future.”

More serious about the 14.

The pamphlet for iD Tech camp plays straight into that. It's there on page one: “Right now there are over 1 million unfilled jobs in STEM.”

The message is that $900-plus for this week-long camp can help prepare a kid for those high-skilled jobs. 

“Technology is great. Computers are great. It is going to be a part of our future,” said Peg Smith, head of the American Camp Association. But, she says, you can learn 21st century skills at traditional camps, too. Skills like creativity, communication, collaboration.

“For kids to be able to be outside, in nature, actively involved, in authentic situations with other people, is a real advantage in today’s world.”

The funny thing, said Smith, is that computer camp used to be where kids went to play with exotic devices.

Now, computers are everywhere.

And it’s traditional camp where they experience the exotic: nature.

Inversion – ain’t nothing but a tax dodge, baby

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-08 01:00

When a big American company tries to buy a small company overseas, it’s always worth asking the question: "Why?" Sometimes, it’s because the acquisition gives the big company access to a new and growing market. Sometimes, it’s because the small company has some cool technology the big company wants. And sometimes … it’s a big fat tax dodge.

Take AbbVie, a U.S. pharmaceutical company that wants to buy an Irish drugmaker called Shire. Shire won’t give AbbVie access to an exciting new market, or bring it any sexy new technology. What it will provide – if the merger happens – is headquarters in a country with much lower tax rates than the U.S.

This is called a corporate inversion. Companies that do this behave a bit like the homeowner who sells her beautiful, perfect house in one city and uses the cash to buy a hovel in a town with a great school. The house may be outrageously expensive, and it may be falling down, but the buyer doesn’t care about any of that – she only cares about being able to send her kid to the local school. She can work out the other stuff later.

The same goes for Abbvie: it doesn’t care much about Shire, it cares about paying less in taxes. The same goes for another U.S. pharma company, Pfizer, that tried to buy British drugmaker AstraZeneca earlier this year, as well as a company called Destination Maternity, which tried to buy British maternity retailer Mothercare recently.

The list of companies that have inverted is a long one. It includes Applied Materials, which acquired a Japanese company and reincorporated in the Netherlands; Chiquita Brands, which bought Irish company Fyffes and shifted to Dublin; Power Management company Eaton Corp. did likewise after it bought Cooper Industries; pharma company Perrigo bought Irish company Elan and moved; and publisher Omnicom shifted to the Netherlands after it bought French rival Publicis Group.

Moving overseas to save tax money isn’t a new phenomenon, and companies are careful to obey the law. But, the law has made things more difficult. Companies used to be able to just open an office in Bermuda and move, but they’re not allowed to do that anymore. Hence the inversion activity that we’ve seen recently – at least 20 in the last two years, according to sources cited by the New York Times.

Now, you may think that it’s fair enough for companies to do this: It’s entirely legal, and the 35 percent tax rate that corporations pay is a lot higher than in other countries. So why shouldn’t these companies move and save? They do it within the U.S., after all, moving from state to state to get tax benefits. Some Congressional representatives might agree with you. Others, like Republican Senator Charles Grassley, says inversion may not be illegal, but it’s “immoral.” I guess he doesn’t like seeing all those dollars leaking away overseas.  

It looks as though the Obama Administration feels the same way. The New York Times reported recently that “the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are working on draft legislation for comprehensive tax reform that is expected to include new rules intended to curtail inversions while also trying to make the United States a more competitive place for multinationals to call home.”

Truckers Strike At 2 Calif. Ports, Larger Labor Dispute Looms

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 00:13

Independent truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are on strike against three large trucking firms. At the same time, a deadline for a new contract with dockworkers has passed.

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Obama To Ask Congress For $2B To Ease Immigration Crisis

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 23:37

The administration wants to speed deportation hearings for the flood of young Central American refugees so they aren't left waiting years for a court hearing.

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Stress Causes Health Problems, Which Then Cause More Stress

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 23:37

People under stress are more likely to have health problems, according to a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. That's true for caregivers, too.

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As Wire Transfer Options Dwindle, Somali-Americans Fear A Lost Lifeline

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 23:35

Every year, money transfer brokers help Somali-Americans send more than $200 million to family members in Somalia. But one of the few banks to support that process will soon back out.

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Paintballing The Boss: Office Team-Building Exercises Gone Bad

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 23:33

Sometimes team-building exercises get a bad name for good reasons. Dangerous piñatas and co-workers tripping on mushrooms might deter some. But weathering bad team-building can also forge new bonds.

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Israeli Army Launches Offensive On Gaza Strip

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 20:13

Israeli army launches offensive on Gaza Strip

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Israeli Army Launches Offensive On Gaza Strip

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 18:03

Israel said it launched an offensive operation early Tuesday to quell rocket attacks from Gaza, and a Palestinian official said Israeli airstrikes injured at least nine Palestinians.

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In Mississippi, The GOP's Not-So-Civil War Continues

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 16:23

As of Monday, Chris McDaniel, loser in June's Mississippi Republican Senate primary, still questioned Sen. Thad Cochran's victory, despite minuscule evidence of voter fraud.

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Judge Approves NFL Concussion Settlement

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 16:03

Judge approves NFL concussion settlement

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Judge Approves NFL Concussion Settlement

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 14:53

The landmark deal would compensate thousands of former NFL players for concussion-related claims. The ruling came about two weeks after the NFL agreed to remove a $675 million cap on damages

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Washington State To Start Recreational Pot Sales On Tuesday

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 14:50

The state's Liquor Control Board issued the first 24 marijuana retailer licenses on Monday. Washington is the second state — after Colorado — to allow the sale of recreational marijuana.

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Tyler Perry just trademarked "WWJD?"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-07 14:17

From the pages of The Hollywood Reporter: Tyler Perry has moved one step closer to owning the trademark on the phrase "What Would Jesus Do?" 

For whatever it's worth, he can only use it for entertainment purposes - a movie, live show or TV show - not wrist bands or tattoos or the like.

And, no, your T-shirt won't have to say "Tyler Perry presents," because there's a separate "WWJD?" trademark for clothing. 

Teen Tries To Be The Parent His Own Dad Never Was

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 13:22

Marvin Ramos' father says Ramos ruined his life by having a child at 17. But while he struggles, Ramos, now 18, is determined to be an active part of his daughter's life.

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Bahrain Asks U.S. Diplomat To Leave Over Meeting With Shiite Group

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-07 13:12

The Foreign Ministry said Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski "is unwelcome." Malinowski met with the Shiite opposition in the island nation that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

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ADM wants a taste of the flavor business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-07 13:10

Food processor Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is getting its first taste of the flavor market. ADM says it will buy a company called Wild Flavors for almost $3 billion. Wild Flavors specializes in natural flavors for beverages and food, and natural means big business these days.

To start, we should say that flavor people are a very tight lipped crowd.

“You got that right,” laughs John Leffingwell, president of Leffingwell & Associates, which consults for the flavor and fragrance industry.

He says the flavor industry is competitive. Flavorists keep their discoveries secret as long as they can. But one trend is clear.

“When I started in the industry about 30 years ago,” he says, “about 70 percent of the flavors were artificial flavors. Today it’s close to 80 percent or maybe even more that are all natural flavors.”

That’s an estimate. But foods labeled ‘natural’ did rack up more than $40 billion in U.S. retail sales last year, according to Nielsen.

The problem is healthier foods aren’t always appealing to consumers.

“People would love to have lower sodium or lower sugar in the diet, but when companies reformulate with these changes, a lot of time consumers don’t buy them,” says Devin Peterson, a University of Minnesota professor who works with the Flavor Research and Education Center.

He’s researched solutions like getting salt to release more efficiently in the mouth, so a lower sodium chip tastes just as salty.

Flavor companies are also tackling the low sodium taste conundrum.

“What flavor companies do, they help food companies to reduce the salt content but save the flavor of the crisp,” says Evgenia Molotova, a chemicals analyst at Berenberg.

She says that’s one reason why the flavor business is appealing right now.

“Sales of flavors are growing much faster than the sales of food products,” she says.

Wild Flavors specializes in natural flavors for beverages. That helps ADM diversify its commodities business.

Why Americans spend less of their budgets on food

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-07 13:10

Food prices are rising, and the reasons run the gamut. 

A disease known as porcine epidemic diarrhea virus has killed millions of piglets and young hogs, driving up the price of pork and bacon. A drought in Texas and Oklahoma cattle country has caused a spike in the price of beef. Coffee rust in Central America could raise the price of a cup of high-end joe, and a disease called citrus greening is wiping out orange and grapefruit trees in Florida. And yet, consumers in the U.S. spend a smaller percentage of their disposable income on food than citizens of any other country in the world. 

It's not simply that food in the U.S. is cheaper. "Americans on average have a higher income level and when you're talking total income and the amount spent on food, it's just a lower percentage," said Anne Marie Kuhns, an economist with the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. People who live in developing nations have incomes that are far lower than those of a typical American. Food is bound to eat up a larger percentage of a typical family's budget.

Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

Americans, though, also spend less on food than people in higher-income European countries like France, Sweden and Germany.

A number of factors are in play,  including the amount of farmland in the U.S., estimated, says Dan Basse, president of the consulting firm, AgResource Company, at "around 350 million acres," and different quality standards. Genetically modified plants are restricted in Europe, but, are considered technological advances that help increase the productivity of farmland in the U.S.

Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

And while food is susceptible to price hikes, Americans eat a very varied diet, and if one product becomes expensive, there are others that can be swapped in to take its place. Think substituting chicken for beef when meat prices are high. 

Finally, some researchers say European consumers simply have different standards of quality. 

"Consumers take their food a lot more seriously in Europe than we do here," said Timothy Richards, the Morrison Chair of Agribusiness at Arizona State's W.P. Carey School of Business. "They're more likely to buy higher-end things. Here, Walmart is the dominant food supplier because it's cheap." 

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