National News

'Respect The Robot': Giant Robots Oversee Traffic In Kinshasa

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 11:22

Two giant robots have directed traffic in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2013. This week three others joined them.

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Dollar signs on the doilies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 11:03

Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade products, filed for a $100 million IPO on Wednesday. The Brooklyn-based company reported revenue of $195 million last year, up from $125 million in 2013.
  High-profile online retailers like Zulily and Wayfair had solid debuts with their IPO’s in 2014. The timing is right for Etsy, says Mark Brohan, vice president of research for Internet Retailer Magazine.    William Sahlman, professor at Harvard Business School, says Etsy fulfills customers’ craving for something different. Etsy’s mission has been to change the way things are made and sold, and Sahlman says companies can retain that socially-minded philosophy — just look at Ben & Jerry’s.   “They were able to go public and still maintain a sense with their customers that they were different,” Sahlman says.    Steve Kaplan, who teaches entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, says there might be some initial rumblings of discontent when the company goes public. But at the end of the day, “If you deliver something that your customers really like, you have created a huge amount of social value,” he says.  

Inspired by Etsy's crafty culture, this handmade world cloud shows some of the more unique words from the company's IPO filing.

Kelsey Fowler/Marketplace

Mass-Market Stocks In Hand-Crafted Goods: Etsy Preps To Go Public

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 10:38

The e-commerce site, which focuses on quirky, handmade goods, has filed for an IPO. The paperwork reveals a plan to focus more on manufacturing and marketing — but not much suggestion of big profits.

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Young tech workers sought in tightening labor market

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 10:36

The job market is looking up, especially for skilled IT workers.

It can take more than one year to hire for some positions, like software engineer, in the hottest tech markets these days. People with skills developing mobile-apps and managing network and cloud-computing infrastructure are especially in demand right now, according to recruiters. Starting salaries this year for engineering graduates will average $63,000. Meanwhile, petroleum engineers will average $80,600, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Salaries can easily reach six figures by mid-career. 

One of these workers, James Jones, arrived in Portland, Oregon, recently on a late-night flight from Chicago, where he lives. Jones was in Portland for meetings and training at Puppet Labs, the fast-growing technology company that hired him several months ago as a technical solutions engineer. Jones travels throughout the Midwest explaining, deploying and troubleshooting Puppet’s open-source-based automation software that helps manage huge data centers.

Jones is 27 years old, married with no children. He graduated from Northwestern University in 2009 with a degree in psychology and computer science and faced the Great Recession. “Definitely the economy had taken a downturn,” says Jones, “and it was a little bit rough to find jobs. It was scary there for a bit.”

But that only lasted several months. Then he landed at job at Hewlett-Packard, paying around $50,000 per year. His new job at Puppet Labs pays significantly better — though he wouldn’t say precisely how much, nor would the company. Salaries in the field average in the high-five to low-six figures.

“I was very satisfied” with the offer from Puppet Labs, Jones says. “They were willing to work with me and make sure I was happy. Because I’m kind of a hobbyist--I actually like managing servers and getting at little nerdy at home--working in the field I love, for a company I respect, was the bigger focus for me than money alone.”

Puppet Labs’ senior recruiter Art Amela says the 330-employee company – up from just 30 employees about five years ago – continues to expand aggressively at several U.S. locations, as well as in Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic. Amela says pay and benefits have to stay competitive with other fast-growing technology companies; stock options are a standard part of the compensation package, as well as a host of lifestyle amenities: a well-stocked cafeteria and coffee bar; board-games and old-style video-game consoles in the common area; and a room for employees to repair their bicycles.

And Amela says for top engineers with several years’ experience, poaching is now common. “We know they’re being contacted all the time,” he says, “and casually I’ll check with them about how many have contacted them this week. But if we keep our employees happy — and they are happy — it’s not going to be a threat.”

Still, says Dan Finnigan, CEO of the online recruitment website JobVite, employers large and small have to be prepared these days for a lot of turnover in their workforce.

“If you’re now in your twenties and college-educated, you’re likely to change jobs every three to four years," says Finnigan. "People are always looking. They're looking at work, using their smartphones. Companies need to be prepared to do whatever they can to minimize churn. But they need to assume that their business is like a college. They’re bringing in classes of people who will one day graduate and move on, and they need to continue to recruit new classes.”

Study: At 'Rate My Professor,' A Foreign Accent Can Hurt A Teacher's Score

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 10:24

A recent study found that teachers with Asian-sounding names were given poorer marks, and their accents were the main reason.

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Oil, futures and 'super contango.' What's it all mean?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 10:03

Crude oil is currently in contango. That's when the price today for buying a commodity in the near future (like, later today) is cheaper than for the more distant future (like, in three months). That happens occasionally. But Credit Suisse in a note to investors suggests that something even stranger could be around the corner: 'super contango.'

"When you have a 'contango' it means that there's too much oil around," says one of the authors of that research note, Credit Suisse global energy economist Jan Stuart. "When you have a 'super contango,' it means there's just, like a freakish amount of oil."  

Mike Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research, explains this "freakish" behavior by comparing oil to tomatoes. If there are too many tomatoes today, producers can freeze them and sell them later.  But this only works if there is room in the freezer. As storage becomes more scarce, it becomes more expensive -- sending futures prices (the cost of commodity, plus the cost of storage, plus a small profit) through the roof. 

The crude-oil equivalent would be of crude-oil inventories hitting the "tank tops" -- filling the available storage. But Bruce Heine, spokesperson for Magellan Midstream Partners, says none of their crude-oil storage customers have yet asked them to build more tanks at their Cushing, Oklahoma tank farm.  

Credit Suisse's Jan Stuart believes that a "super-contango" situation in the crude oil market is still a ways off.  To get there, we'll need another 11 or 12 more weeks  like the last few.

What a 7 percent growth rate could look like

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 10:03

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced a new growth target of 7 percent for the world's second-largest economy in a speech to the National People's Congress in Beijing on Thursday. That would be the lowest growth rate there since a brief dip back in 1989-90.

Compare that to the United States, where growth last year was 2.4 percent.

Just for fun, we looked at whether 7 percent growth is even possible here in the United States. How would we start?

“We could all go out and have lots of babies,” says Lakshman Achuthan, co-founder of the Economic Cycle Research Institute.

More babies would mean, eventually, more workers earning and spending money. “But that’s just not going to happen,” he says.

A surge in productivity would also boost growth, but productivity growth was actually negative last year. 

The last time the United States economy grew at a clip of 7 percent or more was 1983, after emerging from two severe back-to-back recessions.  

Snow Is Delicious. But Is It Dangerous To Eat?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 09:58

Some winter lovers see snow as a local and seasonal specialty that goes well with cream and sugar. But is it more like an adventure in extreme eating? As with many wild foods, it's a bit of both.

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It's World Book Day: Time For Reading Lists And Dress-Up

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 09:43

Put down that screen: Today's the day to celebrate holding a bound book in your hands. For World Book Day, we bring you a roundup of stories and reading lists.

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Florida Man's Facebook Post Against Employer In Emirates Leads To Jail

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 09:42

While on vacation in the U.S., Ryan Pate called Abu Dhabi-based Global Aerospace Logistics "backstabbers" and described Arabs as "filthy." He was arrested upon his return. He faces 5 years in prison.

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Ringling Bros. Says No More Circus Elephants By 2018

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 09:24

The "Greatest Show on Earth" has been under pressure for years from animal rights advocates over its use of Asian elephants in its 5,000 annual shows.

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U.S. Appeals Court Overturns Gag Order In Mine Disaster Case

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 08:55

Dozens of news organizations, including NPR, appealed after a judge issued the gag order in a criminal case involving ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

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State Lawmakers Keep Busy While Supreme Court Weighs Obamacare

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 08:54

Bills concerning health care exchanges are pending in at least 16 states. The measures are split pretty evenly between ones that seek to bolster the exchanges and those that would impede or bar them.

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Plane Skids Off Runway At New York's LaGuardia

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 07:58

The Delta Air Lines flight inbound from Atlanta slid off the runway and into a fence on the side of the tarmac. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

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Michael Brown's Family Will File Civil Suit Over His Death

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 07:55

The news comes one day after the Justice Department cleared Wilson in a civil rights probe — and delivered a scathing appraisal of the Ferguson Police Department.

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Quiz: Rise of the uber donor

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 07:43

Colleges and universities received a record 43 “mega gifts” over $50 million in 2014, according to consulting firm Marts & Lundy.

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India Threatens BBC Over Decision To Air Rape Documentary In U.K.

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 07:38

The government, which has banned the Indian media from broadcasting India's Daughter or even showing clips from it pending an investigation, also ordered YouTube to take down the documentary.

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Etsy goes public, hoping to remain 'authentic'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 07:15

Etsy — the marketplace for hand-painters of flower-pots and carvers of toy boats made from driftwood — has engaged the artisan craftspeople at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to run its initial public offering. This round of financing could bring in $100 million. 

As required by the Securities and Exchange Commission for any public offering, Etsy has disclosed risk factors. However, most companies don’t list “losing our soul” as a risk factor.

"If we are unable to maintain the authenticity of our marketplace, our reputation and business could be adversely affected," reads Etsy's filing.

In fact, there has already been grumbling along these lines. In late 2013, Etsy relaxed its terms of service, allowing people to sell stuff that wasn’t actually handmade.

Since allowing users to sell manufactured goods, Etsy’s business has boomed. The company went from $125 million in revenue for 2013 to $195 million the next year.

But, despite that revenue, Etsy did lose $15 million in 2014.

The informal economy collides with India’s boom

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 06:51

It’s just before dawn and a light rain is falling in a parking lot in Delhi. Slowly, one after another, motorcycles pull into the lot. By the time the sun rises, more than 100 bikers have arrived, including 20-year-old Vandit Hura. He’s a law student from Noida, a satellite city of Delhi. He rides a Royal Enfield, known for its unique sound. “When I was young, I used to run outside my house and listen to that sound: 'dug dug dug dug dug,'” he says, impersonating the chug of a single-cylinder Enfield motor.

You may not have heard of the Royal Enfield brand, but it’s a classic — one of the first motorcycle companies in the world. Founded in the United Kingdom at the turn of the century, Royal Enfield is now an Indian company. And these days, Royal Enfield outsells Harley Davidson around the world. The success of the company is due largely to sales in India, and it's one sign of the growing economy here.

Another sign of India’s rising economy is the growth of motorcycle clubs like this one. The leader of today’s ride, Mohit Ahuja, gathers everyone for a short speech. He welcomes the crowd and explains the route they will be taking. He’s tall, with a dark beard, a red-and-black bikers' jacket and camouflage pants. “Good morning,” he says. The crowd yells back enthusiastically, "'good morning!" The rain hasn’t dampened anyone's excitement.

“Let’s have some brotherhood happening today and let’s hope the gods have mercy on us and stop the rains,” he yells. “Lets get geared up, guys. And let’s ride!”

The bikes head out of the city in a double-file formation, merging into the chaotic Delhi roads. Rickshaws, bicycles, people pulling carts and now the bikes all converge into a river of traffic.

They pass huge malls and the towering glass office buildings of companies like Google and Panasonic. They also drive by slums flooded by muddy water, and piles of trash being picked at by wild pigs.

The ride ends with a party in the rural outskirts of town where men play drums in a field and rev their motorcycles to the beat.

While these partying bikers are one example of India’s growing middle class, the fact is a huge portion of the population has been left out of the country’s economic rise. India is home to one-third of the world’s poor.

Historically, the key to pulling millions of people out of poverty has been industrialization — the kind of factory jobs that turned China into the world’s second-biggest economy. The success of Royal Enfield is one example of successful Indian manufacturing, but manufacturing only makes up 16 percent of the country’s economy.

In India, as in much of the developing world, there has been a migration of people from rural villages to the city. Only 68 percent of rural Indians can read. So when they arrive in cities, few are qualified for the jobs that are available.

Many of them end up as street vendors. These low-level entrepreneurs make up a big portion of the informal economy, which accounts for a staggering 92 percent of India’s population.

Take the neighborhood called Mayur Vihar in East Delhi. Vendors offer kids' backpacks, pots and pans, clothing, toys, fabric and lots of street food.

Lalchand Kashyap is a vendor. He sells a kind of street food, called Chaat. Every night he sets up his equipment in the same spot he’s had for the past 23 years. He has a couple of tables and a big metal cooking surface shaped like large satellite dish. In the center, potatoes are frying in a shallow pool of ghee, clarified butter oil that glistens under the battery-powered LED light he uses to cook by.

One of his most popular dishes is aloo tikki, fried mashed potato patties smothered in masala, tamarind and coriander chutney, garnished with shredded cabbage, beets, radish, ginger and carrots and finished with a squeeze of lemon. Kashyap charges 40 rupees, about $0.37. It’s a dish that takes a lot of work to make.

Kashyup starts his day at 8:00 a.m. doing prep work at home with his family, boiling potatoes making chutney, chopping vegetables. Then he brings everything to the street and opens up shop at 6 p.m. He sells until about 10:30.

He makes about $8 a day and works seven days a week, making just enough to cover his living expenses, food and rent in a two-room apartment where he lives with nine other family members.

$8 a day puts Kashyup’s income at six times the global poverty line set by the World Bank, $1.25 per day. So he’s not poor by that standard. But if we use the basic definition of middle class as having some amount of leisure time and disposable income, Kashyup is clearly not middle class either.

Arvind Singh is the head of head of NASVI, The National Association of Street Vendors in India.

“When you talk about urban poor, most are entrepreneurs, street vendors. A big part of the problem is stopping the drain of income. Because there are many extortion rackets,” Singh says.

One of the biggest obstacles to bringing these informal workers into the middle class is stopping corruption. “In any category of informal worker, real wage is not real wage," Singh says. “They give to police municipality, shopkeeper traffic, whoever gets an opportunity extracts money.”

NASVI’s strength is in its numbers. There are 888 affiliates with 553,000 dues-paying members across India. They lobby for legislation, offer free legal services and training to improve hygiene and they help vendors access financial services.

If efforts like this succeed in bringing the huge numbers of informal workers into the middle class, economist Jayshree Sengupta believes they could be an internal economic engine that drives India’s growth.

“I think China's going that way because China has realized that the export-led growth has led to pollution where people are suffocating,” Sengupta says. “We're also experiencing that in Delhi. There's no point depending on the export growth. We have a huge market of 1.2 billion people, so get money in their pockets so they can buy our own things.”

Much of the focus of NASVI’s work is to prevent income drain from extortion. But actually raising the income of street vendors is a more difficult task. One way they do that is by organizing street food festivals to improve the image of street vendors, make them more appealing to locals and tourists.

Kashyup worked one of those festivals. His food was so popular; he was invited to represent India at a street-food festival in Singapore, a burgeoning foodie world capital. The event takes place on April 6. It will be Kashyup’s first trip outside of India.

Click on the audio above to hear BBC’s Justin Rowlatt profile the growing tech sector in India.

We're Not Taking Enough Lunch Breaks. Why That's Bad For Business

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 06:47

Research shows that only 1 in 5 five people take a break and leave their desks to eat. Most workers are simply eating at their desks. But creativity can take a big hit without a change of scenery.

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