National News

How Do You Count 500 Million Votes? A Look At India's Election

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:32

Parliamentary elections in the world's largest democracy ended on Friday with a landslide victory for the opposition. Photos offer a glimpse at the logistics behind a massive, six-week election.

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When Numbers Bleed, Freeze, Starve And Die On A Battlefield: The Dark Poetry Of Data

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:25

Let me tell you a story — a history story — that's all numbers, only numbers, and still packs an emotional wallop. Button up. It's 1812. In Russia. It's cold.

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How we measure the poverty line(s)

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:23

Until the mid-1960s, the U.S. didn't have an official, federal poverty line.

In 1963, the Social Security Administration asked one of its researchers, Mollie Orshanksy, to report on child poverty. Orshansky quickly realized there was no way to tell exactly how many children were living in poverty, and devised a simple calculation to determine who was poor. 

She took the the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "thrifty food plan," which estimated the minimum amount of food that cash-strapped families could survive on, and still be healthy.

In 1963, that food cost $1,033 dollars for the year. Data from surveys at the time showed the average family spent about a third of their income on food, so Orshanksy took that $1,033 and multiplied it by three. Any family earning less than that amount was below the poverty line. Fifty years later, that is still how the federal government determines who is in poverty: the minimum you need for food, multiplied by three.

Many poverty researchers find that problematic, because these days, the average family spends about one-seventh of its income on food, not one third. But other costs, like housing, medical care, childcare and commuting have risen.

For the past few years, the Census Bureau has published a Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes those rising costs into account, along with whether people live in low-cost or high-cost areas. The Supplemental measure also adds in the benefits that many low-income people recieve like SNAP and subsidized housing.

Many poverty researchers agree the supplemental measure paints a more accurate picture of who is in poverty, but the government still uses Orshanky's original formula to determine its official measure.

Why The U.S. Shunned The Man Who Will Now Lead India

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:21

The U.S. and other Western governments ostracized Narendra Modi for the past decade. They are now willing to deal with him, but it's not clear how warm those relations might be.

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Wole Soyinka: I Just Want Those Monsters Exterminated

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:09

The Nigerian Nobel laureate says the abduction of more than 250 girls by extremist group Boko Haram is a defining moment for his country.

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GM To Pay Record Fine Over Safety Recall

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:06

The Department of Transportation on Friday announced that it's ordering General Motors to pay a $35 million civil penalty for the handling of its ignition switch problems.

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Is It Donald Sterling's Right To Fight For His Team?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:05

LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling will reportedly fight the NBA to keep his team. The Barbershop guys weigh in on that feud, and Solange and Jay-Z's elevator dust-up.

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Medicare Eases Restrictions On Pricey Hepatitis C Treatment

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:02

This policy change would pay for treatment with a combination of new, expensive drugs for patients who haven't responded to older treatment regimens and are approaching or have cirrhosis of the liver.

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Does It Matter if Schools Are Racially Integrated?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 08:01

Sixty years ago, the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling was supposed to level the field for all students. But some educators say we haven't made a lot of progress.

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The cookie factory that balances profit with progress

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-16 07:55

Through the 1960’s, companies felt social responsibility was part of their culture. That all changed after a 1970 essay by Milton Friedman in the New York Times –“The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits."  But recently a new type of corporate status has become popular, the Benefit Corporation, which requires companies to do social and environmental good.

Social responsibility has a warm, chocolatey, toasty fragrance. It's what the air inside Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, N.Y., is perfumed with, and it's enough to stop a reporter in her tracks.

"That would be remnants of brownies," says Mike Brady, the company's CEO. 

Greyston turns out 30,000 pounds of brownies a day for Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream. The bakery sold almost $10 million of brownies last year. But Greyston isn’t a typical company. It’s what's called a Benefit Corporation. That means in addition to normal  requirements, Greyston also has to create a “material positive impact on society and the environment.”

Brady can provide a substantial list of positive projects the company has undertaken: solar panels on its roof, buying sustainable cocoa and sugar, providing social support for workers who need extra help outside of work -- and when jobs open up, anyone gets the chance to work, no questions asked. The company even keeps a sign-up sheet in its reception area.

Companies can now become benefit corporations in 22 states, but how do you reconcile a social mission with a bottom line?

“I could spend 100 percent of my time trying to figure out the solutions for selling a good product." Brady says. "But I dedicate my time and the time of my team to trying to focus on how we can figure out the environment and the community, ultimately hoping that that’s going to lead to us selling more products, and that’s been the case so far.”

Erik Trojian, director of policy for B Lab, a non-profit that certifies benefit corporations, says that traditional corporations are limited by their duty to maximize shareholder profits, rendering them unable to focus on other missions.

"The unique thing of a benefit corporation is it deregulates the purpose of a corporation by saying, you can consider other factors than profit," he says. "You can consider society and the environment. In addition to profit."  

Trojian notes that because benefit corporations have to report and answer to shareholders, just like traditional corporations, unlike traditional corporations they can be held accountable for doing good.

"If the only goal of a corporation is to maximize profits, these investors don’t have a right to say, well, I have a mission-oriented fund, I invested in your company, you said you were going to consider society and the environment, but you stopped doing that. You have no recourse," he says, "but to sell your stock and get out or take what’s given."

Reporting to shareholders, he says, means a benefit corporation keeps operations transparent -- unlike a traditional corporation, which may focus on a specific, targeted social or environmental project like cleaning up a polluted waterway but isn't necessarily held responsible for its achievement in that area.

"That doesn’t mean the company isn’t polluting out the front door," says Trojian, "while it’s cleaning the back door. So that’s the dilemma with that,  it doesn’t really provide the consumer with a complete understanding of what the totality of the company’s operations are."

Lynn Stout, a professor of corporate and business law at Cornell Law School, says the misunderstanding lies elsewhere. The purpose of a corporation, she wants to make clear, is not to maximize shareholder profits.

"It turns out the purpose of the corporation is to do, and I’m taking this right from what the vast majority of corporate charters say," she says, "they say the purpose of the corporation is to do anything lawful.”

Stout notes that companies do often focus on shareholder value. One of the biggest reasons for this, she says is that tax law requires executive pay to be tied to a metric and very often that metric is share price. "So we shouldn’t be surprised that if we pay executives to bump up the share price, that’s what they do," she says. "But that’s not required by the law in the sense that you can’t sue managers for making decisions that reduce profits, or perhaps don’t move the share price up as far as it can go."

Stout says we don't need benefit corporations.

"I don’t think we do," she says, "if what you want to do is create legal space for managers to run companies in a socially responsible fashion."

But she notes, when it comes to focusing on social and environmental goals, there are some benefits, to having benefit corporations, such as the inherent appeal, to some consumers, that comes along with the label of benefit corporation. 

"It’s very much a marketing thing," she says.  "For example, Patagonia is a benefit corporation and they make a line of clothing suited to outdoor activities. A lot of people who like outdoor activities are very concerned about the environment. And they might be willing to buy Pataonia instead of another brand, because it’s a benefit corporation."

Then Stout  says there's the requirement to report to shareholders about social and environmental impact.

"The benefit corporation is supposed to provide information that’s available to shareholders and others, to show that they’re actually making progress towards that objective," she says. "And that requirement, that you provide information, may be very, very important."

"There’s a saying in business," Stout says, "that what you measure, is what you manage. And if all you’re measuring is profits, that is naturally  going to be your focus."

PODCAST: Some (temporary) relief at the pump

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-16 07:53

After a steady rise since February, gas prices are leveling off, and even dropping in parts of the country. But the relief is only temporary.

Europe's biggest construction project is currently underway in London: a new 73-mile long rail link passing underneath the British capital.

It's the time of year when TV networks try to get audiences -- and advertisers -- excited about their upcoming season. One genre that's now a tough sell to both is music.

GM Will Pay $35 Million Fine Over Massive Safety Recall

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 07:01

The much-criticized recall of more than 2 million vehicles for ignition-switch and air-bag problems has resulted in a record fine for the automaker, the Department of Transportation says.

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Snobby salespeople sell more luxury goods

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-16 06:42

When Groucho Marx once said, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member," he might've been talking about a recent study: “Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers' Desire for the Brand. Customers are more likely to buy luxury goods from rude, snooty, or aloof salespeople.  

When it comes to high-end goods, we want what we can't have, and a salesperson with a bad attitude only adds to the air of exclusivity.  

Darren Dahl, professor of Marketing and Behavioural Science at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, co-authored the study and says that the outcomes were based on a number of factors.

“…[I]t only really works if you aspire to the brand. So, if it’s something that you want and you don’t have. For the consumers that are regular luxury shoppers, this effect doesn’t happen,” Dahl says.

Another factor in whether or not a customer is swayed by rude customer service is the salesperson’s appearance.

“[The effect] also doesn’t happen if the salesperson doesn’t match the brand. If someone is selling Prada or Burberry and they don’t look like they should be there themselves, you don’t get that effect. You only react if someone truly represents the brand,” Dahl says.

Scarcity and exclusivity are two major components of persuasion psychology, but Dahl says that there is more behind the findings.

“When you come into a store and salespeople give you a dirty look, or they ignore you, or they essentially make you feel like maybe you’re not in the right store, if you as a consumer really want that brand, it’s kind of  challenge. [That’s] the way people looked at it and said, ‘Hey, I can afford that and I’m going to show you’,” he says.   

In the end, Dahl says that good customer service is always the best way to go. 

For one, non-luxury stores see no benefit from having rude salespeople, as the study showed that customers were not more likely to buy goods from a store that isn’t considered aspirational or prestigious. 

Also according to the study, people who initially felt driven to purchase from the snobby salesperson had, what Dahl calls, a boomerang effect.

“In the moment, you react and take the challenge and say I’m going to buy that product. But after you get home [and} you’ve been thinking about the experience … it actually turns out that you dislike the brand and the experience much more than the average person,” he says. 

 Have you ever been treated poorly by a sales associate?  How did you react? Email us or Tweet at us @LiveMoney

Trim the fat from your food budget

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-16 06:36

After you've divvied up your income between rent, mortgage, car payment and other big ticket items, what's the biggest expense in your budget?

If you're like most Americans, it's food.

Between grocery bills, restaurants, and the Monday morning coffee run, the cost of food can add up.

And food prices are steadily on the rise with meat, eggs and dairy taking the lead. Last year's devastating drought, coupled with a nasty virus in the nation's hog population all contributed to higher prices at the grocery store.

Kristin Wong, a personal finance writer with the Lifehacker blog 'Two Cents', stopped into the Marketplace Money studio to share a few tips about how to get our food spending under control.

Find protein that's cheap, not steep

With hamburgers and pork chops taking a bigger bite out of your grocery bill, Wong recommends giving less expensive forms of protein like tofu a second glance.

"Not everybody has the palate for tofu, but if you do it's a really good cost effective way you can eat."

Focus on in season produce

Stocking up on cheap, healthy staples like sweet potatoes, potatoes and lentils is another way to pad out your dinner plate.

"You can get a lot of produce that's on sale and in season and you can freeze it and use it when it's not in season," she says.

Plan ahead

But, Wong says, meal planning is where the real savings come in. She says a fellow blogger turned her on to a technique called the Inverted Pyramid Method that allows you to plan an entire weeks worth of meals around one or two big recipes.

"They'll plan out one or two really big meals then they'll plan the rest of their meals for the week based on the leftover ingredients from the one or two big meals," she says. "It's a cool strategy because you're avoiding food waste, which is what this all boils down to. That's the main thing you don't want to do when you're on a budget."

Mix and match

And if you're just not sure what to make with a hodge podge of leftover ingredients? That's where a website called Supercook comes in handy.

"You can put in whatever you have in your pantry and it will compile recipes for you. And you can even highlight the ingredient that you want to focus on, so if you have extra tofu you can highlight that and all these recipes will pop up with tofu as the main ingredient."

California Wildfires: Death Reported, More Evacuations Ordered

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 05:47

Three large and still mostly uncontained fires have burned thousands of acres in San Diego County, according to local media.

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When it comes to benefits, the poorest get less

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-16 04:37

A new study finds a surprising pattern as to the way benefits to the poor are given out in America – the very poorest are receiving less. Johns Hopkins economics professor Robert Moffitt, who crunched welfare numbers over several decades, joins Marketplace’s Mark Garrison to explain. Click on the audio player above to hear more.

Russian Rocket Fails After Launch, Breaking Up Over China

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 04:32

With an expensive communication satellite as its payload, a Russian Proton-M rocket broke apart during its third stage last night. The unmanned rocket failed at an altitude of 100 miles.

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Health insurers pull back the curtain on pricing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-16 04:00

A website launching early next year might help you decide whether you can afford to swap out your bum knee. A group called the Health Care Cost Institute will publish information on the price and quality of medical services, courtesy of data from insurance giants UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, and Humana.

"The ideal scenario is that it almost gives you an active stock ticker of what conditions are moving in what direction and their cost," says Steve Parente, the governing chair of the Health Care Cost Institute and a professor of health finance and insurance at the University of Minnesota.

Parente says price information is more critical to consumers than ever as out of of pocket medical costs continue to soar.

If consumers, armed with price information, decide to avoid excessively costly procedures, that helps insurers, too; they can hold down costs more easily.

"It's really a way, at the highest level, to create a more efficient system with an informed consumer at the center of it," Tom Beauregard, an executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group, says of the Health Care Cost Insitute's forthcoming website.

Nicholas Bagley, assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, says consumers don't necessarily act any differently when offered publicly available information about the quality of health care providers.

"But it's possible, given the new high-deductible environment for health insurance," he says, "that they'll pay more attention to price information."

Narendra Modi: From Humble Start To India's Likely Prime Minister

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 03:55

In a country known for political dynasties, Modi's rise has been stunning. He's praised for making his Gujarat state an economic powerhouse, but religious riots there in 2002 leave some uneasy.

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Landslide Win Puts Opposition Party In Charge In India

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-16 03:26

Defying expectations of a close vote that would require a coalition government, opposition leader Narendra Modi and his BJP party won India's election outright, by a huge margin.

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