National News

The Co-Discoverer Of Ebola Never Imagined An Outbreak Like This

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:30

In 1976, scientist Peter Piot was part of the team that discovered the Ebola virus. The epidemic today in West Africa, he says, is "absolutely unexpected and unprecedented."

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Holiday Gas Prices Lowest In Four Years

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:29

The national average for regular is $3.45 per gallon, down from an all-time high of $3.83 per gallon over the Labor Day 2012 holiday.

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An App Can Reveal When Withdrawal Tremors Are Real

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:20

You probably haven't thought about whether your phone could help diagnose alcohol withdrawal. Well, it can. An app for doctors measures tremors and may help tell if someone's faking it to get drugs.

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Study: Kids In Orphanages Can Do As Well As Those In Foster Care

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:13

Policymakers worldwide have been calling for countries to get rid of institutions for orphans and abandoned children. A study out of Duke University offers a different perspective.

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Real Vanilla Isn't Plain. It Depends On (Dare We Say It) Terroir

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:02

There's no such thing as plain vanilla — at least if you're talking about beans from the vanilla orchid. Whether it's from Tahiti or Madagascar, vanilla can be creamy, spicy or even floral.

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Anti-Bloomberg ad signals new political trend

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 10:58

Experts expect between $6 and 7 billion will be spent on messaging during the 2016 campaign season and its run-up. The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision opened the door to more outside spending on advertising, and that has changed a lot of things – including who gets attacked by attack ads.  

Last week, the National Rifle Association kicked off a multi-million dollar ad campaign with a 30-second spot.

“Liberals call this flyover country,” it begins. “It’s an insult.  But nobody insults your life like this guy: Michael Bloomberg, billionaire, elitist, hypocrite.”

The NRA says Bloomberg “has declared war” on the organization and its five million members. The former mayor of New York City has pledged to spend at least $50 million pushing for more background checks on gun buyers.

But Bloomberg is out of office.  He is not running for anything – at least right now.  And according to Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, that is what makes the NRA’s campaign so novel.

“To see him be the target of the ad is, in many ways, something we have never seen before,” he says.

In the past, attack ads have tied politicians to other politicians and donors to their campaigns. Franz believes this is the first advertisement not tied to a candidate or a campaign.

“This is the post-'Citizens United' world that we live in,” he says.

Franz and others say it is hard to overstate how much the landscape has changed over the last few years.

“The way we’ve organized now, since ‘Citizens United,’ essentially everything is on the table,” says Danilo Yanich, a professor of public policy at the University of Delaware. Everything and everyone.

Ken Goldstein, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco, says Michael Bloomberg and other big donors are being cast as outsiders.

"The message here is that there is something improper about these people being involved in politics," he says. "That their money is trying to fool you."

This is an update, Goldstein says, of a technique campaign operatives have used for a long time.

“One of the first things one does in opposition research is see if they can tie the other side to someone who is unsavory or unpopular."

What the NRA is hoping, Goldstein says, is that this ad — and others it plans to run nationwide — will affect how Americans see Michael Bloomberg and the cause he backs.

Texas Voter ID Law Goes To Trial

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 10:46

A federal court will hear a challenge to the controversial law next week. It's an important and closely watched voting rights case that could end up before the Supreme Court.

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The business of preventing sexual assault on campus

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 10:09

The federal government is cracking down on college sexual assaults by putting more than 70 schools under investigation for their handling of such cases - and entrepreneurs and consultants are finding business opportunities. 

They’re creating smartphone apps to let students easily notify friends or campus police if they get into a scary situation, and developing training programs for campus-led sexual assault investigations.

“With a heavily-regulated industry, you're going to see a lot of products and services offered,” says Peter Lake, a campus safety expert at Stetson University College of Law.

Stetson says many schools aren't set up to deal with new rules governing sexual assault prevention and reporting. They need the extra help.

“A lot of us were using coconuts and Dixie cups with string to communicate, and now we have complicated software programs that actually work to get data in real time,” he says.

One app, called LiveSafe, lets students give campus security anonymous tips about crimes or potentially dangerous situations in real time. Schools pay a few bucks per student on up for the services. 

By some estimates, as many as 80 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses go unreported. LiveSafe chief executive Jenny Abramson thinks apps like hers can help change that.

“We find that in a number of places we're in, they're getting twice as many - or even ten times as many - tips from a student to the safety official, around things they ordinarily wouldn't share by calling or other more traditional means,” she says.

In addition to entrepreneurs like Abramson, lots of consultants and lawyers are marketing videos and training programs around sexual assaults. They're betting schools would rather pay their fees than face much stiffer penalties from the government. Without the proper programs in place, colleges can jeopardize federal funding and get fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But Dana Bolger is skeptical about some of the products getting marketed as a means to reduce sexual assaults, such as a nail polish that can detect date rape drugs when you dip your fingers into a drink.  Bolger was a rape victim in college and is now an activist and co-founder of the organization Know Your IX. She's worried the technology may be more dazzling than effective.

“These products, while often well-intentioned, try to lull us into a false sense of security,” she says, “as though we can just innovate our way out of systemic violence against women.”

Abercrombie abandons logos to keep up with the trends

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 09:40

Abercrombie & Fitch, the retailer that's known for its hunky models and clothes that scream "Abercrombie" says it's ditching its logo. From now on, the retailer says its clothes will be logo-free, at least in North America.

It’s an odd twist considering Abercrombie helped create the demand for teen clothing with big logos.

Well, no surprise, teens are fickle, said Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at Wharton.  

“In general, I think there is a trend that kids are not into logos as they once were because there’s more of an emphasis on showing your own individuality,” Kahn said, adding that it also depends on the logo - and right now Abercrombie’s is out of fashion.

Ronnie Moas, an analyst at Standpoint Research, says the the fast-fashion trend has created a big shift in the teen clothing industry and knocked Abercrombie off its perch. He downgraded the stock in early July. Moas said retailers like Forever 21 and H&M are putting out the newest fashions quickly and cheaply.

“At Abercrombie you’re paying $50-$60-$70 for a dress and at H&M it’s $20,” Moas said.

There’s no logo, so teens can mix-and-match and feel like they’re creating their own, individual style. While this is good news for young shoppers, it’s bad news for retailers, said Simeon Siegel, an analyst at Nomura.

“Leaving the brand premium means your pricing power probably erodes,” Siegel said.

Siegel said it’s not just Abercrombie that's having problems, but all teen retailers that have relied on brands in the past.

PODCAST: Nashville's parking crisis

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 03:00

In a digital world where our personal data is sometimes passed around like popcorn at the stadium, Apple is getting strict. The Financial Times and the Guardian newspapers are reporting that Apple has told its developers they cannot sell to third parties health data generated by its devices. The tightening of privacy rules comes as Apple is preparing to launch an updated operating system and a new platform for health and fitness. Plus, Alibaba -- known as the Amazon of China or the Paypal of China or the Ebay of China -- is going public this month in what may well be the largest new stock offering in U.S. history. And as any company must, Alibaba will be doing what's called a "road show" - where executives meet with investors to gin up interest.  We take a look at how this road show will be different. And the city of Nashville's urban core is bubbling over with growth, bumping up land prices and gobbling up parking spots. For business owners, this means parking lots are becoming increasingly unaffordable. Enter, on the wings of supply and demand, valet parking companies.

Weekly Wrap: 'Confident but careful' and Snapchat

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 02:39

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal discusses the week that was in business and the economy with Nela Richardson, chief economist at Redfin, and Cardiff Garcia, of FT Alphaville. 

Inside Nashville's valet parking boom

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 02:00

Tyler Ross is a musician who parks cars in his spare time — and for spare change. Shaved head, standard-issue polo shirt, khakis and Ray-Bans to shield the beating sun, he looks like the quintessential valet guy. Having been in the game for about a year, slick rides barely faze him.

"It's always funny because people are like, 'you park Mercedes and BMWs?' And I'm like 'Yeah, I park a hundred of those, they're not nice any more, ya know? I park Aston Martins and Bentleys and stuff,'" says Ross, who personally drives a Toyota Matrix.

Ross is among hundreds of part-time valet workers who have found employment in Nashville's valet boom. In the city's urban core, where Ross mostly works, searching for a spot feels like a treasure hunt, and that spells big opportunity for purveyors of parking assistance.

According to city records, there were a little more than a dozen valet locations in 2011. That number is on track to triple by year's end.

When David Purcell was planning the development of his burger joint Pour House, parking availability wasn't foremost on his mind. But that quickly changed.

"You look at your lot, and you go, 'OK, I have plenty of parking,' until you actually open and look at the space you're trying to fill," Purcell says. Other restaurant owners echoed that: public parking is getting harder and harder to find while, for many business owners, the prospect of purchasing a separate lot is not manageable. So Purcell pays a valet company to take care of it.

"If you own a parking lot, it's a license to print money," Purcell says. "Had to do it all over again, I'd probably be in a different business."

Fred Kane, a land broker with Cassidy Turley, says he hears from restaurant owners all the time who would like to buy land for parking, but it's rarely available. When it is, the price is astronomical — a reflection of steadily rising land values all around Nashville's hip neighborhoods. He recalls selling a piece of land to some investors.

"I go, 'Guys, this is the last $20-a-foot dirt in Nashville,'" Kane says. "Now the stuff around there is $90 to a $100."

Kane says big returns on investment don't come from stand-alone parking garages, so for developers, it's not an easy sell. It's more palatable for an investor when the project is at least partially publicly-financed. Even with some public support, though, lenders consider a parking garage a risky bet.

"Nobody is going to lend them the money to build the $15 million, $20 million parking deck, until the demand is there," Kane says, adding that what drivers perceive as high demand and what banks perceive as high demand are vastly different.

Right now, valets have a big advantage.

Here's how it works:

When a restaurant applies for a permit from the city, the owners have to show how they're going to supply parking. The city generally requires one parking space per 1,000 square feet of floor space. That's not much.

Kane says many restaurants are outsourcing all parking obligations to valet companies. When a business applies for a permit, an owner shows city officials a contract stating that the valet company will handle parking.

When restaurants offload parking to valet companies, parking lot owners get a payday, since they're leasing space. Then Tyler Ross gets a call a to work. The valet boom is great for him, but in the end, it's very much a service industry job.

"The famous 'crumble up the one dollar bill so it looks like you're giving more but it's really one dollar' — yeah, that happens all the time," Ross says.

His wage is like a restaurant server's, based on tips. He says three bucks is the average. "Two sometimes, like, nothing wrong with two," he says.

Catching his breath after parking in a lot about a block away, Ross says the inside of a person's car is a telling portal into their personality.

"Some people are kind of embarrassed about the inside of their car," he says. "But I try not to pay attention to it, because I've seen it all."

Silicon Tally: Charlotte's Web...in your Suzuki

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

Our guest this week is Marketplace senior reporter Stacey Vanek Smith. Smith stops by for one last game before heading off to join our colleagues at NPR's Planet Money. 

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Why you've been getting bonuses, not raises, lately

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 02:00

Good-bye, annual raises. Hello, bonuses?

In its annual U.S. Salary Increase survey, human resources consulting firm Aon Hewitt found performance-based bonuses were nearly 13 percent of payroll this year. That’s the highest percentage in the 35 years the company has conducted it survey.

University of Wisconsin Business Professor Barry Gerhart says there’s an easy explanation why: “If you put the money into salary, it’s there forever. If you give out money in terms of a bonus, people get it that year and have to re-earn it the following year,” he says.

Bosses' love affair with bonuses began pre-Recession, and even if the economy heats up, Gerhart doubts firms will move back to annual across the board. That's because raises carry fewer fixed costs and give companies flexibility.

Wharton Business School economist Iwan Barankay says if businesses rely on bonuses, they should be careful.

“If they are not designed well. The problem is that it leads to an environment where people are gaming the scheme just to maximize their bonus, but not really creating more value to the company,” he says.

Barankay says incentives are like a meal: what you put in determines whether you get what you want.

Summer interns as art installation

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 01:30

The Chicago office of ad agency Havas Worldwide uses its lobby as a gallery, with picture windows facing the street. This summer’s exhibit: The company’s interns, doing their jobs, working around a long black table. Signs in the windows — like the one that said “feeding the interns is permitted and appreciated” — suggested a zoo exhibit as much as performance art.

The interns made out like working in public view was no big deal.

"Like every now and then we’ll look up when there’s like people peering through between the signs, trying to figure out what’s going on," Tori Dubray said.

That might be because they applied for the job — or the right word may be "auditioned" for it — in public.

"This year’s internship program was entirely cast and recruited through Instagram," said Jason Peterson, who runs the 500-person office and designed the internship.

To apply, potential interns posted to Instagram.

"It was a hashtag, Iamheretotakeyourjob," said intern Chris Hainey. That’s I. Am. Here. To. Take. Your. Job. "So, basically you challenged an employee that works here, and kind of posted something on Instagram saying why you would be better-suited for the position."

Hainey posted a stop-motion video — it showed an airplane flying in front of a colorful line of suitcases — with a suggestion that current Havas workers start packing.

Photography student Anna Russett took a different route. Havas offered two internships to people who could show they had more than 50,000 Instagram followers. When we met, she was at 111,000.

"That’s basically my resume," she said. "Showing that I can gain that many followers." 

She applied through a smartphone app called Popular Pays — a startup with offices at Havas. Popular Pays allows users get free stuff from local businesses if they agree to post photos of those rewards to a big enough group of Instagram followers.

"That’s currency," Peterson said, "because I can go into Antique Taco and I can go:  OK,  because I have a thousand followers, I can exchange that currency for a free milkshake."

"You will share that photo with that amount of people," Russett said. "Like, guaranteed."

This prompted a question: "So, you’re saying, like:  I will pimp myself out to a hundred thousand people for a milkshake?"

"Well…" Russett began. 

Peterson interrupted, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. First of all, have you been to Antique Taco? It’s a horchata milkshake? It’s delicious!"

Among the interns’ duties this summer: Coaching Havas employees on making better use of social media.  

Please, tip your waiters

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 00:00

I want you to close your eyes for a Labor Day thought experiment. 

Okay, no. This is not a mattress sale. It's a conversation about work, and what we learn from it.  

Think back to your first job. Maybe the person you were when you earned your first paycheck.

I was in high school in Washington, DC. And I spent my swampy 17-year-old summer working at a sandwich shop and café called A.K.A. Friscos (menu items were named for different places in San Francisco).

In rapid and terrifying order, I learned to prep food, slap together sandwiches for hostile, hungry journalists (the café was across the street from the local CBS affiliate), run the cash register, and bus tables.

We were quick, we were friendly, we cored lettuce with remarkable dexterity (I can still do it).

And I picked up a few lessons that stick with me.

1)      Work ethic matters. There’s simply no substitute for it. The shop’s assistant manager, Mesfin, had the most impressive work ethic I’ve ever seen. He was supporting a wife and a new baby while running the café, managing catering orders, helping open a new location, and supervising the high school kid…me.

2)      Laugh. Things invariably go wrong. Really, really wrong. Like mistaking-one-spice-for-another-in-the-chili wrong. I wish I could tell my younger self to laugh at these things instead of crying over them or getting mad. Chalk that one up to a lesson perhaps only learned with time.

3)      Tip. Like just about anyone who’s waited tables, I tip egregiously. In part because I was always shocked by the messes people left behind. But also because I think we don’t, as a society, place enough value on the work done in the service sector. Being on your feet and being pleasant can be hard, hard work. When I look at the growth in low wage jobs post-recession, I really worry. Hence, I continue to tip.

Just about everyone has a story or two from their first job. Love it, hate it, I bet you still carry it somewhere inside you. Come tell us about it. I’m @lizzieohreally, and the show is @marketplacewknd.

I might even make you a sandwich. 

NFL Lays Out New Penalty For Domestic Violence: 6-Game Suspension

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 15:19

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell described the change in a letter to team owners. The league was criticized for suspending Ray Rice for only two games after his arrest on domestic violence charges.

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Obama Says U.S. Will Aid Iraqis Who Are Marooned On Mount Sinjar

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 14:42

President Obama announced that he has authorized a humanitarian mission to aid religious minorities stranded on Mount Sinjar in Iraq. Airstrikes will be a component of that mission.

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'We Don't Have A Strategy Yet' On Islamic State, Obama Says

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 13:59

But at a news conference, the president said the Sunni militant group was continuing to lose arms and equipment because of targeted U.S. strikes against its members in Iraq.

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Co-working gains steam, so is the business behind it

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 13:55

For telecommuters putting in too many hours in a coffee shop or at your dining room table, there's co-working. There are more than 3,000 co-working spaces around the world, six times as many as there were just four years ago. But as business ventures go, a lot of these modern shared work spaces are short-lived.  

Think of it like a gym membership, only for your office. Pay a fee — daily or monthly — and you get a desk, a phone, maybe a meeting space. Bonus: You still get the buzz of being around other working professionals.

Steve King, partner at Emergent Research, a consulting firm that tracks the co-working industry, says don't expect co-working to go away anytime soon.

"They haven't peaked yet," he says. "It's an industry that continues to grow very rapidly. It's not a very old industry." 

The economy has left more people working on their own, and looking for a decent work space. As companies scale back, they're less willing to sign on to long-term leases.

"They can expand or shrink as they need to because they're basically paying month-to-month," he says.

Plus, King says, working from home has its challenges. Namely, distractions.

"You know, they take the dog for a walk or they start snacking, or there's a repeat of 'Gilligan's Island' on TV that they want to watch," says King.

However, King says like any new industry, co-working has a pretty high degree of churn. 

"Churn is a nice way of saying a lot of businesses go out of business," King says.

Last year, Atticus Rominger helped launch SocialVenture, a co-working space that used to be a warehouse in in Birmingham, Alabama. You can pay $175 a month for a desk or $375 a month for a private office. He says after doing a little research, his company found plenty of people interested in renting space.

"But we also found a lot of people who'd kicked the tires on co-working for many years and never really kind of took the bait," Rominger says.

In the last five years or so, at least three other co-working spaces in Birmingham have come and gone. Rominger says at SocialVenture, renting out desks hasn't been a problem. But creating a co-working culture — where there's a close-knit group of workers collaborating and bouncing ideas off of each other — is a different story.  

"And that's something that we're going to really just have to grow into as we balance the desire to have this active and close co-working community with the realities of having a mortgage and operating a real estate venture," he says.

In other words, Rominger says, the priority now for his co-working space is to find a profitable business model.

That energy and feel-good vibe can come later.

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