National News

Waiting for a big break in Germany's new economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 11:21

Felicitas Sonnenberg is a waitress with dark hair and bright eyes, and works at a trendy restaurant in Berlin where business people go for a nice lunch.

Krissy Clark/Marketplace

As she darts from table to table, she takes customers’ orders with a pen and pad of paper she keeps tucked in a black, polka-dotted belt strapped around her waist. It holds not just her order pad, but, she hopes, her ticket to making it in the German economy.

A little context. Maybe when you think of the German economy, certain things come to mind: good pay, lots of vacation, strong social-safety net, perhaps something about precise German engineering.

For many years, those clichés were pretty accurate. Precise German engineering led to lots of well-made German products like cars, engines and industrial machines, built by lots of well-paid German workers — who could be so well-paid because their well-made products were in demand around the world. Germany called it their “economic miracle,” or Wirtschaftswunder, and it led to the companion doctrine of Wholstand Für Alle, which translates to “prosperity for all.” 

“That was the promise after the Second World War, that we will have a strong economy but that the profits will be shared so everyone can profit from the growth,” says Peter Bofinger, an economic adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But the shifts in the German economy brought on by unification and globalization have called the promise of shared prosperity into question, says Bofinger. “We have seen in the last twenty years more or less a stagnation of living standards for the wide majority of the population.”

Along with those fears has come a new German reality, a rise in the number of working poor. Many well-paid manufacturing jobs in Germany have gone overseas, or to European countries with lower labor costs, leaving behind more temporary, part-time and low-paying work in Germany.

And that is where waitress Felicitas Sonnenberg comes in. Sonnenberg makes 8.50 euro an hour, about the equivalent of $9.65 in the United States.

Waitresses, taxi drivers, hairdressers and workers in other kinds of service industries make up a large share of Germany's new working poor. Pay has gotten low enough in many of these industries in early 2015 Germany established a minimum wage for the first time ever.

In the case of Sonnenberg, the boost she got when the minimum wage kicked in still wasn’t enough for her to make ends meet.

“It would be wonderful to live with my money — what I earn in my job,” she says. “But it's not enough without help of the state.”

Sonnenberg is separated from her husband, raising two young children on her own. She gets some aid from the government that goes toward rent and daycare, and she says she is grateful for it. But in recent years Germany, long known for a strong social-safety net, has been rethinking how much to spend on that net. Sonnenberg says she can feel the scrutiny when she goes to her local welfare office.

“They were treating me like somebody who doesn't want to work — who only wants to get the money of the state, “ she says. “And I am not like that.”

Sonnenberg works part time right now, but she says as a single mom even that can be a tough balancing act. Once she is home from work, her children are eager for her attention. Bath time, dinner time, homework, bedtime, “Everything has to be done in a certain way, to finish in time to bring the children to bed at 9 o’clock,” she says.

But after the kids are in bed, Sonnenberg gets busy making plans for her future.

That black dotted belt she was wearing at the restaurant, to keep her pen and order pad? She designed and made it herself, after feeling frustrated with the standard money belts that most German wait staff use.

Krissy Clark/Marketplace

She has shopped her design around to people in the fashion industry and received coaching from state-funded agencies on how to prototype and trademark the design. “I want to produce this and have my own company,” she says.

She already has the trademark certificate framed, hanging in a narrow hallway in her apartment. “This is my office,” she says with a laugh.

Krissy Clark/Marketplace

Sonnenberg says she has told the welfare agency about her efforts to start her own business; she says she was warned it might be too much for a single mother, and that maybe she should stick to waitressing. And so she says she is torn, between the income she makes now, and taking a risk to make more. 

“I am believing in my product because I love it and I use it every day, and I think that there is really a need of this thing,” she says. “But I have a fear to go into the business market, because I feel so little.”

Yet, little creative start-up businesses like Sonnenberg's are being touted by German politicians as one of the best new hopes for the German economy.

As scared as Sonnenberg is, she is also hopeful.

“I always said when I really found my company, I will open a bottle of Champagne — but I never did it, because you never know when, when is the real start,” she says.

Because even with her framed trademark certificate and her prototypes, Sonnenberg says it's hard to know when you've really made it in the German economy these days.

What Do Conservatives Want For 2016? We Asked

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 11:08

Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference say they want the next president to focus on bipartisanship, faith, security and lower taxes.

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What happens at Netflix when House of Cards goes live

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 11:06

Update Feb. 27, 2015: Well, here we are a little over a year later and "House of Cards" Season 3 is up on Netflix. We can't promise this is exactly how things went down this time around (there was that slight hiccup this year when the season accidentally got released early) but it's safe to say someone called in sick to work today to be the next super-binger.

Original story: Feb. 14, 2014

The new world of Internet TV is really geeky.

I spent some time in the Netflix war room last night, as the company debuted the second season of its smash hit series, "House of Cards." The war room is a conference room with big table in the middle, and as we approached midnight, a bunch of engineers were crouched over their laptops.

Jeremy Edberg, Netflix’s reliability architect, was one of them.

"So when the clock hits 12, the first thing I’m going to be doing is looking at our dashboards to see if anybody is playing the show," Edberg said.

If nobody is playing "House of Cards," that means there’s a problem. Unlike traditional TV, people now use hundreds of different devices to go online. And last night, the engineers were there to make sure "House of Cards" would play on every one of them.

Netflix monitors House of Cards mentions on social media during the season two launch in 2014.

Courtesy of Netflix

"We’ve probably got sitting around the room an X-Box, a Play Station, Nintendo, Apple devices, Android devices and a couple of different TVs from our partner manufacturers," Edberg said.

The engineers can tell, in real time, how many people are streaming the show on these devices, where they are and who’s binging. Edberg said the last time "House of Cards" launched, the engineers figured out the entire season was about 13 hours.

"We looked to [see]  if anybody was finishing in that amount of time," Edberg said. "And there was one person who finished with just three minutes longer than there is content. So basically, three total minutes of break in roughly 13 hours."

That’s right, of its 40 million subscribers around the world, Netflix was able the find the one super binger. Netflix spokesman Joris Evers said Netflix knows everything about your viewing habits.

Netflix knows who's watching the show and in what quantities.

Courtesy of Netflix

"'House of Cards' was obviously a big bet for Netflix," Joris said. "But it was a calculated bet because we knew Netflix members like political dramas, that they like serialized dramas. That they are fans of Kevin Spacey, that they like David Fincher."

Evers said Netflix uses this data when it decides on which original program to buy.

"We monitor what you watch, how often you watch things," Evers said. "Does a movie have a happy ending, what’s the level of romance, what's the level of violence, is it a cerebral kind of movie or is it light and funny?"

Netflix’s move into original programming is all about taking viewers from other media companies, especially HBO, said Brad Adgate, an analyst at Horizon Media.

He says Netflix has more subscribers than HBO, but when it comes to making money, Netflix is David to HBO’s Goliath. But Adgate says, Netflix does have its slingshot.

A scene from the Netflix War Room during 2014.

Courtesy of Netflix

"I think right now Netflix does have a competitive advantage over HBO because of the analytics," Adgate said.

Networks like HBO still rely, on large part, on Nielsen data. But the information Netflix gets is much more textured, granular — and valuable.

"And I think that’s where television and streaming video is headed — but I think right now streaming video is in the lead," Adgate said. That said, he added, it’s just a matter of time before HBO and other premium channels catch up.

In The South, Way More People Are Identifying As Both Black And White

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 10:12

Data from the 2010 Census show that the number is rising fastest in Southern states, and among toddlers.

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5 Quotes From Earl Lloyd, The First Black Player In The NBA

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 10:00

Earl Lloyd, who died Thursday, once recalled telling a young man who thanked him for blazing a trail, "Man, you owe me absolutely nothing."

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5 Quotes From Earl Lloyd, The First Black Player In The NBA

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 10:00

Earl Lloyd, who died Thursday, once recalled telling a young man who thanked him for blazing a trail, "Man, you owe me absolutely nothing."

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Families Of ISIS Victims React To Identification Of 'Jihadi John'

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:52

The family of Steven Sotloff said they hoped the man identified as Mohammed Emzawi is brought to justice. The daughter of aid worker David Haines said she wanted a "bullet between ... [his] eyes."

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Families Of ISIS Victims React To Identification Of 'Jihadi John'

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:52

The family of Steven Sotloff said they hoped the man identified as Mohammed Emzawi is brought to justice. The daughter of aid worker David Haines said she wanted a "bullet between ... [his] eyes."

» E-Mail This

When Food Is Too Good To Waste, College Kids Pick Up The Scraps

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:51

Millions of tons of food are wasted on college campuses around the country, and students are noticing. Some of them are now rescuing food to make tasty meals for the needy and compost for gardens.

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When Food Is Too Good To Waste, College Kids Pick Up The Scraps

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:51

Millions of tons of food are wasted on college campuses around the country, and students are noticing. Some of them are now rescuing food to make tasty meals for the needy and compost for gardens.

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Finding the natural in natural flavors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:39

Unless you grow or hunt all your own food, chances are you've encountered natural flavors in things you eat. According to a study by the Environmental Working Group, "natural flavor" is now the fourth most common ingredient in food after salt, water, and sugar.

So, what are natural flavors? Why are they seemingly in everything? And if they are so natural, why don't ingredient labels list what they are? These questions come from Marketplace listener Jean Beach.

Since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, Beach has been diligently checking ingredient labels. She sees natural flavors everywhere. On the iced tea she drinks, the ingredient list reads water, natural flavors, and then tea, which means there's more natural flavoring in Beach's tea than actual tea.

When it comes to flavors, Lisa Lefferts with the Center for Science in the Public Interest says there are a lot of mysteries, and calls the flavor industry a “big black box.” Lefferts says a flavor ingredient can be some combination of about 2,300 possible substances. 

By reading the ingredient label, customers can tell if the flavor is artificial or natural. Artificial flavors are entirely man-made — chemicals synthesized to deliver a particular taste. Natural flavors are processed from a substance initially found in nature, but those substances can vary widely.

Take castoreum, for instance. “Castoreum is a natural flavor extracted from the anal castor sacs of beavers,” Lefferts says, “and it's used to help create a vanilla or occasionally a fruity taste. So, in other words, vanilla flavor doesn't necessarily come from the vanilla bean.”

Okay, you are probably not eating castoreum, it's expensive and primarily used in fragrances. Most natural flavors come from more obvious sources like herbs and fruit.

The problem Lefferts says, is that flavors are not real food. “The main reason to be concerned about flavors, whether they are natural or artificial, is that when they are in there, you can be pretty sure that something real and nutritious has been left out,” she says.

But raw ingredients can be tricky. They may be expensive, or spoil. In packaged food, they may not even taste right, says John Hallagan. He' s with the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association. Hallagan says “You can't achieve the same flavor sensation from just putting strawberries in a bottle and mixing water in. It's not going to taste like strawberry to you.”

So, companies craft their own strawberry flavors — maybe they mix in a little fruit extract with some compounds processed from other plants, even trees. 

Sue Ebeler, a food scientist and professor at the University of California Davis, says a few drops of the right ingredients can make a big impact on flavor. We're talking about parts per trillion, she says, just a few molecules in an entire swimming pool.

Ebeler says advances in science have helped companies understand which molecules influence taste. A gas chromatograph could break down the flavor components of a substance to help replicate it.

So, why not explain what natural flavors are on ingredient labels? For one thing, Well, companies want to keep their special formulas secret — plus what sounds more appetizing: Things like beaver castor sacs and a long list of chemicals, or natural flavor?

“Putting the word natural anywhere there gives you an aura,” Marsha Cohen says. Cohen is a professor at the UC Hastings College of Law, and says when it comes to selling food, she says, it's all about the aura.

I call Jean Beach back to tell her what I've found out. She's not impressed by the “natural aura."

Beach says she feels less comfortable about natural flavors, and would like to avoid them altogether. Problem is, they're in so many things.

Parents Choose A Simple Device To Reshape A Baby's Ear

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:07

Sometimes a baby's outer ear may be a tad misshapen. Surgery can help later on, but a plastic mold makes the most of the fact that a newborn's ears are pliable. They can reshape within weeks.

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Parents Choose A Simple Device To Reshape A Baby's Ear

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:07

Sometimes a baby's outer ear may be a tad misshapen. Surgery can help later on, but a plastic mold makes the most of the fact that a newborn's ears are pliable. They can reshape within weeks.

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Your Wallet: What's broken in your community?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:05

This week we want to know about infrastructure in your community. How are your sidewalks, bridges, or hospitals?

Talk to us the way you might in a town hall. What's broken in your community, in your home, and what's stopping the fix?

Is it money?

We want to hear you stories. Send us an email, or reach us on Twitter, @MarketplaceWKND

John Boehner doesn't enjoy congressmen wearing jeans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:53

Speaker of the House John Boehner, second in line for the presidency, is not at all happy with the way things are going in Congress.

No, not the whole gridlock thing.

Let's just say there's no such thing as casual Friday in Congress. Boehner gave a dress code reminder during the last votes Wednesday.

"Members should wear appropriate attire during all sittings of the House however brief their appearances on the floor may be," he said, according to the Hill. "You know who you are."

Boehner also reiterated House rules against taking photos, and reminded lawmakers to show up for votes on time.

No word about bringing snowballs in the chamber though. 

John Boehner doesn't congressmen wearing jeans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:53

Speaker of the House John Boehner, second in line for the presidency, is not at all happy with the way things are going in Congress.

No, not the whole gridlock thing.

Let's just say there's no such thing as casual Friday in Congress. Boehner gave a dress code reminder during the last votes Wednesday.

"Members should wear appropriate attire during all sittings of the House however brief their appearances on the floor may be," he said, according to the Hill. "You know who you are."

Boehner also reiterated House rules against taking photos, and reminded lawmakers to show up for votes on time.

No word about bringing snowballs in the chamber though. 

Fun Fact Friday: It's a soupy mess

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:53

Cardiff Garcia from the blog FT Alphaville and Linette Lopez from Business Insider wrap up the week in news. What's more? Some fun facts to hold you over through the weekend.

Fun fact: Campbell reported a less-than-impressive second-quarter profit of $312 million

The soup company warned investors in advance that the number was going to be low given the strong dollar. However, future plans to restructure the company may be an inclination as to why their profits were down this time around.

Campbell tries a new recipe for success

Fun fact: Pebble Time broke a Kickstarter record by raising over $10 million in just two days.

Pebble's new wearable faces heavy competition from the Apple Watch. If you're curious, the record-breaking Kickstarter company isn't bothered.

Pebble Time breaks Kickstarter's record

Fun fact: Baltimore has embarked on a $1.5 billion program to replace and rebuild it's sewage system.

Our month-long water series, Water: The Price of Cheap, has come to an end, but the #WaterLog problems are still here. This week we visited Baltimore Harbor, once considered "the toilet of the city," and uncovered it's host city's lengthy history with an ageing sewage system.

Baltimore sewers: time bombs buried under the streets

Fun fact: Since July 2013, San Diego County Office of Education has spent nearly $900,000 on computers, printers and software for its secure juvenile facilities.

It's taken a significant culture shift to get the kids incarcerated in the San Diego Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility modern technology required for learning in this digital age. And the benefits have exceeded all possible belief. 

Unlocking the digital classroom for kids in lock up

Tallying the economic winners of the status quo

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:53

Senator Jim Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor on Thursday, to show in his words that global warming is a “hoax,” and stands as the latest example of policy gridlock on this topic. 

But paralysis does not mean all economic actors stand still. Incumbent sectors win, in this case, fossil fuels.

Andy Hoffman of the University of Michigan says climate change “represents a market shift. Some will win, some will lose. Keeping things confused, that’s how you create paralysis.”

Creating paralysis is an active process, says Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes. “A whole network of people who have worked for more than twenty years now to prevent action, because action threatens their interests and it also threatens their ideology," he says. 

Record industry fights piracy with new global release day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:53

Record companies typically release new albums on different days of the week, based on what country you live in. In the United States it's Tuesday, in Germany it's Friday and in England, it's Monday. 

In a move to cut down on illegal file-sharing between countries, the music industry is now setting on a standard global release day, Friday, which is expected to go into effect later this summer.

But, if there is one thing we know about consumers, it’s that they want what they want and they want it now — and that goes triple for music.

“In that age of social media there is an obvious consumer frustration, when a consumer knows that maybe a big release has been made in one country but they can't get it in another,” says Adrian Strain, a spokesman for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a trade group representing record labels. 

He points out that a common release day would cut down on piracy, as well as appeal to would-be customers.

“You know we did some consumer research in seven countries, and we found that when music fans are asked when they want music to come out, they say Friday or Saturday,” says Strain.

But lately, the 'release day rule' has already lost favor. Taylor Swift released her new album, "1989," on a Monday to boost first-week sales.

The fact that the industry is still playing by the 20th Century rules and worrying about release dates should give you an indication of where their heads are at,” says Greg Kot.

Kot covers music for the Chicago Tribune in addition to co-hosts the radio program, Sound Opinions on WBEZ. He says release dates are a throwback to the days when record labels would promote new albums months in advance to drive physical sales, which are less important in the iTunes era.

“Increasingly you're seeing artists, even veteran artists like David Bowie to Beyoncé to Drake, who are relatively new artists, are doing this, where they're basically just putting records out when they're done,” says Kot.

Kot says having a common release could make it easier to manage global marketing campaigns for certain mega stars, but for most artists the calendar just doesn’t matter

What net neutrality might mean for 'House of Cards'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:52

The FCC issued its much-awaited ruling on net neutrality Thursday, declaring that broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon have to treat all internet users the same. What does this decision mean for content providers like Netflix?

As of 3 a.m. Friday, season three of "House of Cards" was available for streaming, all 13 hours of it, ready for weekend binge watching.  But should that video start to shudder or buffer,  it can be tough for consumers to know why.  

“What the FCC is doing is saying for the very first time, ‘We’re going to be looking hard' at what broadband providers are doing to squeeze the connection between their own networks and outside networks,” says Susan Crawford, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard.

In other words: “There’s a cop on the beat now.”

Crawford views this increased regulation as a win for consumers, but Richard Bennett, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, thinks if the FCC’s reporting requirements are too burdensome, it could slow the rate at which internet service providers are able to grow their networks.

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