National News

Saudis Grow Increasing Critical Of The Campaign Against ISIS

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 11:48

Prince Turki al-Faisal, the ex-Saudi intelligence chief, says the 'pinprick' attacks against the Islamic State are not proving effective. He also says the campaign needs to be better coordinated.

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U.S., Turkey Reach Agreement To Train, Equip Some Syrian Rebels

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 11:15

A defense official tells NPR that the rebels will be vetted and screened under top secret protocols. Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will also be part of the effort.

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The "side business" phenomenon in Nigeria

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 11:01

"You’re supposed to hold something."

"Hold what?" I reply naively.

"A sample, you're supposed to hold a sample of what you're selling."

Amaka was wondering what a reporter holding a microphone was doing hanging around Onitsha Main Market, neither buying nor selling. She looked at me with pity, as if to say, "if you don't even know about samples, you have a lot learn."  I had been at the market for less than five minutes, and someone was already trying to get the measure of what my business was about.

There's plenty to learn about Nigeria from Onitsha in Anambra State, which sits just on the banks of the River Niger in the southeast. Something like three million people flock here everyday, and some call it the biggest market in the world. They come from across the region, to buy everything from high end mobile phones to low tech plastic containers.

Everything is for sale, every price to be haggled, and everyone is involved. Take the market and replicate the buying and selling across millions of homes and offices across Nigeria.

Every Nigerian is familiar with the concept of the side hustle - a business on the side. This is a country where everyone has a start up in their front room, including my mother. I'll never forget coming home from school to find the entire living and dining area stacked floor to ceiling with cartons of sunflower oil for sale. And it was my grandmother who'd taught my mum that if you were lucky enough to have a salaried job, that was just pocket money. The real money came from your five to nine.

On the surface, Nigeria may not seem like a country that can teach the world much about how to do business. Elections have been postponed because of the insurgency raging in the northeast. Corruption is still a huge problem. Government revenues depend on the oil and gas industry, which benefits the few.

But Onitsha shows that the Nigerian economy is finding other lubricants.

Innocent Chukwuma is a very successful businessman. He owns five different manufacturing companies around the South East, and is very optimistic about Nigeria’s future. And looking out over his sprawling complex just down the road in Enugu, it’s easy to see why. The government gave him land to expand his business; I reckon he's the largest private sector employer in Enugu state. 4300 people work at the plastics plant we visited.

"In Africa today anyone who can invest in manufacturing in a short time you'll make money as you want," says Innocent, who's softly spoken and understated.

 In the time that we talk, he signs more than twenty checks and banks transfer orders worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Innocent started small. He was a spare parts trader in his native Nnewi. he had graduated from turning his brother's spare parts side business to establishing his own import venture. As the prices of motorcycles coming in from Japan increased in the 1980s, he noticed something about the way they were shipped. They were coming in by barge in containers. And being a spare parts trader he recognized that a motorcycle is made up of individual parts. And so, he thought, if he imported the motorcycle in pieces it would take up a lot less space in the shipping container. And he was right. At the time importers could fit about 40 pre-assembled motorcycles in a single shipping container. But as individual parts, Innocent could fit more than 200 motorcycles in each container. Innocent now had a significant advantage over his competitors; he could sell his motorcycles for much less.

Another advantage he had over his competitors was the cost of labor in Nigeria being relatively cheap. A factory worker in Nigeria would earn around $500 a month. He explains, "when I brought the first one I called the local people, and gave them small training, they assembled it perfectly and the price was cheaper."

Much cheaper in fact, "When they are selling for about 150,000 [naira] for one motorcycle I sold my own for 80,000."

Innocent's bikes were nearly half the price of his competitors. He sold three containers worth of motorcycles in about three months.

"So I went back and brought about 10 containers, and the 10 containers took me about one month to finish."

By the time he had the process down he was buying 200 containers. But Innocent's advantage didn’t last forever, soon everyone was copying his strategy.

"Back then the price crashed to 60,000 but when I saw that the price had come down and then everybody was doing it. That’s why I build this plastic plant."

Motorcycles were just the beginning for Innocent. He had another realization, that he could manufacture some of the motorcycle parts himself. Specifically the plastic parts.

Innocent now makes all kinds of products. His motorcycle business has expanded to cars and buses. His plastics plants now manufacture tables, chairs, water drums, plates, boxes for electricity meters, and much else. And he believes anyone can follow his lead in Africa, which he refers to as a virgin place for entrepreneurs.

Innocent's optimism is infectious. It's easy to get swept up in the euphoria of success. But business in Nigeria is not easy.

Back in Onitsha market it's also a microcosm of the obstacles entrepreneurs face every day. The day I was there the traders were protesting against a new levy. The trade association decided to charge for a cctv system, which the traders said the state governor had given them for free. It’s the sort of surprise cost that wrecks a business plan.

But corruption is not even the biggest problem in Nigeria. Other countries have thrived despite corruption, and Nigeria shouldn't be different.

The lights go out constantly, and nobody bats an eyelid or feigns surprise. Everyone just carries on. Nigeria may be Africa’s biggest oil exporter. But according to one estimate it generates only enough electricity to power a single toaster for every 44 people.

People make do with diesel generators. Which are costly. And that even applies to big factories. Innocent  showed me his electricity bill for the plastics plant, 40 million naira a month, "I spend 60 million on diesel every month."

He also proudly showed off his collection of secondhand old generators, which he said were built stronger in the past than now.

For Innocent,  the high cost of energy is a necessary part of doing business in Nigeria. But it puts a real brake on what entrepreneurs can achieve. A recent privatization of the national power company offers hope for the future. But for now it takes the shine off Nigeria as a place to do business.

The people I met but they are not put off by these obstacles. If you walk into some shops in Nigeria, there's a sign which reads, "no credit today, come back tomorrow." If you keep waiting for the perfect conditions in which to do business, you'll never make it.

British Fighter Jets Escort Russian Bombers Away From Coast Of U.K.

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 10:58

British Typhoon warplanes were scrambled after Russian military aircraft skirted England. The incident comes after the U.K. criticized Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

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2 Major Cyclones Are Lashing 2 Parts Of Australia

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 10:43

Cyclone Lam came ashore as a Category 4 storm and Marcia is expected to make landfall as a Category 5 storm with wind gusts of up to 177 mph.

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A Wet And Wild Look Inside The 'Mushroom Houses' Of A Fungi Farm

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:55

Foraging for wild, edible fungi may be a growing trend. But most of the mushrooms we eat come from farms – and a behind-the-scenes look at one of them turns out to be pretty exciting on its own.

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Just A Bit Of DNA Helps Explain Humans' Big Brains

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:48

Scientists have found some human DNA that, when added to mice, makes their brains bigger. But as DNA research into human brains goes forward, are there ethical lines we shouldn't cross?

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Humana Discloses Widening Justice Dept. Probe Of Medicare Advantage Plans

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:37

Privately run Medicare Advantage plans offer seniors an alternative to standard Medicare. The plans are paid monthly fees based on complex risk formulas that are drawing federal scrutiny.

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As CBS' 'Two And Half Men' Ends, Questions On How It Lasted So Long

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:22

CBS' Two and Half Men ends a 12-season run tonight as TV's longest-running multicamera sitcom. NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans says some experts still struggle to explain the show's longtime success.

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Wal-Mart's wage increase isn't only for good PR

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:04

Wal-Mart announced on Thursday it would give a raise to some 500,000 of its lowest-wage employees. It will make a big difference to those workers, but the company isn't spending $1 billion merely for the PR, or to mollify its labor force.

Michael Noel, associate professor of economics at Texas Tech, says it's a matter of retaining employees in a more competitive job market. "You will see more companies do this, because it is that time," says Noel. "The economy is improving, and when the economy improves, wages improve."

Zeynep Ton, adjunct associate professor of operations management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, says it's also a matter of improving the store experience.

David Schick, managing director of equity research for retail at Stifel, says this is why he suggested in a note last week that Wal-Mart invest more in its stores, even at the cost of lower earnings. 

This kind of trade-off isn't always viewed as a good idea by shareholders, many of whom are focused on short term movements in the company's stock price. "There's a leap of faith that if you raise wages or costs to running your business that there will be an outcome that's better for the business," says Schick.

Employees take on the Wal-Mart wage increase

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:04

If you work at Wal-Mart, today’s news may be encouraging. About half a million employees will get an hourly raise to $9 dollars an hour, and next year, it will go up to $10 an hour. A lot of people are doing the math, wondering what kind of difference that could make.

At a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Dayton, Ohio, a part-time associate in the apparel section makes $8.10 an hour, the minimum wage in Ohio.

“Right now, it’s just pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck,” says Kelly Sallee, who has worked for the company for about eight months. That is barely enough to cover her bills. Sallee is part of a group called OUR Wal-mart, which has been pushing Wal-Mart to raise its wages, and she expects her hourly wage will go up by 90 cents.

Sallee, who is 22 years old, is engaged and eager to start a family, and Sallee says she and her fiancé already know what they would do with more money. “We would save up for a car,” she says. “We would be able to pay car insurance.” Sallee could stop taking the bus to work.

According to Arin Dube, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Wal-Mart’s decision could make a difference – especially to employees who are making the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour. “We are talking about a thousand or two thousand dollars, maybe, for some of the more effected workers,” he says.

Dube says there is evidence that when minimum-wage workers see their wages rise, they start saving.

Amy Glasmeier is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has spent a lot of time studying poverty issues and what constitutes a living wage, and she says even a modest increase matters.

“A family member getting sick, a car needing a repair, a dollar is going to add up,” she explains. “A 10 percent increase is a 10 percent increase.”

But for many Wal-Mart workers who live around the federal poverty line – about $12,000 for a single person – that increase is likely to provide only some solace. 

“It’s moving from the bottom to, you know, a shade above the bottom,” says David Neumark, who directs the Center for Economics and Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine.

Now, Wal-Mart says this pay bump is significant, and it is going to cost the company around $1 billion a year.

Visitors bureau in Ithaca wins at marketing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:04

Earlier this week, the website for the visitors bureau in Ithaca, New York, a city currently buried under several feet of snow, knew enough was enough.

They put a picture of the beaches of the Florida Keys on their homepage with a line that read, "That's it. We surrender. Winter, you win. Key West anyone?".

The site's back to normal now, but the bureau's director said to the Ithaca Journal that it was a way to stay engaged with customers at a time when Upstate New York isn't exactly top of mind.

Due to the cold weather is now encouraging people to visit Key West instead. @VisitIthaca

— Brian Carberry (@CNNBrian) February 16, 2015

Obama Calls The Idea That The West Is At War With Islam 'An Ugly Lie'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:03

"The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie and all of us — regardless of our faith — have a responsibility to reject it," President Obama said at a summit on violent extremism.

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10 things you probably didn't know about the Oscars

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:00

It’s that time of the year again: the 87th Academy Awards ceremony will take place at the Dolby Theatre this Sunday. Hollywood’s biggest stars will walk across 500 feet of red carpet in their designer suits and gowns to the industry’s biggest night – in hopes of winning the most recognized trophy in the world, the Oscar.

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke to Joseph Petree, the Design Director at R.S. Owens & Company, about manufacturing the golden statuette.

10 fun facts about the Oscars:

  1. The Oscar statuette was originally named the Academy Award of Merit. Although it is unclear where the nickname comes from, the most widely known myth is that the Academy’s librarian saw the statue and said it looked like her Uncle Oscar. The Academy officially adopted the nickname in 1939.
  2. The first Oscar was awarded in 1929 to Emil Jannings, named Best Actor for his performances in “The Last Command” and “The Way of All Flesh.”
  3. About 270 people attended the first official Academy Awards at the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and tickets cost $5 each. 
  4. An Oscar statuette stands 13½ inches tall and weighs in at 8½ pounds.
  5. The Oscar statuette was designed by Cedric Gibbons, chief art director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and sculpted by Los Angeles artist George Stanley.
  6. The statuette is a figure of a knight holding a crusader's sword standing on a reel of film with five spokes signifying the five original branches of the Academy: actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers.
  7. The first televised Academy Awards show was on March 19, 1953. 
  8. R. S. Owens & Company in Chicago has manufactured the Oscar statuette since 1983.
  9. Each Oscar takes about 8-10 hours to make. R.S. Owens & Company manufactures about 50-60 Oscar statuettes per year.
  10. The Oscar statuette has more gold on it than any other trophy.

Quiz: College tuition for the asking

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 07:30

Researchers at Columbia University estimate that two-thirds of community college students would qualify for federal grants, but not all of them apply.

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Hot KISS Buns Are Headed For Store Shelves In Japan

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 06:58

They're dark and intense — and starting next week, a limited number of them will be sold in stores in Japan. Official name? Spicy Chili Tomatoman.

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Wal-Mart Gives 500,000 Employees A Pay Raise

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 06:36

The retailer says starting in April, thousands of full and part time employees will make $9.00 an hour.

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India's Kerala Has It All: Beauty, Bananas, Long Life, Girl Power

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 05:40

President Obama praised the Indian state last month for good reason. It's got beaches, backwaters and the country's longest life expectancy and highest literacy rate. Plus, girls outnumber boys!

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Walmart's way to growth

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 05:30

Walmart scored low marks in a survey of major U.S. retailers released Wednesday. The American Customer Satisfaction Index says the retail giant came in below competitors like Target and Family Dollar.

Walmart’s earnings paint a somewhat rosier picture of its performance. On Thursday, the company reported pulling in $1.61 a share in the fourth quarter — higher than the predicted $1.53 — but still fell short on earnings with a reported $131.6 billion.

Analysts say Walmart may try to accelerate growth in some key areas, like e-commerce, where it has made big strides.  

“Those companies investing in mobile, like Walmart is, seem to be pulling ahead of the competitive set,” says Sucharita Mulpuru is a retail analyst with Forrester Research.

Another growth area: Walmart's smaller store format, called  Neighborhood Market stores.  

But consumer research analyst Brian Yarbrough with Edward Jones is skeptical about how much those growth areas can boost Walmart’s bottom line. He says supercenters are still the main drivers of operating income. 

“If the U.S. supercenters are still just kind of mulling along and not gaining steam,” he says, “they're really not going to be able to show any kind of earnings growth and revenue growth at the overall Walmart company.”

Yarbrough says that picture will be hard to change as shoppers turn increasingly to low-cost competitors like dollar stores.

Part of the problem, he says, is that Walmart is a mature retailer.

"It's difficult to grow when you're this big," he says.


Ousted Thai Leader Charged With Negligence, Could Face Jail

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 05:07

If she's found guilty of negligence, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could be jailed for 10 years. She was removed from office last May.

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