National News

Senate Confirms Ashton Carter As Defense Secretary

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 10:49

Carter will take over the Pentagon for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Carter served as the No. 2 defense official under Leon Panetta.

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Gardener's Twofer: First Ketchup 'N' Fries Plant Hits U.S. Market

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 10:34

British horticulturalists have figured out how to graft a tomato plant onto a potato plant. This plant, called Ketchup 'N' Fries, has crossed the pond and is now available to gardeners in the U.S.

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'Community' Actor Ken Jeong Might Be Getting His Own Show

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 10:12

ABC recently green lighted a sitcom starring the doctor-turned-actor Ken Jeong, who will play a frustrated MD in Dr. Ken.

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From Facebook To A Virtual You: Planning Your Digital Afterlife

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 10:00

Whether you appoint a postmortem account manager or opt for "virtual immortality," new online tools help us navigate how we will preserve our digital footprint after death.

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Average Costco customer makes six figures

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-12 09:37

American Express CEO Ken Chennault held an unscheduled call with analysts today to warn everybody that AmEx's credit-card partnership with warehouse retailer Costco is going to expire next year.

AmEx shares lost 6.5 percent as a result.

Most interesting factoid of the whole story?

The average Costco customer has an income of $100,000 a year.

This might hurt a bit: The downside of Ukraine's IMF loan

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-12 09:37

Two major developments regarding Ukraine were announced Thursday. The first is a fragile ceasefire with the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, and the second is an expanded loan program from the International Monetary Fund. 

"If you asked me which of the two deals are more important, it' s probably the IMF deal, because the IMF deal is more likely to stick," says Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a research and consulting firm.

The package requires difficult reforms to combat corruption, reduce public spending and – most critically – reform the country's energy sector. Many of these conditions will have to be met up front, and approved by Ukrainian legislators, says Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former economic adviser to Russia and Ukraine.

The most difficult conditions concern reforming the state-owned natural gas company and reducing its generous subsidies. Those subsidies keep gas for residential heating cheap, but also cause the company to lose about $4 billion a year, according to Thierry Bros, senior analyst for European gas and energy markets for Societe Generale. 

Who benefits when Expedia buys the competition?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-12 09:37

Expedia announced Thursday that it's acquiring rival travel company Orbitz for $1.6 billion. This comes on the heels of Expedia buying Travelocity a few weeks ago, and leaves Priceline as its only major competitor in online travel booking.

Expedia already has significant bargaining power with airlines and hotels to negotiate things like fees and access to inventory.

“They’ve got a lot of customers at their disposal, a big share of the market, so they can command supplier’s attention in a way that smaller players cannot," says Doug Quinby, vice president of research with research firm Phocuswright.

Thursday's news shouldn’t affect consumers’ travel costs one way or the other, says Rich Maradik, founder of nSight Travel, a market research firm. "In the end this just puts more pressure on hotels, and squeezes their profits,” he says.

Nicaragua's New Canal Could Be Environmental Disaster, Report Says

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 09:29

Scientists believe the project, which is reportedly underway already, could destroy a million acres of rainforest and contaminate Central America's largest source of drinking water.

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Apps Can Speed The Search For Love, But Nothing Beats A Real Date

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 09:29

Are those hours I spend swiping through Tinder getting me anywhere closer to actual romance? Yes, psychologists say. But chemistry doesn't come in an app, and that's what matters most.

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As Commodity Prices Plunge, Groceries May Be Next

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 08:10

Oil prices aren't the only thing that's dropped. The prices of everything from corn to sugar have fallen, too. So some economists predict lower prices at the grocery store later this year.

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San Diego Cops: Family Thanked Us For Beating, Arresting Them In Their Own Home

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 07:52

Video footage shows glaring inconsistencies in officers' account of a suspected break-in that was really just two brothers walking into their home.

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Quiz: Living close to the community

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-12 07:37

Less than 25 percent of community colleges provide on-campus housing, but the number of schools with dorms is growing, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

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'Fifty Shades' of merchandising

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-12 07:18

For a movie about a salacious, secretive, and to some, potentially shameful subject such as S&M, it sure feels like "Fifty Shades of Grey" is well out of the closet — or really, the dungeon.

Even the film's sequels are already being planned. Fandango, the online ticket company, says it’s setting a record, pre-selling more tickets than any other R-rated movie has.

And while it would seem the risque nature of this film could make selling spin-off merchandise a little more difficult than most, there is a lot of it for sale. It seems like there are as many variations of merchandise for the new film as there are Pantone color chips — and don't worry, for the graphic designer fan of the soon-to-be-released film, there's something for you too.  However, the question remains:  Who's buying?

If you were planning to crack open a bottle of "Fifty Shades of Grey"-branded White Silk or Red Satin on opening night, Paul Katz, a manager at L&P Wines and Liquors in Brooklyn, says perhaps you should reconsider. The wine has hardly been a best-seller, he says, with the bottles on store shelves mostly gathering dust.

"If you like the label you can get it," Katz says, "You’re taking on your own risk."

He hasn't read the book, and his wife was responsible for the store's purchase, he says. And when he calls to check if she had read the book — turns out she’d read all three — he found himself planning to make another purchase, again to please his wife.

“Do you want to go to the movie – to see it?” Katz says into his cellphone.


Another ticket sold. But there’s going to a movie, in the privacy of a darkened theater, and then there’s buying tie-in merchandise.

“I’m trying to be discrete,” says Kristi Faulkner, a co-founder and president of the martketing consultancy Womenkind, of the "Fifty Shades" merchandise. “But Target is selling them – who knew? Who could believe that?”

Indeed, Target is selling "Fifty Shades of Grey" adult devices – the kind with batteries. However, as Faulker points out, there’s a dichotomy between the book and its wider brand.

“So many people read these books digitally, privately, and yet these products are being sold in the most public way,” she says. “Are you going to throw your 'Fifty Shades of Grey' electronic device into your cart with your laundry detergent and your diet soda and your baby food and your pampers? Is that really going to happen?”

While the answer may be unclear, Faulkner says all this "Fifty Shades" merchandise is doing something. She calls it "permission marketing." After all, a "Fifty Shades of Grey" T-shirt could make a taboo subject like S&M a little more approachable.

Sometimes a gift is really a gift for the giver.

“Men are notorious for buying lingerie and things for themselves,” she says. “It’s an opportunity for guys – guys who didn’t read the book but want to benefit from the ideas, so to speak,” Faulkner says.

Which may be what purchasers of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s "Fifty Shades of Grey" bear have in mind. Innocently fuzzy, at first glance the bear looks like any typical teddy until you spot his tiny mask and handcuffs.


The \"Fifty Shades of Grey\" bear, from Vermont Teddy Bear.

Courtesy:The Vermont Teddy Bear Company


While only 20 percent of Fifty Shades readers were male, 54 percent of the bear’s buyers are men, says Bill Shouldice, president and CEO of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company.

But Jenn Drexler, a senior vice president with Insight Strategy Group, wants to make it clear that Mr. Bear, and most of the "Fifty Shades" merchandise work mainly as gag gifts.

“It’s one of those flip things where you can’t believe you live in a world where this can happen – so it’s so awesome,” she says of the bear.

And, FYI, the Vermont Teddy Bear company says so far this is its best-selling Valentine’s Day bear, but what may be good for the licensee may not always be good for the licensor.

“You have to wonder when does licensing crossover into value for the brand,” Drexler says. “When it goes into gag gifts?”

While the "Fifty Shades" brand is paid a royalty based on the sales of the bears,  Drexler notes that if people aren't putting the teddy bear on their beds, or their baby in a onesie that says “9 Months ago mommy read 50 Shades of Grey” – it won’t do much for the "Fifty Shades" brand.


A \"Fifty Shades of Grey\" onesie for sale at


“They’ll get wallet share, but I don’t think they’re going to get heart,” she says.

When consumers love a brand, Drexler says, they’ll go as far as to have it tattooed — think Harley or Jack Daniels — but “I don’t know if anyone is doing a 'Fifty Shades' tattoo any time soon.”

The problem with this particular brand is it’s one women like to keep private.

“There’s a reason women weren’t getting together and talking — like 'I’ve always wanted to be tied up.' Like, that’s not replacing Oprah’s book club anytime soon,” Drexler says.

What title to read was up for discussion at a recent Brooklyn book club meeting. All the women in attendance are moms and while most were OK with the "Fifty Shades of Grey" baby clothes, host Megan Schade was not.

“I realize because it betrays my own Victorianism," she says. "In the sense that, how else does baby get here than by two people having sex? And that’s what this shirt is referring to."

Book club members Elizabeth Nelson, Renata Segura, Megan Schade and Jen Hanssen check out the \"Fifty Shades of Grey\" teddy bear.

Sally Herships/Marketplace

The wine, while deemed a flop, was also approved as a potential gag gift.

“It tastes like a wine cooler," says Elizabeth Nelson, another book clubber. “Very inoffensive. It’s probably what people who like the book, like to drink.”

“I don't think this wine was made for drinking,” Schade says, “It was made as a gift. It's a giving wine."

But the bear seemed to stir up the most discomfort.

"Poor Mrs. Bear," Schade says.

"Not OK," says club member Renata Segura. "Is this for a child or a grownup?"

"I see a crazy cat lady having that teddy bear," Nelson says.

But once some basic facts were established — that the bear is a stuffed toy intended for adult play only, and that it costs $89.99 — Seguara decided she wanted the bear, but only if she didn't have to foot the bill.

“If somebody gives it to me for free, not my husband buying it for me with my money, with our money, “ she says. “Maybe from somebody else, but not from my bank account."

Couples Who Chose Not To Have Children Are 'Selfish,' Pope Says

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 07:17

Francis spoke of a "greedy generation" that was opting not to procreate. His remarks come less than two weeks after he said that Catholics do not need to breed "like rabbits."

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John Kerry Takes A Side Trip Into A Snowstorm

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 07:12

Secretaries of state and other top officials sometimes make personal stops while traveling on official business. It's permitted, though it sometimes raises eyebrows and questions of cost.

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Are Pediatricians Prepared To Help Patients Who Want IUDs?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 07:08

Some pediatricians and other doctors worry they aren't properly prepared to make this highly effective form of birth control available, because their training didn't cover insertion of the devices.

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'We're All One,' Chapel Hill Shooting Victim Said In StoryCorps Talk

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 06:28

"Growing up in America has been such a blessing," Yusor Abu-Salha said in a conversation with her former teacher that was recorded by the StoryCorps oral history project last summer.

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U.N. Calls On EU To Expand Rescue Of Migrants In Mediterranean

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 06:27

The High Commissioner for Refugees wants the European Union to expand its Operation Triton to intercept and rescue would-be migrants, most of them trying to reach Italy.

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After More Than 400 Days In Egyptian Jail, Journalists Released — For Now

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 05:08

An Egyptian court released Al-Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy on bail, but their case hasn't been dismissed. For more details, David Greene speaks with NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo.

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Egyptian Judge Grants Bail To Al-Jazeera English Journalists

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-12 04:56

The move is seen as possibly boding well for the fate of the two journalists for the news outlet who are still on trial for allegedly aiding the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

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