National News

What Thailand's political climate means for the economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 10:31
Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 14:28 Rufus Cox/Getty Images News

Thai army soldiers secure the grounds of the venue for peace talks between pro- and anti-government groups on May 22, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Thailand’s been said to have a “Teflon economy”: Political instability has wracked the country in recent years, but its major industries haven't been very affected. 

Jonathan Head, a BBC correspondent based in Bangkok, said the current military coup might change that.

“A lot of the businesses that drive Thailand’s economy are based outside of Bangkok. Manufacturing, cars, electronics... those [exports] will continue as normal,” says Head. “Where there are real worries is that because of this long crisis big investment decisions have been delayed. And the political uncertainty has put off foreign direct investors too.”

Head says Thailand’s military leaders are stressing that the country is currently safe for tourists. But people with future travel plans to Chiang Mai or Bangkok might want to reconsider.

“For example [the military] is stressing that, although there is a curfew, tourists will be able to drive late at night to the airport and back. But in the end the element of uncertainty of whether there is going to be conflict is going to put tourists off." 

Head says right now, the streets of Bangkok are calm. It’s what the military coup means for the long term that is worrisome.

“When they took over in the last coup in 2006 the country was a lot less polarized, they faced very little resistance, and yet they were accused of completely mismanaging the economy..[Now] they have to do it again with consumer demand already collapsing, with a lot of people in debted after a consumer binge in the last few years. That could all make it very tricky for the army.”

Marketplace for Thursday May 22, 2014Interview byInterview with Kai Ryssdal and Jonathan HeadPodcast Title What Thailand's political climate means for the economyStory Type InterviewSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Jupiter's Dot And Mine. Why Life Is Unfair

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 10:26

Jupiter has a large red dot on its surface. I, too, have a dot on my surface. It's on my cheek. Jupiter just got lucky with its dot. Me? Not.

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Experimental Malaria Vaccine Blocks The Bad Guy's Exit

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 10:01

Most attempts at a malaria vaccine have unsuccessfully tried to keep the parasite from breaking into red blood cells. But a new twist that keeps the parasite from escaping the cells may work better.

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Why population growth isn't always an economic boon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 09:40
Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 16:39 Shea Huffman/Marketplace

A map showing the seven cities in Texas with the greatest rate of population growth between July 1, 2012 and July 1, 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Texas is leading the way in U.S. population growth. The Census Bureau said Thursday that seven of the top 15 fastest-growing cites are in Texas. They’re clustered around big oil and gas boomtowns like Dallas and Houston, or tech hubs like Austin.

Sometimes population equals prosperity.

“They go hand in hand,” says Luis Bettencourt, who studies cities at the Santa Fe Institute. “You add a person, and you get more money per capita.”

Income growth in the booming suburbs of Austin is high because of the types of jobs there. But Bettencourt says there are caveats. This past decade wrecked all the economic models; the housing bubble was making people move.

“There was cheap housing available, and the actual construction of that housing created jobs,” says Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, which monitors cities' economic growth. But some economists say even without the housing bubble, the theory that growth begets growth is off. Consider Las Vegas. People are moving there for jobs.

“Naturally if there’s a lot of hiring you would expect people to migrate in," says Paul Gottlieb, an economist at Rutgers. "But the jobs have not necessarily been very high paying.”

Gottlieb says, sure you have new people and new jobs, but they don’t have fat wallets. They don’t bring growth and prosperity. Gottlieb says, in some big, northeastern cities, income is rising much faster than population.

Marketplace for Thursday May 22, 2014by Nancy Marshall-GenzerPodcast Title Why population growth isn't always an economic boonStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Don't wash your jeans, freeze them.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 09:39
Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 16:39 Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A customer looks at Levi jeans hanging on display at a Levis store in 2003 in New York City. CEO, Chip Bergh, stated you can clean your jeans by freezing them rather than washing them in an interview today at Fortune's Brainstorm Green.

Two pearls of wisdom from big time corporate CEOs in the news:

Pearl number one comes from Chip Bergh. He runs Levi Strauss and Company, famous of course for its blue jeans. Mr. Bergh says that it's OK to not wash your denim garments.

He's trying to save the world. Levi's has been upfront about wanting to cut back on the water used in the making of its jeans. Bergh and Levi says you can freeze 'em, instead. Which will kill the bacteria... and the smell.

Pearl number two comes from Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne. He's a tad upset about American rules forcing car makers to build a certain quota of battery powered electric vehicles. Speaking about the Fiat 500e, Marchionne says, "I hope you don't buy it, because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000."

So, okay. I won't.

Marketplace for Thursday May 22, 2014by Kai RyssdalStory Type BlogSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Ragu: the way many of us learned to love 'Italian' food

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 09:38
Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 16:33

Back in 1937, if you wanted to buy Ragu pasta sauce, you would have had to buy it out of the trunk of a car from its creators -- a married couple named Giovanni and Assunta Cantisano. Back then pasta and red sauce was not a staple of the American diet like it is today.

“It didn’t happen overnight, but sometimes these things can," says Wharton marketing professor Leonard Lodish. As Americans’ attitudes about Italian immigrants changed, Italian food became popular, and Americans’ perception of Italian food was built on tomato sauce. Ragu was a big part of that.

Today, Ragu is the number one pasta sauce brand in the U.S., but sales are down 18 percent since 2009 as more shoppers turn to private label sauces.  This could be one reason Ragu’s parent company, Unilever, is selling the iconic brand to the Japanese company Mizkan for $2.15 billion.

Mizkahn is the largest producer of vinegar in the world, along with other food products that, according to the company’s website, are revered throughout the world for bringing flavor to life TM.

Overall, the food industry is a slow-growth market.

“So if you are looking for high growth, food is a tough place, it’s going be a market share bet,” says Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst with the NPD Group.

If Mizkan wants to grow Ragu’s market share, says Balzer, it will have to take it away from a competing sauce.

Check out these other Ragu sauces from across the ages:

When you hear "Ragu," you might think of simple, old-fashioned red sauce. But like every other food product that's been around for a while, the brand has tried several other variations on its staple which did not stand the test of time. Here's a few memorable -- or unmemorable, as it were -- Ragu products:

1. Ragu Pizza Quick - For those who want something between the DIY of Boboli and the ready-made Bagel Bite

2. Ragu Chicken Tonight Simmer Sauce - Everyone of a certain age knows the accompanying dance to this ad

3. Ragu Beef Tonight Simmer Sauce - Because chicken wasn't enough

4. Ragu Fresh Italian Sauce - The selling point of this sauce was its inclusion of more tomatoes...in comparison to other Ragu sauces

5. Ragu Chunky Garden Style - It was like the chunky peanut butter of pasta sauces

Marketplace for Thursday May 22, 2014by David WeinbergPodcast Title Ragu: the way many of us learned to love 'Italian' foodStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Oh Canada... the black hole for U.S. stores

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 09:32
Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 16:29 Thivierr/ Wikipedia.org

A Sears store at Chinook Centre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Sears Canada today posted a steep fall in quaterly sales.

Sears announced today that it lost more than $400 million in the first quarter and is planning to close more than 80 locations. One of the big losses for the company was in Canada, where Sears saw its biggest sales dive in five years. But Sears isn’t the only retailer that got a curveball from our neighbor to the north. This week, Target sacked the head of its Canadian operations after losing nearly $1.5 billion on its Canadian stores. Wal-Mart and Lowe’s have also had trouble finding their footing in the Canadian market. 

"We are different. People forget that we are different in terms of how we buy," says Debi Andrus, Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business. "We buy the same items and we’re still looking for value, but we have different purchasing behaviors."

Take Target, which charged into Canada last year, opening more than 100 stores. That might sound like over-reach, but Target was already popular with Canadians, who had been crossing the border to shop at its stores for years.

"I don't want to call it arrogance, I wouldn't want to say that," says Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with financial services firm Edward Jones. "There was too much complacency. They thought, 'We can go up to Canada and open these stores just like in the U.S. and people are just going to flock to stores. That didn't occur."

Yarbrough says part of the problem was Target tried to stock its Canadian stores the same way it stocked those in the U.S. "We have financial advisors up in Canada and we get these calls that are like, 'It’s the middle of October and it’s winter up here already and they don’t even have gloves in their stores."

Canadian retailers also upped their game in anticipation of Target coming to Canada, by lowering prices, stepping up marketing… with one notable exception. "Sears Canada wasn't changing as the other Canadian retailers were changing with the other American companies coming in," says Andrus. She says Canada is a competitive market. Although the country is huge, its population is relatively small. There are 35 million Canadians, compared with more than 300 million Americans. And there are only so many loonies to go around.

Marketplace for Thursday May 22, 2014by Stacey Vanek SmithPodcast Title Oh Canada... the black hole for U.S. storesStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Does Smuggling A Cow Into School Make You A Creative Genius?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 09:25

Before graduating, some seniors take time to pull off the perfect prank. But it's not just childish behavior. Journalist Annie Murphy Paul says pranks showcase creativity and attention to detail.

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In Charge Of Nearly $20 Trillion, Are Women The New Global Players?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 09:25

A new report Harnessing the Power of the Purse: Female Investors and Global Opportunities for Growth points out that women create and influence more than a quarter of the world's wealth.

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Poor People Can Pay Twice After Committing A Crime

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 09:24

NPR Investigative Correspondent Joe Shapiro tells host Michel Martin about the growing use of fines in the criminal justice system.

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Congresswoman And Veteran 'Appalled' By VA Scandal

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 09:22

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth lost her legs in combat during the Iraq War, and still gets health care from Veterans Affairs. She discusses allegations that agency hid how long veterans wait for care.

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Teenage Mischief Can Lead To Jail Time In Tennessee

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 09:22

Teenagers get in trouble for skipping school, breaking curfew or buying cigarettes, but in one Tennessee county, that can mean jail. Susan Ferriss reported on this for the Center for Public Integrity.

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A day in the life of a payphone

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 09:12
Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 12:02 Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A public phone booth on a street in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for proposals to turn underused phone booths into Wi-Fi hot spots. If successful, the program would create one of the largest free public wi-fi networks in the country. 

The highest earning payphone in Manhattan is a few blocks from Times Square, smack in the shadow of the Port Authority bus terminal and the New York Times building.

The payphone sits in a metal kiosk, where you can lean in and hide your face. The payphone has been busy all morning, but not for making phone calls. People use the kiosk to talk on cell phones, light cigarettes, count money – it offers a nook of privacy in a crowded city.

No other city has the payphones that New York has, says Stanley Shor, who oversees payphone companies at the city’s Department of Information Technology and Innovation. Boston, for instance, has less than 1,000 payphones. New York has nearly 10,000 of them.

“We walk and talk -- a lot,” says Shor.

But that’s not the only reason. In the '90s, payphone companies started putting ads on their kiosks. Payphones popped up everywhere just when people stopped using them. In peak years, more than 30,000 public payphones stood on the streets of New York. “You wouldn't be able to get that many billboards without the payphone,” says Shor.

In the last decade, many public phones were removed to make way for building construction. Still, the city has an enormous network of payphones – infrastructure Mayor Bill de Blasio could  piggyback on to create what would be the biggest public Wi-Fi network in the country.

By using a historic part of New York’s street fabric,” the mayor said in a public statement, “we can significantly enhance public availability of broadband access and increase revenue to the city—all at absolutely no cost to taxpayers.”

The city has called for proposals to turn the payphone kiosks into Wi-Fi hubs. The phones, or at least some of them, would be kept in place for 911 calls. If the plan is a success, other major cities could follow New York’s lead.

Today, the city does make money off its public phones. Payphone companies give New York City 10 percent of the money they earn from calls made on the phones and 36 percent of the ad revenue. Last year, that added up to 17 million dollars for the city. 

The highest-earning payphone – the one near Times Square – earned the city about $500 last quarter, according to Shor’s records.

Eventually, a person with a cracked cellphone tries to use the payphone, but it turns out to be broken. The city does not install or repair payphones. That is the job of payphone companies. They spend about $60 a month on every phone.

Nobody keeps track of who is actually using the phones. That is, except for Mark Thomas.

“It’s everybody,” says Thomas, “It’s little kids, it’s old people, it’s well-dressed people, shady-looking people, a lot of tourists.”

Thomas knows because he has been taking photos of these people – with their faces artfully hidden, of course. For the past 20 years, he ran the Payphone Project, where he studies all aspects of public phones.

“I actually love the smell of a filthy payphone,” Thomas says, “I’ve noticed sometimes you can smell a mix of one man’s cologne with a cigar – all these odd, disparate scents all come together on a public phone.”

Thomas is working on a book about the history and culture of payphones.

It is now the middle of the afternoon. After hours of watching people not even trying to use the payphone, I meet a young man in a red sweatshirt named Wavey.

Wavey has been standing at the corner, watching me watch the payphone. He and a group of co-workers have been using public phones across the street. Then they discretely hand off little parcels to the black SUV’s that roll by us every few minutes.

The guys here say payphones are essential to their line of work. Wavey, for one, doesn’t even own a cellphone.

“If I’m doing business,” he explains, “I’m going to use a payphone, ‘cause I don’t want nobody to get on my line.”

The problem with using the payphone for this kind of ‘business’? Sometimes your own customers get in the way.

“It’s a lot of corrupted people out here,” Wavey says, “Like drug users who try to break the phones so they could take all the money out so they can get their little drugs.”

The group’s advice to Mayor de Blasio: sure, put Wi-Fi in the payphone kiosks – just don’t forget to take out those tempting coin slots.

Marketplace for Thursday May 22, 2014by Sruthi PinnamaneniPodcast Title A day in the life of a payphoneStory Type FeatureSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

A day in the life of a payphone

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 09:02

The highest earning payphone in Manhattan is a few blocks from Times Square, smack in the shadow of the Port Authority bus terminal and the New York Times building.

The payphone sits in a metal kiosk, where you can lean in and hide your face. The payphone has been busy all morning, but not for making phone calls. People use the kiosk to talk on cell phones, light cigarettes, count money – it offers a nook of privacy in a crowded city.

No other city has the payphones that New York has, says Stanley Shor, who oversees payphone companies at the city’s Department of Information Technology and Innovation. Boston, for instance, has less than 1,000 payphones. New York has nearly 10,000 of them.

“We walk and talk -- a lot,” says Shor.

But that’s not the only reason. In the '90s, payphone companies started putting ads on their kiosks. Payphones popped up everywhere just when people stopped using them. In peak years, more than 30,000 public payphones stood on the streets of New York. “You wouldn't be able to get that many billboards without the payphone,” says Shor.

In the last decade, many public phones were removed to make way for building construction. Still, the city has an enormous network of payphones – infrastructure Mayor Bill de Blasio could  piggyback on to create what would be the biggest public Wi-Fi network in the country.

By using a historic part of New York’s street fabric,” the mayor said in a public statement, “we can significantly enhance public availability of broadband access and increase revenue to the city—all at absolutely no cost to taxpayers.”

The city has called for proposals to turn the payphone kiosks into Wi-Fi hubs. The phones, or at least some of them, would be kept in place for 911 calls. If the plan is a success, other major cities could follow New York’s lead.

Today, the city does make money off its public phones. Payphone companies give New York City 10 percent of the money they earn from calls made on the phones and 36 percent of the ad revenue. Last year, that added up to 17 million dollars for the city. 

The highest-earning payphone – the one near Times Square – earned the city about $500 last quarter, according to Shor’s records.

Eventually, a person with a cracked cellphone tries to use the payphone, but it turns out to be broken. The city does not install or repair payphones. That is the job of payphone companies. They spend about $60 a month on every phone.

Nobody keeps track of who is actually using the phones. That is, except for Mark Thomas.

“It’s everybody,” says Thomas, “It’s little kids, it’s old people, it’s well-dressed people, shady-looking people, a lot of tourists.”

Thomas knows because he has been taking photos of these people – with their faces artfully hidden, of course. For the past 20 years, he ran the Payphone Project, where he studies all aspects of public phones.

“I actually love the smell of a filthy payphone,” Thomas says, “I’ve noticed sometimes you can smell a mix of one man’s cologne with a cigar – all these odd, disparate scents all come together on a public phone.”

Thomas is working on a book about the history and culture of payphones.

It is now the middle of the afternoon. After hours of watching people not even trying to use the payphone, I meet a young man in a red sweatshirt named Wavey.

Wavey has been standing at the corner, watching me watch the payphone. He and a group of co-workers have been using public phones across the street. Then they discretely hand off little parcels to the black SUV’s that roll by us every few minutes.

The guys here say payphones are essential to their line of work. Wavey, for one, doesn’t even own a cellphone.

“If I’m doing business,” he explains, “I’m going to use a payphone, ‘cause I don’t want nobody to get on my line.”

The problem with using the payphone for this kind of ‘business’? Sometimes your own customers get in the way.

“It’s a lot of corrupted people out here,” Wavey says, “Like drug users who try to break the phones so they could take all the money out so they can get their little drugs.”

The group’s advice to Mayor de Blasio: sure, put Wi-Fi in the payphone kiosks – just don’t forget to take out those tempting coin slots.

Why Does Thailand Have So Many Coups?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 08:58

The Asian nation has a reputation for being peaceful and prosperous. Yet every so often, the army kicks out civilian leaders and takes power. Wednesday's coup was the 12th since 1932.

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PODCAST: The economy in Uighur China

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 08:40

Chinese officials are calling it a terrorist attack. Early this morning in the western city of Urumqi, 31 people were killed and at least 90 others injured when vehicles plowed into a crowded market and then exploded. It’s the latest in a series of attacks in China. In March, a knife attack by a group of men killed dozens in Southwest China, and just a few weeks ago, a bombing and knife attack at a train station in Urumqi, injured dozens more. China’s government have blamed the previous attacks on Uighur separatists -- Uighurs are an ethnic Muslim minority who live in China’s vast Northwest region of Xinjiang, a Chinese province roughly the size of Alaska that borders Central Asia. China has so far not blamed any particular group for today’s attack.

London could face new obstacles as a financial capital if Scotland votes is to become its own country and separate from the United Kingdom this fall. But economic warnings from London could change the vote of those in favor for independence. 

Too Beaucoup: France's New Trains Are Wider Than Its Platforms

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 08:40

Some 2,000 new trains meant to help France expand its regional rail network are instead causing headaches and embarrassment.

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PODCAST: The economy in Uighur China

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 07:48
Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 11:40 MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

This photo taken on on June 29, 2013 shows a muslim Uighur man at the Grand Bazaar in Urumqi, Xinjiang Province. China's constitution proclaims the country's dozens of minority groups as integral and equal parts of the national tapestry -- but analysts say the mishandling of such distinctions is a driver of unrest in remote Xinjiang.

Chinese officials are calling it a terrorist attack. Early this morning in the western city of Urumqi, 31 people were killed and at least 90 others injured when vehicles plowed into a crowded market and then exploded. It’s the latest in a series of attacks in China. In March, a knife attack by a group of men killed dozens in Southwest China, and just a few weeks ago, a bombing and knife attack at a train station in Urumqi, injured dozens more. China’s government have blamed the previous attacks on Uighur separatists -- Uighurs are an ethnic Muslim minority who live in China’s vast Northwest region of Xinjiang, a Chinese province roughly the size of Alaska that borders Central Asia. China has so far not blamed any particular group for today’s attack.

London could face new obstacles as a financial capital if Scotland votes is to become its own country and separate from the United Kingdom this fall. But economic warnings from London could change the vote of those in favor for independence. 

Marketplace Morning Report for Thursday May 22,2014 by David BrancaccioPodcast Title 05-22-14 Mid-day Update - The economy in Uighur ChinaStory Type BlogSyndication All in onePMPApp Respond No

Take down the Union Jack?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-22 07:24

London could face new obstacles as a financial capital if Scotland votes is to become its own country and separate from the United Kingdom this fall. But economic warnings from London could change the vote of those in favor for independence. Will Scotland decide to break free from the United Kingdom and become an independent country? Rob Broomby, UK affairs correspondent for the BBC, tells Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio about the possible consequences for the United Kingdom and Scotland.

Russia, China Block U.N. Move To Investigate War Crimes In Syria

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-22 07:24

A U.N. security Council resolution introduced by France and with the backing of the U.S. sought accountability for wartime atrocities. Russia's ambassador called it a publicity stunt.

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