National News

Food labels will get their first makeover in 20 years

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-24 12:00

We know a lot about our food these days – the calories, the fat, the protein that comes in a single serving of Cheeze-its. And i's all thanks to that little box on the back of the box.

Now for the first time in about 20 years, nutritional labels are getting a make over.

The FDA won't say exactly when the changes will come, or what the new labels will include. But there are some hints: easier to see calorie counts, more up-to-date serving sizes and information on added sugars.

Phil Lempert, editor of Supermarketguru.com says the time for change has come. He attributes some our unhealthy eating habits to consumer confusion over nutrition labels.

"If we can get people to understand that they are consuming too much food, or too many empty calories vs. nutritive calories, we can finally change behavior," he says.

Lempert believes new labels could clear things up for shoppers, and put some pressure on food companies.

"Food manufacturers are going to look very carefully at this, and try to take advantage of this, so their ingredients and the nutritional information becomes a marketing advantage," he says.

So does that mean we are going to see an explosion of whole wheat, tofu and kale in everything?

Ann Yaktine, interim head of the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine, says to expect baby steps.

"I’m not convinced that manufacturers are going to radically change what their food products are now."

Yaktine says over the past several years, food companies have already started to offer consumers different choices.

Just walk down the 50-mile long chip aisle.

"You can see all kinds of different products. Low-sodium, low-fat, low-calorie," she says.  

More than anything, Yaktine thinks new labels will make it easier for consumers -- at least, easier to find information. We haven’t yet met a label that makes it easy to put down the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

'A slow motion trainwreck': Argentina's currency woes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-24 12:00

Currencies across the developing world have been sliding recently, but none more so than Argentina. The Argentine peso slid a whopping 16 percent against the dollar this week.

"Fear, uncertainty, abandonment, and confusion," are the reigning sentiments in the country right now, according to Augustino Fontevecchia, a reporter for Forbes and a native Argentinean who travels there regularly. "There’s been problems finding basic supplies from food to electronics. Inflation has led to police going on strike in several provinces, which has in turn, caused crime waves."  The government, he says, has done little to substantially address the problems.

A TRAIN WRECK

"It’s been a slow motion trainwreck," says Win Thin, global head of emerging markets strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman. "Many analysts, including myself, have been predicting a crisis for several years."

2001 DEFAULT SETS THE STAGE

In 2001, Argentina defaulted on its sovereign debt. It did so in an aggressive way that left many investors displeased, says Thin. Since then, the country has been locked out of global credit markets. In other words: It can't borrrow.

That hasn’t stopped the Argentinian government from spending, however.

Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, says the government, fueled by revenue from commodity exports, embarked on massive subsidy programs: "Huge expenditures on social programs, subsidies to the airlines, energy subsidies."

During all this time, investment and productivity growth were essentially stagnant. Eventually, when the export boom slowed, “the party ended,” as Thin puts it. 

INFLATION, CURRENCY, AND ECONOMIC WHACK-A-MOLE

The spending contributed to intense inflation, reaching nearly 30 percent. When the government tried to impose price caps, that led to shortages – already exacerbated by subsidies.

"They tried to use policies that have largely failed in other places," says Inter American Dialogue’s Hakim. Each time, it created another problem.

Inflation pushed Argentinians (and investors) to convert their pesos to dollars (or other foreign currencies) to prevent their value from eroding. That caused depreciation of the currency.

"What’s happening is a flood of capital out of Argentina," says Hakim. 

The government tried to prevent more currency from leaving the country, using dollars it had earned from exports to buy its own currency in an effort to prop up its value. That was expensive, and drained the central bank’s reserve of dollars. It finally had to relax its pressure yesterday, and the currency devalued quickly. 

That made people who hold Argentine pesos even more anxious, and even more desperate to sell, which made the currency problem even worse.

All of the policies Argentinians have tried come with "some short term benefits," says Hakim. "But over the long run, they make everybody very nervous about the economy," or have unintended consequences.

TOUGH CHOICES, NO GOOD ANSWERS

"It’s a classic situation of what happens to emerging markets when policy is ineptly followed," says Keith Savard, senior economist at the Milken Institute.

"We’ve seen this play out. When people lose confidence, you have a run on the exchange rate, they try to impose capital controls to ameliorate it, and it’s an impasse,” says Savard. "Governments don’t do what needs to be done."

Unfortunately, what Savard says needs to be done – higher interest rates, less government spending, including on subsidies - would reduce standards of living and employment for Argentinians already badly afflicted with a broken economy.

"The state of denial of policy makers in Argentina is just huge," says Hakim. "They have this unwillingness to recognize how serious this is."

Can Mom's Pregnancy Diet Rewire Baby's Brain For Obesity?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-24 11:22

Expectant moms are eating for two, but that isn't a license to indulge. A convincing body of research suggests that what happens in utero can set the stage for obesity. And a new study in mice suggests one way that poor maternal diet might play role: by rewiring a part of the brain that regulates appetite.

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Does Mom's Pregnancy Diet Rewire Baby's Brain For Obesity?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-24 11:22

Expectant moms are eating for two, but that isn't a license to indulge. A convincing body of research suggests that what happens in utero can set the stage for obesity. And a new study in mice suggests one way that poor maternal diet might play role: by rewiring a part of the brain that regulates appetite.

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10 Years' Probation For NFL Player Who Caused Fatal Crash

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-24 10:36

Josh Brent was intoxicated when the car he was driving crashed and rolled over in December 2012. His passenger, teammate Jerry Brown Jr., died. The jury that convicted Brent of "intoxication manslaughter" could have sent him to jail for 20 years. Instead, he got a 180-day sentence, probation and a fine.

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Show Us: The State Of The Union Through Your Eyes

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-24 10:17

As Obama delivers his speech, we also want a ground-level view of the state of the country.

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Twitter Chat Roundup: Do you tell people how much you make?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-24 09:52

Earlier this week we aired a report on the “Stealthy Wealthy” – people who have a lot of money, but don’t necessarily want you to know about it.   Reporter Sean Cole's piece raised some good points:  like the fact that a lot of these folks didn’t know they were inheriting large sums of money.

 In my adventures with the stealthy wealthy, I noticed a few commonalities among the folks I interviewed. For instance, none of them seemed to know the money was coming to them until it did, and all of them were thrown by it, to one degree or another. Probably the most unsettled among them was Burke Stansbury. He’s a political activist living in Seattle with his wife and son. He remembers the day his dad handed him a four-page printout of his investments, and trust fund, etc. 

"I laughed," Burke told me, "More than anything it struck me as totally ridiculous that I would have that kind of money. The absurdity of why I, of all people, should have a million dollars coming to me, it struck me. Like I had never done anything to deserve that money."

The story got us thinking: Do the non-rich feel comfortable telling people how much money they have?

On Twitter, the majority of respondents said they prefer not to share their net-worth out of embarrasment.  Some said they work hard to earn what they do, and they're happy to share the amount.  Others said that sharing income is awkward, whether you're rich or poor.  

Here are some of the most interesting responses we received:

@MPWealthPoverty yes, because everyone else in my field makes twice as much!

— Brian Virgil (@SafariBear1107) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty @MarketplaceAPM Yes. I would be embarrassed for my much more educated friends to know how little we have.

— Apron Boobsface (@1eyedstolenmare) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty Yes - some people make less than me, some make more. I feel bad when its the former, and awkward when its the latter.

— Laura Lundahl (@LauraLundahl) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty @MarketplaceAPM No because I don't tell others! It's no ones business but mine what I have. People share way too much info

— Jennifer Rand (@therowdyrands) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty we don't talk salary because prevailing emotions are either guilt, envy, or pride - all negative

— Benjamin Benavidez (@benbenjr80) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty @MarketplaceAPM Yes, because certain people might then ask to borrow said money.

— Justine Fred (@PaisleyFred) January 24, 2014

@benbenjr80 @MPWealthPoverty And because workers knowing how their salaries compare gives them more power in negotiating w management

— Robin Amer (@rsamer) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty Generally people don't ask, most make assumptions. If it really matters to someone to the point the need to ask (1/2)

— Ingrid R Shepard (@IngridRShepard) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty most times they get uncomfortable when they get the answer. (2/2)

— Ingrid R Shepard (@IngridRShepard) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty Sometimes. If I know its similar $ to the person asking or I know them very well I done mind. Otherwise it can get awkward.

— Erik Newcome (@ErikNewcome) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty I don't like the conversation that comes after. I am not where I wanted to be at my age and people always ask or assume why

— Randi Borys (@RandiB1) January 24, 2014

How An 18-Year-Old Code Was Cracked On The Web In 13 Minutes

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-24 09:48

Dorothy Holm of Minnesota couldn't speak in the weeks before her death in 1996. She spent some of that time writing capital letters on the fronts and backs of 20 index cards. Her family couldn't figure out what she might have been trying to say. Crowdsourcing on the Web led to an answer.

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When Elderly Are Hospitalized, Families Face Tough Decisions

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-24 09:44

Some people might find it easier to write down the care they want and the kind they prefer not to have in living wills. Others might prefer to talk more generally with their relatives about issues like life support.

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Advertising on the Grammys 'second screen'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-24 09:15

It's awards season, and one of the big events will be this Sunday when the 56th annual Grammys air on CBS. Last year 28 million people watched the show on TV. But more and more, some of the action and the ads will be happening on the so-called second screen. Slate tech blogger Will Oremus tells Marketplace Tech about the online ads for the Grammys.

Why Washington Drives Mayors Crazy

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-24 09:03

Close to 300 of the nation's mayors have been meeting in Washington this week. They've found networking with their peers to be a lot more productive than trying to lobby Congress.

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Former Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell, Wife Plead Not Guilty

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-24 09:01

Both were released on their own recognizance and ordered not to leave the country. The McDonnells are facing corruption charges stemming from gifts they received from a political donor.

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Butterfinger + peanut butter cups: Should candies mix?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-24 09:00

As busy, thorough, and of course, highly conscientious journalists, we were concerned. We'd raised the question "Can Butterfinger take on the peanut butter cup?"  - but left the investigation incomplete.

To protect the good name of public media, there was only one thing to do. And it wasn't going to be easy.

We took our fake Butterfinger cups to the denizens of the American Public Media/Marketplace offices with the question: What actually happens when Butterfinger meets Reese's?

Rico Gagliano, host of the Dinner Party Download, didn't really care, so long as he got free candy:

Marketplace Sustainability Desk reporters Adriene Hill and David Weinberg decided it was a question of proportions:

Wealth & Poverty Desk reporter Noel King responded with pure disgust to the entire enterprise.

Wealth & Poverty producer John Ketchum had no such scruples:

And editor John Haas may just be the target market:

But engineer Brendan Willard comes out strongest for the candy combo. He prefers "both together to either individually."

The final verdict? It really shouldn't be this difficult to give your coworkers free candy. 

Qualcomm snaps up patents

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-24 08:54

Qualcomm, the U.S. mobile chip maker, has bought close to 2,000 patents from Hewlett Packard. Many of the U.S. and foreign patents relate to former smart phone maker Palm. (Remember them?) These days Palm's patents are a bit like hot potatoes -- HP bought Palm in 2010 to get into the mobile device game. The company appears to have lost that game and is now selling. So what does Qualcomm want with Palm? Avi Greengart, research director at Current Analysis, tells Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson. 

PODCAST: The legal marijuana industry's banking problem

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-24 08:52

Several states have legalized marijuana, even though the federal government still considers it an illegal drug. Well, a problem is banks are reluctant -- in most cases unwilling -- to do business with the marijuana industry.

When you think of the 21st century American economy, your mind no doubt flips to things digital and mobile. But corporate earnings out this week were a good reminder that an industry that sounds more 19th century is key to the modern economy as well -- railroads.   

Less than five months before Brazil's World Cup kicks off, 6 out of 12 venues are still unfinished -- including a complex in the northern city of Manaus, where construction workers have died and pay for laborers is an issue.

Marijuana, gambling, lotto tickets: Cash only

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-24 08:34

Convenience is king. We pay for our coffee with an app and swipe our plastic to buy a pack of gum or to book a trip to Rio. But there's a reason why wads of greenbacks are still exchanged for goods or services. Do you really want your credit card issuer to leave a paper trail on that stuff you did in Vegas? (Don't worry, it stays in Vegas.)

Card issuers agree, but for their own reasons, usually having to do with risk and federal law. This week brought "10 Things You Can't Buy with a Credit Card" from MarketWatch.

Sure, marijuana is now legal in Colorado — and other states might soon follow — but you're going to need green to purchase this green. The government is hinting that federal law is catching up to legal marijuana purchases, but you'd better bet that credit card issuers are not going to step into the middle of this one until the rules are clear.

Legality on other credit card no-no's is more grey; when it comes to gambling or paying for lotto tickets, much depends on state laws.

Online gambling with cards is clearly illegal in the U.S. — hence Swiss accounts and Bitcoin — but after avoiding trouble with the law, card issuers then turn on, or off, the spigot of credit much more on the basis of risk. For example, you probably can't pay for your mortgage, your student loans, your auto loan or even in some cases your college tuition, with a credit card (though, imagine those reward points!). It's simply not good business practice to enable paying one debt with another form of debt.

Then again, those balance transfer checks you receive in the mail aren't necessarily considered credit. The biggest dangers with these card-linked checks are the high interest rate, fees from the card issuer and turning an asset-backed loan (like a car loan) into unsecured debt.

My favorite star of this list however, is good ol' outlier American Express. They refuse to process payments for online pornography, lotto tickets (no matter the state law), and contributions to Wikileaks. This swipe-for-this-not-that has a long history. Twenty years ago when I worked at Christie's auction house, I remember a kerfuffle at the highest level when a high-rolling buyer tried to pay for a painting with his American Express card. His winning bid was over $1 million. AmEx's reward-points system was already in place and their charging limits were (and still can be) undefined.

Can you blame the guy?

Check, please.

U.N. Says Authorities, Locals In Myanmar Killed Dozens Of Muslims

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-24 08:22

The government has denied the massacre ever happened. Now, the U.N. is asking for an investigation.

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Ukraine Protests Spread, But 'Fragile Truce' Holds In Kiev

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-24 07:57

In several cities now, demonstrators are in the streets protesting corruption and demanding that President Viktor Yanukovich schedule new elections.

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As Windows XP Fades Away, Will Its Users Stick With Microsoft?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-24 07:48

Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP in April. But the company faces a challenge as it herds its users away from the 12-year-old operating system: With so many computing options on the market, customers leaving XP behind might end up turning their backs to Microsoft, too.

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An economic storm in Argentina

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-24 07:27

It's been a dizzying 24 hours in Argentina. The peso plummeted 19 percent versus the U.S. dollar. It seems to be stabilized this morning at 7.9, down more than 8 percent from a day ago. The incident is a reminder of the economic turbulence in Argentina a little over a decade ago, with the currency swings that came the country defaulted on its debts. Click the audio player above to hear the BBC's Andrew Walker discuss the story.

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