National News

More Clashes In Pakistan As Pressure On Government Grows

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 08:17

Anti-government protesters in Pakistan briefly forced state TV off the air amid continuing clashes with police and renewed calls for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's resignation.

» E-Mail This

A business with a taste for risk and honey

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 08:13

Every year about 600,000 new businesses open in the United States. Only about half make it past the five-year mark. But of course, that doesn't stop people from trying.

In the early 2000s, Jim Picariello was confident that he had the next great natural foods idea. Just a couple of years before, he and his wife, Jill Day, had moved to a tiny town in Maine. They had just survived the dot come crash and wanted a more peaceful and sustainable lifestyle in rural Blue Hill, Maine. They even built their own home.

After a year of decompressing, Jim woke in the middle of the night with his new product epiphany: Frozen tea pops.

While sitting at his dining room table, he would always make himself a mason jar full of green tea, sweetened with honey, that he would drink while he worked on his laptop. He invariably made too much tea, and would pour the leftovers into a popsicle mold, to freeze and enjoy later. The tea pops were delicious and maybe, profitable.

Picariello quickly raised $25,000 to test recipes and develop his product idea. Before he and his family even realized it, they were starting a new business: Wise Acre Inc.

"When I said go ahead I really didn't feel like we are starting a business," recalls Picariello's wife, Jill Day. "I think that's probably one of the reasons why it even happened, is that I wasn't really aware that that's what we were doing."

The timing was not ideal for the young family: they had a young daughter and a second on the way. But once Picariello began product development, there was great enthusiasm for his idea, and a series of opportunities unfurled in front of him.

In 2007, he took his "Frosteas" and "Frostbites" to the influential Natural Products Expo East trade and was awarded Most Innovative Product, and walked away with a substantial distribution deal.

Quickly he went from making his tea pops in tiny saucepans in his kitchen to needing his own factory and employees. For a while his tea pops were in about 800 stores up and down the East Coast. But it wasn't sustainable, because at that point there weren't enough consumers and his products were languishing in the frozen food aisles. Picariello needed assistance with marketing and advertising, as well as a way to fund production with shrinking resources.

Picariello looked for and found a potential investor, who agreed to a million-dollar deal. The backer advised him to expand quickly and to invest in both production and promotion.

"'Get ready, your first summer is about to kick off,'" Picariello says he was advised. "'Go buy some equipment, cause you're going to make this stuff faster.' So that's exactly what I did. Like an idiot."

Jim immediately invested in some large items, including a pricey blast freezer. He quickly went through money he didn't have and after two weeks there was still no check from the billionaire.

"Turns out a couple days after our meeting, the billionaire, tasted our product and said, "oh I can't imagine why kids would like these." And of course it's not a product for kids, it's a product for adults, and kids do like them."

The prospector investor backed out of the agreement.

"And so at this point I'm sort of doing the math in my head over and over," Picariello recalls. "I have this much money, we have this much payroll, we have this much rent, we have this much electricity. All that over and over and over again."

To keep the business afloat, the family went so far as to start putting payroll on their personal credit card. Without an influx of cash, Wise Acre Inc. couldn't last.

"It was just like, I now have no more money, I have to lay all you people off. And it was very sad."

The bank seized the equipment and the factory closed. Their debts went unpaid, and Picariello declared bankruptcy, of somewhere around half a million dollars.

"We're still dealing with the ramifications," Jill Day laments. "To have the kind of significant debt now that we have because of the business tanking is just like the worst thing that could have happened."

Today, the couple has paid off some of their debts, and Picariello now has a steady full time job. Despite what happened with Wise Acre Inc., Picariello says he might still have one more new product idea to try, but promises it will be much less risky.

PODCAST: Economic effects of protests in Hong Kong

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 07:38

China is seeing shades of Occupy Wall Street today as protesters gather in Hong Kong. We talk to Juliana Liu about potential economic effects. Plus: two more casinos closed in Atlantic City this weekend, and 5,000 people lost their jobs. We look at the suffering gaming industry in a city that may need to reinvent itself. Finally, most cases of food-borne illness go unreported, so Chicago health officials are turning to Twitter, with a bot that scans for complaints of food poisoning stemming from area restaurants.

 

Showboat Casino Is Latest In Atlantic City To Close Its Doors

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 07:08

The casino's closure will be followed today by the shutdown of The Revel. The Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino will likely close Sept. 16. They are casualties of competition from outlets in other states.

» E-Mail This

Pro-Russia Rebels Say They Will Settle For Autonomy In Ukraine

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 05:38

It's a step back from the full independence they were seeking and may reflect a Russian desire to end the crisis, which has led to Moscow's worst ties with the West since the end of the Cold War.

» E-Mail This

Insurers find wiggle room in requirement to cover all

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 04:00

It’s September, which means the enrollment period to get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is practically around the corner.

If you're signing up later this fall, you should consider this: despite provisions under the health law to guarantee coverage for all, some insurance policies are still designed to keep the sick away.

We all know thanks to the ACA, the days when insurers denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions are over. Cherry picking the healthiest among us is one of the ways many insurers used to make their money. Even though the law has changed, former state insurance commissioner Joel Ario says some companies haven’t.

“We have not eliminated discrimination from insurer DNA yet. So you are still going to see remnants of insurers using strategies that are trying to drive away risk than manage risk,” he says.

One of those strategies is to make drugs for high cost conditions like HIV or multiple sclerosis more expensive through hefty deductibles. Another is to limit the network of doctors and hospitals. If consumers want somebody out of that network, they pay through the nose.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Tom Baker says to thrive in today’s insurance climate companies must accept that sick people are part of the mix. “The health insurance companies that are trying to have fewer of those people, just want to have fewer,” he says.

Baker says the insurers who find the sweet spot between healthy and less healthy will be the ones at the top of the industry.

LinkedIn censors its members in China...globally

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 02:55

Not long after I posted my Marketplace story about the 25th anniversary of the Tian’anmen Square protests on LinkedIn, the company sent me an email:


Australian journalist Fergus Ryan received this email, too. His post, a story he did about artist Guo Jian being detained in the run-up to the Tian’anmen anniversary, was also removed.

“I felt outraged, really. Because professionally, as a journalist, I feel that this is why a lot of people would follow me on LinkedIn," says Ryan.

LinkedIn says it did not come to its decision to censor posts from its members in China lightly.

“It is difficult," says LinkedIn's Director of Communications Hani Durzy. "We are strongly in support of freedom of expression. But it was clear to us that to create value for our members in China and around the world, we would need to implement the Chinese government’s restrictions on content.”

But LinkedIn isn't just blocking this content inside China. The company is removing these posts from its site worldwide. In LinkedIn’s email to me, the company explains it does this to "protect the safety of our members that live in China."

“Yeah, well, I mean, bullshit,” says Chinese social media expert Jeremy Goldkorn. “Their Chinese members should be able to choose what they should post and they know better than a foreign company how to protect themselves from the government.”

LinkedIn got help from Shaun Rein, director of China Market Research, to develop its China strategy. Even he’s disappointed in the company’s censorship policies. “A lot of western players, they so want to make money that they actually do more to heed what they think the authorities want," says Rein.

LinkedIn seems to have recognized this. Durzy says his company will continue to block sensitive content inside of China, but,"after talking to a number of people, we recognized that it may be better if we were to change our policy and allow that content and profile to be viewed outside of China,” he says.

Which leaves me wondering what will happen when I post this story to LinkedIn.

Atlantic City loses again as more casinos close

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 02:07

Two of Atlantic City’s casinos, the Revel and the Showboat, closed down this past weekend, bring the total closures to three this year.

Five thousand people lost their jobs, and a fourth casino – Trump Plaza – will shut down in two weeks.

“We’re trying to ease the blow,” says Ben Begleiter, an analyst with UNITE HERE Local 54, the union which represents many casino workers in Atlantic City. The union booked the convention center to get resources to people laid off. “We want to make sure that people have unemployment benefits, health benefits, utility and food assistance.”

Atlantic City is experiencing something that many cities have experienced before it. It hitched itself to a star, and that star faded.

“Atlantic City was predicated on being an east coast monopoly in the casino industry now there’s no monopolies any place,” says James Hughes, dean of the school of planning and public policy at Rutgers University.

All the neighboring states have casinos now, allowing those states to retain their own gamblers and poach some of New Jersey’s. 

Despite that, Atlantic City still draws millions of visitors and some of its casinos are still quite profitable. But, says Hughes, “it’s going to have a permanently smaller economy.” 

Gambling revenue is still half what it was in 2006.

“The big question is what Atlantic City does in the future to rebuild and diversify,” says Oliver Cooke, professor of economics at Stockton College. “There’s a whole countless litany of proposals that have been put forward,” he says, from expanding resort offerings to making the city a concert destination. 

The future of Atlantic City will be the topic of a forum hosted by Governor Chris Christie, on Sept. 8. 

Federal Judge Blocks Enforcement Of Louisiana Abortion Law

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 20:48

Lawyers and advocates disagree over whether the judge's order affects doctors at all five abortion clinics in the state or only those at three clinics whose lawsuit challenges the measure.

» E-Mail This

PTSD Goes Largely Untreated In Iraq's Kurdish Region

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 13:40

The U.S. military's attention to PTSD is well-documented but Kurdish fighters living with the same disorder haven't received nearly as much care. Arun Rath talks to journalist Jenna Krajeski.

» E-Mail This

Guantanamo Defense Lawyer Resigns, Says U.S. Case Is 'Stacked'

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 13:25

One of the lawyers for self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed resigned from the Army last week. He tells NPR the government is putting on a "show trial."

» E-Mail This

Coast Guard Calls Off Search For Small Plane That Crashed In Ocean

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 10:53

The apparently unconscious pilot of the single-engine aircraft drifted into restricted airspace over Washington, prompting F-16s to be scrambled.

» E-Mail This

Corvette-Eating Sinkhole Will Be Filled In, Museum Says

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 09:44

When a gaping hole opened up under a clutch of classic cars at the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky, the disaster became a favorite exhibit. But the museum's board has decided to fix it, anyway.

» E-Mail This

Gaza's Shattered Airport, Once A Symbol Of Sovereignty

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 08:46

The sad spectacle of Gaza's bombed-out airport doesn't deter Palestinians from hoping to someday have another airport of their own.

» E-Mail This

Rebels Reportedly Seize Part Of U.S. Embassy Compound In Tripoli

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 07:39

A YouTube video shows a large group of men occupying a building that the U.S. ambassador to Libya says appears to be the embassy's residential annex.

» E-Mail This

Hong Kong Activists Protest China's Control Of Leadership Vote

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 07:04

People in the former British colony are angered that a vote for the territory's next chief executive will be from a list of candidates hand-pickled by Beijing.

» E-Mail This

Putin Calls For Talks To Consider Statehood For Southeastern Ukraine

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 06:06

The Russian leader said "substantive, meaningful talks" were needed to decide the outcome in the region, while a spokesman clarified that the region should remain part of Ukraine.

» E-Mail This

How 'Sassy' Came To Mean Something Both Sweet And Sour

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 06:05

Since the new Lifetime show Girlfriend Intervention has resurrected the tired old cliche of the "sassy black woman," one black woman decided "sassy" needed some scrutiny.

» E-Mail This

Iraqi Forces Reportedly Enter Besieged Northern City Of Amerli

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 04:41

The town of Amerli, which includes some 20,000 Shiite Turkmen, has been surrounded by Sunni Islamic State fighters for two months.

» E-Mail This

Pages