National News

God quietly rules the box office

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 12:37
Monday, April 21, 2014 - 05:35 Pure Flix

A movie you may have never heard of has quietly made a fortune at the box office. The budget of the Christian indie film "God's Not Dead" was dirt cheap relative to other films atop the box office charts.

The production budget was less than $3 million, but faith-based movies have a way of making good money using unconventional marketing, all while flying far below the mainstream radar. The film itself is fairly conventional, structured a bit like a boxing movie, except the hero and villain are a Christian student and his skeptical philosophy professor. Rather than a ring, their climactic battle is a classroom debate over whether God exists.

Most critics, including some Christians, have been dismissive of the film. But that’s had little impact on its appeal. In part, that’s because the Christian filmmakers knew their audience and how to craft a story they would respond to. As if for good measure, they also threw in cameos from a popular Christian band and even members of the “Duck Dynasty” family.

The way films like this become hits is more about what happens off screen: the film’s low-key, but highly targeted marketing got pastors around the country to endorse the film. A thumbs up from the clergy meant their congregations bought advance tickets and filled buses to go see it, some traveling long distances.

“A lot of the success has been solely because of churches that have gotten behind this movie,” says David A. R. White, who produced and starred in the film. “In fact, we had almost a million dollars in presales before we even opened.”

That set up an opening weekend shocker. The tiny film grossed $9.2 million, showing up on box office charts just behind the lavishly promoted “Divergent” and “Muppets Most Wanted.”

One number in particular caught Hollywood’s eye. The movie was in a small amount of theaters. But it was raking in nearly $11,000 per screen, well ahead of expensive blockbusters. It also performed well in small markets. Theater owners took notice and the film has expanded to more theaters ever since stunning the movie industry on its opening weekend.

“’God’s Not Dead’ is one of the films that we will point to to say that this is a great genre, faith-based films are here to stay,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at box office tracking firm Rentrak.

Drawing more Christians is one way Hollywood aims to get closer to its object of worship: money. The big-budget “Noah” got a mixed response. But “God’s Not Dead” has movie producers faithful and godless alike, taking notice and taking notes.

Marketplace Morning Report for Monday, April 21, 2014by Mark GarrisonPodcast Title How God quietly rules the box officeStory Type FeatureSyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

One Scientist's Quest To Vanquish Epileptic Seizures

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 12:37

Ivan Soltesz studies epilepsy in mice, but says children with chronic seizures are his inspiration. He's closing in on a way to quell the seizures with light — and without drugs' side effects.

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Why great companies aren't so great online

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 12:34

Lists like, "Best Places To Work," or "Top 10 Coolest Companies," usually focus on salaries, or perks like stock options, wellness programs, or a great cafeteria.

But even those details sometimes don't tell you what the culture is like inside a company and what employees lives are like. 

Jason Seiden, CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing, looked at the LinkedIn profiles of 250 people who worked at celebrated companies, and found that 80 percent of them had nothing to say about the places they worked.

“I’ve been watching this trend on social media, where employees are out there, they’re looking each other up, they’re engaging online the same way we would engage at a bar, you know ‘Hey, what’s real? What’s going on?’ And what I didn’t see is, I didn’t see companies adapting to that. I saw them using the same old broadcast channels to get their message out. So that disconnect is what i wanted to explore,” Seiden says.

“Once upon a time, if a company wanted to speak to the world, they would have to buy advertising," Seiden says.T"hey would have to have a press release get picked up by journalists and carried out through a broadcast medium. Now, because of social media, we all broadcast.”

Read Jason Seiden's thoughts on why employees are silent about their companies on LinkedIn

Disaster On Everest Marks Deadliest Day In Mountain's History

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 12:08

More than 13 Nepalese climbers died while preparing a route on Mount Everest for Western climbers. Grayson Schaffer of Outside Magazine explains that local porters and guides bear the brunt of the danger on these extreme climbs.

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Pipeline Put Off, As Keystone Review Is Indefinitely Extended

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 12:08

It looks as though the "comment period" for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project will be extended, delaying a decision past the November elections.

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As beef and pork prices rise, demand tastes like chicken

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:58

With the pork industry saddled with a bad case of pig flu, and the beef industry suffering a drought, right now would be a great time to be a chicken farmer.

In the wake of rising beef and pork prices, chicken is now the cheapest protein on the market. Chicken farmers anticipate earning the most in a year since 1996, even accounting for a drop in farm income due to crop surpluses. Demand for poultry has gone up as a result. So much, in fact, that chicken farmers haven't been able to keep up with the increased demand -- and one farmer is struggling to keep up.

"We haven't run out of chickens, but we are sold out, says Ed Fryar, CEO of Ozark Mountain Poultry in Rogers, Arkansas. "The demand has outstripped the available supply for this year."

Fryar goes through approximately 540,000 birds per week, which he says can take anywhere from four to nine weeks to reach market weight. While that sounds fast, increasing production to keep up with increased demand would take significantly longer--about a year and a half.

And that still doesn't change the fact that, for now,  Fryar can't sell what he doesn't have.

"When you're sold out, if you've got a good customer and they order five percent or ten percent more than they normally take, you don't have the birds," he said. "You don't have the meat to send them, and you'd hate to say no to a customer."

As beef and pork prices rise, demand tastes like chicken

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:58

With the pork industry saddled with a bad case of pig flu, and the beef industry suffering a drought, right now would be a great time to be a chicken farmer.

In the wake of rising beef and pork prices, chicken is now the cheapest protein on the market. Chicken farmers anticipate earning the most in a year since 1996, even accounting for a drop in farm income due to crop surpluses. Demand for poultry has gone up as a result. So much, in fact, that chicken farmers haven't been able to keep up with the increased demand -- and one farmer is struggling to keep up.

"We haven't run out of chickens, but we are sold out, says Ed Fryar, CEO of Ozark Mountain Poultry in Rogers, Arkansas. "The demand has outstripped the available supply for this year."

Fryar goes through approximately 540,000 birds per week, which he says can take anywhere from four to nine weeks to reach market weight. While that sounds fast, increasing production to keep up with increased demand would take significantly longer--about a year and a half.

And that still doesn't change the fact that, for now,  Fryar can't sell what he doesn't have.

"When you're sold out, if you've got a good customer and they order five percent or ten percent more than they normally take, you don't have the birds," he said. "You don't have the meat to send them, and you'd hate to say no to a customer."

Why you should budget, even if you're broke

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:53

We often talk about the importance of creating a budget: Figuring out your monthly income, expenses, and what you want to set aside for retirement, emergencies and fun.

But if you don't have a lot of money coming in, the whole exercise can feel overwhelming. Or worse, pointless. How do you budget, when you're broke?

Kristin Wong, personal finance blogger, wrote a guide for broke budgeting on the website Lifehacker

First: Assess Your Financial Situation

If you have more money going out than coming in, here's what your financial plan boils down to: spend less and/or earn more. To figure out how to do this, first take an assessment of your income and expenses. This will help you develop a reasonable and realistic budget.

Have broke budgeting tips of your own? Leave them in the comments or tweet them to @LiveMoney.

Instagram exposes your real friends

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:49

Instagram angered a number of its most loyal users by revealing the true identity of their friends. It happened on Wednesday, when the photo sharing app announced it would be removing any and all deactivated and spam accounts.

"After receiving feedback from members in the Instagram community, we recently fixed an issue that incorrectly included inactive accounts in follower/following lists," a spokesman said in a statement to the tech news site Recode.

The company made a similar move back in 2012, due to backlash over an increase in instagram spammers. But in a change of events, this time users took to Twitter and social media to express their annoyance with the new removal tactics by revealing just how many spammers were following them. 

Some users started a hashtag campaign called the #SaveMyInstagram2014.

Others questioned what would happen if Twitter were to perform the same clean up.

While many were displeased with their sudden decrease in followers, Instagram says it believes users will benefit from the change.

"We believe this will provide a more authentic experience and genuinely reflect people who are actually engaging with each other’s content."

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Leaflets Given To Donetsk Jews Made Waves Worldwide, But Not In Donetsk

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:49

The story of fliers ordering Jews to register with the separatists stoked fears of anti-Semitism. But Jews in the Ukrainian town say the orders aren't real and were intended as political provocation.

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Like Ham? There's A Festival For That In French Basque Country

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:49

The port town of Bayonne in France's Basque region is known for its colorful food and culture. And since 1464, its residents have celebrated the remarkable, local cured ham at the springtime Ham Fair.

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Keystone XL Pipeline Review Extended By State Department

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:40

Federal agencies are getting more time to review the controversial project, the State Department says, given an ongoing legal battle in Nebraska over whether the pipeline could pass through.

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Captains Uncourageous: Abandoning Ship Long Seen As A Crime

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:26

Whenever a captain comes back and passengers don't, it's seen as shameful behavior. The captains of the Costa Concordia and the South Korean ferry both received blame for not staying with their ship.

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The importance of confidence for women

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:25

Women in the workforce get no shortage of messages about how we should behave. Advocate for yourself … but not too much. Ask for a raise … but pick your moment.

Katty Kay, the anchor of BBC World News America, and Claire Shipman, correspondent for ABC and Good Morning America, authors of "The Confidence Code," argue that women will occupy more C-suites and positions of power by taking risks, speaking up, and being more confident.

How confident are you? Take the ‘Confidence Quiz’

On the meaning of confidence:

Shipman: “The stuff that turns thoughts into action … Confidence is about your belief in your ability to have an impact on the world. To get things done , so there’s a real element of action about it."

On the confidence gap between men and women:

Kay: "The last book we wrote made the case for women in business and how companies, organizations, that employ more senior women, do better than their competitors. And yet as we interviewed these senior women we kept hearing phrases like, ‘You know, I’m just lucky to have got where I am,’ or, ‘I was in the right place at the right time,’ or, ‘I’m not sure I’m the right person for that new promotion or that new big contract.’ And we thought that’s so strange, you know, we never hear phrases like that from men. So, we started to dig into the research on this and a lot of psychologists and business schools have now done research showing that there is indeed a confidence gap between men and women."

"For example, there is a business school study from Manchester University in the U.K., that the professor has been asking students, what do you think you deserve to earn five years after you graduate. Men routinely say they deserve to earn $80,000 on average. Women will say it’s $64,000. That a 20% difference. [At] Hewlett Packard, women will apply for promotions when they have 100% of the skill set, men are happy if they have 60% of the skill set because they think they’re going to learn the rest on the job."

"Women, whilst we have all the talent, we have all the competence, we’re perfectly able, we are undervaluing ourselves compared to men."

On the importance of failure:

Shipman: "Carol Dweck said to us something that was pivotal. She said, “If life were one long grade school, women would rule the world.” And that is because although we’re raising girls in large measure these days to think they can do anything, we’re still nurturing them to be perfect and people pleasers and well behaved — in fact, too perfect. And so they internalize this sort of coloring within the lines, pleasing people, being quiet, getting good grades. They do that all the way through college. They excel. They hit the real world, and guess what? They haven’t screwed up. They haven’t failed. They haven’t learned that you lose, you flunk, you do this. It doesn’t matter you just keep going."

Kay: "What you learn when you fail at something, whether it’s something small like asking for a pay raise that you don’t get, big or small, whether it’s in your personal life or private life, in the end you realize you’re still there. You’re still standing."

The importance of confidence

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:25

Women in the workforce get no shortage of messages about how we should behave. Advocate for yourself … but not too much. Ask for a raise … but pick your moment.

Katty Kay, the anchor of BBC World News America, and Claire Shipman, correspondent for ABC and Good Morning America, authors of "The Confidence Code," argue that women will occupy more C-suites and positions of power by taking risks, speaking up, and being more confident.

How confident are you? Take the ‘Confidence Quiz’

On the meaning of confidence:

Shipman: “The stuff that turns thoughts into action … Confidence is about your belief in your ability to have an impact on the world. To get things done , so there’s a real element of action about it.

On the confidence gap between men and women:

Kay: The last book we wrote made the case for women in business and how companies, organizations, that employ more senior women, do better than their competitors. And yet as we interviewed these senior women we kept hearing phrases like, ‘You know, I’m just lucky to have got where I am,’ or, ‘I was in the right place at the right time,’ or, ‘I’m not sure I’m the right person for that new promotion or that new big contract.’ And we thought that’s so strange, you know, we never hear phrases like that from men. So, we started to dig into the research on this and a lot of psychologists and business schools have now done research showing that there is indeed a confidence gap between men and women.

For example, there is a business school study from Manchester University in the U.K., that the professor has been asking students, what do you think you deserve to earn five years after you graduate. Men routinely say they deserve to earn $80,000 on average. Women will say it’s $64,000. That a 20% difference. [At] Hewlett Packard, women will apply for promotions when they have 100% of the skill set, men are happy if they have 60% of the skill set because they think they’re going to learn the rest on the job.

Women, whilst we have all the talent, we have all the competence, we’re perfectly able, we are undervaluing ourselves compared to men.

On the importance of failure:

Shipman: Carol Dweck said to us something that was pivotal. She said, “If life were one long grade school, women would rule the world.” And that is because although we’re raising girls in large measure these days to think they can do anything, we’re still nurturing them to be perfect and people pleasers and well behaved — in fact, too perfect. And so they internalize this sort of coloring within the lines, pleasing people, being quiet, getting good grades. They do that all the way through college. They excel. They hit the real world, and guess what? They haven’t screwed up. They haven’t failed. They haven’t learned that you lose, you flunk, you do this. It doesn’t matter you just keep going.

Kay: What you learn when you fail at something, whether it’s something small like asking for a pay raise that you don’t get, big or small, whether it’s in your personal life or private life, in the end you realize you’re still there. You’re still standing.

Russia's annexation of Crimea comes with a cost

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:13

The Russians are now suffering a double financial whammy from the crisis in Ukraine. Not only have they seen a big slowdown in their economic growth thanks to sanctions -- they’re also counting the specific cost of annexing the Ukrainian province of Crimea.

The annexation the Black Sea peninsula has proved wildly popular in Russia. But after the first flush of acquisition, reality is beginning to dawn and, like many takeovers in the corporate world, this one is turning out to be very costly.

“In many ways Russia may have bitten off more than it expected with Crimea. And I think the overhaul of the economy there is a bigger task than many would expect,” argues Raoul Ruparel of the Open Europe think tank.

The peninsula may be semi-detached physically from the rest of Ukraine, but it is well-integrated economically with the mainland. Prying it away from Ukraine and plugging it into Russia won’t be easy… or cheap.

“It is really dependent on mainland Ukraine for its power supply, and for its food supply, and for its public services. The banking system will be really difficult to disentangle,” claims Lilit Grevorgyan of IHS Global Insight. 

Building new infrastructure and new financial links between Crimea and Russia will cost a fortune. $3 billion for new power stations. $3 billion for a planned bridge between the two countries. And then there’s the pledge to raise pensions and public sector wages in Crimea to Russian levels, which will set the  Kremlin back a further $3 billion a year.

“In the context of an already difficult fiscal environment, those pledges pose a problem,” explains Sam Charap of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It’s not surprising that the Russian finance minister is complaining about the extra cost.”

There is an economic upside to the annexation. Russia will save an estimated $4 billion a year in rent for its naval base in Crimea. And there is the prospect of exploiting untapped oil and gas reserves off the Crimean coast. Not that annexing Crimea was motivated by money. It’s about national pride . The move has won the overwhelming approval of the Russian public – 79 percent are in favor. 

However - say the critics – that is no guarantee that Russia’s actions will prove successful in the long term. Most Germans applauded Hitler’s annexation of Sudetenland - the German speaking province of Checkoslovakia. And – as we know – that didn’t end well for Germany.

Salsa Legend Cheo Feliciano Dies

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 11:12

One of the most respected figures in Latin music, the salsa singer had deep roots in both Puerto Rico and New York, where he influenced a younger generation of musicians.

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Military commissaries consider going generic

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 10:26
Monday, April 21, 2014 - 05:20 Wikimedia Commons

The commissary at the Fort Hood base.

Military commissaries, grocery stores that sell name-brand products to military families basically at cost, are facing a billion-dollar budget cut over the next three years. And defense officials are considering a sea change for commissaries: allowing them to stock generic.

That’s something Patt Donaldson would like, and steering two kids and two loaded carts, he and his wife Jessica Donaldson wrap up a big shopping trip.

She’s in the Navy and they live near the Fort Belvoir Commissary in Virginia. But they do these big runs off base – at ALDI, Costco, and Wegmans. They like the produce better, and all the store brands. Generic yogurt, canned fruit and pasta run down the belt to checkout.

“The generics we can get outside of the commissary is certainly far cheaper for us than what we can get buying name brands in the commissary,” says Patt Donaldson.

This is something military spouses often debate – where to get the best deals. Commissaries offer 30 percent savings on a typical basket of brand name goods, though some products see steeper discounts than others.

Currently, commissaries can’t sell generics. But now that the Pentagon has proposed a billion dollar commissary cut over three years, commissary prices are expected to rise. That has some officials wondering if stocking generics is a solution.

It’s an option Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Raymond Chandler described at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

“If I’m a young soldier and I choose to go to the commissary... the only thing I can buy is Green Giant or Hunt’s brands," he said. "But I can go to Walmart and get great value and that’s 30 cents less for a can of corn than it is in the commissary.”

So stock generics and everyone saves, right? Upsetting the commissary ecology has risks, says Tom Gordy, President of the Armed Forces Marketing Council, which represents military brokers who work with the name brands.

Say for example the Defense Commissary Agency went out and contracted for a store brand. Let’s call it Five Star Food. “That means the name brand products that are on the shelves will lose their shelf space, and they will also lose volume of sales,” he says.

Five Star Food would have costs, of course. To make it look as cheap as a generics in civilian groceries, Gordy says commissaries might have to mark up their remaining name brands even more.

“The manufacturers right now, most of them give best pricing to the Defense Commissary Agency,” he says.

They also provide marketing dollars. They even stock shelves. All, Gordy says, to support a military benefit. They might be less inclined to subsidize a military business.

Marketplace Morning Report for Monday, April 21, 2014 Kate Davidson/Marketplace

Military spouse Patt Donaldson after a recent shopping trip.

by Kate DavidsonPodcast Title Military commissaries consider going genericStory Type FeatureSyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Japan Says It Will Temporarily Scale Back Whale Hunt

NPR News - Fri, 2014-04-18 10:02

After a U.N. court ruling last month ordering Japan to halt whaling in Antarctic waters, Tokyo said it was reducing its target catch to just 210 animals a year.

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Solar grows, with government help

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:56
Friday, April 18, 2014 - 16:55 Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy unveiled 891 photovoltaic modules on the roof of the the department's Forrestal building roof in Washington, DC. 

The White House announced new initiatives to support more solar development this week. But the Department of Energy’s inspector general cast a cloud, with a report slamming a $68 million loan guarantee gone wrong—shades of the Solyndra failure.  

However, solar has actually been growing by leaps and bounds. It provides a little less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity— enough to light more than two million households. Other numbers sound even more impressive.

"More solar has been installed in 18 months than in the previous 30 years combined," says Ken Johnson, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association.  "The cost of installed solar systems have dropped 50 percent since 2010."

"Over the last five years, costs have come way down, particularly for large-scale solar installations," says Severin Borenstein of the University of California's Haas School of Business.  "They are almost competitive in some areas now with regular fossil fuel power."

Home installations, he says, are more qualified.

"Some people can save money by putting in solar on their house," he says. "Most people still won't save money."

Solar is competitive only because of government subsidies— many in the form of tax breaks. Borenstein says the calculations are complicated, but federal tax breaks alone can give back almost 45 percent.

That investment is paying off, says Shayle Kann, senior vice president of research at Greentech Media. "It's created a market that has driven costs down year over year," he says. "And why the drop in price accelerates is because there's learning that is done from all these installations. There are economies of scale. 

"There's been a huge storyline about panel prices falling," he says. "Actually, in 2013, the price of panels rose a little bit, and despite that, system prices fell. And that’s where learning from increased deployments makes a huge difference."  

Marketplace for Friday April 18, 2014by Dan WeissmannPodcast Title Solar grows, with government helpStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No
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