The season to hunt wild alligators in the Bayou State opens Wednesday. The one-month open season is big business for fishermen and people like Tony Howard, a nuisance alligator hunter. He legally hunts alligators year-round. Inside the walk-in cooler behind his house in rural Sarepta, La., is a mound of neatly coiled and cured alligator skins ready for market.
“Whole alligators are kept in here until they are processed,” Howard says. “This keeps them at a constant temperature, and it gives me more time to skin them.”
Howard runs a processing business on the side. He’ll skin dozens of alligators this season and then sell the hides at the best price. He says the cost of a whole alligator could jump 10 percent over last year. A 10-footer might fetch about $400.
“We’re not out to make a killing," he says. "We’re not out to retire off of it. This is just a commodity, and you have to shop it, and try to get the best price you can out of the commodity."
That’s attracted more alligator buyers to the market, according to Howard. About 34,000 wild alligators will be harvested from Louisiana this year. Meanwhile, luxury goods companies are buying alligator and crocodile farms and tanneries around the world. They want more control over their raw material. Christy Plott Redd, vice president of sales at American Tanning and Leather in Griffin, Ga., says this is good for business.
“Luxury brands that buy tanneries typically use alligator and crocodile every season, year after year, and it lends stability to our industry and also increases demand for the skins,” Redd says.
Demand is strong, and Redd is trying to get an edge over other buyers. Her tannery is awarding $10,000 to the fisherman who brings her the biggest catch and all their alligators for this season -- regardless of what they look like. Like grading diamonds, according to Redd, there are good ones and bad ones. Her tannery will eat the cost on ones that aren’t perfect enough for her fashion house customers.
“Maybe less than 10 percent of the alligators that we buy are really first-grade skins. You sell those at a premium price,” Redd says. “But the ones that are bad, they stack up on your shelves for years and years.”
A typical handbag may take two or three alligators. European craftsmanship drives up the price. There’s also a thriving secondary market for collectors of alligator handbags, according to Thomai Serdari, who teaches luxury marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
“There is a constant exchange in a very small group of people who tend to actually increase the prices," Serdari says. "We have alligator bags that have hit the market that go as high as $130,000, which is absurd.”
Soaring prices are driven by a strong demand from luxury consumers in Asia, Serdari says. But in bayou country, gator hunter Tony Howard just hopes that temperatures remain summerlike so the big ones bite, and the season isn’t a bust.
“The only time that I enjoy this is whenever I’m leaving the buyer with check in hand," Howard says. "The rest of this is all a job.”
His part is not glamorous, but it pays the bills.
Serena Williams dispatched Francesca Schiavone, 6-0, 6-1, from the first round of the U.S. Open Monday night, joining her older sister Venus in the second round. It's just the second time this year that both players got past the first round of a Grand Slam event.
Parent advocates and a new federal law making accessible play areas a civil right are changing the landscape for public playgrounds.
NPR Education Correspondent Claudio Sanchez opens up his notebook to share some of the education stories he's been covering this year. He talks with host Michel Martin about claims of segregation in Memphis schools, and the controversy over new education standards.
Host Michel Martin hears from a group of teachers about how education policies and technology are changing today's classrooms. She's joined by fifth grade teacher Rafe Esquith, third grade teacher Tequila Pennington-Calwise and school librarian Elissa Malespina.
Tell Me More checks in with the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, about the biggest challenges educators, parents and students face in schools today. He talks with host Michel Martin about education as a civil rights issue.
A community-edited guide to accessible playgrounds. So far, we've identified more than 1,200. Help us find more.
From Urban Outfitters to Oreo Cookies, a growing number of brands are experimenting with Vine to interact with their customers. The app lets users shoot-and-share six-second videos, and now it’s at the center of a new marketing campaign from Airbnb. The travel accommodations website is asking people to help make the first-ever short film using Vines.
Airbnb is calling its short film campaign “Hollywood & Vines” in a kind of homage to the famous intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street in Los Angeles -- an epicenter of the film business almost a century ago. “We thought of Hollywood as, you know, the legacy of storytelling, and Vines as the future of storytelling in video form,” says Vivek Wagle, the company’s head of brand strategy.
He won’t reveal the plot but Wagle says the theme is “finding your place in the world.” Airbnb is posting a list of shots on its website and people can submit their Vines on Twitter. The final product will air on the Sundance Channel.
“This is sort of the next evolution of brands trying to engage with consumers,” explains Matt Britton, CEO of the social media marketing firm MRY. He says Airbnb is getting people to interact with its brand. “You know, if they can do that then at the end of the day also have great content which they can then bottle up, repackage and share, well then that’s even more of a win," he says.
Britton says the campaign helps Vine too, adding Airbnb’s customers to its growing user base.
Even before the earthquake back in 2010, Haiti was no easy place. Hardships and poverty, instability and violence are a long part of its history. Throw in some wrenching family reality, and that's a good part of the plot of Edwidge Danticat's new novel, "Claire of the Sea Light."
The book centers on the story of a young Haitian girl named Claire whose father is considering giving her away in the hopes of getting her a better life. On the day he finally makes the heart-wrenching decision, Claire disappears. As the novel unfolds, we learn more and more about the people in her town, and what they do to make it by day-to-day.
In some ways, poverty and aspiration themselves are a character in the book.
"This idea of wanting better, wanting better for oneself, for one's child, in an environment where the actual environment, the political environment, the financial opportunities are villains" is an important part of the book, says Danticat. "Dreaming, aspiring, working hard -- are all parts of the fabric of this book."
Claire's father, in the novel, must make the difficult decision to give her away.
"The father, thinking about market, thinking about money, writes a letter to Claire saying' I'm not selling you' because he realizes there are situations in which people do sell their children," says Danticat.
That the book mentions the possibility of slavery is no coincidence, says Danicat, who is quick to point out that "our society in Haiti that were initially formed out of a very terrible transaction, the horrible slave trade is so deep a part of our history. Whenever elements of it emerge in our day to day transactions, it is very painful and uncomfortable, even in the present."
In October, online health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, will open for business. As the start date nears, people's questions about the particulars of buying insurance on the exchanges are streaming in.
Pvt. Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, hopes to receive the estrogen treatments while serving her prison sentence for leaking U.S. secrets.
Debt limits, sequestration, government shutdowns... It’s all back after Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned yesterday that Congress has about six weeks before the country hits its $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.
The battle lines that have been drawn since 2010, and haven’t gone away. House Speaker John Boehner has said he won’t raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending. President Obama’s spokesperson Jay Carney said yesterday that the administration won’t negotiate with Republicans over Congress’ responsibility to pay its bills.
On top of that, Congress and the president must reach some kind of federal budget deal by the end off September. If they don’t reach an agreement on that, some parts of the government will shut down.
Lew says if the debt ceiling isn’t raised it would cause irreparable harm to the nation’s economy. By mid-October, he said the government will be left will about $50 billion in cash on hand, which could be wiped out in a day. Interest rates could spike and potentially throw the markets into a downward spiral.
If the country doesn’t have enough cash on hand to pay its bills, the government would have to prioritize its obligations, such as paying bond holders, or Medicare bills.
It may seem funny to assign a number to consumer confidence. It’s part how people feel about the economy now. And part how they expect the economy to be in coming months. Put it all together and the Conference Board’s Lynn Franco says this month’s Consumer Confidence Index, is 81.5 -- above economists' predictions but still below pre-recession levels.
“Generally when they’re extremely confident we get readings of 90 or above,” she says. “So we’re sort of on the right path, but we still have a ways to go.”
Economists say the tailwinds on that path are that the job market is slowly improving, stock prices are up, and housing prices are rising. But there are plenty of tailwinds.
“Wage growth is very weak, the unemployment rate -- although it’s coming down -- is still at 7.4 percent," says Gus Faucher, a senior economist with the PNC Financial Services Group. "And overall employment’s down by about two million from where it was prior to the recession. So those are drags on confidence."
One thing about this month’s measure of consumer confidence is that the expectations component went up. People were more optimistic.That’s in part because the recovery has been so anemic, it only takes a little bit of good news to boost consumers’ confidence, says Chris Christopher, an economist with IHS Global Insight.
“So what would make them happy now takes a lot less on the economic front than it would in 2005, when things were doing very well,” he says.
Economists say consumer confidence is important because it’s an early predictor of trends in the economy -- in this case, a modestly upward trend.
The Treasury department made a sobering announcement yesterday. The U.S. is going to run out of money by mid-October unless Congress raises the government's debt ceiling. Well, not exactly run out, but our cash on hand will drop to $50 billion -- not enough to last us to Halloween.
Before Monday, the Treasury thought we had enough cash to last until Labor Day. Even those of us who are not great with our personal finances have a pretty good idea how long our savings will last us. But it's a little more complicated with the federal government.
When the government does hit the debt limit, whenever that is, the government won't be able to borrow money, which means we have to pay all our bills from our bank account. "The federal government primarily banks at the Fed and then a small amount of money in private bank accounts," says Donald Marron with the Urban Institute.
Now, lots of the bills the government pays from that account are the same amount every month -- paychecks to government employees and Social Security payments. "Then there are other things where there's just uncertainty," Marron says. "We don't know how many people are going to go see their Medicare doctor and what services they are going to get."
There are also unexpected payments to government contractors. We might decide to buy a bunch of cruise missiles to deploy in Syria, for example. And then on the revenue side, there are unexpected payments to the government, like the $60 billion in bailout money that Fannie Mae recently paid back and, the $20 billion from Freddie Mac, "which were not in the baseline forecasts," says Steve Bell, former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee.
Bell says there is so much uncertainty in the budget that the debt can go up or down by billions of dollars on a daily basis. "So there are some days when you have $3 billion more that day that came in when you expected and some day when you have $3 billion less."
And then there is just the sheer scale of the accounting. The U.S. treasury process 10 million transactions every day. That's 10 million factors that affect the Treasury Department's prediction as to when we hit the debt ceiling.
It's been a good year for Tesla Motors and its Model S luxury sedan in California, where Tesla is selling more cars than Porsche, Jaguar, Lincoln, or Buick. In 2013, the company has sold 4,714 cars in the state, according to the California New Car Dealers Association.
Consumer confidence and home prices continue to rise. But they're not moving up quickly. Both are key economic indicators.
The horrific effects of chemical weapons used during World War I led to a treaty banning their use. But Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein deployed them several decades later during his country's war with Iran, as well as on Kurds in the town of Halabja. Before the latest reports of a chemical weapon attack in Syria, a Japanese cult used sarin gas in a 1995 attack on Tokyo's subway system.
According to a Russian newspaper, the NSA leaker lived for a couple days at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong before his late June flight to Moscow. That raises questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement that Snowden's arrival was a "complete surprise."
Also: U.S. spied on United Nations, German media report; jurors to soon begin weighing death penalty for Fort Hood killer; George Zimmerman will ask state of Florida to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills.
If you lose your laptop or smartphone, you're losing an awful lot of deeply personal data with it. That point's underscored by the current case of David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who is responsible for breaking the lion's share of news from the Edward Snowden NSA revelations. British authorities detained Miranda and took several of his devices. The British government says what they did was allowed under anti-terror laws. But the search has been heavily criticized as overreaching. Security consultant Ashkan Soltani says the Miranda case is a reminder of just how much of our lives our devices can hold.