National News

2014 Resolutions: Destie Sprague

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 14:54

Happy New Year! In 2014, Marketplace Money will follow a few listeners from around the country who’ve resolved to make over their personal finance lives. We’ll be checking up on their financial New Year’s resolutions periodically throughout the year and see if they're achieving their goals!

Name: Destie Hohman Sprague
Family: Husband George Sprague, son Robert Sprague
Location: Bath, Maine
Resolution: “We are really looking to firm up some of our general mechanics of our finances, like readjusting our investment allocation. I think more importantly, handling our general cash flow and getting a better cash-management system and graphing our income and expenses. We’re thinking about doing a cash-only system, so we’re not pulling out that credit card or writing checks.”

The Spragues are happy with their current savings, but Destie did mention she’d like to turn her focus to something else: “I’m more interested in saving, driving down our expenses, and increasing savings so that potentially i could switch over into doing consulting work … it’s a longer term goal and it’s not very motivating in the day-to-day to going out to lunch at work.”

Carmen Says: “In order for us to actually turn our inertia into action, we need that kind of nudge, that little push over the edge, and part of that is really having a motivation that you feel connected to. You want to be a consultant, I would say, when would that happen? How much money would you need in the bank to make it happen? That’s going to be your cash goal.”

“Let’s say it’s $100 a month. Mark on your calendar four years out, take it every 30 days. This is the balance you have to have, one of the exercises I give people: Write down everything you spend. And that simple action will get you to process what you’re spending. You naturally will spend less, because you’re thinking about it .. it’s a way of making those decisions live.”

Vitamin E Might Help Slow Alzheimer's Early On

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 14:45

Vitamin E has gotten a bad rap because of studies finding it increases risk of death. But people with early-stage Alzheimer's disease might be able to fend off symptoms for a while, a study finds. That could mean more a little more time to live independently, and less burden on caregivers.

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Out Like A Bull: 2013 Was A Banner Year For Wall Street

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 14:31

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 26.5 percent, the S&P Index rose 29.6 percent and the Nasdaq jumped 38 percent.

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Utah Asks U.S. Supreme Court To Stop Gay Marriages

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 14:29

Utah officials say of same-sex marriages that are now taking place in their state, "each one is an affront." Justice Sonia Sotomayor has asked for a response to their request for a stay by Friday.

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Here's How Young Farmers Looking For Land Are Getting Creative

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 14:13

Across the country, there's a wave of interest in local food, and a new generation of young farmers wants to grow it. But many aren't buying land. Instead, they're renting it.

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The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 13:46

In 2012, "massive open online courses" were lauded as the most important trend in higher education. But this year, educators and even students rebelled against the rapid expansion of online learning. Two of the biggest MOOCs say they're making big changes in how they deliver their classes in 2014.

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Judge Upholds Key Provisions Of N.Y. Gun-Control Law

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 13:14

Judge William Skretny in Buffalo rejected arguments from opponents that a ban on large-capacity magazines and the sale of semi-automatic rifles infringed on Second Amendment rights.

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Peace talks in world's newest state involve oil revenue

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 13:12

Peace talks in Ethiopia could end heavy fighting between the government and rebels in South Sudan. Formed in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest state.

And what happens in the region has global economic implications because oil represents 98 percent of South Sudan's budget revenue.

"It would have been difficult for South Sudan to become an independent country without America's influence, even though of course it was the South Sudanese who died in the long wars and fought for their freedom," says the BBC's James Copnall.

Both the U.S. and China in particular are watching the situation closely.

On Tuesday, the U.S. sent Donald Booth, special envoy to the region, to meet with President Kiir. The U.S. has been sending aid to the country, after years of conflict.

 

New Year's Eve: Dubai Puts On A Record-Setting Fireworks Show

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 12:53

Organizers of what is expected to be certified as the world's largest fireworks display ever put on a show in Dubai that was seen by thousands Tuesday, as viewers turned out to celebrate the new year and watch a huge spectacle.

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Why bicyclists and hybrid drivers should pay more taxes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 12:48

As a country, we're paying less in federal fuel taxes, partially because we're commuting in new, more efficient ways, and partially because the gas tax hasn't increased in a while. Which means, in turn, there’s less money for the upkeep of our roads and bridges.

So how do you replace a tax loss like that? With a new tax on hybrids, electric cars and bikes.

"Since about 2001, the amount of vehicle miles traveled per American has gone down for every age group and particularly for Millennials," says Douglas Shinkle, a policy expert at National Conference of State Legislatures. 

He adds that at all types of cars are getting more fuel efficient. That means everyone is paying less in fuel taxes and so states and cities need to find ways to make up for that shortfall.

"Chicago is certainly one of those cities that’s struggling to pay the bills," says Jim Merrell, the campaign manager at the Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago, which advocates for bikers and walkers.

A councilwoman in that city recently floated the idea of levying a $25 fee on bikers, in part, to pay for their use of the road. Merrell says in Chicago, fuel taxes pay for less than half the cost of maintaining roads. The rest of the money comes from the general fund. And, he notes, most bikers drive too.

Increasingly, states are also imposing fees on electric cars and hybrids, says Jay Friedland, the legistlative director of Plug In America, which advocates for electric cars. 

"We’ve already seen Virginia and Washington state pass laws, there’s laws under consideration in New Jersey, North Carolina, Indiana," he says. 

And come Jan. 1, electric car owners in Colorado will have to pay a fee of $50 a year.

Watermelon Oreos: A reason to remember 2013?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 12:48

Well, we did it, dear listeners. We made it through another year. And for this, our final Marketplace story of 2013, we thought we'd share with you some of the people, products and businesses that will not be joining us in 2014.

Like the limited edition Watermelon Oreo, a product that expired before it even had a chance to really live. Or The Hobbit-themed menu at Denny's, also no longer with us.

Hopefully Bilbo's Breakfast Feast is up in that big diner in the sky sitting in a big booth with its ancestors, Harry Potter Pancakes and Star Trek Waffles.

This year we also bid a heart-wrenching farewell to airline competition: The merger of US Airways and American Airlines gave us the largest airline company ever created, New American.

And we said goodbye to another new American, Walter White. "Breaking Bad" was monumental in the TV business. It resurrected the career of Vince Gilligan, brought big financial rewards to AMC and gave birth to the spinoff, "Better Call Saul" and a string of new anti-hero shows.

America also began its slow goodbye to fiscal stimulus, and hello to the taper, when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made this announcement, "We expect that growth will pick up somewhat in coming quarters helped by highly accommodative monetary policy."

The tapering announcement helped stabilize markets and gave birth to the new spinoff,  "Better Call Bernanke."

But perhaps the most dramatic goodbye of 2013 was the farewell speech made by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who choked up numerous times while addressing thousands of Microsoft employees in Seattle's Key Arena.

"Microsoft is like a fourth child to me," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.

Ballmer chose to make his exit to a song, he said, "that looked back retrospectively and a song that celebrated the future."

And so, with tears streaming, the CEO of one of America's most influential companies made his exit, jumping up and down and high-fiving his employees, to the theme from Dirty Dancing, "The Time of My Life."

How Florida's orange farmers are fighting back

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 12:45

We’re coming to the end of orange harvesting season in Florida right now. The Sunshine State produces almost all of the orange juice we drink in this country, which is an impressive half a billion gallons a year.

But a virulent disease has been hammering Florida’s citrus groves and has pushed many farmers to leave the business or sell off their groves.

In Bartow, Fla., the Florida Department of Citrus is meeting to talk business and budgets. Everyone rises for the Pledge of Allegiance before the presentations begin.

It’s mostly bad news -- for most of the past decade, Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry has been hammered by a disease called greening. Florida is now producing half the oranges it used to.

Greening infected trees stop being able to move nutrients from leaf to root. They starve to death over several years … as they decline, their leaves turn yellow and they often produce small, misshapen fruit.

Quentin Roe and his brother, William, run one of the largest tangerine operations in the country in Winter Haven. At their facility in Winter Haven, we’re watching thousands of tangerines come off of a conveyer belt. It’s been sorted for size and a lot of undersized fruit is being picked out.

"Here you can see this fruit is not any bigger than a golf ball," says farmer Quentin Roe. "There’s just thousands and thousands of them coming out of these runs."

W.G. Roe and Sons, Inc. can’t sell the undersized fruit on the fresh fruit market, so it gets taken to the adjoining juicing plant. William Roe shows me a row of stainless steel extractors, the size of industrial washing machines. These produce tens of thousands of gallons of juice a day. The size of the fruit doesn’t matter for juice, but taste does, and, says William Roe, greening affects that, too.

"We aren’t developing the Brix in the fruit that we used to develop," he says. "With less Brix, it doesn’t taste as sweet, it doesn’t taste as balanced."

As they watched their product quality decline along with their profits, the Roe brothers took action.

At their prototype grove in Winter Haven, Quentin Roe inspects rows of young, hip-high tangerine trees wrapped in white plastic tubing. These are special fast-growing trees, planted close together and sprayed frequently. The Roes yank out anything that looks infected and scout regularly for signs of greening.

"This is the culmination of literally millions and millions of dollars," says Quentin Roe. He says they’ve been able to keep greening out of these groves. And that, says Roe, is the industry’s only hope. "In the next 5 to 8 years, all the tangerine groves in Florida as we know them right now will be dead or non-productive."

The Roe’s system has pushed the cost of caring for the trees from $1,200 an acre to more than $3,000. The brothers hope those costs will be offset by the premium customers will be willing to pay for full-sized, sweet fruit, which is getting harder and harder to come by.

While the Roes are spending millions of dollars to keep greening out, there’s another school of thought among Florida famers: living with the disease.

Maury Boyd has become something of a celebrity in the Florida citrus community. When greening first hit Florida, the state asked farmers to destroy infected trees, Boyd refused, earning him the nickname ‘Typhoid Maury.’

"The trees are infected and you’ll see symptoms, but the fruit looks good," says Boyd, as he walks past Valencia orange trees at one of his groves near Winter Garden.

There are signs of greening all over Boyd’s Valencia grove, such as yellowing leaves, but the trees are heavy with baseball sized oranges.

"Our yields have increased," says Boyd. "We’ve got very good yields. It’s somewhat amazing."

Boyd started experimenting and eventually developed a treatment known as the ‘Boyd Technique.’ It involves showering trees with food and nutrients, literally.

"Picture this," says Boyd. "We’ve got a high-blast sprayer blowing all these nutrients. It’s coming out 90 miles an hour. It’s kind of like eating six meals a day instead of three meals a day."

Boyd says if you care for the trees properly, they can live with greening. But it isn’t cheap. Just like the Roes’, Boyd’s costs have tripled, but he’s able to make a profit because the price of oranges has gone up as the supply as declined.

"We’re surviving it, doing alright," says Boyd.

Harold Browning is a botanist who has helped Florida citrus farmers battle diseases like canker and blight. He says greening is like nothing he’s ever seen and, although it’s good to see farmers innovating, he worries none of the solutions are economically viable in the long term.

"There is no good economical, sustainable, durable kind of management system," says Browning. "So we’re building that on the fly."

Browning says the rising price of Florida citrus has consumers backing away. We’re drinking 20% less orange juice than we used to. Browning thinks the only real solution is finding a cure to the disease, but after eight years battling greening, there’s nothing in sight.

Quentin Roe says his grandfather started this business and he and William are passing it on to their children. Bouncing through their groves at dusk in a work truck, Quentin and William say it’s about more than economics.

"You look at Bill and I in our late 50s … mid-to-late 50s," he says, smiling at his older brother. "For us and the rest of our family, it’s been our life’s work and, yes, it is worth it."

Congress Lets Dozens Of Tax Breaks Expire

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 12:33

Teachers, film producers and restaurant owners — among many other groups — face higher tax bills in 2014. More than 50 temporary tax breaks are expiring at midnight on New Year's Eve, but many of them are likely to be restored when Congress returns.

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A Judge's Cookbook Reveals The Secrets Of Bialys And Bagels

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 12:24

Michael Zusman used to be a lawyer, specializing in suing financial companies. The work literally started making him sick. Then he stumbled into baking. His new cookbook promises that you can make your own pastrami, pickles and bagels better than you can buy at your local deli.

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MSNBC Host Apologizes For Comments About Mitt Romney's Grandson

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 12:18

On a segment of the Melissa Harris-Perry Show, panelists captioned a photo of Romney's family, which included his adopted grandson. Cue the jokes, the Internet backlash and the apology.

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Where to spend New Year's? Boise or Brasstown, N.C.?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 12:09

This final note, a wrap-up of some of the items Americans will "drop" at midnight, to celebrate the New Year.

  • Eastport, Maine will drop a giant fake sardine.
  • Boise, Idaho, a $10,000 foam potato.
  • Brasstown, N.C., will lower a live and controversial possum.
  • Bethlehem, Penn., a 75-pound light-up candy peep.

Doctors brace for Obamacare patients

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 11:54

Tomorrow many of us will be recovering from tonight, watching football, perhaps a long nap, avoiding the gym.

But doctors are busy with last-minute preparations as millions of new patients sign up for health insurance and seek treatment they’ve put off – in some cases for years.

Anybody who’s been watching the Affordable Care Act roll out knows the next few months in healthcare will be filled with confusion, and the doctor’s office is Ground Zero.

On the eve of the Affordable Care Act’s full launch, different scenarios are running through Dr. Cheryl Bettigole’s head. Say, someone on a new plan coming in on Thursday with a hernia that needs immediate attention.

“Ok, we can give you a surgery referral,” says Bettigole. “But who takes your insurance? You know that book that’s going to arrive in the mail and tell us the whole list of specialists, we don’t have that yet.”

Referrals are one thing, but Bettigole says she’s not sure how much her doctors will get paid under the new exchange plans.

“If we end up with very low reimbursements for patients with these exchange plans, that could impact our ability to stay open or provide services,” she says.

Dr. Charles Cutler, an internist in suburban Philadelphia who also chairs the Board of the American College of Physicians, believes his patients will better off in the long run.

“My estimate is that things are going to be good, that this is going to work, and we will not have a breakdown of the medical system,” he says.

Over Cutler’s 30 years in practice, he has seen patients routinely turn down treatment, more concerned about cost than their own health. He thinks that will be different under the Affordable Care Act.

“We’re suddenly covering preventive care, screening we’re covering," he says. "So people will have an opportunity to be diagnosed earlier,” he says.

Cutler knows there will be mistakes: like patients leaving his office with prescriptions not covered by their new insurance plans. But he says that happens now, adding that the protections for patients that are new will be worth the headaches in the coming months.

Coffee beans are cheaper, so why isn't my Starbucks?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 11:48

2013 was the year commodities prices dramatically took a dive after a long period in the clouds. Corn, coffee and more have dropped substantially. The reason why isn’t terribly complex. Corn and coffee prices are down largely because there’s an awful lot more corn and coffee in the world. Supply has exploded without a similar growth in demand.

News of lower commodity prices is of little comfort for shoppers frustrated with the persistent cost of breakfast cereal or Starbucks drinks. Unfortunately for consumers, lower commodity prices don’t instantly translate into cheaper prices at the cash register.

“People don’t eat commodities. What they do is they eat food,” says Iowa State University economist Bruce Babcock, who watches corn prices professionally and coffee prices personally. “I do know I’m spending 14 dollars a pound on Peet’s coffee and it bears no reflection whatsoever to the price of Arabica beans down in Brazil.”

There are many additional and separate costs involved in transforming commodities to food, from transportation to manufacturing to marketing. Food prices may come down for shoppers, but probably not for a while. And some consumer brands are strong enough that they don’t have to pass the savings on to you.

“The raw commodity, which is coffee, is going down. So your costs are going down, your revenues are staying about the same, which means your profitability is gonna go up,” says Duke University business professor Campbell Harvey.

It’s not just edible commodities that are seeing price decreases. Metals are dropping too, with always volatile gold in a free fall. Then there’s copper, which is sinking as China’s growth slows.

“They’re gonna be pulling back a little bit on some of the spending they’ve been doing to build factories and homes,” says Paul Christopher, chief international strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors. “That’s gonna reduce their demand for copper.”

And in turn, copper’s price will suffer, like so many other commodities these days.

Mark Garrison: Corn and coffee prices are down largely because there’s a lot more corn and coffee in the world. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

I’m kidding of course. We’ve got 90 seconds, so let’s try a different question, perhaps one you’ve pondered while buying your favorite cereal or a pricey drink at Starbucks. If commodities prices are dropping for companies, how come we’re still paying basically the same price in stores?

Bruce Babcock: People don’t eat commodities. What they do is they eat food.

Iowa State University economist Bruce Babcock points to all the other expenses that go into making food, from transportation to manufacturing to marketing. Professionally, he thinks a lot about corn prices. But personally, coffee.

Babcock: I do know I’m spending 14 dollars a pound on Peet’s coffee and it bears no reflection whatsoever to the price of Arabica beans down in Brazil.

Duke University finance professor Campbell Harvey says some brands are strong enough that they don’t have to pass the savings on to you.

Campbell Harvey: The raw commodity, which is coffee, is going down. So your costs are going down, your revenues are staying about the same, which means your profitability is gonna go up.

Food prices may come down for shoppers, but probably not for a while. And it’s not just edible commodities. Metals are dropping too, with always volatile gold in a free fall. Then there’s copper. Paul Christopher at Wells Fargo Advisors says it’s lower because China’s growth is slower.

Paul Christopher: They’re gonna be pulling back a little bit on some of the spending they’ve been doing to build factories and homes. That’s gonna reduce their demand for copper.

And consequently, its price. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

Sebelius Touts 2 Million Obamacare Enrollees

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 11:37

The Health and Human Services Secretary, who has spent months fending off critics of the Affordable Care Act rollout, is touting the improving numbers.

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Icing On The Puck: Hockey Fans And The NHL Winter Classic

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 11:36

New Year's Day has become its own holiday of sorts for some hockey fans. The Detroit Red Wings play the Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Wednesday in front of more than 100,000 people. The game time weather forecast: about 18 degrees, with an 80 percent chance of snow.

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