National News

Now boarding: better technology at the airport

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-27 02:00

Consumer complaints against airlines are way up. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, March saw a whopping 55 percent increase in angry fliers. 

But airlines and airports are promising a better flight experience — at least on the ground. To make it happen, they’re pouring billions of dollars into technology.  

Sunsea Shaw isn’t sold. All she wants is an easy journey home to Indiana. So she checked in online and printed her boarding pass before leaving home for Atlanta’s international airport.   

“I thought it would save me time, so that way I can get through the check-in process quickly and then go on to security and catch my flight,” she says.

The reality? 

“I’m standing in line,” she says, with zero amusement in her voice.

The baggage-drop line is long and chaotic, but not necessarily out of the ordinary. Long lines and frustrated passengers have become synonymous with flying. 

But potentially, developing technology could enable airports where “there’s [sic] no lines. You’re able to move through the process without having to stop and queue for anything,” says Jim Peters with airport tech company SITA.

He says future airports could operate like today’s Apple Store. Employees armed with wearables—like an Apple Watch—will walk around checking you in, sorting out your baggage and generally keep things moving. 

Wearable tech will also help to manage airport staff, he says, “so if you’ve got too long of lines at one spot, then you could automatically shift staff around.” Peters says wearable devices can instantly alert staffers where they need to be and what they need to be doing.

Another emerging airport technology involves transmitting personalized information via beacons. “Beacons are literally data packets that can be delivered to a mobile device,” explains Roosevelt Council, C.F.O of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Council says beacons allow direct connections with a passengers’ smartphones or watches, giving them instant updates on gate changes, flight delays, or even a coupon for a neck pillow.

And it’s not just airports employing beacon technology. Airlines are, too. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is using beacons at its main hub to allow passengers to track their luggage. “We avoid that real ... deal killer and buzz killer, which is the lost bag,” says Rhonda Crawford, VP of E-commerce at Delta.

The Snapchat takeover

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-27 01:59
60 percent

That's the portion of smartphone users 13-34 who use Snapchat, watching 2 billion videos every day. The company built its user base on self-destructing photos and videos, but its financial future is in video ads. Bloomberg has a rare interview with Snapchat's 24-year-old CEO Evan Spiegel, who says most of the company's competitors aren't serving young people as well as they could.

14 soccer officials

That's how many have been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on charges of federal corruption. Seven FIFA officials were arrested early Wednesday morning in Zurich, Switzerland, as the organization prepared for its annual meeting. The New York Times has a profile of those involved in the charges.

$18 billion

That's the portion of packaged food sales that have shifted from large to small companies from 2009 to 2014, AdAge reported. As consumer sentiment strays from "Big Food" toward fresher, organic, authentic products — no matter how healthy they are — corporations are pivoting as fast as they can to to win customers back. They're increasingly retooling flagship products and scooping up smaller companies, with mixed results.

$1.5 billion

That's the net loss for the U.S. Postal Service in the second quarter of the year. That's down from the $1.9 billion loss from last year, but it still puts the organization very much in the red. We take a look at the contentious negotiations between the USPS and the American Postal Workers Union, as funding for the organization comes up short.

1,114

Speaking of food, that's how many of Washington's 14,000 or so lobbying groups represent food suppliers on Capitol Hill. Seven of them represent the interests of the rice industry, while 35 push for dairy. We went to lunch with an expert to see just how many lobbyists are at the table with us.

$3.2 billion

That's the worth of the coffee-drinking market in Australia. With its building coffee culture, the country has seen its coffee industry grow significantly over the last five years. And according to Bloomberg, they now consume more fresh beans per person than any other country.

How Will The Next President Protect Our Digital Lives?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 01:03

For the first time in a White House race, the candidates will need a game plan for cyber policy for Day 1 in the Oval Office and will have some tough choices to make.

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6 Top World Soccer Officials Arrested In Switzerland On U.S. Corruption Charges

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 00:06

The six are officials with FIFA, soccer's international governing body. They are accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks over two decades.

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As Antibiotic Resistance Spreads, WHO Plans Strategy To Fight It

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 23:32

The problem has gotten so bad that some doctors are pondering a "post-antibiotic world." The World Health Organization says countries need to boost surveillance for resistance and develop new drugs.

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Casa Ruby Is A 'Chosen Family' For Trans People Who Need A Home

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 23:31

After becoming homeless and jobless following her transition to being a woman, Ruby Corado got her act together, and now helps others facing similar challenges. "We have a family here," she says.

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In A Digital Chapter, Paper Notebooks Are As Relevant As Ever

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 23:30

Is paper just a curiosity of the nostalgic? It turns out that digital natives think paper works in tandem with our devices. Research agrees that old-school note taking offers benefits a screen can't.

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LeBron Books 5th Straight NBA Finals Trip As Cleveland Sweeps Atlanta

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 19:48

The Cavaliers, making their second-ever trip to the finals in James' first season back with the team, will face the winner of the Golden State Warriors-Houston Rockets series.

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Nebraska Governor Vetoes Bill That Repealed Death Penalty

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 15:44

The move sets up a showdown Wednesday with lawmakers in the state's unicameral legislature. A close vote is expected as lawmakers try to override the veto.

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Heat Wave Claims More Than 750 Lives In India

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 15:28

Most of the deaths have occurred in southern Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states. But high temperatures persist across much of the country of 1 billion people.

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Test Of '1 Person, 1 Vote' Heads To The Supreme Court

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 14:51

Analysts have noted that dividing districts based on eligible voters rather than total population would tend to shift representative power to localities with fewer children and fewer immigrants.

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How Dorothea Lange Taught Us To See Hunger And Humanity

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 14:08

Perhaps no one did more to show us the human toll of the Great Depression than Lange, who was born on this day in 1895. Her photos of farm workers and others have become iconic of the era.

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Out Of The Classroom And Into The Woods

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 13:53

In this Vermont kindergarten, every Monday is "Forest Monday" a day that gets students out of the classroom and into nature.

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Hackers Stole Data From More Than 100,000 Taxpayers, IRS Says

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 13:48

The thieves used the data to file fraudulent tax returns. The IRS commissioner said less than $50 million had been successfully claimed from the agency.

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Sip It Slowly, And Other Lessons From The Oldest Tea Book In The World

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 13:40

Over 800 years before tea was known in the West, a Chinese master penned the The Classic of Tea. In it, he blends the practical with the spiritual and emphasizes rituals from cultivation to drinking.

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How Worried Should We Be About Lassa Fever?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-05-26 13:27

The tropical virus has killed a man who returned to New Jersey from Liberia this month. But chances that he could have spread the disease are remote.

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Texas floods have business owners singing the blues

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-05-26 13:17

Flooding has disrupted life for many in the Lone Star State. Kellie Moore was at her bakery in Austin yesterday when the water levels began to rise.

"It was crazy," Moore told Kai Ryssdal. "I looked in the back room and I noticed that water was coming through the building ... [I] was trying to sop it up, but then it started coming into the kitchen and into the front of our showroom, and there was no way to stop the water."

Press the play button above to hear more of Kellie's story. 

Chrome extension turns word 'millennials' into 'snake people'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-05-26 13:00

This story comes as, I guess you might say, a mea culpa for the aspersions I cast on millennials the other day.

Maybe this'll ring a bell: 

I'm sharing this so I can tell you about what I saw on Buzzfeed today.

There's an extension for Chrome that will replace the word "millennials," wherever it pops up on line, with the words "snake people."

Buzzfeed

There are 14,000 lobbying groups in Washington

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-05-26 13:00

To see just how ubiquitous lobbying has become in Washington, I make an appointment for lunch with Lee Drutman. He's a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of "The Business of America is Lobbying."

He’s waiting for me at the buffet, and we're about to zero in on the food business: loading up our plates, then dissecting them to see which foods have lobbyists at the table. 

Drutman pulls out a laptop with a list of lobbyists, and I tell him what’s on my plate, starting with beef.

“There’s 17 beef organizations here in Washington," Drutman says. "We’ve got the Center for Beef Excellence, U.S. Premium Beef, Beef Products Incorporated…”

You get the idea. Every single thing on our plates had somebody representing it on Capitol Hill. Sometimes lots of somebodies. For rice, seven associations. Ditto for shrimp.

Some of the trade associations are pretty obscure. Like the International Natural Sausage Casing Association, or the American Dehydrated Onion and Garlic Association.  

I reach for a bag of chips, which reminds me: I interviewed the CEO of the Snack Food Association, Tom Dempsey, because I was wondering – what are all these food folks lobbying for? Turns out it’s stuff like labeling on packages, and the federal government’s new dietary guidelines.

“What the association does is tries to stay out in front of issues that may not impact the industry tomorrow but will impact it down the line,” says Dempsey.

Other food lobbyists are focused on some proposed new trade deals. There’s one with Europe that’s gotten the attention of the International Dairy Foods Association — Europe wants to trademark the names of certain cheeses. But there are 35 dairy lobby groups. I ask Dave Carlin, the Association’s chief lobbyist why there are so many.

“We have to tell our story," he tells me. "Because if we don’t tell our story nobody else will.”

Nancy Marshall-Genzer & Tony Wagner/Marketplace

There’s an old saying in Washington: if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu, which brings me back to the buffet, with Lee Drutman. 

We’ve started talking money. He says there are 1,114  different food lobbying organizations in Washington, spending about $130 million a year.

Drutman says all the registered lobbyists in town spend about $3 billion a  year. I wondered when lobbying got to be such a big business. Drutman says the food folks started around the time of FDR’s  New Deal, when a lot of agricultural subsidies were born.

“It caused a lot of people in the agricultural industry to pay attention to politics,” he says.

Drutman says corporations started lobbying more in the '70s and '80s, in the wake of increased government regulation. And it’s just kept growing. Now, lobbying kind of feeds on itself.

“Once companies and associations set up shop in Washington they rarely leave because they’ve hired lobbyists who can keep them interested in all the issues," says Drutman. "So once you start lobbying, you tend to keep lobbying, and there’s a self-reinforcing stickiness.”

Because you certainly don’t want to be the one who’s not at the table.

Home prices and sales are up, but who's buying?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-05-26 13:00

Home values in 20 U.S. cities rose 5 percent for the year ending in March, according to the S&P Case-Shiller index out on Tuesday.

Five percent is better than economists expected and is pretty solid, especially when you throw in that the pace of new home sales sped up substantially to 6.8 percent in April, according to the Commerce Department. 

One of those new home sales was courtesy of Tara Ilsley Murillo, 28, and her husband in Durham North Carolina. 

“It was cheaper than renting,” she says. And she was able to find a home that was significantly below the national average of $297,300. “Yeah I’m young, it’s my first home, so it was very below the average.”  

Economists the country over are happy for Ilsley Murillo, whether they know it or not. Not simply because she is spending as new home owners do – “we started a garden, we’re putting up a fence for our crazy dog” – but because she is part of an elusive group. 

The 25-34 year olds who have not been as present in the housing market as they need to be in order to drive the housing market, and the economic growth tied to it, back to pre-recession levels.

“The percentage of 25-34 year olds with a job has increased,” says Steve Blitz, chief economist for ITG. “It’s recovered about two-thirds of the drop from the pre-recession high,” he says, “and leaving that one-third out is one of several reasons why the level of home sales has recovered but not to pre-recession levels." 

Blitz says the growth in home sales may just be things getting back to normal after this past winter, which proved sluggish for housing and gross domestic product growth as a whole. 

And it's very unlikely the rise in home prices is about young first time homeowners.

“I think it means there’s some places in the country like San Francisco, Denver, and Dallas where there’s not enough houses to buy right now,” says David Blitzer, director of the S&P Dow Jones Indices which releases the Case-Schiller Index.

The places where home prices are rising precipitously aren’t where the Tara Isley-Morillos  are buying, it’s where they can’t. 

“The low end is clearly not participating and that’s a lot of new homes and first time homebuyers,” says Blitzer. 

This situation has some cruel ironies to it. Those least able to buy are the ones who are paying the most, according to real estate data provider Zillow. Renters are on average paying double the percentage of income that owners do.

Home-price growth is outstripping income growth on the whole as well.

If, over the years, says Blitzer, “you continue to see home prices rise faster than wages and salary and income, unless something else gives like banks become more open-minded about giving everyone mortgages, it has to narrow the pool” of those who can afford to own a home.   

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