National News

Networks battle for morning supremacy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-18 11:00

NBC brought in Jamie Horowitz from ESPN just a few months ago to help turn around "Today." Now he's out. Meanwhile, the show is struggling to hold on to viewers and regain its No. 1 spot in the morning news ratings, which it lost to ABC’s "Good Morning America" back in 2012 after 17 years on top.

The battle for ratings — and for younger viewers — can be seen in the shows’ daily lineups.

"Good Morning America" had rapper Lil Jon on Tuesday, getting host George Stephanopoulos to bust some (awkward but good-natured) moves to "Turn Down for What."

On November 17, at rival NBC, "Today Show" host Matt Lauer had Anglo-Irish boy-band One Direction on stage. Band member Zayn Malik was missing, and Lauer asked: “Is it something more serious than just a minor illness? There have been rumors of substance abuse. What’s going on?”

The audience booed and younger viewers slammed Lauer on social media. “Those are the people they need to grow the "Today Show" audience,” says entertainment writer and blogger Jim Hill. “And here Matt has managed to drive a whole generation away.”

Brian Steinberg, TV editor at Variety, says ABC has nailed the formula.

“‘Good Morning America’ knows who it is,” Steinberg says. “It’s single-minded. It’s an entertainment show with a little news thrown in. ‘Today’ is a little more of a split personality. They want to be a news show but they also want to entertain and have the same kind of fun. And sometimes it’s hard to pivot.”

Uber's data makes a creepy point about the company

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-18 11:00

Uber has had to deal with some bad PR after several inappropriate comments by its senior vice president, Emil Michael, were reported by Buzzfeed.

Well, sad news: This isn't the first time Uber has done something icky.

A couple of years ago, there was an entry on the company's blog titled "Rides of Glory." The company examined its rider data, sorting it for anyone who took an Uber between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday night. Then it looked at how many of those same people took another ride about four to six hours later – from at or near the previous nights' drop-off point.

Yes, Uber can and does track one-night stands. Consider it the Uber equivalent of the walk of shame.

The thrill of the hunt for discount prices

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-18 10:29

The Internet can tell us how long it takes to walk the length of the Great Wall of China (10 months), how many girlfriends George Clooney has had (lots) and even how many snowflakes fall in a year (about a septillion). But consumers still can’t quickly and easily compare prices for a leather purse (big enough to tote a laptop, please) or a 10-quart aluminum stockpot.

Sure, thanks to aggregator sites like Orbitz and, comparisons of airline tickets are easy to come by. And there’s transparency of pricing on wholesale commodities like butter, eggs and sugar. But that leaves a vast middle ground untouched. There is no for teapots or women’s sweaters.

Perhaps that is because nobody — neither consumer nor retailer — wants it.

“We think we want all access, to know everything about everything in the consumer space,” said Kelly Goldsmith, an assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “In reality, when we know everything about everything, it is exhausting,” she said.

Especially if consumers investigate options on their own — from new to used, vendors local to national, warranty or no. Too much information, Goldsmith said, can decrease the odds of a consumer buying anything.

There is a psychological aspect to this, too. Finding deals can make people feel good. For some shoppers, it’s about the thrill of the hunt.

“When there’s something I’ve been eyeing and I see it go on sale, it’s like God just sort of put it there for me,” said Elise Ariel, a 37-year-old legal assistant, as she shopped recently at Century 21 in Manhattan. “How do I feel about sales? Like a moth to a flame.”

And while she admitted that shopping through a price aggregator site for a new pair of pumps, as she might for airline tickets, would be better from a practical standpoint, it would mean an end to her love affair with retail. “You come across something with a little red price tag on it in a bin of God knows what. You feel like it’s destiny.”

Then there is the retailer’s perspective. Consider what happened when Ron Johnson, former chief executive of J.C. Penney, committed to transparency and predictability and decided the chain would stop running sales. Shoppers waiting for the dopamine hit that comes with the unexpected opportunity for a bargain were disappointed, and customers fled in droves.

Advertising discounts, deals and perceived steals are often how retailers get shoppers in the door in the first place, said Barbara Kahn, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “If the sale wasn’t there, well, maybe they wouldn’t go to the store that day,” she said.

For discount chains, slashing prices is crucial and nearly constant. But for midrange retailers, the Lord & Taylors and Banana Republics of the shopping world, sales are meant to be special. Competing solely on price can lead to a downward spiral of ever-deeper discounts.

“I don’t think they want to get into this game that you can’t win,” Kahn said. “They’d rather compete on providing value to the customer.”

Even if retailers agreed that transparent pricing should be more widely available, comparing prices for multitudes of products would take a special kind of brain — one that loves spreadsheets or navigating phone trees run by the Internal Revenue Service.

“There are a limited number of products where consumers have boiled down their understanding to such a limited set of factors that they can be confident truly shopping on price,” said Robert Haslehurst, the managing director of retail practice for L.E.K. consulting, a global management consulting firm.

Take the humble T-shirt and its endless varieties. “The T-shirt from Walmart and the T-shirt from the Gap aren’t the same T-shirt, and you need to be superexpert at the construction of T-shirts, and the shipping of T-shirts and the marketing of T-shirts in order to determine if one retailer was making extra margin off of you,” said Joshua Pollack, an associate partner with the Parker Avery Group, a retail price consulting firm.

Even if you do manage to sharpen your focus — to, say, a black, short-sleeve V-neck in a polyester blend — you will wonder why it costs what it does.

Raw materials are also only one part of the equation, Haslehurst said. “There was the artist who designed it. There was the retailer you bought it from and the person who put it in front of you,” he said. “There’s value in more than just the item. There’s value in the distribution.”

And then there is the variable that retailers rely on, that different shoppers are willing to pay different prices for the same product. Take the ever-changing price of a plane ticket. “One would think that I would pay the exact same price wherever I go,” Pollack said. “But because of this price discrimination capability you actually may not.” When the airline industry first began setting prices based on when customers bought tickets or how many seats were still left, customers were furious, Pollack said. And they still are. “But despite the fact that customers hate the practice, it was so profitable for the travel industry, they just had to bear it out,” he said.

It is unlikely, Pollack said, that consumers will see complete transparency of prices, mostly because comparing products is not always as easy as Apple iPhone to Apple iPhone.

Tell that to Vivian Harrow, 46, a human resources director for a global beauty company, and odds are she won’t mind. Harrow said she enjoyed browsing and scanning, but not online and not with an app. “It’s no fun to go out, and go into a store, buy something at retail, or buy something where you know every place you go it’s going to be priced exactly the same,” she said. “There’s no challenge in that. It’s just not as much fun.”

This story is part of a collaboration between Marketplace and The New York Times called “A Guide to Buying Just About Anything.” 

Indonesia Urged To Stop 'Virginity Tests' For Female Police Recruits

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 10:04

Human Rights Watch says the tests are discriminatory and "harms and humiliates women." The test is listed as a requirement for female applicants, and the group said it is widely applied.

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Trying to outrun aging

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-18 09:57

For thousands of years, people have sought to escape or outrun their mortality with potions, pills, and elixirs, often blended with heavy doses of hope and will.

In the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” a Mesopotamian king searched for the secret of immortality after the death of his best friend. At least three Chinese emperors in the Tang dynasty died after consuming treatments containing lead and mercury that they hoped would make them immortal. In the late 19th century, a French-American physiologist seemed to have found the elixir of life by injecting the elderly and himself with extracts from animal testicles.

Despite this enduring quest, most scientists say we are no closer to eternal life today than we were all those years ago. The word “immortality” elicits a mixture of laughter and earnest explanations about the difference between science and science fiction.

Conversations about longevity, however, are an entirely different story. Researchers are optimistic about recent efforts to delay the effects of aging and, perhaps, extend life spans.

But at the same time, the scientific community is wary of how quickly these findings are packaged and resold by companies promising a fountain of youth. “It’s probably worse today than it’s ever been,” said Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a research associate at the Center on Aging at the University of Chicago. “As soon as the scientists publish any glimmer of hope, the hucksters jump in and start selling.”

Understanding the process of aging and developing treatments that might slow the rate at which people grow old could help doctors keep patients healthy longer. We won’t be able to stop or reverse aging, but researchers are interested in slowing down its progress, such that one year of clock time might not equal a year of biological time for the body. That could delay the onset of diseases like cancer, strokes, cardiovascular disease and dementia, which become more prevalent as people age.

“By targeting fundamental aging processes, we might be able to delay the major age-related chronic diseases instead of picking them off one at time,” said Dr. James Kirkland, a professor of aging research and head of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic. “For example, we don’t want to have situation where we, say, cure cancer and then people die six months later of Alzheimer’s disease or a stroke. It would be better to delay all of these things together.”

This is where the field known as the biology of aging is moving — to develop drugs that will increase life span and what researchers refer to as health span, the period of life when people are able to live independently and free from disease.

Dr. Kirkland said at least six drugs had been written up in peer-reviewed journals and he knows of about 20 others that appear to affect life span or health span in mice. The goal is to see if those benefits can be translated into humans to increase their longevity, “to find interventions that we can use in people that might, say, make a person who’s 90 feel like they’re 60 or a person who’s 70 feel like they’re 40 or 50.”

Other researchers are studying centenarians, seeking to understand whether certain genes have carried them past 100 years old and kept them in good health.

“Everybody knows someone who’s 60 who looks like he’s 50, or someone 60 who looks 70,” said Dr. Nir Barzilai, the director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine who is currently studying centenarians and their children. “Intuitively, we understand that we age at different rates, so the question is, really, ‘What’s the biological or genetic difference between those who age quickly and those who age slowly?’” Drugs that mimic the effect of those genes might be beneficial to the rest of the population who wasn’t born with them.

Dr. Barzilai said that as a scientist his goal wasn’t to help people live longer, but to live healthier, although he does occasionally get emails from people interested in how his work might benefit their quest to live forever. He doesn’t respond — he says he has nothing to offer them.

The global anti-aging industry was worth $195 billion in 2013 and was projected to grow to $275 billion by 2020, according to the market research firm Global Industry Analysts. Products include beauty creams,  Botox,  dietary supplements and prescription medications, not all of which seek to reverse aging as much as minimize its visible effects.

Dr. Olshansky points to resveratrol supplements and human growth hormones as products that were marketed as having anti-aging benefits soon after initial scientific studies suggested promising results. But resveratrol, often made from the skin of red grapes, is still being studied and commercially available products are premature, he said. Growth hormones are a more severe risk, he said, because they can actually be dangerous for those who take them.

Dr. Barzilai noted many of the centenarians he studied had naturally lower levels or activity of growth hormones.

“We think that’s important for their survival,” he said.

Other dietary supplements promise to help consumers reverse the aging clock. Such products aren’t required to prove their effectiveness or safety with the Food and Drug Administration before their sale, although the F.D.A. can take action against products with misleading labels or that claim to treat diseases.

After being approached to sell a line of supplements, Melanie Young, a health coach who advises clients on weight and stress management, decided to try a series of products that promised to protect her body against the “ravages of aging.” She’d recently survived breast cancer and left behind a public relations and event management career. “A lot of health coaches supplement their own income by selling supplements,” she said.

She thought the company, which she didn’t want to name, had “all the right science.” But the half dozen pills she took each morning and evening didn’t improve her energy as promised; they instead left her feeling dizzy. She quickly stopped taking them and told her clients to eat a balanced diet to get the nutrition they needed.

“People are aware of the aging process and they want to interfere,” Dr. Barzilai said, but he thinks it’s a mistake to turn to Internet remedies. “Some are causing harm. Some, maybe, you couldn’t care less, and some might be even good, but we don’t know that.”

It is a message Dr. Olshansky echoes — instead of spending money on aging “fixes,” he suggests people accept the bland prescription doctors have been offering for decades: a healthy diet and exercise. “You don’t need to spend money,” he said. “Maybe a good pair of running or walking shoes would work. Exercise is roughly the only equivalent of a fountain of youth that exists today, and it’s free to everyone.”

This story is part of a collaboration between Marketplace and The New York Times called “A Guide to Buying Just About Anything.” 

More States Adopt Laws To Ease Access To Experimental Treatments

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 09:51

While several states have approved so-called right-to-try measures that aim to give patients with life-threatening illnesses access to unapproved drugs, drugmakers don't have to comply.

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Can curried crust and balsamic drizzle help Pizza Hut?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-18 09:47

Pizza Hut, the nation’s biggest pizza chain, is overhauling its brand. There’s a new logo, a more casual uniform, and fresh leadership, but the biggest upgrade is the menu.  

Taking a hint from fast casual stars Chipotle and Chop't, Pizza Hut will allow customers to design their own pies with curry-flavored crusts and Sriracha sauce. They're doubling flavor options and going exotic. 

The question is, can those changes help Pizza Hut get back on track?  It's reported same-store sales declines for eight straight quarters, while rivals like Domino’s Pizza and Little Caesars have enjoyed gains. 

At Pizza Hut’s Plano, Texas headquarters, chief marketing officer Carrie Walsh shows off what looks like artisan pizza – a thin-crust pie with bright green spinach and red Peruvian peppers, topped with a spiral swirl of balsamic.

There are more than two dozen new ingredients on Pizza Hut’s “Flavor Of Now” menu. Customers will be able to choose flavors to brush onto crusts – like “Pretzel Piggy” and “Ginger Boom Boom”. There are four drizzles, and a skinny lineup for those seeking a lighter, healthier pie.

“In fact there are now two billion ways you can customize your pizza,” Walsh says.

Walsh says customers want flavor adventure. Why not let them play mad scientist with each pie?

“Pizza is America’s favorite food, we thought it made sense to bring new flavor experiences to pizza,” she says.

But two billion customization options is overkill, says Rich Duprey. He writes about fast-casual dining for The Motley Fool, and he's a former pizza deliveryman.

Duprey says Pizza Hut needed to sprinkle in a little spice, but not drop in the whole spice bottle.

“Sales 101 says keep it simple,” he says. “A confused mind always says no.”  

To keep out chaos behind the counter, Pizza Hut undertook its biggest training endeavor ever. Walsh is confident the plethora of new options won’t slow down service or delivery.

“We’ve been working on [rebranding] for a year,” Walsh says.

The new menu will be up in 6,000 Pizza Hut stores Wednesday.

Baby, It's Cold Outside: All 50 States Hit 32 Degrees

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 09:42

Yep, even Hawaii, where Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano reaching 13,800 feet above sea level, was below freezing.

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The Many Stories Behind Double-Eyelid Surgery

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 08:18

The procedure to give people with single eyelids a crease above their lashes often provokes controversy. Kat Chow steps past the debate over whether people should do it to get at the "why."

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Once Tolerated, Westerners Are Now Targeted By Radical Islamists

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 08:12

The kidnapping and killing of Westerners isn't a new phenomenon in the Middle East. But the last time around, it stopped after just a few years. This time there's no end in sight.

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As Espresso Rises, Will 'Greek Coffee' Be Left To The Turks?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 08:01

"Greek coffee" may be a matter of national pride in the Mediterranean nation. But increasingly, Greeks are embracing espresso, an imported brew. Chalk it up to globalization.

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FIFA Files Criminal Complaint Over 2018, 2022 Soccer World Cup Bidding

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 07:43

Soccer's governing body said assets may have been transferred to Switzerland in connection with the bids. Just days ago, FIFA cleared eventual winners Russia and Qatar of corruption.

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How Many Louisiana Jobs Are Actually At Stake In Keystone Debate?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 07:24

Momentum to push legislation approving the oil pipeline is getting a boost from the Dec. 6 Louisiana Senate runoff — even though the unbuilt portion of pipeline wouldn't run anywhere near the state.

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Who Won The Civil War? Tough Question

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 07:13

When it comes to on-the-spot answers to simple historical and political questions, some people don't have a clue.

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A new product from a notorious name in entertainment

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-18 06:00

For years, the file-sharing service BitTorrent has been associated with piracy, as millions of people streamed creative content—movies, or music—for free.

Now, BitTorrent—with 170 million users—says it wants to empower artists, musicians and filmmakers.

While this is a bit ironic for some, the plan is to become a platform where musicians and others sell songs, albums and merchandise. 

The company’s Director of Content Strategy Straith Schreder says you can think of it a bit like Etsy.

“It’s built to kind of bring people together over the content and creativity that they keep in common. That’s very much our mission here,” she says.

The hope is BitTorrent's so-called ‘bundles’ —what the company calls content in this new model—will slow the piracy that’s plagued the entertainment industry; the piracy that some associate with BitTorrent.

Complete Music Update editor Chris Cooke says while it’s not clear yet how to protect artists, direct to consumer models offer some hope.

“Artists now can know pretty precisely who their core fan base are, what sort of people they are, where they live, what they like to spend money on. And then provide products and services that excite those fans,” he says.

Cooke says the music industry is just learning how to capitalize on this new model.

He says the best thing about internet is that’s its putting artists in direct relationship with their fans. 

NFL Suspends Adrian Peterson For At Least Remainder Of 2014 Season

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 05:14

Peterson, who pleaded no contest in a child abuse case, said he would appeal the decision. The Players Union, on his behalf, said the punishment was "arbitrary."

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After Falling Into Recession, Japan's Prime Minister Calls For Snap Elections

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 04:51

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for an election two years ahead of schedule and he also delayed an increase in sales tax.

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Bob Marley family launches global pot brand

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-11-18 04:50

The family of Jamaican-born reggae star Bob Marley launched a first-of-its-kind global cannabis brand on Tuesday. The brand, Marley Natural, is meant for both medical and adult-recreational use (21-and-over), and will hit the market in late 2015. It is a venture of Bob Marley’s widow, Rita, who is also a reggae musician, and Marley's children and grandchildren, in partnership with Seattle-based Privateer Holdings, a leading cannabis-focused private equity firm.

Bob Marley’s name and legacy—attached to a mass-marketed global marijuana brand—could be a killer app in this booming industry. Legal marijuana sales are expected to grow from $2.4 billion in 2014 to $10 billion by 2018, according to the cannabis investment group ArcView. The meteoric growth in revenue is predicated on an expected transition of current and new cannabis consumers from purchasing marijuana on the illegal black market, to purchasing it in state-regulated and taxed retail stores and dispensaries.

However, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and there are many obstacles to success for investors and brands. It is currently extremely difficult for cannabis-related businesses to obtain banking services, and many business expenses can’t be deducted under federal tax law. Production, processing and distribution can generally be done only within the state where the marijuana is sold. Interstate and international shipping of marijuana is not permitted.

Marley Natural products will include heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains in smokeable and vaporizable form, said Privateer CEO Brendan Kennedy in an interview at a huge  pot trade show—the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo—in Las Vegas last week. The brand also features therapeutic cannabis and hemp-infused lotions; pot paraphernalia, such as smoking implements; carrying cases and the like. The Jamaican marijuana strains offered will be similar to those Bob Marley himself favored during his life, said Kennedy, including “Lamb’s Bread” and “Pineapple Skunk.”

Marley Natural will only be available for sale in local, state, and national jurisdictions where marijuana use is legal, according to Privateer. 23 states and the District of Columbia now permit marijuana use for medical purposes; four states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational adult-use, including Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska (the latter two by voter initiative in November 2014, with implementation pending under state law). Legalization advocates predict California, Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Hawaii could pass similar initiatives by 2017 (see map below). Several European countries and Uruguay also permit some legal use of marijuana.

A new online ad for Marley Natural begins with sweeping aerial views of a tropical jungle and a voiceover saying: “In Bob Marley’s vision for a better world, one united by love, respect and social justice, he advocates for the positive power of the herb,” as reggae music swells in the background. The brand's logo appears in the video; it includes an image of the Lion of Judah, a powerful spiritual symbol for the Jamaican Rastafari movement, which reveres cannabis.

“In many ways our father helped start this movement at least fifty years ago,” said Cedella Marley, Bob Marley’s daughter, in an interview before the launch. “He said it himself: ‘When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.’ So it feels very natural to us to use his voice on a global scale, getting the message across of the many benefits of cannabis.”

But even as public opinion appears to be gradually shifting toward more support of legalization for adult users, most Americans still don’t see cannabis as a beneficial recreational or mind-altering pastime. And they may not be ready for slick marketing of everything from joints, to powerful pot cookies and candies.

Rachel O’Bryan is a lawyer and mother in Denver. She co-founded the group Smart Colorado, which advocates for tighter regulation of marijuana. She said her goal is to prevent use and access by young people, as well as inappropriate marketing of edibles and other products to children.

“I think if we end up with national brands, the federal government will have no choice—there will have to be more attention on the safety of these products,” O'Bryan said.

Members of the Marley family insist their new brand is aimed at legal adult users 21-and-over, and not young people. They promise that both the labeling and the marketing will be clear on this point.

“Children like music,” said Rohan Marley, Bob Marley’s son. “But just like with other adult products—tobacco, consumption of alcohol, going to a nightclub—people have to be responsible. Our label will always gear toward adults and steer away from children. We want people to have a responsible mind, to have full knowledge, to understand the benefits of cannabis. It’s not a toy.”

States labeled 'adult use' are predicted to pass recreational marijuana legalization for adults 21 or older, or medical marijuana. As predicted, voters in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia approved recreational-marijuana legalization in November 2014. Voters in Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize recreational marijuana production, distribution and retail sale in 2012.

The ArcView Group, ArcView Market Research


Obama Orders Review Of U.S. Hostage Policy

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-18 04:00

The administration revealed the review just after the Islamic State took responsibility for killing a third American citizen. It is not clear whether the U.S. will reconsider its no-ransom policy.

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