National News

From Coffee To Chicory To Beer, 'Bitter' Flavor Can Be Addictive

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-18 01:06

If you don't think you like bitter foods, try them again. Jennifer McLagan, the author of Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor, is on a mission to change hearts and minds.

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Islamic State Planned Killing In Australia, PM Says After Raids

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 18:53

Fifteen people were arrested across Sydney in the counterterrorism operation, which one official said was the largest in the country's history.

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Two More NFL Players Placed On 'Exempt List' Over Domestic Violence

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 16:39

The Carolina Panthers placed Greg Hardy on the list over a long-running case and the Cardinals did the same after Jonathan Dwyer was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault.

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Doctor Says Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Has 'Rare ... Difficult' Cancer

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 15:45

The mayor, who made international news after he admitted to smoking crack, dropped out of the mayoral race last week. Ford's doctor said he was "optimistic."

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Federal Reserve To Markets: Nothing To See Here; Move Along

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 14:22

The Fed said because wage-and-price hikes remain low and growth continues at a moderate pace, interest rates will stay at historic lows for a "considerable time."

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Dropping its NFL sponsorship pays off for Radisson

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 13:42

When was the last time you thought about Radisson Hotels? Probably about a day ago, when the company pulled its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings.

What about before that? Hmm.

Turns out the hotel is already benefiting hugely from its decision, getting them more attention than they've had in a while.

According to research firm Amobee Brand Intelligence, Radisson got "enough social, Web and mobile impressions to account for 58 percent of its total online consumption (impressions plus mentions) for the last three months," Adweek reported.

That's a long time.

Can advertisers pressure the NFL?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 13:42

Football season had a rough start this year.

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on tape knocking out his fiance and Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse, putting a spotlight on how the NFL handles domestic violence. Many fans haven't liked what they've seen, and now they're joined by another group the league may have to listen to: its sponsors.

McDonald's, Visa, Campbell's Soup, CoverGirl: A growing list of NFL sponsors have come out with statements applying pressure to the league. Anheuser-Busch, which has a $1.2 billion, six-year contract with the NFL, used some of the harshest language, saying: "We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code."

"The NFL here is a multibillion-dollar business," says Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University. "If some of those billions start to get threatened, I think the NFL is going to stand up and take notice."

But so far, sponsors have stopped short of publicly threatening to tear up their contracts with the NFL. Radisson hotels ended its limited sponsorship with the Minnesota Vikings, but when it comes to individual teams and players, the stakes are lower. But the costs — like having the Radisson logo in the background at press conferences responding to child abuse allegations — are higher.

"There's a lot of sports properties but there's only one NFL," says Kenneth Shropshire, director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative.

The sheer size and engagement of the NFL's audience may insulate it from criticism more than the NBA, which banned former Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life following racist remarks, but only after companies such as State Farm, CarMax and Virgin America withdrew their sponsorship from the Clippers.

"[The NFL is] a $10 billion-a-year industry. The next closest sports are $3 [billion], $4 billion behind. So it's astronomically larger, even though we don't think of it as such," says Shropshire.

He thinks major NFL advertisers are more likely to apply pressure behind the scenes than publicly break ties.

But there could still be looming financial implications for the sport. "I think if you were a sponsor right now contemplating an investment in NFL, you'd probably wait," says Kent Atherton of sports media firm Atherton Communications.

And if more damning details emerge, big money advertisers could do more than just talk.

Rail delays shut down Midwestern power plants

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 13:42

The electric utility that serves the Duluth region is mothballing four coal-powered generators, and not because the Environmental Protection Agency told it to.

No, Minnesota Power is idling these generators for three months because the railroad isn’t delivering enough coal. Railroads are crazy busy— carrying oil from North Dakota for one thing— and the delays are driving their customers nuts. 

Al Rudeck is the vice president of strategy and planning for Minnesota Power. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad has delivered the utility’s coal for decades. I asked him: Has this kind of thing happened before?

"This is unprecedented," he said. "We’ve never had to shut our units off because we can’t get the coal we need. This year they’ve had a lot of challenges on the rail system, in terms of congestion, weather, and a lot of business."

Railroads have also had a lot of unhappy customers. Farmers can’t get a bumper crop to market. On some days, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, car-makers have had as many as 200,000 vehicles sitting outside factories, waiting to be picked up by trains. 

The group, which represents most of the auto industry, sent its top lobbyist, Shane Karr, to testify before the U.S. Senate in September. "This is the first time the industry has been out there publicly, saying, 'We need the railroads to pay attention to our problems,'" he says. 

Professor Allan Zarembski runs the railroad engineering program at the University of Delaware. "On some of the high-demand routes, railroads are reaching capacity," he says. "And so railroads have to now start increasing capacity. The downside of that is that increasing capacity is not something you do in a couple of hours."

If a railroad already has a right-of-way, he says, laying new track could take a year... or three. Meanwhile, it’s not like those customers have other options. No other railroad even serves Minnesota Power.

Which is why it’s such a great time to be in the railroad business: Profits are way up. "It's a renaissance in the railroad industry," says Eric Marshall, a portfolio manager for Hodges Mutual Funds, which has been investing in railroads for more than ten years.

"The barriers to entry are high," he says. "You and I couldn’t go out and start a railroad today, regardless of how much money we had, because we couldn’t get all the easements to build a railroad across the country."

So, for now, Minnesota Power is stockpiling the coal it can get, hoping to build up a supply for the winter.

How will low inflation complicate the Fed’s plans?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 13:42

When the Labor Department released the Consumer Price Index numbers for August, Janet Yellen got a shock.

Everybody expected the CPI  to come in just shy of the Fed’s goal of 2 percent inflation. But the actual number was 1.7 percent. 

Inflation is just not being  cooperative.

“CPI is a little bit like the puppy that refuses to get housebroken and is spoiling the Fed’s carpet,” says Jonathan Lewis, who, yes, is in the midst of training a stubborn puppy,  but is also Chief Investment Officer at Samson Capital Advisors.  

He says today’s inflation numbers are a mess for the Fed – a warning flag. 

“The low inflation numbers are a symptom of weakness in the economy," says Mark Gertler, who teaches economics at New York University. "The economy is still not as strong as we would like."

That’s a problem for the Fed because it can’t raise interest rates when the economy is weak, and the Fed can’t keep rates near zero forever.  

But there is a bright side.

“The lower inflation is actually giving them quite a bit of breathing room," says Gennadiy Goldberg, U.S. Strategist for TD Securities. "There’s very little pressure on the Fed to hike interest rates now.”

And everybody expects inflation to get up to where the Fed wants it, eventually.   

As asset manager and dog lover Jonathan Lewis puts it, puppies will get trained sooner or later. It just takes some longer than others.

Yahoo will make a lot of money off the Alibaba IPO

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 13:42

Alibaba—the huge and profitable Chinese e-commerce site—debuts on the U.S. stock market under the ticker symbol "BABA" on September 19, with an initial public offering expected to price at $66-$68 per share. That would deliver proceeds of approximately $25 billion, making Alibaba the world's biggest IPO ever.

A principal beneficiary of the IPO is Yahoo, which owns 22.4 percent of Alibaba, and is now divesting of a portion of that holding. After taxes, Yahoo will likely net in excess of $6 billion. The company has indicated that roughly half of that will go back to shareholders in the form of dividends, said internet equity analyst Scott Kessler at S&P Capital IQ.

But, given that Yahoo has had virtually no growth in years, Kessler thinks the company should use some of its windfall to make a bigger splash in the market.

“To significantly move the needle in terms of how people think about Yahoo and how it’s positioned,” said Kessler, “we think a bigger, bolder strategy makes sense.”

Kessler suggested Yahoo could make additional billion-dollar-plus acquisitions, as it did last year with Tumblr, especially in the fast-growing mobile market. Yahoo’s recent acquisitions have mostly been smaller deals designed primarily to scoop up engineering talent from promising startups.

Technology analyst Carl Howe at 451 Research said Yahoo might buy up more Chinese internet companies as it divests of some of its Alibaba stake. He also expects a strong push into the mobile-payments market. Howe added that the company might also invest more to compete for eyeballs and online ads with rivals Google and Facebook.

“Buy into some sort of big content deal with another source of traffic—for example, Netflix or HBO—boosting business by driving more traffic,” Howe said.

Will the Scottish referendum come down to 'Braveheart' or cool head ?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 13:25

Tomorrow, the people of Scotland vote on whether they want independence from the rest of the United Kingdom.

The economic case against going it alone seems compelling.

A string of major companies say they’ll pull their headquarters out of Scotland if it votes for separation, and big supermarket chains warn that they will have to push up their prices. Deutsche Bank claims the country could be plunged into another Great Depression.

And yet with each grim new warning of disaster, support for separation seems to grow. Is this a case of the heart ruling the head?

"I think it’s driven by a kind of collective madness," says Niall Ferguson, expat Scot and professor of history at Harvard.

"I live in the United States but still feel myself every inch a Scotsman. This will be a disaster. This is a bit like Colorado seeking its independence. This is just astonishing to behold," he says.

Other critics of Scottish independence say Scotland’s in the grip of "Braveheart"  fever, carried away on a wave of emotion by a fantasy of liberation.

But the calm, softly-spoken, supremely rational professor of economics - and supporter of independence – Mike Danson says, "that’s absolute nonsense."

“Nobody talks about 'Braveheart' in Scotland,” he says. “For very, very few people is that what independence is about. Some have said it will be the first case of a country trying to become independent on the back of economics, rather than on the back of heart, emotion and identity.”

More than 200 small and medium-sized Scottish businesses and a handful of large ones support independence. They say if the country separates, it will be much more prosperous and fair than it is today. Frances Barron, who owns a small cheesecake manufacturing firm in southwest Scotland, says she’ll definitely be voting yes… and using her head.

“I would say the majority of people voting yes will be voting with their head," says Frances as she stands in her factory, supervising the baking of another batch of toffee banana cookies. "People are getting their eyes opened, and their mouths hang open when they hear just how wealthy this country is, and how well positioned we are to move forward with independence."

Including its geographic share of North Sea oil, Scotland is per capita richer than the rest of the UK – and it raises more tax. With oil, whiskey and other products, it’s a champion exporter.

But the oil is declining, and most of its exports go to England. If it has to adopt a new currency – and the rest of the UK has made it clear it will not allow an independent Scotland to continue using the pound with the protection of the central bank – Scotland could find it has higher transaction costs selling to its biggest market.

Feelings are running high. The referendum campaign has grown increasingly emotional on both sides, with angry exchanges in the street. But David Bell – professor of economics at Stirling University thinks that when most people enter the polling booths tomorrow, the head will rule the heart.

"There are a lot of very passionate people involved in this, no question about this," says Bell. "But I’m not convinced that that’s what the average voter will be thinking about when they go into the booth. It’ll be cool , calm, economic calculation."

By Friday, we will learn whether Scotland will go it alone. It could be some time before we know for sure whether that means the heart or the head has prevailed.

House Passes Bill That Authorizes Arming Syrian Rebels

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 13:20

Even though it was backed by both party leaders, the vote split politicians within their own ranks. The final tally on the narrow military measure was 273 to 156.

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Can advertisers pressure the NFL?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 13:02

Football season had a rough start this year.

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on tape knocking out his fiance and Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse, putting a spotlight on how the NFL handles domestic violence. Many fans haven't liked what they've seen, and now they're joined by another group the league may have to listen to: its sponsors.

McDonald's, Visa, Campbell's Soup, CoverGirl: A growing list of NFL sponsors have come out with statements applying pressure to the league. Anheuser-Busch, which has a $1.2 billion, six-year contract with the NFL, used some of the harshest language, saying: "We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code."

"The NFL here is a multibillion-dollar business," says Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University. "If some of those billions start to get threatened, I think the NFL is going to stand up and take notice."

But so far, sponsors have stopped short of publicly threatening to tear up their contracts with the NFL. Radisson hotels ended its limited sponsorship with the Minnesota Vikings, but when it comes to individual teams and players, the stakes are lower. But the costs — like having the Radisson logo in the background at press conferences responding to child abuse allegations — are higher.

"There's a lot of sports properties but there's only one NFL," says Kenneth Shropshire, director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative.

The sheer size and engagement of the NFL's audience may insulate it from criticism more than the NBA, which banned former Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life following racist remarks, but only after companies such as State Farm, CarMax and Virgin America withdrew their sponsorship from the Clippers.

"[The NFL is] a $10 billion-a-year industry. The next closest sports are $3 [billion], $4 billion behind. So it's astronomically larger, even though we don't think of it as such," says Shropshire.

He thinks major NFL advertisers are more likely to apply pressure behind the scenes than publicly break ties.

But there could still be looming financial implications for the sport. "I think if you were a sponsor right now contemplating an investment in NFL, you'd probably wait," says Kent Atherton of sports media firm Atherton Communications.

And if more damning details emerge, big money advertisers could do more than just talk.

Graphic by Gina Martinez/Marketplace

The Insights Of An Ebola Doctor Who Became A Patient

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 13:00

Dr. Kent Brantly, an American Ebola survivor, tells NPR what it was like to suffer from the deadly and "humiliating" disease.

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Diet Soda May Alter Our Gut Microbes And Raise The Risk Of Diabetes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 12:47

There's a new wrinkle to the old debate over diet soda: Artificial sweeteners may alter our microbiomes. And for some, this may raise blood sugar levels and set the stage for diabetes.

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Europe's Family Tree Gets A New Branch

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 12:47

Genetic evidence from ancient humans and modern people suggests that travelers from northern Eurasia moved south several thousand years ago. They stuck around to have kids with early European farmers.

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Fed Pledges To Keep Interest Rates Low For A While

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 12:08

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen took questions from reporters on Wednesday afternoon after the central bank's release of a new policy statement. The Fed said that its bond-buying stimulus program would end next month but it will still be a "considerable time" before short-term interest rates are increased.

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After A Long Wait, Syrian Rebels Hope The Weapons Will Now Flow

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 11:44

The "moderate" opposition has been losing ground on the battlefield and pleading for weapons from the U.S. for the past couple of years. They are hoping that their fortunes have finally changed.

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Dropping its NFL sponsorship pays off for Radisson

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 11:42

When was the last time you thought about Radisson Hotels? Probably about a day ago, when the company pulled its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings.

What about before that? Hmm.

Turns out the hotel is already benefiting hugely from its decision, getting them more attention than they've had in a while.

According to research firm Amobee Brand Intelligence, Radisson got "enough social, Web and mobile impressions to account for 58 percent of its total online consumption (impressions plus mentions) for the last three months," Adweek reported.

That's a long time.

CORRECTION: The broadcast version of this story incorrectly identified “Amobee Brand Insights.” The company is called Amobee Brand Intelligence.

From Quebec To Kashmir, Separatists Watch Scotland Vote

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-17 11:19

Scotland's referendum on independence has implications beyond the borders of the United Kingdom. We take a look at several other regions with breakaway movements.

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