National News

Fashion's new fairy godmother: Designer dress rental

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-31 11:41

Men may be used to renting a tuxedo for special occasions. But if you ask the average woman about renting a dress for a holiday party, she’ll probably find the idea a bit distasteful.

Not law school student Sarah Mannix. She sees nothing untoward about renting a dress. She graduated from college five years ago, and back then it was normal for her to go into one of her friends’ rooms and ask to borrow something.

“Borrowing someone else’s clothes to wear for one night has always been my 'go to' move for having a good wardrobe,” says Mannix.

Rental clothing companies are betting on that attitude. Some have niches such as plus-size or pregnancy clothing. Others offer aspirational customers like Mannix a little luxury. Shawn Grain Carter, who teaches at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, says young consumers watch plenty of reality TV and read a lot about celebrities’ lives. They want to imitate that lifestyle.

“You might not be able to afford a yacht, a private plane or second home,” says Carter. “But you can afford an Hermes handbag, a Birkin bag, and then you can return it because you only need it for that weekend to impress your friends at a bar mitzvah.”

Jennifer Hyman, co-founder and CEO of 5-year-old company Rent the Runway, says Spotify, Netflix and AirBnB are just part of the rental economy, and that fashion is an obvious next step.

“I fundamentally believe that within the next 10 years … every single woman will have a subscription to fashion,” she says. “Just like she has a subscription to music and entertainment. And a portion of what you wear will be things you rent.”

Of the companies that have sprung up during the last 10 years or so, Rent the Runway is the biggest and most ambitious. It specializes in leasing designer gowns and accessories for a few days at a time. Customers search for their garment and reserve it online. After they've worn it, they ship it back to the company’s warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey. It’s dry cleaned, mended if necessary and shipped to the next customer – often on the same day. The company says it runs the largest dry-cleaning operation in the U.S.

I had never thought about renting a dress before, but I ended up trying one on in a Rent the Runway New York showroom. Briefly slipping into a deep plum, sleeveless gown made me feel a bit like Cinderella. I could rent the dress for $165. Sadly, my life isn’t glamorous enough for me to need it.

Mannix goes out a lot more than I do, and has spent about $800 at Rent the Runway over the last few years. She prefers to rent rather than buy because her goal is to look good at the particular event she’s attending.

“I’d prefer not to be wearing the same thing that I’ve been in Facebook pictures or on Instagram wearing six months ago,” she says.

She may not have to wear the same thing twice even when she starts work as a lawyer. Rent the Runway recently launched a subscription service. Customers can put together a queue of everyday clothing and accessories and receive a few new items a month. Mannix is on the waiting list.

Defense nominee's record as 'Buyer in Chief'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-31 11:17

The Defense Department's Office of the Undersecretary for Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics is better known by a shorter name: Acquisitions.

It is in charge of buying everything from toilet paper to fighter jets, and Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter was in charge of it from 2009 to 2011. 

The hallmark of Carter’s two year tenure there was an initiative called “Better Buying Power” to cut down on this wasteful spending, says Bill Greenwalt, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. It was aimed at fighting the perception of waste at the Pentagon.

“If you look at any major weapons system program at the Department of Defense, it’s over budget, not on schedule, and at the end of the day, it performs under what was actually asked for," he says.

He says maintaining stated budget targets for new and existing weapons systems will be a goal of a Pentagon under Carter. “The next real difficult issue is to invest in the future and to actually drive the innovation,” Greenwalt says.

For decades, NASA and the Pentagon poured money into research and development and dominated the high-tech industry, but since the 1980s the private sector has spent more. That means anyone can buy the technology, including America’s enemies. Bringing Silicon Valley innovation to the Defense Department will also be a priority, says Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha.

“If you look at what’s going on in autonomous systems for example," he says, "the money that Google is putting into robotics, autonomous vehicles … Amazon playing around with drones, the Department of Defense is going to have to tap into that expertise.”

Skeptical that a superstar corporation will team up with the Pentagon? Well it’s happened before. During World War II, one of the government’s biggest defense contractors was General Motors.

Examining defense nominee's record as 'Buyer in Chief'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-31 11:17

The Defense Department's Office of the Undersecretary for Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics is better known by a shorter name: Acquisitions.

It is in charge of buying everything from toilet paper to fighter jets, and Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter was in charge of it from 2009 to 2011. 

The hallmark of Carter’s two year tenure there was an initiative called “Better Buying Power” to cut down on this wasteful spending, says Bill Greenwalt, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. It was aimed at fighting the perception of waste at the Pentagon.

“If you look at any major weapons system program at the Department of Defense, it’s over budget, not on schedule, and at the end of the day, it performs under what was actually asked for," he says.

He says maintaining stated budget targets for new and existing weapons systems will be a goal of a Pentagon under Carter. “The next real difficult issue is to invest in the future and to actually drive the innovation,” Greenwalt says.

For decades, NASA and the Pentagon poured money into research and development and dominated the high-tech industry, but since the 1980s the private sector has spent more. That means anyone can buy the technology, including America’s enemies. Bringing Silicon Valley innovation to the Defense Department will also be a priority, says Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha.

“If you look at what’s going on in autonomous systems for example," he says, "the money that Google is putting into robotics, autonomous vehicles … Amazon playing around with drones, the Department of Defense is going to have to tap into that expertise.”

Skeptical that a superstar corporation will team up with the Pentagon? Well it’s happened before. During World War II, one of the government’s biggest defense contractors was General Motors.

If You're Toasting To Health, Reach For Beer, Not (Sparkling) Wine

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-31 11:13

Though beer has been blamed for many a paunch, researchers say it's more nutritious than most other alcoholic drinks. Moderate consumption may also reduce the risk of heart disease.

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Why it's hard times for citrus growers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-31 11:13

Marketplace's David Gura checked in with citrus grower Mark Wheeler, CFO of Wheeler Farms in Lake Placid, Fla.

What difficulties are facing Wheeler's industry? For one, there's citrus greening, a deadly tree disease. "We're basically scouting aggressively for the little critters that spread the disease, the Asian citrus psyllid," Wheeler says. "We've got the research foundations desperately looking for a cure."

But it's not just tree diseases Wheeler has to deal with, competition in the beverage aisle also makes things difficult. "It's tough because a lot of times we're dealing with stuff that's, basically, colored sugar water that we've got to compete with," Wheeler says. "And the inputs into those products are much cheaper than what OJ is."

 

Sen. Rubio Says He Could Run For President Even If Jeb Bush Does

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-31 11:07

The Florida Republican tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that while he had not made a final decision on a run, "we're closer to a decision than we were a month ago."

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A New Year's Eve history lesson

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-31 11:00

People across the country will ring in the New Year watching television – and the ball drop in Times Square, a New York City tradition that dates to 1904, according to a story in Mental Floss magazine.

The first party was held at the behest of the New York Times publisher, who also picked up the tab for the event. There were fireworks and some 200,000 partygoers. But a few years later New York banned the fireworks, leading to perhaps the most famous New Year's tradition: the ball drop.

The first ball had 100 25-watt light bulbs. Tonight's light count totals 32,256.

 

Lean times for the weight-loss industry

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-31 11:00

Established weight-loss companies are facing competition from upstart businesses even as they lose customers to changing tastes. Industry watchers say 2015 will be the year that many diet companies ditch celebrity endorsements, and instead focus on the weight-loss struggles of ordinary people. Those seeking to lose weight are increasingly forgoing foods labeled "diet." Many are turning toward licensed professionals for counseling in behavior modification, a shift that some say is attributable to the Affordable Care Act, which requires most insurers to address obesity. 

Marketplace's most popular stories in 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-31 10:49
2014 saw big stock market gains, a large drop in oil prices, and the lowest unemployment rate since the recession.

But, which stories did Marketplace readers visit the most?

1. What happens at Netflix when House of Cards goes live

Is cable dead?: Netflix continued its push toward original content, with "Marco Polo," "BoJack Horseman," and new seasons of "Orange Is the New Black" and "Arrested Development."

What happens inside of Netflix HQ when its first original series, "House of Cards," releases its anticipated second season at midnight?

2. You Hate My Job: Football referee (plus, a ref quiz!)

Pretty sure that's a penalty: Despite nearly two decades of experience, retired NFL referee Bill Carollo says the job was always nerve-wracking: “If you say that you’re not nervous, you’re probably kidding yourself – and you probably aren't really prepared."

Carollo recalls one controversial decision in a playoff game that ruled against Tampa Bay's football team. The call resulted in “200 calls [to] my house. I’m unlisted. 15 to 16 people were arrested for death threats. I had to pull my kids out of school. And that’s when [I made] the right call."

3. Why are sticks of butter long and skinny in the East, but short and fat in the West?

Butter cubed: Bonnie Robinson Beck from Larchmont, New York, has always wondered why butter cubes are long and skinny in the east, and short and squat in the west.

Until we fielded this question, we had no idea an unspoken butter battle drew a border between the two halves of America. But when we explored the answer, we found out there's pretty much an expert for everything.

4.How an HBCU with 35 students keeps its doors open

Almost a ghost college: If historically black colleges and universities are an endangered species, Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, could be closest to extinction. Most buildings on its campus are now boarded up and abandoned.

Before the school lost accreditation in 2003, a few thousand students were enrolled at Morris Brown. But almost overnight, most fled out of fear their degree would carry no weight. Today, only 35 students remain enrolled.

5. The British have solved unemployment, once and for all

The solution to all of our problems: Roll this one idea out into the economy and everyone who wants to have a job would get a job. If it works as promised, not just Britain but the rest of the developed world including the U.S., could have full employment.

Outsourcing of jobs to poorer parts of the world? No problem. Robots and algorithms taking away human jobs, not to worry. And what is this device that would solve what is one of the greatest and most persistent economic problems?

Well, it is not a device in the sense of an electronic contraption. But it is a mechanism, a policy mechanism that is being put forth by experts at the New Economics Foundation in London, among others.

Here's the idea: the 21-hour work week.

6. Silicon Valley has a dress code? You better believe it

Strictly casual: Silicon Valley is known for its 'casual' dress, which means T-shirts, jeans and sneakers. But don't be fooled, techies care a lot more about appearances than they let on. Put another way, there’s a lot of code in the Silicon Valley dress code.

7.Why women's pockets are useless: A history

The purse lobby is stronger than you could have ever imagined: The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus descended upon society in 2014. Amid loving descriptions of its crisp camera, its intuitive operating system and the near-reverence for its sleek lines, one question (quite literally) looms large: Is the bigger iPhone 6 Plus a "pocketable" size?

There's one problem: Women's pockets have always had a history of being unable to hold a phone, or much else, for a long, long time.

8. Two obsessed guys and a radical motorcycle design

Zen and the art of motorcycle designing: Ten years ago, J.T. Nesbitt was one of the top motorcycle designers in the world. His picture graced the cover of magazines. Celebrities sought out his extravagantly expensive machines. But in 2005, while he was visiting a prince in the Middle East, hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and destroyed Confederate Motorcycles, the company that built Nesbitt’s bikes.

Seven years later, his career hadn’t recovered. He was about to take a job waiting tables in the French Quarter, when a stranger showed up on his doorstep and turned his life upside down.

9.Why do gas prices end in 9/10 of a cent?

...and everything else you've ever wondered about gas stations.



Nine-tenths of the answer: To answer the most wondered-about question in the history of "I've Always Wondered" (seriously, like 15 people asked), we headed to Three Lakes, Wisconsin, to meet with Ed Jacobsen (known as "Jake, the Oil Guy"). Jacobsen worked for Esso and then bought a half-dozen gas stations he ran for decades. Now, he runs the Northwoods Petroleum Museum — a collection of at least 4,000 items, from drill bits to vintage gas pumps to antique oil company freebies.

"We have to go way back to when the oil companies were selling gas for, let’s say, 15 cents, and then the state and federal boards decided they wanted a piece of that to keep the roads going, so they added 3/10 of a cent. And the oil companies said, ‘Well, we’re not going to eat that,’ so they passed that on to the public." Raising prices a penny would have been disastrous when gas only cost $0.15. But why has it stick around?

10.Making it to the 1 percent is more common than you think

The 1 in 100: Back when the Occupy Wall Street movement chanted “We are the 99 percent,” author Mark Rank got curious about some of the assumptions buried in that chant. Who exactly is the 99 percent? And what’s their relationship to that remaining, increasingly notorious 1 percent?

Food Psychology: How To Trick Your Palate Into A Tastier Meal

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-31 09:45

Ingredients and preparation matter in making a delicious dinner. But so do a lot of other external factors, from your mood to room lighting. Here, a guide to enhancing the pleasures of the plate.

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Using Both Quit Lines And Websites Helps Smokers Stop

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-31 09:23

Every state offers quit lines and other aids to help smokers end the habit. Using both telephone and online aids works best, a study finds.

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Small investors still skipping stocks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-31 08:41

Every year, Bankrate.com takes the pulse of average Americans with a survey, called the financial security index. And every year since the financial crisis, people have said they’re staying away from stocks, even as the markets rose.

“Risk aversion among individual investors still remains very, very high,” says Greg McBride, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst. 

Seventy-three percent of the people interviewed for the 2014 survey said they were not more inclined to invest in stocks. McBride says usually at this point in a financial recovery, small investors do flock back to the markets, but not this time.

“They bought in right before the market peak in 2000, they sold out at the bottom, got back in and then got burned again," McBride says. "And a lot of those individual investors simply have never come back to the equity markets.”

There can be consequences for investors who stay out of stocks, because, historically, the markets have been your best investment for retirement. 

“You’ve got two choices" if you skip stocks, says Stuart Ritter, a senior financial planner with T Rowe Price. "One, you need to save more to make up for the earnings you’re not getting, or two, you need to recognize you’re going to have a smaller balance, and a lower lifestyle in retirement.”

Ritter says over every 15-year-period since 1926, the S&P 500 has gone up.

He says your best strategy is to ride out the short-term ups and downs, and invest for the long term.

A Son Is Lost Without His Mother. So Is A Country

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-31 08:37

Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh is hailed as a hero in Nigeria. She and her team refused to release an Ebola patient who was demanding to leave the hospital. But her dedication came at a cost.

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Fallen Heroes: A Tribute to The Health Workers Who Died Of Ebola

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-31 08:31

The virus has taken a tragic toll in their ranks. At hospitals and clinics, their photos are displayed along with messages from their friends and family: "May you rest in perfect peace."

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Obama's Iran Remarks Labeled Conciliatory, Naive

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-31 08:11

In an interview with NPR, the president left open the door to reopen the embassy in Tehran, called Iran's defense concerns "legitimate" and said it could become a "successful regional power."

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Md. Governor To Commute Sentences Of State's Remaining Death Row Inmates

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-31 08:11

Martin O'Malley said it didn't make sense to allow this play out in the judiciary when the legislature had already decided to outlaw the death penalty.

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10 Final Thoughts Of The Protojournalist

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-31 07:13

As the sun sets on The Protojournalist storytelling project, I reflect on the question: What have I done?

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A Look Back At The Top 5 Shots Posts In 2014

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-31 06:46

In a year filled with gripping health stories, here are the ones that were the most popular with Shots readers. Think beauty pageant queens, pronouns and Ebola.

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Happy New Year! Now, Look Back At The Most Popular Stories Of 2014

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-31 06:28

Beauty queens and baseball videos, as well as hard news on Ebola and the Michael Brown case in Ferguson were the stories of biggest interest to NPR.org visitors. There were also cats, of course.

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Quiz: The most popular Advanced Placement classes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-31 04:49

There are more than 30 AP courses, but not all of them are widely offered.

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