National News

A Wet And Wild Look Inside The 'Mushroom Houses' Of A Fungi Farm

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:55

Foraging for wild, edible fungi may be a growing trend. But most of the mushrooms we eat come from farms – and a behind-the-scenes look at one of them turns out to be pretty exciting on its own.

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Just A Bit Of DNA Helps Explain Humans' Big Brains

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:48

Scientists have found some human DNA that, when added to mice, makes their brains bigger. But as DNA research into human brains goes forward, are there ethical lines we shouldn't cross?

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Humana Discloses Widening Justice Dept. Probe Of Medicare Advantage Plans

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:37

Privately run Medicare Advantage plans offer seniors an alternative to standard Medicare. The plans are paid monthly fees based on complex risk formulas that are drawing federal scrutiny.

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As CBS' 'Two And Half Men' Ends, Questions On How It Lasted So Long

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:22

CBS' Two and Half Men ends a 12-season run tonight as TV's longest-running multicamera sitcom. NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans says some experts still struggle to explain the show's longtime success.

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Wal-Mart's wage increase isn't only for good PR

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:04

Wal-Mart announced on Thursday it would give a raise to some 500,000 of its lowest-wage employees. It will make a big difference to those workers, but the company isn't spending $1 billion merely for the PR, or to mollify its labor force.

Michael Noel, associate professor of economics at Texas Tech, says it's a matter of retaining employees in a more competitive job market. "You will see more companies do this, because it is that time," says Noel. "The economy is improving, and when the economy improves, wages improve."

Zeynep Ton, adjunct associate professor of operations management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, says it's also a matter of improving the store experience.

David Schick, managing director of equity research for retail at Stifel, says this is why he suggested in a note last week that Wal-Mart invest more in its stores, even at the cost of lower earnings. 

This kind of trade-off isn't always viewed as a good idea by shareholders, many of whom are focused on short term movements in the company's stock price. "There's a leap of faith that if you raise wages or costs to running your business that there will be an outcome that's better for the business," says Schick.

Employees take on the Wal-Mart wage increase

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:04

If you work at Wal-Mart, today’s news may be encouraging. About half a million employees will get an hourly raise to $9 dollars an hour, and next year, it will go up to $10 an hour. A lot of people are doing the math, wondering what kind of difference that could make.

At a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Dayton, Ohio, a part-time associate in the apparel section makes $8.10 an hour, the minimum wage in Ohio.

“Right now, it’s just pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck,” says Kelly Sallee, who has worked for the company for about eight months. That is barely enough to cover her bills. Sallee is part of a group called OUR Wal-mart, which has been pushing Wal-Mart to raise its wages, and she expects her hourly wage will go up by 90 cents.

Sallee, who is 22 years old, is engaged and eager to start a family, and Sallee says she and her fiancé already know what they would do with more money. “We would save up for a car,” she says. “We would be able to pay car insurance.” Sallee could stop taking the bus to work.

According to Arin Dube, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Wal-Mart’s decision could make a difference – especially to employees who are making the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour. “We are talking about a thousand or two thousand dollars, maybe, for some of the more effected workers,” he says.

Dube says there is evidence that when minimum-wage workers see their wages rise, they start saving.

Amy Glasmeier is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has spent a lot of time studying poverty issues and what constitutes a living wage, and she says even a modest increase matters.

“A family member getting sick, a car needing a repair, a dollar is going to add up,” she explains. “A 10 percent increase is a 10 percent increase.”

But for many Wal-Mart workers who live around the federal poverty line – about $12,000 for a single person – that increase is likely to provide only some solace. 

“It’s moving from the bottom to, you know, a shade above the bottom,” says David Neumark, who directs the Center for Economics and Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine.

Now, Wal-Mart says this pay bump is significant, and it is going to cost the company around $1 billion a year.

Visitors bureau in Ithaca wins at marketing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:04

Earlier this week, the website for the visitors bureau in Ithaca, New York, a city currently buried under several feet of snow, knew enough was enough.

They put a picture of the beaches of the Florida Keys on their homepage with a line that read, "That's it. We surrender. Winter, you win. Key West anyone?".

The site's back to normal now, but the bureau's director said to the Ithaca Journal that it was a way to stay engaged with customers at a time when Upstate New York isn't exactly top of mind.

Due to the cold weather is now encouraging people to visit Key West instead. @VisitIthaca

— Brian Carberry (@CNNBrian) February 16, 2015

Obama Calls The Idea That The West Is At War With Islam 'An Ugly Lie'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:03

"The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie and all of us — regardless of our faith — have a responsibility to reject it," President Obama said at a summit on violent extremism.

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10 things you probably didn't know about the Oscars

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 09:00

It’s that time of the year again: the 87th Academy Awards ceremony will take place at the Dolby Theatre this Sunday. Hollywood’s biggest stars will walk across 500 feet of red carpet in their designer suits and gowns to the industry’s biggest night – in hopes of winning the most recognized trophy in the world, the Oscar.

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke to Joseph Petree, the Design Director at R.S. Owens & Company, about manufacturing the golden statuette.

10 fun facts about the Oscars:

  1. The Oscar statuette was originally named the Academy Award of Merit. Although it is unclear where the nickname comes from, the most widely known myth is that the Academy’s librarian saw the statue and said it looked like her Uncle Oscar. The Academy officially adopted the nickname in 1939.
  2. The first Oscar was awarded in 1929 to Emil Jannings, named Best Actor for his performances in “The Last Command” and “The Way of All Flesh.”
  3. About 270 people attended the first official Academy Awards at the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and tickets cost $5 each. 
  4. An Oscar statuette stands 13½ inches tall and weighs in at 8½ pounds.
  5. The Oscar statuette was designed by Cedric Gibbons, chief art director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and sculpted by Los Angeles artist George Stanley.
  6. The statuette is a figure of a knight holding a crusader's sword standing on a reel of film with five spokes signifying the five original branches of the Academy: actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers.
  7. The first televised Academy Awards show was on March 19, 1953. 
  8. R. S. Owens & Company in Chicago has manufactured the Oscar statuette since 1983.
  9. Each Oscar takes about 8-10 hours to make. R.S. Owens & Company manufactures about 50-60 Oscar statuettes per year.
  10. The Oscar statuette has more gold on it than any other trophy.

Quiz: College tuition for the asking

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 07:30

Researchers at Columbia University estimate that two-thirds of community college students would qualify for federal grants, but not all of them apply.

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Hot KISS Buns Are Headed For Store Shelves In Japan

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 06:58

They're dark and intense — and starting next week, a limited number of them will be sold in stores in Japan. Official name? Spicy Chili Tomatoman.

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Wal-Mart Gives 500,000 Employees A Pay Raise

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 06:36

The retailer says starting in April, thousands of full and part time employees will make $9.00 an hour.

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India's Kerala Has It All: Beauty, Bananas, Long Life, Girl Power

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 05:40

President Obama praised the Indian state last month for good reason. It's got beaches, backwaters and the country's longest life expectancy and highest literacy rate. Plus, girls outnumber boys!

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Walmart's way to growth

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 05:30

Walmart scored low marks in a survey of major U.S. retailers released Wednesday. The American Customer Satisfaction Index says the retail giant came in below competitors like Target and Family Dollar.

Walmart’s earnings paint a somewhat rosier picture of its performance. On Thursday, the company reported pulling in $1.61 a share in the fourth quarter — higher than the predicted $1.53 — but still fell short on earnings with a reported $131.6 billion.

Analysts say Walmart may try to accelerate growth in some key areas, like e-commerce, where it has made big strides.  

“Those companies investing in mobile, like Walmart is, seem to be pulling ahead of the competitive set,” says Sucharita Mulpuru is a retail analyst with Forrester Research.

Another growth area: Walmart's smaller store format, called  Neighborhood Market stores.  

But consumer research analyst Brian Yarbrough with Edward Jones is skeptical about how much those growth areas can boost Walmart’s bottom line. He says supercenters are still the main drivers of operating income. 

“If the U.S. supercenters are still just kind of mulling along and not gaining steam,” he says, “they're really not going to be able to show any kind of earnings growth and revenue growth at the overall Walmart company.”

Yarbrough says that picture will be hard to change as shoppers turn increasingly to low-cost competitors like dollar stores.

Part of the problem, he says, is that Walmart is a mature retailer.

"It's difficult to grow when you're this big," he says.


Ousted Thai Leader Charged With Negligence, Could Face Jail

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 05:07

If she's found guilty of negligence, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could be jailed for 10 years. She was removed from office last May.

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Ukraine Update: Fighting Shifts To Mariupol; A Call For UN Peacekeepers

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 04:25

Ukraine says that in the past 24 hours alone, 14 of its soldiers have died and another 172 were injured. The leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia are trying to salvage a cease-fire.

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Greece Seeks To Extend Eurozone Loans, As Deadline Looms

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-19 03:06

With the bailout package that has kept Greece's economy afloat set to expire in just over a week, the country has formally asked Eurozone members for a six-month extension.

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PODCAST: Finding diversity in sports leadership

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 03:00

With the deadline closing in, Greece asks for an extension, but Germany is not interested. More on that. Plus, while Europe and the wider financial system have been doing some planning in case Greece were forced off the euro, its the kind of uncertainty that could upset global market. This is among the factors that U.S. policy makers have to consider when deciding when to raise interest rates. We'll also talk about combating racism and promoting diversity in the world of sports with Ken Shropshire, author of “Sport Matters: Leadership, Power, and the Quest for Respect in Sports.”

Germany says no to a six month extension for Greece

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 03:00

Today, Greece put on the table a proposal that embraced its debt obligations, but asked European partners for a six months extension. But in the last few minutes, Germany said no. The German Finance Ministry's quote: "The letter from Athens is not a proposal that leads to a substantial solution."

We were on the line from Brussels with Economist Elena Panaritis, who is advising the Greek government in these negotiations, when the news came from Germany's finance ministry. 

Click on the media player above to hear more.

Just before that statement hit the financial wires, Panaritis talked about Greece's hopes for a resolution that would avoid a default, keep Greece in the Euro, and prevent a wave of global financial uncertainty.

Fed minutes still vague on rate-hike timing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-19 03:00

On February 18, the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee released minutes from its meeting January 27-28, 2015. A major topic of discussion was how current economic conditions bear on the Fed’s long-awaited plan to begin raising short-term interest rates. The benchmark federal funds rate has hovered near-0-percent since December 2008, as part of the Fed’s broader effort to stimulate the economy by encouraging more consumer spending, business investment and hiring.

Market analysts trying to glean any hard-and-fast intelligence on when the Fed plans to begin hiking interest rates will be disappointed. Fed officials (who are not named in the minutes) are carefully non-committal on the precise timing of anticipated monetary tightening, signaling they want maximum flexibility to respond to emerging economic developments. The widespread expectation among economists is that rates will start rising in June or September of 2015.

The minutes from January (released three weeks after the meeting) show Fed officials are worried that core price inflation (excluding volatile food and energy) and wage inflation are too low right now, the global economy is stumbling, and the strong U.S. dollar is hurting U.S. exports. But they see a steadily improving job market.

“Job growth has been very good, the unemployment rate has come down,” says Gary Thayer, head of global macro-strategy at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “I think businesses are probably at the point where if they want to expand further they will need to hire more workers, and I think that will make consumers feel better. When the Fed gets around to raising interest rates, the impact probably won’t hurt the economy that much.”

Fed officials are concerned that if they raise rates to soon to keep the economy from overheating and inflation from getting out of control, they’ll squash job growth. The danger is that growth will slow down before it can benefit the underemployed and long-term unemployed, who haven’t seen quick improvement in their job prospects during the six-year post-recession economic recovery.