National News

Clear Fruit Brandies Pack An Orchard Into A Bottle

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 13:23

French-style eaux de vie have made a comeback in the U.S. thanks to the farm-to-table movement. Dozens of distilleries are now crafting dry, fragrant spirits from fruits that might have been wasted.

» E-Mail This

Blackwater Security Guards Handed Lengthy Sentences For Iraqi Killings

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:40

Three of the Blackwater security guards were found guilty of manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter, while a fourth was convicted of first-degree murder.

» E-Mail This

Why do people overpay their taxes, then get refunds?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:34

As of the first week of April, 2015, 99 million taxpayers had filed their individual returns with the IRS. Of those, more than 77 million—or approximately 77 percent—had received refunds. The average refund was running $2,815, about $20 higher than the same time in 2014.

Overall, 118 million American taxpayers (including individuals and businesses) received tax refunds in 2014 (for the 2013 tax year); they got a total of $373.5 billion back from the IRS. All told, the IRS collected $3.1 trillion in gross taxes in 2014, including business and individual income taxes, estate, gift, excise, and employment taxes.

Listener John Thomas of Nevada asked this question: “I’ve always wondered why so many people seem to overpay their taxes and then have to claim a refund. I’m wondering whether there’s a conspiracy there with the government encouraging people to overpay, because they get free money essentially until people get their refund.”

CPA Rich Sotta in Portland, Oregon, says a lot of his tax-preparation clients intentionally have too much withheld, knowing from prior years’ experience that they will get a substantial refund—often several thousand dollars or more. “It’s so they don’t have a huge tax bill they have to pay in April,” says Sotta. “It’s peace of mind knowing that they’re getting refunds.” He says some taxpayers want a buffer in case their tax situation changes and their tax bill goes up unexpectedly—for instance, if they have sources of income that fluctuate year-to-year.

Sotta says, it’s true, letting the government over-withhold is like giving the government an interest-free loan. But, he says, “if you aren’t of the habit of being able to budget for yourself, I think it’s a way of saving.” Otherwise, he says, those people would fritter away the extra income in their paychecks away.

That predictable April refund windfall can be used by taxpayers to make a big-ticket purchase, take a vacation, pay down debt or build savings.

Hersh Shefrin, a professor of behavioral finance at Santa Clara University, says research shows most taxpayers who receive refunds do indeed devote a substantial portion to intended uses like this, rather than splurging and spending most of it right away.

Shefrin says the refund also triggers a response in our brains: “It lights up the reward centers—the nucleus accumbens is the area that gets activated. And there is a dopamine rush when the check actually arrives and you open it. It has a positive hedonic effect.”

Shefrin says engineering a large refund through over-withholding can also be evidence of smart, self-aware financial planning. “People recognize they have difficulty accumulating enough savings on their own. So they look for ways to help themselves counter the temptations of everyday life.”

Roberton Williams, a fellow at the Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center, dismisses the idea of an IRS conspiracy to get American taxpayers to over-withhold, in order to make more money available for government spending. He says if the IRS encouraged more withholding, some taxpayers could wind up in trouble in April if their tax bills were higher than expected.

Williams acknowledges that if the government wasn’t getting more than $300 billion in tax withholding payments that it will ultimately refund, it would have to borrow more. But, right now the government’s borrowing costs are low, less than 1 percent. “Essentially, what the taxpayers are doing is giving the government a short-term loan,” says Williams. “That makes it easier for the government to cover its bills in the short run, it doesn’t have to borrow as much. But in the long run, it all washes out.”

New York Investigates Retailers For Unpredictable Work Schedules

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:33

Retailers rely on systems that require workers to be ready to work a shift — whether or not they end up working. The state attorney general is looking into the way big retailers handle scheduling.

» E-Mail This

At 800 And Aging Well, The Magna Carta Is Still A Big Draw

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:25

The Magna Carta is sometimes called England's greatest export. Issued by an embattled King John 1215, the document is now on display at the British Library and is pulling in large crowds.

» E-Mail This

SpaceX To Launch A Spacecraft And Attempt To Land Its Rocket on a Floating Barge

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:21

The rocket is carrying supplies to the international space station. SpaceX hopes to land the reusable rocket onto a platform in the Atlantic Ocean.

» E-Mail This

Who Needs 1 SuperPAC When You Can Have 4?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:12

SuperPACs, financed by unlimited but disclosed donations, now appear to be the presidential candidate's new best friend. One backing Sen. Marco Rubio is revving up, and Sen. Ted Cruz already has four.

» E-Mail This

Senators Try To Revise No Child Left Behind — A Few Years Behind

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:02

Tuesday, senators begin working out the details of a bipartisan update to the No Child Left Behind education law. The proposed revision would give states more control over school accountability.

» E-Mail This

Sandwich Monday: Breakfast In A Tin

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 11:54

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try a British delicacy: All-Day Breakfast in a can. We may be using the word delicacy incorrectly.

» E-Mail This

HBO Now's impact on 'Game of Thrones'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-04-13 11:41

When HBO announced HBO Now, the media company's new standalone streaming service, analysts considered "Game of Thrones" its flagship title.

"Game of Thrones" is one of the most popular original content dramas in the market right now," says Lawrence Low, head of regional sales at anti-piracy research firm Irdeto. "It’s premium, original content that has appeal with many different demographics. Maybe even more importantly...it appeals to many countries, not all of which have the access they would like to the show." 

HBO Now offered streaming capability for $14.99 a month, cheaper than the traditional path of cable plus a premium subscription, which was formerly the only route to HBO content (without borrowing your cousin's password). "Game of Thrones" is considered the most pirated show in history, and now, four episodes of the new season have already leaked. So, could HBO Now combat piracy by making the show, and other HBO content, easier to acquire legally? 

"I think it's less about piracy and more about capturing that growing number of Americans who aren't subscribing to cable. There's this number thrown out that there's about 10 to 11 million people in the U.S. who don't subscribe to cable, a lot of them millennials," says Natalie Jarvey, who covers digital media at The Hollywood Reporter. 

For "Game of Thrones" season five, HBO went to work to make the show easier for international audiences to access, too. The season premiere was simulcast across 170 countries. In the past, episodes were staggered for up to weeks at a time for global markets. That delay could have made piracy a worthy pursuit for viewers abroad in the past – the U.S. ranked third when it came to "Game of Thrones" piracy, behind Brazil and France.

"It goes back to the idea of availability ... I think people are pirating because they can't find the content anywhere else," Jarvey says. "While HBO Now might help with some of that, HBO Now right now is only in the U.S." 

One reason that HBO may not have allowed its content to be viewed a la carte in the past was due to a concern of increased piracy. But, the digital-only TV show "House of Cards" was only the fifth most-pirated show, according to anti-piracy research firm Irdeto, behind traditional-TV "Game of Thrones," "Walking Dead," "Breaking Bad," and "Vikings."

"The mode of distribution is not really the question," says Low. "Digital format or streaming does not make content harder to find illegally. The other challenge for content owners and distributors is having rights to distribute in all the territories they have coverage. Even Netflix does not have rights to 'House of Cards' on its service in all of the countries where it is available."

7 Things You Should Know About Marco Rubio

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 11:07

The Florida senator got his start on the Bob Dole presidential campaign and was once Mormon. Here's what else you might not know.

» E-Mail This

Cuba: not quite open for business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-04-13 11:01

President Barack Obama met with Cuban President Raúl Castro on Saturday, at a regional summit in Panama. It was the first face-to-face meeting between leaders of the United States and Cuba in almost 60 years. The two presidents announced in December that they would work to restore full diplomatic relations.

Some trade with Cuba is already legal. U.S. companies have made $5 billion shipping agricultural products like corn, wheat and soy beans to the country during the last 14 years, says John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. But he expects business relations to thaw slowly.

“This isn’t a Niagra Falls of water,” he says. “This is a Niagara Falls of molasses.”

If and when sanctions are lifted, Raul Moas expects Cubans to welcome more U.S. investment. Moas is a Cuban-American, and executive director of Roots of Hope, a group that helps connect young people in Cuba with technology and entrepreneurial skills.

“There’s very much the desire to keep Cuba Cuban," Moas says. "I think for the average Cuban, the chance to work at a foreign company represents access to a better life.” 

Still, it will take time for attitudes towards capitalism to change in Cuba. One example of limits on private enterprise: right now a restaurant can have no more than 50 chairs.

Most aid to families goes to working families

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-04-13 11:00

Never mind welfare to work. Today's world for low-wage earners is welfare and work. A new study from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education finds that three out of four Americans who rely on aid programs like food stamps or Medicaid are members of working families. 

The Center's Ken Jacobs says for those at the bottom, wages alone don't cut it. "You go back for the last 25 years, and real wages have actually declined since 1979," Jacobs says. "At the same time we've seen a decline in the share of workers with job-based health coverage."

So, many lean on the safety net to supplement their paychecks. The study finds that about half the workers in fast food, child care, and home healthcare live this reality.

This does not surprise social work scholar Luke Shaefer at the University of Michigan. He says welfare changes in the 1990s explicitly made a link between welfare to work.

"This is a direct, and you might even say, intended, result of policy decisions that were made," Shaefer says. "You can think of the welfare reform of 1996 as the stick: there's going to be less aid if you're not working."

Alan Turing Notebook Sells For More Than $1 Million At Auction

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 10:32

The manuscript dates to 1942, when the mathematician and computer science pioneer worked to break the German Enigma code. It is filled with complex mathematical and computer science notations.

» E-Mail This

Under Armour wins big at the Masters

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-04-13 10:07

If you watched the Masters on Sunday, you know Jordan Spieth had a very good day. You could argue his main sponsor, Under Armour, had a better one.

They signed Speith to a 10-year deal back in January, Bloomberg notes, guaranteeing Under Armour is the only brand name Spieth will wear on the course.

A key provision?

Under Armour doesn't make golf clubs, which means Speith didn't have to change clubs to make the deal — no small thing.

And by the way, I haven't had a pimento cheese sandwich yet.

JFK Profile In Courage Award Going To Former GOP Rep. Bob Inglis

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 09:31

In 2010, Inglis, R-S.C., lost his seat in the Tea Party wave for, among other things, accepting climate change. Past winners of the award include President George H.W. Bush.

» E-Mail This

One man's dream: a tornado machine

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-04-13 08:39

You've heard of wind and solar. But what about harnessing other forces of nature for energy? That's Louis Michaud's idea.

Michaud worked an engineer in the petroleum industry, but on the side, he nurtured a radical green energy idea, a new renewable energy source he thinks could cover all of our power needs.

The Adaptors — a project of SoundVision Productions and The Atlantic — went to Sarnia, Ontario for a look.

Seth Meyers is getting the hang of his new gig

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-04-13 08:00

Hosting Late Night wasn't Seth Meyers's first time in the host chair — he'd anchored Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update since 2006, where he was also a head-writer and cast member. Late Night with Seth Meyers premiered in February of 2014. After a year's worth of shows, Meyers has gotten the hang of his new gig.

"When I look back at where I was a year into my time at SNL, I felt very uncomfortable, very on-edge. Like a lot of people at SNL, I feel like you are worried you're going to get fired everyday. I'm more settled than that, but I wouldn't call myself completely settled."

The late night television is a crowded field. The traditional late night giants, CBS and NBC, have been joined by cable networks like Comedy Central, TBS, and HBO. Meyers is quick to point out that he's in no rush to copy what his competition is doing on other networks.

"Usually, the people that are doing things really well are doing them for the reason that they are the person that does them best."

Seth Meyers' desk in his office at 30 Rockefeller Center.

Deb Clark

He and his writing team see a niche for them when it comes to politics, a topic Meyers is comfortable covering after his time at SNL but which most other late night network talk shows avoid. "It gives the office a fun energy when you're doing something day of and you and a lot less time to road test it," he says, speaking of a sketch they did about Senator Elizabeth Warren and her decision not to run for President

"And I think as we get into the political season where there are more stories that our audience is hip to, I think we'll try to do that more and more. It's really fun for us."

And Meyers is definitely having fun.

"The very fact that, in this day and age, a network has said to me, 'Hey, we're going to give you an hour every day. Do with it what you will.' There's really not much more you can ask for than that."

Click the media player below to hear an extended version of our conversation with Seth Meyers:

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal (L) with Seth Meyers (R)

Deb Clark

New Survey Shows The World's Most- And Least-Religious Places

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 07:54

Sixty-three percent of people who took part in a global survey of religious attitudes say they are religious, according to WIN/Gallup International, the organization that carried out the polling.

» E-Mail This

I Learned The Hard Way That Concussion Isn't Just For The Young

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 07:52

We hear a lot about concussion and kids, but older adults are even more vulnerable to traumatic brain injury. A slip in the kitchen leads one man down the rabbit hole with no clear path out.

» E-Mail This

Pages