National News

National parks consider adding Wi-Fi

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-03 11:00

We've all been there – you're at the national park and want to take a selfie with your favorite sulfur cauldron. But tragedy strikes when you can't upload it to your Instagram, because you don't have Wi-Fi. 

Parks service officials are currently asking the question, "do national parks need Wi-Fi?"

They are considering a $34 million plan to run fiber optic cable through Grand Teton National Park into Yellowstone.

If ever there was a time to embrace your inner-Luddite, now might be that time.

Cruise ship comeback still tied up in port

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-03 11:00

It’s been a pretty rough couple of years for the cruise industry.

First, there was the global recession. As if that wasn't enough, the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy. And finally, let’s not forget the handful of other high profile disasters and the image of cruise ships stranded at sea plastered all over cable news.

Yet, despite all this, the cruise industry is as hopeful as ever.  Bob Sharak is president of his eponymous travel consulting company.

“The cruise industry has proven to be continually popular and resilient after a little bit of a tough period in the last few years," says Sharak, who also spent 20 years with the Cruise Lines International Association. “You’re seeing full ships, high occupancies. But you’re also seeing customers coming from not just North America, but from Europe, Asia and a lot of other emerging markets.”

Technically he’s right about the industry's growth.

In 2012, 10.6 million Americans took a cruise, a number that inched up to 10.9 million last year. And, yes, as Sharak points out, cruising is becoming more popular in other parts of the world.

But others say that growth is too slow.

“There’s an expectation that it’s gotta, gotta get better and since that didn’t happen this year, it should happen next year," says Maggie Rauch, an analyst with PhoCusWight, the travel industry research group behind those numbers. “Some of the optimism that you might be hearing is optimism that always exists this time of year for the coming year. Things are going to improve next year. Kind of like when your team doesn’t make the playoffs.”

Rauch said the cruise industry is having a hard time increasing its customer base.

Even more than hotels or airlines, cruising relies heavily on repeat business, she said.

“There’s a group of people that just take cruises ever year, do it again and again," Rauch said. "And while obviously the cruise lines welcome their business, in order to grow they're always looking at 'how can we get people who haven’t taken a cruise before to do so for the first time?'”

So far this year’s been without major incidents meaning in the industry might be able to get more folks on board.

Whatever happens election day, it's Yellen's economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-03 11:00

The midterm elections are Tuesday, and come Wednesday morning President Obama could wake up to a vastly different political landscape. One thing that will not change is the face of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen. She has been running the Fed for nine months to the day.

Monday also happened to be the day she sat down with President Obama for their first face to face meeting since she took over the nation’s money supply.

Historically, these face to face meetings happen for one of two reasons; either the Fed chairman wants to brief the president on a big change in policy or — and this is the more likely scenario for today’s meeting — Yellen will update the president on the state of the U.S. economy.

“She’s going over to the president to give her assessment of the economy,” says  NYU professor of economics Mark Gertler. “I doubt she’s going over to talk about what she would like Obama to do.”

So what does the economy look like according to Janet Yellen? Based on her comments and Fed policy under her tenure, you could say she sees an economy that’s improving but still struggling to lower unemployment and stimulate wage growth.

“I think the key thing is her signaling of concern for workers, wages and inequality,” says Gerald Epstein, chairman of the economics department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Yellen’s recent speech on income inequality could be a sign that as Fed chairman, she will be looking especially closely at unemployment numbers when making monetary policy decisions.  

“Now we normally think of the Fed as being the institutional shadow of the Fed chair,” says Stanford financial historian Peter Conti-Brown. Think about the way people refer to the “Volcker Fed” or the “Greenspan Fed,” or they might say things like, “Bernanke bailed out the banks.”

But in reality, the Fed is more like the Supreme Court. Its legal authority rests not in a single chairman but in the board of governors and the presidents of the reserve banks. Together they vote on policy. “Fed chairs, depending on their leadership style, either run roughshod over that committee structure, or they embrace that committee structure,” says Conti-Brown.

Yellen, who unlike any previous Fed chairman, has served three terms on those committees, has embraced the committee structure. And while she has been more outspoken than former chairmen on issues like income inequality, her actions have not deviated drastically from her predecessors.  

'Car Talk' Co-Host Tom Magliozzi Dies At 77

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-03 10:31

As half of the wisecracking NPR radio show, Tom Magliozzi made us laugh at our car problems. He and his brother, Ray, also taught us how things work.

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Tom Magliozzi, Popular Co-Host Of NPR's 'Car Talk,' Dies At 77

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-03 10:30

Tom Magliozzi bantered weekly with his brother, Ray, on the public radio show. They joked, laughed and sometimes even gave good advice to listeners with car troubles. Tom Magliozzi was 77 years old.

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HBO's 'Olive Kitteridge' May Be The Best Depiction Of Marriage On TV

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-03 10:22

HBO's miniseries, starring Frances McDormand as a sharp-tongued wife, concludes tonight. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans calls it an unsparing, detailed look at the most quietly troubled marriage on TV.

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Martha Stewart on life, 'lifestyle culture' and her brand

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-03 10:20

Martha Stewart does not mince words when it comes to the size of her business:

"I think you can fairly say, I spawned or laid an egg that has turned into a lifestyle industry," Stewart said in an interview with Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal.

Since "Entertaining," her first book, came out in 1982, Stewart's brand have swelled into a catch-all for planning parties, getting married, serving tofu french fries, and drawing fizzy baths. There's Martha Stewart Living, Martha Stewart Weddings, Martha Stewart's Cooking School on PBS, Martha Live, a collection at Macy's, a collection at Petsmart, a Martha Stewart at Home depot and more. There's a Martha Stewart competition for start-up "American Made" products.

  Congratulations to the 2014 American Made Award Winners! #americanmadeawards #marthastewart — American Made (@AmericanMadeMSL) October 17, 2014

There is, in fact, Martha Stewart for just about everything:

Here are some highlights from the conversation, which will air later this afternoon on Marketplace:

On godmother-ing a culture

Ryssdal: If I called you, maybe not the grandmother, but maybe the godmother of the lifestyle culture in this country, would you be offended?

Stewart: Absolutely not. I would be thrilled! I think godmother is good because it can be of any age.

Ryssdal: Yeah, it’s age neutral, right?

Stewart: Yes, it is. It really is.

On the marketing of "lifestyle" products

Stewart: There are two kinds of people... There are the dreamers who go and buy, and there are the doers who go and make. And I’ve always recognized that. So the dreamers are what support our company, because they will buy the product that they could make if they wanted to, had time to, or were so inclined to. Or, they can dream about it and figure out how to make it themselves... If you look back at our first presentations to investors, it was about dreamers and doers and guess what? It’s turned out to be exactly that.

Martha Stewart (R), the doyenne of modern living through her Martha Stewart Living empire, serves brioche with scrambled eggs, along with New York Stock Exchange President William Johnson, to celebrate her listing on the NYSE 19 October 1999.Henny Ray Abrams/AFP/Getty Images

On “American Made”

For the past three years, Stewart has headed up an annual contest called “American Made.” This year, more than 3,259 makers and entrepreneurs applied to win seed money and promotion to start their own business in the categories of Food, Crafts, Style and Design. The winners will meet in New York later this week, where they will be presented to attendees at the “American Made Summit.” Stewart says she is hoping to bring manufacturing back to the U.S., even in small ways. One of her favorite projects this year was led by “American Made” finalist Pashon Murray who started a composting collective in Detroit called fittingly “Detroit Dirt.”

“Compost is a national trend right now,” Stewart said. “If we could put it on a Twitter meter right now composting would be pretty high up there.”

On prison and her company

Ryssdal: There is a question to be asked about you and the company and the brand that is you - and it has to do with your conviction for filing false statements in an insider trading case. About ten years ago you went to prison, you were barred from a role in your company for five years. You have since obviously returned. 

Stewart: Only barred from an executive role in the company.

Ryssdal: Yes, an executive role, that is true. And you have returned now as non-executive chairman, or chairwoman I suppose. The question is: What does it feel like for a person and a company that is so wrapped up in each other, what does it feel like for you to have that taken away?

Stewart: Well, it was never really taken away. It was delayed for a period of time. So it was never… You can’t really separate the person from the brand. 

Martha Stewart made headlines for insider trading in 2004. Her name still spikes on Google every holiday season.

On Steven Spielberg, her next door neighbor

Stewart: [Steven Spielberg] actually lives across the street from me so I bump into them sometimes. But he said to me, “Martha, I just want you to know what I think. I think that you have elevated the job of the homemaker, the homeowner, the homemaker. You’ve elevated that job from something that we all thought was drudge, drudgery to something much more of an art form.”

That was, to me, the highest compliment that anybody has paid me. Because it is, it should be. You should feel good about making your home nicer for your family and your friends.  You should feel great about cooking a good dinner and making a dress for a granddaughter, creating a beautiful birthday party. It’s all part of life.

Sandwich Monday: The Baco

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-03 10:20

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try a Baco — not the bacon bit, but the bao-taco hybrid from Saucy Porka in Chicago.

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5 Widgets And Apps For Election Day

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-03 10:16

Worried you don't know the essentials for the 2014 midterm elections? Here's a mobile cheat sheet to plug you in for Election Day.

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In A Remote Corner Of Sudan, An American Takes His Stand

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-03 09:59

Ryan Boyette arrived in the Nuba Mountains more than a decade ago and has made it his mission to document abuses he says the government carries out with regularity.

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On The Trail To Preserve Appalachia's Bounty Of Heirloom Crops

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-03 09:46

With some 1,500 heirloom fruits and vegetables under cultivation, Appalachia is the most diverse foodshed in the U.S., Canada and northern Mexico. Among them is a beloved corn called Bloody Butcher.

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Outside groups are moving onto political parties' turf

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-03 09:44

The midterm election is Tuesday, and big money, in the form super PACs and political nonprofits, has fully moved onto the turf that used to be the sole purview of political parties — not just advertising, but organizing and messaging, too.  

A super PAC called NextGen Climate Action is bankrolled by billionaire Tom Steyer, and it has spent more than $5 million in Iowa alone. Some of that money has paid for, but Josh Fryday, the group's chief operating officer, says most it has gone toward "field efforts."

“We really made a big effort to focus our resources into building a grassroots infrastructure on the ground,” he says.

According to Steve Grubbs, a Republican political consultant based in Iowa, other outside groups have been doing the same thing.

“The job of campaigns and candidates has largely been outsourced,” he concludes. “When I was state party chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, all of the vote-by-mail or absentee-ballot programs, and get-out-the-vote, were generated through the state parties, maybe some of the candidate committees or local parties.”

These days, super PACs and nonprofits do that kind of work, and some of them take the lead. Outside groups are building huge databases, and they are developing new tools to target voters. “I do think, if I were chair of a party, I would have some significant concerns about it,” Grubbs says.

What's caused this, he argues, is candidates and state parties can't compete. There are restrictions on how much they can raise and how much they can spend. That is not the case for groups like Americans for Prosperity, a conservative nonprofit that has spent half a million in Iowa.

But Scott Brennan, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, says he has never run into anyone from any of the big outside groups, including Americans for Prosperity.

“I'm sure AFP is not targeting the same people that the Iowa Democratic Party is targeting,” he says. “But the bottom line is they are not an enormous presence here.”

Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa, is on a lot of mailing lists, including the Americans for Prosperity list. He said a recent message from Mark Lucas, the group's state director, bragged about AFP’s ground game, 35 paid staff, five field offices, and so on.

Hagle wonders what the growth of super PACs and nonprofits portends for parties.

“You do have to be careful of the downside of relying on some outside group,” he says. Parties could get rusty, he says. They could find themselves outmatched.

Jim Nicholson used to chair the Republican National Committee, and he says what worries him is parties have lost control of the message: “They – whoever they are – can do and say, you know, whatever that want.”

Nicholson is from Colorado, where $67 million dollars worth of outside money has flowed into the state’s U.S. Senate race. Seth Masket, who chairs the political science department at the University of Denver, says "the ads are pretty constant."

“My impression is that most voters can't necessarily distinguish between an ad run by a candidate and one run by some unaffiliated interest group,” Masket notes.

The race for governor in Colorado is also tight, and it illustrates Masket's point beautifully. The two candidates agreed not to go negative, but that doesn't mean voters aren't inundated with attack ads.

According to Masket, we are witnessing politics evolve. “All of these groups are essentially part of a larger party network, or an informal party,” he says. Even if they can't coordinate, parties and sympathetic outside groups are on the same page. And there may be an upside to all this money, being spent on getting out the vote: More Americans may vote.

The numbers for November 3, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-03 09:24

Tomorrow is election Tuesday, and a bunch of super PACs, nonprofits and outside groups have sprouted up to give last-ditch, six-figure cash injections to key campaigns.

The New York Times found at least 90 groups that hadn't spend anything before October. Eighteen of them didn't even exist before September, and have now spent $9 million all together. Many of these groups have vague names and some are spending far more than they had on October 15, the last day before the election to disclose contributions. This flurry of activity means voters won't know who's buying up ad space and deploying automated calls until after the election.

After a weekend stumping in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, President Barack Obama will return to Washington and meet with Fed Chair Janet Yellen for the first time one-on-one. Here are some other stories we're reading — and numbers we're watching — Monday:


That's how many more people may have gone to the polls in 2010 thanks to Facebook's "I voted" button the appeared on users' News Feeds. It turns out the tool has been used to experiment on users' voting patterns for the past several elections, Mother Jones reported, and a paper in Nature by Facebook data scientists and others posits that the site is actively stoking civic engagement. Additionally, the site reportedly ran experiments to test whether users with more news stories in their feed were more likely to say they had voted.

26 percent

The average profit margin for BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell and Chevron over the past year, down nine points from a decade ago, when crude was about half the price, the Wall Street Journal reported. Prices sunk to $70 a barrel last quarter, and the big oil companies are scaling back projects and selling assets.

1.3 million

The number of copies Taylor Swift's "1989" is projected to sell in its first week, with the final tally out Wednesday. Passing that mark would give "1989" the best first-week sales of any album since 2002, breaking Britney Spears' record for first-week sales by a female artist and giving this year its very first platinum album, Billboard reported.

To further capitalize on these big sales, Swift's back catalog has been pulled off Spotify, and the company isn't breaking up gracefully. They've made two playlists, one called "Come Back, Taylor!" and noted that 16 million users have played her songs in the past month.

Contemplating Brittany Maynard's Final Choice

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-03 08:57

People who choose assisted suicide tend to be over 65, white and well-educated. And they want to feel in control of their fate. When a young person chooses that route, it draws fresh questions.

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PODCAST: The energy of the midterm elections

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-03 08:33

On the subject of tomorrow's elections here: energy companies--from the oil industry to companies that focus on renewables will be watching the results very carefully. We reached out to David Konisky, a public policy professor at Georgetown who focuses on energy, to discuss. And amid lackluster sales, McDonalds is acknowledging that it has to do a better job accounting for regional tastes.

A Non-GMO Way To Get More, Tastier Tomatoes

NPR News - Mon, 2014-11-03 08:32

Farmers want tomato varieties that yield more fruit. Consumers want tastier ones. How to resolve that tension? A new genetic toolkit could help growers maximize the best of both worlds.

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Quiz: Counting students and teachers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-03 04:38

Statewide student-teacher ratios range from 10 students-per-teacher in Vermont to 23 in California, according to the Department of Education.

What was the student-teacher ratio for United States public schools during the 2012-2013 school year?

Is it a news article or malware?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-03 02:00

Back in 2007, the FBI bugged the computer of a 15-year-old student who was suspected to be behind a number of bomb threats that hit Washington State High School.

So how did they do it? The FBI buried malware into a link that resembled a news report. 

"It's not that difficult anymore," says Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Law at Harvard University.

All you needed to have was an article persuasive enough for the suspect to click on and you're well on your way to delivering a package of tracking malware.

Now, the question is: Where should the government should draw the line? 

Click the media player above to hear Jonathan Zittrain in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

Starbucks CEO co-authors book on valuing veterans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-03 02:00

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has a new book entitled "For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice." He and his co-author, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a Washington Post reporter who covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stopped by to discuss the book, as well as Starbucks' pledge to hire 10,000 veterans and their spouses within five years.

Schultz says his father's military service was one of the catalysts for this project, as well as getting to know former defense secretary Robert Gates, who is on the Starbucks board.

Says Schultz: "There would be a significant loss if we don't recognize the value that the military can bring to the business community and the American society at large. And this is just good business. This is not charity, this is not pity. This is the right thing to do for them and for us."

Audio from this interview is forthcoming.

McDonald's seeks to tailor menu to regional tastes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-11-03 02:00

McDonald’s hasn’t been doing so hot lately. Same-store sales dropped in the third quarter of this year, which helped drag profits down 30 percent. Its CEO said the company’s facing “formidable” headwinds.

Large ships don’t turn easily, but one of the changes the company’s announced is a more regional focus, breaking the country into four zones (instead of its old three) to better respond to the individual tastes of customers in different parts of the country.

But for years, McDonald’s succeeded with a "one size fits all" approach.

“When we look at what has made McDonalds a strong brand, it's consistency, convenience, affordability and strong fast service,” says Darren Tristano, with food-research firm Technomic.

However, he says diners today are more interested customization, like choosing what goes in their burrito at Chipotle.  

This is especially important to millennials, says Andy Brennan, a food analyst at IBIS World.

“Millennials want something different,” he says. “They want to feel like things are customized toward them, they want the ability to choose, and they want high quality things, so unfortunately, McDonald’s doesn’t fit the bill for any of these requirements.”

“The marketplace today is increasingly dynamic and diverse,” Mike Andres, McDonald’s USA President said in a statement. “These changes will enable us to better leverage and support our local market management structure so that we are more nimble in response to and anticipation of the local customer needs and market conditions in a relevant and timely way.”

“The same things that worked nationally, don’t work nationally now,” agrees John Gordon, a food industry analyst with Pacific Management Consulting Group. He says a menu item like spicy chicken wings may play well with customers in Detroit, but miss with customers in Salt Lake City.

Gordon says this regional push is a small step for McDonald’s, but symbolic of the way it needs to decentralize—and a sign that bigger changes may be coming.