National News

The numbers for October 31, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-31 09:46

It's Halloween, and at "Marketplace" we're getting in the spirit. Marketplace Morning Report Producer Katie Long has been working on her costume:

We're helping @Marketplace producers brainstorm costumes for #halloween2014 https://t.co/GZHZ4SbY0p

— Ariana Tobin (@Ariana_Tobin) October 31, 2014

There are plenty of stories to read and numbers to watch today — Japan's stimulus, the ongoing legal drama surrounding Ebola quarantines, the impending midterm elections — but since it's a holiday and a Friday, we're going to stick to only the spookiest numbers today.

To get us started, Quartz is featuring the ten scariest economic charts out there. From European unemployment to student debt, keep repeating to yourself "it's only a chart, it's only a chart..."

Here are some other spine-chilling stories we're reading today.

2

That's how many people have died from accidentally eating THC-infused edibles since Colorado legalized medical marijuana use. Denver police have put out a PSA warning parents about the varieties of edibles that look like typical Halloween candy, the New York Times reported. There haven't been any reported cases of people passing out edibles, and some Marijuana advocates say the claims are alarmist. Others are pushing for tighter regulation of the treats.

94103

One of the best trick-or-treating neighborhoods in the nation — Noe Valley, San Francisco — according to a study by Zillow. In last week's "Dear Prudence" column over at Slate, Prudie ripped into a self-professed one-percenter for griping about children from outside the area coming over to trick-or-treat. It's a well-known phenomenon, also explored in a Washington Post column Thursday. The conclusion: don't spend Halloween dressed up like Scrooge. 

$3

The price of Starbuck's "secret" Halloween treat, a "Franken Frappuccino." The unholy concoction is a green tea Frappuccino with three pumps of white mocha sauce, three pumps of peppermint syrup and mocha java chips, the LA Times reports. [Shudder]

Seeing Red During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

NPR News - Fri, 2014-10-31 08:20

Decades of effort to raise awareness of breast cancer hasn't helped to reduce the death toll once it spreads. One woman living with metastatic breast cancer says it's way past time for a change.

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Why My Grandma Never Had A Pap Smear

NPR News - Fri, 2014-10-31 07:40

Women in the developing world may never be tested for cervical cancer. Clinics are far away, cultural biases may keep them away. Now an inexpensive test lets them do it themselves.

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PODCAST: Let's go to the movies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-31 03:00

Like a Halloween ghoul jumping out of nowhere with a pile of candy, Japan's central bank today announced its radically increasing its economic stimulus program. It's an effort to stop deflation and to counter act a hike in the sales tax that depressed consumers in Japan. Up went Japan's Nikkei stock index by 4 point eight percent—That's the like the Dow jumping 825 points. And there were other consequences. More on that. Plus, the two biggest cinema chains in the U.S. reported dismal summer profits this week, even though summer is supposed to be prime movie-going season. We look into the flailing movie theater industry. Plus, we've been calling our sources to see what might next Tuesday's mid-term elections mean for the economy, jobs and businesses.

How falling prices affect big oil companies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-31 02:00

Exxon Mobil and Chevron report earnings on Friday, and life for Big Oil has been neither light nor sweet lately. Crude prices are at near four-year lows, and that’s not even the whole story.

Even before oil fell below $100 a barrel this fall, big companies were cutting investments and unloading assets. The business is getting more expensive as oil gets harder to find.

“No cheaper, no easier, as the oil company CEOs like to say,” says Steven Kopits of the consultancy Princeton Energy Advisors. “Where they go in deep water, for example, is smaller fields and deeper and more challenging wells. So costs have tended to rise over a period of time.”

It’s true: shale oil from fracking is getting cheaper to produce. But big companies rely on big fields. And now, oil sells for just $85 a barrel. Several majors saw profits fall a third over last year.

The good news: many of them also refine oil. And that’s profitable.

“Companies that have refineries are going to get a boost from refining margins, which is going to offset their upstream losses to a certain extent,” says analyst Amrita Sen of the London research firm Energy Aspects.

Still, low prices mostly hurt companies. And crude could stay south of $100 a barrel for awhile. 

Why revenue for movie theater chains is down. Way down.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-31 02:00

The two biggest cinema chains in the U.S. reported dismal summer earnings, not surprisingly, on the heels of a lackluster summer for films.

Revenue was down for films from $4.85 billion in summer 2013 to $4.05 billion this summer, and consequently Regal and AMC announced drops in earnings of 15 and 9 percent respectively. 

That’s problematic because summer is when studios work to lure lots of eyeballs with big blockbusters.

"July was really the killer,” says Keith Simanton, managing editor of IMDB which keeps track of box office numbers through its website BoxOfficeMojo.com

Year over year, July 2014 was down 38.5 percent. Last time it was down that much was in 1995, when "Waterworld" was the big July premiere.

“A number of films did reasonably well,” Simanton says, "but were not the gigantic smashes that was hoped or supposed.”

“Hercules," for example, brought in $99 million domestically and had a production budget that Box Office Mojo estimates at $85 million.

With the bad summer box office news, Regal Entertainment Group, which is the nation’s largest cinema chain, said it’s considering selling itself.

"It’s about the last thing I expected to hear in my lifetime,” says Barton Crockett, a media equity analyst with FBR Capital Markets.

Crockett says Regal might actually be in a position of strength at the moment, because this past summer wasn’t as much a trend as a part of a larger cycle. For one thing, there are high expectations about the slate of movies scheduled for release in 2015.

“It’s kind of smart at one level to think about selling into what seems to be a lot of investor enthusiasm about a strong 2015,” Crockett says.

That enthusiasm includes high hopes for the two films the comic book powerhouse Marvel plans to release next year: “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man.” Both films are slated for summer 2015.

Silicon Tally: Swipe right for romance

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-31 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Andrea Silenzi, host of the WFMU podcast Why Oh Why?

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When college cafeterias add more than the Freshman 15

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-31 02:00

The dining hall at Washington College, a small liberal arts school in Chestertown, Maryland, looks more like a high-end food court.

At “The Kitchen,” the lunch menu includes garlic rosemary pork loin, vegetarian stuffed bell peppers, and lemon-glazed turkey with vegetables. At other stations, students can pick up shrimp bisque in bread bowls or gluten-free pizza. Environmentally conscious diners can mix their own smoothies with a bicycle-powered blender.

And if they still don't see something they want to eat? 

“You can go up to an associate and tell them what you want, and they’ll make it for you,” says Joe Holt, chief of staff at the college.

All this choice, of course, has a price. Room and board is rising about 6 percent a year at the college, twice as fast as tuition.

Five years ago, Washington College spent almost $24 million to renovate its outdated cafeteria and hired a company called Chartwells to manage it.

Holt says what they do costs more “than the old system where you got the gallon can of corn and you cranked it open and put it in a serving dish, and that was your meal.”

Washington College couldn’t afford not to upgrade, says Holt. The competition for students is fierce, and the amenities arms race is part of what’s driven the price of room and board up 50 percent at private colleges over the last 25 years (after adjusting for inflation), according to the College Board. At public universities, it’s up 67 percent.

Students—and their parents—have higher standards than they used to, says David Bergeron, vice president of postsecondary education policy at the Center for American Progress and a former official in the U.S. Department of Education.

“We’re expecting college students to be exposed to healthier eating options, more fruits and vegetables, better quality food,” he says.

That’s just the “board” side of the equation. Students also want single rooms and private bathrooms, and colleges are building luxury dorms to accommodate them.  

But if today’s students are pickier, they don’t necessarily own up to it. Washington College students Michelle Coleman and Leon Newkirk say the dining hall didn’t really figure when they shopped for colleges.

“I’m not a picky eater,” Coleman says. “I’ve always just eaten what’s given to me.”

“Same here,” says Newkirk.

Still, as they load their plates with pierogi in wild mushroom sauce and grilled chicken, both say they like the food and are willing to pay more for it.

Eric Frein, Suspected Of Killing Pennsylvania Trooper, In Custody

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-30 14:45

Police say Frein opened fire on two state troopers more than a month ago, and they've been searching for him since. The Pike County district attorney says he intends to seek the death penalty.

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The Devastating History Of Midterm Elections

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-30 14:45

Over the past century, midterm elections have been pretty rough on the party that holds the White House.

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Red Cross Responds To NPR/ProPublica Report On Storm Response Inefficiencies

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-30 13:56

An NPR investigation revealed how the emergency organization funneled its resources away from storm victims to create an "illusion of mass care." The Red Cross tells PBS NewsHour that's not true.

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The Billionaire Who Remade Retirement Living On A Massive Scale

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-30 13:51

Gary Morse developed a mega retirement community called The Villages. His Florida haven for retirees grew to become the largest master-planned community in the country. Morse died Wednesday at 77.

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Awful Moments In Quarantine History: Remember Typhoid Mary?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-30 13:38

Quarantines have been imposed on the sick and contagious for thousands of years. We look at the use — and abuse — of this strategy to stop the spread of disease.

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Maker Of 'Body Cams' Used By Police Reports Spike In Sales

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-30 13:38

What's interesting is the spike started well before the August shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

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Ebola Researchers Banned From Medical Meeting In New Orleans

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-30 13:06

One of the top scientific conferences on tropical diseases will take place without the people who have the most recent and direct experience with Ebola in West Africa.

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Sweden Recognizes Palestine, Drawing Sharp Israeli Criticism

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-30 12:42

Israel's foreign minister says diplomacy is "more complicated than ... furniture from Ikea." His Swedish counterpart responds that diplomacy, like Ikea furniture, needs "a partner ... [and] a manual."

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So For Halloween You're Dressing Up As ... A Sexy Ebola Nurse?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-30 12:42

Why are infectious disease costumes even a thing? It's actually a relatively new development in Halloween history, but there are precedents. See: Plague Doctor mask, Venice.

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Arne Duncan: 'Education beyond high school is absolutely necessary'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-30 12:40

In an interview with Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said new rules targeting vocational college programs that leave students with too much debt and too few job prospects were designed with "outcomes, not inputs" in mind.

"The worst-case scenario is when you go to college, accumulate debt, and then don't graduate," Duncan said. 

When asked if he thought everyone should go to college, Duncan said he believed everyone needed additional education beyond high school: "If young people drop out of high school today, they are basically condemned to poverty and social failure. There are no good jobs out there... the economy has changed." 

Duncan said the so-called "gainful employment rules" target middling-to-failing vocational education programs–most of which are offered by for-profit universities and community colleges–in order to provide meaningful post-secondary education across economic classes. 

The final draft of the rules released on Thursday relaxed some earlier provisions, drawing criticism from some education groups and for-profit education providers, who say their programs may be the only option for thousands of low-income students. Duncan said no programs will be shut down without "time to improve."

"We invest $22 billion each year in these programs,"  Duncan said referring to the federal financial aid that pays tuition for most students in for-profit programs. "We want to see strong programs grow, and expand and serve more students. And we want to see programs that aren't doing a good job either improve or cease to exist... Shutting them down is not our goal, but we will have that ability. It's when training is leading to jobs that don't exist, or where debt is unmanageable... that's what we're pushing back against."

The debt-load requirements in the new rules target only vocational training programs and schools. Duncan says the Obama administration has expanded investment in Pell Grants, pushed for broader state-led initiatives and encouraged universities themselves to fight higher tuition overall.  He - along with his boss - has also discussed a "more transparent" rating system, which, as one education official told the New York Times, should be a straightforward process, "like rating a blender." 

"I don't know whether that's the right analogy or not, but let me say this: We as taxpayers... we invest $150 billion in grants and loans each year to make grants and loans accessible. That's the right thing to do, if we are focused on outcomes.

You can listen to the interview on this evening's Marketplace, or on the audio player at the top of the page.

Nurse Kaci Hickox Takes A Bike Ride, Defying Maine's Quarantine

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-30 12:40

Hickox, who returned to the U.S. after treating Ebola patients in West Africa, tested negative for Ebola upon her return, and she has no symptoms — so she says she poses no threat to the public.

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Obamas Head To Connecticut As Tight Governor's Race Nears Close

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-30 12:40

Incumbent Dannel Malloy and Republican rival Tom Foley are neck and neck; the race is so close that both the president and first lady will visit the state in the next few days. NPR's Melissa Block talks to Hartford Courant political reporter Daniela Altimari about the race.

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