National / International News

VIDEO: Russia denies Ukraine incursion

BBC - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:45
While the Russian humanitarian aid convoy travelling to Ukraine comes to halt, Russia is accused of military action on the Ukraine border.

Negative Ebola test for detainee

BBC - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:44
A female detainee who took ill at Dungavel Detention Centre in South Lanarkshire tests negative for the Ebola virus.

Celebrities get out of the prepaid card business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:39

When it comes to celebrity endorsements, there are plenty of success stories. Michael Jordan’s name brought in more than $2 billion for Nike last year, and back in May, Apple paid $3 billion to snap up rapper Dr. Dre’s Beats

But there are some things a famous name just can’t seem to sell.  Case in point: prepaid debit cards.

Magic Johnson and financial adviser Suze Orman pulled their prepaid cards about a month ago. Lil Wayne appears to be the latest celebrity to bow out. Try applying online for the Young Money card he endorsed, and you get an error page.

"This was sort of low-hanging fruit," says Matt Britton, CEO of the marketing agency MRY.  "Prepaid cards is a growing phenomenon, so I think celebrities initially saw this as a great opportunity for 'me to be able to leverage my fan base.'"

Consumer spending with prepaid cards jumped 6 percent last year to more than $118 billion, according to the Nilson Report. The cards are increasingly popular with people who don’t want traditional checking accounts - and those who can't get them.

"A lot of these - particularly newer prepaid card offerings that have more transparent fee structures - make a pretty compelling option for them," says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

Hidden fees helped tank the Kardashian family’s attempt at a prepaid card a few years ago, and more cards now disclose their costs.  

"The lack of regulation is the downside," says Susan Weinstock, director of consumer banking for the Pew Charitable Trusts.  "These cards do not have any protection should you lose the card or it gets stolen."

Weinstock says federal regulators plan to weigh in on prepaid cards this summer. As for whether celebrities should keep endorsing them, Britton says it takes a star with a "pristine brand" and a broad enough fan base to make it work.  

"LeBron James, maybe, especially since his move to Cleveland," she says. 

Coke gets an energy jolt from Monster, and vice versa

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:37

Coca-Cola is buying a nearly 17 percent stake in Monster Beverage for $2.15 billion. Reaction can be summed up as such: It’s been a long-time coming, and it’s a win-win for both companies.

As part of the deal, Coca-Cola will transfer its existing energy drinks to Monster, and Monster will transfer its non-energy drinks to Coca-Cola. 

“It really is well-suited for both organizations to focus on what they do, what they’re known for and what they do best,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president with Technomic.

Consumers have been cutting back on sugary drinks lately, but the energy business has been growing. So while Tristano says these types of brand swaps are rare, it’ll allow each company to focus its strengths.

Coca-Cola was late to the energy drink game and its own brands haven’t been nearly as successful as Monster or its main competitor, Red Bull, says Ross Colbert, a global strategist for beverages at Rabobank International. Both companies have been successful at targeting younger, highly-active ­­consumers.

“The category is very competitive,” he says. “It takes a lot of merchandizing.”

By clearing the decks of its other brands, Monster can focus on its core energy drinks, fed by the help of Coca-Cola’s huge distribution network. Coca-Cola will get some popular brands, too, like Hansen’s Natural Sodas.

“It adds some flesh to their portfolio, too,” says Tom Pirko, the president of the food and beverage consulting company Bevmark. “So we have a nice division of labor.”

Starbucks brews changes to its scheduling algorithm

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:37

Chalk one up for old media.

There was an article in the New York Times Thursday detailing the struggles of a woman working irregular hours at Starbucks. Really irregular, like working late into the night, then starting at 4 the next morning.

Now the company says it’ll do better.

Among other things, it has promised work hours will be posted a week ahead of time. And that it'll make its scheduling software more flexible.

Starbucks is far from the only company that uses workers when, and only when, it needs them.  S0-called "just-in-time hiring" is a widespread practice in retail, hospitality and healthcare. There aren’t exact numbers on how many part-time workers fall into this category, but the number of people working part-time jobs, when they would rather be working full-time ones, was about 7.5 million in July. 

The practice has caught on because employers don’t want to pay employees to sit around. And, thanks to computers, with all their fancy data and algorithms and software, employers can more easily figure out when all the sitting around might happen. Software scheduling programs ensure people are booked to work only when they are needed.

“They look at ongoing trends, they look at what a store or restaurant or whatever it is, did last year at this hour,” said Susan Lambert, a professor at the University of Chicago.

These predictive programs then factor in specifics. “In Chicago it might be whether there is going to be a Bears game, or what the weather is likely to be,” Lambert said. 

And then they spit out a work schedule that can be tweaked again depending on how busy a place gets.

“It’s all about the cost-cutting,” said Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the Wharton School of Business.

To make sure they have the staff they need, some businesses require employees to be on call 40 hours a week for part-time jobs.

“Sometimes they make them show up,” said Cappelli, “and you’ve got to commute and drive a fair bit, and then you discover whether or not they need you, but they require that you show up.”

All of which can make it very, very difficult to manage your life. To arrange daycare. Go to school. Work a second job.

There are companies out there staring to take these issues seriously, said Joan C. Williams, director of the center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law.

Right now she’s working with the Gap on a pilot program to stabilize schedules.

In a statement, a Gap spokesperson said of the program: “We know that consistent and reliable scheduling is important to our employees. We are exploring ways to increase scheduling stability and flexibility across our fleet of stores.”

“If you want to be a high-road employer, who employs low-wage workers," says Williams, "'just-in-time' scheduling has begun to seem inconsistent.” 

Williams said the focus on cutting costs by matching labor supply and labor demand ignores other business costs. 

It also hurts a company’s bottom line, she said, when employees quit or don’t show up because they can’t balance their unpredictable work schedules with the rest of their lives.  

Jawbone tracks big cities' 'Zzz's

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:37

Here's a neat confluence of my lousy night's sleep last night and the rise of big data and wearable technology.

Thanks to the Wall Street Journal and data provided by Jawbone, makers of one of those fitness bracelets, we now know all kinds of stuff.  Like which city's residents get the most sleep: that'd be Melbourne, Australia at seven hours and five minutes a night.

The least? Tokyo at five hours and 45 minutes.

Do consumers have to shop to save the economy?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:37

Kai looks back on this week, chatting with Linette Lopez from Business Insider and the Wall Street Journal’s Sudeep Reddy about the world economy and the spending power of the American consumer.

The NCAA lawsuit in context

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:32

Imagine that you go to play a video game, and all of a sudden you see yourself – basically your face is put on a motion capture animation. And the thing is, you didn’t give anyone permission to use your face—make money off your face – and so you get mad and decide to sue.

The NCAA is the organization behind college sports, but it's also a massive business, one that makes nearly $1 billion a year in revenue through TV, video games, and merchandising.

All that is up in the air right now, the NCAA just lost a huge court case that could hamper its ability to make money.

The ruling could lead to college athletes being compensated in some way, more court cases are looming, and we wanted to put that in context.

'Las Patronas' and the journey north

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:25

A group of Mexican women, "Las Patronas," are helping migrants on their journey north. The BBC's Will Grant explains:

That simple, instinctive act of kindness by the young girls was to lead to the creation of Las Patronas, a charitable organisation which has helped tens of thousands of Central American migrants over the past two decades and which was awarded Mexico's most prestigious human rights prize last year.

Even With $100 Million, WHO Says It Will Take Months To Control Ebola

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:24

The WHO has called for donations to help contain the outbreak. But money is just the first step. The challenges run from finding the right staff to prepping neighboring countries just in case.

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Big college football donors pay for access, even glory

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:15

Have you always dreamed of running through the storied Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tunnel onto the field in front of 70,000+ roaring fans before a University of Southern California football game? Up until now, you usually had to play or coach for the team to have this "once in a lifetime experience," as the school calls it.

Today, you can do it for $1,500, if you're a USC season-ticket holder. If that's too pricey, consider the pre-game locker room tour for $1,000, or a pre-game photo with the "World Famous" USC Song Girls for $750. (Added bonus: The money is considered a donation, so it's tax-deductible, but that's a different story.)

USC recently started selling these experiences and more for its upcoming season, but at least one former player says they commoditize something that shouldn't have a price tag.

“It does feel a little weird to me to put a price on running out of the tunnel to play a football game, which we were told as players constantly was a very earned and special right," said Petros Papadakis — who captained the USC football team in 1999 and 2000 — on Fox Sports Radio's Petros and Money Show. “It’s USC football. It’s supposed to be honorable to be in that locker room. I didn't think you could put a price on that.”

Craig Kelly, an assistant athletic director at USC, says what donors get to do won't match the specialness of actually playing on the team.

“Putting on the pads, the walk through the tunnel, coming out of the locker room, the meetings that they have and the speech before the game… all that’s included in what Petros is referring to and what we’re offering isn’t that," Kelly said.

Kelly says lots of schools lavish perks on donors, which is true. That’s how the game is played — the most generous boosters get the ear of the athletic director, get to travel with the team and get the very best seats.

At the University of Alabama, you can put your name on the coach’s office, for $1 million. What makes USC’s approach unusual is they’ve gone mass-market, according to Josh Rebholz, UCLA's senior associate athletic director for external relations.

"We do offer some of these experiences, but we really believe that many of them — like running out of the tunnel with the team and being on field pre-game — are pretty sacred assets, and so we try to limit who we offer them [to], and really, we try to only offer them to highest and most generous donors that we have," Rebholz said.

In other words, these prized assets are so sacred that they can only be sold for lots of money.

"Access for the sidelines for us can run as much as $100,000 a year," said Rebholz.

If you want to run out on the field at the Rose Bowl with the Bruins and join them in the locker room after the game, you'll have to write a half-million dollar check to UCLA.

So here’s the lesson, USC: It’s not that you’re commoditizing college football. Schools have been doing that for a long time. 

It’s that you’re probably not charging enough.

Sunni leaders propose Iraq deal

BBC - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:09
Some leaders of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority propose working with the new PM, a move that could help break political deadlock.

US housing recovery still uneven

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:07

Anjli Raval is a London-based correspondent for the Financial Times, but she recently took a trip through the U.S. to analyze home prices.

Her first stop was South Sacramento in Northern California, where she noticed home prices still stagnated: 

These areas of California’s capital had some of the highest foreclosure rates in the US after the housing bust that wiped out $7tn of homeowner equity in the wake of the financial crisis. Since then, Sacramento has seen a rebound, at least on paper. But there are clear signs that it – and many other cities – are stuck in a multiyear housing hangover that has serious implications for economic recovery.

The standard playbook for an economic recovery often relies on a housing market rebound. But in the U.S., that rebound continues to stop and start depending on where you live.

Click play above to listen to Anjli Raval's interview, or read her story at FT

Ferguson Officer's Motives In Police Shooting Remain Murky

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:57

New information was released Friday about the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., but the answers have prompted still more questions.

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Ukraine 'strikes column from Russia'

BBC - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:31
Ukraine says it has partially destroyed an armoured column from Russia, but Russia denies any such vehicles crossed the border.

Russian Military Vehicles Reportedly Move Into Ukraine

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:09

Heavy fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, as government and separatist forces still fight for control of the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk.

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Massive Rallies Descend On Islamabad, As Authorities Dig In Trenches

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:09

Thousands of people are converging on Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, for a protest rally against the government. The protesters began their 300-mile march in Lahore, led by Imran Khan, who believes he was robbed of last year's election by voting fraud. Meanwhile, a populist cleric is leading a separate march on the capital.

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With A Friendlier Face, LAPD Avoids The Worst Of Ferguson's Woes

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:09

In Los Angeles, police shot and killed an African-American man during a scuffle with officers Monday night. While many black members of the community were angered by the killing, it hasn't sparked the same outcry as in Ferguson, Mo. Frank Stoltze of KPCC says that's because the Los Angeles Police Department has sought to build relationships with the neighborhood.

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