National / International News

It's Amazon vs. Disney in a new pricing dispute

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-11 13:16

There’s a new front in Amazon’s battle with its vendors. Because of a reported pricing dispute,  some of Disney's DVDs and Blue-rays are no longer available for pre-order on Amazon.com. Book publisher Hachette is in a similar position. Its spat with the e-commerce site has become highly public, with each company publishing scathing letters about the other side. (Amazon's here, Hachette's here, and a group of 900 authors supporting Hachette here).

If this were a Disney movie, some would cast Amazon as the bad guy, like the evil fairy Maleficent (OK, she's  less evil this time around, but still). Others would say it’s a Captain America-esque hero, fighting for lower prices for consumers.

Physical discs of both new Disney films are currently unavailable for pre-order on Amazon, though they are available for pre-purchase through the company's instant video service.

But, says Ed Brodow, the author of Negotiation Boot Camp, Amazon’s tactics aren’t good or bad –  they’re business. Amazon, like all companies its size, is flexing its muscle to get the best deals possible.

“That’s what people do in negotiation all the time, they use their leverage,” says Brodow. “Amazon has a tremendous amount of leverage.”

Wal-Mart employs similar muscle, says Michael Pachter with Wedbush Securities.

“Wal-Mart pays as low a price as anybody wholesale for any product that it sells, and it’s able to do so by exercising  its market muscle,” he says. “Amazon is trying very hard to be Wal-Mart-like.”

Pre-orders are important for Disney because it will impact their first-day sales rankings, but Pachter doubts customers will miss the option much.

Not everyone agrees.

Amazon’s aggressive tactics risk its reputation with its customers, says Michael Norris, an independent publishing and media consultant.

“It’s really remarkable to me that a company that claims to be very consumer-centric finds absolutely nothing wrong with inconveniencing millions of consumers,” he adds.

 

As humanitarian crises grow, so does the aid industry

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-11 13:15

The U.S. government is reportedly weighing options to evacuate thousands of civilians from Iraq's Yazidi religious sect, who are trapped in barren mountains in northern Iraq without food or water, imperiled by advancing Islamic State fighters. The crisis has put the Yazidis out of reach for humanitarian aid workers, who typically provide food, water and shelter to vulnerable people.

The humanitarian aid industry is growing, fueled by large-scale conflicts and natural disasters. Last year it took in a record $22 billion from donor governments, foundations, corporations and individuals. It employed more than 250,000 people.

Margaret Aguirre, the head of Global Initiatives for International Medical Corps, is one of them. The non-governmental organization moved offices recently, in part to save on rent, and Aguirre spent part of a recent day peeling layers of bubble wrap from framed photographs that will hang in her office. One, taken in South Sudan in 2012, showed a cluster of women, some with frightened children peeking from behind their backs, outside of an International Medical Corps clinic. Their homes had been bombed.

"It's said all the time, it sounds like a cliche, but when your home is bombed, you run," Aguirre said.

International Medical Corps' growth mirrors the growth of the aid industry. In 1984, when the NGO started work, it was comprised of a handful of volunteer doctors and nurses who traveled to Afghanistan to treat the wounded. Now, it employs nearly 5,000 people in 30 countries and will implement $300 million in program services this year alone.

Aid work as a growing profession

There are roughly 5,000 non-governmental organizations, according to Humanitarian Outcomes, a firm that researches humanitarian assistance. The sector is rapidly professionalizing.

"You can even get masters degrees in humanitarian assistance," said Abby Stoddard, a partner with Humanitarian Outcomes. "These could be technical specialists in water and sanitation or food assistance, logisticians, financial analysts. There's a whole raft of careers in international humanitarian aid."

Even so, aid work is often misunderstood as volunteer or charity work. Jessica Alexander, who has two masters degrees, and has done everything from managing camps for displaced people to working with former child soldiers, wrote a book called "Chasing Choas: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid", in part to clear up some of the misconceptions.

"People have come up to me at this point in my career and said, 'gosh, how can you afford to keep volunteering?'" Alexander said. "What they don't understand is this is very much a career and we're paid, and we're paid well, and we're paid with benefits."

As with any field, there's even a kind of career ladder, says William Easterly, who teaches economics at NYU and wrote the book "The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor." Easterly says he has seen a "huge increase" in the number of his students interested in pursuing careers in aid. Many of them will start in NGOs, where salaries are relatively low.

"They are small and operating on a pretty limited budget," Easterly said. "There's also a big phenomenon in NGOs of unpaid interns. Part of this is just supply and demand. There's a huge amount of young people who want to work in development and that's great, but there's just not enough jobs for them."

However, working for an NGO can offer young people a foothold to advance to the United Nations or World Bank, where salaries are higher.

An industry based in crisis

There is one large difference between humanitarian aid and other growth industries: An increase in the number of jobs, the amount of donations, and the demand for services usually isn't a good thing. It means more crises.

In addition to Iraq, there are humanitarian crises in Syria, South Sudan, the Gaza Strip and across Central Africa. There is even, according to the U.S. government, a humanitarian crisis on our border with Mexico, sparked by children and families fleeing Central America.

"We've been doing this for thirty years and I can honestly say there are more crises, there are more conflicts, there are more disasters," said International Medical Corps' Margaret Aguirre. "There are a lot of people in peril. It seems like there's a crisis everywhere."

VIDEO: 'Supermoon' lights up world skies

BBC - Mon, 2014-08-11 13:09
Stargazers have been taking images of the spectacular ''supermoon'' overnight, where the moon appears bigger and brighter than usual because of its proximity to the earth.

Obama Calls Nomination Of New Iraqi Prime Minister A 'Step Forward'

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 13:09

The president said the only long-term solution in Iraq would be for Iraqis to work together. Obama said he and Vice President Biden have called to congratulate Haider al-Abadi.

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Orwell’s own Indian animal farm

BBC - Mon, 2014-08-11 13:01
The remote Indian town trying to claim George Orwell

A Good IT Person Needs To Be Half Technologist, Half Psychologist

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:58

Your doctor and lawyer may know a lot about you. But in a time when we are using computers to socialize, keep track of finances, do work and store family photos your IT person probably knows more.

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Graphic Warnings: Ebola Posters Keep The Virus On People's Minds

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:51

Sierra Leone is at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak. To help stop the virus, health workers are putting up Ebola awareness posters around the country. One doctor explains why they're so graphic.

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Assessing The Scope And Scale Of American Aid For Kurds In Iraq

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:47

Brett McGurk is the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran. He joins Robert Siegel to explain U.S. policy on Iraq.

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Met Police chief makes theft arrest

BBC - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:46
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner cuts short a BBC radio interview to jump into a minicab and make an arrest.

Sandwich Monday: The Dahlia

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:42

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try The Dahlia, from Denver Biscuit Co. It's a breakfast sandwich served on a French toast biscuit.

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New Orleans Charters Prepare For A Big First Day Of School

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:38

The start to the school year in New Orleans offers a landmark moment in U.S. education. For the first time, a major urban school district will operate entirely with charter schools.

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Cannibals wins Edinburgh drama prize

BBC - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:36
Cannibals, a play set in an ex-Soviet war zone by British playwright Rory Mullarkey, is awarded the £10,000 James Tait Black prize for drama.

NI team star at GB Transplant Games

BBC - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:35
The Northern Ireland team arrive back home from the British Transplant Games in Bolton having won 53 medals.

Tornados to be ready for Iraq role

BBC - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:29
RAF Tornado jets are to be sent for possible use in the aid operation in northern Iraq, where many thousands of people are fleeing Islamist fighters.

To Resolve Feud Over Fracking, Colo. Democrats Turn To Plan C

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:14

Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper has declared a compromise to avert a fight over oil and gas drilling. It's meant to solve fracking-related disputes, but it also serves Democrats' political interests.

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Turmoil At The Top Raises The Specter Of A Coup In Baghdad

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:14

Vivian Salama of the Associated Press joins Melissa Block to talk about the latest developments in Iraq — including a power struggle in Baghdad and the U.S. response to dangers facing Kurdish and Yazidi peoples.

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FBI Opens Probe Into The Police Shooting That Roiled St. Louis

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:14

Rioting broke out in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where police shot and killed an unarmed teenager on Sunday. The FBI has opened an investigation into the fatal shooting that preceded the riots.

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Why Are Men Leaving The American Workforce?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:14

In the 1960s, men slowly but surely began leaving the workforce and many never came back. The trend continues today. Economists cite a number of reasons, from technology to international competition.

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Strapped And Stretched, Non-Profits Struggle To Defend Immigrant Minors

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:14

The Obama administration claims there are fewer unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border; nevertheless, deportation hearings have accelerated. The situation has created a new challenge: There's a shortage of pro-bono attorneys to represent the immigrant children in immigration court.

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A Witness To Iraq's Yazidi Exodus

NPR News - Mon, 2014-08-11 12:14

The heart of Iraq's refugee crisis lies in the country's north, where the Yazidi people, a religious minority, are fleeing the approach of Islamic State militants.

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