Marketplace - American Public Media

NFL gets a warning from sponsor Anheuser-Busch

Tue, 2014-09-16 13:10

This may turn out to be an 'uh oh' moment for the National Football League amid its current difficulties.

Anheuser-Busch - which is in the middle of a six year, $1.2 billion sponsorship deal with the league - issued a statement earlier today on the events that have transpired outside of the football field.

"We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league."

The NFL did not take long to respond. As reported by ESPN's Darren Rovell:

NFL responds to Anheuser-Busch statement: "We understand. We are taking action & there will be much more to come."

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) September 16, 2014

 

Fighting global warming doesn't have to break the bank

Tue, 2014-09-16 13:10

Fighting climate change need not be costly, and could bring significant benefits.

That's the message of the "New Climate Economy Report" — released in the run-up to next week's U.N. Climate Summit by a group with an impressive pedigree. For example, the chairman of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is former Mexican president Felipe Calderon.  

Some outlets have interpreted the report as saying that addressing climate change could be free. However, there’s lots of fine print. The math only works on the global-economy level— balancing costs and benefits— without reference to who pays the costs and who gets the benefits. And only if you assign dollar values to benefits like saving lives and averting illness.  

Here's the gist:  The Commission projects that, one way or the other, the world will spend around $90 trillion on infrastructure in the next 15 years.

"Our argument is that it would be smart to invest the $90 trillion in a good way," says Jeremy Oppenheim, director of the New Climate Economy Project, "rather than investing roughly the same number and ending up with cities that are sprawling and with energy systems that are continuing to spew out pollution."

Suggestions include things like building transit for well-planned cities instead of highways to sprawling suburbs.

Oppenheim says the real message isn’t that fighting climate change is free, but that it doesn’t get in the way of economic growth.  "Those people who claim that these two goals are in conflict just don’t have the evidence on their side," he says.

That argument addresses a pointed question that developing countries often ask about climate change efforts, says Trevor Houser of the Rhodium Group. The question: What about us? Are we supposed stay poor? 

"The West got rich following a very specific economic pathway," says Houser, referring to things like cheap but carbon-intensive coal power.  "In a carbon-constrained world, that pathway will not be available to developing countries. And what this report is saying is: 'There are actually other pathways.'"

However, there will be losers. As the report notes, countries now spend about $600 billion a year subsidizing fossil fuels. Somebody will miss that if it goes away, as the commission recommends.  

Expect to hear the voices of prospective losers loud and clear, says David Victor, an international relations professor at the University of California at San Diego and author of "Global Warming Gridlock."  

"The people who are going to lose from costly climate policy know who they are— and are therefore raising concerns about that," he says. "And the winners— many of them don’t exist."  

For instance, wind and solar barely existed not so long ago. Industries like energy storage, essential to fully exploiting sun and wind power, are in similar positions now.

Meanwhile, no single body has the authority to implement a plan like the Commission's. "It's a highly decentralized system that steers the global economy," Victor says. A tangle of development banks— global, regional, and national— works with national governments, NGOs, and the private sector. 

Cable deals a blow, TV networks ad revenue stumbles

Tue, 2014-09-16 13:10

It’s fall, folks, and the good old-fashioned TV season is upon us. New shows like ABC’s "How to Get Away with Murder" and Fox’s "Gotham" are just a couple offerings the big networks hope will find faithful audiences.

Network TV has some catching up to do in terms of advertising revenue. Ad spending fell 7.2 percent in the second quarter over the same period last year according to Kantar Media. Cable, on the other hand, grew 9.3 percent. 

The quarterly numbers are a bit misleading — a lot of network advertisers front-loaded their ad dollars on the Olympics in the first quarter, and cut back on the second quarter. That left the overall number for the first half of the year at 4.1 percent growth for network TV. But cable is still winning, with a 7.8 percent growth in ad revenue year-over-year for the first half of the 2014. 

The two semi-final games of NCAA men’s basketball tournament airing on cable in 2014 versus airing on network TV in 2013 helped cable in the second quarter, says Jon Swallen, Chief Research Officer for Kantar. So did the fact that the NBA finals, which air on ABC, had two fewer games in 2014.

As cable and the big networks claw at major events to steal advertising eyeballs away from one another, cable seems to have the momentum. 

“Broadcast television has been suffering at the hands of cable in recent years and that’s because cable has been more effective in competing for first-run series,”  says Erik Brannon, senior analyst with IHS Technology. Put another way: the shows on cable have been really, really good.

Some networks — notably CBS and Fox — have extra "scatter" advertising inventory. Scatter advertising is last-minute buys, as opposed to advertising time that’s bought weeks or even months in advance. Brannon says selling that last-minute advertising could be a big help, but only if it actually sells. Ratings for "American Idol" are down, for example.

Digital video ad growth dwarfs both cable and network ad dollars. While it's still just a fraction of all ad spending, its pace is dramatic. 

“Digital video is very healthy and it is growing, but very little is really, at this point, coming at the expense of broadcast and cable,” says David Hallerman, principal analyst at eMarketer. He says video advertising revenue is still feeding on the decaying carcass of print and radio, and the advertising pie is growing.

“You’re dealing with two industries — digital and advertising — that are among the most hyperbole prone industries in the world, and they feel that anything that predates them is doomed to be trampled," Hallerman says.

The reality, for now, is that cable and network are still battling like Titans — or dinosaurs — which would make digital the small mammals scurrying on the forest floor.  

 

Want to help your company's stock? Buy shares back

Tue, 2014-09-16 10:24

There’s a new trend in the stock market. Companies are repurchasing their own shares to help make stocks go up. And it’s working, says Dan Strumpf, reporter at The Wall Street Journal.

"Companies that do buy back their stock and have regular routine buyback programs do tend to outperform in the market," says Strumpf, who has been reporting on the subject.

Although cash levels at public companies are the highest they have been in years, the stock market volume is very low.

"There is quite a bit of debate in the marketplace as to why that’s happening," says Strumpf. "A lot of people talk about...a lack of conviction in this market. I mean, we have this sort of slow but steadily growing economy, really no fireworks to speak of. And you’ve got a very supportive Federal Reserve that is sort of keeping things humming. But you’re not seeing table pounding and high conviction investment, despite the fact that the market is at an all-time high."

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Four ways the web is helping TV advertising

Tue, 2014-09-16 08:40

Television advertising isn't what it used to be, and the reports show it: spending was down more than 7 percent during the second quarter from the same period last year, while online ads were up nearly 10 percent in the first half of the year.

But for Starcom President Amanda Richman, it's an exciting time to be in her line of work: connecting advertisers with their ideal customers.

"There's a lot of opportunity for blue sky," Richman says. "Thanks to technology, thanks to the abundance of data, and the great creativity that's happening in this space."

Richman offered up four ways TV advertising is keeping up with a changing media landscape.

Big data

Part of Richman's job is navigating the changes in media and parsing through data to give her clients the best possible reach across all platforms.

"It's helping them understand that it's no longer connecting with viewers through television spots, and radio, and publishing," Richman says. "It's gotten much more expansive with digital, and the ability to connect with them through mobile and social, all powered by data."

In short, more data equals more money, potentially, when it comes to placing ads.

"With more data, we may be more willing to pay more for a message we know connects with the right audience and minimizes the waste," says Richman.

Increased personalization

In the not-too-distant future — just a few years, Richman says — the ads playing during the same commercial break could be different depending on who flipped on the TV and from where. 

"We are looking at a world of dynamic ad insertion," she says.

That means using location, age and other demographic information from your cable or Netflix subscription, Richman says, to conclude "that you're going to be more likely to look for, perhaps, a car ad, versus another audience member who's maybe looking at cosmetics."

Then, Starcom and other media buyers can get very granular with their ads.

Spilling over to the second screen

Viewers are increasingly using smartphones or tablets as a "second screen" to enhance their viewing experience — or tune out ads.

But new technology would allow a device to pick up audio from an ad and sync up the mobile experience accordingly, Richman says, through promoted Tweets or another advertisement. It might sound far-fetched, but Facebook recently added a feature that does the same thing, listening for TV shows and songs.

"There's actually ways in second screen to enhance the advertising [rather than] be a distraction or take away from the spot that's airing," Richman says.

Usefulness

This all boils down to one point: advertising becomes less annoying as more ads reach the proper audience.

"This is the fundamental change in our business: the ability to be more effective in marketing by being more relevant, more targeted, and perhaps taking advertising from being an annoyance to being useful."

The numbers for September 16, 2014

Tue, 2014-09-16 07:33

About 45.3 million people were living at or below the poverty line last year, according to new census data released Tuesday. That's about 14.5 percent of the population, and a slight drop from last year's 15 percent. Median household income also crept up to $51,939, only about $180 more than last year.

Here's what we're reading — and other numbers we're watching — Tuesday morning.

$105

That's the base price of Android One, a series of affordable smartphones Google announced in India Monday. It's a bid to capture the country's emerging smartphone market, the New York Times reported, which is expected to double by 2018. Google is also testing drones designed to bring Internet to remote areas.

$70 million

The cost for Russian rockets to ferry one American astronaut to the International Space Station has climbed since the space shuttle was retired three years ago, and NASA is looking for a new solution. They're expected to contract out so-called "space taxis," the Wall Street Journal reported, and Boeing is the favorite over Elon Musk's SpaceX.

$340 million

Money was contracted to private companies to clean Chicago's public schools in February as a cost saving move. Now principals are pushing back, the Washington Post reported, saying their schools are filthy, grappling with waste and bug problems they didn't have before.

Calpers ditches pension funds

Tue, 2014-09-16 07:00

The California Public Employee’s Retirement System, better known as Calpers, is the country’s largest public pension fund with $300 billion in assets. So when it acts, investors take notice.

Calpers is going to completely shed its $4 billion dollars of hedge fund investments because it says they’re too complex and costly.

Calpers made 7.1 percent in returns on its hedge fund investments for its last fiscal year, but it also paid $135 million in fees. The pension fund has a goal for its investments of 7.5 percent returns and, as a whole, earned over 18 percent last year.

Still, it’s surprising that Calpers is getting out of hedge funds entirely, says Olivia Mitchell, the executive director of the Pension Research Council at The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“The idea of hedge funds is they’re supposed to be protective of market downturns,” Mitchell explains. “One of the costs of that is that they don’t necessarily give the whole upside when markets rise.”

But she also said that hedge funds tend to be relatively opaque in their investments–which, combined with high fees, might prompt more pension funds to follow Calpers.

“Calpers has always been a leader in the public pension space,” says Mitchell. “Certainly others will take a good look at their hedge fund portfolios. My sense is that other cities in California are already taking a bit of a hard look…and Rhode Island and Pennsylvania are debating this issue as well.”

PODCAST: The falling price of gas

Tue, 2014-09-16 03:00

A high level, international panel has done the numbers that it says show it makes economic sense to fight climate change. The new report comes from the Global Commision on the Economy and Climate. In a sense, tugging the other way, is this: A year ago today, the head of the American Automobile Association said sub-3 dollar a gallon gasoline in America "may be history." Well don't look now, but a global glut of oil has pushed down the average price to $3.39 and falling. Plus, some private insurance companies reimburse doctors for end-of-life conversations. Now, Medicare is considering paying for these. How some technology companies that are coming up with organized ways for people to spell out their medical wishes when the end comes

Scotland's oil...or is it?

Tue, 2014-09-16 02:00

This Thursday, the people of Scotland vote in a crucial referendum. They will decide whether or not they want their country to separate from the rest of the UK and become independent again, dissolving the union forged with England 307 years ago.

Yes campaigners claim that a kind of nirvana beckons. They argue that the Scots will each be at least $1600 better off if they secede. The country will be wealthy enough to afford all its existing state-funded benefits like free university tuition and free social care for the elderly and much more besides.

But this rosy scenario is partly based on a key assumption: The separatists take it for granted that an independent Scotland would inherit the vast bulk of the oil and natural gas that lies off the Scottish coast in the North Sea. Is this a safe assumption?

“Absolutely not,” claims Oxford University economist Professor Sir Paul Collier. “This is a greedy resource grab. The Scots have every right to secede but they cannot run off with all the oil. They have to share it.” Collier points out that when oil was discovered in the North Sea in the 1960’s, the British parliament passed an Act establishing that the resource belonged equally to every part of the UK.

“The Scots represent about 8% of the UK population,” says Collier. “Therefore they should only be entitled to about 8% of the oil.”

The pro-independence campaigners are banking on more like 90%; they’ve dismissed Collier’s claim. Scottish entrepreneur Ivan McKee maintains that an independent Scotland will own everything that lies in its territorial waters regardless of any British Act of parliament.

“After independence, whatever laws were passed by the Westminster Parliament won’t actually be in effect in Scotland any more than a law that was passed in Westminster would have any jurisdiction in the USA,” McKee says.

But the Yes campaign’s reliance on North Sea oil is shaky for another reason: production has sharply declined. There’s still plenty of fossil fuel there, but it’s in deeper and rougher waters than before; costs are rising; and a number of studies and forecasts indicate that tax revenues from North Sea oil are likely to shrink in the years ahead.

“That’s bad news for the separatists” says retired executive Anthony Rush, who lives in Scotland and campaigns against independence. “This puts this idea that we’re going to have free healthcare, free education, free this that and the other, funded by oil. That puts that in severe doubt.”

A place to store your end-of-life wishes

Tue, 2014-09-16 02:00

Dying isn’t what most people want to talk about when they visit the doctor. But it could soon become a standard part of a check-up. Some private insurance companies already reimburse doctors for end-of-life conversations, and Medicare is considering joining the club.

When people over 65 end up in the hospital, about half of them eventually need someone else in the family to make decisions for them—End of life decisions.

Still, only a small percentage of people—under 30 percent in the U.S.—have written advanced directives.

Tech entrepreneurs are trying to change that by creating apps and online databases to store and edit end-of-life wishes.

Scott Brown and Jeff Zucker started one such company, called My Directives. It’s a web-based system they hope will become a sort of Facebook of advance directives.

Jeff Zucker and Scott Brown are co-founders of My Directives.

Lauren Silverman

Right now, Brown says, end-of-life wishes are still stuck in the era of file folders.

“That document, once it’s created,” Brown says, “it’s placed in a shoe box or file cabinet or safety deposit box, and it’s not available when it’s needed. People can’t plan their emergencies Monday through Friday 9-to-5.”

Cutting Out The Legal Jargon

Online sites and apps for living wills make it possible to upload and edit the medical procedures you do and don’t want in your final days. They’re also a way to personalize end-of-life wishes.

The "My Directives" site, for example, allows you to upload video messages to loved ones.

Christine White, 62, is a social worker in Salem Oregon who uses My Directives.

Christine White, with her husband Daniel in Oregon.

Christine White

In a note to her husband, she wrote the following:

“If I precede my husband, I want him to know that his incessant whistling was the joy of my life. In fact, every day with him was a gift I cherished.”

“I felt so much better he would know how much he meant to me,” she says.

Costs, Savings, And Criticism

In addition to emotional relief, proponents of advance directives say they can save money.

Still, there are plenty of advance directives critics.

Dr. Henry Perkins has been researching advance directives for 35 years, and he still doesn’t find them very useful.

“They promise more control over future care than is possible, they are hard to implement, and some doctors don’t follow them,” says Perkins.

He recommends patients choose one or two people whom they trust a great deal to be their surrogate decision makers in a time of crisis. “The best we can do is ask people to be there for us,” he says.

Control Through Technology

Dr. Molly Coye, chief innovation officer at the University of California, Los Angeles, envisions a world where talking about the end of life is normal; Perhaps part of signing up for health insurance, getting a driver’s license or applying for a mortgage.

“People are ready to hear this I think,” she says. “It’s just so far there are not a lot of people who have been approached about it.” Coye says new tools and technologies make end of life documents more accessible and easier for doctors to follow in emergencies.

As for patients, moving the advance directive from the shoebox to a smartphone means making updates is less dusty, and a lot faster.

You may see $3 a gallon for gas in your lifetime

Tue, 2014-09-16 02:00

A global glut of oil has pushed the national price of gasoline to $3.39 and plunging. In certain places, such as Greene County, Missouri, unleaded already goes for under $3.

“At this moment today, we are at $2.95,” says James Orr, manager of Casey’s General Store on South Grant Avenue in Springfield, the county seat. As for his competitors, “most of them are at $2.98, $2.99.”

A few factors are at play here: As of this week, gas stations in many states can sell a cheaper gasoline product called winter blend. Summer blend gas is held to a stricter standard, for warm-weather pollution reasons.

In world oil markets, where pump prices are mostly set, there is ample supply. A big factor in that is rising U.S. production, now at a 28-year high. Finally, global demand has softened in places like China.

Houston-area oil industry consultant Andy Lipow thinks the national gas price will fall another seven percent to $3.15 by Halloween.

“And $3 a gallon is in the cards if we can see crude oil prices decline to $85 a barrel,” Lipow says.

A year ago, the president and CEO of the auto club AAA, Robert Darbelnet, predicted $3 a gallon gas would never return.

“Paying less than $3 per gallon for gasoline may be automotive history for most Americans, like using 8-track tapes or going to a drive-in movie,” Darbelnet said in September 2013. “The reality is that expensive gas is here to stay, which is tough on millions of people who need a car to live their lives.”

A spokesman for AAA said Darbelnet was unavailable for an interview. The group’s current gas price prediction is that winter prices will dip to $3.10.

Los Angeles Gas Prices provided by GasBuddy.comClick here to add this map to your website.

Rising numbers of seniors are paying off student loans

Tue, 2014-09-16 02:00

According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, between 2004 and 2010 the number of seniors with student loan debt quadrupled to 706,000 households.

Betsy Mayotte is the director of regulatory compliance with American Student Assistance, a non-profit that helps families manage education debt. She says she's starting to see a fairly significant increase in older borrowers reaching out for help. 

Take one borrower she heard from recently: "He's 77, his wife 82," says Mayotte. "They both have age typical health concerns, they’re not going to work again and they owe a significant amount in student debt — both their own and debt they took on for their children — and they don’t know how they’re going to pay for it."

It's not what many expect, says Persis Yu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center's student loan borrower assistance project.

“Older Americans have a lot more student loan debt than people realize,” she says.

Federal student loans, notes Yu, never go away. They have no statute of limitations.

“So, if a borrower doesn’t finish paying off a loan, they could be on the hook for the rest of their life,” she says.

Yu says if a senior defaults on a loan, their social security benefits could be garnished. The GAO says when that happens, additional fees can be involved making it even harder to pay off the loan.

Who makes your favorite beer? Probably one of these 5 companies.

Mon, 2014-09-15 14:09

Update: CNBC reporter David Faber is reporting that his sources at AB InBev say that rumors the company is seeking finance in preparation to acquire SABMiller are false.

The rumors had swirled this week that Anheuser-Busch InBev, the brewer of Budweiser beer was seeking financing for a possible deal to purchase rival beer-maker SABMiller, reports the Wall Street Journal. If it were to happen, the deal would combine the two largest beer producers in the world.

From the Wall Street Journal: 

The talks about financing come on the heels of an approach by SABMiller to buy Dutch brewer Heineken NV, which Heineken said Sunday it had rejected. The U.K. brewer hasn't been discouraged by Heineken's initial rejection and would consider another bid, according to another person familiar with the discussions.

China creates a texting lane

Mon, 2014-09-15 13:41

I don't known whether it's this week's sign the apocalpypse is upon us, or simply an acknowledgement of reality, but officials in Chongqing, China have created an entirely separate section of sidewalk just for pedestrians using cellphones.

That is, people walking along with their noses down in their phones.

It should help with those awkward near-collisions, but the signs do have a disclaimer: "Walk in this lane at your own risk."

Chongqing City has set up China's 1st "exclusive sidewalk for mobile phone users ” to avoid possible crashes on Fri pic.twitter.com/jFiCbbE1yk

— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) September 13, 2014

 

Microsoft founders commit $59 million to fight Ebola

Mon, 2014-09-15 13:33

Last week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed $50 million “to support the scale up of emergency efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak,” and Paul Allen has pledged $9 million. 

On Tuesday, President Obama will travel to Atlanta, where he will visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has been overseeing the U.S. government’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, but Gilbert Burnham, co-director of the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response at Johns Hopkins University, gives a lot of credit to philanthropists like Gates and Allen.

"This is going to be the thing that turns the tide, the concern of individuals, rather than just the concern of government here,” he says.

The field of public health has changed, and, according to UNC medical anthropologist Peter Redfield, foundations and non-governmental organizations are more important than ever. “I think we now have a different set of expectations of what will happen in response to a kind of crisis or outbreak, and who will be the primary actors involved.”

Governments and the United Nations used to take the lead, but Dan Bausch, an expert on infectious diseases at Tulane University, says budgets took a hit after the financial crisis. “We probably would be on top of this more than we are if we hadn’t seen some dwindling of those funds in recent years.”

The Gates Foundation plays an outsize role in public health these days, but Rebecca Katz, a public health professor at George Washington University, says this pledge of support is kind of out of character. “They haven’t traditionally been engaged in disaster response,” she says. “But this outbreak is precedent-setting in all sorts of ways.”

Katz hopes some of that money will help with personnel. She says there are fewer than 250 doctors in all of Liberia.

“In Sierra Leone, you’re looking at a ratio of one physician for 30,000 people,” Katz says.

That is not nearly enough to combat an outbreak  that- as she and other experts say - is still out of control.

Dress like Olivia Pope with help from 'The Limited'

Mon, 2014-09-15 13:33

In the ABC drama “Scandal,” Kerry Washington plays the fiercely stylish Olivia Pope, a crisis manager in the nation’s capital. Just in time for the show's fourth season premiere later this month, The Limited is unveiling a line of clothing inspired by the show.  

While kids shows are no strangers to merchandising, the “Scandal” collection is hardly the first TV licensing deal for grownups. Duck Dynasty-themed products brought in an estimated $400 million last year. And have you seen the Game of Thrones-branded beers?

Sometimes it happens in less obvious ways,” says Marty Brochstein with the Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association. “There is a furniture line connected to 'The Good Wife,' for example.”

Yes, you can sit on Alicia’s Guest Chair or Cary’s Office Sofa, from furniture retailer Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.

For the networks, Brochstein says, the goal isn’t just selling products, but getting more butts on those sofas, watching their shows.

“It is reminding you that the show is on and that you love it and wow, isn’t that a great look?” he says.

Fans of the AMC hit “Mad Men” may have had that thought walking by Banana Republic at the mall a while back. A line of clothing inspired by that show sold well for a while, says analyst Wendy Liebmann with WSL Strategic Retail.

“Then it faded pretty quickly,” she says. “For fashion, you know, it’s all fast and furious.”

One the other hand, demand for the products can outlast the shows, says the licensing association’s Marty Brochstein. Thanks to Netflix, people just getting into AMC’s “Breaking Bad” may still want a licensed hazmat suit for Halloween, even though the show ended a year ago.

Scotland's currency dilemma

Mon, 2014-09-15 13:20

“No, it just doesn’t make sense!”

Ken Symon – a leading light in the campaign against Scottish independence - sounds incredulous as he discusses the separatists’ currency plan. He’s baffled that they want to break away from the United Kingdom, but carry on using the British pound.

“Does that amount to independence?” Symon asks over a mug of tea in Glasgow at the "No" campaign's headquarters. “They would keep the Bank of England with the Governor of the Bank appointed by the UK government. It just doesn't make sense.”

“Yes, it does make perfect sense!" says Mike Danson at the "Yes" campaign headquarters a few blocks away. Danson –an economics professor and pro-independence activist – insists it would be sensible to retain the pound after independence. "It would benefit both Scotland and the rest of the UK,” he says. “ After all, we have a cross border trading relationship worth $180 billion a year. It wouldn’t make sense for either of us to have all the transaction costs of using a different currency.”

But there is a problem with the Yes campaign’s currency plan: The rest of the UK has given a resounding response to the proposal : "No!"

The leaders of the UK’s three main political parties and a majority of the people of England,Wales and Northern Ireland, according to opinion polls, have rejected the plan. And they have been supported by some eminent international economists.

“Look at what’s already happened in Europe,” argues Nobel Prize winner and Princeton professor, Paul Krugman . “We have an unprecedented experiment in sharing a currency without being part of the same country. And it’s a disaster. The euro area is doing worse this time around than it did in the 1930s.”

Scotland’s independence campaigners are unfazed by this analysis, or by the opposition of the UK’s main political parties.

"It’s not for them to say we can or cannot have the pound," says Mike Danson. "It’s a shared asset. It’s as much Scotland’s pound as it is England's or Wales'."

Even if Scotland has left the UK?

“Yes,” he insists. “It’s a shared asset that’s up for negotiation.”

Danson says Scotland’s got the whip hand. If the rest of the UK refuses to share the pound, then the newly independent country may walk away from its share of the UK’s $2 trillion national debt.

The currency question remains critical. Unless it is resolved a vote for independence on Thursday could bring turmoil to Scotland... and the rest of the UK.

Questions over highway oversight

Mon, 2014-09-15 11:35

The New York Times published an investigative piece yesterday on the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) and poorly-handled automobile safety defects. The Times found that the agency "frequently has been slow to identify problems, tentative to act and reluctant to employ its full legal powers against companies."

Rebecca Ruiz shared the byline on the story. She says the last time the NHTSA ordered a recall was 35 years ago. Not even the 2,000 complaints that the agency had logged about General Motors' ignition defects triggered a recall.

"The agency received complaints as early as 1997," says Ruiz. "Up until the very month that the recalls began in February, NHTSA was responding to drivers who were writing in saying, 'unfortunately there is not enough evidence for us to open an investigation, but thank you for writing.'"

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

When the going gets rough, some sell poems

Mon, 2014-09-15 10:26

As D.C. commuters head to their offices, jazz drummer Glenn Ragland stands outside Metro stations. He's not hawking newspapers, or music. He's selling poems.

These days, Ragland has been finding it near impossible to make money in the music industry.

"I'm not making no money," he said. "The band business is gone. There's no big bands. The few night clubs, they don't want to pay musicians anything."

So for the past seven months, he's been standing at any of a number of the corners in the nation's capital — 13th and G Street, Connecticut and K Street, Connecticut and L Street or Connecticut and I Street, from about 7:30 to 10:30 a.m., trying to sell love poems.

He says he'll write about anything, though his sign advertises: "Poetry for love and romance $5 a poem." At first, he simply wanted a sign that said "poetry for $5," but he said his friend who printed the sign added romance to the mix.

"I just wanted to put 'poems' and 'jazz' in there, and he put that word 'romance' in there. And that changed the whole thing," he said. "It changed the mood of selling poems."

After he gets a request, he says he might work on a poem for a day or a week. He then finds the buyer later at the same Metro station.

Ragland isn't new to writing. He started writing poetry in Paris when he was 26 and in a band. He also penned "Jazz Profiles in Paris," a 1995 book that didn't make him much money. He sometimes manages to sell six or seven poems a day for $120 total.

He's working on another book, this time full of poems about passion and intimacy. He calls it "almost too intimate to publish."

If he's not trying to sell poems on the street or teaching drum lessons, Ragland can probably be found at Washington's well-known eatery and poetry hangout Busboys and Poets. He likes surrounding himself with writers and artistically-inclined people.

"I like to meet people that write because your imagination is more extensive," he said. “Sometimes at 11:30 at night, 1 o’clock in the morning, an idea comes to me. I get up and get a pen and paper and sometimes I continue working on a poem the next day. And sometimes I forget about it.”

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