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Episode 765: The Holiday Industrial Complex

Apr 18, 2017

Today, we want to wish you a happy Pet Owners Independence Day! And, a static-free International Amateur Radio Day! Also, a calming National Stress Awareness Day. Today is all of that and more. There are too many holidays to count.

It seems like there are legions of people inventing holidays to get people to buy more things. But even more of them are just... weird. So we figured if we could follow the events that got one of these questionable holidays on TV, then maybe there was a way to find out who is running the holiday machine.

This Tax Day, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer launched a new tool designed to make government spending and revenue more accessible to the average citizen.

The website — USAFacts.org — has been slow and buggy for users on Tuesday, apparently due to the level of traffic. It offers interactive graphics showing data on revenue, spending, demographics and program missions.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Vice President Pence, visiting Japan on his 10-day tour of Asia, said the U.S. has launched bilateral talks with Tokyo in the hopes of reaching a new trade agreement.

It was Pence's second stop on the trip, which will later take him to Australia and Indonesia. He previously visited South Korea, where he emphasized the Trump administration's "resolve" on the North Korean nuclear threat, a theme he revisited in Japan as well.

Trade was also a major topic of conversation.

A century ago, it was one of the biggest names in retail. Now, even Sears officials say its future could be in doubt — though they say they have plans to make sure the retail icon survives.

Nancy Koehn with the Harvard Business School says that in its early days, Sears Roebuck and Co. was like Amazon is today — a retailer of great disruption.

For Sears, it meant a path-breaking strategy of offering all sorts of merchandise in catalogs and building department stores in remote places with ample parking.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And we have a guide to this day's news. David, where do we start?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A nonprofit organization that has orchestrated a wide-reaching campaign against foreign drug imports has deep ties to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the powerful lobbying group that includes Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Bayer.

The nonprofit, called the Partnership for Safe Medicines, has recently emerged as a leading voice against Senate bills that would allow drugs to be imported from Canada.

It's easy enough for people who live in cities to hail a ride, either from a taxi or a service like Uber or Lyft. There's plenty of demand, and plenty of drivers. A startup is trying to bring a similar service to rural America, but it has required some creative thinking.

The town of Van Wert sits on the western edge of Ohio. It's a stretch of flat farm country punctuated with grain silos and a stone castle that's listed as the nation's first county public library.

Some people call Jeremy Fox the "vegetable whisperer," the California chef who can coax remarkable flavors out of every part of his produce, even the flowers and leaves that most chefs throw away. One of his famous first-course dishes combines twice-shucked spring peas with macadamia nuts and white chocolate. He has reinvented cooking with vegetables, and in the process, reinvented himself, too.

Kevin Butt's job is to find cleaner ways to power Toyota. One of the hardest places to do that is at the automaker's sprawling plant in central Kentucky, a state where nearly 90 percent of electricity still comes from coal.

Butt points out a new engine assembly line, where a conveyor belt moves in a slow circle. He says it was specially designed with a more efficient motor. There are also enormous fans overhead and LED lights, all changes that save millions.

A couple flying to Costa Rica for their wedding were removed from a United Airlines flight in Houston on Saturday.

The incident happened nearly a week after a video showing a passenger being dragged off a Chicago-to-Louisville flight went viral.

Michael Hohl and Amber Maxwell are scheduled to get married on Thursday.

Not everyone who reaches so-called retirement age is ready to retire. But they may be ready for a change. That's one of the reasons that the tech giant Intel pays longtime employees a stipend while they try out new careers at nonprofit organizations.

Millions of taxpayers are rushing to complete their federal and state filings before the April 18 deadline. Among them are several million people in this country illegally, and there are signs that fewer such immigrants are filing than in years past.

Back in 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign suffered a blow when a tape was leaked of him grousing that 47 percent of Americans don't pay federal income tax. It was one of the biggest gaffes of the presidential campaign, but a new poll conducted by Ipsos for NPR suggests that many Americans forgot it.

During his first day on the job, Alex Perry learned one of the pitfalls of cat grooming when he was bitten by a Maine Coon.

"This one decided to bite me right in the gut. I made the mistake of pulling away. And I got a big tear right in my belly," Perry recalls of that day back in 2012.

If you're a cat lover, chances are you know what a Maine Coon is. Commonly referred to as "the gentle giant," the Maine Coon is one of the largest and most social domesticated cats.

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

When Forbes first listed the 400 richest Americans in 1982, there were 13 billionaires on that list.

Today, every single person on the Forbes 400 list is a billionaire.

Many have become philanthropists, and they are reshaping public policy, and society, as they see fit. And because of their numbers, they have far more influence than the philanthropists of the past, argues David Callahan, author of a new book on philanthropy, The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age.

What will our dinners look like when temperatures and sea levels rise and water floods our coastal towns and cities?

Allie Wist, 29, an associate art director at Saveur magazine, attempts to answer that question in her latest art project, "Flooded." It's a fictional photo essay (based on real scientific data) about a dinner party menu at a time when climate change has significantly altered our diets.

United Airlines crew members will no longer be able to bump a passenger who is already seated in one of the airline's planes.

The policy change was first reported by TMZ. A spokesperson for the airline confirms that United has updated its policy "to make sure crews traveling on our aircraft are booked at least 60 minutes prior to departure. This ensures situations like Flight 3411 never happen again."

The politics of respectability, that elusive set of guidelines that dictate how racialized Americans ought to conduct themselves in public, were complicated this week when a 69-year-old Asian-American doctor was forcibly dragged off a United Airlines flight.

The video of Dr. David Dao's body being hauled off the plane provoked international outrage, especially from Asian-Americans, but some argued that race had nothing to do with the incident — that the same level of outrage would have followed regardless of the passenger's race.

Two questions immediately come to my mind.

It was a warm January day in Vadodara, in western India, when my aunt, Apeksha Kaki, announced that we were going to a soda shop. This was my first time visiting extended family in India, and I was eager to try local foods and drinks. So, I was a bit disappointed at the mention of soda.

"What kind of soda, Kaki?" I asked my aunt. "Like, Coca Cola?"

"Nai, Leena," she replied. "It's called ... soda, but it's not what you are used to."

Stephen Fowler, GPB News

The Atlanta Braves are saying there’s more to their new stadium than hot dogs and beer.

The team hopes a 50-acre development surrounding SunTrust Park will keep fans engaged and keep them coming back year-round.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's been lean times for some of YouTube's most popular video producers. In the last two weeks ad rates have gone down as much as 75 percent. The producers are caught up in a struggle between advertisers and YouTube over ad placement.

In recent weeks, reports showed ads from major brands placed with extremist and anti-Semitic videos. Companies such as General Motors, Audi and McDonald's pulled out of YouTube. That means there's less money for everyone.

Now YouTube is trying to convince these companies to come back. And that's meant adjusting the algorithm that places ads.

Rickey Bevington

When the Atlanta Braves announced their move to the suburbs in 2013, some skeptics foresaw an exodus of residents fleeing game day traffic and crowds.

Four years later, Cobb County home sales are outpacing other metro counties.  

If George W. Bush was the decider, consider Donald Trump the un-decider. This week, the current president abandoned a string of his best-known policy positions over a matter of days.

As United Airlines continues to grapple with a long-haul public relations disaster, rival airlines are pouncing on the opportunity to poke fun and promote themselves.

One reason President Trump gave for signing his order to dismantle climate policies was "to cancel job-killing regulations." But in places like coal country, environmental regulations are creating jobs, too.

David Dao, the 69-year-old Kentucky doctor dragged off a United Express flight on Sunday night, suffered a concussion and broken nose in the incident and lost two teeth, his attorney said Thursday.

Dao will need reconstructive surgery, lawyer Thomas Demetrio announced at a news conference in Chicago.

He said there will "probably" be a lawsuit over the airline's actions.

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