as a weekly practice I listen to npr and do a little sketch on one of the stories. take a look, you can click on the illustration to make it bigger!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Marijuana Vendors Lobby To Pay Higher Taxes

In today's economy, it's hard to find anyone who really wants to pay higher taxes. That is, unless they happen to be in the business of selling medical marijuana.

In Oakland, Calif., marijuana vendors are actually lobbying for a higher tax on their product.

Take, for example, Richard Lee, the proprietor of the Coffeeshop Blue Sky, where anyone with a doctor's note can buy products much more relaxing than a jolt of java. How about 1/8 ounce of high-grade medical marijuana? That's $40 for the cannabis and $4 in sales tax.

Lee says the sales tax is just the price of doing business.

"My business pays $300,000 a year in sales tax, plus another half-million in payroll taxes — income taxes," Lee says. "So we estimate that all four dispensaries in Oakland pay over a million in sales tax already."

And now, the city of Oakland wants a bigger cut of Lee's action. Right now, medical marijuana dispensaries pay a city tax of $1.20 for every $1,000 they take in. In July, voters will decide whether the dispensaries should pay even more — as much as $18 for every $1,000 in gross receipts.

Lee and other dispensary owners not only support the proposed new taxes, but they're also the ones who brought the idea to city officials in the first place.

"We're basically trying to say that we are like other businesses, you know. We're here to pay taxes, create jobs and improve the community," Lee says.

Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan says the new tax could generate upward of $1 million annually and would make Oakland the first city in the country to directly tax medical marijuana.

"You know, in these economic times, we're trying to find revenue everywhere we can, and we're trying to keep our senior centers open," she says. "We're trying to keep public safety officials hired and with equipment that works, and so to have someone stepping up and say, 'We're willing to pay more,' it's a pretty beautiful thing."

It's not the first time officials have looked to marijuana to fill their tax coffers. A bill to legalize and tax cannabis statewide has already been introduced in the California Legislature. And state finance officials estimate that legalized pot could bring in about $1.5 billion in new taxes to the cash-strapped state.

Still A Federal Crime

But opponents of medical marijuana aren't convinced. Calvina Fay is the executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation. She says medical marijuana may be legal in California and 12 other states, but its sale is still a federal crime.

"I think it is one more step in creating the illusion that they are operating within the law, what they're doing is OK," Fay says.

Other critics of the tax proposal say the medical marijuana industry is looking for more than legitimacy. Ronald Brooks, the president of the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, says the ultimate goal is the legalization of cannabis.

"Their strategy has long been that they just can't go to the voters right now in today's environment and say, 'Legalize marijuana.' But they know there is a growing movement that supports marijuana and, unfortunately, when you start to chip away at our national drug policy, you begin to have people believe that somehow this is safe," Brooks says.

Brooks won't get much argument from Lee. He says the Oakland tax proposal is written so broadly that it would cover anyone involved with growing and selling marijuana should it ever become legal.

"We see it as part of the overall picture of legalization, of changing the attitudes of cannabis. Instead of seeing it as an underground thing that people do to get out of paying taxes, we're trying to make it a regular part of the business of the city," he says.

A recent Field Poll shows that, for the first time, 56 percent of those surveyed in California support legalization of marijuana — and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he's ready for an open debate on the idea.

- excerpt from NPR

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ousted President, Replacement Duel For Honduras

Honduras is now torn between two presidents: one legally recognized by world bodies after he was deposed and forced from the country by his own soldiers, and another supported by the Central American nation's congress, courts and military.

Presidents from around Latin America were gathering in Nicaragua for meetings Monday to resolve the first military overthrow of a Central American government in 16 years, and once again Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took center stage, casting the dispute as a rebellion by the region's poor.

"If the oligarchies break the rules of the game as they have done, the people have the right to resistance and combat, and we are with them," Chavez said in Managua, Nicaragua's capital.

There is a deep rift between the outside world — which is clamoring for the return of democratically elected, but largely unpopular and soon-to-leave-office President Manuel Zelaya — and congressionally designated successor Roberto Micheletti.

Micheletti rejected any outside interference and declared a two-night curfew, while Chavez vowed that "we will overthrow [Micheletti]."

Zelaya was seized by soldiers and hustled aboard a plane to Costa Rica early Sunday, just hours before a rogue referendum Zelaya had called in defiance of the courts and Congress, and which his opponents said was an attempt to remain in power after his term ends Jan. 27.

The Honduran constitution limits presidents to a single 4-year term, and Zelaya's opponents feared he would use the referendum results to try to run again, just as Chavez reformed his country's constitution to be able to seek re-election repeatedly.

Micheletti said the army acted on orders from the courts, and the ouster was carried out "to defend respect for the law and the principles of democracy." But he threatened to jail Zelaya and put him on trial if he returned. Micheletti also hit back at Chavez, saying "nobody, not Barack Obama and much less Hugo Chavez, has any right to threaten this country."

Obama said earlier in a statement that he was "deeply concerned" about the events, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Zelaya's arrest should be condemned.

"I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter," Obama's statement read.

For those conditions to be met, Zelaya must be returned to power, U.S. officials said.

Two senior Obama administration officials told reporters that U.S. diplomats were working to ensure Zelaya's safe return. The officials said the Obama administration in recent days had warned Honduran power players, including the armed forces, that the U.S. would not support a coup, but Honduran military leaders stopped taking their calls.

Zelaya said soldiers seized him in his pajamas at gunpoint in what he called a "coup" and a "kidnapping." The United Nations, the Organization of American States and governments throughout Latin America called for Zelaya to be allowed to resume office.

"I want to return to my country. I am president of Honduras," Zelaya said Sunday before traveling to Managua on one of Chavez's planes for regional meetings of Central American leaders and Chavez's leftist alliance of nations, known as ALBA.

Zelaya's call for civil disobedience and peaceful resistance appeared to gain only modest support in Honduras, where a few hundred people turned out at government buildings to jeer soldiers and chant "Traitors!"

Some of Zelaya's Cabinet members were detained by soldiers or police following his ouster, according to former government official Armando Sarmiento. And the rights group Freedom of Expression said leftist legislator Cesar Ham had died in a shootout with soldiers trying to detain him, though a Honduran Security Department spokesman said he had no information on Ham.

Armored military vehicles with machine guns rolled through the streets of the Honduran capital and soldiers seized the national palace, but no other incidents of violence were reported.

Sunday afternoon, Congress voted to accept what it said was Zelaya's letter of resignation, with even the president's former allies turning against him. Micheletti, who as leader of Congress is in line to fill any vacancy in the presidency, was sworn in to serve until Zelaya's term ends.

Micheletti belongs to Zelaya's Liberal Party, but opposed the president in the referendum.

Micheletti acknowledged that he had not spoken to any Latin American heads of state, but said, "I'm sure that 80 to 90 percent of the Honduran population is happy with what happened today."

The Organization of American States approved a resolution Sunday demanding "the immediate, safe and unconditional return of the constitutional president, Manuel Zelaya."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the coup and "urges the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country," said his spokeswoman, Michele Montas.

The Rio Group, which comprises 23 nations from the hemisphere, issued a statement condemning "the coup d'etat" and calling for Zelaya's "immediate and unconditional restoration to his duties."

And Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou canceled a planned visit to Honduras, one of just 23 countries that still recognize the self-governing island.

Coups were common in Central America for four decades reaching back to the 1950s, but Sunday's ouster was the first military power grab in Latin America since a brief, failed 2002 coup against Chavez. It was the first in Central America since military officials forced President Jorge Serrano of Guatemala to step down in 1993 after he tried to dissolve the congress and suspend the constitution.

-excerpt from npr

Friday, June 26, 2009

Remembering Michael Jackson, 'King Of Pop'

We watched Michael Jackson grow up: He was a baby-faced boy with a captivating smile and an amazing voice who stole the show right out from under his big brothers.

We saw him morph into a modern-day song-and-dance man, so light on his feet he seemed to be moving on air.

We danced to his beat until he began to change and we weren't sure what to make of it. Then we witnessed his long, strange fall from grace.

"He's like Elvis," said Ann Powers, music critic at the Los Angeles Times. "He's that big."

For her, the death of Jackson has a special poignancy.

"The first album I bought was Jackson 5's Maybe Tomorrow. I grew up with him as an icon," she said. "The thing in my head right now is "I'll Be There" — that tender, delicate yet strong voice of Michael Jackson's."

Early Hits Culminate In 'Thriller'

Jackson was not even 6 years old when his father set out to make his sons famous singers. By 1968, the Jackson 5 had been signed on to the Motown label and had a string of hits. But Michael was clearly the star, and eventually he set out for a solo career.

While making the film version of The Wiz in 1978, Jackson met music producer Quincy Jones, who recalled the experience in an interview with NPR.

"I saw another side of him and so I said, 'I'd like to take a shot at your album,' " Jones said.

The collaboration with Jones unleashed Jackson's creativity as both a singer and a dancer, culminating with the 1982 release of the hugely popular album Thriller.

It stayed atop the Billboard charts for 37 weeks, and Jackson's performances of the songs on video and television were — well, thrilling.

"I think the word you've got to use is 'electrifying.' It was absolutely electrifying," said Jason King, music professor at New York University. "He wasn't just singing about 'Thriller' — he actually was a thriller in every sense of that term."

"I think it's the voice in conjunction with that incredible sense of rhythm and timing and innovation that made him the icon that he will always be," said King. Thriller provided the dance beat of the '80s with hit singles like "Beat It" and "Billie Jean."

Scandal Distracts From Talent

Jackson's next album, Bad, sold 22 million copies around the world, but — despite his fame and wealth — Jackson was never able to duplicate the success of Thriller. In the 1990s, his strange behavior began to draw as much attention as his talent. Finally in 2005 he was tried on charges of child molestation.

Though acquitted, Jackson's reputation and finances never fully recovered.

"He didn't seem able to live in the world," Powers said. "That does not exempt him from anything he did that was a horrible thing. But at the same time, I think we feel uncomfortable even thinking about that aspect of Michael Jackson because there is a sense of like, 'Did we do this to him? Did we damn him to this fate?' "

-excerpt from NPR

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Parking Rates Hold Steady During Recession

A new survey shows the average cost of a parking garage space is $16 a day. The rates at garages are holding steady. On a monthly basis, Manhattan tops the list. It's about $700 to park your car in a Midtown parking garage. In Memphis, that same space costs $20 a month.

-excerpt from NPR

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pet Names Reflect Trend To Humanize Furry Pals

So much for Rover and Fido.

Almost half of American pet owners gave an animal a humanlike name, such as Jack or Sophie, according to an Associated Press-Petside.com poll of more than 1,000 pet owners released Tuesday.

Some of the more unusual names: Hollywood and Chichi Mittens, both cats; Vegas the Labrador retriever; Jibber Jack the dog; the beagle named Talulublue, and Louis XIV, the Yorkie.

In all, 49 percent of respondents, including 51 percent of dog owners and 50 percent of cat owners, had given at least one of their pets a humanlike name.

The most popular? Max got more mentions than other names in the AP Poll, but not enough to give it any broad claim of popularity (fewer than 2 percent of all mentions). One database of pet names, maintained by Veterinary Pet Insurance, also finds that Max pops up more frequently than any other name.

There has been a move away from classic dog names such as Spot and Lassie, according to VPI spokesman Curtis Steinhoff. There were 13 Fidos in VPI's database in 2008, placing the name at No. 2,866.

Rover was No. 2,534, behind names like Grendel, Ginger Snap and Munchie.

Steinhoff said the trend reflects a stronger bond between people and their pets.

Pet owners who give their pets human names are more likely to see them as full members of the family, said Wayne Eldridge, veterinarian and author of The Best Pet Name Book Ever!

But he cautions against reading too much into pet names. Many people choose names based on the animal's appearance, he said. One of the most unusual names in the VPI database was Snag L. Tooth for a cat with a snaggletooth that protrudes.

And some people don't know why they chose a certain name for their pet.

Like Beth Hart, 63, of Houston, who started naming her dogs Sassoon for the hair salon Vidal Sassoon. Her current Shih Tzu is Sassoon the Third. Her husband named their Lhasa apso "Dawg," their second dog with that name.

Daniel Rivera, 23, of Lansing, Mich., said his 4-year-old daughter named their pit bull Lab mix Little Fella. He said he guesses the name fits since the dog has very short legs.

For some it's all about being creative. Susan Jacobs, 45, of Long Beach, Calif., named her black poodle Kingston for her best vacation ever.

"It was beautiful, the people, the music, the warm weather," she said of her trip to Jamaica a decade ago. "Now whenever I say his name, I think of that time of in my life."

-excerpt from NPR

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bubble Bandits Defy Dishwashing Soap Ban

Spokane County, Washington, became the first place in the country to ban the sale of high-phosphate dishwasher soap — which includes most popular brands. And that's meant a boom in trafficking of "illegal" diswasher soap from nearby Idaho.

Listen here:

-excerpt from NPR

Friday, June 19, 2009

Iran's Supreme Leader Affirms Election Results

Iran's supreme leader said Friday that the country's disputed presidential vote had not been rigged, sternly warning protesters of a crackdown if they continue massive demonstrations demanding a new election.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sided with hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and offered no concessions to the opposition. He effectively closed any chance for a new vote by calling the June 12 election an "absolute victory."

The speech created a stark choice for candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters: Drop their demands for a new vote or take to the streets again in blatant defiance of the man endowed with virtually limitless powers under Iran's constitution.

Khamenei accused foreign media and Western countries of trying to create a political rift and stir up chaos in Iran.

"Some of our enemies in different parts of the world intended to depict this absolute victory, this definitive victory, as a doubtful victory," he said. "It is your victory. They cannot manipulate it."

Khamenei said the 11 million votes that separated Ahmadinejad from his top opponent, Mousavi, were proof that fraud did not occur. Ahmadinejad watched the sermon from the front row. State television did not show Mousavi in attendance.

"If the difference was 100,000 or 500,000 or 1 million, well, one may say fraud could have happened. But how can one rig 11 million votes?" Khamenei asked during Friday prayers at Tehran University.

Mousavi and his supporters have staged massive street rallies in recent days that have posed the greatest challenge to the Iran's Islamic ruling system since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought it to power.

So far, the government has not stopped the protests with force despite an official ban on them. But Khamenei opened the door for harsher measures.

"It must be determined at the ballot box what the people want and what they don't want, not in the streets," he said. "I call on all to put an end to this method. ... If they don't, they will be held responsible for the chaos and the consequences."

Khamenei blamed the U.S., Great Britain and what he called Iran's other enemies for fomenting unrest. He said Iran would not see a second revolution like those that transformed the countries of the former Soviet Union.

He remained staunch in his defense of Ahmadinejad, saying his views were closer to the president's than to those of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful patron of Mousavi.

Khamenei's address was his first since hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters flooded the streets in Tehran and elsewhere in the country in rallies evoking the revolution that ended Iran's U.S.-backed monarchy. On Thursday, supporters dressed in black and green flooded downtown Tehran in a somber, candlelit show of mourning for those who have been killed in clashes since Friday's vote.

Khamenei said the street protests would not have any impact.

"Some may imagine that street action will create political leverage against the system and force the authorities to give in to threats. No, this is wrong," he said.

The supreme leader left open a small window for a legal challenge to the vote. He reiterated that he has ordered the Guardian Council, an unelected body of 12 clerics and Islamic law experts close to the supreme leader, to investigate voter fraud claims. The Council has said it was prepared to conduct a limited recount of ballots at sites where candidates claim irregularities.

He also stressed that the four candidates were part of the country's Islamic system and reminded listeners that Mousavi was prime minister of Iran when Khamenei was president in the 1980s.

"All of them belong to the system. It was a competition within the ruling system," he said.

So far, protesters have focused on the results of the balloting rather than challenging the Islamic system of government. But a shift in anger toward Iran's non-elected theocracy could result in a showdown over the foundation of Iran's system of rule.

Ahmadinejad has appeared to take the growing opposition more seriously in recent days, backtracking Thursday on his dismissal of the protesters as "dust" and sore losers.

The crowds in Tehran and elsewhere have been able to organize despite a government clampdown on the Internet and cell phones. The government has blocked certain Web sites, such as BBC Farsi, Facebook, Twitter and several pro-Mousavi sites that are vital conduits for Iranians to tell the world about protests and violence.

Text messaging, which is a primary source of spreading information in Tehran, has not been working since last week, and cell phone service in Tehran is frequently down. The government also has barred foreign news organizations from reporting on Tehran's streets.

-excerpt from NPR

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Job Seekers Find New Rules Of Recruitment

With the unemployment rate at 9.4 percent and ticking up, millions of Americans are in the job market for the first time in several years.

But the job market has changed in that short time. The paper resume is laughably passe, at least in some circles. Not having a profile on the social networking site LinkedIn is, for some employers, not only a major liability but a sign that the candidate is horribly out of touch.

"If someone sends us a paper resume folded in thirds, stuffed in an envelope, it's hard to take it seriously," says Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin, an online real estate brokerage.

Kelman says he has friends in their 30s and 40s who just missed the social networking boat and now need coaching in how things have changed.

For example, he says blogs and Facebook pages have gone from mere kids' play to essential for communicating with employers online. Someone applying for a job in marketing, for example, will do much better in an interview if he or she already commands an audience through a blog. People in sales look better if they can prove they have a broad network of contacts in their field.

These new rules especially hold true in the high-tech fields, where being up to the minute is considered essential. But even other industries are following suit.

Job applicants are required to submit their resumes digitally at UMB Financial, a bank based in Kansas City, Mo.

"We get very few paper resumes," says Pat Cassady, the director of recruitment at UMB. Cassady says 10 to 12 percent of UMB hires come through LinkedIn, and she searches niche networking sites for active users who might be promising business leaders. She is even planning to use Twitter to reach out to new recruits.

-excerpt from NPR

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Obama Tries To Sell Health Plan To Doctors

President Obama warned on Monday that the escalating cost of health care is a threat to the U.S. economy, telling the American Medical Association that the whopping cost of health care helped drag down General Motors and Chrysler, and urging support for his new public insurance system to whittle the medical price tag.

In a speech at the AMA's annual meeting in Chicago, the president noted that the U.S. is spending more than $2 trillion a year on health care — 50 percent more per person than the next highest-spending nation. Despite the huge expenditure, Americans' life spans are shorter than people in some countries that spend less.

"The cost of our health care is a threat to our economy," Obama said. "It is an escalating burden on our families and businesses. It is a ticking time bomb for the federal budget, and it is unsustainable for the United States of America."

Citing health horror stories from across the country, the president said Americans are forgoing checkups and prescriptions, small businesses are dropping or reducing coverage, and big companies are less profitable and less competitive because of the exorbitant cost of providing health care for workers.

"If we do not fix our health care system, America may go the way of GM — paying more, getting less and going broke," he said. Obama noted that without health care reform, "1 out of every 5 dollars we earn will be spent on health care within a decade. In 30 years, it will be about 1 out of every 3."

More than 46 million Americans are uninsured. Obama asked doctors to support his effort to provide affordable health insurance to every American, adding that his plan would enable those already insured to keep the coverage they have if they prefer. Under Obama's proposal, every American would be able to shop for a health care plan under a Health Insurance Exchange that would allow families and individuals to choose a basic health care package. The plan includes a public option that would allow Americans a broader range of choices that is designed to keep the plans competitive.

The president said the plan would make sure doctors are reimbursed in a way that is tied to patient outcomes, rather than the annual negotiations that drive Medicare rates. He also appealed to the nation's doctors to help explore ways to ensure patients' welfare without unnecessary medical tests or procedures that are often done as a hedge against lawsuits.

"I need your help, doctors," he told the group, "because to most Americans, you are the health care system."

The plan won't be cheap, and the money to pay for it will come from a number of sources, Obama said. He noted that the federal budget calls for putting aside $635 billion over 10 years in a health reserve fund. More than half of that will come from revenue generated by limiting tax deductions to the wealthiest Americans.

Obama also said savings would come from cutting inefficiencies in the Medicare program. Although he predicted debate regarding where the cuts should be made, he said $177 billion could be saved over the next decade by ending overpayment for Medicare services by introducing competitive bidding into the Medicare Advantage program, which allows private insurance companies to offer Medicare coverage.

In addition, the president said using Medicare reimbursements to reduce preventable hospital readmissions would save $25 billion over the next 10 years, and that introducing more generic versions of biologic drugs also could save billions.

-excerpt from NPR

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ad Agency Finds 2-for-1 Deal In Downturn

The lack of income isn't the only hard thing about being unemployed: There's also isolation and a loss of purpose.

Ariel Horn, who runs The Horn Corp., a Manhattan ad agency, has found both a way to help the numerous unemployed ad workers in New York, and a new business model.

"Typically, when times are tough, when you hit a recession, there's the natural tendency to want to shutter up and kind of close down until things wake back up," Horn says. "But we took a very different approach."

What Horn did was send out word that anyone in the advertising business who needed a job could use his office to look for work. They could bring their laptops, sit at one of his empty desks and spend the whole day sending out resumes.

On any given day, there's a small, shifting crowd here, like a pickup basketball game. It's a community of job-seekers.

And they're assets for Horn.

Take 36-year-old Gary Wapnitsky. He's worked at some of New York's biggest agencies. Now he's out of a job.

"It's very unusual to just be able to come into an office and plop yourself down with your computer and work on your own things. We're all trying to find full-time jobs while we're doing this, and we're all trying to help each other out," Wapnitsky says.

And while these job-seekers are here, Horn encourages them to brainstorm with him as much as possible. He wants them to talk about projects they'd like to take on — and they have a real company behind them if they want to pursue them.

Dustin D'Addato, head of production at Horn Corp., used to work in TV production at one of the big networks, but he became bored. He likes the loose, free-wheeling atmosphere here.

"When you're in a more corporate environment, anything that's out of the norm was beaten down right away," D'Addato says. "Here — I don't want to sound hokey — but we dream and give it a shot. We have enough connections where if somebody says, 'Hey, I think this would be a great idea for this company' — OK, well, let's ask them about it. Worst they could do is say no."

If one of the ideas takes, it could lead to a job for Horn and his agency. It's happened before, and when it does, Horn hires the person who came up with the idea. He pays them by the project, with no benefits. For Horn, this kind of business model has a big advantage. The people who come here have all kinds of backgrounds — digital marketing, social networking, music videos. It means Horn's agency can function like a much bigger company than it really is.

"[We] use the power of the people we have here," Horn says. "While we are a group that's been constructed primarily by our open-door policy, we do like to keep the structure of a real corporation."

Horn acknowledges that he's essentially getting free labor out of people. But he says he's also giving something back in a business where personal contacts are essential. Unlike most unemployed people, they have a real company to work at each day — and it might lead to real work.

It's an unorthodox strategy. But the advertising industry is undergoing seismic changes, and Horn says a fresh approach is the only way for a small agency like his to survive.

-excerpt from NPR

Friday, June 12, 2009

Amid Recession, One Automaker Is Prospering

Across the Midwest, auto plants are on extended summer breaks or, worse, shuttered for good as turmoil in the industry continues. But there's one factory in Ohio that can barely keep up with demand for its hot car.

It has two doors and an iconic, compact design.

"This car really has done a great job of reading what the consumers want these days," says auto expert Paul Eisenstein. He publishes TheDetroitBureau.com.

"Whether you're talking about its performance, which is pretty good, depending on who's behind the wheel. It has a lot of really nice features," says Eisenstein. "You don't have to worry about these vehicles breaking down. In this case, the driver might break down a little bit. Get a little tired and have to count on Mom and Dad."

Wait. Mom and Dad? Yes, the nation's best-selling car is the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe: that molded plastic yellow and red sub-subcompact with countless fans like 3-year-old Audrey Kuntz of North Royalton, Ohio. She makes car sounds as she rides around in her Cozy Coupe.

The Cozy Coupe is delightfully low-tech and environmentally friendly. No gas or batteries are needed. It's powered by a toddler's legs or a parent's push.

The Little Tikes factory in Hudson, Ohio, runs 24 hours a day, cranking out a Cozy Coupe every minute. Sales have remained strong, moving more than 450,000 of these cute plastic cars every year in the U.S. That's more than the runners-up in the sales race: the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.

Bill Holcomb, the plant manager, says it feels nice to be in an auto factory in Ohio that is doing pretty well. "The Cozy Coupe isn't subject to the same woes that Chrysler and GM are subject to today," he says.

The little car has gone through only a few minor face-lifts in its life span. Little Tikes executive Tom Richmond says the biggest change actually came this year with a new front end that looks like a happy face, with big cartoonish eyes.

"We've given Cozy a personality," he says. "He has a full-length video. He has eyes, he has a mouth; we've humanized him."

The Cozy Coupe also now has cupholders.

"Of course those are primarily for Mom and Dad, but [they're] also a great place for sippy cups and so on," he explains.

As the Cozy Coupe celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, it entered automotive history.

Last weekend, the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland inducted the Cozy Coupe into its permanent collection. Museum Director Allan Unrein says it deserves to be among the historic Model T's and Packards.

"This, of all the cars I've ever seen in my life, that's the only one everybody aspires to. That's the Cozy Coupe," he says.

Unrein says that when the kids came for the induction, he realized the beleaguered automakers could learn a thing or two from the Cozy Coupe when designing their new models.

"Sometimes they become too appliancelike," he says. "They just lost that emotional appeal where there is emotional appeal. Those kids who were riding around, I can take it from them and they're all sad and crying, you know. I can take your Honda away from you and you're not going to be sad and crying. I'll find something else or whatever."

No wonder Honda and Toyota can't compete. Oh, and maybe the fact that the Cozy Coupe sells for the low-low price of $49.

-excerpt from NPR

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Venezuela Threatens To Close Opposition TV Station

Venezuela's last remaining anti-government television station has infuriated President Hugo Chavez. He has appointed his lieutenants to investigate the station, and international press freedom groups say it is on the verge of being closed down.

-excerpt from NPR

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

French Pawn Shops Thrive During Recession

In France, banks are increasingly hesitant to lend during the economic downturn. That has made one venerable Paris lending institution more popular than ever: the pawn shop.

here story here:

-excerpt from NPR

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Debate May Be Turning Point In Iranian Election

During a TV debate, Iranians witnessed an aggressive debate between the two main candidates. Journalist Hooman Majd is covering Iran's presidential elections. He talks with Steve Inskeep about how Iranians view this Friday's presidential contest. Majd is the author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ

Listen here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105143819

excerpt from NPR

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sex Without Intimacy: No Dating, No Relationships

The hookup — that meeting and mating ritual that started among high school and college students — is becoming a trend among young people who have entered the workaday world. For the many who are delaying the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing, hooking up has virtually replaced dating.

It is a major shift in the culture over the past few decades, says Kathleen Bogle, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University.

Young people during one of the most sexually active periods of their lives aren't necessarily looking for a mate. What used to be a mate-seeking ritual has shifted to hookups: sexual encounters with no strings attached.

"The idea used to be you are going to date someone that is going to lead to something sexual happening," Bogle says. "In the hookup era, something sexual happens, even though it may be less than sexual intercourse, that may or may not ever lead to dating."

Young people from high school on are so preoccupied with friends, getting an education and establishing themselves, they don't make time for relationships.

New Goal: Fun, Not Marriage

"Going out on a date is a sort of ironic, obsolete type of thing," says 25-year-old Elizabeth Welsh, who graduated from college in 2005 and now lives in Boston. She says that among her friends, dating is a joke. "Going out on a date to dinner and a movie? It's so cliche — isn't that funny?"

It seems it's far easier to have casual sexual encounters or hookups, though several national surveys of college students found a stalwart 28 percent who remain virgins. The term "hookup" is so vague, however, it might well encompass someone's idea of virginity — it involves anything from kissing to fooling around, oral sex and sexual intercourse.

"For me, it's been anytime that I was attracted to a guy and we spent the night together," Welsh says. "It has been sex; it has just been some sort of light making out. That's the beautiful thing about the phrase. Whatever happened is hooking up."

Bogle interviewed college students on a small and a large campus, as well as recent college graduates, to find out what was going on. The hooking-up phenomena has been traced back to the 1960s and the 1970s, when male and female students were thrown together in apartment-style dormitories, and there was a revolt against strict rules on having a member of the opposite sex in your dorm, lights out and curfews.

"What you see on college campuses now, even in some cases Catholic campuses, is that young men and women have unrestricted access to each other," Bogle says. Throw in the heavy drinking that occurs on most campuses, and there are no inhibitions to stand in the way of a hookup.

The alumni Bogle spoke with were less into hooking up after leaving college, but she says that's changing. It is catching on among young working adults, mainly because of the Internet and social networks.

The Evolution Of Dating

Dating itself represented a historical change. It evolved out of a courtship ritual where young women entertained gentleman callers, usually in the home, under the watchful eye of a chaperone. At the turn of the 20th century, dating caught on among the poor whose homes were not suitable for entertaining, according to Beth Bailey's history of dating, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America.

Young couples would go out for a movie or dinner. The expectation was that dating, as with courtship, would ultimately lead to a relationship, the capstone of which was marriage. Precious few of these young women attended college.

According to experts, the main reason hooking up is so popular among young people is that in the United States and other Western countries, the age at which people marry for the first time has been steadily creeping up. As of 2005, in the United States, men married for the first time around the age of 27, and women at about 25 years of age.

Bogle says the hookup is what happens when high school seniors and college freshmen suddenly begin to realize they won't be marrying for five, 10 or 15 years.

Prioritizing Career And Social Life

Marriage is often the last thing on the minds of young people leaving college today.

"My first few years out of college was about trying to get on my feet and having a good time," Welsh says. Dating and a relationship interfered with that.

Avery Leake, 25, knows what this is like from the other side. He's in a relationship now, but he says that, in general, most of the young women he used to meet "just wanted sex. They're independent." Being in a relationship was not important to them, especially if it interfered with their careers or their pursuit of advanced degrees, he says.

Leake found that he was also up against women who had as much money as he had, if not more, and he says dating had just become too expensive. "You used to be able to get away with paying $30 for a dinner and a movie," Leake says. "Not anymore."

Empowerment Or Loss Of Intimacy?

A number of experts accept this relaxed attitude toward sex outside of relationships as a natural consequence of the sexual revolution, women's growing independence and the availability of modern contraceptives. But Deborah Roffman, who conducts human sexuality workshops for middle- and high-school-age students and their parents, sees that as a distorted view of liberation.

"It's not a new model. I think most people would probably look back and agree that this has been a more traditionally, or at least stereotypically, male model," says Roffman. "What I've seen over the last few years is girls adopting a more compartmentalized view, and feeling good and empowered by it."

She's not convinced that this is a good thing for women, and says that being able to say yes is only one way of looking at freedom. She would feel much better if young men also were developing a greater capacity for intimacy.

Being able to engage in intimate relationships where men and women bring all of themselves to the relationship is the cornerstone of family, Roffman says.

But young people like Elizabeth Welsh don't see the hookup as an obstacle to future relationships:

"It is a common and easy mistake," Welsh says, "to assume that the value of friendship and those relationship building blocks have no place in longer term relationships."

If you're honest and open about what you're doing, and willing to commit to a relationship, she says, a hookup and friendship can be fused into a lifetime partnership.

Partnership Still The Ultimate Goal

At 25, May Wilkerson would like a relationship, but not a family — not quite yet. She's lived a lot of places: Argentina, Canada and Paris. Wilkerson says she hasn't found much intimacy with the men she's encountered.

In New York City, where she moved two years ago, people seem even more emotionally detached, and she thinks it is because so many of the people who come to the big city are focused on success.

"For many of us, the requisite vulnerability and exposure that comes from being really intimate with someone in a committed sense is kind of threatening."

And the thought of being in love with someone, Wilkerson says, "is the most terrifying thing."

Yes, she has been in love, but the guy wasn't quite into it. There was one older guy who was serious; he used to bring her cupcakes. She couldn't work up an interest in him.

Today, Wilkerson says people hook up via the Internet and text messaging.

"What that means is that you have contact with many, many more people, but each of those relationships takes up a little bit less of your life. That fragmentation of the social world creates a lot of loneliness."

Hooking up started before the Internet and social networks, but the technology is extending the lifestyle way beyond the campus. Deborah Roffman says no one is offering this generation guidance on how to manage what is essentially a new stage in life.

The dilemma for this generation is how to learn about intimacy, she says: "How am I going to have a series of relationships that are going to be healthy for me and others, and going to prepare me" for settling down with one person?

Wilkerson doesn't really focus on the concerns of people like Roffman, who fear that hooking up doesn't bode well for the future of young people. She thinks young people will be able to sort it out for themselves.

"We all attended health class in middle school and high school. We know about condoms and sexually transmitted disease. Sex is fun, and a lot of people would argue that it is a physical need. It's a healthy activity."

-excerpt from NPR

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rural Layoffs: Losing A Grip On Retirement

Randy Badman thought he was set for life. After all, he was born and raised in DeWitt, Neb., home of the plant making Vise-Grip locking pliers. Vise-Grips were invented in a blacksmith shop in DeWitt in the 1920s, and in past years the plant had more jobs than the rural town of more than 500 had people to fill them.

"It brings back a lot of memories here … I planned on retiring here," says Badman, 60, standing outside the cavernous and empty metal plant on DeWitt's Main Street. "A lot of us that got laid off did." The layoff came in January 2005, after Badman had been making Vise-Grips for 36 years. He started in the tool and die shop in his 20s and was the tool shop supervisor when he and other managers were let go. Close to five years later, in October 2008, the last 300 workers were given pink slips as the plant closed. Irwin Industrial Tools moved Vise-Grip manufacturing to China.

Since the Vise-Grip layoff, Badman has worked two other manufacturing jobs in the region, but both also ended in layoffs. At the same time, Badman's 401(k) retirement account lost 40 percent of its value. Having experienced three layoffs in four years, Badman says, "If you have any kind of savings you tend to use those up … and you get to the point where you don't have anything anymore. And that's kind of a scary feeling."

Badman illustrates a trend in rural America. Manufacturing has been a big part of the rural economy, bigger than agriculture, but plants began downsizing and shutting down long before the current economic recession. Now it's getting worse, says Ernie Goss, an economist at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.

"Small manufacturers have really been hit hard by this economic downturn," Goss says. "They have done some outsourcing [and] moved to other countries. That's really affecting rural areas."

Hard To Find Other Jobs

Rural factory workers like Badman don't have many other options because the manufacturing slowdown is widespread and there are fewer employers in rural areas to begin with. That's been Badman's experience as he searches for work.

"Right now, the job market, especially in manufacturing, is extremely difficult to find another job," he says.

That has forced him and his wife, Marge, to rethink their retirement plans.

"It changed them, obviously," Badman says. "Some of the plans you have for retiring, you just have to set them aside because right now, everything is up in the air."

Badman had hoped to retire in from two to five years, but now he needs to work longer just to get to retirement — and to make sure his retirement funds last.

Worries About An Exodus From Rural Villages

The competition for jobs increases as economically stressed retirees return to the work force and older workers like Badman put off retirement.

Driving long distances to work is one option. Badman has already commuted 100 miles a day and is willing to do it again. Long commutes are common in rural places.

Moving to find work is another option. The Badmans resist that because they've spent their entire lives in DeWitt and are active in the community. Randy chairs the DeWitt Village Board. He's the equivalent of the mayor, and he and other officials are concerned about a tax and brain drain on the village if he and others close to retirement are forced to leave.

That's already a major problem in many small towns, notes economist Goss.

"The burden of the infrastructure costs is spread among fewer and fewer individuals and fewer and fewer families," Goss says. "If every one of those retirees could take a chunk of the infrastructure with them, [which] would not have to be paid for by those who remain, you'd be OK. But, you've got schools, the sheriffs' departments, the county court clerk. All these are affected by this. It's not a small thing."

Rural hospitals and other medical services could be affected by an exodus of the nearly retired, as they take their insurance and Medicare payments with them.

Frustrations Over Wooing Another Employer

Badman is part of an effort to find another company to move into the Vise-Grip plant. But he is competing with hundreds of other rural communities at a time when fewer companies are expanding or moving.

"Right now, it's a difficult time with the economy," Badman says. "All companies are cutting back."

Economist Goss says he expects that to improve, "but it's hard to tell a person who's over 50 years of age, 'Well, just hang on for another 5 to 10 years. It'll get better.' "

In the midst of the frustrating job hunt, and the frustrating efforts to find another big employer in DeWitt, Badman seeks solace on his back porch, where he is replacing a deck. Drilling screws into new planks helps relieve the stress of a life plan gone awry.

"Timing in life is everything, isn't it?" Badman asks.

"Sometimes you have good timing and sometimes you have my timing," he adds with a hearty, but wry laugh. "And, right now, my timing's not so good."

-excerpt from NPR

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Medical Bills Blamed On More Personal Bankruptcies

More and more Americans are going bankrupt because of medical bills. A study paid for by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that medical bills were involved in more than 60 percent of personal bankruptcies in 2007.

-excerpt from NPR

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chile Police Find Suitcases Made Of Cocaine

Police say two suitcases carried by a woman who was about to fly from Chile to Spain were made of cocaine. The Associated Press reports the suitcases were made of a substance combining cocaine with resin and glass fiber. A "chemical process" could be used to separate out the drug.

-excerpt from NPR

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Door Opens ... To Pie, Coffee And Possibility

There's a new cafe in Ellsworth, Mich., that's helping the town hang on, if only by a thread — The Front Porch cafe. It's a nonprofit business, staffed only by volunteers, but it has brought some light to the darkening downtown.

The intersection of Main and Center streets constitutes downtown Ellsworth. In the past year, the 500 or so residents have lost the diner, grocery and deli, and bait shop, and that's where folks used to count on a cup of coffee.

With unemployment in the county around 16 percent, there's not a lot of extra cash to spend, but Bob Felton of the local Christian Reform Church recognized that neighbors needed a place to gather over coffee and a cheap meal.

"We have a joke at church — if you want to get people together, bring food," Felton recalls. "And early on as we presented the vision to the people, there were some who said, 'I would never start a restaurant anytime, let alone in this kind of an economic climate.' From our perspective that was the perfect time to do it."

It seems he was right. These days you can find half the town sitting down for a nonprofit, nondenominational meal. Some are there for the $5 breakfasts, and others for pie: coconut, peanut butter, chocolate cream and lemon meringue.

And it's not just The Front Porch that seems to benefit. Bob Vollmer volunteers at the cafe on Thursdays and owns the used car lot across the street. He says the cafe has attracted visitors from all over Michigan.

"Two people from Charlevoix came over and had breakfast here; none of them had intended to buy a car that day. Wasn't the reason to come to Ellsworth, but by the end of the day they had come back — each of them bought a car."

Slices of pie and two used car sales may not turn the economy of Ellsworth around, but they have brought hope and life to downtown.

As the undertaker John Hastings, who also volunteers at the cafe, points out, "When this place is closed, you could shoot a cannon down the street."

The church-sponsored cafe is open every day except Sundays.

-excerpt from NPR

Monday, June 1, 2009

Italy's Berlusconi Fights Smear Campaign

Enveloped in a growing scandal over the nature of his relationship with a teenager, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi believes he is the target of a smear campaign by the leftist opposition. He has gone on the offensive against both opposition media and the foreign media.

Berlusconi's latest move was blocking publication of hundreds of photos taken of his guests at La Dolce Vita-style parties at his Sardinian villa. The photos allegedly include young topless women and a top-ranking European politician in the nude.

The scandal erupted a month ago when Berlusconi went to the 18th-birthday party of aspiring starlet Noemi Letizia in Naples, where he gave her a diamond and gold necklace worth many thousands of dollars. Berlusconi's wife, Veronica Lario, then filed for divorce, saying she could "no longer remain with a man who frequents minors."

She spoke of her husband's fondness for young women, who, she said, "offer themselves like young virgins to the dragon to pursue fame and fortune."

Berlusconi first said he was an acquaintance of Letizia's parents — a claim contradicted by her former boyfriend Gino Flaminio. He told the left-leaning daily La Repubblica that Berlusconi first called his former girlfriend directly last November after chancing upon her modeling photos. Flaminio even listened in to some of the calls. He said Berlusconi invited the underage girl and her girlfriend to spend New Year's vacation at his villa together with dozens of other young women.

Berlusconi's wife also had criticized her husband for putting young starlets and showgirls on his party slate for Parliament — calling it political trash. Alexander Stille, author of a book on Berlusconi's political and media control, says the prime minister has concentrated power in his own hands, also thanks to a new electoral law that allows party leaders to pick candidates.

"What that meant is that the favorites of the king are the people who get into Parliament," Stille says. "So you see this profusion of beautiful girls, fashion models, TV stars and showgirls in Parliament."

Stille says they're just ornaments — meaning Parliament's function of checking the executive has been weakened.

Berlusconi also controls a large chunk of the Italian media — directly through ownership and indirectly through his large advertising agency and his political power.

With the exception of La Repubblica and a few other outlets, Italian journalists have treated the scandal with kid gloves.

Not so elsewhere. The European media have been relentless in their coverage. And an editorial in the Financial Times said Berlusconi is "no Fascist, but a danger, in the first place to Italy, and a malign example to all."

The prime minister retorted with a quip: "Mussolini had squadrons of black shirts. According to the foreign media — which are in the service of the Italian left — I have squadrons of showgirls. Thank god for that; they're much better."

But it's clear the prime minister is worried about his image abroad and has gone on the offensive. He charged that publications such as the Financial Times, The Economist and The Times of London are part of a plot orchestrated by the left.

Some of the prime minister's closest aides have gone even further — hinting at the alleged existence of a campaign hatched in Washington against an Italian leader who was very close to former President George W. Bush.

-excerpt from npr