Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, last Thursday. Reid has promised a vote no later than Jan. 7 on a measure to extend jobless benefits for three months.
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
And we begin this hour with a milestone of 2013, a remarkable feat with far-reaching implications both at home and abroad. According to the Energy Information Agency, the United States became the world's biggest producer of oil and natural gas. NPR's John Ydstie has more on the turnaround in America's energy fortunes.
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. Retailers are wrapping up a lackluster holiday season. Overall, sales were tepid, but growth exploded online, on mobile devices and with the sale of gift cards. NPR's Sonari Glinton has that story.
Though hackers did obtain "strongly encrypted PIN data" when they got into Target's information systems, the retailer said Friday that sensitive information from customers' debit cards should not be at risk.
You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea.
The holiday season will come to an abrupt end this weekend for people who have been unemployed for more than six months. Saturday, benefits expire for 1.3 million Americans who've been on the Federal Emergency Unemployment Benefit Program, which picks up where state systems usually end. That has people worried, people like Allison Gwyn(ph), a professional music teacher and actor in New York, who lost her job early in the summer.
Two decades after NAFTA created a giant North American free trade zone, the U.S. is negotiating more big trade deals that would span the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. President Obama has embraced the potential agreements as a way to improve the U.S. economy.
The recent data security breach at Target got us thinking about the plastic cards we use to pay for so many things. Just how safe are they really? And how can we protect ourselves from fraudulent charges?
To get some advice, our colleague, David Greene, called Chi Chi Wu of the National Consumer Law Center, which recently put out an advisory to consumers.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So every time we use a credit card or debit card when we're shopping are we opening ourselves up to some kind of risk?
Kevin Petrovic, 19, and his business partner, who's also 19, raised about $6 million from venture capitalists in Silicon Valley to launch FlightCar. The company is trying to make its mark with car-sharing for travelers.
Following the popularity of companies like Airbnb, which rent out a client's house or apartment to people visiting the area, more companies are trying the idea with cars. Companies like Uber help find someone to drive you around like a taxi. Another will let you rent out your car like a Zipcar while you're at work.
When it comes to health care, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act was supposed to be measured in the millions. That's how many people were expected to sign up for insurance to begin on Jan. 1.
But for both supporters and opponents of the law, there's one number that sticks out above all others. Six. That's how many people actually managed to enroll through the federal HealthCare.gov website the first day it opened, Oct. 1.
At the official rate, 1 U.S. dollar is worth 6.3 Venezuelan bolivars. But in a country with runaway inflation, the black market rate is about 60 bolivars to the dollar. This has made airfares extremely cheap for those using currency acquired on the black market.
Reporter John Otis was looking for a flight to Venezuela. That may sound like a simple task, but air travel to and from that Latin American country turns out to be extremely complicated these days. Here's his story.
A direct flight from my home in Bogotá, Colombia, to Caracas, Venezuela, takes about 90 minutes. But when I tried to buy a ticket recently, none were available. I was offered a flight with an overnight stop in Miami, but that would have cost $5,000.
Unlike the smoky, eardrum-damaging factories of yesterday, today's manufacturing is going high-tech. That can mean more robots and automated machines than workers. But companies like Machine Inc. in Stoughton, Mass., are still growing and hiring.
Credit Chris Arnold / NPR
Evelis Pacheco lost her job when a cardboard box manufacturer shut down. Now she says she's learning new skills and doing more interesting work at Machine Inc., making components for heart pumps used in surgery.
Credit Chris Arnold / NPR
Workers at Machine Inc. edit program code on a new $500,000 machine that will not just do the work of many people, but of several older machines. It will cut metal on five axes simultaneously, and to exact specifications within 50 millionths of an inch.
As the U.S. economy continues to recover, it has been getting some help from an unexpected place. After decades of massive job losses, manufacturing firms have been steadily creating jobs — many of them well-paying. One particularly bright spot is a new generation of high-tech manufacturers.
As the volume of online orders surged, some retailers and package delivery companies were unable to fulfill promises to deliver gifts by Christmas. UPS acknowledged it was overwhelmed by all the late traffic. In response to complaints, Amazon says it is offering gift cards and refunds for shipping charges.
Protesters demonstrate at a McDonald's in New York on Dec. 5. Protesters staged events in cities nationwide, demanding a pay raise to $15 per hour for fast-food workers and the right for them to unionize.
McDonald's has decided to shut down a website aimed at providing work and life advice to its employees after it was reported that it had urged workers not to eat the very fast food they are hired to produce.
The Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's said Thursday that information on its McResources Line site had been taken out of context thus generating "unwarranted scrutiny and inappropriate commentary," according to a McDonald's spokeswoman.
Just as last week's figures may been distorted by temporary factors related to the holiday season that made things look worse than they really are, the word Thursday that there's been a sharp drop in claims for unemployment insurance needs to be accompanied by the same sort of caveat.
"Amazon and UPS said Thursday they would offer refunds to customers who did not receive their Christmas orders on time, after a surge in last-minute online shopping caught the shipping giant off guard."
Now NPR's Zoe Chase, from our Planet Money Team, reminds us about one industry that played a big role in NAFTA's passage: men's underwear.
ZOE CHACE, BYLINE: Now you're used to the labels: made in Mexico, made in China, made in Bangladesh. But back in the '80s, when they were first talking about NAFTA, about half of American clothing was made in America, by people like this.
BERTHA MARR: Graduated from the eighth grade, then went straight on in to working at Fruit of the Loom.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, turns 20 next week. Hailed as a boon for regional trade, it had some undesirable effects. It hastened a trend away from small farmers, and speeded illegal immigration to the U.S.
Earnings are skyrocketing at drug stores — Walgreens alone saw its earnings grow nearly 70 percent in the last quarter. Drug stores no longer handle just prescriptions and selected sundries. Big chains now compete with grocery stores and sandwich shops. Consumers are also shopping there for holiday gifts.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, economic growth has been slowing this year. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed an ambitious plan to lure large-scale foreign investment. But details of his plan remain under wraps. Small businesses make up the vast majority of companies in the West Bank.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
NPR's Emily Harris has this profiles of one new one.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Before opening a cafe, Palestinian Tariq el-Ayyan worked on documentary films.
Southwest Airlines finished last in on-time arrivals in October — the last month for which statistics are available. According to the Department of Transportation, Southwest's on-time arrival rate was 78.8 percent. It was the second month in a row the airline came in at the back of the pack.
The underground passageway goes from the city of Shenzhen to Hong Kong. It's outfitted with concrete walls, interior lighting and rail tracks, presumably intended to transport goods. Chinese authorities believe a gang intended to use the tunnel to smuggle cell phones and other electronics to Hong Kong — which has lower tariffs than the mainland.