Tesla Motors, the American maker of luxury electric cars, has been riding a wave of good publicity.
Its Model S sedan (base priced at $62,400, after federal tax credits) was just named Motor Trend Car of the Year. Reviewers at Consumer Reports gave the lithium-ion battery powered vehicle a rave.
And the company, headed by billionaire innovator Elon Musk, 41, posted a profit for the first time in its 10-year history — powered in part by zero-emission environmental credits.
But Tesla also finds itself, and its business model, under sustained attack by a formidable foe: the National Automobile Dealers Association, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington with a strong network of state chapters.
The dealers say they have no quibble with the quality and allure of Tesla's products. What they object to is the Palo Alto-based manufacturer's efforts to sell the electric car directly to consumers rather than through independently owned dealer franchises.
Tesla's model is often compared to the one used by consumer electronics giant Apple.
"We want to cut out the middleman," says Diarmuid O'Connell, vice president for business development at Tesla. "We're a bad fit for the dealer system."
The dealers' response?
"Buying an iPad is not buying a car," says David Hyatt of the national association, which, along with member chapters, has taken their franchise fight to the courts and to state legislatures across the nation.
It's a battle between a deep-pocketed interest group, which last year contributed more than $3.2 million to candidates, and a fearless entrepreneur.
And it's just heating up.
Battles Emerge State By State
A bill being considered in North Carolina, where there are currently 80 Teslas on the road and another 60 expected, would prevent the company from selling vehicles online. In Virginia, the state denied the company a dealer license to open a store.
Texas lawmakers are expected to ignore an effort by Tesla to gain an exception to strict franchise laws that prohibit factory-owned dealerships. Last year, there were only 43 registered Teslas in the state.
In both Massachusetts and New York, legal efforts by franchise dealers to block Tesla's efforts were rejected — including attempts to shut down three Tesla stores and two service centers in New York.
Wrote New York Supreme Court Justice Raymond J. Elliott III: "Dealers cannot utilize the Franchised Dealer Act as a means to sue their competitors."
An effort in Minnesota to rewrite franchise law to prevent vehicle manufacturers from operating a dealership died in the Legislature.
But these are expected to be the early rounds.
The franchise fight in Massachusetts has moved to the Legislature. Minnesota dealers plan to submit new legislation next year. And there are also private battles about which O'Connell declined to elaborate.
"We don't underestimate the dealers," he said. "The franchise dealer system was, at its inception, set up to protect the dealers from manufacturers coming in and competing with them."
Tesla, which paid off early a $465 million low-interest government loan it received in 2009, insists that it presents little competition to the dealers. O'Connell characterizes the 10,000 to 15,000 cars it will sell this year domestically a "rounding error" for the big guys.
"This is absurd on its face," he said.
The company currently has 37 stores and galleries worldwide, 27 of them in the U.S., says Tesla spokeswoman Shanna Hendriks. It plans to open about 15 more locations this year with about half the openings in Europe and Asia.
It also has 24 service centers in the U.S. and 41 worldwide. Hendriks says the company plans to add approximately 30 service locations worldwide in 2013 - about half in the U.S.
Tesla argues that its electric product would get lost on a combustion engine lot; that its service needs are low and different than those at traditional franchises; its employees specifically trained and immersed in the car's technology; and its one-price, no-haggle policy anathema to the franchisee legacy.
"Ultimately," O'Connell says, "our ambition is to build a great car company, and our mission is to catalyze a mass market for electric vehicles."
"Why is it the [dealer franchise] market needs to be protected in this absolutist fashion?" he says. "There's a future out there where we might sell our product through a franchise dealer, but we're not there yet."
The Dealers Choice
Road & Track magazine describes the advent of the franchise system of independently owned and operated auto dealers as a way to enable "early automakers to get paid as soon as they shipped vehicles to the dealer."
The system long worked well, with dealers selling at a markup that brought healthy profits, according to the magazine, and the birth of muscular state laws preventing manufacturers from directly competing with the dealers.
And though the nature of the nation's economy has changed dramatically (why can't consumers buy cars online like everything else, Tesla asks), the dealers are holding tight to a structure as American as apple pie and essential to the health of communities.
"If manufacturers control dealership networks, there won't be dealerships in small towns — they'd just be where the big box stores are," says Bill Wolters, longtime head of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association. "Every year, there are bills that would weaken the franchise laws." Tesla's effort to change a state statute that prohibits manufacturers of new motor vehicles from operating a dealership, he says, is just the latest.
But perhaps the most persistent.
Both sides are not underestimating the determination of the other to prevail.
"I sat down in Palo Alto with Elon Musk, hat in hand, and said we want to partner with you, you can have it exactly as you want it — 'Tesla of Austin,' " said Wolters of the Texas dealers association. "You can do it just as you want to, within our law, you just can't own the showroom."
Musk, Wolters recalled, didn't cotton to the suggestion, leaving the room quickly, but not before pledging to spend an inordinate amount of money to battle automobile franchise laws.
Wolters noted, however, that he was taken for a nice drive in one of Musk's Teslas before heading back to Texas.
"He's just determined to do it his own way," Wolters says.
For our series on the Changing Lives of Women, we're asking NPR women about their careers — and inviting you to join the conversation. This question goes to NPR's Rachel Martin, the host of Weekend Edition Sunday, who was a longtime foreign correspondent in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Question: When did you stand up to speak out?
Rachel Martin: Journalism can be a tough business to stand out in; one of the most effective ways to do this is to go to the place that no one wants to go and cover the story that's not being covered. I went to Afghanistan as a freelance reporter in the summer of 2003. I went for two months, filed a few feature stories — nothing groundbreaking, but my intention was to just get the lay of the land and figure out if this was actually a place I could return to for a more extended period to report. After finishing graduate school the following year, I went back to Afghanistan for four months to cover the first presidential election that would bring Hamid Karzai into power.
It was a heady time to be a Western journalist in that country. The U.S. had invaded Iraq a few months earlier and the crush of foreign news outlets had moved their operations from Kabul to Baghdad. The people who stayed behind were a small, ragtag group of stringers for various international news outlets. Even though most of the media's attention was fixed on the war in Iraq, there was still plenty of news to go around in Afghanistan and not many people covering it.
And in those early years after the U.S. invasion, Afghanistan was a different kind of place. There was optimism. There was hope about a different kind of future for the country. This was before suicide bombs and IEDs became signature features of this long war. I wouldn't call it safe, but other Western reporters and I would often walk around Kabul's downtown neighborhoods, buy basic supplies at the corner stores, even do some shopping at the main bazaar. And we traveled. My Afghan colleague and I traveled whenever we could - Jalalabad, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif.
As a woman, and a Western woman at that, I obviously drew attention when I was out and about in Kabul, and I didn't linger in public spaces. But any tension I felt had less to do with the security situation after the U.S. invasion and more to do with being a woman in Afghanistan. I always covered my head with some kind of hijab when I was in public, or when interviewing Afghans, and I wore the kind of loose-fitting clothes that Afghan women usually wore under their burqas. But I did not wear a burqa — for several reasons. First, I truly did see it as a symbol of the profound oppression Afghan women had suffered under a brutal regime. I would cover my head out of respect for the culture I was working in, but that's where I drew the line.
Once in 2004, my translator Barry and I took a road trip to Mazar-e-Sharif in the north. We had heard of some Taliban activity along the Salang Pass, a mountain overpass that connects Kabul to the northern part of the country. Some kind of roadblock had been set up at the entrance to the pass. We couldn't tell if they were part of the newly formed Afghan national police or some rogue Taliban element. But they were stopping every car and checking IDs. We had a burqa in the car for an emergency, and I asked Barry if I should put it on and just stay mute. He said, "No. If you get caught, they will think you are a spy and it will end badly." Instead, I covered my head tightly with my scarf and averted my eyes when the man carrying the Kalashnikov rifle peered in the window and asked in Farsi for my nationality. "Canadian," my friend responded. He waved us past. It was one of several times in Afghanistan when, strangely enough, I felt like my gender was to my advantage. Because women in Afghanistan were second-class citizens, forbidden to go to school in Taliban times, unable to work outside the home — or even walk outside without a male relative — any woman, even a Western one, was also just kind of ... ignored. As a reporter, it worked to my benefit.
After years of oppressive Taliban rule Afghans wanted to talk. As a woman, I was able to go into Afghan homes and have long conversations with Afghan women — something my male counterparts just couldn't do. I was allowed to sit in on tribal shuras — gatherings of Afghan tribal leaders, mostly because they just didn't see me as a threat. Doors were open everywhere. I interviewed all the major presidential candidates, former mujahideen fighters, the notorious Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, and the former president of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani (who was killed in a suicide bomb attack on his home in 2011).
None of these men would shake my hand. Sometimes they wouldn't even look me in the eye. But I didn't need them to — I just needed them to talk.
The opening sequence of J.J. Abram's new entry in the Star Trek universe has all the ingredients of the classic franchise.
There's Kirk and his crew bellowing on the bridge, everyone worrying about the prime directive and our favorite Vulcan trapped in a volcano.
OK, I'm in. I may not be a fanboy anymore, but I sure was in my youth, and having these guys in their youths again is just as cool at the outset as it was last time.
Chris Pine's baby-Shatner is spitting his lines while Zachary Quinto channels his inner Nimoy. We know these characters even if the reboot resulted in some weirdness. Spock and Uhura romantically involved, for instance. Even Kirk seems perplexed by that one.
Just as TV's original Trek boldly went where '60s civics classes had gone before, Star Trek: Into Darkness, tackles issues with a contemporary ring. There's a suicide bombing, drones and some chatter about genetic engineering.
All of it is debated by Kirk's man of action, Spock's man of thought and a villain who's a little of each. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a consummate warrior who surrenders to Kirk when he clearly doesn't have to.
Director Abrams is working with a script that touches just about every touchstone from the original series you could imagine, which means I can't talk about much of anything without spoiling the fun.
Happily, there's a good deal of fun if you like things crashing violently into each other and out of warp-drive at regular intervals.
At one point, while a character urgently aligned what looked like giant sparkplugs, as if the drifting Enterprise were a stalled Buick, I found myself thinking that the film seemed aimed pretty precisely at the mindset of a 16-year-old boy. There is lot of stuff blowing up, strong feelings nobody quite knows what to do with, rule-breaking is a turn-on, and girls are largely eye candy and confounding.
All of this is tied to a plot that's almost entirely concerned with getting from one cliffhanger to the next, which is exciting, but never left me feeling terribly engaged, to borrow a term from a later generation's commander.
This team of filmmakers knows how to make the sparks fly and how to mix the sparks with feeling, but it doesn't bother making the sparks and feeling matter very much.
Does that matter very much? Probably not, if you're just looking to trek, with a bucket of popcorn, into some multiplex darkness.
More than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer's disease, and the National Institute on Aging estimates that that number is going to triple by 2050 — in part due to aging baby boomers.
The cost of coping with the disease — currently estimated at $215 billion — is projected to rise to half a trillion dollars by 2050. That amount will likely tax our overburdened health care system, the economy and the families of those affected.
Amy Goyer realized her 84-year-old father Robert's health was deteriorating one night while watching a movie with him.
"He asked me the name of the movie like 20 times within a half-hour, and I thought, 'This is not normal for him,' " Goyer tells NPR's Jacki Lyden.
It wasn't normal; it was Alzheimer's. As her father's condition worsened, Goyer made the decision to return home to Phoenix to take care of him.
"As time progressed, he was having trouble managing the finances; the paperwork was overwhelming," she says. "He would get incredibly stressed out ... [and] little things about his memory kept getting worse and worse."
Goyer is no stranger to caregiving; she's worked at AARP for 19 years giving advice as a home and family expert. When she first began taking care of her dad, she decided to start a blog, which then turned into a web video series.
In the series, Goyer offers advice to caregivers like herself, who are struggling to take care of their loved ones.
"It's very challenging, and there are times I get very exhausted," she says. "And I just feel like the biggest enemy of caregivers is sleep deprivation because you just do not have the energy to deal with the emotional aspects of it and ... just doing, doing, doing."
Because her mother is at home, too, recovering from a stroke, Goyer often has to help both parents get up in the morning and go to the bathroom, do all of their personal grooming and put on their pajamas at night. She also must make sure they have all their medications throughout the day.
Goyer does have some help, but caring for someone with Alzheimer's can be staggering. She says one of the most difficult aspects of the disease is what's been described as "the long goodbye."
"Over time, it's like he's being robbed of who he is," she says. "And my dad is probably the most optimistic person you'd ever know, and he still has that, which is wonderful for us. But there are times when he gets very cranky because he doesn't know what's going on."
Given her family history of Alzheimer's — her grandmother had it as well — Goyer says she fears getting the disease herself.
"I think about it all the time, but it's hard when I'm focusing on caring for my parents to think about that for myself," she says. "All I can do is anything that will prevent the onset of the disease. But I sure would like to have a lot more tools in my toolkit to fight it."
A Search For Answers
Alzheimer's is a disease that can last a really long time and cost a lot of money — so much money, in fact, that the U.S. government is paying attention with new legislation.
In 2011, Obama signed the National Alzheimer's Project Act into law. Currently, about $500 million per year goes to Alzheimer's research, and the new law includes an additional $100 million toward treatment, research, medicine and diagnostic tools.
Dr. Dorene Rentz, a neuropsychologist and co-director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Alzheimer's Research and Treatment, has been studying Alzheimer's patients for three decades. In 2005, the breakthrough was the discovery of something called amyloid plaque in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's. Not all people with the plaque go on to develop the disease, however.
"Unfortunately, we've come to discover that many older individuals who are still normal have these changes of amyloid plaque," Rentz tells Lyden.
She says doctors believe an abundance of what's called fibular amyloid may trigger Alzheimer's, but that's not always the case. Some people can walk around with a "head full of fibular amyloid," she says, and live normal lives.
In patients already diagnosed with Alzheimer's, even if amyloid plaque is removed, the neurons may be too damaged for memory loss to be reversed. If diagnosed earlier, there might be some hope.
Rentz and a colleague at Harvard are launching a nationwide clinical trial this fall to see what happens in the brains of people who have amyloid plaque, but not Alzheimer's. The object of the study is to see if doctors can remove the amyloid and prevent them from getting symptoms of Alzheimer's.
Living With Alzheimer's
In 40 years, there will be 13.8 million people in the U.S. alone living with Alzheimer's.
Over her 30-year career working with the disease, Rentz says, people she had diagnosed with Alzheimer's were devastated because there wasn't much that could be done. Things have changed, however, as technology and awareness has improved.
"People are more educated and many people are coming earlier to get tested because they are experiencing memory loss," she says.
Even when a patient's clinical profile indicates early signs of a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer's, Rentz says, she gives them hope because there are things that can be done.
"Because they're not yet fully devastated in this disease, we can actually give them some FDA-approved medications that are good in keeping people stable for a while," she says.
Rentz says she also encourages a healthy diet and intellectual stimulation, what's called "optimal aging." She says this helps people with early signs of Alzheimer's — who often tend to withdraw — to stay engaged and active.
Goyer won't let her parents withdraw. She's providing a happy, nurturing environment, getting her parents as engaged as possible and having fun.
"I'm not just trying to keep my parents alive; I'm trying to have a good life with them and live my life at the same time," she says. "There's still a lot of fun and a lot of surprises and just a lot of love. My parents are just very sweet individuals and I'm very lucky in that way."
There might not be a cure for Alzheimer's, but that doesn't mean there isn't hope.
On the eve of a re-vote, a prominent Pakistani politician was shot and killed on Saturday.
Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reports that Zahra Shahid Hussain, who was the senior vice-president of Pakistan's Movement for Justice (PTI), was shot in the head during "an attempted robbery incident."
"According to police," Dawn reports, "robbers tried to steal Hussain's hand bag and opened gun fire upon resistance by the PTI leader outside her residence in Defence Housing Authority Phase-4."
Imran Khan, the celebrated former cricket player and the chairman of the PTI, blamed Hussain's death on Altaf Hussain, the leader of the rival MQM party.
"I hold Altaf Hussain directly responsible for the murder as he had openly threatened PTI workers and leaders through public broadcasts," Khan said in a tweet. He continued: "Zara Apa's murder has further strengthened PTI's resolve to stand up against criminals and terrorists!"
"Shortly after the incident, the MQM chief issued a statement of his own where he condemned the murder and demanded that the government immediately arrest the culprits and accord them the most severe punishment as per law.
"Imran said Zara apa, as she was known to all within the party, was an old and senior Party leader who was a mentor to the PTI youth and a committed ideological leader of the Party.
"'I am totally shocked and deeply saddened and still cannot believe anyone would kill such a gentle lady.'"
Pakistan had ordered a re-vote in 30 Karachi polling stations after reports of irregularities. The PTI party was among those complaining of voting irregularities.
As NPR's Julie McCarthy has reported, Hussain's PTI party has become a "third force in Pakistani politics."