National News

Daylight Savings, a thing that exists for no discernable reason

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 07:56

Even though it's nice to have the sun out later in the day, there's not much evidence that Daylight Savings Time actually cuts down on electricity use.

Via Quartz:

"Another bit of research zeroed in on a natural experiment built around the US state of Indiana, which until 2006 had a patchwork approach to daylight saving time in which some counties participated and others didn’t. The researchers looked at electricity demand for counties that didn’t have daylight saving time for 30 years, and then started in 2006. The results?

We find that the overall DST effect on electricity consumption runs counter to conventional wisdom: DST results in a 1-percent overall increase in residential electricity demand, and the effect is highly statistically significant."

But still, it being darker early is kinda depressing.

Is it time for the Apple Watch?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 07:56

Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage March 9 in the company’s live-streamed ‘Spring Forward’ event in San Francisco, to show off new products and unveil updates of existing products.

Cook announced an exclusive partnership between Apple TV and HBO – just in time for the new season of ‘Game of Thrones.’ He also touted a slimmer, meaner Macbook. But it was the eagerly awaited Apple Watch that was the star of the show. In stores in April, the device will show text messages and emails, help users track fitness and health, and allow watch-to-watch communication. The watch goes on sale (preorder, and to try in stores) on April 10. The basic aluminum Apple Watch Sport is priced from $349 (38 mm version) to $399 (42mm). A steel version ranges from $549-$1,099. The gold Apple Watch Edition starts at $10,000.

Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Apple is widely credited with shaking up traditional brick-and-mortar retail in America with its sleek, cutting-edge stores. Many are in prime downtown locations -- sparkling, airy glass cubes with soaring ceilings and a fluid open-plan inside. Salespeople greet customers at the entrance and wander the floor conducting transactions and providing technical assistance. There is no fixed spatial hierarchy for locating cash registers, customer service, and inventory for sale.

But it’s not a retail style or layout that necessarily lends itself to showcasing and selling fashion accessories like watches — even if they sport all the mobile technology Apple has to offer.

“Watch stores are very luxurious places,” says Ian Sherr, executive editor at CNET News. He says Apple faces a challenge: “If you’re going to sell a watch for $10,000, how are you going to attract that kind of customer into your store?” 

Typically, Apple stores only carry a few devices and models—with a few size and case-color-variations. Customers spend their time test-driving the technology, trying out apps and features, discussing memory and screen-size and processing speed with salespeople. But for watch sales, says Sherr, “people will want to try different watch bands, different sizes, so that’s going to change how the retail experience works.”

Apple is entering a market that’s struggling. Smart-watches from competitors including Pebble, LG, and Samsung haven’t been huge sellers so far. Analyst James McQuivey at Forrester Research believes Apple will have an edge with consumers, though, and could drive widespread adoption of the small wearable mobile devices. “You really aren’t going to believe a fashion piece for thousands of dollars from some of these other watch makers, the way you will from Apple,” says McQuivey. He believes Apple’s long history of design innovation — in both physical devices, and the user-interface — could encourage consumers to at least try an Apple Watch.

McQuivey doesn’t think Apple will try to compete for traditional luxury consumers and watch connoiseurs, even with its new $10,000-plus gold offering. “That Rolex buyer wants to go into a dealer, they want to have a personal conversation over a cherrywood desk,” says McQuivey. “What Apple is going to do is steal the next Rolex buyer, the one that’s 27 or 33 today.” That's a consumer who is likely already comfortable with Apple’s retail style and stores.

Sherr and McQuivey agree that Apple-store layouts and displays will likely be revamped to showcase the new smart-watches as fashion accessories. Apple recently hired the former CEO of luxury brand Burberry,  Angela Ahrendts, to run its brick-and-mortar and online stores; analysts believe one reason for bringing Ahrendts on was to get ready to promote and sell the Apple Watch. James McQuivey predicts store employees will be encouraged to adopt a new script, and to temper their characteristic low-key straight-talking advice-giving: “They’ll get those Apple in-store salespeople to say ‘Well, while you’re here, just try this on. Oh, it looks great on you.’”

The 'good news, bad news' behind stock buybacks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 07:56

General Motors has about $25 billion in cash, and on Monday, it announced it’ll send $5 billion of that to shareholders by buying back stocks; it’ll send another $5 billion back to investors by paying out more in dividends. 

Why? 

Well, it’s got to do something with extra cash. Some investors argue: Why not give it to us?

“Companies have been hoarding cash ever since the financial crisis, and one main reason for this is companies are spooked,” says Damien Park, managing partner of Hedge Fund Solutions. “As a result, there is more cash on corporate balance sheets today than ever before.” 

Large piles of cash tend to invite some investors to complain — loudly.  They might say they aren’t getting enough return on their investment, or that the company’s not spending wisely. In General Motors’ case, one hedge fund backed investor Harry J. Wilson, who was preparing to acquire a seat on GM’s board of directors to push his agenda for returning cash to shareholders.   

“One of the ways the company responds to this,” says Steven Davidoff Solomon, professor of law at UC Berkeley School of Law, “is to say, 'Look, we’re trying to help our shareholders, we’ll give them back some cash.'” 

In a nutshell: Please shut up and here’s some money.

The stock buyback has several advantages. It reduces the number of shares floating around, and so each remaining share becomes more valuable in principal. 

“Buybacks boost earnings per share and so ... you can get a better stock price,” says Hedge Fund Solutions’ Damien Park.  

Returning money to shareholders via buybacks is often preferred over dividends. Dividends are taxed twice, once as income for the company, and again as income for the individual receiving the dividend. Moreover, once a company commits to boosting dividends, if there is ever a time in the future when the company wants to return dividends to previous levels, investors will view it very negatively.

The downside of using cash to buy back stocks is ... you’re using cash to buy back stocks.  

“The other angle on this is that companies could be doing other things with the cash,” says Ed Clissold, U.S. Market Strategist at Ned Davis Research. Like saving it for the next economic crisis or spending it to grow the company, “...expanding their plants, hiring more workers, paying them more and filtering it through to the economy.”

In a sluggish economy firms may not see growth as possible. Thus buybacks are a vote, says Clissold, that a company doesn’t see many opportunities out there to invest in. 

Drawing the line between contributions and bribes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 07:56

Members of Congress give campaign donors special access, at least according to what Berkeley Ph.D. student Josh Kalla found in a 2013 study (pdf).

“We went into the study trying to see, does money lead to unequal political outcomes?” Kalla says.

Kalla sent emails to almost 200 members of Congress, from real constituents, requesting a meeting. Half were identified as donors, and they were much more likely to get a meeting.

“Yeah, it was about a three-fold increase, I believe,” he says.

Next, Kalla wants to study whether political contributions actually influence legislation. When it comes to a bribery investigation, a number of factors are considered.

“I think timing can be a factor,” says Richard Briffault, a professor of legislation at Columbia Law School.

As in, did a member of Congress get a political donation right before or after voting on a bill? Was there a quid pro quo?

“There have been undercover deals, outright handshakes," Briffault says."Sometimes it’s provable, but in other situations it’s a lot grayer.”

Donors know how to exploit the gray areas. Larry Noble, now senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, once worked as a private attorney advising clients on how to make legal political donations.

“When you’re making a political contribution, never discuss an issue," he says. "What that means as a practical matter is the contribution is made, and then the lobbying takes place the next day.”

Then, according to Noble, the lobbyist can simply say the conversation was an exercise of free speech.

For Young People In Rural Areas, Suicide Poses A Growing Threat

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-09 07:26

Young men are twice as likely to die by suicide if they live in rural areas rather than cities, and that disparity is widening. Lack of mental health services is a factor; access to firearms is, too.

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Proper Sanitary Pads Are Keeping Girls In School

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-09 07:16

Teenagers in a Ugandan village would skip school every month because they didn't have sanitary pads. A new project called AFRIpads is starting to solve that problem.

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Supreme Court Revives Notre Dame's Appeal In Contraception Case

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-09 06:38

Last February, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago backed a lower court's ruling that dismissed Notre Dame's challenge. That decision was vacated Monday.

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Oklahoma Fraternity Is Closed Over Video Of Racist Chant

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-09 05:53

The video reportedly captured a scene while the fraternity members and others, all in formal wear, were on a chartered bus.

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The Teacher Who Believes Math Equals Love

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-09 05:34

NPR Ed is celebrating 50 Great Teachers. Today: The story of a young algebra teacher in Oklahoma oil country, who's taken an unorthodox approach to classroom math.

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Anti-Smog Film Is Pulled In China; Protesters Reportedly Detained

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-09 04:54

A human rights group says police in China detained two people for protesting the government's approach to smog. A popular film about the same topic was recently removed from major websites.

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Boston Marathon Bombing Trial Enters Second Week

NPR News - Mon, 2015-03-09 03:38

Those testifying have included the father of Martin Richard, 8, who died in the attack. More survivors will tell their stories Monday.

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PODCAST: A six year bull market

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 03:00

The bull market turns six. Low interest rates as engineered by the Federal Reserve, economic recovery, and yes, innovation itself has fueled, as of today, a six year-long bull runs for the stock market. More on that. Plus, a look at what happens when you let robots make content choices. Proctor and Gamble and Anheuser-Busch are in damage control mode after their automated advertisements appeared to be sponsoring Youtube videos from ISIS. And more on today's job seekers, especially college students getting set to jump into the market with both feet.

Disputing bad credit is about to get a whole lot easier

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 02:00

The nation’s three biggest credit reporting companies—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—are changing the way they collect and report the credit scores.

The changes involves the way bureaus handle credit-rating disputes, as well as how they report unpaid medical bills.

The settlement with New York State’s attorney general, comes amid claims that credit errors were costing Americans millions in increased premiums.

The big three credit agencies handle the credit scores of more than 200 million Americans.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, all credit error claims are entitled to a “reasonable investigation.”

In practice however, that wasn’t happening. Chi Chi Wu is a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. She says the bureaus will now be required to investigate every error claim independently.

"Not just rely on what the creditor or debt collector says, but actually examine the dispute independently to determine if it’s the creditor that's right or the consumer that's right," says Wu.

The settlement will also implement a mandatory 180-day waiting period for reporting health-care related debt, which is increasingly common.

"A lot of times when someone gets a bill, there's going to be a dispute, especially given how insure companies are creating more and more complex plans with respect to co-insurance, copays, deductibles, etc." says University of Maryland Law Professor Frank Pasquale.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, roughly half of all credit rating disputes involve unpaid medical bills.

Many of the changes detailed in the settlement will be implemented in over the next six to 39 months.

SXSW by the numbers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 02:00

This week, Marketplace heads down South to SXSW, the Austin-based conference and festival that spans film, music, and technology. We'll kick off our coverage with SXSWedu, a four day event looking at where innovation meets education. Then, it's on to SXSW Interactive, where some of the greatest minds in tech converge to talk about trends in the industry and to preview some of their newest wares. But before we get started on our breakfast tacos, here's a look at the numbers behind SXSW.

Click the media player above to hear more about SXSWedu and the future of the classroom.

SXSW by the numbers:

5 years old

This year, SXSWedu turns 5 years old. While just 800 people attended the first 'edu' conference and festival, last year's conference saw 5,933 participants from 35 different countries. Since 2012, attendance has tripled.

32,798

That's how many people attended the SXSW Interactive conference in 2014. Participants came from 82 different countries, and had 1,100 panels to choose from.

2,136,236

That's the total number of SXSW mentions on social media during the week of SXSW Interactive 2014 alone. Among the top trending topics were Edward Snowden, Lady Gaga, and the NSA.

60,450 room nights

2014 saw 13,990 individual hotel reservations in Austin by SXSW attendees. All told, that adds up to 60,450 room nights. And that doesn't even account for bookings on Airbnb, which the service claims reached 11,000 SXSW-related bookings.

$315.3 million

SXSW brings a lot of people, and therefore a lot of money, into Austin. By the festival's estimate, $315.3 million was pumped into the city's economy during last year's festival.

370

SXSW is more than just panels and expos ... it's also parties. Side parties, to be specific. And this year's festival has a lot of them: 370 side parties ranging from a pet adoption happy hour to a karaoke night for tech lovers.

2015 college graduates face best job market in years

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 02:00

The job market has been steadily improving over the past few years and is now better than it’s been since the Great Recession for young college-educated entrants into the workforce. This is evident in the internship- and job-search situation today’s college students face:

• Hiring of college graduates this year (2014-15) will be up by 16 percent over last year. The leading sectors are: information services (up 51 percent), finance and insurance (31 percent), business and scientific services (24 percent), government (24 percent), manufacturing (17 percent) and nonprofits (16 percent), according to a survey by Michigan State University.
• More than half of employers are offering signing bonuses for new college-graduate hires, the highest percentage in five years, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
• Engineering graduates will earn the highest average starting salary among all graduates in 2015, at $63,000 (petroleum engineers top out among engineering bachelor's degree recipients, at $80,600). The lowest-paid BA recipients, in humanities, will average $45,000 to start (NACE).

At a “Life After College” event for upperclassmen and their families at the University of Portland, alumni from the past decade were on stage sharing their experiences and advice. Many of them hit the job market in the Great Recession.

The alumni speakers told the soon-to-be-graduates in a packed auditorium that even as the job market improves, they will still need to keep ‘upping’ their game to succeed. Jessica Whittaker graduated in the early 2000s and has mapped out a successful career in communications and marketing at a leading sportswear company in Portland. She often sits down for information interviews with young alumni.

“That basic Times New Roman resume, it really doesn’t cut it anymore,” says Whitaker. “You really need an infographic resume, a full portfiolio, a website, and if you have one, a short video talking about who you are and what your brand statement is.”

Junior Elizabeth MacNamara is a business major, and she’s feeling reasonably confident about the job market. She’s lining up an internship for the summer at a major regional retailer. “My goal is to get into a job immediately that I’m really happy with,” MacNamara says, “and to be able to stay there and move throughout the company.”

It’s not very likely: average job tenure is declining in America, and today’s young people will likely switch jobs every three or four years on average, says Dan Finnigan at recruiting website Jobvite.

Working for multiple employers early in her career suits fellow business major Kelsea Orren, though: “I honestly think I’ll probably jump around. You usually start pretty low in a company, so building your resume and getting higher jobs in other companies is more what I’m looking for.”

Management professor Peter Cappelli, director of the Human Resources program at the Wharton School, says it's true that employers are working harder to find qualified employees than in the past seven or eight years. That’s a clear effect of the economy improving. But Cappelli says employers are not yet doubling down on salary or benefits to land and keep the best candidates. 

“It’s cheaper and smarter,” says Cappelli, “to spend your initial efforts with greater recruiting, before you start having to raise your pay or raise your perks.”

Cappelli says the labor market is still not tight like it was in the late 1990s when unemployment fell to 4 percent and no one who could work stayed on the sidelines. Today, he says, employers remain very selective in their hiring. Many will still hold out for the perfect candidate, even if it means leaving positions vacant for a while. He says employers want to find someone who already knows the job, has meaningful experience, and won’t need a lot of training before delivering to the bottom line. And, unless the job candidate is in one of a few high-demand professions—such as engineering or computer science—they had better be willing to take the salary that's offered.

Google’s new Googley Office

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 02:00

A Ringling Brothers circus on steroids. That’s how Will Oremus, a senior technology writer at Slate, describes Google’s recently unveiled blueprint for its new headquarters in Mountain View, California.

“The whole thing will just be as Googley as you might imagine,” says Oremus, who looked over the plans recently. By that he means a series of dome-like structures made of transparent glass, modular offices with roofs that can be moved, bike paths, creeks and plenty of greenery.

Fitness, of course, is a huge part of Google’s work culture, and that too finds a place in these plans. Oremus remembers seeing a schematic of a group of people practicing yoga. "They have the sweeping view of the bay,” he says. “It’s like they are on display to the entire world. Just showing how fit and healthy and really utopian Google employees’ lives are.”

The reason Google and other Silicon Valley companies invest so much in what their offices look or feel like, Oremus says, is they want this to be their employees’ “first home.”

“It’s just a way to try and wring as much productivity out of these employees as they can,” says Oremus. All these perks that come with the job are also selling points, he adds, given the current demand for engineers and developers in Silicon Valley.

But the city of Mountain View is not buying into Google’s “utopian” headquarters that easily. Community leaders have already expressed concerns over what this new development will do the suburban city.

“These cities have seen what happens with this tech boom and bust cycle,” says Oremus.

That is, when it goes bust, the city if left with built up office space, and a depressed economy. And, when things are going great, they have to deal with the rising property prices and the increased activity—including traffic—that a company this large would bring.

Oremus thinks the city of Mountain View won’t give up without getting some concession out of Google.

“I don't think you’ll end up seeing quite the utopian vision Google has come to reality in Mountain View,” he says.

Cybersecurity bill splits companies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 02:00

A new Senate cybersecurity bill would make it easier for companies to share information on cyberattacks with the federal government. 

“I think it has to be done in a way that does respect the privacy and trust of the users,” says Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Rotenberg is especially concerned because any customer information companies shared with the Department Of Homeland Security would also go to the NSA. 

“If I’m using Google search or Facebook I don’t think my information should be going to the NSA,” he says.

This is a big problem for tech companies like Google.

“For some companies that have a lot of internet users, it would be really hard to get behind this bill,” says Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

But other firms that don’t interact so directly with the public like the Senate bill. Among them? Defense contractor Lockheed Martin. It signed onto a letter sent to lawmakers last week, in support of the bill.

Ads shown before YouTube ISIS video

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 02:00

Procter & Gamble and Anheuser-Busch are in damage control mode after ads from those companies appeared before an ISIS video on YouTube.

YouTube has 300 hours of content uploaded to its site per minute. So the process that links ads to certain videos on the Google owned site is automated.  

“Google’s very good at figuring out what you’re interested in even if you don’t realize it,” says Andrew Stephen, who teaches marketing at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Except when it’s not, like in this instance. The algorithms YouTube uses are complicated, but basically they figure out who’s watching certain videos, and slap on ads for things these people might like. 

Ari Lightman, who teaches digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University says a company like P&G spends a lot of money cultivating this wholesome family-friendly image.

“And then to have it next to ISIS is just very contrary to what they’re trying to go after,” he says. But when you’re dealing with huge amounts of data, he says, these things are bound to happen.

SXSW by the numbers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-03-09 02:00

This week, Marketplace heads down South to SXSW, the Austin-based conference and festival that spans film, music, and technology. We'll kick off our coverage with SXSWedu, a four day event looking at where innovation meets education. Then, it's on to SXSW Interactive, where some of the greatest minds in tech converge to talk about trends in the industry and to preview some of their newest wares. But before we get started on our breakfast tacos, here's a look at the numbers behind SXSW.

SXSW by the numbers:

5 years old

This year, SXSWedu turns 5 years old. While just 800 people attended the first 'edu' conference and festival, last year's conference saw 5,933 participants from 35 different countries. Since 2012, attendance has tripled.

32,798

That's how many people attended the SXSW Interactive conference in 2014. Participants came from 82 different countries, and had 1,100 panels to choose from.

2,136,236

That's the total number of SXSW mentions on social media during the week of SXSW Interactive 2014 alone. Among the top trending topics were Edward Snowden, Lady Gaga, and the NSA.

60,450 room nights

2014 saw 13,990 individual hotel reservations in Austin by SXSW attendees. All told, that adds up to 60,450 room nights. And that doesn't even account for bookings on Airbnb, which the service claims reached 11,000 SXSW-related bookings.

$315.3 million

SXSW brings a lot of people, and therefore a lot of money, into Austin. By the festival's estimate, $315.3 million was pumped into the city's economy during last year's festival.

370

SXSW is more than just panels and expos ... it's also parties. Side parties, to be specific. And this year's festival has a lot of them: 370 side parties ranging from a pet adoption happy hour to a karaoke night for tech lovers.

As Apple Watch Launches, Taking Stock Of Competitors And Possibilities

NPR News - Sun, 2015-03-08 23:59

The tech titan's latest device/platform drops into a busy gadget niche that has a big gender gap among early adopters. Still, analysts are expecting more than 10 million sales in the first year.

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