National News

After 3-Day Retreat, GOP Battle Plan Still Only An Outline

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:52

Consensus might be hard on the issues of the debt ceiling and immigration, where the Tea Party wing has little in common with Speaker John Boehner and his allies in the House leadership.

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Why women don't roar at work

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:39

Tammy M. has never asked for a raise at work.

“If they feel that they want to reward me, then that’s on them,” Tammy says. “I don’t feel it’s my place to say ‘Hey, I need more money, please.’ I don’t like to pat myself on the back. I feel like people will just appreciate what you do and if they don’t, it’s not really my job to point it out to them how ‘good’ I’ve done.”

Crystal M. has requested a raise before, but like Tammy, she’s uncomfortable calling attention to her achievements on the job: “I am not as confident as I think I should be when it comes to talking about my accomplishments at work.”

That raise?

“It’s actually been very slow going and it hasn’t actually occurred. It’s been about a year and a half long process through two bosses,” Crystal says.

If last year brought the era of the “lean-In” approach for professional women, it’s not reflected in the remarks of these two employees or in the behavior of many more women in the workplace.

Psychologist Jessi L. Smith of Montana State University has observed how hesitant her female colleagues can be to self-promote. When she polled her fellow faculty members about their accomplishments – anything from publishing a paper to planting a garden – to print in a staff newsletter, she received “exactly zero responses.”

Smith says there’s “just a real reluctance and discomfort to announce to the small world of Bozeman, Montana the accomplishments they had been so successful at securing over the last year.”

That experience started her thinking about gender norms and workplace culture. Behaviors – like aggressively promoting yourself to your co-workers and supervisors – are largely accepted when a man is displaying them. If a woman exercises her bragging rights, it can be seen as a negative trait that alienates others.

Career coach Peggy Klaus, author of “Brag: How To Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing It,” says she’s assisted countless women through their unease about talking themselves up over the years.

“I have seen a real shift in women who would come to me and say, ‘I can’t brag. It’s a sin. It’s pride cometh before the fall. It’s not ladylike,’” says Klaus.

She encourages them to practice singing their own praises in settings with an audience that won’t receive it as negative or braggadocios. And Klaus encourages them to understand that employers will not take note of work successes without help from their employees.

“Certainly if 2008 and the recession and taught us anything, [it’s] that if you sit back and don’t ask and don’t offer up what you’ve done, then you won’t get that promotion or that title or that bonus, “ says Klaus.

Join the conversation about women, work and wages. Leave a comment below or Tweet us @LiveMoney

The “black box” experiment

“Within American gender norms is the expectation that women should be modest,” begins the abstract of “Women’s Bragging Rights,” a study published by Smith and her former student Meghan Huntoon. For their research, they designed an experiment that encouraged women to talk about their accomplishments while providing justification for any discomfort the women may feel.

“We had groups of undergraduate women at Montana State University who are applying for a scholarship and we told them write either an application essay for yourself or to write a letter of recommendation and promote the accomplishments of a friend to win.”

Half of the women were told that there was a “subliminal noise generator” in the room – a black box that would emit an inaudible, high-pitched sound that could cause some anxiety. The noise was a fiction, but the women who were informed about the box had a largely different experience than the women who weren’t told about it.

“They enjoyed the experience more,” Smith says. “When women were able to have this black box to blame for any discomfort that they might have been feeling, they wrote better essays and received $1,000 more on average in scholarship money.”

So, what’s a woman to do if she’s mortified by the thought of self-promotion – or if being vocal about her career successes has made her more enemies than friends in the past?

Smith says, in an ideal world, the onus shouldn’t have to fall on the employee.

“Quite frankly, it is a lot of burden to retrain yourself and then if you don’t do it, well then it’s your own dang fault that you don’t make as much money as someone else and you didn’t get that raise and promotion,” she says. “We would suggest from a social-psychological perspective that the burden is on employers.”

She suggests instead having employees write their own freestyled annual review, supervisors should ask pointed questions and normalize the practice of self-promotion.

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Why women don't roar at work

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:39

Tammy M. has never asked for a raise at work.

“If they feel that they want to reward me, then that’s on them,” Tammy says. “I don’t feel it’s my place to say ‘Hey, I need more money, please.’ I don’t like to pat myself on the back. I feel like people will just appreciate what you do and if they don’t, it’s not really my job to point it out to them how ‘good’ I’ve done.”

Crystal M. has requested a raise before, but like Tammy, she’s uncomfortable calling attention to her achievements on the job: “I am not as confident as I think I should be when it comes to talking about my accomplishments at work.”

That raise?

“It’s actually been very slow going and it hasn’t actually occurred. It’s been about a year and a half long process through two bosses,” Crystal says.

If last year brought the era of the “lean-In” approach for professional women, it’s not reflected in the remarks of these two employees or in the behavior of many more women in the workplace.

Psychologist Jessi L. Smith of Montana State University has observed how hesitant her female colleagues can be to self-promote. When she polled her fellow faculty members about their accomplishments – anything from publishing a paper to planting a garden – to print in a staff newsletter, she received “exactly zero responses.”

Smith says there’s “just a real reluctance and discomfort to announce to the small world of Bozeman, Montana the accomplishments they had been so successful at securing over the last year.”

That experience started her thinking about gender norms and workplace culture. Behaviors – like aggressively promoting yourself to your co-workers and supervisors – are largely accepted when a man is displaying them. If a woman exercises her bragging rights, it can be seen as a negative trait that alienates others.

Career coach Peggy Klaus, author of “Brag: How To Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing It,” says she’s assisted countless women through their unease about talking themselves up over the years.

“I have seen a real shift in women who would come to me and say, ‘I can’t brag. It’s a sin. It’s pride cometh before the fall. It’s not ladylike,’” says Klaus.

She encourages them to practice singing their own praises in settings with an audience that won’t receive it as negative or braggadocios. And Klaus encourages them to understand that employers will not take note of work successes without help from their employees.

“Certainly if 2008 and the recession and taught us anything, [it’s] that if you sit back and don’t ask and don’t offer up what you’ve done, then you won’t get that promotion or that title or that bonus, “ says Klaus.

Join the conversation about women, work and wages. Leave a comment below or Tweet us @LiveMoney

The “black box” experiment

“Within American gender norms is the expectation that women should be modest,” begins the abstract of “Women’s Bragging Rights,” a study published by Smith and her former student Meghan Huntoon. For their research, they designed an experiment that encouraged women to talk about their accomplishments while providing justification for any discomfort the women may feel.

“We had groups of undergraduate women at Montana State University who are applying for a scholarship and we told them write either an application essay for yourself or to write a letter of recommendation and promote the accomplishments of a friend to win.”

Half of the women were told that there was a “subliminal noise generator” in the room – a black box that would emit an inaudible, high-pitched sound that could cause some anxiety. The noise was a fiction, but the women who were informed about the box had a largely different experience than the women who weren’t told about it.

“They enjoyed the experience more,” Smith says. “When women were able to have this black box to blame for any discomfort that they might have been feeling, they wrote better essays and received $1,000 more on average in scholarship money.”

So, what’s a woman to do if she’s mortified by the thought of self-promotion – or if being vocal about her career successes has made her more enemies than friends in the past?

Smith says, in an ideal world, the onus shouldn’t have to fall on the employee.

“Quite frankly, it is a lot of burden to retrain yourself and then if you don’t do it, well then it’s your own dang fault that you don’t make as much money as someone else and you didn’t get that raise and promotion,” she says. “We would suggest from a social-psychological perspective that the burden is on employers.”

She suggests instead having employees write their own freestyled annual review, supervisors should ask pointed questions and normalize the practice of self-promotion.

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Businesses close ranks against Obama energy policies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:16

The Partnership for a Better Energy Future may be the first group to bring together the American Knife Manufacturers Association, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, and the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce.  

Led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, the business coalition says it wants to work with the Environmental Protection Agency, as the agency looks beyond coal in its efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Translation: Members say they’re going all out to limit the EPA's impact on their business.

The 70-plus members of the Partnership for a Better Energy Future all have one thing in common, says Karen Harbert, CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: "All of these members utilize energy."

The EPA is moving forward with regulations on coal-fired power plants. Harbert says the partnership’s members see more energy regulations coming down the line. "We recognize that and we support that," she says. "But what we aren’t seeing on the other side, at the EPA is a fair, balanced and open process."

From Harbert’s perspective, the EPA’s coal regulations have been rushed, and she thinks they’ll hurt the energy industry more than necessary. She says her members worry that broader regulations could hurt the overall economy.

That is why the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce is on the member list. "If our economy’s succeeding, people have more money and more wherewithal to travel," says the group's president, Brad Deen. "So we’ve found that what’s good for the American economy is good for tourism." 

The National Fertilizer Institute sees a big threat. "This is a bet-the-farm situation for the industry," says the insitute's president, Christopher Jahn. 

That means pooling resources to lobby both regulators and Congress. And public advocacy. The National Association of Manufacturers says the budget is in the millions, and TV ads are a possibility.  

The partnership’s members say they want to take part in a serious conversation. Pete Altman, director of the Climate and Clean Air Campaign at the Natural Resources Defense Council, isn’t buying it. "The only time when we hear from this crowd, 'Oh we really need talk this through!' is when they're afraid something might actually happen," he says.

He thinks the real goal is delay. He sees the partnership pursuing "a strategy of, 'Well let's drag this out and maybe we'll have a better president.'" If final regulations aren’t in place before President Obama’s term ends, a new president could reverse course.  

Karen Harbert from the Chamber of Commerce denies that her group simply wants to stall.  "We're not saying run out the clock," she says.  "We’re saying, take the time that is necessary to do the analysis."  

 

Amazon Prime: an expensive cash cow

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:16

Not a great day for retail giant Amazon. The company announced 4th quarter earnings and, although revenue was up 20% over the year before, it did not meet expectations.

Amazon might be fast becoming a ubiquitous market force, but its profits have been hit or miss. The company said it might raise fees for its Amazon Prime service from the current cost of $79 dollars a year to $99 or more. Amazon Prime members get free shipping, free access to streaming movies and other perks.

The service is one of the company’s most profitable aspects and one of the cornerstones of its business strategy.

Brad McCarty is director of content for software company Full Contact. He’s a tropical fish man and an Amazon Prime member.

"I have loads of fish. We have primarily angelfish, gouramis, betas and a salt water reef tank as well. I have a few sites that I go to and I do research, but I always end up going back to Amazon to buy them, because I’m a Prime member. And I’m going to get free shipping on that and it's going to be there in 2 days."

Amazon uses data it has on McCarty’s past fishy purchases to get him to buy more. And he does. McCarty says he epitomises the business model for Amazon Prime.

"Amazon is, for the most part, kind of like a perpetual Black Friday sale, right? You bring people in the door with the hopes that they’re going to buy more stuff when they get there."

There are more than 20 million Prime members and the $79 they pay pretty much covers the cost of the free shipping they get. The rest is gravy.

And there’s a lot of gravy. Amazon Prime customers spend twice what regular customers do.

"You start buying everything through Amazon," says Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business. Galloway says Amazon has purposefully sacrificed short term profits to get more customers and more pricing muscle. "It's going to have tremendous pricing power and, at a certain point, it will be able to flex that muscle and become a very profitable company."

Still, Galloway says Amazon considering a price hike for Prime could be a sign its investors are getting restless. "Amazon is acknowledging that the cocktail of huge growth and low profitability may be becoming a bitter cocktail for investors," he says.

But the rationale for raising prices, may not be fast cash, speculates Michael Levin, co-founder of Consumer Intelligence Research Partners in Chicago.

"At Amazon, nothing is ever what it seems," he laughs. "If they charge more, I think customers are probably going to spend more. So quite ironically, by raising the price of this membership, they may end up getting people to shop there even more."

A more expensive Prime membership equals a customer who is all the more motivated to get his or her free-shipping’s worth.  

Weekly Wrap: Derivative fight!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:16

This week's wrap was one of our most Marketplace-esque yet. The New York Times' Catherine Rampell and Reuters' Felix Salmon joined us to talk:

Emerging markets:

Rampell: "Confidence feeds on confidence, and if you have a lack of confidence elsewhere, and so many markets are interlinked, then that's problematic."

Salmon: "Most Americans just deal with other Americans; most American companies deal with other American companies. We're not a tiny island nation like the one I come from. If something is going on in Argetina or Turkey, honestly it doesn't matter that much to the United States."

On the GDP, and on which derivative is better:

"I'm going to be optimistic on the first derivative, and you can be pessimistic on the second derivative, and I'm going to be the person going up, and you're going to be going up as well, just not realizing it."

And finally, on how we'll remember Ben Bernanke next time we're making timelines about Federal Reserve chairmen:

"I think he will probably be remembered very positively. At least for rescuing the economy from going off the brink, particularly at a time when Congress was not doing a whole lot to help."

"He didn't win any popularity contests, but given the utter inaction by Congress, he was the one who got the economy going again."

Police Say White Powder Mailed To N.J. Hotels Was Cornstarch

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:01

The letters were sent to several New Jersey hotels near the site of Sunday's Super Bowl, as well as the office of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

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Former Christie Appointee Claims N.J. Gov. Knew About Lane Closures

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:00

In a letter released by his attorney, the Port Authority official who personally oversaw the George Washington Bridge lane closures is alleging that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knew about the action. David Wildstein asserts that evidence exists that will contradict Christie's claims to ignorance about the motives behind the lane closures.

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State Dept. Delivers Unwelcome News For Keystone Opponents

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:00

The department's final environmental assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline found that blocking the project probably wouldn't stop the development of Canada's tar sands. But the review didn't endorse the pipeline either. Secretary Kerry — and, ultimately, President Obama — will have the final say.

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Assad Regime Slows In Handing Over Chemical Weapons

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:00

The U.S. and international monitors are expressing concern over delays in the the handover of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. Many experts now suspect that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime may be dragging its feet.

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Syria Peace Talks Take A Break

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:00

The Syria peace talks in Geneva adjourn with no breakthroughs or substantive signs of progress. But international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi says there is some common ground between the government and its opponents, and he announced that the talks will resume on Feb. 10.

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Obama Hosts Business Leaders, Hopes They Change How They Hire

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:00

President Obama is hosting business leaders at the White House in order to discuss possible solutions to long-term unemployment. The president says that he hopes for companies to revise their hiring practices, which often appear to be stacked against those who have been unemployed for six months or more.

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Celebration Is In The Air. Or Is That Just Snow?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:00

Patty Chang Anker recommends a cookbook that eases the anxieties of anyone trying to cook Chinese-American meals, and Lev Grossman reminds us that there is a Seussian storm comparable to the one that shut down Atlanta this week.

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'Still Turning Heads' At Lunar New Year, An All-Female Lion Dance Troupe

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 13:00

A group of Asian-American women in Boston are redefining a Lunar New Year tradition every year by performing in an all-female lion and dragon dance troupe. The Chinese martial art is traditionally performed by men, often during new year's parades. The Lunar New Year starts Friday.

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When will the Superb owl start?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-31 12:20

This final note which comes to us courtesy of the letters SEO. As in search engine optimization. So here you go: What time is the Super Bowl? (It starts at 6:30 p.m. ET, by the way.) Turns out most people, don't know how to spell Superbowl.  Helpful hint: It's actually two words, both capitalized. A couple years back the Huffington Post published a story titled, "What time does the superbowl start?," just to game the web traffic. And, of course, it blew up. The rest of the Internet keeps trying to get a piece of that Super Bowl traffic. This year's version... the search words of choice … Superb owls.

U.S. Issues Keystone XL Pipeline Environmental Review

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 12:20

The report concludes that the production of Canada's tar-sand crude, which causes more greenhouse gases than other forms, won't be affected if the pipeline moves forward.

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School's Out For Online Students In 'State Sponsors Of Terrorism'

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 12:10

Students in Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — countries under U.S. trade and economic sanctions — were blocked from accessing material on Coursera this week. The company, one of the largest providers of massive open online courses, says it's working with the U.S. government on a resolution.

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School's Out For Online Students In 'State Sponsors Of Terrorism'

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 12:10

Students in Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — countries under U.S. trade and economic sanctions — were blocked from accessing material on Coursera this week. The company, one of the largest providers of massive open online courses, says it's working with the U.S. government on a resolution.

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It's True: Snowiest Places Are Least Likely To Close Schools

NPR News - Fri, 2014-01-31 11:51

Crunching some data, a Reddit user has come up with a map that sure seems to confirm what many have been saying: It doesn't doesn't take much, if any, snow to close schools in much of the South. But up North? A foot or more is going to have to fall before the kids get to stay home.

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Where will young people live when they're old and gray?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-01-31 11:06

Home ownership is a venerated ideal of middle class life in America, and most Americans aspire to own a home. But homeownership rates have been declining steadily since the peak of the housing boom in 2004.

The Census Bureau reports that the homeownership rate in Q4 2013 stood at 65.2 percent -- the lowest level since 1995. Homeownership hit a peak of 69.2 percent in mid-2004, as subprime mortgages and other exotic investment products were pushed out into the real estate market, and home prices were skyrocketing in many hot markets like Florida, Nevada and the Southwest.

Economists have predicted—and even welcomed—some decline in homeownership. The level achieved in the mid-2000s wasn't considered sustainable, and was driven by risky mortgages given to people who couldn’t pass even minimal underwriting standards, let alone the strict underwriting standards prevalent today.

But economists also worry that if the decline in the homeownership rate accelerates, it could be a warning sign for the economy and for the well-being of middle class families.

In many cities these days, there’s a lot of construction going on. And a lot of that is multi-family rental buildings, as opposed to single-family homes destined for sale to individuals and families.

Economist Patrick Newport at IHS Global Insight predicts the decline in homeownership will continue, and the rate will fall by at least another 1 percent or more in coming years. He says the trend is not surprising.

"It’s much more difficult to qualify for credit," says Newport. "And you have a number of people who have lost their homes to foreclosure. Those people are now becoming renters."

Who’s being shut out of homeownership? First, says Newport, anyone with low—or unreliable—income. That’s the type of borrower who could get a sub-prime mortgage back in the bubble years, and was then foreclosed in the recession or afterward.

Young people are also not entering homeownership at the same pace as before. Many 20- and 30-somethings have delayed forming households, buying a first home, marrying, or forming domestic partnerships—because jobs are scarce and incomes are stagnant.

The problem, says real estate expert Nicolas Retsinas at Harvard Business School, is that many working-class families—with steady but moderate income—are out of luck, too.

"They’re the ones who are not able to have anything left from their paychecks so they can accumulate savings to make a down payment," says Retsinas. "They’re the ones who have a difficult time paying back a mortgage, even with these very low interest rates."

Retsinas says, for many families, owning a home turned out to be a risky, unprofitable proposition in the late-2000s. "But for 50 years prior to that, it was a primary source of wealth creation," he says. "And I think that as families look at the option now, they’re nervous that if they’re not able to buy this home, get through the underwriting criteria, they will miss out on what might be rising prices, and thus rising equity."

Retsinas says that if home values rise steadily again, but middle-class families can’t buy into that, they’ll lose a key tool for building wealth and security in the future.

Chris Mayer studies housing at Columbia Business School. He sees an aging homeowner population. It’s a population that’s been able to build wealth over decades through home-price appreciation (the Great Recession notwithstanding), tax-savings (from the mortgage-interest deduction), and investment of sweat equity in their properties.

"If you look at people who are 65 years old, 86 percent of them are homeowners," says Mayer. "If what we’ve done is just push back the age at which people become homeowners, I don’t find that particularly alarming. Young people are suffering from student debt and other issues. But if we’re really going to move to a renter society, we’re going to have a lot of problems."

Starting with: Where will today’s young people live? And what will they live on -- if not accumulated home equity—when they’re old and gray?

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