Heat, sweat, and, now, activists are unavoidable facts of life for members of Congress in August. An army of interest groups has been pushing various causes this month.
Opponents of President Barack Obama’s health care law are demanding it be defunded. And an unusual coalition of the left and right -- including local police, business groups and church leaders -- is pushing for immigration reform. Their ad campaign cost $400,000, and its organizer Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, says you ignore August at your peril.
“Bills will either get closer to the finish line or die on the rocks of despair during the August recess," he says, pointing to nearly 50 immigration roundtables his coalition held this month. “We think we have won the August recess.”
That kind of win-lose talk reminds some Congress watchers of a politician’s campaign.
“That’s the kind of thing you used to hear only from candidates," says Allan Lichtman, an American University history professor. "So you now have a lobbyist keeping score to see who wins in terms of wielding influence as opposed to getting elected.”
Lichtman says a lot of the interest groups active this August hired Washington political operatives to advise them. They set up war rooms and rapid response teams. August is one big business opportunity for the old Washington hands, who want to impress and attract future clients, according to GOP strategist John Feehery.
“What they’re doing here is, like anything else, they’re trying to build a resume," he says. "They’re trying to build their case that -- why other people should hire them.”
So they can win August.
Echoing previous comments by the Obama administration, British intelligence officials have now also said there's no other logical conclusion. Read their report.
Talks over a major telecoms deal are on again.
The British cell phone giant Vodaphone has resumed negotiations over its stake in America’s biggest mobile operator, Verizon Wireless.
Verizon has been chafing to buy Vodaphone’s 45 percent stake for years. The U.S. company wants the freedom to expand its network, make new acquisitions, and run its business without constantly deferring to a large, secondary partner.
In the past, the stumbling block has been the price. Verizon has offered around $100 billion for the stake, while Vodaphone has insisted on much more since its Verizon shares have provided a large and reliable stream of revenue.
Suddenly, the two sides seem ready to do a deal. Verizon would need to borrow tens of billions of dollars to finance the purchase, and the pressure is on the company to borrow that money now before interest rates rise further.
And selling now may seem sensible to Vodaphone. Chris Green, an analyst with the consulting firm the Davies Murphy Group, says Vodaphone may be worried about the long term value of its investment in America’s mobile market.
“There’s uncertainty over the future of mobile phone network revenues in the U.S., as competition and consolidation increase in the marketplace,” says Green.
That competition is already taking its toll. Verizon's share price has fallen 14 percent since April.
You may have to wait longer for your Egg McMuffin or iced coffee this morning. Thousands of fast-food workers in about 35 cities are planning to strike, as their call for higher pay, which started in New York last fall, goes nationwide.
Workers at McDonald’s, Popeye’s, Taco Bell and other fast-food chains are demanding $15 an hour -- twice as much as many now earn.
"The strike among fast food workers is a very strange type of strike," says Gary Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University.
He says that's because it cuts across many companies and employers, meaning the franchisees who own the bulk of fast-food restaurants. The strike is being bankrolled by the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, at the cost of millions of dollars. SEIU President Mary Kay Henry says even though the workers aren't dues-paying members, supporting them is a good investment for the union.
"These workers need to make a living wage," she says. "At the SEIU, we believe in improving conditions for all workers."
"This is a very smart idea for the unions," agrees Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "Unions are going back to their roots. They’re speaking for the dispossessed, the most vulnerable."
Shaiken says that idealism is great for the union’s image. But will the strikes work for the workers? Chaison doesn’t think so.
"The times may not be right for increasing wages, particularly if it’s seen as possibly jeopardizing jobs," he says.
Workers risk being fired if they walk off the job during a shift, so many join the picket line on their day off. Though the protests have gained momentum and scope, just a tiny fraction of fast-food workers is taking part.
In 50 cities across the nation, many employees at fast-food restaurants have pledged to walk out. They're hoping to draw attention to their campaign for an increase in the minimum wage.
The National Football League has agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit with over 4,000 former players over head injuries.
Dan Kaplan, NFL writer for the Sports Business Journal, says that even though most league watchers expected a larger settlement, this is still good news for many who were suffering from debilitating head injuries and will now be able to get the care they need instead of having to wait for litigation to be completed.
"Most of it -- $675 million -- will be direct benefits to the players and the families of players," says Kaplan. "This is the good news."
Kaplan says that if you factor in payments from insurance, this won't be a huge blow to the NFL. But in terms of a blow to the NFL's public relations, that's another story.
Many fans may be upset with the arrangements of the settlement. However Kaplan says based on some recent press conferences, that might be changing.
"You could already start to see that storyline changing from the NFL did this to these guys and won't give them a penny," says Kaplan. "To now, they're happy together."
Though the massive fire around Yosemite National Park is now 30 percent contained, it will take more time to surround the blaze. Meanwhile, smoke is making the air unhealthy to breathe across a large area of Northern California and Nevada.
A recent study out from the National Institute on Reitrement Security has some unnerving statistics for the future of this country. Statistics show too many people won't have nearly enough saved when they retire, and it's something the slow economic recovery isn't fixing on its own.
Only 42 percent of private sector workers between the ages 25 and 64 have any retirement coverage in their current job. That means roughly 38 million workers in the U.S. do not have any retirement account savings at all.
"To me, that spells worry," says Marketplace's economics guy Chris Farrell. "We've created tax incentives to get people to participate in their 401(k), we've reduced the number of options in a 401(k), realizing that too much choice was overwhelming... Despite all of this, we still don't have enough people saving enough money for their retirement."
So what should we do? Farrell advocates using a "toxic word in Washington, DC: mandatory savings."
Farrell says countries like the U.K., Australia, and Israel already have mandatory savings plans for moderate income workers. In Australia, an employer has to set aside 9 percent of an employee's earnings currently, and will soon have to set aside 12 percent. Employees can choose to put more money in the mandatory savings plan, and often do at around 3 percent.
In this country, "the policy elite is starting to talk about mandatory savings," says Farrell. "You don't like the word 'mandatory,' you've got to come up with something better. The existing system is not working."
The idea of controlling objects -- even other humans -- with only your brain is a Holy Grail of tech innovation. And what researchers did at the University of Washington this month sounds pretty amazing. Using non-invasive technology to record and stimulate brain function, a researcher at one end of campus controlled the physical actions of someone at the other end of campus. Researcher Rajesh Rao was the mind controller in this experiment, and tells Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson how he did it and what his findings means for the future.
Below, watch a video of the experiment.Video of Direct Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans: A Pilot Study
This final note today, in which, if I have anything to say about it, you will hear the word "twerking" for the first and last time.
That's what Miley Cyrus was doing the other night at the Video Music Awards. Go check it out on YouTube if you need reminding. Just remember, you can't unsee things like that.
Cyrus pointedly used a big foam finger in her...dance, I guess you could call it. The foam fingers you see at sports events. Anyway, the guy who invented the foam finger told Fox Sports today: "I would say that she certainly misrepresented its intent to encourage team support."
Yes she did.
The former defense secretary, who led the Pentagon when the U.S. went to war with Iraq, is critical of how the current administration is handling the run-up to what are expected to be military strikes on targets in Syria.
For law enforcement, therapists, and first responders, one big challenge is simply getting in touch with a person who might be in a dangerous place, emotionally or otherwise. These days warning signs are popping up more and more on social media. That's why Toronto nurse Ann Marie Batten is working with Canadian police and case workers to stage so-called "Twitterventions." When a red flag goes up online, people who watch for them are getting in touch with Batten, who then Tweets at the person in need.
Twitter has hired the former CEO of Ticketmaster. What can the head of a ticketing behemoth offer a social media company that's yet to go public? In a word -- commerce. Ticketmaster's Nathan Hubbard helped his old employer dominate online. So his new job could be to help Twitter turn a big user base into some dollar bills. Marketplace Tech reporter Queena Kim has the latest on the story.
With his knack for making crude and intemperate remarks, Gov. Paul LePage has become a lightning rod for controversy. Yet no one is willing to count him out in his re-election campaign.
California used to attract millions of newcomers, but now more people are moving away. They're taking a more progressive strain of politics with them to places like Colorado and Nevada.
The Earth's average annual temperature has been rising for decades, but not in the last 15 years — colder winters and hotter summers notwithstanding. Now scientists offer evidence that this "pause" in average warming is because a cooler Pacific is temporarily taking up more heat than usual.
It's been eight years since the hurricane devastated the city's Lower 9th Ward. Resident Ronald Lewis says rebuilding is a story still in progress. In a shed in his backyard, he's collected New Orleans memorabilia, evidence "of the resilience of the people."
Dumplings are a huge part of Chinese culinary tradition, and restaurants there cater to the nation's obsession with a dazzlingly array of dumpling shapes and fillings, including green frogs stuffed with bullfrog meat and a flock of birds filled with roasted Beijing duck.
Fast food and restaurant work used to be seen as an entry point for the young. Today, the average such employee is 29, and nearly a quarter are parents. For these workers, current wages are hardly enough to support them, let alone their families.
New York City public advocate Bill de Blasio has surged to a commanding lead among Democratic primary voters. De Blasio's timing couldn't be better. In less than two weeks, those voters will go the polls to begin choosing the successor to Michael Bloomberg.