National News

PODCAST: The biggest IPO

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 03:00

First up, Amazon has announced a new product called "local register," which is not unlike the plug-ins for tablets and smartphones that lets small businesses run a credit card. We take a look at how it works. Plus, school staffing has shot up nearly 500 percent over the past several decades, according to a new report. The data shows that a huge chunk of that growth is teacher aides. And Chinese Internet giant Alibaba is getting ready to sell stock, in what could be the largest IPO ever. More on what could be a $20 billion endeavor for the company.

PODCAST: Pitching your startup

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 03:00

First up, more on the news that Japan's economy contracted in the second quarter. The country's gross domestic product fell 6.8 percent. The situation isn't quite as extreme as it might sound, though. A lot of the contraction is being blamed on a recent sales tax hike that had many Japanese doing most of their shopping in the first quarter of the year. Plus, school staffing has shot up nearly 500 percent over the past several decades, according to a new report. The data shows that a huge chunk of that growth is teacher aides. And when startups launch - whether they're social media, fashion or biotech - one of the first things any entrepreneur has to master is the pitch. That could be anything from the quickie elevator version to the in-depth PowerPoint for a potential investor. So what goes into a successful pitch?

School staffing up 500%, but not with teachers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 03:00

School staffing has shot up nearly 500 percent over the past several decades, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. A huge chunk of that growth is the number of teacher aides — the Girl and Guy Fridays (sort of) of the classroom.

They're the ones that help a teacher corral 25 kids on a playground, or run to the copier when there's a room full of kids to supervise. It's no wonder teachers love them.

Graphic courtesy of the Fordham Institute.

"Parents are positive toward aides because they give their kids more attention," says Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, who has done research on teacher aides.

Aides are especially appreciated by parents of kids with special needs. Over the years, federal laws have empowered parents to make sure their kids are getting the education they need. Having an aide is often part of that plan, says Matthew Richmond, who wrote the Fordham report.

"So as those expectations have risen over time," he says, "I think that what you've seen is just an increase in number of personnel in order to help provide those services." 

Plus, Richmond says, because they're not certified, they're cheaper than teachers, and they're easy to find.

Slavin says, while aides might help teachers, they haven't had an impact on student grades. 

School staffing in the U.S. – what "non-teachers" actually do

Graphic courtesy of the Fordham Institute.

The Fordham Institute's study uses several different categories to classify non-teaching staff positions:

Teacher Aides – Staff members assigned to assist a teacher with routine activities associated with instruction.

School Administration – School administrators (principals and assistant principals) and administrative staff.

Student Support Staff – Staff that "nurture" students but do not provide or directly support instruction (psychologists, speech pathologists, etc.).

Guidance Staff – Guidance counselors.

Library Staff – Librarians and library support staff.

Instructional Coordinators – Staff that supervise instructional programs (curriculum coordinators, home economics supervisors, etc.).

"Other" Staff – Staff not included in another category (custodians, food service staff, etc.).

Gentrification summer camp in changing neighborhoods

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 02:00

Seven-year-old Tristan Singeltary has purple glasses and a matching lavender easter egg on her yellow t-shirt. She's really cute. And she's also happy to explain, to any interested parties, the complex problem that is gentrification:

Well, not exactly right, but it's a lovely thought from a smiley little girl. And after all, that’s why Tristan and her fellow campers are here at STEAM camp in Brooklyn. That's STEAM for "Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math"  - this year's theme is gentrification. And in case you're worried, another camper, sophisticated 10-year-old Ayanna Lee, nails it.

"Just imagine, you were in a house, you were struggling to pay the rent," she says.  "But you worked so hard to pay it. And then all of the sudden the landlord comes to you and says you’re being evicted – somebody is moving into this house. It’s like you did everything right and then something bad just happens to you."

Gerard Miller, community outreach coordinator with non-profit Neighborhood Housing Services of Bedford-Stuyvesant, who works with the kids one day a week teaching financial literacy, says if they learn the basics now, hopefully by the time they’re adults, they’ll have a say in the sometimes scary changes they see happening around them.

“People feel like the neighborhood that they’ve known is ceasing to be,” he says.  “Blocks in Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy, that 15, 20 years ago, people didn’t want to move onto are now multi-million dollar blocks.”

 

 

Sally Herships

A shiny new building on a Bedford-Stuyvesant block has 9-year-old Xaavi Vericain excited, though his knowledge of architectural history and design may still need some work:

On a recent summer day, one of the camp’s co-founders, Clarisa James of DIVAS for Social Justice,  took the kids on a documentary expedition. They were exploring the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant to photograph gentrification in progress. And even if they couldn't provide a formal definition, gentrification as urban reality is something the campers are familiar with. Many of them are experiencing it first hand on their own blocks and in their own neighborhoods. When James points out a "for rent" sign on a newly renovated building, 12-year-old camper Kiyari Jaundoo takes notice.

"I could tell my mom about it," she says. "Because we’re trying to find an apartment."

"Why doesn’t your mother get a fifth job so you can still stay in your brownstone?" asks 9-year-old Xaavi Vericain. "She might get a lot of money to buy a whole house."

Lately, Miller has been discussing mortgages with the kids. They get pretty deep about debt and how it can impact their lives.

Says 10-year-old Ayanna Lee, of debt: "That’s like basically having no social life.”

“It’s because you might go broke and you might not have that much money," chimes in 12-year-old Alydia Wells. "Plus you owe a debt to yourself because you never got a life. You’re always going to have debt." 

"'Cause you’re going to owe your parents," says Lee, "and you can’t run away from your parents. The real lesson would actually be, to always be responsible if you have debt, because you can’t go blowing off your money [when] you owe somebody like $1,000 or $200 dollars, and you just spent it on a pair of Gucci shoes and ice cream."

Miller explains why he teaches at the camp: "When you talk about gentrification, you’re not really talking about the people who are moving in, you’re talking about the kinds of money that’s moving in," says Miller. "Not having a basic understanding of finances endangers you, because then someone else is making decisions that affect your life."

When a small, dusty, and empty plot of grass is spotted, 10-year-old  Xaavi Vericain is asked how much money he has.

"A lot," is the answer.

And how much does he think the land costs?

"A lotter."

The campers seem to be grasping the basics quickly.

A guide to the perfect tech company pitch

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 02:00

The NY Tech Meetup is a monthly gathering for members in the New York City's growing technology community. Over 40,000 people have subscribed to the group, which means its demo nights tend to sell out quickly.

Executive Director Jessica Lawrence estimates she’s seen about 360 demos in her time with the nonprofit, and regularly advises presenters on how to craft their pitches. Here are some of her top tips:

Be able to zero in on the problem your product is solving in one or two sentences.

“One of the biggest arts to a great pitch is helping the audience connect with your product immediately,” says Lawrence.

This often means summarizing the problems it solves and how it’ll make the audience’s lives better.

Show where an existing product is failing.

Sometimes, showing how your product will solve a problem is best accomplished by demonstrating the shortcomings of an existing product or services, Lawrence says.

Use stories to connect with your audience.

“You do want to connect with the people that you’re pitching to, you want to tell them some type of story,” says Lawrence.

A compelling anecdote about what led you to create the company can illustrate how your product solves the problems you’ve identified.

Use demonstrations to showcase technology.

Lawrence says demonstrations work well for tech products: “You’re not just talking about a service or a company talking about what they offer. You’re talking about something where you can show people what you’ve built.”

Have clear goals.

Having a clear goal in mind is key, Lawrence says. What's your next step?

“For some, it’s about finding employees or finding a co-founder,” says Lawrence. "For others, it’s more about getting users and feedback and exposing themselves to the community.”

Alibaba could become the largest IPO. Ever.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 02:00

The Chinese Internet giant, Alibaba Inc, is shaping up to be the largest initial public offering ever.

Analysts with MorningStar are predicting the company could raise at least $20 billion, potentially making it one of the most exciting offerings for investors since Facebook.

“Alibaba is one of the biggest e-commerce companies in the world, not just China," says Dennis Hudachek, a senior analyst at ETF.com, a financial services company. 

He says in 2013, Alibaba sold more than $248 billion in goods with some 231 million active users.

“Online shopping in China is expected to grow quite a bit in the coming years," Hudachek says. "It’s basically being pitched as a huge growth play, as well.”

Alibaba has the ability to hold investors attention well beyond the IPO, says RJ Hottovy, an analyst with MorningStar.

“One (way) is maintain its growth trajectories in China, which would indicate it is finding new customers in that region,” he says.

Hottovy says Alibaba might also keep investor’s attention if it can show growth in markets outside of China – say, for example, the United States.

Going public hasn’t been a completely smooth process, though. Alibaba has already pushed its IPO date back to September because the company and regulators wanted more time.

Gawker Media faced with anonymous trolls

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-13 01:00

On Monday, the staff at the Gawker Media site Jezebel wrote a group post criticizing their parent company for refusing to address issues with Kinja, the comment system for the company’s blog network.

In the post, the editors detailed the efforts of an anonymous commenter who was posting graphic .gifs depicting sexual violence in the comments section of many posts.

Click the media player above to hear Erin Ryan, News Editor at Jezebel, in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson

The burner accounts -- a feature added when Gawker’s sites revamped their comment system -- in theory allow people to write about things happening in their companies without going on the record. But that’s not always what’s happening.

The fundamental problem with these images being posted, argues Ryan, is that once a reader has seen the image, they have seen the offending content in its entirety. This, she argues, is emblematic of a broader issue with the internet.

“People who want to make women feel bad for one reason or another have an anonymous forum with no consequences,” says Ryan.

As it stands, Gawker Media has banned image uploading in comments, and the company says it’s working on a longer term solution.

Biologists Choose Sides In Safety Debate Over Lab-Made Pathogens

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-12 23:25

The debate about whether it's OK to engineer and study microbes that could prompt a human pandemic has reignited. Each side now has a website and its own list of Nobelists and superstar supporters.

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In Stockton, Calif., Punks Are The New Mall Rats

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-12 23:24

Abandoned storefronts in strip malls are common here in one of the largest cities to file for bankruptcy. But one abandoned storefront plays host to a thriving punk indie music scene.

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Sultry Film Star Lauren Bacall Dies At 89

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-12 16:21

Actress Lauren Bacall, who paired with spouse Humphrey Bogart in films including The Big Sleep and Key Largo, has died at 89, according to the Bogart estate. NPR has not confirmed the report.

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130 U.S. Personnel Sent To Iraq, Defense Secretary Hagel Says

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-12 15:49

The troops, who have arrived in northern Iraq, are in addition to advisers already in the country. This "is not a combat boots on the ground kind of operation," Chuck Hagel said.

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The Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Overnight

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-12 15:22

The best time to see the shower, which comes every August, is between 3 and 4 a.m. in your local time zone.

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Uber And Lyft Spar Over Alleged Ride Cancellations

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-12 14:03

The companies, which help customers request car rides on demand, both say their competitor has intentionally requested and then canceled rides on drivers.

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How Campus Sexual Assaults Came To Command New Attention

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-12 13:53

In just a few years, the issue has gone from mostly whispers to receiving the attention of the White House. Now, colleges throughout the country are trying to increase awareness about the issue.

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Healthkit is a symptom of tech's rush into health care

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-12 13:48

There’s already a lot of buzz building around the iPhone 6, which is expected to be announced in September. Word is that Apple will use its newest phone, and the accompanying release of iOS 8, to make a big push into mobile health. 

The tech giant is reportedly trying to team up with healthcare providers and mobile app developers to track everything from our blood pressure to how many steps we take in a day.

Apple’s not the only company getting into the space. Health care is becoming a hot spot for tech companies. Two of the biggest factors driving tech companies into health care are the smartphone, which is basically a mini computer in your pocket, and the proliferation of cheap sensors, said Dean Sawyer, CEO of Jointly Health

"For example, there’s one patch we’re using called Vital Connect," Sawyer said. "It captures your heart rate, ECG, your respiratory rate, your posture, all from one patch and it’s sending that data out continuously."

Advances in artificial intelligence also make it easier to crunch that data. In Jointly Heath’s case, it uses data to predict when patients with chronic illnesses will get sicker, so doctors can treat them before they land in the hospital. 

Everyone from health care providers to insurers love this because hospital treatments are so expensive, said Michael Chui, who leads research on the impact of information technology for the McKinsey Global Institute.

"The real opportunity here is really around trying to control healthcare costs," he said. 

Chui said the promise of controlling costs is driving demand for this kind of technology among health care providers.

"When we looked at the potential for using big data and other technologies to try to control those costs, we think that up to $300 to $400 billion annually is at stake," he said. 

There’s just as much money to be made as saved. Sawyer of Jointly Health said in his little corner of the market — the "remote patient monitoring space" — there's a projected $18 to $20 billion just over the next four or five years."

Then there’s the job of securing all that data flying around. It’s creating another opportunity for tech companies.

Europe faces produce glut after Russian ban

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-12 13:48

Fancy an apple? The Warsaw government hopes so. It’s asked the U.S. to buy apples now that Poland’s farmers have been shut out of their biggest export market: Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned most food imports from the EU, the U.S. and other western countries in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine. That’s left European farmers, in particular, with the headache of offloading their unwanted produce.

Last year European farmers sold $16 billion worth of food to Russia, which is 12 times what the U.S. supplied. Peter Kendall, a British farming industry spokesman, worries that the EU is losing one of its best customers for milk, butter and cheese.

'They’re taking away a market that takes 300,000 tons of dairy products from the European Union a year. This could have really very damaging impacts," Kendall says.

The answer could be that European farmers will  have to try to sell their surplus produce at a decent price abroad. However, the U.S., Australia and other countries that export to Russia have also been sanctioned and they’ll have their own surpluses to sell.

British pig farmer Jim Leavesley is bracing himself for an influx of pork from Canada and Brazil.

“If you have something like only 5 percent extra supply into the market,” says Leavesley, “this can have a devastating effect upon the whole of the price paid across the whole of the European herd.”

Consumers may be licking their lips at the prospect of lower prices, but they shouldn’t, warns meat industry spokesman Mick Sloyan: Farmers still have to make a living.

"They stop producing if prices go too low and then, subsequently, prices rocket," he says. "So, seeing prices going up or down all over the place really isn’t in the interest of consumers.”

The European Commission has just unveiled a potential solution: They have plans to prop up peach farmers affected by the Russian sanctions. The EU will buy 10 percent of their crop and withdraw it from sale.

So, with peach mountains and milk lakes looming, Europe could soon be adding to its agricultural reserves.

 

The murky world of military aid

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-12 13:48

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Tuesday the U.S. government is “working with the Iraqi government, the Iraqi security forces, to get military equipment to the peshmerga."

Members of that Kurdish militia have been asking the U.S. for more aid, to help them fight Islamic militants. So far, the peshmerga have received some “light weapons,” but they say they need more of them, and bigger ones too.

When it comes to arming Kurdish fighters, the U.S. government has options.

“There are a number of ways,” says Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “It depends on how quickly and how quietly we want to arm them.”

One way is above board. Many countries effectively write checks for weapons payable to the U.S. The government shoulders the risk. According to Douglas Ollivant, a senior national security fellow with the New America Foundation, the Defense Department works with the State Department, and lawmakers get involved.

“It’s all there,” he says. “It’s all transparent. Then, of course, there are other agencies who do things differently.”

Ollivant is referring to one agency in particular: the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Normally speaking, the Defense Department deals with governments, and the CIA deals with non-state actors,” explains Stephen Biddle, a professor of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University.

The Pentagon regularly brokers weapons deals with other state governments, including the Iraqi central government, but Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region.  The Defense Department may not want to deal with a militia.

“As far as we can tell, yes, the CIA is now committed to provide weapons and ammunition directly to the peshmerga,” Biddle says. That has been widely reported, but a CIA spokesman declined Marketplace’s request for comment.

According to Biddle, if the CIA is involved, it does have the wherewithal to get weapons from U.S. allies, even international weapons dealers.

Harrison says we’re talking about weapons that are probably worth a few hundred million dollars altogether. In all likelihood, the CIA has money set aside to pay for stuff like this.  But, Harrison says, there is no way to know how much.

“We can’t see directly what the CIA receives in terms of its total budget,” Harrison notes. That is classified.

The Defense Department also has some budgetary flexibility. The Pentagon has $85 billion for what are called “overseas contingency operations.”

'Sup: The new Yo?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-12 13:48

A dispatch from the Marketplace Desk of What Could Possibly Go Wrong.

From the website Business Insider, this item: a new app called 'Sup, as in "what's up?"

Anyway, you send a 'sup to a friend. If they accept your 'sup it turns on the camera on their phone and you can see what they're doing for 10 seconds.

Again, what could possibly go wrong? I know I say that a lot, but this time I really mean it.

Chocolate fried chicken: A taste test

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-12 13:45

When Umami Burger founder and CEO Adam Fleischman announced he was stepping down to work on his next venture, fans of the Los Angeles-based burger chain wondered what exactly he had up his sleeve.

The answer was chocolate fried chicken – a surprise after a steady fare of burgers and pizza.  

ChocoChicken opened earlier this summer in downtown Los Angeles. Fleischman credits Keith Previte and Sean Robins with the idea – the pair of entertainment producers came up with the recipe and convinced Fleishman to invest.

Kai Ryssdal got a taste:

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