National News

Doing the numbers on the Northeast's snowstorm

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 12:03

As New England digs itself out from two and a half feet of snow, New Yorkers are taking stock of the Snowpocalypse that wasn't.

But the forecasts, the hype and the precautions have real economic cost, says Scott Bernhardt, president of the weather economics analysis firm Planalytics.

"The economic impact of today is going to happen whether it was eight inches or 18 inches in Central Park.," Bernhardt says.

Widespread travel bans, school closures, flight cancellations, extra city workers and the like all come with serious cost. Locally, hardware, grocery and convenience stores enjoyed a spike in sales while sit-down restaurants lose revenue they can't make up. Meanwhile, some states are still getting hammered. 

"Tomorrow it'll be like it never happened in Philadelphia, probably New York as well," Bernhardt says. "When you get into Boston? Not so much. Hartford? Not so much."

The total economic cost remains to be seen. Let's do the numbers on the storm so far:

30 inches

The peak snowfall in Massachusetts, CNN reported, with drifts reaching up to six feet. As of Tuesday afternoon, parts of Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts were under blizzard and winter storm warnings. New York City got off easy in comparison, with a paltry 7.9 inches falling in Central Park.

26.9 inches

New York City's record snowfall, recorded in February 2006 in Central Park. At that time, the city deployed 2,500 workers to help with cleanup, flights were grounded and trains were delayed, but the subway didn't shut down as it did Monday night.


That's how many domestic and international flights were cancelled Tuesday in anticipation of a historic nor'easter, with another 2,290 delayed. On Monday airlines cancelled 2,866 flights.

$160 million

The cost of lost labor if 10 percent of New York City's workforce stays home, The New York Times' Upshot reported. That might be a conservative estimate, since the majority of workers take the subway, which shut down for the first time in more than a century. Or it could be overstated, since so many people are wired to work from home.

$500 million

The estimated cost of the storm, a senior VP for Planalytics told CNBC Tuesday morning. That's far from the GDP-shrinking impact some analysts talked about Monday. In the case of New York City,  one economist told Bloomberg any lost output should be made up by the end of the week.

Obama Administration Proposes Opening Up Atlantic To Drilling

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 11:51

At the same time, a new Interior Department plan designated nearly 10 million acres in Alaska as off-limits to any future oil and gas leasing. Reaction has been mixed to the draft plan.

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A Holocaust Survivor, Spared From Auschwitz At The Last Second

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 11:40

The line on the left went to the gas chambers, but an SS guard shoved Jack Mandelbaum to the right. Thus began a three-year nightmare in seven camps for a Jewish teenager who refused to give up hope.

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Hate performance reviews? So does human resources

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 11:15

The Society for Human Resource Management says about 90 percent of companies give employees performance appraisals during the year. But only a small share of people who work in HR give their appraisal process high marks.

A few big companies like Microsoft and Kelly Services have acknowledged flaws in the traditional appraisal process and have retooled some major parts of it. So has software giant Adobe.

“For too long we've appeared as the police people, if you will, the regulators of processes that weren't necessarily valued by the intended audiences, whether it be by managers or employees,” says Donna Morris, senior vice president of People and Places at Adobe.

A few years ago, Adobe spiked the traditional annual review.  Managers and workers now do regular, verbal check-ins every couple months. There's no paperwork. Employees get clarity on their goals and can ask for support to help get their jobs done.

“People just really want to have an ongoing dialogue. They want to know that there's no surprise in terms of how they're performing, how they can make a difference in the organization,” Morris says.

Adobe’s part of what some experts say is a burgeoning trend of companies dumping the traditional performance review. Experts say the performance review can turn adversarial when talk of rankings and raises gets mixed into a conversation about an employee's growth and development. And if the conversation only happens once a year, that creates all the more pressure. 

But Sam Culbert, a management expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, says the trend to scrap the annual review needs to move faster. He's an outspoken critic of the traditional review, as the title of his book suggests: "Get Rid of the Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on the Results That Really Matter."

“The metrics [of reviews] are baloney. One manager's team player is another manager's conflict avoider. There's no consistency,” Culbert says.

The annual employee review took off in the postwar era as companies tried out new management techniques. In the 1980s, Jack Welch, a chief executive at General Electric, popularized a way of ranking workers as a part of performance management, Culbert says.

“So you could give 20 percent ‘excellent’ and then you had to give 10 percent either 'improve’ or ‘get fired,’” Culbert says. “And the rest of the 70 percent were some form of average.”

Adobe's system may not put to rest the fear of getting fired that many workers associate with performance conversations. The company says it’s retaining more of its top workers under its new approach, it's also letting go of weaker employees at a higher rate.

Telecommuting is killing the snow day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 10:40

As parts of the Northeast dig out from Tuesday's snowstorm, many workers will still be dealing with emails, presentations and phone calls that they've usually handled in the office.

One reason the storm's economic impact will be a relatively low $500 million is the rise of telecommuting, according to estimates by Planalytics, a firm that helps businesses plan for weather-driven changes.

The 2010 census figures show that 2.4 percent of workers telecommute full-time, an increase from 1.4 percent in 2000, says Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economics professor. When Bloom studied telecommuting, he discovered workers can be 13 percent more productive and prefer working from home one or two days a week.

A snowstorm is the perfect time for companies to experiment with letting workers telecommute, he says, because they can see if it works for them. Telecommuting seems to be increasing among workers with lower-level jobs (such as IT call center assistants) and upper-level management positions, according to Bloom.

What goes into the 'durable goods index'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 10:38

Orders on durable goods were down almost 3.5 percent in December from a month earlier, according to a report issued Tuesday.

Figures on orders for durable goods are one way to judge the relative health of the American manufacturing sector.

Here's some of what goes into that index:

It starts with the U.S. Census Bureau, says Dale Jorgenson, a Harvard University economics professor.

"They collect information on what the shipments were, what they actually shipped out to their customers, what they are holding in terms of inventory, and finally what they received in terms of new orders," he says.


How a strong dollar can be a corporate weakness

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 10:36

DuPont, Procter & Gamble and Pfizer are among the multinational corporations blaming the strong dollar for earnings that missed analysts' expectations this quarter. But the strong dollar isn't a weakness for the reason you might expect. 

The dollar has spiked rapidly and broadly because the U.S. economy is doing relatively well, says Sameer Samana, global strategist at Wells Fargo.

How the U.S. dollar compares to the British pound, euro and Japanese yen.

Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

That has hurt multinational corporations not necessarily because this makes exports more expensive but because of what Steven Englander, head of G10 foreign exchange strategy at Citigroup, calls the "translation effect."

Mauro Guillén, a professor of international management at the Wharton School, says this is when profits abroad are "lost in translation." They are reduced by the exchange rate when they are repatriated back to the United States. It may hurt a company's stock price, Guillén says, but it's not a threat to the broader economy.

Koch brothers' 2016 war chest is $889 million

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 09:29

Conservatives Charles and David Koch's big Monday announcement: A network of political groups the brothers back plans to spend $889 million ahead of the next election. To put that in context, this would put their political organization in league with the two major parties financially. Their spending goal would be more than twice what the Republican National Committee spent in 2012. 

The news comes out of the Freedom Partners annual winter meeting held outside of Palm Springs, California.

"We’re talking about a few hundred people here who have committed to give money to this network ahead of the campaign," says Marketplace’s David Gura.

Much of that money will go to ads, but the Koch brothers have also heavily invested in data and technology.

So what does all of this money – being raised by a private organization and being spent by a private organization – say about the fate of the two national parties: Democrats and the Republicans?

"They’ve both got to be worried," says Gura. "You’ve got these outside groups who are setting the message, they’re controlling the message to an extent, and I think even more fundamentally, they’re doing things that parties used to do or that they have been doing. I mentioned the ground game and collecting data – that was the providence of parties for a really long time."

Obama Meets New Saudi King, Balancing Human Rights, U.S. Interests

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 09:11

The president cut short his visit to India to travel to Saudi Arabia. There, he met King Salman, who ascended to the throne last week following the death of Salman's half-brother, Abdullah.

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Number Of Exonerations Last Year Reached New Highs, Report Finds

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 07:47

The National Registry of Exonerations says 125 people were exonerated in 2014 after being falsely convicted of crimes. The number surpasses the previous record of 91, set in 2013.

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Beef Packers Block Plan To Revive Growth-Promoting Drug

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 07:30

Beef processors continue to block efforts to bring back Zilmax, a drug that makes cattle put on weight faster. Is it because they're concerned about animal welfare, or beef exports?

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Quiz: States pick up the tab for preschool

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 07:29

All but six states funded local pre-K programs in 2014-2015, according to the Education Commission of the States.

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A Teacher's 'Pinch Me' Moment: Cheering The Super Bowl From The Sidelines

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 06:51

On Sunday, this Massachusetts teacher will be up close with her favorite team — as a cheerleader on the New England Patriots squad.

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Net neutrality: Whole lot of drama in those two words

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-27 06:43

In just 30 days, the entire FUTURE OF THE INTERNET will be revealed! 

Well ... maybe.

On Feb. 26, the Federal Communications Commission will rule on proposed rules regarding "net neutrality" and how the Internet can be used by consumers and Internet Service Providers.

"Net neutrality."  Could they have come up with a more boring term? It even has the word "neutral" in it. As in plain. Dull. Tedious.

Here's a quick and dirty explainer on "net neutrality":

The idea behind the term is that all data transmitted across the Internet should be treated equally, or neutrally. In theory, that's the way things work, but some cable companies and Internet Service Providers want to disrupt that model.

Perhaps the cable companies coined the phrase "net neutrality"? That would be genius. Just mention the two words, and the whole world switches off. It would free you up to have a conversation about how to make money off the Internet without facing too much opposition.

Not everyone has switched off. A handful of sleep-resistant lobby groups and consumer-rights advocates have teamed up with companies and set off alarm bells across the Internet. Consumers are bombarding the Federal Communications Commission and Capitol Hill with a simple plea regarding the FCC: Continue to require information to be transmitted equally across the Internet, without discrimination or prejudice.

Will the will of American consumers prevail? Or will the cable behemoths crush their resistance? Despite its ho-hum name, the battle over "net neutrality" has the makings of a dramatic saga.

'I Don't Trust U.S. Politics,' Fidel Castro Reportedly Writes

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 06:28

The former Cuban dictator had not said anything publicly since the U.S. and Cuba announced plans for a rapprochement. Today, the Communist paper released a letter said to be written by him.

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Holocaust Survivors Mark 70th Anniversary Of Auschwitz's Liberation

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 06:17

About 300 survivors of the Nazi camp are attending the ceremony along with German and Austrian leaders. But attention is also on the absence of Russia's president whose countrymen liberated Auschwitz.

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The Cape Bears Brunt Of Blizzard's Onslaught

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 05:59

The snowstorm hitting the Northeast is having a big impact on Cape Cod, Mass. Steve Inskeep speaks with WCAI's Sean Corcoran for the latest on how residents and local officials are handling the storm.

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Mourning In Riyadh: Obama Visits New Saudi King To Offer Condolences

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 05:45

President Obama has stopped in Saudi Arabia on his way home from India. He's meeting with the new Saudi king. Steve Inskeep talks to NPR's Scott Horsley, who is traveling with the President.

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Am I Responsible If The Insurance Exchange Flubs My Subsidies?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 05:28

Mistakes are made. If the health insurance marketplaces screw up in calculating subsidies for consumers, it's the individual who is likely to be on the hook for repaying the excess.

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It's Been A Hard Road To 12 Step For Zanzibar's Heroin Addicts

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-27 05:04

On an island with one of the world's highest addiction rates, a 12-step program faces special challenges. The Muslim populace is uneasy with its Christian concepts. And women are seen as beyond hope.

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