National News

Homejoy shuts its doors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

At the end of July, the on-demand cleaning start-up Homejoy will shut down in the wake of lawsuits challenging the company's classification of workers as contractors rather than employees. It's a familiar story that has affected companies like Uber, Lyft, and Handy.

Click the media player above to hear Marketplace's Molly Wood talk with Christopher Koopman, research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, about how this case signals to a change in the sharing economy. 

According to Koopman, the sharing economy's growth in recent years "has been driven by the fact that this isn’t a traditional business model and it isn't an employer and employee relationship." Yet, this is precisely the point of contention for the numerous lawsuits levied against Homejoy and others.

Companies in the sharing economy toe a dubious line between online platform, social network, and employer. Koopman maintains that "saying they're no longer a platform connecting people but in fact an employer could really spell doom for a lot of these companies like we're seeing with Homejoy."

In the wake of Google snatching up Homejoy's tech and product team, Koopman sees the future as especially bleak for small outfits if these organizations are deemed employers: "Only the largest and most deep pocketed firms are going to be the ones that are able to weather that storm. So you'll see firms like Uber, Lyft and the other really large players in the sharing economy likely survive. But this could be extremely difficult for the small startups."

Apple, Microsoft, and Yahoo make, lose, and lose money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

Apple (AAPL) reported its fiscal third-quarter earnings after the closing bell on Tuesday. Earnings were up 38 percent from the same period one year ago, to $10.7 billion. Revenues were up 33 percent to $49.6 billion. iPhone sales were up 35 percent, totaling 47.5 million in the quarter, and iPhone sales more than doubled in China, a key market for mobile technology.

Nonetheless, Apple stock fell 7 percent in immediate after-hours trading following the earnings release. Investment analysts were expecting stronger iPhone sales — in the 50-million-unit range. The stock selloff may reflect investors’ concerns that the iPhone juggernaut could be peaking and the company's iPhone franchise losing momentum.

iPhone sales account for 63 percent of Apple’s global sales, up from 53 percent of sales one year ago. By continuing to roll out major upgrades of the iPhone series, Apple has succeeded in pushing up iPhone prices by $100-per-phone to $662-per-phone on average, even as smartphone prices overall have been declining. Apple has continued to develop and release new versions of its popular iPad tablets, and it has introduced a new product category, the smart-watch (the company did not break out sales figures for its new Apple Watch separately in this earnings report).

Yahoo (YHOO) continued on its turnaround path in its fiscal second quarter, reporting higher revenues but a net loss due to higher expenses. The company increased sales by 15 percent year-over-year, more than analyst expectations. However, Yahoo’s cost of traffic acquisition — money it pays search partners — more than tripled, which cut into earnings and led to a net quarterly loss of $22 million.

CEO Marissa Mayer expressed satisfaction with Yahoo’s results, pointing to improvements in the company’s mobile, video, and social-media businesses, which are all key to Mayer's revival plans for Yahoo.

Microsoft (MSFT) reported a record net loss in its fiscal fourth quarter, of $3.2 billion. That loss was primarily due to a $7.5 billion accounting charge Microsoft took in the quarter for its ill-fated purchase of Nokia. Microsoft announced earlier in July that it plans to eliminate 7,800 jobs connected to its troubled mobile-phone business. Microsoft reported that quarterly revenue was down 5 percent compared to the same quarter last year. Its full-year revenue increased to $93.5 billion from $86.8 billion the previous year. Annual profit fell to $12.2 billion from $22 billion the previous year. In the fourth quarter, Microsoft experienced some weakness in its Office and Windows product lines, countered by strength in cloud services, Xbox, and Surface tablet computers. 

In home bidding wars, love letters can seal a deal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

In many real estate markets around the country, a shortage of homes for sale is creating stiff competition among buyers. In order to stand out in a possible bidding war, some buyers try to win favor by writing a personal appeal to the seller. 

“When the listing for your home came up online, we fell in love,” wrote Becca Schulman Havemeyer in a letter to the seller of a four bedroom home in the Boston area. “We love the charm and character of your home and can tell that your family cherished it as well.”

The Havemeyers had tried to boost their chances of getting the house by offering more than the list price. They also included an “escalation clause” in the offer, saying they’d be willing to bid yet higher, in case it came to that.

Schulman Havemeyer says the financial extras didn’t move the seller, who initially went with another bidder. But when that deal fell through, the seller turned to the Havemeyers because of their letter.  

“I've confirmed with her, because we've now been in touch, that she loved our letter and loved thinking about a family — a young family — coming into her home and having new memories there and honoring it in a different way,” Schulman Havemeyer says.

Potential homebuyers have used the love letter tactic for years in tight markets. But the letters may be more necessary today as way to get sellers' attentions. Demand for homes outstrips supply in many cities, properties are selling quickly, and sellers may enjoy multiple bid offers.

“I want the seller to feel the humanness of the bid,” says Kat Wies, a Durham, N.C.-based realtor who regularly includes a cover letter with her clients’ offers.

Wies's letters aren’t just a big wet kiss, though. She says she describes what the potential buyers like about the house.

“But you also want to describe the things the potential buyers would need to spend money on,” she says.

Some realtors say potential buyers need to be cautious not to spill their guts along with their ink, as the strategy can backfire. Even the Havemeyers, who penned love letters themselves, chafed at receiving them in return.

Will Havemeyer says it felt odd to read about how much someone else would enjoy the home he put a lot of work into. He still thought of it as his house.

“Hearing someone else talk about how they're going to live in it is hard to take,” he says.

In that case, where words failed, money still talked. The winning bidders whose letter didn’t sit right did ultimately prevail — but Havemeyer says it was largely because they were paying cash.

Looking for progress for treating Alzheimer's

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

More than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, a disease that can't be prevented or slow, much less cured. The FDA hasn’t approved a new drug to treat it in more than 10 years. As a result, some big pharmaceutical companies are getting together in Washington this week to discuss experimental drugs that hope to fill that market gap. 

Eli Lilly is releasing results from a clinical trial of solanezumab. Dr. Bill Thies is senior scientist in residence at the Alzheimer’s Association. "One of the issues in Alzheimer's trials is that it's a relatively slowly progressing disease," he says. "So it's hard to see changes in the rate of progression."

But Thies says today’s data should give doctors a better sense of whether this drug is working. The key is a third trial that’s already underway. The results of that trial should be made available in 12 to 18 months. "The FDA has agreed to accept the first two trials as a pivotal proof of the effectiveness of the drug," Thies says.

"So, if this third trial is successful, that gives us the opportunity to see a drug that actually will be eligible for licensing. That data is in the future but it's relatively soon in the future."

Ashtyn Evans, a healthcare analyst with Edward Jones, says the market potential for drugs like solanezumab is huge. "This is an unmet need," she says. "There's currently nothing on the market right now that is disease modifying or actually slows the cognitive decline. So, the potential for a drug that actually helps slow the decline could be quite large."

Eli Lilly sees a market opportunity and has already invested close to a billion dollars in its Alzheimer’s program. After all, the disease is the sixth leading cause of death among Americans and is the only one in the top ten that currently can’t be prevented, cured or slowed. 

An online directory aims to help transgender people

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

About half the time Ricky Hill of Chicago goes to the doctor, Hill has to educate the doctor about being transgender. Other times, clinic workers have called Hill by the wrong name. These are experiences with which many other transgender people can identify.

"We figure out who is a doctor that's not going to mis-gender me, or get my name wrong every single time I go in. Or, look at me like I'm a weirdo. Or, ask a bunch of inappropriate questions that have nothing to do with the sinus infection that I came in for," Hill says.

Ricky Hill

Nova Safo/Marketplace

Hill, 32, identifies between the male and female genders, and prefers the pronouns them and they, versus him or her. "I identify as a trans-masculine, gender-queer person," Hill says.

Hill is always on the lookout for doctors, hairstylists, gender-neutral bathrooms, and any other service or business where they can feel accepted.

"It is a constant explanation," Hill says, "I would love to have a day where my gender was not the topic of some sort of conversation."

This is why a non-profit advocacy group in Chicago has created an online database to help transgender people find businesses and service providers that are not just friendly, but understanding of their needs. Most of the online directory is comprised of healthcare services, and it includes a rate and review function, as well as the ability to search for businesses and providers by location.

The directory, called RAD Remedy — RAD stands for Referral Aggregator Database — is online, but still in development mode. It could potentially make a big impact, because of the sizable population of transgender Americans; up to 700,000 people, according to an estimate by UCLA's Williams Institute.

"Our, sort of, hope is to provide as much information to people as possible, for them to know what they're walking into," says Riley Johnson, RAD Remedy's co-founder.

It is not just an issue of convenience. More than a quarter of transgender people report harassment in a medical setting, says Daphna Stroumsa, a resident OBGYN at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Robert Garofalo 

Nova Safo/Marketplace

Stroumsa has researched transgender healthcare, finding that it can even be difficult to identify surgeons willing to work with patients who are transitioning.

"Trans people have suffered so much from the way the healthcare system has treated them," Stroumsa says. "The medical professions have not been taught and trained the cultural sensitivity issues and the medical issues."

Among the clinic's listed on RAD Remedy is Chicago-based Lurie Children's Hospital's outpatient clinic for transgender youth. It is one of few focused on that population.

"We've had ... patients come from as far as Kentucky, Michigan ... Iowa. All the surrounding states of the Midwest," says Robert Garofalo, a specialist in pediatrics and adolescent medicine, who runs the clinic.

Garofalo says there are only a couple of dozen other clinics like his.

American foodmakers see new market with TPP

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

Congress gave President Barack Obama authority to fast-track those trade talks, but there’s still not a done deal. Negotiations continue later this month to finalize the trade pact. But one agenda item is causing friction between the U.S. and another part of the world. Politico reports that the latest flash point is over food, setting up a battle between America and the European Union.

This is all part of an ongoing fight between the U.S. and EU, which is very good at protecting food names such as Champagne, Gorgonzola cheese or Parma ham. That's a big deal for producers of particular types of good. Take Gouda cheese — The EU awarded the Dutch a protected geographical indication for Gouda cheese.  

“They get very upset when firms elsewhere use that name to identify the product,” says Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “They don’t want others crowding into what they regard as their market and that’s what’s at stake.”

And that fight is now apparently playing out in America’s trade dealings with Asia. American food makers want to sell more there, and don’t want to be told what to label their products. That’s why high-paid lobbyists and politicians are talking about American cheeses and sausages. 

Rebranding the cockroach

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:58
47.5 million units

That's how many units of iPhones were sold in the last quarter, according to Apple's latest report out Tuesday. But as much as that seems like a huge number, it fell short of analysts' expectations, which were more like 50 million units. That led to a 7 percent drop in Apple stocks in immediate after-hours trading, in spite of the company's 38 percent increase in earnings.

40 percent

That's the percentage of Chipotle's some 1,800 restaurants that still don't have carnitas. Due to a pork shortage, the company had pulled the meat option from many of its franchises, saying that it expected to be able to offer the meat by the end of the year. But as the New York Times reports, because of new store openings, the percentage of stores not offering carnitas has actually risen since the start of the year.

700,000 people

That's how many Americans identify as transgender, according to the UCLA Williams Institute. That's a large population of people that has to navigate finding medical care and businesses where they feel accepted. To address the situation, one Chicago startup called RAD Remedy is creating a database to serve as a resource. Think of it like a Yelp for for transgender people.

4,000 species

That's how many species of cockroaches — pause to let that sink in — exist in the world. That's a pretty disturbing number for anyone who has shrieked the minute they turned on the kitchen light to see an antennaed little friend scurry away. But as Yahoo News reports, a zoo in Japan is opening an exhibit aimed at highlighting the important role cockroaches play in the natural world. 

In A Hurry, Queen Elizabeth Goes Off Road

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:54

The queen was headed to church when she veered onto the grass to go around a family in her path.

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After Iran Nuclear Deal, U.S. Defense Secretary Reassures Mideast Allies

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:30

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is in Saudi Arabia, part of a Middle East swing where he's trying to reassure American allies that their security will not be comprised by the nuclear deal with Iran.

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Trump Draws Large Crowd, Attacks Rivals In South Carolina Campaign Stop

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:30

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took more swipes at his campaign rivals, including Lindsey Graham and Rick Perry, as he appeared before a large crowd in South Carolina.

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Songwriter Wayne Carson Dies At 72

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:30

Wayne Carson was a prolific songwriter who hit the top of the country and pop charts. He was best known for songs that included "Always On My Mind," recorded by both Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson.

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For More Than 30 Years, Comics Flock To Montreal Every July

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:30

Montreal is home to the biggest and oldest international comedy festival in the world. Dave Chappelle, Mike Myers, Wanda Sykes and Kevin Hart are among the performers this year.

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Can Greece Get A Handle On Its Notorious Tax System?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:30

A big problem for Greece as it attempts to climb out of its fiscal hole is its corrupt and inefficient tax system. The tax code is maddeningly complex and evasion is high.

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Novelist E.L Doctorow, Master Of Historical Fiction, Dies At 84

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:30

Novelist E.L. Doctorow, best known for his works of historical fiction set in the early 20th century, has died at the age of 84. His widely admired books include "Ragtime" and "Billy Bathgate."

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Sandra Bland Video Shows An Argument With Police Officer

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:30

A police dash cam video has been released in the case of Sandra Bland, the woman who was later found dead in a Texas jail. The video shows tension quickly escalating between Bland and the trooper.

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The Unintended Consequences Of A Program Designed To Help Homeowners

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:30

A Maryland program designed to help struggling homeowners ended up contributing to foreclosures in some cases. Researchers say it's an example of unintended consequences of some government policies.

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Death Penalty Or Life In Prison? Aurora Shooting Trial Goes To Sentencing Phase

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:30

The sentencing phase of the Aurora Theater Shooting trail begins Wednesday. James Holmes, who was found guilty of murder last week, faces either the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

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Newark Police Department Joins A Dozen Others Facing Federal Scrutiny

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:30

The Newark, New Jersey, police department is set to join a dozen other troubled law enforcement agencies under consent decrees with the federal government, which will be monitoring them.

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Syfy's 'Sharknado 3' Fails At Being Really Good Bad Television

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:13

Syfy debuts the third installment in its disaster movie spoof franchise. But it isn't fun to watch — even ironically — and the film falls short, even as it inspires imitators on other channels.

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Syria's Moderates: This Is Not What We Expected

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 01:09

They protested against the Assad regime in 2011, hoping for democracy. Now they're in exile, fighting extremists for their country's future and trying to provide a lifeline for others back in Syria.

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