National News

Wall Street’s Inner Sanctum

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-29 07:00

Once during the roaring '90s, I was ushered into the high temple of Wall Street. You might be thinking Goldman Sachs, but its headquarters are near, but not on, Wall Street. The high temple of Wall Street is the big church that presides over the street’s high end, Trinity.

I was interviewing the Rev. Dan Matthews, the Episcopal priest who was, at the time, rector of Trinity. The topic was what we then called “socially responsible investment,” a way to apply an investor’s personal values to a portfolio. Trinity owns a lot of Manhattan real estate and I was curious if the parish screens its massive portfolio to be sure it doesn’t own securities in companies that do things the church finds morally repugnant. 

Not really, came the answer. Matthews told me that his board of directors consisted of captains of Wall Street, and, try as he might, he could never get his vestry to agree on good versus bad companies (beyond their capacities to generate future profits). There was a strong view that it was the board’s fiduciary responsibility to make sure the church’s portfolio generated the best return. It was the job of priests and parishioners to then decide what good works could be done with the proceeds.

That was 18 years ago, and the movement has come a long, long way. Many practitioners have taken the word “social” out of the acronym; it’s still SRI, but Socially Responsible Investing now stands for Sustainable, Responsible, Impact investing. It involves much more than screening out companies that do stuff you don’t like (like despoiling the Earth). It can also mean rewarding companies that do better than their peers to address social ills as you, the investor, see them. SRI is also about shareholder engagement. Investors are part-owners of companies and can band together to pressure management to clean up its act.

All those years ago, SRI might have come off as hippie investing money management for the granola set. Now, it’s very big business, with some of the largest investment companies in the world prepared to screen portfolios.

It may be that this month SRI reached a new milestone: a high-level call for governments to help with this movement. Some of the most powerful people in the world have, in essence, endorsed what they label as Impact Investing. British Prime Minister David Cameron, as then-head of the Group of Eight club of nations, had called for a committee to be pulled together on the subject. The U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia and the European Union delegated one senior official and one prominent figure from the private sector to the group. Their mission: to figure out ways to take Impact Investing to the next level, so it can do even more to make the world a better place. The project grew out of the sense that persists after the great financial collapse of 2008 that the world of finance needs to “build a health society rather than endanger it.”

You’ve heard of the “invisible hand”? The group has just released a report calling “Impact Investing” the “invisible heart” of markets. I spoke with Matthew Bishop, New York Bureau Chief for The Economist magazine, who served as the fancy group’s reporter. He said the group embraced the notion of “three-dimensional investing,” adding social and environmental impact to the usual elements of risk and reward. He is also excited about new ways of measuring the effects of impact investing.

What’s next? The report argues that it is now time for governments to play a key role in markets that make the world healthier by making sure that regulations aren’t a stumbling block for these social innovations. Government can also make sure that when it spends its big money, it does its part to demand the similar kinds of social returns that investors may increasingly ask of their portfolios. 

PODCAST: The strength of the Indian-American community

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-29 03:00

First up, the federal government has been accused of not aggressively going after individuals who had a part in the financial crisis. Today, it's the federal government being sued in a federal court over its bailout of the insurance giant American International Group. A former CEO of AIG thinks the bailout cheated him and shareholders. And India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in the U.S. right now. He'll meet with President Obama today, but he also appeared before a sold-out crowd of 20,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York this weekend, which speaks in part to the strength of the Indian-American community. Plus, let's check the ingredients list for the recipe here: A cup and a half of Big Data, stir in an algorithm, heat in a saucepan before sprinkling in the apps. Venture Capitalists believe the food industry is next in line for disruption, and tech startups have some ideas. 

How techies are reenvisioning restaurants

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-29 02:00

In San Francisco, you can see the future of restaurants ... or at least as it’s envisioned by the techies. And no surprise, that dining experience starts with an app.

You didn’t bring your lunch and you don’t have time to go out? Go to your iPhone, look for your favorite restaurant app, and click on the photo of the lunch you want. While they can’t quite zap it to you yet, they’re working on it.

“Ah, here we go. An order, it just popped up on my app!” says Cayden Berkmoyer, a driver at Sprig, one of the many food tech startups popping up in San Francisco. We’re in his car, and in the backseat is a big bag full of assorted boxed lunches. Here’s how Sprig works: When you place an order, an algorithm sends it to the nearest driver.  

“The order is for Tanya,” Berkmoyer says, reading off his app — she ordered a kale granola salad. With that, he starts his car and is on his way.

Sprig is like a San Francisco–style restaurant, only on wheels. Lunch is $9, and the food is mostly organic, the meat hormone-free. The startup won’t say if it’s profitable or how many meals it serves a day. But it’s looking to expand into more cities, says Nate Keller, Sprig’s executive chef.

“Sprig is a company whose mission is to bring healthy food to the masses,” Keller says.

And Sprig thinks it can do this by using technology, which will cut out waste and allow it to compete with big restaurants on price while still offering healthier options.

Kent Bennett with Bessemer Venture Partners says, in the past, tech investors stayed away from food.

“The challenges are immense,” he says. “Most of the companies we invest in move ones and zeros around, and food tech companies, you’re moving heirloom tomatoes around. You know, they start to rot the second they come off the vine.”

And rotting food, a big problem in the restaurant industry, is money down the drain. But Bennett says with the tech boom, investors are giving food another look.

“This is a trillion-dollar market. There’s no category of software that even begins to approach that number,” Bennett says. “And there’s a lot of pain in the food space, whether it’s health and wellness or affordability.”

And Bennett says venture capitalists are betting that startups can use mobile computing and big data to take away some of the pain, and take on traditional food companies. 

Artistic inspiration or piracy?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-29 02:00

Jeff Koons’ retrospective show at the Whitney Museum of Art is a grand testimonial to his work over the decades. It is also “a time capsule for copyright law,” says Andrew Gilden, teaching fellow at Stanford University Law School. 

Standing in front of a sculpture of an elderly couple holding eight blue, adorable puppies entitled “String of Puppies,” Gilden points out that Koons was sued in 1992 over this very sculpture. The artist had re-created a photograph taken by photographer Art Rogers and, juxtaposing it with other sculptures in his series, was trying to comment on the banality of the images we are bombarded with in daily life. Rogers sued, alleging that Koons’ sculpture amounted to stealing. 

Koons lost.

“The court looked at the sculpture, looked at the photo, and said they’re similar, it’s piracy,” says Gilden. “Doesn’t matter if he had some grander purpose.” 

Back in 1992, “the court hated his work,” says Amy Adler, professor of law at NYU. “They saw him as involved in the business of art, saw him as a pirate, talked about how much money he made from the work, and he lost rather spectacularly.” Koons had to settle two other lawsuits on similar grounds.

Fast forward to 2006, Koons was sued yet again for using another artist’s work, this time in a collage.

Koons won. 

What changed?

The Supreme Court intervened in 1994 to say it’s OK to copy art if the new work is "transformative."

“Does the work have a new purpose or character, has it altered the previous work with new meaning or message?” says Adler. “Whether the new work was transformative is the key to the test.”

Other considerations still listed in the 1976 copyright law receded in importance. These included the effect of the copying on a potential market for (or value of) the copyrighted work, and the extent, the nature and the purpose of the copying. 

This, argues Gilden, has created a problem. 

“This shift in fair use has predominantly protected big name defendants who appropriate from small name artists.” Gilden says in most visual art copyright cases in the past 10 years, the wealthier more famous artist has won. They’ve won defending against claims they copied someone else’s work, and they’ve won pursuing others for copying their work. Gilden argues this is because courts, like people, think of famous and non-famous art differently.

“We have a hard time thinking of prominent artistic works as being raw, as being the building blocks for something better.”

While cases like those of Jeff Koons or Richard Prince “might seem to open up the doors to more sharing and accommodation of sharing, copying, appropriation art, it does not,” says Gilden. The law around fair use is still vague, and the expense of challenging if one is found guilty of copying is immense. And, adds Gilden, “Other less prominent artists have lost in situations similar to Koons’.”

William Fisher, who teaches Intellectual Property law at Harvard Law School, offers another explanation for the disproportionate success of the wealthy and famous: “Wealthy artists are much more likely to be sued than poorer artists because they have deeper pockets.” On the other hand, “Other features of copyright law do unfortunately bias the system in favor of more wealthy and sophisticated defendant artists.” 

First off, he says, “The unpredictability of the fair use system means you have to hire a lawyer in order to mount a defense, and lawyers are expensive.” The federal litigation system also now gives plaintiffs the opportunity to conduct very expensive discovery in the course of litigation, “which is financially burdensome for anyone.” Lastly, remedies and damages, if one loses a copyright case, can be immense. 

The unpredictability of copyright cases is one of Adler’s primary criticisms: “One of the worries that I think we should all have about the extremely chaotic and uncertain area of fair use law is it will force artists to steer clear of engaging in work they should otherwise be able to do for fear of getting sued, and that applies to all artists rich or poor.”

ATM fees continue to rise

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-29 02:00

Using the ATM can be convenient, and banking industry consultant Bert Ely says that when it comes to out-of-network fees, ease is where the problem begins.

“First of all, ATM machines are getting more sophisticated,” he says.

According to Ely, maintaining and upgrading ATMs to handle fancy new features, like video tellers, costs banks a lot of money. Meanwhile, low interest rates have kept profits down. 

“So, they look elsewhere for income,” he says.

They look, for instance, to out-of-network ATM fees. A new study from Bankrate.com and data from other research shows average out-of-network fees are up between 2.5 and 5 percent over last year. So while your bank might not be charging you, it's instead slapping customers from other banks with fees when they use its ATMs.

“The reality is it’s better for them to charge other banks' customers, than their own more," says Jim Miller, senior director of banking with market research company J.D. Power.

Miller says that unlike with overdraft fees, at least using another bank’s ATM is a choice — albeit, an expensive one.

So where are you likeliest to pay the most? Here are the five cities that have the highest ATM fees, on average:

1. Phoenix, AZ: $4.96

Alan Stark/Flickr

2. Denver, CO: $4.75

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

3. San Diego, CA: $4.70

Justin Brown/Flickr

4. Houston, TX: $4.67

Adam Baker/Flickr

5. Milwaukee, WI: $4.66

Joseph A/Flickr

 

Modi visit throws spotlight on Indian-Americans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-29 02:00

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, is currently visiting the U.S. He’ll meet with President Obama Monday, but he also appeared before a sold-out crowd of nearly 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York on Sunday, which speaks in part to the strength and enthusiasm of the Indian-American community.

Officially, there are more than 3 million Indian-Americans in the U.S. and — as a group — they’ve been largely successful.

Their median household income is roughly $100,000 — about double that of the rest of the population — according to 2013 American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Part of this comes down to education,” says Milan Vaishnav, an associate in the South Asia Program with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I think nearly three-quarters of Indians who are coming to the United States already had a bachelor’s degree,” he says.

Many gain access to the U.S. on skills-based visas and enter fields like software, engineering, medicine, and finance.

Not all support Modi politically, but the visit is a chance to express national pride, says Vaishnav.

Over the last decade, Indian-Americans have become increasingly politically active, says John Echeverri-Gent, a professor at the University of Virginia.

“This is a group that in terms of its political lobby is really coming of age,” he says. In particular, Indian-Americans are increased in pushing for stronger ties between the U.S. and their home country, as well as immigration reform.

But Indian-Americans should not be seen as a monolith, says Suman Raghunathan, the executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together.

“Part of what the per capita numbers don’t fully portray is the incredible economic and socioeconomic diversity we see in the Indian-American population,” she explains, noting an increasing number of Indians in the U.S. who are undocumented or are here on temporary visas. 

Obama: U.S. Underestimated ISIS, Overestimated Iraqi Army

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 15:10

In an interview with 60 Minutes the president, citing the director of national intelligence, acknowledged that U.S. intelligence overestimated the ability of the Iraqi army to fight the group.

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To Counter Gun Violence, Researchers Seek Deeper Data

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 13:06

For the first time in nearly 20 years, federal money is flowing into gun violence research. There's also growing momentum behind creating a reliable national database for firearm injuries and deaths.

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Sober And Sold-Out: Dance Club In Sweden Cuts Booze For A Night

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 12:44

Breathalyzers were placed in the doorway of a nightclub in Stockholm this weekend, with an unusual purpose: to ensure no guests had been drinking any booze.

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People Be Triflin', From 'Bills, Bills, Bills' To The Bible

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 10:47

The word "trifling" (or, as it may be more commonly said, "triflin'"), used to blast folks as lazy, good-for-nothing cheaters, goes back quite a ways.

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Kenya's Kimetto Sets New Marathon World Record In Berlin

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 10:09

For the first time, the world record in the marathon is now under 2 hours and 3 minutes, after Dennis Kimetto of Kenya tore through the course at Sunday's Berlin Marathon.

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The Experts The Ebola Response May Need: Anthropologists

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 08:54

The scientists who study humans and their cultures could help health care professionals treat people who are reasonably, desperately afraid, they argue.

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Popular Indian Politician's Corruption Conviction Spurs Nervousness

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 08:14

A ruling against J. Jayalalithaa in India's highest-profile corruption case has stunned a political class that is widely seen as permeated with graft. She's been sentenced to four years in prison.

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Facebook Requires Real Names. What Does That Mean For Drag Queens?

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 06:56

Dozens of queens' profiles were deactivated recently because they used stage names. Facebook says requiring real names curbs abuse, but LGBT groups say it's restricting — for drag queens and others.

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With Savvy And New-Age Speeches, A First Couple Runs Nicaragua

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 06:53

Daniel Ortega is not the bombastic revolutionary of years past. He's toned down the rhetoric and his wife runs day-to-day operations. Critics say it's not unlike the regime he toppled 30 years ago.

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Turkey Signals Willingness To Join Coalition Against ISIS

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 06:46

Saying his country will do "whatever is needed" to help fight the extremist group ISIS, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he has reached what media are calling "a point of determination."

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What Drives Abortion: The Law or Income?

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 06:25

About 5 million women worldwide are admitted to hospitals each year because of complications after an abortion. But the key to stopping these injuries may have nothing to with changing the law.

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With The End In Sight, Holder Reflects On His Legacy

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 06:12

Attorney General Eric Holder tells NPR's Carrie Johnson that he's sorry his parents couldn't see Obama's tribute to him on Thursday — and that his greatest regret hit home on a visit to Newtown.

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Hong Kong Police Use Tear Gas On Large Pro-Democracy Protest

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 05:36

Video footage from earlier in the day showed protesters using umbrellas to try to deflect pepper spray and water cannons as officers attempted to disperse the crowd.

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Reporter's Notebook: In Eastern Ukraine, A Bellicose Mood Prevails

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-28 05:04

On a return trip to eastern Ukraine, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley found a ceasefire that feels shaky and separatists who are full of swagger and determined to press their fight for independence.

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