National News

New law cracks down on businesses that ban bad reviews

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed what some have dubbed the "Yelp Law." It bars the business practice of "non-disparagement clauses": fine print that prohibits customers from writing bad reviews. 

The law was inspired by a case in Utah, in which online retailer KlearGear went after a couple who aired their grievances on the website Ripoff Report. KlearGear responded by calling the husband, John Palmer. His attorney, Scott Michelman characterizes that call: "'Your wife criticized us on Ripoff Report. You now [owe] us a penalty of $3,500."

Michelman and the Palmers ultimately won the case, though it took a lengthy legal battle. Their story inspired the California law, which bans such policies outright and imposes escalating financial penalties if businesses seek to enforce them.

Michelmann added that the law does nothing to restrict the traditional way of dealing with malicious and untrue statements: a defamation lawsuit.

"As opposed to an effort to harass, intimidate and silence its critics," Michelson says. 

Either way, though, the business has to find those critics. Sparks Steakhouse is suing Yelp to find the identity of a reviewer who claims to be a former employee. "I have personally spit my own sal[i]via [sic] into dishes for the passed [sic] 3 weeks now," the review says. 

Across the street from the restaurant, Victoria Miller says that one review would keep her away. "I would definitely avoid that place at all costs," she says. 

True or false, that online critic's best defense is anonymity. 

Scottish independence: the cost of uncertainty

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

On Thursday, the people of Scotland go to the polls for the most important economic decision of their lives. They’ll vote on whether or not they want to separate from the United Kingdom. They’ll also be voting with an unprecedented chorus of warnings ringing in their ears.

More than a hundred companies with Scottish operations have spoken of the perils of independence; five major banks, a big insurance company and one of the UK’s largest investment funds have threatened to pull their headquarters out of Scotland if there’s a "yes" vote; and supermarket chains say it could mean higher prices.

The pro-independence leader Alex Salmond blames the 'No' Campaign for this outpouring of corporate angst.

“I think the problem lies entirely with the 'No' campaign," Salmond told a news conference in Edinburgh. "The 'No' campaigners have been caught red-handed as being part of a campaign of scaremongering."

Salmond claims that those opposed to independence—including the UK’s national government at Westminster—have pressured the companies into speaking out.
But the warnings of turmoil have been widespread and cannot be so easily dismissed. The main concern is acute uncertainty.

Following a "yes" vote, there would be at least 18 months of intense negotiation over some highly contentious issues: What currency would Scotland use? How much of the UK’s national debt would it shoulder? How much of the North Sea oil would it inherit?

Mike Amey of the Pimco bond investment firm says this would create uncertainty which could be economically damaging.

“We wouldn’t know who’d end up with what. As a result you’d find some business investment put on hold during that period, the economy would be weaker," says Amey.

Some economists say that, at a stroke, the UK’s reputation as a global safe haven would be smashed. A survey of foreign exchange traders has indicated that the British pound could fall by 10%, and it would be more difficult for the UK to attract the inward investment flows that it needs to balance its books.

Dire predictions are coming thick and fast. A well-known property website forecasts that if there’s a "yes" vote, Scottish house price could crash, wiping $130 billion of the value of Scottish real estate and rattling Britain’s mortgage banks.

Scottish businesswoman and "Yes" campaigner Michelle Rodger says these forecasts are ludicrously negative.

“A 'yes' vote would send the most positive message to the rest of the world,” she says. “It would be Scotland saying: We’ve taken this opportunity, we’ve grasped it with both hands and we’re going to change Scotland for the better."

No one doubts the Scots would be able to run their own successful economy—they’ve played a leading role in the UK’s political, corporate, scientific and creative life for centuries. But divorce can be messy. Disentangling the 307 year old union with the rest of Britain would be monumentally difficult and costly.

Middle class, but "asset poor"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

We learned from the Census Bureau this week that the federal poverty rate has fallen, albeit slightly, for the first time since 2006. Last year, 14.5 percent of people in this country earned less than the federal poverty line, down from 15 percent in 2012. But a new report out Wednesday says far more families are financially insecure.

Nearly half of households in major U.S. cities are “liquid asset poor,” according to the report from the nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) and Citigroup. That means if they lose their incomes, those households don’t have enough accessible savings to get by for three months at the federal poverty level.

“Liquid poverty tells us that many communities and families that may be middle class really don’t have the cash available, the liquidity available, to respond to unexpected emergencies or needs,” says Bob Annibale, Citigroup’s global director of community development.

Worse off is Newark, NJ, with nearly 75 percent of households considered liquid asset poor. When so many families lack a financial cushion, it takes a toll on the whole economy, says Stephanie Hoopes Halpin, an assistant professor at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark.

“What it means is that a huge portion of your community is struggling just to pay their bills,” she says.

The report is being presented at a conference in Washington, D.C. aimed at helping more low-income families save. Solutions include automatic savings plans “so that people don’t have to think about it every time they need to save a dollar,” says Ida Rademacher, chief program officer at CFED, or helping people pay off debts so that they can begin saving.

Lower-income households can and will save, she says, if given the right opportunities.

How student data improves the lunch line

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

Schools around the country are using student data in all sorts of ways: to personalize education, to figure out which teaching techniques are working, and to make school services more efficient.

One place to actually see student data in action is the modern school cafeteria. 

At Carr Intermediate School in Santa Ana California, sixth graders start school a day early for orientation. Among the lessons they’ll learn: how to use their ID cards to get through the lunch line quickly.

“Part of what we are trying to teach them is technology,” says school principal Ed Bustamante.

Students punch their ID numbers into a keypad. That brings up their names, photos, even food allergies. The cashier greets students by name and sends them on their way.

It all happens very fast. Hundreds of kids grab burritos, mini-burgers, fruit and milk in no time.

Mark Chavez is Director of Nutrition Services at Santa Ana Unified School District. He says the cafeteria software, called Meals Plus, records each child who gets a meal. 

That kind of information can come in very handy if, for instance, a child’s academic performance starts to slip—School administrators can check to see if that child is eating.

The central office can also see exactly how many meals were served in the district, so schools can be sure they are being reimbursed properly by the state.

And, says Chavez, data can help when an upset parent calls because her child came home with a stomach ache: “We’ll say, ‘Mom, sorry to tell you, but they didn’t have lunch today because we didn’t see them at any points of sale.”       

All students at Santa Ana get free meals, so the district only keeps track of whether a child got lunch or not.

But in some schools, cafeteria systems will log exactly what a kid puts on her tray—pizza or a chicken sandwich, juice or milk. 

“The transaction can be rather detailed,” says Joel Reidenberg, a professor at Fordham University and a student data privacy expert. “Over time, that builds a profile of a child’s eating habits.”

Reidenberg says in some schools, cafeteria payment services are run by private contractors.

“Schools have lost control about the information about their children when they start using these outsourced services,” he says. 

Then, says Reidenberg it’s not at all clear how that data will be used.

You're invited: Come chat about #studentdata

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:52

Since “The Quantified Student” went up yesterday, we have been overwhelmed by the response.

Now, we want to take the conversation deeper, and hear from educators in the community. That means you!

What: Marketplace is  running a series on student data – how it’s gatheredhow it’s used, and, most important, how it is protected.   

Where: We’re hosting a Twitter chat.

When: Thursday (9/18) from 5-6 p.m. PST

Why: Marketplace is  running a series on student data – how it’s gatheredhow it’s used, and, most important, how it is protected

Who: Our handles are @LearningCurveEd@adrienehill (the reporter behind all of this), and @Ariana_Tobin.

How: The hashtag is #studentdata

Even if you can’t make it, we’d still love to hear your feedback before and after – what points you think it’s important for the education community to discuss?

Boeing And SpaceX Win $6.8 Billion In NASA Contracts

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:52

By 2017, the two American companies are expected to take over a job that NASA has relied upon Russia to perform: shuttling astronauts to the International Space Station.

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How the tough economy changes young people's lives

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:50

Young adults face economic challenges their elders never had to contend with.

Unemployment hovers near 20 percent  for 16-19-year-olds. That's higher  than it was before the recession, and student debt loads continue to mount.  Salaries, meanwhile, are lower in real terms for many entry-level jobs than they used to be.

This is causing the so-called "Millennials" (born between 1980 and 2000) to postpone a host of life-cycle and financial decisions, says Paul Taylor, senior fellow at the Pew Research Center, and author of the new book “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown.”

“Looking at some of the traditional milestones of adulthood—getting a job, finding a partner, getting married, having children, buying a house, buying a car,” said Taylor, “every one of those milestones is happening later in life for this generation of young adults.”

Pew recently published a paper showing that compared to their parents and grandparents, today’s young adults are less mobile—they’re hesitant to move out of state for jobs or relationships. And they live with roommates, or with mom and dad and other extended family members more too.

“A lot of this... change,” said Taylor, “is driven by the 20-somethings, and now even the 30-somethings, who are still living with mom and dad because he or she hasn’t found a marital partner, is having trouble getting jobs, maybe is getting an internship or maybe is a barista.”

It’s often described pejoratively as a generation that has “failed to launch,” said Taylor. But Pew’s research shows that parents, and Millennials themselves, don’t necessarily see it that way.

“Look, if there aren’t any jobs out there,” said Taylor, “hanging out with mom and dad isn’t a bad deal, the refrigerator’s usually stocked and you don’t have to put coins in the washing machine. And the generations actually get along pretty well.”

Of course, that’s not always true. Lucas Cook is in his early twenties, and recently moved out of his parents’ home in suburban Portland, Oregon, into with friends. He lived at home while he went to a local college and stayed there after he graduated.

He calls his new roommate-living arrangement: “A music and meditation pad. It’s super-nice, it feels like a new level of freedom.” And what was living at home like? “Super-intense. My parents have very different ideals than I do. And so it was a process of coming away from them ideologically while still being in their house, and that was really stressful.”

Cook plays conga drums and he’s started playing gigs, helping him to move out on his own.

Justine Pope is 28, and she is just now moving into her own place after living with her parents and roommates since college. Pope has held down three of four jobs simultaneously through the recession—law firm assistant, yoga teacher, gardener—and never made much more than $25,000 per year.

“How I live right now is pretty month to month, and I’m fine, I’m not ever struggling, I always make my rent,” said Pope. “But I’m not increasing from there. I don’t have savings, I don’t have a retirement.”

She said buying a home would be “unimaginable to me. When my mom was my age, she had had her first kid, they were on their way to buying a home. And I feel the life that I’m living now, while very happy, is not setting me up for a comfortable middle-aged lifestyle. I really hope to be a stable middle-aged person.”

Bill Emmons, senior economic advisor at the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, thinks many in Pope's and Cook’s generation will eventually catch up with the major financial life-decisions they’ve delayed--primarily, he thinks, because of the bad economy.

“Life expectancies keep rising and by the time Millennials reach their fifties and sixties, they may be looking at another 10 or 15 years of work,” said Emmons. “Maybe everything could be extended. There are some limits on that—childbearing can’t be delayed forever. But buying a house can.”

But other scholars, including Paul Taylor at Pew, think the pattern of young people not making these traditional life-cycle moves could be long-lasting—a reflection of the changing culture, not just the bad economy Millennials have come of age in.

Showtime's recipe to win the screen wars

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:40

Showtime President David Nevins spent years producing television shows for traditional networks before making the switch to a premium pay-model.

He says he likes the hand Showtime has been dealt. It network is able to keep viewers coming back (and paying up) for long-running hits like "Californication", "Dexter" or "Weeds" and new successes like "Homeland" or "Masters of Sex" (and, very nearly, "True Detective"). That has to do with three specific practices:

Make addictive content

Nevins produced "Friday Night Lights" and "Arrested Development", two shows that struggled on network television. At their heart, both were cable shows; a little too niche for broadcast, but addictive for their small audiences. Now, it’s much easier to monetize that passion through streaming than it was in years past.

“In premium TV, you get rewarded for shows like that, you get rewarded for the addictive shows," Nevins says. "In the old days, they were the shows that sold really well on DVD but didn't repeat well on the network and were always fighting for their life ratings-wise.”

Appeal to men and women

You don't need to satisfy everybody all the time, a network like Showtime has to make shows that subscribers like enough to wait a year in between seasons.

“That’s why you want to really remain balanced, gender-wise, if you’re in pay cable because you don’t want either half of the household — either the male half or the female half —saying ‘Honey, why are we writing that check each month?'”

Stay on top of technology (but don’t worry too much about new models)

As paid TV gets more competitive thanks to new technology and new business models, it's important that Showtime pivots at the right time.

“I want to make sure that we make the transitions to all the ways that people want to be able to consume us," Nevins says. Still, while the delivery might change, more competition doesn't mean anyone has to go out of business.

“That progression of new businesses from network TV to cable TV to premium cable TV to now all the online companies that are making content – they haven’t really made their predecessors go extinct," Nevins says.

Dr. Kent Brantly: Ebola Survivor Gives Testimony On The Hill

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:32

The doctor spoke of "the horror that this disease visits upon its victims" and told a joint Senate committee hearing that he favors U.S. military intervention to fight it.

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More Birthdays For Kids Under 5 Around The World

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:13

The number of deaths of children under 5 has dropped by 49 percent since 1990. There are many reasons why, from better vaccines and health workers to "kangaroo mother care."

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NFL gets a warning from sponsor Anheuser-Busch

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:10

This may turn out to be an 'uh oh' moment for the National Football League amid its current difficulties.

Anheuser-Busch - which is in the middle of a six year, $1.2 billion sponsorship deal with the league - issued a statement earlier today on the events that have transpired outside of the football field.

"We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league."

The NFL did not take long to respond. As reported by ESPN's Darren Rovell:

NFL responds to Anheuser-Busch statement: "We understand. We are taking action & there will be much more to come."

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) September 16, 2014

 

Fighting global warming doesn't have to break the bank

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:10

Fighting climate change need not be costly, and could bring significant benefits.

That's the message of the "New Climate Economy Report" — released in the run-up to next week's U.N. Climate Summit by a group with an impressive pedigree. For example, the chairman of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is former Mexican president Felipe Calderon.  

Some outlets have interpreted the report as saying that addressing climate change could be free. However, there’s lots of fine print. The math only works on the global-economy level— balancing costs and benefits— without reference to who pays the costs and who gets the benefits. And only if you assign dollar values to benefits like saving lives and averting illness.  

Here's the gist:  The Commission projects that, one way or the other, the world will spend around $90 trillion on infrastructure in the next 15 years.

"Our argument is that it would be smart to invest the $90 trillion in a good way," says Jeremy Oppenheim, director of the New Climate Economy Project, "rather than investing roughly the same number and ending up with cities that are sprawling and with energy systems that are continuing to spew out pollution."

Suggestions include things like building transit for well-planned cities instead of highways to sprawling suburbs.

Oppenheim says the real message isn’t that fighting climate change is free, but that it doesn’t get in the way of economic growth.  "Those people who claim that these two goals are in conflict just don’t have the evidence on their side," he says.

That argument addresses a pointed question that developing countries often ask about climate change efforts, says Trevor Houser of the Rhodium Group. The question: What about us? Are we supposed stay poor? 

"The West got rich following a very specific economic pathway," says Houser, referring to things like cheap but carbon-intensive coal power.  "In a carbon-constrained world, that pathway will not be available to developing countries. And what this report is saying is: 'There are actually other pathways.'"

However, there will be losers. As the report notes, countries now spend about $600 billion a year subsidizing fossil fuels. Somebody will miss that if it goes away, as the commission recommends.  

Expect to hear the voices of prospective losers loud and clear, says David Victor, an international relations professor at the University of California at San Diego and author of "Global Warming Gridlock."  

"The people who are going to lose from costly climate policy know who they are— and are therefore raising concerns about that," he says. "And the winners— many of them don’t exist."  

For instance, wind and solar barely existed not so long ago. Industries like energy storage, essential to fully exploiting sun and wind power, are in similar positions now.

Meanwhile, no single body has the authority to implement a plan like the Commission's. "It's a highly decentralized system that steers the global economy," Victor says. A tangle of development banks— global, regional, and national— works with national governments, NGOs, and the private sector. 

Cable deals a blow, TV networks ad revenue stumbles

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:10

It’s fall, folks, and the good old-fashioned TV season is upon us. New shows like ABC’s "How to Get Away with Murder" and Fox’s "Gotham" are just a couple offerings the big networks hope will find faithful audiences.

Network TV has some catching up to do in terms of advertising revenue. Ad spending fell 7.2 percent in the second quarter over the same period last year according to Kantar Media. Cable, on the other hand, grew 9.3 percent. 

The quarterly numbers are a bit misleading — a lot of network advertisers front-loaded their ad dollars on the Olympics in the first quarter, and cut back on the second quarter. That left the overall number for the first half of the year at 4.1 percent growth for network TV. But cable is still winning, with a 7.8 percent growth in ad revenue year-over-year for the first half of the 2014. 

The two semi-final games of NCAA men’s basketball tournament airing on cable in 2014 versus airing on network TV in 2013 helped cable in the second quarter, says Jon Swallen, Chief Research Officer for Kantar. So did the fact that the NBA finals, which air on ABC, had two fewer games in 2014.

As cable and the big networks claw at major events to steal advertising eyeballs away from one another, cable seems to have the momentum. 

“Broadcast television has been suffering at the hands of cable in recent years and that’s because cable has been more effective in competing for first-run series,”  says Erik Brannon, senior analyst with IHS Technology. Put another way: the shows on cable have been really, really good.

Some networks — notably CBS and Fox — have extra "scatter" advertising inventory. Scatter advertising is last-minute buys, as opposed to advertising time that’s bought weeks or even months in advance. Brannon says selling that last-minute advertising could be a big help, but only if it actually sells. Ratings for "American Idol" are down, for example.

Digital video ad growth dwarfs both cable and network ad dollars. While it's still just a fraction of all ad spending, its pace is dramatic. 

“Digital video is very healthy and it is growing, but very little is really, at this point, coming at the expense of broadcast and cable,” says David Hallerman, principal analyst at eMarketer. He says video advertising revenue is still feeding on the decaying carcass of print and radio, and the advertising pie is growing.

“You’re dealing with two industries — digital and advertising — that are among the most hyperbole prone industries in the world, and they feel that anything that predates them is doomed to be trampled," Hallerman says.

The reality, for now, is that cable and network are still battling like Titans — or dinosaurs — which would make digital the small mammals scurrying on the forest floor.  

 

Edible Packaging? Retailers Not Quite Ready To Ditch The Wrapper

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-16 12:42

To reduce waste, some enterprising companies are trying to roll out products that make the package part of the snack — edible packaging. But selling it to the retail market is trickier than it seems.

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Thanks To Nutella, The World Needs More Hazelnuts

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-16 12:11

Nutella, launched 50 years ago, has turned into a global phenomenon, boosting demand for hazelnuts. Now producers are looking beyond Turkey's north coast, where most of these nuts are grown.

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When Patients Set Science's Research Agenda, Who Loses?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-16 12:11

Tired of waiting for a cure for breast cancer, a coalition of activists now leans hard on Congress to steer money to particular research projects. Critics say that approach may miss promising leads.

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Obama Gives New Details On America's Effort To Fight Ebola

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-16 12:05

The president announced a "major increase" in the U.S. response to the outbreak, including a new military command center in Liberia, and sending medical professionals from the U.S. to field hospitals.

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Americans' Waistlines Are Expanding, And That's Not Good Fat

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-16 12:05

Are you more an apple or a pear? If it's the former, you've got company. Americans' waistlines are growing, even though obesity rates have plateaued. And more belly fat increases health risks.

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