After last month’s government shutdown and brinkmanship regarding raising the nation’s borrowing limit, the business community is making its dissatisfaction with how business gets done in Washington clear through a new pattern of political giving.
Business groups are getting involved earlier in races, and they’re supporting more centrist candidates.
Greg Casey runs one of the oldest political action committees in Washington, the Business Industry PAC, or BIPAC, which has been around since 1963. According to Casey, there is a lesson to be learned here: businesses need to evaluate candidates more carefully.
“If they come in and they just want to blow the system up, rather than make the system work, then you need to probably support someone else,” he says.
Casey is telling BIPAC’s members they should support candidates who want to make Washington less dysfunctional.
Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, says business groups are giving money before the general election to candidates who are challenging incumbents. In the Washington way of speaking, to challenge someone is “to primary” him.
“Business groups are now saying they want to primary Tea Party candidates instead of being primaries by the Tea Party,” Krumholz says.
We saw this last week, in Alabama. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed the more moderate of two Republican candidates in a runoff election, and that more moderate candidate won.
“So already, they seem to be putting their money where their mouth is,” Krumholz says. The Chamber of Commerce spent about $200,000 on that campaign.
The business community’s discontent is giving rise to new PACs and super PACs. Steve LaTourette, a former congressman, started one called Defending Main Street.
“What we’re going to do as we go into 2014, our little group is going to support center-right candidates who are interested in governing,” he explains.
Defending Main Street held a fundraiser last week on Wall Street. LaTourette hopes to raise at least $8 million to back more business-friendly candidates.
Greg Casey, the CEO of BIPAC, says the Tea Party movement’s success should be a wake-up call to business.
“They have allowed themselves to be small, and increasingly smaller, players or checkbooks to one candidate or another,” he says.
After two decades of bloodshed in eastern Congo, the government is slated to sign a peace deal with the Tutsi-led M23 militant group that has long wreaked havoc in this mineral-rich region.
The Congolese government is rejoicing that these fighters will no longer stalk the nation’s mining heartland, according to Rift Valley Institute project director Jason Stearns. He has just returned from a conference in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa.
“There’s a huge amount of optimism. Because of the defeat of the M23, this is a really historic moment,” Stearns said.
But the M23 is just one of a number of militant groups in a longstanding conflict. Cornell University professor Nick van de Walle studies economic development in Africa.
“Even if the worst warlords are no longer in operation, the level of law and order that I think businesses need to thrive is still far from satisfactory,” van de Walle said.
As neighboring countries flourish, according to van de Walle, if Congo can do more cross-border business it may get assimilated into the dynamic economy of Africa’s Great Lakes region.
Amazon is teaming up with the United States Postal Service to deliver goods on Sunday. The online retailer will start its service in New York and Los Angeles but expects to roll out the program in more cities next year.
Delivery of goods has been a competitive space for online retailers, said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at the Altimeter group.
“Delivery has always been a point of high customer loyalty in the retail space,” Lieb said. With the holiday season ramping up and retailers like Wal-Mart, Google and Ebay offering stiff competition in the delivery space Amazon is upping the ante and offering Sunday service.
The United States Postal Service is hoping to make money off the partnership, said Donald Broughton, a transportation analyst for Avondale Partners.
“If you look at the economy that UPS, FedEx, and the Post Office serves, it’s been a slow-growth no-growth economy except in the area of e-commerce,” Broughton said.
Broughton says with direct mail falling off as a source of income, the postal service expects to lose about $6 billion dollars this year. But E-commerce has been the one bright spots in delivery services.
Monday is Veterans Day, when the nation pays tribute to those who served. You’ve heard these men and women praised in many ways across history, but I bet you never heard anyone thank them for revolutionizing mobile banking. They did, owing to their unique circumstances and because of the unusual bank that targets them: USAA.
For most, depositing a check via smartphone is a mere convenience, saving a trip to the bank. But for military families spread around the world, it’s much more.
“It’s a real lifesaver, actually,” says Scott Beggs.
He’s stationed in Germany with his wife, an Air Force captain. Without mobile, they’d have to use mail, an option he dreads as both inconvenient and insecure.
“The possibility of the check getting lost is high,” Beggs explains. “The possibility of it getting tampered with or stolen is high, not to mention the three week to four week mail time.”
Many using smart phone deposit now take for granted the consumer technology that debuted in 2009. But that rollout would’ve been much later if not for military families. Frequently moving and often stationed abroad or otherwise far from bank branches, many are USAA customers.
Banks of USAA’s size are not known for technological innovation. But its special clientele, along with its status as a nearly branchless direct bank, spurred it to become the first to offer consumers smart phone check deposit.
It didn’t have to create all the technology from scratch. Banks and businesses exchanged scanned checks for years, but regular customers were left out.
“Nobody trusted their consumer enough to say, ‘Hey, we’re actually gonna extend remote deposit capture out to the consumer market,’” says USAA assistant vice president Neff Hudson.
USAA did and saw success. Other banks have since fallen in line and the feature’s now increasingly common at banks large and small.
The company places an emphasis on innovation driven by the unusual needs of the military community. At its San Antonio, Texas headquarters, a basement lab has things you’d expect an insurance and banking company to be playing around with (smart phones and tablets) but also many you wouldn’t (drones, 3-D printers). Gadgets are strewn everywhere, like Transformers in a kid’s bedroom. A current project aims to develop better voice recognition for disabled Iraq and Afghanistan vets who can’t easily use touchscreens.
USAA engineers in that lab began work on mobile deposit at a time when banks and many consumers were hesitant to roll it out. There were widespread worries about the potential for fraud and security breaches.
“It is convenient, but there are some risks,” says Bankrate.com senior analyst Sheyna Steiner.
But military families wanted it and got it. (That includes my own. Both my parents served in the military and we have been USAA clients at various times over the years.)
USAA rolled out mobile deposits for its own good, of course. But the impact went beyond the military community. And it all goes back to demand from military families, whose needs ultimately drove the entire banking industry to step up mobile banking innovation. So if you’re a fan of depositing checks with your phone, that’s one more reason to thank those who served on Veterans Day.
Mark Garrison: For most, depositing a check via smartphone is a mere convenience, saving a trip to the bank. But for military families spread around the world, it’s much more.
Scott Beggs: It’s a real lifesaver, actually.
Scott Beggs is stationed in Germany, where his wife is an Air Force captain. Without mobile, they’d have to use mail.
Beggs: The possibility of the check getting lost is high. The possibility of it getting tampered with or stolen is high, not to mention the three week to four week mail time.
Those of us using smartphone deposit now take for granted the consumer technology that debuted in 2009. But that rollout would’ve come much later, if ever, if not for military families and the very unusual bank that targets them: USAA. Engineer Maland (MAY-land) Mortensen shows me around the company’s cluttered Texas lab, where it pioneered mobile deposit.
Yes, he said drones. Also 3-D printers, all strewn about like Transformers in a kid’s bedroom. They’re now working on better voice recognition for disabled Iraq and Afghanistan vets who can’t easily use touchscreens. As for mobile deposits, USAA didn’t have to invent everything here. Banks and businesses exchanged scanned checks for years, but assistant VP Neff Hudson says regular customers were left out.
Neff Hudson: Nobody trusted their consumer enough to say, hey, we’re actually gonna extend remote deposit capture out to the consumer market.
USAA became the first bank to do so. Others have since fallen in line and the feature’s increasingly common. Sheyna (SHAY-nuh) Steiner’s a senior analyst at Bankrate.
Sheyna Steiner: It is convenient, but there are some risks.
Among them, potential for fraud and security breaches, which is why banks and many consumers were hesitant. But military families demanded it and got it. USAA rolled out mobile deposits for its own good. But the impact went beyond the military community. So if you’re a fan of depositing checks with your phone, that’s one more reason to thank those who served on Veterans Day. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.
It is "worse than hell" in the areas that were leveled by the powerful storm, a survivor says. Rescue efforts are underway, but getting to the stricken areas is proving difficult.
For the last few weeks, Gmail users have seen notices from Google above their inboxes: "Hey, our terms of service are changing." Something about using your picture in ads. The new terms go into effect today.
He says it’s one thing for him to publicly “plus-one” something on the company's social network Google Plus. (Think: “like” on Facebook.) But for Google to then cast him as the pitch guy in an ad for that thing? Nope.
"Maybe in some cases, I really do like the product," he says. "But you know what? If that’s the case -- pay me."
So I might want to opt out. I talked with Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief of Mashable.com, a giant website reporting on digital innovation. I asked him to help me find the opt-out page.
It took a while. ("Let me just try this," he said, clicking and tapping. "Give me one second here... Nope... Let's see... Yeah, that's totally not what I want...")
This went on for more than a minute, and I have to mention: Ulanoff runs a giant website about the Internet. If he’s confused, we’re all sunk.
(Except, I've got your back: Here's Google's summary of the new rules. And if you're signed into Google or Gmail, this link will take you to the page where you can opt in or out.)
When we did get there, Ulanoff found a surprise. He was already opted out.
So, does this mean that the new rules only apply if you opt IN?
"Who would do that?" Ulanoff said. "This will be incredibly unsuccessfuly if they do it that way. Because there aren't a lot of people who will say 'yes' to this."
Later, Google spokeswoman Katie Watson explained that this new policy simply expands an existing practice.
Your "plus-ones" on Google’s social network, Google Plus, were always used this way. Now the same goes for other platforms, like the Google Play store where users can leave reviews.
And if you opted out of being a shill on Google Plus, those preferences carry over here.
When we talk about building new technology, we're often talking about building it out of artificial ingredients. But as we understand our natural world better, the area of biotechnology is growing. And one person at the forefront of using biotech in everything from medical instruments to consumer electronics is Angela Belcher, a professor of biological engineering at MIT. She's been looking at sea snails -- also called abalone -- and how they might help us build new technology.
Belcher says what attracted her to abalone was that the snails have proteins that can take calcium and carbonate and "built up little brick wall-like structures into calcium carbonate." While calcium carbonate may not be that impressive to those who remember their periodic table, Belcher says, it's the implications of what can be done with the abalone's ability that excites her and the broader scientific community.
"You go, 'Chalk! I know calcium carbonate. Chalk? What's so great about chalk?' But when you take these materials and you use some biology and you use some genetics, they can build with very fine control over the materials that give them a lot of strength and regularity," Belcher says. "In my lab, we don't actually use calcium carbonate, but we look at the process by which organisms make materials, and we say, okay, let's use some of those same great controls, and let's make them into manufactured materials that we can use every day in our lives."
Belcher says there are many possibilities for what she calls "biologically inspired processing" can do to improve both our lives and the planet. Among the potential innovations she sees are "environmentally compatible" batteries that are produced at low pressures and are completely biodegradable.
In a world where far too many of us have junk drawers filled with antiquated mobile phone chargers and new technology encourages us to throw away our obsolete gadgets, Belcher says we can take a lesson from the way nature makes things.
"Usually, when nature is making materials, it doesn't take a large material and whittle it down and make a smaller one of the right components. One of the things that you can do with biology is build it one atom at a time, and build it into the right dimensions. So, you're not using excess," Belcher says. "Going back to cell phone chargers: You can think about, well, do you really need that whole charger? Is there just a smaller component that would make it just as effective? And can we use biology in form and structure to make more efficient materials?"