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You too can have a Nobel Prize

Tue, 2015-02-17 09:56

We're well past Nobel Prize season, but there's Nobel news to pass along.

If you've got a spare $150,000 lying around, you too can have a Nobel of your very own. Well, you can have the prize that Simon Kuznets won in 1971 for  his "empirically founded interpretation of economic growth which has led to new and deepened insight into the economic and social structure and process of development."

Or in laymans terms, growth and inequality, which is the economic thing that's going on right now ... 45 years later.

Kuznets's son consigned the medal to an auction house out here in California; you've got eight days left to find that $150,000.

Texas ruling makes immigrants' future uncertain

Tue, 2015-02-17 09:47

A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked President Obama’s executive order on immigration on Tuesday. The order would have granted a temporary reprieve from deportation to around 4 million people currently in the U.S. illegally.

Going from illegal to legal status gives undocumented workers an average 8 percent increase in wages, and would add some $210 billion to the nation's GDP over 10 years, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers (pdf). Pro-immigration advocates say the more people who sign up for the program, the greater the economic boost will be. Opponents say the supposed economic benefits are overstated.

The judge’s ruling might yet be overturned, but critics of the ruling say it may already have altered the economics of immigration reform. They fear that some people who might qualify for the reform will now be reluctant to come forward and sign up.  

West Coast ports resume loading and unloading

Tue, 2015-02-17 09:42

After a weekend shutdown, ports on the West Coast were back in business on Tuesday.

The White House dispatched U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez to San Francisco to try to broker a deal between  dockworkers and shipping companies. They've been locked in a contract dispute that for months has slowed the flow of cargo and caused ripples throughout the global economy.

But, even when a deal is reached, port officials say it could take weeks to clear the backlog.

Quiz: Breaking breakfast records

Tue, 2015-02-17 05:06

The federal School Breakfast Program fed more low-income student students than ever before in the 2013 school year, but it's still small in comparison to the national lunch program, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

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PODCAST: An impasse in Greece

Tue, 2015-02-17 03:00

A fog of uncertainty creeps across financial markets as negotiations over Greece's debt hit an impasse. More on that. Plus, Vice President Joe Biden is expected to visit Baltimore this afternoon to talk about the troubling backlog of rape kits around the country that have never been analyzed. Hundreds of thousands of these kits containing potential DNA evidence from sexual assaults. The White House has proposed new funding to help clear that backlog. And there's talk (not confirmed) that Etsy might try to sell stock to the public sometime this winter. We look at new competitors that are jumping in.

To get to Hollywood, make a left at YouTube

Tue, 2015-02-17 02:00

For the second edition of From the Hills to the Valley - our series comparing Hollywood and Silicon Valley - we spoke to someone who belongs to both worlds. Issa Rae created and stars in Awkward Black Girl, an award-winning web series on YouTube, and she’s also working on a pilot for an HBO show. Last week, she released a memoir of sorts: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.

Rae believes it was her success on YouTube that brought her the opportunity with HBO.  

“HBO would never have heard of me or even seen any of my stuff had it not been for YouTube,” she says.

Why YouTube? Rae had pitched a few shows to networks, but she soon realized that they had a different perception of what the audience wanted to see on TV. She found that her ideas, especially those that involved “content of color,” were often met with reluctance or a lack of enthusiasm.

“I wanted to create a show about black people in college, and they were saying that’s too segmented,” she says. “When I wanted to make 'Awkward Black Girl,' I knew if they didn’t want to see a show about something as mainstream as black people in college, they would never go for 'Awkward Black Girl.' They would never believe they exist even.”

Rae thinks Silicon Valley companies, such as Netflix or Amazon, are good for creativity because they produce show they respect and believe audiences will like. And this, she says, will lead to more diverse programming, because online content is so closely tied to social media, which itself is very diverse.

But the biggest challenge to creating online content, Rae says, is the pressure to produce consistently.  

“Had I been consistently releasing content on a weekly basis, I would have had a much bigger following,’ she says. “People will forget about you if you're not on their radar constantly. Audiences are just really fickle. There’s no formula online outside of being consistent.”


Vice President aims to address untested rape kits

Tue, 2015-02-17 02:00

Vice President Joe Biden is expected to visit Baltimore Tuesday afternoon to talk about the troubling backlog of untested rape kits around the country. Hundreds of thousands of these kits, containing potential DNA evidence from sexual assaults, have been languishing in police storage units and crime labs. The White House has proposed $41 million in new funding to help clear that backlog.

“I think it would send an extremely powerful message to the law enforcement agencies that have allowed the kits to collect dust that this will no longer be accepted,” says Linda Fairstein, a former sex crimes prosecutor in Manhattan and part of the End the Backlog campaign.

Almost six years ago, more than 11,000 kits were found in a police storage facility in Detroit. Testing so far has led to 15 convictions. The Michigan Women’s Foundation has turned to private donors to help clear the remaining backlog.



Research shows hiring bias based on self-identification

Tue, 2015-02-17 02:00

It's no secret that African-Americans may face bias — either conscious or unconscious — when it comes to being hired and promoted.

But some worrying new research shows that bias may be exacerbated for job candidates who self-identify as 'black' rather than 'African-American.'

Click the media player above to hear more.

Want to get crafty? Help is only a click away

Tue, 2015-02-17 02:00

The Internet has made crafting a lucrative business — and it’s not just for selling goods. Lately, a growing number of crafters are willing to pay to learn new skills.

For help, they’re turning to companies like CreativeBug or the Denver-based company Craftsy.

Compared to many free YouTube videos shot with one camera, Craftsy tutorials look pretty slick with graphics and multiple camera angles. In one popular class called "Quilting Big Projects on a Small Machine," students pay about $35 for eight lessons.

Craftsy Founder and CEO John Levisay says this course has been a blockbuster.

“It’s a skill that scares people because they spend a lot of time making this beautiful quilt, and then when they go to sew it together, people are afraid they’re going to wreck it,” Levisay says.

Craftsy seeks out the best instructors across 16 categories like cooking and woodworking. Overall, classes range in price from $15 to $60. What makes the courses, Levisay says, are the social features Craftsy has built into its courses.

“While we wanted to capture the anytime anywhere nature of online learning, we also wanted people to be able to ask their instructor a question, ask fellow students questions, and to interact with others,” he says.

It’s paying off. In 2014, the company nearly doubled its revenue, bringing in $43 million. In November, the company raised more than $50 million in venture capital. IBISWorld Industry Analyst Zeeshan Haider says the appeal for investors is the company’s large potential customer base.

“For example, there are more than 21 million plus quilters that spend anywhere around $4 billion annually on quilting,” says Haider. “So there’s still a tremendous market for the company to tap.”

Right now, Craftsy has just 6 million registered users, and there’s room for growth. Many millennials are interested in Do-It-Yourself fashion — which Craftsy has also tapped into. On the company’s website you can learn how to make your own jeans, skirts, and shirts — even your very own undergarments. 

It's not a happy new year for employees of Alibaba

Tue, 2015-02-17 01:30
$300 a day

That's how much one West Coast customs broker says her customers are being charged for containers stuck at ports along the California coast, as reported by the WSJ. As the ongoing contract dispute between port workers and employers continues, businesses both large and small are beginning to feel the pinch.

10 countries

That's how many countries in which Sony will sell its augmented reality smart glasses. As reported by the BBC, sales for the glasses will begin next month, with a single pair costing $840. However, some industry insiders are not optimistic—Google faced difficulty in normalizing the technology, and Sony's design is even larger and more obtrusive.

$4 billion

That's how much the quilting industry pulls in annually. And lately, a growing number of crafters are willing to pay to learn new skills. Online craft tutorial site Craftsy, for example, brought in $43 million in 2014. The company is hoping to capitalize on millennial interest in the Do-It-Yourself industry.

$25 billion

That's how much Alibaba pulled in its IPO in September. Yet its revenue results in the third quarter fell below estimates. As reported by Quartz, disappointing earnings are why CEO Jack Ma says he will not be giving out the customary red envelopes for Chinese New Year to employees.

10 days

That's how many days are left before Athens' credit line expires—Talks between Greece and the euro zone broke down Monday night. As reported by Reuters, failure to reach a deal could result in Greece becoming the first country to leave the euro zone. 

Why you have the emoji choices you do

Mon, 2015-02-16 14:11

Emoji users sent a lot of ❤s over the Valentine's Day weekend. Maybe a kissy face or cat heart eyes face too.

But, what about when the message you want to send is a little less kissy, and more obscure? Have you ever wondered why you have the emoji choices you do?

Journalist Hannah Rosefield from Vice's Motherboard wrote about the politics of emoji diversity  and where the future of the miniature illustrations is headed:

When Lego designed its stocky, squared-off human figures in the 1970s, it chose for the skin colour a bright, primary yellow. The yellow was recognisably human, yet artificial enough not to be identified with any particular race. You can see the same principle at work in the first 58 emoji on the Apple emoji keyboard: eight rows of yellow circles, raceless and genderless, each with a different expression.

After that, there’s a boy in a Chinese cap and a man in a turban. From then on, every human emoji is white. White couples hold hands, kiss, and nestle a white child between them; white girls in pink tops cut their hair and paint their nails. White hands clap and wave.

Not for much longer. Earlier this month the Unicode Consortium, the company that enables emoji to appear across different devices, released a draft report that includes a proposal for diversifying their emoji provision. While most emoji fans have been celebrating the news, others have reservations. Bernie Hogan, a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, recognises that current provisions are inadequate but fears that diversification will lead to a new set of problems. “When emoji become personally representative, they become politicised,” he told me.


A visit to LA-based shoe company Zuzii

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:50

Zuzii is a family-owned footwear manufacturing business that operates in Downtown Los Angeles. Ryan Campbell started the company six years ago with her sister Alex and mother Nikki. 

The three Campbells work 16-hour days and make up to fifty pairs of shoes per day in their 4,000 square-foot studio. Zuzii makes shoes for women and children by hand, and they plan on launching a men’s collection this Summer.

Marketplace visits Zuzii Shoes from Marketplace on Vimeo.

The Campbells have created a three-station system: Ryan cuts Italian leather into the five pieces that create a shoe, Alex adds the shoe eyelets and size numbers, and Nikki sews and glues the shoes together. 

All of the shoes are handmade to order, yet Zuzii keeps their prices relatively low.

“We feel like it’s a very fair price point for goods that are made in the U.S. We structured our manufacturing in a way that we could offer that,” says Ryan Campbell. “We don’t use sales reps and traditional advertising – that’s something we decided to abandon. We rely on Instagram and Facebook and our customers and their experience with the product and word of mouth to get the brand out there.”

The ladies are proud of their business and are glad they are able to manufacture their goods in the U.S. – while being debt free.

“We’ve grown slowly but it’s allowed us to make really stable decisions,” Ryan says. “As a U.S. manufacturer, there were a lot of uncertainties. Would it work? Would it be accepted? Would it continue to grow? So we didn’t want to bury ourselves in debt and have it not work out.”

Egypt finds alternative to U.S.- made warplanes

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:45

In 2013, angered at the Egyptian government's slow transition to democracy, the U.S. suspended some military aid to Egypt. By purchasing French-made jets, Cairo may be sending Washington a message: We have other suppliers.

"Military aid," though, is a tricky term. In this case, it means that Washington gives Egypt a grant of more than $1 billion a year to buy American-made tanks, jets, and armored personnel carriers. If aid is suspended, American military industries take the hit. Thus, the economic implications of a U.S.-Egypt fallout may be as worrying to some as the geopolitical implications. 

Amy Hawthorne, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, thinks Egypt's purchase is mostly about French economics. The defense sector is an important part of France's struggling economy. Egypt's $5.9 billion purchase could offer France an important boost. Hawthorne says the terms of the deal suggest that if Egypt should default on the loan for the weapons, the French government will cover the cost. 

Hackers steal up to $1 billion from banks

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:45

As first reported by the New York Times, an international group of hackers has allegedly stolen as much as $1 billion from banks around the world, one of the largest bank heists ever.

The hackers used elaborate phishing schemes to impersonate bank employees, delivering malware through attachments which then lay dormant for months gathering key information. Thus far no banks have acknowledged the theft.

At the White House Summit on Cybersecurity last week, President Obama called for a new law requiring public disclosure  in cases of compromised personal or financial data.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated how much hackers were able to take from the banks. It's unclear exactly how much the thieves made off with, but the cybersecurity company reporting the breach said they could have taken up to $1 billion.

Cyber hackers steal more than $1 billion from banks

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:45

As first reported by the New York Times, an international group of hackers has allegedly stolen more than a $1 billion from banks around the world, one of the largest bank heists ever.

The hackers used elaborate phishing schemes to impersonate bank employees, delivering malware through attachments which then lay dormant for months gathering key information. Thus far no banks have acknowledged the theft.

At the White House Summit on Cybersecurity last week, President Obama called for a new law requiring public disclosure  in cases of compromised personal or financial data.

Proposed drone rules allow limited access for some businesses

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:44

The Federal Aviation Administration has released long-awaited proposed rules to regulate commercial drone use. The rules would allow anyone over 17 to take a test to get permission to fly a commercial drone without needing a pilot's license, a key concern of the drone industry.

Commercial drones would have to fly below 500 feet, only during daylight, and always be visible to their operators.

Those restrictions have the industry searching for ways to convince federal regulators that drones can be operated safely with more autonomy, even as some sectors are celebrating what they hope will be new legal applications of drones.

"You could make sure your crops are healthy, if you're a farmer," says Ryan Calo of the University of Washington, who specializes in robotics law, "cover a breaking news event ... you could film a movie."

Tim McClain, who runs a drone research program at Brigham Young University is also looking forward to the new rules.

"Under the current rules, it's just very difficult for us to test, we have to go to restricted airspace, military installations," which can be financially costly, says McClain. He adds that the type of research the current regulations restrict are the very ones that could make commercial drones more safe in the future, with less human oversight.

But the FAA's requirements that commercial drones not fly over populated areas and always be visible to their operators have some in the industry frustrated. Amazon put out a statement saying the new rules would limit its ability to bring to market a planned drone delivery program called "Prime Air."

"The FAA's proposed rules ... could take one or two years to be adopted and, based on the proposal, even then those rules wouldn't allow Prime Air to operate in the United States," Paul Misener, vice president of global public policy at Amazon, said in a written statement.

"We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need," Misener says. 

An Amazon spokesperson, in an email to Marketplace, said that last statement was key, pointing out that the FAA's proposed rules are U.S. rules.

Australia, Japan and parts of Europe are either already allowing more autonomous commercial drone operations or are considering such moves, says Adam Thierer, who researches technology policy at George Mason University.

Meanwhile, the FAA is taking a better safe than sorry approach, "which is completely understandable, since the FAA is under a mandate to keep the nation's airspace safe for aircraft operation," Thierer says. 

After all, commercial drones could weigh as much as 55 pounds and fly as fast as 100 miles per hour.

Chinese companies look to invest in American real estate

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:24

There’s a big shift happening in the world of international trade. 

For years, China shipped manufactured goods to the rest of the world, which eagerly bought iPods and Barbie dolls. Now, Chinese companies are sitting on big cash reserves, and they’re looking to invest that money in real estate in big world cities like New York. 

Take the Oosten, for example. It’s a $250 million condominium building now under construction on the Brooklyn waterfront and covers a whole city block. The name Oosten means “east” in Dutch, but the builder, Xinyuan, is Chinese. When it’s done, the building will include a lap pool, a daycare center, and landscaped roof decks. From the fourth floor, there are killer views of the Manhattan skyline. 

It will be close to a year before the Oosten is finished, but people are already buying apartments. Many of them, like Wenzhou Xie, are Chinese, living in China. Xie is a mining executive in Hong Kong. 

Xie recently took time out from a business trip to ink the deal. He told me the idea of purchasing property that is literally on the other side of the globe may seem farfetched to Americans, but among high earning Chinese, foreign property is considered to be one part of a balanced portfolio.

“So this is like a small piece of diversification for us, right?” Xie said.

To be clear, Xie has no plans to live in this apartment. He expects to collect a $3,000 rent check every month.

“I think that’s gonna be able to most likely cover my mortgage. After the initial downpayment there shouldn’t be any cash outlay from me,” he says.

And in a few years, when he wants to sell, he’s confident he’ll make a tidy profit.

China-watchers say these may just be the first drops in a heavy rain of Chinese money that’s beginning to fall on big world cities like New York. In a speech last November, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, said China’s outbound investment would top $1.25 trillion over the next decades.

For years, China had strict capital controls, meaning it was difficult to get legal clearance to move money out of the country. But in 2013 and 2014, Beijing loosened those rules. Very quickly, Chinese capital has started to flood into big world cities.

“So that means that there’s this whole new group of competitors and potential purchasers for real estate around the globe,” says Joel Rothstein, a partner at the international law firm Paul Hastings.

Last October, Hilton Hotels agreed to sell the Waldorf-Astoria for almost $2 billion, to a company with no history in New York, China’s Anbang Insurance.

Across the river, in Brooklyn, The Oosten is thought to be the first major construction project by a Chinese company without a local partner. It’s unlikely to be the last. Xinyuan says it’s actively scouting new opportunities to develop property in America.

The meaning behind your favorite number

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:21

When we talk about numbers on Marketplace, we’re usually talking about their numerical value. But what about their cultural meaning?

That’s the subject of Barnaby Rogerson’s collection, “Rogerson's Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers -- from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World"

Here are a few examples from Rogerson:

Thirteen: Often known as an unlucky number – something Rogerson says is true around the world. But it’s also the number of states who rebelled against Britain in the 1770s. Coincidentally, it’s also the number of states recognized by the Confederacy as those rebelling against the Union in the 1860s.

Three: “My father-in-law is a banker who’s been watching the markets all his life ... and he always told me that three percent was the magical area of growth … and his job as a banker was to find out how people were getting more than three percent and how long they could sustain it before they were found out.”

Zero: Rogerson’s least favorite number. “You can’t list zeros … you can’t even list nothing-nesses.” Fun fact: The concept of zero or nothingness didn't get to the British Isles until the 16th century.

Forty-two: Rogerson’s favorite number. Many cultures assign special meaning to the number 42. But it’s also the answer to the Universe, according to Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Why nobody buys movie tickets online

Mon, 2015-02-16 12:16

Even before the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened last weekend, it was already a box-office leader for online movie ticket vendor Fandango. However, even for highly-anticipated movies, most tickets are still sold the old-fashioned way, at the box office. 

Price seems like an obvious barrier to wider adoption. Unlike buying a book from Amazon, buying a movie ticket online means the customer pays an extra surcharge.

An executive from a major theater chain disputes that customers prefer to avoid fees.

"Nothing in our testing or our research suggests that it is a barrier," says Brent Cooke, vice president for guest relations at AMC Theatres. Financial analysts disagree.

"You're only going to pay that surcharge if you're not going to get in otherwise," says Sucharita Mulparu, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Otherwise, why bother?"

While some movies with a lot of buzz do sell out, the typical movie-theater experience is more casual.

"People will walk up to a box office and say, ‘What do you want to see?'" says Rebecca Lieb, an analyst with Altimeter Group.

Lieb points out another barrier to selling more tickets online: Lots of movie goers are teenagers. "And they don't have credit cards," she says. 

Eventually, the industry will do what it takes to move all sales online, predicts Michael Pachter, an analyst with Forrester Research.

The customer data, he says, is too valuable to pass up.

"Do you think if we called up Disney, they could tell me whether you’ve seen Iron Man 1, 2 or 3 in the theater?" he says. "They have no idea."

If ticket sales were digital, they would have that information.

"That would give them the opportunity to sell you Iron Man on DVD, or sell you Iron Man merchandise for Halloween, or whatever," he says. "I think that's a bigger opportunity than just getting the ticket sale."

President's Day: A celebration of two wheels?

Mon, 2015-02-16 08:51

It's President's Day! And, it's a day and a weekend when car dealers sell a whole lot of cars. But, long before minivans were decked in red, white and blue balloons, before TV ads featured one car special after another, President's Day was all about bicycles. 

According to The Atlantic, in the late 1800's Washington's birthday was celebrated with two wheels. Bicycle races ... bicycle sales ... it was the day the newest models of bicycles were unveiled. 

Which means we've been buying these symbols of personal freedom for a very long time.