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Marketing to the Chinese LGBT community

Tue, 2015-06-09 02:00

In West Hollywood, California, ten same-sex couples from China will get married on Tuesday. The group wedding is part of a promotion by the e-commerce giant Alibaba, and its online shopping site Taobao.

China doesn't recognize same-sex marriages, but still, marketing to the LGBT community could make a lot of sense. Its purchasing power is reportedly in the neighborhood of $300 billion.

"There’s less of a risk in China than in other parts of the world," says Bob Witeck, head of Witeck Communications, which specializes in marketing to LGBT communities. 

The promotion may be about more than appealing to Chinese consumers. Says Witeck, "They see an opportunity to bridge to the American economy." And the American economy is an economy that decidedly interests Alibaba.

"Any smart businessman would probably want to follow suit," said Charlie Gu, director of China Luxury Advisors, a consulting firm that helped organize the event.

And Alibaba is following the lead of many American tech companies.

Companies face calls for separate CEO and Board Chair

Tue, 2015-06-09 02:00

At General Motors’ annual meeting, investors will likely learn the fate of a shareholder proposal to split the roles of chief executive and board chair "whenever possible."

In other words, as a policy, the chief executive and the board chair would be two different people. That’s not how it works at most American companies.

“It's kind of like having a student grade his or her own exam. Just not a good idea,” says Charles Elson, a corporate governance expert at the University of Delaware.

Elson supports the move to make board chairs independent. He says it reduces conflicts of interest between the chief executive and board chair when it comes to matters like pay or performance.

GM's board chair is currently independent. Under the shareholder proposal, the firm would commit to an independent chair in its bylaws.

"This is what has become a fairly common proposal,” says Carol Bowie is head of the Americas Research Group at Institutional Shareholder Services or ISS, which advises big investors on how to vote on such matters.

Bowie says ISS is tracking 64 independent board chair proposals in corporate America right now and support for them appears to be ticking up.

But Michael Useem, a management expert at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says these moves don't improve companies' performance.

“Don't get your hopes up that it's going to make a difference,” he says. “Because statistically speaking, research has repeatedly confirmed that it won't.”

GM's board has recommended a vote against the shareholder proposal saying it wants discretion over who gets what job.

When disaster aid gets eaten up by money transfer fees

Tue, 2015-06-09 02:00

In the famously diverse neighborhood of Jackson Heights in Queens, New York, there are areas with three money transfers companies on a single block. The competition exerts a certain downward pressure on fees, and when I ask about the cost to send a typical, $200 transfer to the Dominican Republic, the answers are $6 or $7.

"There's a store next door, there's a store across the street, there's a store there," says Sal Rizzo, regional vice president at money transfer company DolEx, as he looks out the window of a travel agency that contains a DolEx booth. "So if you're charging $10 when everybody else is charging $5 for the same product, you're not going to do business."

But competition isn't the only thing driving down fees. Six blocks away, between two Tibetan restaurants, is IME Remit, where on a day at the end of May the fee for a money transfer to Nepal was free. 

Bishnu Adhikari discovered this when he arrived to send money to his family in Nepal, who have been struggling in the aftermath of the massive earthquake that hit the country on April 25th. It killed more than 8,000 people, including Adhikari's brother-in-law.

"I'm here in the United States, so obviously my parents are depending upon me," says Adhikari.

He scraped together $650 from the 45 hours a week he works as an Uber driver, and thanks to the fee waiver, an extra $5 will make it to his family. 

"I expect that because of the earthquake the flow of remittances this month will exceed a billion dollars," says Dilip Ratha, an economist who tracks remittances for the World Bank. "If the fee is 4 to 5 percent on average, then that's about $40 to $50 million, and if that fee is waived, then that would be the amount of money in the hands of poor people, who really need the money."  

The third-largest money transfer company, Ria, waived fees for transfers to Nepal through the end of June.  

But the largest, Western Union, waived fees for most transfers only until May 14th, and for online transfers until May 31st. Moneygram waived fees through May 31st, but only for customers in the United States sending money to the American Red Cross International Services in Nepal. Had Bishnu Adhikari chosen either of these services to send money to his parents at the end of May, they would have received five fewer dollars. 

"An additional $5 matters a lot," says Vijaya Ramachandran, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development who supports the idea of fee waivers after disasters. "To put it in perspective, Nepal's gross national income per capita is $700." Accordingly, $5 represent the equivalent of several days income for an average salary—money that she says is particularly critical in this phase of recovery from the earthquake.   

"Of course it is not realistic to expect remittance companies to waive the fees for month after month," says Ratha. "But at least for a couple of months it would be very useful if the fees were waived."

The default in our student loans

Tue, 2015-06-09 01:55
50,000

That's about how many jobs British bank HSBC says it will eliminate as it attempts to cut costs. As the New York Times reports, as many as 25,000 of those positions will come from selling businesses in Turkey and Brazil. 

$3.6 billion

The total amount of debt the from students at Corinthian Colleges which the government announced Monday it will forgive, the Associated Press reported, after Corinthian shut down amid bankruptcy and a fraud investigation. The move comes at a high cost to taxpayers, and it has stoked conversation about the government's role administering student loans in the first place.

7 percent

That's the percentage of the Oyler School's graduating class that will go to trade school. The Cincinnati-based school has worked hard to build a college-going culture among its student body. But the school staff also acknowledge that for their low-income students, a two- or four-year institution may not be the right fit.

$1.2 trillion

Speaking of college debt: that's how much students have nationwide. In a New York Times op-ed over the weekend Lee Siegel talked about his experience defaulting on his student loan debt, suggesting students follow their passions rather than toiling away to pay off an "unfair" debt. He described default as an act of protest against the rising cost of education. This week, many, many commentators have come out against the advice.

10 couples

That's how many same-sex couples from China will be married in West Hollywood, California, as part of a promotion by Alibaba and its online shopping site Taobao. While China doesn't currently recognize same-sex marriage, it makes sense that Alibaba would be interested in the reported $300 billion in spending power held by the LGBT community. 

$80,162

That's how much more the average millennial working in San Jose, California would have to make in a year to afford a typical mortgage. According to a new analysis from Bloomberg, that's the largest gap in the country between pay and home prices for young people.

BBC at risk as the UK weighs TV license fee

Mon, 2015-06-08 13:23

Imagine a country where you have to be licensed to watch TV — and could be fined and even jailed for watching while unlicensed. Sounds Orwellian. 

But you don’t have to imagine it; the UK  requires anyone with a TV to buy an annual license, costing around $220. The total revenue raised — about $5 billion a year — is used to fund the country’s state-owned broadcasting organization, the BBC, or “the Beeb” as it’s known in Britain. 

Enforcing this charge can be messy: cases of people accused of evading the fee accounted for more than one in 10 of all criminal prosecutions in magistrates’ courts in 2013 – with 155,000 convicted and fined and 50 going to prison for failure to pay the fine.

The newly elected Conservative government has promised to decriminalize this funding system so no one will be punished by the criminal law for failing to pay the license fee;  nonpayment would be treated as a civil matter, like the nonpayment of a telephone bill. Some Brits would like to see the TV license system scrapped altogether.

An online petition to abolish the TV license fee has gained more than 158,000 signatures. The petition claims the fee gives the broadcaster an unfair advantage over its commercial rivals in terms of revenue and, because it is unrelated to the ability to pay, it is a "burden on the poor." 

Eamonn Butler, head of the free-market Adam Smith Institute, argues that in our digital, multichannel, multiplatform age the license fee is wrong in principle and hopelessly outdated. 

“It stems from the time when the BBC was a monopoly broadcaster,” he says. "I own a television set, but I rarely watch the BBC because I have 200 other channels to choose from. So why should I be forced to pay for a network that I don’t actually look at when I’ve got so much other choice?" 

But the Beeb, which is by far Britain’s biggest news provider, has many supporters.

“It produces some astonishingly good television, some very, very good radio and its website is something I refer to several times a day,” says media consultant Ben Fenton. “So I’m a consumer of the BBC. I like the product. I’m happy to pay for it through the license fee.”

The opposition Labour Party also supports the license fee as a source of funding, at least until the corporation’s charter is renewed in 2017. Labour claims that decriminalizing the fee now would deprive the Beeb of much-needed revenue. Enforcing the fee in the civil courts would cost more than the revenue it would raise and therefore, if it’s unenforced, fewer people would pay it. 

“There’s a danger that you just smash a 200-million pound hole in the BBC’s finances," says  Chris Bryant, Labour’s culture spokesman. “That’s the amount the BBC spends on all of its children’s broadcasting. You’ll smash that 200-million hole in the BBC’s finances without having thought how to make that up from any other source.” 

But the BBC is under the gun. One thousand British households a day are opting out of the license fee, claiming that they no longer have a TV set and get their news and entertainment over the internet. The Beeb will need to find new ways to raise its revenue.

Netflix scoops up 'War Machine' and Brad Pitt

Mon, 2015-06-08 13:00

Who says Netflix doesn't have any good movies?

After focusing on original TV and shows that you can binge-watch, the streaming service has landed its biggest movie debut yet.

Brad Pitt's new movie "War Machine" will debut on Netflix at the same time it lands in theaters.

Reports say Netflix spent a cool $30 million to get the film — and to keep annoying theater owners, of course.

"War Machine" is a satirical comedy that stars Pitt as a general who leads the American war effort in Afghanistan. It's due out next year.

Netflix has announced a couple other movie debuts, but we all know that when you get Brad Pitt, that takes it to a whole other level.

Netflix's scoops up 'War Machine' and Brad Pitt

Mon, 2015-06-08 13:00

Who says Netflix doesn't have any good movies?

After focusing on original TV and shows that you can binge-watch, the streaming service has landed its biggest movie debut yet.

Brad Pitt's new movie "War Machine" will debut on Netflix at the same time it lands in theaters.

Reports say Netflix spent a cool $30 million to get the film — and to keep annoying theater owners, of course.

"War Machine" is a satirical comedy that stars Pitt as a general who leads the American war effort in Afghanistan. It's due out next year.

Netflix has announced a couple other movie debuts, but we all know that when you get Brad Pitt, that takes it to a whole other level.

Why CalPERS wants a little less to do with Wall Street

Mon, 2015-06-08 13:00

Wall Street cares a lot more than you might think about retired government workers. Investment managers rack up hefty fees managing money for giant pension funds. CalPERS, which manages some $300 billion of California pension money, is now changing the game by cutting back half its money managers.

CalPERS believes it has way too many people managing its money, charging way too much. Public pension funds have enough trouble just finding enough money to pay retirees, so they’re all under pressure to cut expenses.

It’s not that CalPERS is dropping Wall Street to go its own way. It’s more about buying in bulk, says Leora Friedberg, a University of Virginia economics professor. 

“They’re going to then concentrate a bigger share of their total funds with a smaller group of managers,” Friedberg says. 

CalPERS wants to more easily track performance and drive a harder bargain on those fees. Some on Wall Street could make more money. Others will lose out.

And CalPERS is just the beginning, says Steven Davidoff Solomon, a law professor at UC Berkeley.

Other pension funds could follow suit, forcing Wall Street investment managers to fight harder for business by slashing fees.

The CalPERS fight is also a reminder to regular folks with 401(k)s and other human-size investments. Take a close look at the fees you pay, or they could devour your savings.

Mark Garrison: CalPERS believes it has way too many people managing its money, charging way too much. Jean-Pierre Aubry is with the Center for Retirement Research, where he looks closely at public pension funds.

Jean-Pierre Aubry: It’s among the highest, so it’s really one of the top ten in terms of the fees it pays compared to the other largest plans in the nation.

These funds have enough trouble just finding enough money to pay retirees, so they’re all under pressure to cut expenses. It’s not that CalPERS is dropping Wall Street to go its own way. It’s more about buying in bulk, explains University of Virginia economics professor Leora Friedberg.

Leora Friedberg: They’re going to then concentrate a bigger share of their total funds with a smaller group of managers.

CalPERS wants to more easily track performance and drive a harder bargain on those fees. Some on Wall Street could make more money. Others will lose out. And CalPERS is just the beginning, says Berkeley’s Steven Davidoff Solomon.

Steven Davidoff Solomon: CalPERS is the 800-pound gorilla of pension funds.

With heft, comes influence. Other pension funds could follow suit, forcing Wall Street investment managers to fight harder for business by slashing fees. The CalPERS fight is also a reminder to regular folks like us, with 401(k)s and other human-size investments. Take a close look at the fees you pay, or they could devour your savings.

Steven Davidoff Solomon: The lesson here is pretty simple. It’s keep your eye on the ball, don’t have too many funds, make sure you know what you’re getting out of your investments.

Even if you don’t have CalPERS’ $300 billion to work with, you can still play it smart with what you’ve got. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

Lufthansa to charge extra for using other websites

Mon, 2015-06-08 13:00

Beginning in September, Europe's leading airline, Germany-based Lufthansa, will charge an additional 16 euros, or just under $18, on every ticket issued through a computerized reservation network for booking flights, hotels and other travel needs. Think Orbitz or Expedia. The surcharge aims to increase Lufthansa's profitability. It might also cost travelers.

Price comparison sites almost always book at the lowest fare. That's good for consumers, but bad for airlines, because the fees airlines pay to these sites are the same no matter what a ticket costs. 

"They are, on a percentage-wise basis, the highest distribution costs as a percentage of revenue that an airline would ever experience," says Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst.

Lufthansa says using the online booking system costs it in the three-digit million euro range. By imposing the 16 euro surcharge, Lufthansa could make more money if it drives customers to book directly. Paul Ruden, executive vice president for legal and industry affairs for the American Society of Travel Agents, says Lufthansa will ultimately lose bargain-minded customers.

"If their idea is that consumers will completely abandon all alternatives and book only directly with Lufthansa, then they're dreaming," Ruden says.

Karl Moore, who teaches at McGill University and follows the airline industry, says this is about control. By driving travelers to book through Lufthansa directly, the airline can showcase more options — that cost extra — that wouldn't show up on a comparison booking site like Orbitz. This money-making strategy is called "unbundling."

"So instead of getting a meal with your flight and a particular seat and this sort of thing, if you want to have a particular seat, an aisle seat or have the meal, you pay extra for it," he says.

That's why Ruden says this tactic might work for Lufthansa, at the expense of consumers.

Apple is officially in the business of music streaming

Mon, 2015-06-08 11:26

Apple's 2015 Worldwide Developers Conference kicked off Monday in San Francisco. The conference hosts developers for a preview of what's to come in software for Apple products. But it's also, often, a place for Apple to announce new products and initiatives.

Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a keynote address where he announced, among other things, a new music streaming and Internet radio service called Apple Music. The service is coming later this month.

"The company was basically talking about different ways that this service will function," says Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson. "One is Beats 1, which is this sort of 24/7 streaming radio service that is put together by DJs in LA, New York, and in London."

Apple Music will be available for $9.99 per month, or $14.99 a month for the family plan, which lets users share Apple Music with up to five other people. 

This is your brain on Wi-Fi

Mon, 2015-06-08 08:50

Finish this sentence: "If my brain could connect to my Wi-Fi network, I would feel ______."

In his new book, “Apex,” former Microsoft developer Ramez Naam takes readers 20 years into the future to tell the story of a dystopian world that is (disturbingly) similar to our own. The third book in his “Nexus” trilogy, Naam explores the potential pitfalls of a neurally networked society.

“Everything you can imagine can go wrong,” Naam says. “From software crashes in your brain, to hackers, to the equivalent of the NSA wanting to snoop in on your thoughts.”

Naam was inspired to write the series when, after years as a developer, he began to realize just how advanced brain-implanted technology was becoming. The field is still largely experimental, but many scientists are already exploring the possibility that people could one day control computers and even communicate with one another using only their minds.

A connected world like this raises many ethical questions. But while society may reject technology advances at first, Naam says that, with time, people will come to embrace it.

“When we had in vitro fertilization invented about 30 years ago, the cover of Time Magazine was ‘Test Tube Babies,’ and we thought it was deeply unethical … but 30 years on, no one even talks about test tube babies. Now they just say, ‘Oh, we had some trouble having a baby, and now we have twins.' ”

Naam says that, much like the story told in his trilogy, there will always be a temptation to use advancements improperly, but he contends that that shouldn’t stand in the way of progress.

“Mostly, people choose to do things for their betterment or their kids," he says. "If somebody's trying to do it to really hurt someone else, make that illegal, but let people make smart choices for themselves.”

PODCAST: Calpers could shake up Wall Street

Mon, 2015-06-08 03:09

The biggest of public pension funds could shake up Wall Street today. More on that. Plus, in the weeks before the Supreme Court reveals its opinion about same-sex marriage again, it is not clear what the U.S. Military will enforce on equality for gay members. We take a closer look. And San Francisco’s city attorney has filed a lawsuit against McDonalds stating the local franchise right next to the Golden Gate Park should be controlling the population that congregate around its doors. But is it a local business responsibility to clean up the area?

Calpers' quest to pay lower money management fees

Mon, 2015-06-08 03:00

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the nation’s largest public pension fund, is expected to announce Monday that it’s taking a big red marker to the list of firms managing its money, cutting their number by roughly half.

At the heart of this is an attempt to lower the amount of money the pension giant pays to companies that manage its billions, says Kent Smetters, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Smetters expects other pension funds to follow Calpers’ lead.

Calpers also recently announced they were getting out of hedge funds for a similar reason.

Why this focus on lowering expenses?

“They’re only about 77 percent funded,” says Robert Pozen, who teaches at Harvard Business School. “Unfortunately, like most of these funds, they don’t have enough money now to invest to pay all these benefits over time.”

Pozen says by investing more money with fewer firms, Calpers will have more clout to negotiate lower fees. Cutting those costs now means more money for pensioners in the future. 

Tesla challenge to dealers goes beyond electric cars

Mon, 2015-06-08 02:00

Tesla Motors is in a state by state fight to sell its electric cars directly to consumers. States have strong franchise laws that give only dealers that privilege, and dealers are using their political power to keep it that way. But maybe not all of them. Some on Wall Street think a few dealers might be fine with Tesla getting its way.

The issue is way bigger than Tesla, which sells a relative handful of cars. Franchise laws protect dealers from competition. But they can also make it tricky for certain dealers to get bigger.

“If these laws were amended or liberalized more to open up the opportunities that dealers have to consolidate, that would actually be to their advantage,” says Dan Crane, associate dean at Michigan’s Law School.

Crane and other Tesla supporters say that opening up the system would lower prices for consumers. But it could also set off a wave of mergers. There are thousands of car dealers. Buyouts could shrink that to hundreds, even dozens. Many established dealers don’t want that, so they’re fighting to preserve their franchise laws.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Mark Garrison: If you wanna dig into franchise laws, buckle up, says longtime auto exec Gerry Meyers.

Gerry Meyers: I’m glad you raised the subject, because it’s a can of worms.

And it’s way bigger than Tesla, which only sells a handful of cars in any case. Franchise laws protect dealers from competition. But they can also make it tricky for certain dealers to get bigger, says Dan Crane, associate dean at Michigan’s Law School.

Dan Crane: If these laws were amended or liberalized more to open up the opportunities that dealers have to consolidate, that would actually be to their advantage.

Crane and other Tesla supporters argue opening up the system would lower prices for consumers. But it could also set off a wave of mergers. There are thousands of car dealers. Buyouts could shrink that to hundreds, even dozens. But many established dealers don’t want that, so they’re fighting.

Brian Terr: They’re tremendously strong.

Edmunds.com VP Brian Terr says dealer political power, built on jobs and money they bring local communities, means franchise laws will be tough to change anytime soon. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

Some gay veterans get fewer benefits

Mon, 2015-06-08 02:00

The Senate resumes debate on Monday on the National Defense Authorization Act, after last week failing to pass an amendment that would have changed the law to ensure all married gay veterans receive the same benefits as their straight counterparts.

Currently, the law says the VA can only consider a veteran married if the marriage is legal in the state where that veteran lives. That means in 13 states, where same-sex marriage is not legal, gay vets lose out on some benefits.

Ashley Broadway, who lives in Virginia where same-sex marriage is legal, is the president of The American Military Partner Association, an advocacy group.

"I'm a spouse of an almost 20-year active duty service member," who is planning to retire in a few years, Broadway says. They have two children together. And, Broadway says, they are concerned about where they will live in the future.

Broadway wants a change in the law so that wherever they move in retirement, "we would be able to have the same type of benefits that our straight counterparts [have]."

Those benefits include certain disability benefits, which are increased for married vets with children, and certain medical benefits which are available to their family members.

The amendment that failed last week was offered by New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

"If anybody ought to be treated equally, it ought to be those people who have put their lives on the line for this country," Shaheen says.

The issue could be moot if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, in a decision that is expected by the end of June. But if the high court's ruling is more nuanced and open to interpretation, Shaheen says a bill may be the way to address the issue.

Some gay veterans get less benefits

Mon, 2015-06-08 02:00

The Senate resumes debate on Monday on the National Defense Authorization Act, after last week failing to pass an amendment that would have changed the law to ensure all married gay veterans receive the same benefits as their straight counterparts.

Currently, the law says the VA can only consider a veteran married if the marriage is legal in the state where that veteran lives. That means in 13 states, where same-sex marriage is not legal, gay vets lose out on some benefits.

Ashley Broadway, who lives in Virginia where same-sex marriage is legal, is the president of The American Military Partner Association, an advocacy group.

"I'm a spouse of an almost 20-year active duty service member," who is planning to retire in a few years, Broadway says. They have two children together. And, Broadway says, they are concerned about where they will live in the future.

Broadway wants a change in the law so that wherever they move in retirement, "we would be able to have the same type of benefits that our straight counterparts [have]."

Those benefits include certain disability benefits, which are increased for married vets with children, and certain medical benefits which are available to their family members.

The amendment that failed last week was offered by New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

"If anybody ought to be treated equally, it ought to be those people who have put their lives on the line for this country," Shaheen says.

The issue could be moot if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, in a decision that is expected by the end of June. But if the high court's ruling is more nuanced and open to interpretation, Shaheen says a bill may be the way to address the issue.

San Francisco threatens to sue McDonald's over drug dealing

Mon, 2015-06-08 02:00

There's an area right by Golden Gate Park in Haight-Ashbury that's known as a place to buy marijuana and psychedelics. The city has tried for decades to “clean up” the drug dealing. Now, it is putting pressure on one specific business—the local McDonald's.

Drugs are part of Haight-Ashbury's legacy—you know, Summer of Love, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, LSD. That past still draws a certain crowd. Drifters go to play music, panhandle, and smoke pot. Many congregate on the edge of the park around McDonald's and some offer drugs to people passing by.

The city says the situation has gotten out of hand, and that serial drug dealers are doing business on McDonald’s property. It sent a letter to both McDonald’s Corporation and the local franchisee. The gist was that the business had to crack down on the illegal activity or risk a lawsuit.

Megan Cesare-Eastman is an attorney with the city. She says, “All we’re asking them to do is to take reasonable steps to change some of their operating procedures to make their property less attractive for that illegal activity to occur.”

The city is not specifying exactly what the business would have to do, but Cesare-Eastman says it should be something along the lines of adding security or putting up a fence around the back parking lot. 

Now there is a precedent for this kind of lawsuit where businesses are sued for illegal activity on their properties. But local attorney John Kithas says the city would have a tough case here. He says it would have to prove McDonald’s is a substantial part of the problem, which remember has been happening here for decades.

Kithas says, “The bottom line is that it is society's problem and the city is dumping on McDonald's potentially.”

It is no surprise drifters and drug dealers congregate at this McDonald’s. The rest of the neighborhood is pretty gentrified. Exhibit A: the Whole Foods across the street.

Mikias Lenherr is standing outside the McDonald's drinking a McDonald's coffee. He says, “the gentrification of San Francisco has become completely ridiculous.”

Lenherr is homeless. He says McDonald's is one of the last places to use the bathroom and get a cheap meal. He says he can't afford Whole Foods, adding that “those Jalapeno McDoubles are frickin pretty good.”

Some local businesses support pressure on McDonald's. Jerry Johnson sells hippie trinkets, but he says these modern drifters hurt his business. He wants security at McDonald’s. At the same time he says it will not solve the real issues here—poverty and homelessness.

Johnson says, “I've always said this homeless problem isn't a police problem, it's a society problem. We're just shifting the problem around. We're not solving anything.”

The city’s letter has already had an effect. McDonald's has hired some private security. That may stop some of the drug sales, but it probably won’t keep away those hoping to catch a puff of Haight-Ashbury's hippie past.

Does diversity make a difference in policing?

Mon, 2015-06-08 02:00

One solution that’s proposed by civil rights advocates to deal with problems of racial profiling and excessive use of force on minority suspects is to increase police ­force diversity. The idea is that if officers on the beat more closely resemble people on the street, then this will reduce police-community conflict. This is especially relevant in big cities such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and Oakland, and smaller cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, where the population is now majority black and Hispanic, but the police force is still majority-white.

But it is not clear—based on anecdotal evidence from police forces around the country, and academic research on policing—whether having more officers of color would actually help protect people of color from racially biased treatment by police.

At a law enforcement expo near Portland, Oregon, recently, vendors were demonstrating police­-training video simulators. The company VirTra, from Tempe, Arizona, offers its V-300 simulator for police and military use-of-force training. It features a 300-degree video-screen array. Armed with laser-equipped Glock service revolvers, the participating police trainee(s) stand on a raised platform and are faced with an evolving scenario to which they decide how to respond in real-time. Possible scenarios range from a drunk driver who refuses to pull over, to active shooters in a school.

Veteran instructor Scott Dilullo of VirTra runs the use-of-force simulations. He says in one scenario an active shooter is in a movie theatre. The cops being trained virtually enter a lobby, where a side door then opens. Dilullo describes what happens next: “We have a black male off­-duty officer come out with a badge in his hand, and a gun. We have officers [in the training] shooting him even though he’s screaming ‘I’m a cop, I’m a cop, I’m a cop.’ They’re not seeing the color of his skin; that’s not coming into play. What it is, is that they see the gun, and they’re reacting to it.”

However, academic research on this shows many police do react to the race of the person they confront. Joshua Correll is a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Colorado. In his experiments, Correll puts subjects, including police officers, in front of a screen, and a character pops up: black, or white, holding a gun, or holding a non-threatening object such as a can of Coke or a cellphone.

Correll says police in general react correctly to the threat they face, assuming they are properly trained. “Police officers are pretty good at making the right decision, shooting the guy with the gun and not shooting the guy with the cellphone, and race doesn’t dramatically impact their decisions,” says Correll. “They’re not more likely to shoot a black target than to shoot a white target."

But Correll has also found a difference in police-reaction that is based on race. “When we look at their response times, we do see a pattern of racial bias in police officers. Such that, if it’s a black guy with a gun, they respond really quickly, and if it’s a white guy with a gun, they make the right decision, they shoot him, but it takes them a second. It’s like, they have to override active stereotypes to make the right response.”

Correll says this result mirrors other psychological research on racial bias and stereotyping, which he says are communicated in movies, music, news reports and other media. “When a black target pops up on a screen, participants show this kind-of enhanced attention, similar to what people show when they respond to a threat,” says Correll. “It may not be conscious, it may not be intentional, it may not be something that they are personally comfortable with. But in our society they pick up on the association between race and threat.”

And Correll says the response is essentially the same regardless of the race of the  human subject being tested. “We’ve looked at undergraduates, people in the community, people in law enforcement,” says Correll. “If the participant is black rather than white, are they less likely to associate a black target with danger? The answer is generally no.”

Professor Delores Jones-Brown studies race and policing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and based on the academic literature, she believes that “diversifying the identity of the people on the police department is not a panacea to police brutality, misconduct or poor police-community relations.”

Jones-Brown continues: “There is a bit of naivete that if you have an officer of color, that officer can’t engage in racial profiling. And I think all the evidence suggests that’s not the case. We do see black civilians, particularly black men, as potentially more dangerous, potentially more criminal, than others. Even black and other minority police officers engage in that stereotype as well. One explanation is that they may be attempting to prove themselves as worthy of the police culture, or demonstrate to their white counterparts that they’re not being more lenient on their own ethnic group.”

NYPD patrol officer Sean Forbes sees this in his daily work. He works in multiple precincts in Brooklyn, and often responds with his duty officer to crime scenes where suspects, witnesses and other civilians allege police mistreatment or misconduct based on race.

Forbes is black and says he sometimes sees other minority cops treating people of color more harshly than white cops do.

“The reality is, some of the guys that I deal with are worse” than white cops, says Forbes. “I’ve seen officers of color—black and Hispanic—who basically fit into the ‘I’ve got to prove myself, I’ve got to make these guys realize I’m in charge’ kind of attitude.”

Forbes says he does feel more comfortable responding to a disturbance or crime when there are other officers color on the scene. And he believes recruiting more police of color in New York and other cities would help build trust and acceptance for law enforcement in minority communities.

Still, attracting more black and Hispanic recruits continues to be an elusive goal. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of 2013, the percentage of black police officers nationwide was 12 percent, and had not risen since 1997. Blacks make up 13.2 percent of U.S. population, according to the most recent census data. From 2007 to 2013, the percentage of Hispanic police increased from 10.3 percent to 11.6 percent. Hispanics make up 17.1 percent of U.S. population.

'It's like Uber, but for break-up texts'

Mon, 2015-06-08 01:58
400

That's about how many messages have been submitted to Textie, a new site that lets users submit tricky, sometimes emotional messages like "Are you in love with me?" or "I need to move out" and crowdsource replies. The Washington Post's Intersect blog dug into some of these messages and why some of our most important conversations happen via SMS.

13

That's how many states currently ban same-sex marriage. And that can lead to a lot of problems for married gay veterans, as last week the Senate failed to pass an amendment that would ensure they receive the same benefits as their straight counterparts. The Senate resumes debate on Monday.

$440 million

That's how much the nude tourism industry is worth, according to its trade group. And it's not just beaches; there are nude cruises and even clothing-optional towns. Marketplace Weekend took a dive into this growing community with author Mark Haskell Smith, who stripped down himself to study it.

24.04 Mbps

That's the download speed of Helsinki's free public Wi-Fi network. Live since 2006, the hot spots are the result of a decision to concurrently install open networks in addition to the Wi-Fi being put into official buildings at the time. As Quartz reports, part of the city's ability to maintain such a service is the high municipal tax paid by Finnish citizens.

$2 million

That's how much was won by a team from Korea in a DARPA-sponsored robotics competition. Competitors completed a series of challenges based on disaster scenarios. But as reported by the New York Times, these were far from the elaborate droids currently seen in television and movies. It was seven and a half hours before the a robot was able to finish the first obstacle course.

75

That's how many suppliers Patagonia uses around the world to assemble its clothing and other products, the Atlantic reported. But that's just one part of a longer supply chain, including about 175 mills, farms and other manufacturers. That means it's difficult for even a more labor-conscious brand like Patagonia to ensure illegal or exploitative labor isn't used to create its products. The company is a case study for the clothing industry at large.

The business of being naked

Fri, 2015-06-05 14:14

Nude tourism is an industry worth about $440 million every year, according to the American Association for Nude Recreation. Author Mark Haskell Smith saw — and bared — it all to write his new book, "Naked At Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist's Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World."

Smith did a lot of naked traveling himself for research. He went to a nudist resort in Palm Springs, California, one of 200 in the U.S.

"They're basically hotels with swimming pools, a lot of times with lakes and park spaces," he says.

He also went on a cruise on a chartered Holland America ship that had been "commandeered by nudists." Princess Cruises and other liners do the same thing.

"Basically, you've got a cruise ship that is rented by a nudist cruise company," Smith says. "For them, it's a big business."

In Europe, Smith visited towns where nude beaches drove tourism. In Vera, Spain,"the whole town is clothing optional," Smith says. He interviewed the mayor there and found out the visiting nudists were the prime economic driver for the whole area. 

Smith says it took a while for him to get comfortable in his own (bare) skin, but once he got used to it, he was able to embrace everything from nude hiking to grocery shopping. In a 60,000 person town in France where almost everyone is nude, Smith says, "trying to speak French was way more embarrassing than being naked."

Nude tourism is also expanding. Fifteen years ago, there were only two cruises, up to 45 this year. And the nude neighborhoods aren't just in Europe — in Pasco, Florida, there are housing developments just for nudists. "There's a whole real estate market of people who buy into these areas," Smith says. 

In "Naked at Lunch," Smith speaks to someone who thinks of nudism as a completely anti-capitalist statement. To some extent, Smith agrees, since it's all about being happy with — no pun intended — the bare necessities.

"They're rebels ... they stand up against all the rules of church and society, and even some of our laws, a lot of them risk a stigma that could cost them their jobs," he says. "They do it just because it feels good ... that is a completely anti-capitalist thing: you don't need to purchase anything to be happy."

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