Marketplace - American Public Media

Subscribe to Marketplace - American Public Media feed
Updated: 16 min 28 sec ago

NBC Universal investing millions in Vox and BuzzFeed

Wed, 2015-08-12 13:00

Here are a  few items from the Marketplace desk of "Wait, your company is worth how much?" media edition.

We learned Wednesday that NBC Universal, among the oldest of old-line media companies, is taking a big stake in a couple of not old-line media companies.

Two hundred million dollars in Vox Media, which values Vox Media at more than a cool billion dollars.

Also, there are reports of another $200 million going into BuzzFeed — which puts it at a billion and a half.


Utility company makes room for carbon emission rules

Wed, 2015-08-12 13:00

This month the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency laid out new guidelines for carbon-emission standards. Ralph Izzo, the CEO of the utility company Public Service Enterprise Group, isn’t worried.

“It’s a business opportunity for us,” he says. “About 30 to 40 percent of a customer's bill is fuel. I’m not in the fuel business, so if I can get customers to use less fuel, I can lower their bills and lower my cost. If I lower my cost more than I lower their bills, then I make more money,” Izzo explains.

Utility companies haven’t had to deal with standards like these before, especially on a national scale.

“It’s really not that long ago, I mean it’s maybe 15 years or so, that we began to realize that carbon dioxide was an issue," he says. "But I don’t think it’s been part of the public dialogue, and nor was it a part of the industry dialogue until, really, this administration.”

Izzo thinks that the future of PSEG and utilities in general will be energy efficiency, with an emphasis on carbon-free energy sources like solar and wind power.

In the end, these standards could help PSEG actually make money.

Izzo says, “I know that seems strange, but fuel is such an important part of that bill. And if we reduce what we spend on fuel by more than what we reduce on the customer’s bill, we come out ahead.”

Target's en Vogue marketing

Wed, 2015-08-12 13:00

Vogue's much-awaited September issue -- its Fall Fashion Blockbuster — comes out soon. Readers can always count on plenty of ads. But this time look for an unlikely partnership: the magazine will feature ads from Target. Target is trying to distance itself from discount retailing (see Lilly Pulitzer craze). And Vogue is following the money, tapping into a new demographic. Both get the golden ticket in advertising: mounds and mounds of customer data.

When was the last time you picked up a copy of Vogue? Simon Ungless, executive director of the fashion school at Academy of Art University, says it was probably the last time a copy happened to be in front of you.

"Really, the biggest percentage of the people that look at it are everyday regular people going to the doctor, and there's a copy of it there in the doctor's waiting room," he says.

Vogue does publish more than a million copies. But magazines in general have been hurting. So Ungless says it makes sense that a consumer-driven publication with hundreds of pages of ads to fill would look to Target. Elizabeth Wissinger teaches fashion studies at the City University of New York graduate center. She says the Target-Vogue deal is not that weird.

"The dividing lines between how we're going to get high-end luxury goods versus mass-produced items is blurred," she says.

Technology makes the connection between Vogue and Target very direct. Readers can scan a code on the ad page and go right to a "buy now" button. Ari Lightman, who teaches digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University, says that's gold.

"Target's a very voracious consumer of data," he says.

Also, Target wants to reach into Vogue readers' deeper pockets. And Vogue gets to say to advertisers, "Hey, look, people aren't just seeing your ads — they're buying stuff." To understand how big that is, Lightman says look no farther than his 14-year-old daughter. She bought a fashion magazine during a recent vacation.

"She's reading the magazine with her phone in her hand," he says.

Now consumers who are all about instant gratification can go from seeing something to owning it a lot faster.

London property boom fueled by dubious funds

Wed, 2015-08-12 12:34

Sherlock Holmes would have enjoyed the irony: a major, international crime committed right on his own doorstep. Real estate next to 221B Baker Street, London home of the world-famous fictional detective, may have been used to launder more than $200 million of illicit cash. Campaigners at the anti-corruption group Global Witness made the discovery .  

Chido Dunn

Stephen Beard/Marketplace

“We found that big chunks of Baker Street — all the property surrounding the Sherlock Holmes Museum —  is owned by someone with close links to Rakhat Aliyev,” says  investigator Chido Dunn.  

Aliyev has been called “the Moriarty of money laundering”: He was the head of the secret police in Kazakhstan and is reputed to have looted billions from the Kazakh treasury, hiding it abroad before dying in mysterious circumstances in an Austrian prison cell. It is, perhaps, not surprising that he or his associates would park their cash in London.  

“London has been a money laundering center of choice for many, many years,” says John Christensen, an anti-tax evasion campaigner.

He alleges that successive United Kingdom governments have turned a blind eye to dodgy foreign cash laundered through British overseas territories like the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bermuda, and the British Virgin Islands, and that so much money has come into London, it’s even affected the capital’s property prices.

“Very large inflows of dirty money mingled with large inflows of clean money have inflated London property markets to the point where the market is quite simply unaffordable to the large majority of ordinary Londoners,” he says.

John Christensen

Stephen Beard/Marketplace

The precise scale of the inflow of dodgy cash is difficult to gauge, but here’s a rough indicator: Almost $200 billion has been pumped into British real estate anonymously by  foreigners operating through overseas tax havens. A lot of this money has been invested in luxury apartment blocks, which often lie empty.

“Seventy-five percent of the new blocks are unoccupied," says housing activist Andrew Barshall. “They are simply a hiding place for dirty money, for foreign tax dodgers, money launderers and drug dealers.”   

Barshall claims the influx of foreign cash is forcing some of London’s poorer residents out of the city, and he cites the planned redevelopment of the Sutton Estate in Chelsea as yet another example of this.  

The estate — a cluster of fine, old red-brick apartment blocks in one of London’s most expensive districts — was built with the legacy of a Victorian philanthropist, William Sutton, who left his money to provide low-cost accommodations in nice neighborhoods for London’s working poor. 

Andrew Barshall (L) and Ian Henderson. 

Stephen Beard/Marketplace

Barshall argues that a plan to demolish and rebuild the estate in order to cash in on London’s rising property prices will betray Sutton’s charitable intentions.

“Some of the poorer residents will be sent to live outside London, and 40 percent of the accommodation will be turned into multimillion pound luxury, apartments,” he says. “What we’re seeing is nothing less than the social cleansing of the working poor from the center of the city.”

 The housing association that runs the Sutton Estate and the local council both insist they need the extra funds from the redevelopment to provide and maintain more affordable accommodations. 

But Britain’s central government does seem to be worried about the impact of illicit money on London housing. The prime minister is mulling over a new measure that will make it mandatory for anyone buying real estate in Britain to be identified.

That won’t save the Sutton Estate. It won’t stop the city’s house-price boom. But it may help to cool it by stemming the flow of laundered cash into London property. 


Straight out of a changed Compton, 27 years later

Wed, 2015-08-12 11:58

This Friday, a small California city is about to get a whole lot of publicity. Compton, right next to Los Angeles, is the setting for the the film "Straight Outta Compton," a biopic about the rise of the iconic West Coast gangsta rap group N.W.A.

There's a line from the movie, said by rapper Ice Cube: "All publicity is good publicity." But for Compton, this movie is a a journey back in time to a city that became notorious for gangs and violence and poverty. Twenty-seven years later, Compton has changed in a lot of ways. And as the city tries to distance itself from its old reputation, America will be reintroduced to the old Compton. 

When JaTiara Fuller, walked into the classroom on her first day of fourth grade, she was surprised. She was the only black person in her class. “There was no diversity,” she remembers. “There were no Indians, no Asians, no Filipinos, just Latinas and me. That’s it.”

Fuller's mom, who grew up in Compton, was sure the school had made a mistake. She thought her daughter had been put in a class for students who needed to learn English, so she went to the administrator’s office to sort things out. “And they were like, no she’s in the gifted class, that’s where she is supposed to be,” JaTiara says.

She made friends easily with other kids, though there were a few things that made her stand out. “They couldn't relate to my hair problems or my butt problems, Fuller says. “It was a foreign world to them.”

Latinos make up about two-thirds of the population of Compton today, one of the biggest from the Compton of 1988. 

Pageant queens at this year's Miss Compton Pageant.

David Weinberg/Marketplace

Fuller is 24 now, a graduate of Cal State Long Beach, and last year she became the queen of Compton when she won the Miss Compton Pageant.

“Representing Compton is such an honor," she says. "But it’s also very exciting when you get to go outside of Compton, because a lot of people have negative stigmas on people from Compton. So it’s very important to me to showcase Compton in such a positive light.”

When Fuller travels outside the city, people are surprised that she’s never seen a drive-by shooting or a drug deal. They’re also shocked to hear that Compton now has a Chipotle.

The Chipotle is part of a shopping center called the Gateway Towne Center. It looks like a shopping center you would find in any suburb in America: lots of asphalt, a Home Depot, Target, 24 Hour Fitness. To a lot of communities, a place like this isn’t a big deal. But in Compton it means jobs and tax revenue for a city where more than a quarter of the residents live in poverty. 

“This is the first major development in the city of Compton in over 30 years,” says Mayor Aja Brown. “This really is a great signification of hope and transformation and growth for the city. You can run into family members, neighbors, get basic things that other communities take for granted.” 

Brown is 33, the youngest mayor in Compton’s history. She was elected in 2013 and has a background in urban planning and development. But lately she’s been fielding a lot of calls about gangsta rap. “At the height of N.W.A.’s success, Compton had triple the homicides than we have today," she says. "Compton is much safer then it was before.”

Attendees at Gateway Towne Center's ''National Night Out.''

David Weinberg/Marketplace

The economy here is improving, but there is still a long way to go. The Compton school district gets a rating of 3 out of 10. The unemployment rate is about twice the national average, and the city has struggled to keep up its infrastructure.

“The potholes! It’s like the moon craters,” says Carlos Acevedo, the owner of Frank’s Carburetors, which has been in Compton for 52 years. The shop is littered with piles of old carburetors and dozens of glass jars filled with metal parts. 

Acevedo was born in California, but he grew up speaking Spanish and still has a thick accent. Over the last couple decades he has watched the Latino population rise in Compton. But the city’s political leadership doesn’t reflect that change. Only one of the city council's four members is Latino, and the school board has "no Hispanics representing all the Hispanic people there.”

Acevedo is president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce, and he’s been trying to get more Latinos to the polls for local elections. He shows a poster he made that sits behind the counter of his shop. It has a picture of Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr., and a copy of the Voter Bill of Rights.

This poster really signifies representation and opportunity for all of us," he says. "It’s not to push anybody out, but it should be more sharing in the democracy and the power.” 

Acevedo points to black smudges on the concrete. It’s melted tire. Someone parked a truck in front of his shop, and then the truck blew up. 

Pre-pageant interviews taking place at the Miss Compton Pageant. 

David Weinberg/Marketplace

“Boom, exploded and went into flames,” Acevedo says.

Acevedo believes it was intentional and had something to do with his political activism. But the fire department ruled it a miscellaneous fire. 

This past Saturday, JaTiara Fuller’s reign as the queen of Compton came to an end when she crowned a new queen of Compton. She's going to miss it, especially being in a position to empower youth, though she still gets to do that at her job as a children’s social worker. 

“I work for Department of Children and Family Services, which is pretty cool, because I get to service Compton,” Fuller says.

She won’t be stepping completely out of the spotlight. In two weeks she will go on to represent Compton in the Miss California pageant.


How has Compton changed since the days of N.W.A.?

Wed, 2015-08-12 11:58

This Friday, an iconic American city is about to get a whole lot of publicity. Compton, California, is the setting for the the film "Straight Outta Compton," a biopic about the rise of the iconic West Coast gangsta rap group N.W.A.

There's a line from the movie, said by rapper Ice Cube: "All publicity is good publicity." But for the city of Compton, this movie is a a journey back in time to a Compton that became famous for gangs and violence and poverty. Twenty-seven years later, Compton has changed in a lot of ways. And as the city tries to distance itself from its old reputation, America will be reintroduced to the old Compton. 

Movie release dates are a game of strategy

Wed, 2015-08-12 11:00

Movie studios are releasing more than a dozen films Friday, a strategic date that distributors have planned well ahead in advance, the New York Times says.

So what’s the magic formula behind a flick’s release date? It hinges on a number of factors, including the competition, how well it might fare on the awards circuit and, of course, if someone like Meryl Streep is opening a film around the same time, according to the Times. 

The type of film that studios release during the summer depends on what part of the summer you’re talking about. Blockbuster releases, early summer. Small or “smallish films,” mid-to-late summer (to take advantage of blockbuster fatigue). And the end of summer “can be a dead zone,” the Times says. 

Some of the 14 film releases coming Friday include “Rosenwald,” a documentary that chronicles a Jewish philanthropist’s efforts to build schools for African-Americans in the South; “People Places Things,” a movie about a graphic novelist who deals with being a single father; and “Ten Thousand Saints,” a drama that delves into the 1980s New York punk scene.

A late Labor Day thwarted an earlier release of “Rosenwald.” Friday was ultimately chosen to build on the film’s July showing at the NAACP’s annual convention, says Michael Tuckman, who developed the film’s release strategy, to the Times. Meanwhile, “People Places Things” is not in competition with big screens, but alternative methods of movie watching.

“We’re not competing with ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ which opens theatrically, but with whatever is coming out on cable and iTunes that weekend,” Andy Bohn, with the distributor Film Arcade, told the Times.

The Times says the reason for the delayed opening of "Ten Thousand Saints," originally set to open last week: Meryl. (“Ricki and the Flash,” in which Streep plays a rockstar mom, opened August 7.)

Former Greek finance minister slams bailout plan

Wed, 2015-08-12 09:30

From our partners at the BBC:

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Wednesday the latest Greek bailout deal "is not going to work."

Varoufakis, speaking on the BBC's "World at One," said that others negotiators in Tuesday's agreement felt the same way.

"The Greek finance minister … says more or less the same thin," he said. 

He added that he had seen the "finance minister of Germany go to the Bundestag and effectively confess this deal is not going to work."

"The International Monetary Fund ... is throwing up its hands, collectively despairing at a program that is simply founded on unsustainable debt," he says. "And yet this is a program that everybody is working towards implementing."

Varoufakis was removed from the talks early last month and replaced by Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos.

He added: "Ask anyone who knows anything about Greece's finances, and they will tell you this deal is not going to work,"

But Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday that the deal would end the country's economic uncertainty.

Tsipras is expected to call a emergency session of parliament on Thursday to ratify the bailout.

He faces opposition from many hardliners in his radical left Syriza party who oppose the austerity that makes up the conditions of the deal.

"Despite the obstacles that some are trying to put into our path, I'm optimistic we will get to an agreement, loan support from the European mechanism, which will put a final end to economic uncertainty," Tsipras said.

Greece must repay some $3.79 billion to the European Central Bank by next Thursday. If the deal is not finalized by then, Athens may need more emergency funding.

Eurozone finance ministers are expected to meet over the weekend to endorse the draft deal.

However, many member states believe more negotiating has to be done. On Tuesday, Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb said: "There remains work to be done with details. Agreement is a big word."

The German government has welcomed Tuesday's deal, calling it a "substantial result."

But it said it must study the deal further before deciding whether it was ready for approval by the German Parliament.

PODCAST: Molecular wellness

Wed, 2015-08-12 03:00

China's devaluation of its currency, and advocating for wellness that starts at the molecular level.

How big is too big for a mobile phone?

Wed, 2015-08-12 02:00

Samsung is widely expected to unveil some of its latest mobile gadgets on Thursday, including the Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge Plus smartphones. As usually happens with these sorts of product launches, the hints and rumors have been dribbling out for days. Signs are the trend toward bigger and bigger screens isn’t over.

One hint came from Samsung itself in a recent blog post called “7 Reasons Why Bigger Is Better.”

So just how big can phones get, before they can no longer be called handheld devices?

“There’s only so much bigger I feel like you can get at this point,” says Ryan Reith, an analyst with market research firm IDC, who says some phone screens in Asia are now 7 inches, measured diagonally. That’s twice the size of the screen on the original iPhone.

Retail chains feel pressure from low consumer spending

Wed, 2015-08-12 02:00

Several department store chains report quarterly earnings this week. Macy's, which reports on Wednesday, announced recently that it's expanding same-day delivery services and has built a distribution center with the capacity to ship 325,000 orders a day.

Still, it's been tough on retailers this year. First it was too cold. So cold, in some regions, people couldn't even shop. Then this: "Because of the strength of the dollar, you've seen less tourist traffic coming to the U.S., and when they get here they're shopping less," Bridget Weishaar, retail and senior equity analyst at Morningstar, says.

On the bright side, department stores like Macy's and Nordstrom have been fighting to stay ahead of online retailers like Amazon. Weishaar says stores have one big advantage:
"They have stores and Amazon does not. So they really need to make use of that edge."

In its stores, Macy's uses an app to alert your mobile phone as you approach, say, a pair of shoes it thinks you might like. But Andrew Frank, research vice president at Gartner, says everyone's still learning.

"Retailers are still not completely settled on how to respond to challengers like Amazon," he says. Learning how to use all the consumer data out there could take years.


Promoting health at the molecular level

Wed, 2015-08-12 02:00

You could call "wellness" — healthy lifestyle, better diet — the art of not getting sick. Dr. Lee Hood thinks a lot about this so-called art. He's a pioneer in the study of the human genome, having contributed to the creation of five instruments critical for modern genetics.

Dr. Hood is now the chair of the scientific advisory board of a company he helped create called Arivale, which just raised $36 million dollars in venture capital to assess and promote wellness at the genetic and molecular levels. 

He thinks physicians should embrace this new technology, as it is a growing market that he believes will likely develop in parallel to traditional medicine. "I think in a 10 to year 15 period, the scientific wellness industry will far exceed market cap of the current disease industry or the healthcare industry," says Hood.

Click the media player above to hear Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio in conversation with Dr. Lee Hood.

Charters transform New Orleans schools, and teachers

Wed, 2015-08-12 02:00

It's been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina and the flood-of-floods struck New Orleans. In the following decade, the city has transformed it public schools, housing and business community. Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio traveled to the city to explore what these vast changes mean for New Orleans and the country. 

Bethaney Charles in middle school. 

Bethaney Charles/Marketplace

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans fired just about everybody working in its failing public schools and embarked on a wholesale switch to charter schools. Today, we'll examine what happened to the teachers and one student, Bethaney Charles, whom I met while reporting for my old PBS TV show "NOW" just after the storm. 

"On the first day we had a lot of homework, and we had long school hours," then 11-year-old Bethaney told me. "I thought, boy, it's gonna be a long day and it's not going to be interesting." At the time, she had just entered a new charter school set up after Katrina by the non-profit Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP.

"What I like about KIPP is the way they teach us," 11-year-old Bethaney said, "it makes you stay awake." During that 2006-2007 school year, I found her KIPP middle school — KIPP Believe — crisply regimented, with tidy lines of students trooping to class.

One dominant symbol back then was a flag that read, "Class of 2014," the far off year these kids were expected to launch into college. To accomplish this with so many students so behind in their studies required teachers who could handle some very long school days. Bethaney, now age 19, remembers teachers being at her charter deep into the evening. 

Bethaney Charles, now 19. 

David Brancaccio/Marketplace

"Sometimes 8, 9 [o'clock] — they work extremely late to get prepared for the next day," Bethaney recalls. Like many of the New Orleans charters, KIPP hired some newbie instructors out of, for instance, the non-profit Teach For America. These are often recent college grads without traditional training in education. 

"It was easier to connect with them and be comfortable with the younger teachers," says Bethaney. Tulane economics professor Douglas Harris, director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans has seen the statistics. 

"There was this massive influx of people who wanted to come and they were willing to work really long hours and they were really talented people," Harris says, but he also notes, "turnover has just about doubles since pre-Katrina."

Holley Bendtsen, a 10th grade teacher at Landry-Walker high school with decades of experience, sees herself as a career educator, in contrast to this new, more transient teacher population. 

"They come in and they are working so hard, but its all so rough," Bendtsen says, "there's no way you can prepare anybody for it, you just have to live it." Furthermore, many good veteran teachers who have stayed in the system left. She says one of her former colleagues is now a school superintendent back East, another is a teacher of the year several times over in North Carolina.  Bendtsen says the brain drain she witnessed from New Orleans was a real loss.

"They found a way to get rid of the union," Bendtsen says, who left teaching for a few years after the storm before returning to New Orleans' schools. "They got rid of such a huge part of the black middle class, those female teachers, head of households, well-educated people."

Holley Bendtsen describes what it was like looking for a teaching job in New Orleans after the mass layoffs:

Lorraine Jones teaches a lesson prior to Katrina.

Lorraine Jones/Marketplace

When Katrina hit, early education specialist Lorraine Jones had a new crop of pre-K students at Helen S. Edwards elementary school in the city's low-income Ninth Ward, where many kids came into school needing special attention. She says her classroom management skills were honed through formal study and experience. 

"Children have to be children. You model the behavior you want, and kids will come around," Jones says, "but don’t come in with the attitude that you know better how to work with these kids."

Jones was not rehired, she says, adding to the all the turbulence endured by the young students she knew so well. 

"We provided stability for these kids. These people who came in new, a lot of them don't even stay the full time," says Jones. "They sign that little contract saying I will work for two years or whatever. Some of them leaver after a year."

Lorraine Jones describes her experience trying to win back her job as a pre-K teacher:

Lorraine Jones

David Brancaccio/Marketplace

In part two of this series, we'll meet one of the new teachers and look more closely at the data on New Orleans' charter experiment. But what about former 5th grader Bethaney Charles, whom I met after the flood?

She says students in her school, which eventually expanded into a charter high school, were told to apply to at least nine colleges. She went for more. 

"I was accepted in all, all my 11 schools," says Charles. She chose Dillard University, the noted private liberal arts campus in New Orleans.

She's starting her sophomore year in the coming days, studying nursing with a focus on anesthesiology.

"I did some research on Nurse Anasthesists, and once I saw the amount of money that they made," she says she thought, "I'm going to pursue that."

BMW to Google: A, B, see ya, Alphabet URL

Wed, 2015-08-12 01:59
1.6 percent

In a surprise move, that's how much China's central bank devalued its currency for a second day in a row on Wednesday. As Quartz writes, the real value of the yuan may be even lower than People's Bank of China is reporting.

7 inches

That's how big smartphones in Asia have gotten. With rumors that the Samsung's Galaxy Note 5 and the S6 Edge Plus will be bigger than ever when unveiled on Thursday, customers seem to be pushing for phones that resemble tablets.


That's the number of teachers who were fired from the New Orleans public school system in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, writes Slate. Recently, the Marketplace Morning Report team headed to New Orleans to see how the city is recovering, and more specifically, to see how students have fared in the charter system that has replaced public education. They found successful students going off to college, but a teacher turnover rate that has increased dramatically.

100 companies

That's how many companies have some form of "Alphabet" incorporated in their registered trademarks. And as Mashable writes, Google's rebranding has hit another snag: is owned by BWM, and the company is not letting go of the URL anytime soon.

Contaminated river leaves businesses at a standstill

Tue, 2015-08-11 13:00

The Animas River along Durango and Las Platas, Colorado, was recently contaminated by 3 million gallons of toxic waste from a nearby mine. It turned the river bright yellow and left a lot of small business owners scrambling.

Matt Wilson, co-owner of 4 Corners Whitewater Rafting in Durango, describes the river: “It’s returned to the nice aqua-green color that it usually is, but the problem is the entire river bed is covered in this bright orange sludge, so that is the main concern.”

In the five days since the spill, 4 Corners Whitewater Rafting  has lost $30,000 and counting. His company is one of the smaller rafting companies along the Animas River, but they have seven full-time employees who are all waiting for an update from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Business has come to a total standstill. They have closed the river since last Thursday, so we’re just playing the waiting game right now,” Wilson says.  

Man eats way through NYC, one pizza slice at a time

Tue, 2015-08-11 13:00

 In Colin Atrophy Hagendorf's memoir "Slice Harvester," he makes his way around New York City in pursuit of the best slice of pizza. "It's just 'cause no one had done it," Hagendorf says. He says a good slice of pizza isn't about any one ingredient in particular.

"When you take that first bite, you're not gonna notice any particular stand out ingredient, right? There's not gonna be any star of the show. You're gonna bite into that pizza and all you can experience is the collective efforts of every ingredient working in unison to create, you know, a magnificent worker utopia in your mouth," he explains.

One of Hagendorf's all-time favorite stops on his pizza quest was a place called Pizza Suprema, run by Joe Riggio and founded by Riggio's dad, Sal.

"It was so good, we didn't want it to be over," he says.

In a weird twist of cosmic pizza fate, the slice he chose as his favorite had a childhood connection.

Hagendorf explains: "Turns out Tony Dara, the guy that owns St. Mark's Pizza, which was my favorite slice growing up … he was across-the-street neighbors with Sal Riggio, Joe's dad. And Sal had actually taught him how to make pizza. And so in a blind taste test of four-hundred-something slices … I chose the one that had the same recipe as my favorite slice in high school as my favorite slice [now]."

Over 400 slices later, is he taking a pizza break? Not quite.
"I eat pizza all the time. I love pizza," he says.



Super PACs picking up the tab for campaign activities

Tue, 2015-08-11 13:00

Campaigns, especially presidential campaigns, are pretty expensive to run. The campaign of former Texas governor and two-time presidential hopeful Rick Perry is feeling the pinch, suspending pay for his staff due to low funds.

Perry actually has about $17 million in support, but it’s locked up in super PACs that are not allowed to coordinate directly with his campaign. But even without coordinating with the campaign, super PACs supporting Perry and other candidates are still doing a lot of the work of the 2016 campaign. 

“There’s essentially not much a super PAC couldn’t do, other than things that would require direct coordination with the candidate or their staff,” says Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Super PACs can run TV ads, print fliers and even campaign door to door. Plenty of critics say that’s too much outside influence.

But lawyer Cleta Mitchell of the law firm Foley & Lardner says Perry's financial woes reveal a different problem. She's represented Republican campaigns and super PACs in the past, and says current campaign finance limits are unrealistic for modern presidential campaigns. "It makes it very difficult to fund increasingly expensive campaigns," she says, "particularly national campaigns.”

Stefan Passantino is a partner with the law firm Dentons and the treasurer for the Opportunity and Freedom PAC, which has more than $10 million ready to back Perry.
“The super PAC is allowed to do all of the traditional activities of a campaign, other than pay for the staff and pay directly for the travel of the candidate,” he says.

Passantino says with the new political reality, campaigns don’t need big staffs anymore — just enough to do what’s legally required.

“But that can be done on a fairly lean and mean basis," he says.

And the Perry campaign is working out just how lean it can be.

Etiquette and rituals rule in Japan's business culture

Tue, 2015-08-11 13:00

At a dinner meeting in Tokyo recently, where a lot of business happens over meals, two Japanese professors, Ryo Sahashi, an associate professor of international politics at Kanagawa University,  and Satoru Mori, from the department of global politics, faculty of law at Hosei University, arrived and sat down at their booth. Even though it meant one of them would shortly have to get up to make room for one of their colleagues, who had yet to arrive, they left the middle seat between them empty.

It might have seemed like a random decision; it was anything but. The explanation, says Toshihiro Nakayama, a professor of policy management at Keio University and the third and last to be seated, is simple. In Japan, the center seat is reserved for the most senior person, in this case, him.

“I kind of hesitate to say that I'm the most important person — I'm just the oldest guy," he says. "But in the Japanese culture, an oldest guy is supposed to be someone very important.”

Unlike in America, in Japan when you go to a meeting, you don’t just grab an empty chair and sit anywhere. Often, there’s a formal seating arrangement. And, often, if you’re Japanese you'll be expected to know where to sit. 

If you're a guest, that could mean kamiza, or upper seat — the side farthest from the entrance, notes Mori.

"In a way, this makes it easier for us to determine where we sit," he says. "So it's not like we have this very feudalistic or hierarchical relationship or anything. It just makes things smoother for us."

Take the humble business card. In Japan, distribution of name cards has been elevated to a ritual. Getting it wrong is to risk looking foolish, or even worse, offending a prospective business partner.

“The Americans will just give you a card like this in a single handed way, and that's very rude," says Nakayama as he demonstrated his take on an American style business card exchange — flinging a card in front of him like a horseshoe.

But before you even think about pulling out your card holder, first you have to master the art of the bow.

Because if you bow too deeply at the wrong occasion, it's sort of like, it's odd. You have to have the right bow at the right occasion,” said Nakayama.

Right bow — right occasion. All simple enough, as long as you're Japanese. But for foreigners, navigating a complex set of business norms can feel intimidating, even if you've traveled a lot for work and done your cultural research, like Donna Childs, founder of Prisere, a business that advises on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction strategies.

"In Japan," says Childs, "it's perfectly acceptable to talk about anything related to business, and it's encouraged. You should show a lot of interest in their company, because it shows you're sincere and you're interested." So at a dinner meeting with another company, Childs says she tried to show a lot of interest in her host's culture.

“So I was saying about how I'm really excited about coming to Japan, I'm planning my weekend, I'm going to probably take the bullet train and then I'm probably going to go shopping. I’m interested in these Japanese dolls.”

The next morning Childs, still jet-lagged, and in her bathrobe, was contacted by the concierge at her hotel.

"The car and driver are here. Ww're ready to go."

Car? Driver?

The company representatives Childs had met with the evening before had taken it as a matter a fact that the least any gracious host could do would be to meet their guest's wishes. In this case, providing a complete day tour, with a guide, at a cost of thousands.

"That was when I realized be very careful what you wish for," she says. "Maybe I should have expressed a more modest desire, like I would like a piece of sushi." While Childs notes that she was embarrassed, she still considers the experience one to learn from.

Doing business in Japan goes way beyond bowing and business cards.

"It’s not only about the etiquette," says Yuko Morimoto, a consultant with Japan Intercultural Consulting, a Japan-focused firm that helps foreign companies work effectively with each other. What’s really important is understanding the different styles of communication that different cultures have. Like American's reputation for being  direct. And the Japanese' predilection for what Morimoto says is just the opposite. The Japanese, say Morimoto, often say no to saying no.

"They feel hesitant to say I don't like your product," Morimoto says. "So they say something like, 'Oh that's a good idea. Let us think about it.'"

"Yes" in Japan doesn't mean the same thing as "yes" in English. Instead, notes Morimoto, it could mean, "We just met, and I don’t think it’s polite for me to say no right away."   

“Or they say, 'Yes, yes.' But yes means, 'Yes, I'm hearing you.' It doesn't necessarily mean, 'Yes, I like it,'” she says. "It can be yes-yes, or it can an iffy-yes, or it can be a no-yes."

To decipher what's really being said, you need more information, Morimoto says. Was another meeting scheduled? Was a price agreed on? Was a contract signed? The Japanese, she notes, are more risk-averse than Americans. They want consensus. So you can expect that a Japanese company will take its time making decisions and making sure everyone is on board with them. But across the conference room table, a virtual ocean of cultural differences away, Americans are in a rush.

The biggest mistake for an American company trying to get work done in Japan, Morimoto says, is to try to move at American speed.

“Extend your stay," she says. "Don't try to rush and make things happen in two days or three days.”

And the Japanese can be just as puzzled by our behavior as we are by theirs. 

"Probably the most difficult thing was how to make the staff in [New York] understand working without tips," says Ryutaro Ikeda, manager of two branches of the international ramen noodle chain Ippudo. In Japan, workers in the hospitality industry don't receive tips. Instead, they're focused on the concept of omotenashi. There is no direct translation, and, says Ikeda, and the idea is difficult to explain in just one word. 

"There is a Japanese saying, meaning you kind of jump into the other person's mind or heart. Meaning really, really empathizing, trying to understand where the other person is at. Or, there's another Japanese saying, that you can reach where you are itchy, meaning you really try to take care of person," he says.

In America though, it's more likely that wait staff will be focused on up-selling the lobster dinner special. Of the staff hired by Ippudo in New York, "they were quite straight forward with the fact that when they work it's for the money or the salaries," Ikeda says. Teaching gum-snapping Americans the concept of Japanese hospitality culture was where Ippudo New York struggled the most when it first opened.

"It was extremely difficult," he says.

To succeed, Ippudo let its New York wait staff work for tips. The restaurant has slightly tweaked each of its international locations to fit in more smoothly with the local culture.

To work together more effectively, says Morimoto, cultures need to meet in the middle."Americans have to slow down, and the Japanese have to be quicker and more direct about where they are coming from," she says. But, at the same time, notes Morimoto, American companies shouldn’t try to be Japanese and, vice versa.

"We don't advise Americans to become Japanese," she says. "Because the reason Japanese are doing business with them is because they are looking for something they don't have."


What's next for Google … uh … Alphabet?

Tue, 2015-08-11 13:00

The reorganization of Google as a holding company called Alphabet is continuing to ripple through the technology world. The new structure announced by Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page will group the company’s primary revenue-generating businesses under Google, including search, Chrome, advertising, Android, YouTube, maps, mail and apps. Google veteran Sundar Pichai will head that business.

Under Alphabet will reside wholly owned subsidiaries for many of the company’s more speculative ventures and acquisitions, and it will be the corporate home for exploring new technologies, solutions and markets. Alphabet includes such far-flung research and business development efforts as self-driving cars, delivery drones, Calico (bioscience research into life extension), Google X Labs, Nest (smart-home energy technology), Fiber, as well as Google Capital and Google Ventures.

The new Alphabet might look like a typical corporate conglomerate with many separate businesses — possibly unrelated — that operate on their own.

But Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land says that is not precisely the intent of Google’s founders, although it may be what market critics are expecting based on what they have calling on the company to do. “I think the founders see the mission of Alphabet not as ‘We’ll be a conglomerate that has a lot of businesses that make money,’ but ‘We’re going to be a conglomerate that has businesses that we think will change the world,’” Sullivan says.

Sullivan thinks the new structure will help some of Alphabet’s new technologies and enterprises take off, by freeing Google’s founders and managers to focus attention on them more individually, and to measure performance and set benchmarks more transparently. He also predicts Alphabet will be a magnet for tech types with seemingly crazy ideas that might fly with the benefit of some investment and time in the lab.

Equity analyst Scott Kessler at S&P Capital IQ believes promising startups and seasoned entrepreneurs will also be more open to being acquired by, or partnering with, the new Alphabet.

“If people want to work for an exciting, emerging business, they can do that under the auspice of Alphabet, and not be mentally hamstrung by the notion of working for a company that was founded in the 1990s,” Kessler says.

Kessler points out that investors and analysts will get a better understanding of capital flows, investment plays, wins and losses across the company’s disparate technology businesses. He says that will allow the company to explain and attempt to justify to investors Alphabet’s "future plays" — the visionary, risky ventures with potential to change the world, or change entire industries, or gloriously flame out. These include driverless cars, wearable technology, bioscience and green energy.

Analyst Rick Summer at Morningstar says this increased outside scrutiny may have implications for how freely Brin and Page can continue backing ventures they believe in or are devoted to in the face of financial losses or market skepticism.

“Investors can now see how those businesses are performing over a longer period of time, and the company will be forced, I believe, to react and not continue to throw good money after bad,” Summer says.

How to fool around with your currency

Tue, 2015-08-11 13:00

Currency is a lot like marmalade. And Barbie dolls. And duct tape and coffee and anything else that is bought and sold:  It follows the law of supply and demand.

“Whatever the supply and demand is in the foreign exchange market, that’s what determines the foreign exchange rate,” says Win Thin, global head of emerging markets at Brown Brothers Harriman.   

If a currency is popular, its price (in terms of other currencies) will rise. If it’s not so popular, its price will fall. So when countries fool around with their exchange rates, they have to in some way manipulate supply and demand. Here's how: 

Play with interest rates. 

Raise interest rates, make your country a popular place for investors, who will then purchase your currency to invest and bid up the price of your currency.  

Lower interest rates, your country becomes less of a lucrative place to park money, investors aren't that interested in buying your currency, and the price goes down. 

Play with supply 

Go out and sell your money! At a discount! Make it a dime a dozen if you have to! Central Banks can basically whip up money out of nowhere and sell it in currency markets, driving down the price.  

Play with demand

If you're an export-heavy country, you'll have some amount of dollars or euros or yen stored up in your Central Bank. Take those dollars/euros/yen/etc., go into currency markets, and buy your own currency. It'll increase demand and bid up the price. It's kind of like leaving your own Yelp review.  

Many emerging market countries have what’s known as a “dirty float” where they let the market determine some of a currency’s exchange rate, but keep a close eye on it and step in to keep it within certain boundaries. These days, devaluation in particular is a popular strategy.

“At a time when many countries around the world are looking for any possible sources of growth, it’s tempting to turn to exports,” says Eswar Prasad, professor of trade policy at Cornell.

The U.S. and Europe generally say it's cheating when a country goes out and buys/sells currency to manipulate its value. They've accused China of doing so in the past, but they can't say that this time. China isn't pushing its currency down in this case, it's letting it fall.  

"In the past, the market was trying to make the currency of China stronger, and they were resisting," says Robert Lawrence, professor of international trade at Harvard's Kennedy School. "Currently, the market is trying to move their currency weaker, and they’re going along with it."