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Subway suspends relationship with Jared

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

Subway and Jared have been linked for two decades, through hundreds of commercials. 

In one, Jared Fogle recounts his weight-loss story, which the subway-chain originally highlighted, sparking a long and lucrative relationship: "I knew I needed to make better choices about my health, and change the way I ate. So I walked into a Subway and made a plan," Fogle says. 

Now, that relationship appears in jeopardy. Subway suspended, but did not permanently sever, its relationship with Fogle after authorities raided his Indiana home Tuesday in what Subway said was an investigation connected to the child pornography charges against a former employee of Fogle's charity.

The charity is focused on battling childhood obesity. Its former executive director, Russell Taylor, was arrested two months ago. Fogle cut all ties with Taylor. 

"Jared has been cooperating, and continues to cooperate, with law enforcement in their investigation of unspecified charges, and looks forward to its conclusion," Fogle's attorney Ronald Elberger said in a statement. 

But the damage may already be done. Jared Fogle and his weight-loss story have been tied to Subway's image. Now, the company has to perform a balancing act. 

"Subway has been doing very well, and a lot of it has been about their healthy positioning. And I think Jared has been a part of that image," says Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. "You certainly don't want to abandon someone inappropriately, but  in this particular case, the accusation is a particularly bad one for a brand to be associated with."

Khan says it's better for Subway to walk away, whether or not Fogle faces any charges himself. Other marketing experts have come to a similar conclusion.

Subway has already removed all mention of Jared from its website.

Greek Prime Minister strikes a foreboding tone

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

The deadline is now Sunday for Greece to work out a financial rescue with its creditors — an emergency, 28-nation European Summit has been convened for that day. 

Speaking before the European Parliament on Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras talked of his desire to keep Greece in the European Union. But there was another distinct tone to his speech. 

"The sense that the Prime Minister gave in his speech ... is rather one of greater foreboding, because he spent a very long time dwelling on the mistakes of the past. He said these programs, these bailout ideas, have been running for five years. The Greek people are exhausted with austerity and they can’t take anymore," says independent reporter John Psaropoulos of The New Athenian. “It’s almost as though he’s setting up the stage for a failure on Sunday."

 Click the media player above to hear more.

When messing with gear leads to music

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

As part of a series about music technology called "Noise Makers," we're talking to musicians about their favorite noise-making device. To kick the series off, Hrishikesh Hirway of the Song Exploder podcast, talks about what he's learned from interviewing musicians from bands like U2, Spoon, and the National.

In his podcast, Hrishikesh Hirway invites artists to break down a song layer by layer and tell the story behind its composition. This behind-the-music perspective often reveals how musicians arrive at the final mix from a moment of inspiration; a trajectory sometimes instigated by equipment.

"Every artist approaches how they get into a song differently," Hrishikesh says. "For some, it starts with lyrics, some it starts with the melody, but for a lot people it starts with just messing with gear. Messing with a guitar that they have or trying an instrument they’ve never used before because it opens up their brain up to ways that they haven’t been used to.”

While this could lead to avid collecting of guitars and synths — and in many cases it does — Hrishikesh believes that "it doesn’t really matter what the equipment is that you use" because "it’s really about the ideas you build into it.”

This is certainly the case for Nick Zammuto of the band the Books, who ditched instruments all together to cut a new path ... literally. Zammuto created a "drum machine" by scratching indentations into the locked groove of a vinyl record where the needle rests after the record ends. Hrishikesh says Zammuto described this record technique as "a blank canvass for him rhythmically." 

But in order to turn the silent loop of vinyl record into a music making device, Zammuto had to employ some geometry. By using a protractor to measure the 360 degree circumference at the center of the record, he was able to divide it into custom templates for different time signatures. 

He even played the sound through a corrugated PVC pipe to give it an extra special quality.

So noise makers are more than those obnoxious plastic hands at parties or sports games. Musicians are also noise makers who build novel ideas into seemingly commonplace objects, instruments, and equipment. 

Scratch Edition from Nick zammuto on Vimeo.

Bird flu is winding down but bakers still feel a pinch

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

The bird flu crisis is winding down, with no new cases reported since June 17th. But for bakers, there's still a big egg crisis.

Many buy liquid eggs by the bucket. Those pails are harder to come by and are far more expensive lately. That’s because commercial egg operations have been hit hardest by the bird flu. Some that produce eggs also have equipment to break them, so that bakers needn’t do so by hand. With fewer of those operations running, liquid egg is at a premium.

That’s prompting John Lupo, a wholesale baker in White Bear Lake, Minn., a Twin Cities suburb, to stockpile buckets of liquid eggs. His bakery, called Grandma's, sells baked goods to places like grocery stores, coffee shops and corporate food services.

“We're trying to get as far ahead as we can, buying from every source that is willing to sell us. We're worried they'll be rationing,” he says.

Lupo says in early April he was paying about $26 for a 30-lb. bucket of eggs. Now he’s paying more like $90 a pail. That’s driving his costs up dramatically, since he burns through about 30 buckets a week.

Theoretically, Lupo could buy cartons of whole eggs, which haven't had quite the same price spike as liquid egg products. But he says it’s not practical to crack more than 30,000 eggs a month by hand.

“Impossible," he says. "We just simply couldn't crack them fast enough and then you have to deal with the issue of the egg shells in the product. That would be a food safety hazard."

John Lupo at Grandma’s Bakery in White Bear Lake, Minn.

Annie Baxter/Marketplace

Some commercial bakers are experimenting with egg substitutes out of fear that the liquid egg shortage lasts a couple years. A firm called Hampton Creek is optimistic that will goose its sales. The company has figured out how to make egg-intensive products like cookies and mayo using plant based ingredients instead.

“You can imagine that given the issues around avian flu, food manufacturers, large restaurant chains, big retailers are even more interested in what we're doing,” says Josh Tetrick, the company’s chief executive. 

But for a baker like Lynn Schurman in Cold Spring, Minn., egg substitutes pose their own problems. She dreads having to change the ingredient labels on the hundreds of baked goods she provides to places like grocery stores.

“We'll have to be constantly monitoring the labels to make sure they are accurate for what we're producing,” she says. “Not any fun.”


Why primary care doctors are getting paid more

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

In healthcare, you can pretty much guarantee that specialists earn more than primary care doctors. That’s what makes a new article in the journal Health Affairs noteworthy.

Researchers found that in 2013 and 2014, commercial insurers started paying primary docs a bit more — a 2 percent increase — while specialists like orthopedists took a hit of 4 percent.

The report says insurers spend nearly twice as much on an orthopedist as on a primary care doc, and those costs increasingly are picked up by the consumer thanks to high-deductible health plans.

University of Pennsylvania economist Robert Town says insurers want to shield consumers from that exposure.

"Insurers want two things. They want low costs and they want happy customers. They can keep consumers happy by directing them to primary care and only see specialists when they really need to see specialists,” he says.

Whether it works or not, you can see insurers strategy: Get primary care doctors to act like gatekeepers. That alone makes these doctors more valuable, thus the bump in pay, even if it's modest.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Kathy Hempstead says this approach is a hallmark of this new era.

There should be more emphasis on prevention and wellness, and there should be less emphasis on expensive tests and procedures,” she says.

Hempstead, lead author of this report, says the real test for this primary-care-focused approach is whether it will work for people who are really sick and need the expensive tests and procedures.

I now pronounce you ... graduate and graduate

Wed, 2015-07-08 01:36

That's the number of times the Google search algorithm showed job ads for higher-paying executive positions to women in a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University. Contrast that with the 1,852 times men were shown those same elite jobs. But as the Washington Post reports, it's not as simple as blaming the algorithm for the sexist search results. Companies placing the ads may have specified interest preferences for users being targeted, for example. 

21 percent

That's the percentage of people who majored in theology and religious studies that married someone who received the same degree. In fact, a look at the U.S. census shows that a surprisingly high percentage of people marry someone who majored in the same area as themselves. Priceonomics has the breakdown of the 50 most common majors and who kept their wedding vows within their quad, so to speak.

121 percent

That's how much more associated Nike was with the Women's World Cup than Adidas. The brand won big with the huge viewership for the game, and it wasn't even an official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup. But as Fortune reports, its sponsorship of the U.S. women's soccer team helped it win big on social media.

2 percent

That's how much more pay primary care doctors received in 2013 and 2014 from insurers. Contrast that with a 4 percent decrease for more specialized caregivers like orthopedists. But that doesn't mean they're necessarily making more. High-deductable health plans mean that even though insurers spend almost twice as much on, say, a visit to the orthopedist, patients are picking up more and more of that cost.

$1 billion

That's how much Disney has agreed to invest in its two Anaheim parks — Disneyland and California Adventure — in exchange for a 30-year extension of its tax exemption. As reported by Bloomberg, improvements will include a parking garage, road improvements and new attractions.

Greece crowdfunding campaign fails to reach goal

Tue, 2015-07-07 14:09

You know that Indiegogo campaign to crowd-fund the European bailout to the tune of €1.6 billion

Yeah ... it didn't quite get there.

Courtesy Indiegogo

It topped out yesterday and closed with €1.9 million in the bank. 

About 108,650 people contributed, which is kind of amazing. 

No word on whether any of them were named Angela Merkel.

What it's like to start a business on Instagram

Tue, 2015-07-07 13:33

It started with doodling.

Max Dower, the 26-year-old artist behind the Instagram account Unfortunate Portrait, was a law student at UCLA and drawing in his spare time. His friends liked the drawings, and he made an Instagram account to start sharing his pictures.

The drawings are mostly portraits, sketches of celebrities, often full of word play. They're silly, and they were meant to make his friends laugh, Dower says.

"The Instagram account slowly started gaining these followers — strangers, from all over the world — and I decided to start putting my drawings on T-shirts," he says.

Courtesy:Max Dower/Unfortunate Portrait

With help from friends, Dower built a website and an online store, driving sales to his site by posting new work to Instagram, he says.

The business was already up and running when one drawing in particular changed things: called "The T Party," it was a portrait of Mr. T, Ice-T, and the rapper Pusha T, and it blew up on Instagram.

"As demand grew, and as I was getting more and more orders on the website, I had to keep up and be making the inventory to fill these orders," Dower says, "I was using three or four credit cards at once to pay for just one round of production."

Overnight, Dower says, he had thousands of new followers. It turned out that Pusha T had reposted Dower's drawing to his hundreds of thousands of followers. For Dower, a broadening audience meant bigger business. He says as more orders came through his site, he started to get messages on Instagram from retailers wanting to stock Unfortunate Portrait shirts in brick and mortar stores.

His first big account, with Fred Segal, came through an Instagram comment. More store accounts followed, including boutiques Ok The Store in Los Angeles. As Dower's business grew, he says his credit limit went up, enabling him to bolster his production cycle and run Unfortunate Portrait more smoothly.

Since he first founded Unfortunate Portrait, Dower has graduated law school, and says he skipped taking the bar exam to focus on business.

Ruby Rose wears Unfortunate Portrait's “Ruby Rows” shirt.Courtesy:Max Dower/Unfortunate Portrait

"I was considering my prospects as an entertainment lawyer, and looking at the amount of money I was going to make, which was going to be around $80,000 a year," Dower says. "And then I looked at the expenses that I was going to have — rent, car, medical, and then the big one, which is the student loan debt from laws school. I wasn't going to be saving any money, and that just didn't add up to me."

"I decided to roll the dice, and launch this company that I thought had infinite potential," Dower says.

These days, the decision is paying off. Dower says Unfortunate Portrait has been contracted to do artwork for the HBO series "Silicon Valley," and for musicians. He says he's working to expand into stores overseas while investing in growing his business on the platform that launched it in the first place: Instagram.

Corn processors take aim at sugar

Tue, 2015-07-07 13:00

The corn syrup and sugar industries have long been rivals in the sweetener market. The trade groups representing them are currently in a pitched legal battle concerning competing claims about the “naturalness” of their products, among other issues. 

Now the Corn Refiners Association is picking a fight at the policy level. It has hired lobbyists to take aim at government supports for the sugar industry.

“The relations are quite poor between the two industries, and we're not going to bite our lip about the policy difference,” says John Bode, president of the Corn Refiners Association. Its members include big companies like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill.

At issue is a part of the Farm Bill known as the sugar program. It provides price floors and limits on sugar imports. And it offers government-backed loans, which sugar processors can repay with sugar if they default. That happened in 2013 when the price of sugar dropped.

Bode says taxpayers had to swallow a couple hundred million in losses. He wants the program to end and is hoping to attack it through the Congressional appropriations process.

“It's simply an embarrassment,” he says. “When taxpayers hear about these big loans being defaulted upon, they think it happens throughout food and agriculture and it's simply not the case.”

But defaults are rare, says Phillip Hayes, a spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance, which represents sugar cane and sugar beet producers and processors. He says Mexico dumped sugar into the U.S. market in 2013, causing prices to plunge and domestic processors to struggle.

“That was the one time in the past 10 years that we've seen any cost to U.S. sugar policy,” he says.

Hayes did not want to comment directly on the corn refiners group’s latest moves. But he laments the notion that any agriculture-related group would take aim at the Farm Bill, which provides crop insurance premium subsidies to many big crop producers.

“All they would be doing is aiding agriculture's main opponents to gut the safety net that all farmers depend on,” he says. “And that’s not just sugar farmers. It's corn farmers. It's soybean farmers. It's all kinds of farmers.”

But many experts say that sugar gets a disproportionate share of support, due, perhaps to its hefty political lobbying and clout. Ag economist Daniel Sumner at the University of California, Davis would cheer the end of the sugar program — and all other agricultural subsidies.

“Something that the corn industry and the sugar industry have agreed on is that there's something special about farming and agriculture that means for one reason or another normal market forces don't work, and therefore those industries need subsidies,” he says. “None of these farm subsidy programs seem to make a lot of sense.”

In that regard, Sumner finds both of these big players in the sweetener industry to be full of baloney.

After this crisis, what does Greece have to build on?

Tue, 2015-07-07 12:59

New data reported by CNN Money shows that Greece's economic output — known as GDP — has fallen 25 percent since the global financial crisis in 2008. That's a nearly unprecedented decline for a developed country in peace time. Before Greece's high unemployment, budget cuts, and austerity negotiations, Greece was on the upswing. 

“They were a good emerging market with lots of strengths,” Harvard economist Ken Rogoff says.

Among those strengths were a booming tourism industry. Greece has some of the most beautiful coastal resorts in Europe, and there’s that little structure called the Parthenon.  Those assets, notes Rogoff, are still there.

“Tourism surely is eventually going to be a bright spot, because at some point the price of the currency and costs are going to collapse,” he says

Going forward, Rogoff says, Greece could take better advantage of its limited assets if it could devalue its currency, thus becoming more competitive to other countries.

“They could bail themselves out more easily if they weren't on the euro right now, there is no doubt about that,” Rogoff says.

Unfortunately for Greece, tourism is primarily a summer industry. Northwestern University economist George Georgiadis says the country’s biggest asset might be its unemployed doctors, engineers, lawyers and other highly educated workers.

"If Greece were to provide the right conditions for international companies to invest, they would be able to tap into a highly educated population," Georgiadis says.

Georgiadis points out that in addition to devaluing its currency, Greece needs to address a host of other issues that are bad for business — things like corruption and tax evasion.

Otherwise, devaluation is "just going to hurt the economy because the buying power of Greeks would collapse,” he says. 

Georgiadis points out that if Greece does exit the euro, it won’t be able to wait long to implement reforms, or it will risk losing the job skills that are currently languishing in its underemployed work force.

Can the new Colonel Sanders save KFC?

Tue, 2015-07-07 12:58

Kentucky Fried Chicken has undergone a period of decline over the past decade, slashing hundreds of its restaurants in the U.S. and losing ground to rivals.

Despite international expansion, the company has been forced to shut down more than 1,100 stores domestically between 2004 and 2014, and now faces stiff competition from the chicken chain Chik-fil-A. 

"They’ve totally lost out to Chick-fil-A,” says Venessa Wong of Buzzfeed. “Chick-fil-A recently surpassed KFC in terms of sales, even though they have far fewer stores and they’re only open six days of the week."

Wong reports that KFC parent company Yum Brands is not giving up on the chain. However, over the next few years, they will invest $185 million into reinvigorating KFC – starting with the stores and a new advertising campaign.

In the latest KFC commercials, former Saturday Night Live cast member Darrell Hammond stars as the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Colonel Sanders.

“The Colonel was a staple in their advertising for a long time,” Wong says. “Darrell Hammond is charming and he’s got this really enthusiastic character.”

By the looks of it, these efforts may be helping KFC a bit. Last financial quarter, the brand’s same-store sales were up seven percent in the U.S., according to Wong.  

When speed traps keep a city budget afloat

Tue, 2015-07-07 12:42

The small town of Campo sits just eight miles north of the Colorado-Oklahoma border. It’s right on the highway, and the U.S. Census estimates the population is 107.

“We’re losing people all the time,” says Dennis Smith, a Campo resident. “It’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller.”

The few businesses that do exist are a hair salon, a gas station and a small diner. The town collects zero local sales tax, but residents still enjoy a public school and a swimming pool. Most of those things are paid by revenue from tickets.

"Campo thrives on tickets. It does,” says Campo police officer Brad Viner.  In 2013, tickets generated more than $300,000 for Campo, or 93 percent of the town’s total revenue. City officials say that Campo needs that revenue or the town could die. Viner says there’s an even more important reason.

Dennis Smith passes out pamphlets that explain bankruptcy to townsfolk. 

Katie Kuntz

“We have look at the fact that, if a traffic crash does happen, it can be devastating to a family that lives here or a family traveling through here,” Viner says.

Several hours north of Campo sits the town of Mountain View. Mountain View borders Denver, Wheat Ridge and the small town of Lakewood. It’s only six blocks wide and three blocks deep, but it’s home to a couple of major roadways.  In 2013, ticket revenue here accounted for more than half of the city's budget.

"I don't look at it as revenue, to be perfectly honest with you,” says Mountain View Mayor Jeff Kiddie. “Do we slow people down? Yes, we do. And isn't that what traffic enforcement is all about?"

Mountain View police don’t write that many tickets for speeding. They’re for things like failing to wear a seatbelt or tinted windows. About 300 were for “obstructed view” — like having dice in the mirror. Obstructed view tickets made headlines last year when a local TV station reported Mountain View had more obstructed view citations than Denver, Boulder and Aurora combined.

"We haven't done anything illegal, haven't done anything wrong,” Kiddie says. “We’re very careful about what tickets we write and that our officers are doing what they should be doing."  

But Ashlee Lucero, a 23-year-old single mother from nearby Thornton, was stopped in Mountain View, and doesn’t think the police were doing the right thing.

“It’s just money, money, money here,” Lucero says. “I got pulled over; they said that my temp tags were expired, but they weren’t expired, so they wrote me a ticket for a defective tire.”   

Campo police officer Brad Viner 

Katie Kuntz

The police reports states that the officer verified Lucero’s tags were up to date but then noticed a “gash” in her tire — and wrote the $80 ticket. Lucero says she couldn’t pay all at once, so she went to court.

After all the court fees and payment fines, Lucero ended up owing $230 total.

“The problem is that we have police incentivized to basically throw the 4th Amendment out the window and stop people on the basis of profit,” says Ezekiel Edwards, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Criminal Law Reform Project. “As people look at this issue more closely, we’re going to find this problem in many more places.”  

At least six states have some laws that cap revenue from fines — or at least require an audit if the town reaches or exceeds the cap. U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri, wants a 30 percent ticket cap nationwide.

"If it goes to the floor, it's going to pass, overwhelmingly," Cleaver says. The congressman announced his bill in March — but he says he's been unable to attract a Republican co-sponsor.

"I don't think it's the purview of the state or the federal government to determine those standards,” says Sam Mamet, a spokesman for Colorado cities and towns at the Colorado Municipal League. He believes police enforcement of traffic laws should be left up to individual communities.

“That is in the electorate and the voters in the communities to decide,” Mamet says. “And if it becomes a contentious or a controversial issue, I can assure you that the city council or the town board will hear about it.”

Altogether, Colorado’s cities and towns collected more than $120 million in ticket revenues in 2013. For most towns, average revenues were close to four percent of their total budget.

So many tech conferences, so little time

Tue, 2015-07-07 12:26

If there's one thing the tech industry loves, it's a get-together. 

And call them what you will — meet-ups, geek fests, conferences — there have never been more.

"I'm sure there's at least five or six a day," says Tonia Ries, a PR executive who ran an events and marketing firm for 13 years. 

There are the tech heavyweights — outlets like Re/Code and Tech Crunch — that put on events costing as as much as $6,500 a head. But the real growth is at the lower level, where startups and young companies are staging conferences as a way to make money, market themselves and promote their own innovations.  

For example, the housing-rental company Airbnb recently put on OpenAir 2015, a one-day event in San Francisco. The conference focused on how to use big data to personalize search results, and offered panelists from brand name companies like Pinterest, Lyft and Netflix. Tickets were $50, and proceeds went to charity.  

"Face-to-face continues to be the most powerful and high impact way for people to connect with each other, to build new relationships and to deepen existing relationships," Ries  says. 

Lauren Mozenthal, founder of the women's mentorship group Glassbreakers, attended the Airbnb conference in San Francisco. She says she used to go to as many as 10 conferences a year, but had to cut back to focus on her business. 

"It could be easy for entrepreneurs to get lost to going to conferences and networking instead of focusing on their product and how to make that better. I know that’s my number one priority, and that’s why I’m very selective about which conferences I go to," she says, adding that she prefers short conferences that are tightly focused.  

For the companies throwing all these events, that selective focus means a much more competitive environment. Every new conference or get-together means a scramble for a location, the right speaker lineup, high-profile attendees and media coverage and, of course, the time and attention of the potential audience. 

Ries says putting on a successful event takes research, preparation and a little bit of magic — but it can pay off for companies: "not only in terms of attendee fees and marketing dollars that they can capture from sponsorships and exhibits, but also ultimately in terms of the impact to themselves as a media brand."

The trade deficit has widened to $41.9 billion

Tue, 2015-07-07 08:57

Americans generally buy more from foreigners than they do from us, a pattern that stretches back decades. But changes in the trade deficit can tell a story about what’s happening in the global economy, depending on whether the gap between the value of the goods and services the U.S. imports over the stuff we export is growing or shrinking. Figures released Tuesday from the Commerce Department show the trade deficit widened slightly in May, to $41.9 billion. Why?

“First of all, the U.S. dollar has been stronger against foreign currencies, and that puts a break on U.S. exports,” says Douglas Irwin, an economics professor at Dartmouth College.

In addition, “you have a slowing down in the emerging markets, as well as slow growth in the rest of the advanced world,” says Ted Truman, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “That means our exports have been growing less rapidly.”

The value of imports dropped slightly, too, though not as much as exports. In general, strong American demand for imports is actually a sign of a strong economy, counter-intuitive as that may seem, says Dan Ikenson,  director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies.

“We tend to import more when our economy is growing, because consumers have more money to spend and businesses expand production,” he explains.

That's in contrast to the recession years.  

“One of the features of the global financial crisis was that growth, especially in emerging economies, remained pretty strong,"  says Robert Lawrence, a professor of international trade and investment at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “So we were able to maintain some of our sales to the rest of the world. In effect, that kept our economy slightly stronger than it would otherwise have been.”

So while exports will always be an important slice of our economic pie, Lawrence says for the U.S. to continue its recovery, more demand will have to come from spending at home rather exporting abroad. 

“We’re back to a pattern where we support them,” says Lawrence. “Our growth stimulates and sort of stabilizes them, rather than the reverse.”

PODCAST: Unlimited vacation

Tue, 2015-07-07 03:00

Driving could remain quite cheap going into this fall, with crude oil prices down 7 percent from before the July 4th weekend. More on that. Plus, Greeks don’t have access to online payment systems like Paypal. We look at why that matters. And what would happen if companies offered employees unlimited vacation?

Fast-changing metrics may spoil FOMC minutes

Tue, 2015-07-07 02:06

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve releases notes from its last Open Market Committee meeting. Usually that’s a time for Fed watchers to comb through the details to try to divine what the Fed may do regarding its promise to raise interest rates. But this time it should be a little different.

The Fed ended that June meeting with a press conference, which takes the wind out of the sails of this batch of meeting minutes. But that’s not really why this release is anticlimactic.

"From three weeks ago, many things have happened," explains Jeremy Siegel, a professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Siegel says flatlining wage growth and the sudden possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone have thrown fresh instability into the global economy. Some of the Fed’s members may have changed their minds from what they said in mid-June.

"One wonders whether a close reading of those minutes would really give you any valuable tea leaves," Siegel says.

Michael Madowitz, an economist with the Center for American Progress, says he’s curious whether Fed officials are discussing the many possible scenarios of a Greek exit. He says some outcomes might even stimulate the U.S. economy. 

"If you’ve got a lot of money flying out of Europe, it’s got to go somewhere. The safe place to go is the U.S.," he says.

Until the Greek crisis is settled, Fed watchers on the lookout for hints of a rate hike will be stuck gazing into a cloudy crystal ball.

Greeks are locked out of online payments

Tue, 2015-07-07 02:00

 These are dark days for Greek consumers.

Banks remain closed, cash access is limited, and capital controls are in place. The controls — designed to keep Greek money from leaving Greece — prohibit the use of credit cards to make payments outside the country.

"It’s an unfortunate restriction on the ability of Greek consumers to shop online and outside of Greece," says Jason Oxman, CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association. "Generally speaking , it takes Greek customers outside of the global commerce world."

There are reports of blocked iTunes purchases — buying a 99 cent song with a credit card is a foreign transaction — and of cloud storage services being canceled  when the credit card on file doesn't work. 

Paypal, the electronic payment service,  issued a statement saying, "Due to the recent decisions of the Greek authorities on capital controls, funding of PayPal Wallet from Greek bank accounts, as well as cross-border transactions funded by any cards or bank accounts, are currently not available. Payment attempts may also be declined by the card issuer or banking institution."

The restrictions are "definitely affecting consumers who are trying to do any sort of cross-board transacting," says Mary Monahan, an analyst with Javelin Strategy & Research. 

And in today’s global economy, that’s a whole lot of people.

When hackers get hacked

Tue, 2015-07-07 02:00

In over a decade since the war on terror started, the use of digital surveillance has exploded, not only in the U.S., but around the world. As malware has seeped into the foundation of national security, surveillance technology has moved further into the private sector.  

Marketplace Tech host, Ben Johnson, talked with Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, about the current state of digital surveillance after a major hacking firm was hacked. 

Click the media player above to hear host Ben Johnson in conversation with Christopher Soghoian.

Hacking Team is a boutique Italian surveillance technology firm, serving up made-to-order malware solutions for any supported or "not officially supported" regime.

On Sunday, a hacker infiltrated the company's network and published a huge trove of its documents to the tune of 400 GB. Speaking on the extent of the hack, Christopher Soghoian says, "this Hacking Team breach is really just everything. It’s the source code for the malware, for the surveillance software, it’s all the company’s internal emails, its all their invoices, its even their expense reports for their international travel. Everything is there."

While government agencies like the FBI and the NSA likely use custom surveillance software for high value targets, Soghoian points to low cost software as a market in which private companies like Hacking Team profit: "Surveillance companies are providing lower cost, cheaper surveillance software to governments with lower budgets. So, what we’re seeing is the governments with a few hundred thousand dollars can buy this software." 

While the low costs enable certain countries to bulk up on malware for cheap, Soghoian believes it may hit closer to home: "What [it] means for Americans is that this technology if it has not already will very soon be trickling down to local and state law enforcement agencies. I would not be surprised to learn at all if local and state law enforcement agencies had also purchased this technology from Hacking Team". 

In addition to some of the weaker passwords revealed in the hack, dismantling the hacker's house with the hacker's tools has revealed a disconnect between private interests and governmental regulation. Soghoian says the difficulty of regulating malware is because technology isn't a weapon, as Hacking Team argues. However, he maintains this breach may change the conversation: "I expect that once these documents are made public, I imagine that the U.N. and other governments might take a different view of what hacking team’s software does and what how existing arms control rules might apply to it."

Whether or not Hacking Team can recover from this hack remains to be seen. But if there's one thing to remember, it's don't make your password: Pas$wOrd!

Unlimited vacation anyone?

Tue, 2015-07-07 02:00

An American company offering unlimited vacation sounds like an unthinkable fantasy in a country famed for stingy time-off policies compared with other Western countries. But unlimited time off policies are a reality at a small number of American companies. And the results that they’re getting have other businesses taking a look.

Take ZocDoc, a healthcare technology company. Its New York offices have everything one expects from a young tech company these days: a tastefully industrial workspace, free yoga on Thursdays, a casual dress code, a ping pong table and a whole wall of free snacks (though as a health company, the munchies lean more wholesome than typical tech offices). The benefits package includes a time off policy that goes beyond generous: it’s endless.

“Team members can take time off whenever they need it or whenever they want to,” says Netta Samroengraja, CFO and chief people officer. “We feel like we have a much more motivated work force and they’re absolutely much more productive as well while they’re here.”

Asked how much time the average employee takes under an unlimited policy, she has no answer. The company doesn’t even track it. Staffers need to get permission from managers to schedule vacations, but face no limits on how long they’re gone, as long as they get their work done well. The same unlimited, untracked policy applies to sick days and personal days.

Carol Tyger, who works in marketing and took six weeks off last year, says when she explains the company’s policy to family and friends, she gets a mix of naked envy and total awe.

“I get a whole lot of reactions from: do you even work, why would you go to work and how do you get anything done?” she says. 

Many managers are skeptical about unlimited time off. But some are curious, says Bruce Elliott, Manager of Compensation and Benefits at the Society for Human Resource Management.

“The first question we always get is: how are employees gonna abuse it?” he says. “That’s really the wrong question because what we do find is that employees don’t abuse this policy.”

Elliott’s numbers show just under 1 percent of American businesses have unlimited vacation policies. But there’s great deal of interest in these companies, as many cite gains in productivity, employee engagement and retention.

ZocDoc definitely isn’t going back.

“Overall, we’re really happy with how it’s turned out and it’s actually a great recruiting tool for us right now,” says Samroengraja.

The shoes that make the dancer

Tue, 2015-07-07 02:00

As part of our series called Pro Tool: Tools of the Professional, we're looking for those must-have devices in the possession of anyone in the workforce, be they a hair dresser, welder or writer.

The third item in our series? A pair of shoes.

Professional: Sarah Wroth, Corps de Ballet dancer at the Boston Ballet.

Pro Tool: Freed of London, maker of the L pointe shoes


Why it's a Pro Tool: "The evolution of a dancer's career is this process of trying to find the exact [shoe] maker that will enable them to dance their absolute best." - Sarah Wroth.