Marketplace - American Public Media

PODCAST: Dodd-Frank digitizes

Wed, 2014-10-22 03:00

This morning, the U.S. Labor Department released the latest Consumer Price Index. That indicator of inflation was up only slightly. More on that. And banks have about nine months until they'll have to comply with what's called The Volcker Rule. That's the part of Dodd-Frank that's named after Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman. The Volcker Rule says banks cannot own hedge funds or invest for their own benefit. They'll have to stick  to helping their customers make money. Simple as it may sound, the Volcker Rule is incredibly complex. But banks have a new tool to help them implement it.

Governors are winning the TV ad race

Wed, 2014-10-22 02:00

Everybody’s focused on the races for Senate seats in the November election. But it turns out more money is being spent on TV ads in gubernatorial races. All you have to do is look at the numbers.

“As of the 9th of October, to date we have about $426 million spent on gubernatorial campaign ads," says Michael Franz, a professor of government at Bowdoin College and  co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which also tracks spending on TV ads for Senate campaigns this election. Franz says about $337 million has been spent on Senate races — $90 million less than the spending on gubernatorial races. 

Why? Franz says the tightest Senate contests are in relatively cheap media markets, like Iowa. But money is also pouring into the governors’ races because of the gridlock in Washington. 

“People think governors can get something done," says Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University. "They have no hope that anything is going to get done in the congress, which has approval ratings lower than Attila the Hun.”

The result? Almost 22,000 TV ads in a recent two-week period, in just the gubernatorial race in Florida.

Dodd-Frank spawns software to comprehend Dodd-Frank

Wed, 2014-10-22 02:00

A MAZE

Donald Lamson points to a red and blue maze on a screen at law firm Shearman and Sterling. 

“This is a maze,” says Donald Lamson, a partner at Shearman and Sterling. “It’s a metaphor to reflect the complexity that institutions must go through as they encounter an increasingly bewildering array of regulatory requirements they must deal with.”

Banks have until July 21, 2015, to follow one of those requirements, the Volcker Rule. 

That is the part of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that says banks can’t own hedge funds or invest for their own benefit; they have to stick to just helping their customers make money. 

“I wrote the first draft,” Lamson recalls, “which was a page and a half.”

It is not, however, a page and a half anymore. 

“The final regulation implementing the Volcker Rule has ballooned to several hundred pages of small type in the federal register,” he says. There are hundreds of footnotes, some of them quite detailed.

50...000 SHADES OF GRAY

There are also a great many gray areas and exceptions for when activities are allowed or not allowed, says Mike Konczal, a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute.

“Volcker and Dodd-Frank wanted to make sure that banks could still do what we want them to do — interact with clients, do market making, buy and sell things for their clients — and what happens is a lot of that activity kind of blurs with proprietary trading,” he says. Another reason the rules have become complicated is that, simply put, a lot of people have sued.  The rules have had to become extra detailed to pass scrutiny. 

"These rules from Dodd-Frank have come under extensive criticism in the courts,” says Konczal. “We want that kind of scrutiny it’s important to have it, but it’s become so obsessive and so burdensome that it’s actually made the rules a lot clunkier than they need to be.”

SIRI... YOOHOO...OH, SIRI?

For banks with hundreds of billions of dollars in thousands of different funds, compliance is a massive undertaking. This summer, the Federal Reserve said 11 out of 20 banks totally failed to meet the last big chunk of Dodd-Frank rules, in part because they weren’t thorough enough or made mistakes in their reporting. In some instances, some financial institutions had a 70% error rate according to Robert Marks, CEO of Casewise Financial Solutions and Lamson’s business partner.  

Lamson and Marks’ solution: a computer program, called the Volcker Assistant. It is, for all intents and purposes, like a Turbo Tax for banks trying to comply with financial regulations. 

Step by step, the software leads Lamson — who would in the real world be likely hundreds of different people across a large company from a fund manager on up to an auditor — through an assessment of which investments pass legal muster and which do not. A lawyer signs off at the end. 

Once the program figures out whether a bank is following the rules, it remains as “a management tool”, says Lamson — calculating legal exposure based on changing circumstances (a credit downgrade, for example). 

There is at least one other such automated legal compliance tool on the market, called the Volcker Portal by firm Davis Polk. 

“Software use has just not penetrated in the legal profession as it has in other professions at this point such as banking for example where it really has saturated the space,” says Lamson.

“Lawyers have a way, if they want to, of obfuscating, where the answer to so many questions begins with, 'it depends.' It’s used as a device to preserve options,” he says. “Digitizing and rendering into computer based format removes those options. And as a result, the fear among lawyers is that they will become less relevant to the process when actually they will become even more relevant.”

LAWYERS WILL STILL HAVE JOBS

History may prove Lamson right. One section of law where digital tools have penetrated more successfully is in discovery — searching through documents for evidence before a law suit gets going. Highly sophisticated algorithmic tools that could search documents better and faster began gaining prominence several years ago, and raised the specter of lawyers losing jobs to software programs. 

“Just a few years ago, we had hyperbolic headlines of ‘will computers replace your lawyer?’ and there seemed to be a fear among lawyers of technology and what it might do to the legal profession,” says David Horrigan, an analyst and counsel for information governance at 451 Research. That fear has not come to pass, he says. “That fear is still the case with a lot of lawyers, but a lot of law firms are embracing it,” he says.

Teams of junior lawyers may not be digging through boxes of paper as they once did, but lawyers are still needed to work with the data and legal questions that digital tools raise. 

“The law is changing,” says Horrigan. “But as far as trying a case you’re not gonna see Watson before the Supreme Court any time soon.”

Yes, U.S. oil exports would cut gas prices. Probably.

Wed, 2014-10-22 02:00

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office says that lifting 40-year-old restrictions on exporting U.S. crude oil could drive down gasoline prices at home. The idea is that more oil on the world market means lower prices.

However, the report was written more than a month ago — That is, before world oil prices, and U.S. gasoline prices, went down sharply on their own. It's worth asking if those declines change the equation.

In a way, U.S. crude is already affecting world markets, by reducing U.S. imports. That leaves oil exporters like Nigeria looking for takers and lowering their prices. So, do world markets really want U.S. crude right now? 

"Nobody can be certain," says energy consultant Geoffrey Styles. "We’re really exploring new territory here. The new crudes that have brought all this about came to the market when prices were pretty high. These are not-inexpensive crudes to get out of the ground."

So, it might not be worthwhile for U.S. drillers to increase production if world prices stay low.

Which is still an if.

"I don’t think anyone knows what the price of oil will be in a year," says Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The big news in the oil markets is not just lower prices — it’s the return of volatility, and volatility works in both directions."  

Either way, it’s not an argument for keeping the export ban. "In the worst case," he says, "relaxing the ban doesn't do anything."

 

Quiz: Gauging the liberal arts gap

Tue, 2014-10-21 15:01
The median earnings gender gap is largest for graduates in which humanities major?

Women with bachelor's degrees in the humanities earn less than men in other majors, according to a report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Can McDonald's regain its customer base?

Tue, 2014-10-21 11:21

The Golden Arches are losing their luster - McDonald's reported that its profits fell by 30 percent.

McDonald’s problems right now are complicated, says Jennifer Bartashus, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. She says we should start by looking at the company's target market.

“The customer profile still remains people who are in the lower income, lower-middle-income bracket,” Bratashus says.

These folks haven’t recovered from the recession and are still looking for bargains. McDonald’s problem? Meat and cheese prices are rising, which means its prices are too.

At the same time, McDonald’s is also trying to respond to changing consumer tastes by adding healthier, more expensive options - like salads and parfaits - to its menu.

“They’ve tried to be something for everyone as opposed to being everything for some people,” Bratashus says.

Bob Goldin, an analyst with Technomic, says McDonald’s is also facing increased competition from “fast casual” restaurants like Chipotle and Panera.

“I think the perception among many consumers is that it’s a fresher product and better quality,” Goldin says of the rival chains. He adds that these restaurants often cost just a few bucks more than some of the meals you find at McDonald's.

John Gordon is an analyst at Pacific Management Consulting Group and he says McDonald’s is losing ground with another group: millennials. He says they like restaurants that let you customize your order. And McDonald's has missed this trend, in part, because of its corporate culture.

“They’re such an insular group,” Gordon says. “They tend to think more about what the corporation wants rather than maybe what the customer wants.”

McDonald's' CEO Don Thompson admitted the company has to play catch-up. It’s starting by piloting menus that let you build your own burger at a few Southern California restaurants.

As we discovered, McDona'd strategy has... changed... over time. These needed to go somewhere:

Ballerina Misty Copeland counts herself lucky

Tue, 2014-10-21 11:20

Age starting dance: 13

Height: 5 feet 2 inches

Bust: "Bigger than most"

At least, that's how ballerina Misty Copeland describes her numbers-defying career in dance. A soloist with the American Ballet Theater in New York, Copeland recently explained how she doesn't really fit into the traditional model for ballet, but still made it work.

“All of those numbers, they just don’t add up to create a classical dancer,” she says. "No matter what, I'm going to be who I am."

Listen to the full conversation from our live show in New York City in the audio player above.

To-do list: Replace exploding airbags

Tue, 2014-10-21 11:18

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is urging drivers of more than 4.7 million cars to get their air bags fixed immediately. The warning affects various models manufactured by Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, BMW and GM, ranging between the years 2000-2007 for most, and to 2011 for the Honda Element.

You can look up your car by VIN number to see if it is affected.

The warning is mostly of recalls that have been previously issued, but the safety agency took the unusual step of issuing an alert to get drivers who may be complacent about recalls to pay attention.

"Responding to these recalls is essential for their personal safety and it will help aid our ongoing investigation," David Friedman, deputy administrator of the agency, said in a statement. "At this point, the issue appears to be a problem related to extended exposure to consistently high humidity and temperatures."

Humidity can apparently destabilize the explosives that are part of the airbag system and are used to quickly inflate the bags in an accident. That could cause apparently defective air bags manufactured by the Japanese supplier Takata, which were installed by 11 automakers worldwide, to explode and send shrapnel at drivers.

Investigators are looking into four deaths that could be linked to the defect. And officials are focusing their recall efforts first on humid regions of the country, including Florida and Hawaii.

"Safety is our top priority and we want to ensure that consumers respond to the 2013 and 2014 regional recalls," Friedman said.

Globally, the airbag recalls date from 2008 and involve 14 million vehicles — the sheer scale of which has overwhelmed recall efforts.

"It complicates things because so many manufacturers and models are affected when one supplier supplies that many cars," says Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

Takata is the second largest of only a handful of airbag suppliers.

Adding to that complication, Takata has not had to supply a huge stock of replacement parts, says Nerad, because air bags are designed to be installed in a vehicle and never be touched again.

"So it doesn't make sense that there be tons of replacement parts out there, because these air bag systems are typically not replaced," Nerad says.

Now that they have to be replaced at such a large scale, it's been difficult for car companies to keep up. Toyota is temporarily disabling passenger-side airbags in some cars and urging customers not to drive affected cars until the airbags are replaced.

The difficulties with the recalls stem from auto companies' reliance on a few suppliers for their parts. That's because there has been a consolidation of auto parts suppliers over the last 20 years, says Micheline Maynard, author of the books "Curbing Cars" and "The End of Detroit."

"Suppliers were fighting each other for business, and undercutting each other on prices, and literally were going out of business, because they couldn't build products cheap enough," Maynard says.

And while that's been good for surviving companies, it's also led to huge market exposure, as Takata is now finding out. The company says it expects a net loss of $220 million in the current fiscal year.

Europe v China: Whose economic woes pain America more?

Tue, 2014-10-21 11:17

China’s GDP increased by only 7.3 percent in the third quarter this year. While that's a figure many countries would kill to have, it’s relatively slow for China – in fact, it’s the lowest quarterly figure in five years.

Of course, China’s not alone; Europe is in the midst of a slowdown, too. So which stalling economy is a greater threat to our own, here in the U.S.? On the one hand, China is the world’s second largest economy, but Europe is an important trading partner.

“If I was picking, I’d be picking Europe,” says Kent Smetters, professor of business economics and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Smetters says Europe tends to purchase high-margin goods from the U.S., such as machines.

“With China, not only is it a much smaller trading relationship, the margins that we get with what we’re trading is a lot different,” he says. “Our biggest export, for example, is soy beans.”

Slower economic growth in China matters to the U.S. less than a slowdown Europe, agrees Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. In addition to exports, Europe can also impact our stock markets, he says.

“Things look depressed in Europe,” he says. “So European shares are cheaper, so that’s going to ripple over U.S. shares because some investors will say, ‘Well, let’s buy those cheap European shares instead of the more expensive U.S. shares.’”

Hufbauer says Europe has been dragged down by the debt of its countries and a lack of agreement about how to combat sluggish growth. He doesn’t expect that to change any time soon.

On the other hand, China’s slowdown is at least partially by design of its leaders, says Nicholas Consonery, the Asia director at the Eurasia Group. So while many investors are fearful of the slowdown, he says, “It’s very clear that transitioning into a phase of slower, more sustainable growth is a healthy  – and not just healthy, but also necessary adjustment for China.”

Consonery says a more stable China, with stronger consumer spending, could actually be good for the U.S. in the long term.

Morgan Spurlock thinks you're economically illiterate

Tue, 2014-10-21 11:12

Morgan Spurlock is hoping to demystify the economy with a new series of short films he's calling "We the Economy: 20 Short Films You Can't Afford to Miss."

"I think we live in a country and we live in a time where a lot of us are economically illiterate," Spurlock says. "Our eyes glass over, we start to go into a slump when we hear about derivatives or market fluctuations or the Federal Reserve. And I think having a basic understanding of how these things work and how they impact our lives is important. It's important for the citizenry, it's important for our communities, it's important for our country."

Watch the first film here:

A surprising contributor to climate change: concrete

Tue, 2014-10-21 11:08

What's the material of the future? Titanium? Silicon? Maybe some rare metal used in electronics? Those materials will no doubt play increasingly larger roles in our lives. But arguably, the most important substance in the development of civilization has been — and will continue to be — concrete.

Take China, for example. It has poured more concrete in the past six years than America poured in the past 300.

Making concrete takes a ton of energy. As much as 10 percent of global CO2 emissions come from the production of concrete. So scientists and engineers are looking to reduce its environmental impact.

It's really just one ingredient that's responsible for its high carbon emissions: cement.

"The cement is just the glue that holds the other elements together," says Robert Courland, the author of "Concrete Planet." To make cement, limestone and a few other ingredients are put into a big kiln, and the temperature is fired up to about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, which produces lots of CO2.

"It's been estimated, that producing one ton of cement generates one ton of CO2," Courland says. "Since we are producing around 4 billion tons of concrete cement per year worldwide, that's very, very troubling." 

Concrete is the most common man-made material on earth. So if its CO2 emissions could be reduced by even a tiny fraction, the environmental impact would be huge. A group of scientists at MIT announced in a recent paper they've found a way to reduce CO2 emissions of cement by more than half.

"We have developed a set of experiments measuring the mechanical properties at the sub-micron or big-nano level," says Roland Pellenq, one of the authors.

His cement research is like a Russian doll, Pellenq says, the kind where a tiny doll rests inside a larger doll which rests inside a larger doll, etc. Pellenq and his colleagues study the properties of cement at the atomic level — the smallest possible doll. They do atomic-simulations, basically experimenting with different ratios of the elements in cement. Then they scale up those simulations until they have a new recipe.

This idea came from scientists at Corning who used a similar approach to invent Gorilla Glass -- the super tough, scratch resistant glass often used for screens on smartphones.

"So here we tried to do the same approach for cement," says Mathieu Bauchy, who also worked on the MIT paper.

Bauchy recently moved from Cambridge to Los Angeles to work at UCLA. In a basement lab below his office, engineers and chemists use Bauchy's atomic-scale simulations to make concrete cubes that they measure, weigh and smash.

UCLA student Gabe Falzoni takes a gray cube of concrete, about the size of a Rubik's Cube, and puts it in a cage. He lowers a metal cylinder on top of the cube and slowly ratchets up the pressure. When a cube breaks, it can be so loud that it jars the people in the office on the other side of the wall.

The display on the machine shows the pressure in kilonewtons. It climbs steadily 20kN...40kN...70kN...90kN...100kN...  brace myself waiting for a violent explosion. And then, the cube crumbles sadly and quietly, like an Egyptian pyramid deteriorating slowly over hundreds of years.

"That happens sometimes," says Falzoni, removing the shattered bits of concrete from the cage.

The final number: 121 kN, about seventeen and a half pounds per square inch. I ask Falzoni if he would drive on a bridge that strong. "If it was designed right," he answers.

The goal of these experiments is two-fold: to develop cement that uses less limestone, which is the easiest way to cut concrete emissions, and to create stronger concrete. Stronger concrete means builders could use less of it — also cutting CO2 emissions.

But for builders to use concrete developed by this lab, it has to have another very important quality. It has to be cheap.

"That's really the key," Bauchy says. "You cannot expect the industry to change to a greener material if this greener material is not the same price, or cheaper than original material."

The only way to make new concrete competitive is to take into account the cost of the CO2 released and charge a carbon tax on it, Bauchy says, or government could mandate the use of greener materials. Those policies would be politically difficult to enact. Greener concrete is not high on the priority list of voters, especially in developing nations where progress is often measured by the amount of freshly poured concrete.

The piece that's missing from new CDC guidelines

Tue, 2014-10-21 11:05

The CDC has released updated and stricter guidelines to keep frontline healthcare workers safe in the face of potential Ebola cases. The move comes after two nurses were infected with Ebola who treating Thomas Duncan in a Dallas hospital and the CDC’s oversight was questioned.

Hospitals across the country are now ramping up training efforts, but will they be sufficient enough to calm an uneasy workforce? When nurse Jessica Berney goes to work these days she sees something she’s not used to.

“You see these stacks of these plastic bags that have the personal protection equipment in it, and it’s kind of like an anticipation of something bad is going happen. Something big and something bad,” she says.

Not only are the stacks of gear new, that feeling the dread that Berney says has crept into the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, that’s new too.

“Is this going to be enough? Is this going to protect me,” she says.

At this point, it’s clear if the disease were to spread beyond the two current cases, the people most at risk of contracting Ebola in the U.S. are healthcare workers -- in particular, nurses and orderlies are the people most likely to come into contact with patient fluids.

The guidelines released by the CDC are aimed at many of these workers. But you can have all the protocols you want, a room stuffed with gear and Johns Hopkins' Dr. Daniel Barnett says you still may have staff scared stiff. He says he worries hospitals right now are making the same assumption he made about a decade ago.

“That people would be willing to come to work, regardless of scenario, regardless of context, regardless of personal and professional obligations given,” he says.

But his work in the field he calls psychological preparedness proved him wrong.

“We found that a third of hospital workers indicated they would be unwilling to show up in a severe pandemic. You can think of a severe influenza pandemic in terms of the fear in some ways as a proxy for what we are talking about with regards to Ebola,” he says.

Barnett, through a randomized controlled, found if employers educate their employees about how they fit into the plan to fight the public health threat, those workers are 12 times more likely to clock in.

But National Nurses United union president Deborah Burger says before any of that, you’ve got to remember some hospitals aren’t even covering the basics yet.

“They are not even supplying the equipment to allay the fears of the healthcare workers,” she says.

Burger says her members are urging President Obama to make CDC’s guidelines mandatory. With some 5,000 hospitals she worries about a patchwork of practices that could leave workers at risk and scared.

Ebola plush toy sells out online

Tue, 2014-10-21 11:03

For less than $10, you can order Ebola online and take it home — not the disease itself but rather, a cuddly, worm-shaped mock up of the virus.

"GIANT Microbes" are stuffed animals that resemble tiny microbes, only at one million times their actual size. The website says the characters are designed to be “appealing personalities” which can engage any audience. And yes, there is one for Ebola.

The toys are based on a real microscopic image of an actual microbe, sans the googly eyes. The Ebola virus plush sells for $9.95, but is currently sold out. There are also "gigantic" and Petri dish versions of the toy.

The Ebola doll has a positive five-star review on the website, which calls the disease the “T. Rex of microbes." Reviewers note the toy is the "perfect prop" for a Halloween costume, with others commenting they didn't realize the virus was "so cute."

The numbers for October 21, 2014

Tue, 2014-10-21 08:20

McDonald's and Coca-Cola both reported disappointing earnings Tuesday morning, with 30 percent and 14 percent drops in revenue respectively. Both companies saw declining sales in the U.S. and Europe, and the fast food chain is still grappling with a scandal in China.

Yahoo's earnings call is expected after markets close today, it's make-or-break for CEO Marissa Mayer, who will likely address the company's acquisition strategy and stake in Alibaba.

Here are some more stories we're reading, and other numbers we're watching, Tuesday.

5

Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to five years in prison for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last year. Pistorius' lawyer said the Olympian could only serve 10 months before being placed under house arrest. The sentence was handed down by the second black woman to become a high court judge in South Africa, Thokozile Masipa.

7

 The number of YouTube stars appearing in a new collaboration between Google and Lionsgate to promote the studio's new "Hunger Games" movie, AdAge reported. It's a high-profile push into branded entertainment for YouTube, and just the latest example of a big corporation exploring the value of Internet celebrities. 

$50 million

That's how much Kansas City could potentially make once business from the run-up to the World Series and the games themselves are all totaled. But other expenses, like the $225,000 parade thrown by San Francisco when the Giants won in 2012, have some questioning whether the costs involved in hosting a large sporting event mean the benefits are more modest than projected.

2

That's how many "Notorious R.B.G." shirts Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has given to NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg. Ginsberg is apparently relishing in her meme status, and has collected "quite a large supply" of the shirts.

The legacy of Oscar de la Renta

Tue, 2014-10-21 06:00

Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta died at age 82 on Monday. His clothes were well-liked by celebrities, by politicians, and also by many professionals who admired his sensibility and his style.

Vanessa Friedman, fashion critic and the fashion director for The New York Times, is someone who closely followed de la renta's career, and joined us to talk about his lasting legacy.

Click the media player above to hear Vanessa Friedman in conversation with Marketplace's David Gura.

McDonald's earnings are less than super-sized

Tue, 2014-10-21 05:00

Fast Food juggernaut McDonald’s released its earnings Tuesday. The company’s share price is less than super-sized. Comparative global sales dropped 3.3 percent in the third quarter. The Q3 report comes on the heels of the company’s troubles in China, where suppliers reportedly sold expired meat to stores.

As a result sales were down significantly in Asia, and the company upped spending on marketing to reassure customers that its food was safe.

But the bigger threat to McDonald’s is the drop U.S. and European sales, says Sara Senatore, a senior research analyst at Sanford Bernstein: “Same store sales declined pretty meaningfully in both regions."

Analyst Howard Penney attributes much of the sales slump to McCafe, the company’s rebranding of the old fashioned hamburger stand into something more Parisian shall we say. “They over indexed themselves to beverages in McCafe and that really changed the structure of the business and complicated the back of the house,” says Penney.

CEO Don Thompson acknowledged the company’s troubles in Asia the U.S. He also blamed the diluted earnings on a higher effective tax rate.

PODCAST: Lots to gain and lose from the World Series

Tue, 2014-10-21 03:00

Yahoo posts its third quarter earnings today and the company CEO Marissa Meyer looks set to provide new information on how the company will evaluate possible acquisitions and cost cutting measures. Meyer has come under increasing pressure of late. What does Meyer need to do to keep her investors happy and is her strategy working? And the designer Oscar de la Renta passed away yesterday at the age of 82. We speak with Vanessa Friedman, fashion critic and fashion director for the New York Times, about de la Renta's career. Plus, we always hear that hosting a major sporting event, like the Olympics or the World Cup, will mean bigger revenues for host cities. But there are costs as well. Security, disruptions of traffic and daily routines, and even the price tag of a victory parade eat away at that extra revenue. We tally up the potential costs and benefits of baseball greatness.

Liberians in U.S. feel Ebola's social, economic impact

Tue, 2014-10-21 02:00

Telee Brown counts out a stack of twenty dollar bills on the counter of at a Western Union on Staten Island, home to one of the largest Liberian communities in the U.S.

“I’m sending money to Liberia,” he tells the teller. “What’s the fee? $10.50?”

Brown has lived in Staten Island for about 15 years now, but many of his family and friends are still in Liberia, one of the countries hardest hit by Ebola. Nearly 2,500 people had died there from the disease by mid October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been only three diagnosed cases of Ebola in the U.S. — none in New York. But while the outbreak has largely been limited to West Africa, local communities are feeling the effects of this disease in other ways.

For example, Brown recently started sending back about $300 a month — double what he used to — and he’s fundraising for the Staten Island Liberians Ebola Fund.

Brown says basic items have become much more expensive in Liberia and members of his family there are staying home from work. Which means they aren't earning, and they need his support.

“My cousins who cannot go out in the street to sell water definitely are calling me on a daily basis, [saying,] ‘Oh uncle Telee, how am I going to make it? I don’t have food,’” he says.

But coming up with extra money each month for family members in Liberia, is making things tight for Brown and his family in New York.

“It makes me reduce the amount of milk that I used to drink,” he says. “If I maybe ate three times a day, I have to save on a meal and eat two times a day.”

Those kinds of cutbacks can have ripple effects in the local economy.

Brown has reduced his visits to an outdoor market that sells traditional West African food like hot sauces and cooked meats.

“Nobody got money to buy food here to eat,” says vendor Sonnie Selma, explaining that many regular customers are sending all their money back to family members. She says now she’s worried about paying rent.

But it’s not just the lack of money that’s keeping people away.

Solomon Reeves, a child care specialist who’s been fundraising to send money and medical supplies back to Liberia, says there’s also a lot of fear about who might have traveled to West Africa recently.

“Because of the Ebola, people don’t really come [to the market] the way they used to come here,” he says. “They’re afraid.”

Before he came to the market, Reeves said his wife told him to be careful; he noticed recently that a friend didn’t want to shake his hand; and there have been a couple of reports of Liberians being told to stay home from work.

The entire Liberian community here is suffering economically and socially because of this disease, even though the closest diagnosed case is well over a thousand miles away.

@College Let me in! #prettyplease

Tue, 2014-10-21 02:00

It's college-tour season, and everyone is a reviewer on Twitter:

As much as I liked UIC, I probably had the worst and least informed tour guide imaginable. #Please #Learnyourschool #AndEtiquette

— Hayden T. Balduf (@HBalduf) October 15, 2014

Just witnessed the worst guided tour of Messiah College, all that was said in a few minute time span was "that is our green house"

— William Wical (@willwical) October 13, 2014

k so my college tour guide for UCSB was kind of like....the biggest babe ever to exist pic.twitter.com/quXGFrmxbR

— abbey (@AbbeyxBlanford) June 24, 2014

Be it bad or babealicious, college admissions officers are paying attention to all that sharing.

"Institutions of higher education are most definitely reviewing that to find out how they are being evaluated," says Jeff Fuller, director of student recruitment for the University of Houston and President of the National Association for College Admission Counseling

Fuller says if a kid has a bad experience on campus, an engaged admissions officer can respond fast; before a nasty tweet dings a school’s reputation.

"More and more colleges are hiring folks to manage their social media to make sure they remain current in what’s being discussed," Fuller says.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s admissions office has a small army working on social media.

"We have two blogs, we have multiple Facebook accounts, we have a Twitter account, we have an Instagram account," says Ashley Memory, an assistant director of admissions. 

There are three admissions officers and as many as four paid interns managing and creating content for those accounts.  

Memory says there is a little risk involved in having all these open forums—There will always be disappointed applicants.

More often than not, she says, negative comments are neutralized by the broader community of current UNC students or alumni.  

The main job of college admissions officers on social media is to communicate with potential students. First, they try to convince them to apply to their school. Then, if they are accepted, they convince them to attend.

Part of that job involves answering a lot of basic questions.

"Before they may have just picked up the phone and called our office, or may have sent our office an email, or they may have sought out the answer for themselves online," says Gabe Santi, from the admission office at Michigan State University. "Now, they may just post the question on Facebook or tweet at us." 

Can Michigan State tell me if I got accepted or not already #impatient

— sophia. (@samm_jamm) October 20, 2014

@samm_jamm Thanks for your patience!

— MSU Admissions (@msu_admissions) October 20, 2014

Is the World Series a boon for the hosts' economies?

Tue, 2014-10-21 02:00

The Major League Baseball World Series gets started Tuesday in Kansas City, between that city’s Royals and the San Francisco Giants. And, as in past years, both cities involved are hoping for an economic boost.

In Kansas City’s case, as much as $50 million dollars could potentially be made once business from the run-up to the World Series and the games themselves are all added up, says Ronnie Burt, CEO of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association. He says businesses have already been reporting improved sales.

“Hats, T-shirts, jerseys have just been selling like hotcakes,” Burt says enthusiastically. “As well as restaurants and bars, year-over-year sales have dramatically increased.”

But there are many costs associated with hosting a massive sporting event such as the World Series games, says Robert Baade, an economics professor at Lake Forest College who co-authored a report which looked at three decades’ worth of World Series economics.

“The economic impact of mega-events are exaggerated,” Baade says. “We are much better at keeping track of the benefits than we are the costs."

For example, in 2012 the city of San Francisco spent $225,000 on a victory parade, and that’s after the Giants footed the majority of the parade bill by spending a million dollars.

There are other costs, as well, Baade says, such as the cost to police departments for providing additional security, traffic and crowd control, clean-up costs, and the price of staffing additional transportation officials.

“And so there will be negative impacts from hosting a World Series, and those have to be taken into account,” says Baade.

The amount of money spent on World Series related expenditures may also be misleading, because some of that spending may be offset by non-spending in other areas of the economy.

“The normal course of commercial activity is often disrupted,” says Baade. "And if you have people in the community, residents of the World Series host, changing their normal activities — commercially speaking — that may detract economic activity in the community overall.”

Add it all up, and Baade says the study he co-authored concluded there was an overall economic benefit to cities hosting World Series games. But the benefit was modest and temporary.

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