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The one with all the Facebook friends

Tue, 2015-03-31 01:00
$140,000

That's the amount required per year to buy a median priced house in Silicon Valley. Those outside of the top income bracket in the area have struggled to keep up with the rising cost of living. It's forcing people like high school teacher Christine Holst of San Jose to reconsider the traditional middle-class lifestyle

$1

The going price for some Uber usernames and passwords in some corners of the web, Motherboard reported. The site interviewed a couple anonymous sellers and verified that at least some of the credentials were real, though Uber itself says they've found no evidence of a hack.

200,000

The number of images the Artline Group gives hotel proprietors to choose from when decorating their businesses. They can be printed on a variety of materials and even custom designed in some cases, given hoteliers near-infinite options. You've always wondered where hotels got their art, so we looked into it this week.

$7.50

The minimum wage in Arkansas, which got a $.25 raise earlier effective first of this year. The Washington Post spoke to one minimum wage worker at a Days Inn about how the increase would affect her life. But now the worker claims she was fired for speaking to a reporter. Her manager disputes the story. No matter what happened, the original story is worth reading.

1.3 billion

The total number of active users – though there could well be some overlap – between Facebook messenger and WhatsApp, the messaging app Facebook acquired for more than $20 billion late last fall. Now the company is expanding Messenger, modeling it after the lightweight messaging platforms that are hugely popular in Asia. With such a huge user base, Quartz reported, Facebook could be very well-suited for the next step in mobile social networking.

132 million

The total annual volumes Guinness World Records says they've sold in the past 60 years. As more people turn to the web for the kind of eye-catching stories that used to be Guinness' stock and trade, the company has built up a "business to business" arm, which helps brands organize and legitimize a world-record attempt and get the resulting publicity. But getting paid to organize and codify brands' records means Guinness is walking a tricky but lucrative line, Slate reported.

Rhodes Trust plans global scholarship expansion

Mon, 2015-03-30 11:12
In China, if you go abroad to study you are called an "overseas turtle" — because you swam away to college.

"They call local people who have never been educated overseas 'local turtles,'" says Bei Bei Bao, an analyst with the economic research firm Rhodium Group.

What kind of turtle you are, and where you swim, can have a lot of impact in China. And the Rhodes Trust knows it. For the first time, it's offering students on mainland China the the chance to apply for a prestigious Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University. Educators, parents and students are taking note.

In China, Bao notes, education is seen as a sign of social status. And a new market has sprung up — offering classes to help students apply for elite education abroad.

"Parents are willing to spend whatever those programs are charging to help their kids get an edge," Bao says.

Tim Katzman, director of summer and extended programs and China outreach for Francis Parker, a private day-school in San Diego that helps prep Chinese students for foreign programs, just returned from China yesterday. He says the Chinese appetite for Western academic training is growing.

"Any leg up or advantage that they feel — or their parents or school administrators feel — they can capture by coming to the U.S. for an abbreviated summer program, a midterm program or for an entire year, is extraordinarily attractive to students and their parents in China,” Katzman says. For Western prep schools, he continues, the interest from China is a gold rush.

Expanding to China may be attractive financially to the Rhodes Trust too, says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s center on education and the workforce.

“If the Rhodes people want to extend, they’re going to have to reach out to other parts of the world and include them — both in funding and in finding the scholars themselves,” he says.

The Rhodes Trust says it is eager to expand. And as it begins that process among China's population of 1.3 billion, it's possible it may find itself in receipt of a few new applications.
Rhodes Scholars you might not have known about

Franchising pies without losing the secret ingredient

Mon, 2015-03-30 11:08

The economy was in iffy shape at best four years ago, and that might not seem like a great time to open a pie shop. But Lindsay Heffner, her husband Matt, and their friend Sean Brennan did it despite the recession.

"We really thought the perfect anecdote was comfort food." Brennan says.

The idea for The Pie Hole was a long time in the making. It traces back to Lindsay Heffner's mother-in-law, Becky, who had always dreamed of opening a pie shop. The idea got legs one Thanksgiving.

"I said with a mouth full of her lemon meringue, we should open a — expletive — pie shop. She doesn't love the way I said it, but she does love that I said it" says Heffner.

Four years later, The Pie Hole is doing well. The pies they serve are sometimes familiar, like the Apple Crumble or the Steak & Ale. Others are more unique, like an Earl Grey pie, the Mexican Hot Chocolate and the Maple Custard.

They've grown from the original downtown LA location to a spot in Pasadena, and another at the Los Angeles International Airport. The next expansion could be much bigger. Heffner and Brennan are thinking franchises.

"Franchising has such a bad connotation to it" Lindsay Heffner says. "People hear that and they think everything is going to go away, all of the mom-and-pop touch is going to go away and we have been tirelessly trying to assure them that that is not our intention."

They've been exploring different models for spreading Pie Holes around the world in a way that still feels authentic to the original shop.

"We would not feel the same way if all of a sudden we're dealing with a monolith of pie," Brennan says.

"You have to take that opportunity if it comes to you," Lindsay Heffner says. "You're crazy not to."

But at the same time, the Pie Hole still has to answer to mom.

"This is my mother-in-law, Becky, this is her dream." Lindsay Heffner says. "And we have to answer to her because we have somebody's dreams in our hands."

Pie-making tips from the Pie Hole's executive chef, Jeffrey Froehlich:

  1. Water, Fat (i.e. butter or shortening) and Flour should be mixed in ice cold.
  2. Don't over-mix your dough!
  3. Par bake your pie shell to avoid a soggy bottom.
  4. Bake seasonally; never use frozen fruit
  5. Mom always said pie is messy, and that's OK! Don't expect it to plate perfectly. It's really the taste that counts, right?

When foreclosure cases drag on for years

Mon, 2015-03-30 11:02

There was a story in The New York Times today that made you just stop and say, wait... what?

There are, apparently, tens of thousands of homeowners in this country who — thanks to the mortgage meltdown and the ensuing foreclosure crisis — haven't made a mortgage payment in more than five years.

"People in states like Florida, New York and New Jersey — where lenders have to sue to evict you from your house if you’re delinquent on your mortgage — many of these cases, thousands of them, have gone on for so long that they’re up against the statute of limitations," says Michael Corkery the the Times.

Moreover, they still are living in their houses and might never have to leave, or pay another dime. 

"If you’re up against the statute of limitations and the case gets dismissed — and these cases get dismissed for all sorts of reasons," Corkery says. "The lender can’t refile the case and you’re basically home free."

NBC announces 'The Wiz' as its next musical

Mon, 2015-03-30 09:15

For those of you who loved Carrie Underwood in NBC's live broadcast of "The Sound of Music," or Allison Williams in "Peter Pan," or who just loved to watch Twitter as they were airing, big news: NBC announced today its next spectacular will be ... drumroll please ... "The Wiz."

The show is expected to air in December. 

Cirque du Soleil will help produce, but no cast announcements have been made yet.

Quiz: Don’t judge a school by its sticker price

Mon, 2015-03-30 09:09

College costs are rising, but 84 percent of undergrads received financial aid in 2011, according to the Department of Education.

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How do airlines compensate for a plane crash?

Mon, 2015-03-30 09:09

As the details of the Germanwings plane crash continue to be put together, one question yet to be determined is how the families or heirs of victims will be compensated.

Regardless of the circumstances that caused the crash — and remember, a prosecutor has said the co-pilot intentionally flew the plane into the ground — Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, will probably not pay punitive damages.

Under an international agreement called the Montreal Convention, the families of victims probably will be entitled to 'unlimited compensation,' unless Lufthansa claims in court that it was not responsible for the crash in any way. That's a claim the company is highly unlikely to make.

Unlimited compensation means that courts will decide compensation for each victim according to fairly standard calculation. "Things like age, income, the earning capacity, marital status, education," says aviation attorney Mark Dombroff with the law firm McKenna Long and Aldridge.

Punitive damages, designed to punish a company in cases of willful negligence, do not apply under the treaty. "Let’s hypothecate that they did everything wrong, the fact is underneath the international agreement, you still can't get punitive damages," Dombroff says.

Still, some compensation cases may yet argue negligence on the part of Lufthansa. The fact that two pilots were not required to be in the cockpit will likely still come up in court.

"Did they know that that could have left them open to sabotage or pilot suicide?" asks Mary Schiavo, a former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation. "Of course I'd argue that and I will argue that if I'm involved in the case. And they should have known that. So, am I saying that there is no way they'll have additional liability? No.”

Schiavo estimates that total payments will reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, which is well short of the $1.5 billion insurance policy that nearly all airlines carry per flight.

The risks of being an activist CEO

Mon, 2015-03-30 09:06

There is suddenly a slew of CEOs speaking out about one sensitive issue or another. Tim Cook of Apple wrote a piece in favor of gay rights in the Washington Post. “ 

Tim Cook: Pro-discrimination 'religious freedom' laws are dangerous

America’s business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business,” Cook wrote in the Post op-ed. The CEOs of Salesforce and Yelp made similar stands on the issue, also citing a controversial Indiana law. Not long ago, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz used his coffee pulpit to spur discussion on race relations. Before that,  he waded into the issue of gun control.

Publicly held companies are, at the end of the day, about maximizing shareholder value. And CEOs are locked in a delicate balance of power between those shareholders, their own interests and their boards of directors (which are usually empowered to fire him or her).

So what explains these kinds of high-profile stances? After all, a controversial stand can alienate customers and weaken brand loyalty — or it can strengthen it — but why become embroiled at all?

“CEOs are people too, as surprising as that may sound,” says Steven Davidoff Solomon, professor of law at University of California, Berkeley. “Sometimes they have to speak, just like you do.”

And they usually ask permission first. 

“You don’t very often see a CEO of a public company taking a public stance on a controversial issue without the CEO going first to the board,” says Donna Dabney, executive director of the Conference Board’s Governance Center.

And boards of directors are apt to give the okay, she says. “CEOs and companies these days are feeling they should speak up on societal issues.”

In fact, says Dabney, CEOs are often criticized for not speaking out enough: “It used to be that you would find that heads of large public companies would take a leadership role in community and societal affairs and I think there’s kind of a change toward stepping up to that role again.”

Having the board on board doesn’t necessarily mean things will go well, of course.

“I’m afraid Starbucks found the experience of dealing candidly with race, even though a commendable effort, to have been something that went rather embarrassingly awkwardly for the company,” says John Coffee, professor of law at Columbia University’s school of law.  

A lot of what determines whether a CEO will take a stand boils down to corporate policy. “Every company does things differently,” says Coffee. Some have business-policy committees to control corporate image — and corporate mouths — extra tightly. Others will let a CEO live his or her life as long as they don’t reduce shareholder value.

Where do hotels buy their art?

Mon, 2015-03-30 07:33

Aaron Bachler, an amateur photographer, recently received an email from his mother, who was staying at a hotel at the Grand Canyon. She thought the art hanging on the walls looked like her son's work. "She said, 'Boy, these look a lot like yours,'"  Bachler says. "And I thought: Where do these hotels buy, y'know, that kind of artwork?"

The answer begins with the hotel owner — and the "brand" of the particular hotel.

"We manage many different brands," says Hung Luk, COO of the Lam Group, a hotel developer in New York City. "Marriott, Starwood, Hilton..." 

All these familiar chains are actually franchises — like McDonald's or Burger King. Hotel owners pay to share the name, the reservation system and, yes, the "look." For each hotel, the Lam Group's architects and interior designers create furniture and finishings within that chain's "brand standards."

"A lot of our guests stay with us consistently no matter what city they're in, so we want them to see some consistency to the brand," says Terry Brooks, director of product quality for Hilton Garden Inn. "For Hilton Garden Inn, I would describe it as light, bright, airy, very professional but approachable." 

Those "airy" brand qualities can be translated into very concrete design guidelines. Brooks says each Hilton Garden Inn must have two pieces in the lobby from a particular set of approved artworks. A visit to several Hilton Garden Inns around Manhattan revealed the same dot-patterned carpeting, and tree-like pattern on the glass front doors. 

When it comes to the art in the guestrooms, guidelines can be just as stringent — Hotel Indigo, for instance, requires black and white photographs from within a few blocks of the hotel, according to hotel art provider Jesse Kalisher

But people throughout the industry say that over the years, franchises have given owners more latitude when it comes to selecting art. 

"When I first got started, I remember the franchise community would say 'Pick A, B or C art options,'" says Luk, the hotel developer. He describes seeing many landscapes and flowers. "If you travel around the country, you don't want to see the exact same flower," he laughs. 

But the reason the same flower appeared in many hotel rooms twenty years ago wasn't just the brands — it was also the technology. 

"It used to be just poster art, where everything was on paper and what you saw is what you got," says Puneet Bhasin, COO of the Artline Group, a hospitality art provider in Hicksville, New York. He says the only technology for getting cheap, mass-produced art 22 years ago was to turn to catalogs of posters that had been mass-produced using offset lithography, the kind of printers used for newspapers. 

"The designer would say 'Send me a catalog!'" Bhasin says. "And we would literally mail them hundreds of catalogs and they would choose the image based on that. But now, with the digital age, all the items are digitized, so you can make whatever color you want, whatever size you want, and you can print them on whatever you want." 

In the entryway to the Artline Group's office, there are shelves of samples of exotic materials onto which they can print drawings, photographs and paintings.

"These are like MDF boards, which is basically a hard type of wood," says graphic artist Tony Bracco, knocking on the board to demonstrate. "These are aluminum." 

Not only does digital printing allow a variety of materials, it allows printing a near-infinite variety of images. Bhasin says the Artline Group has access to over 200,000. He says if a single image is licensed for use in a hundred hotel rooms, the licensing fees can drop to as low as a couple of bucks a copy.

The digital approach also allows Artline to accommodate more custom requests, such as the one they received from the Radisson Martinique in midtown Manhattan. 

"What they wanted to do was a collage with the Chrysler Building, street signs, the Brooklyn Bridge, street map," says Artline graphic artist Tony Bracco. "And they had a specific color set: They wanted blacks, whites and gold."

Bracco used Adobe Photoshop to combine and filter stock photographs to produce new artworks — and so his artworks are prominently displayed  in an upscale hotel. 

"Yes, but it doesn't have our names on it unfortunately," he says. 

Then again, to include the names of all the photographers, hotel employees and brand managers whose input resulted in this work — well, that probably wouldn't fit on the canvas.

Courtesy:Tony Bracco

GNC will do more testing after investigation

Mon, 2015-03-30 03:00

GNC says it’s reached an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to expand its testing deeper into its supply chain, to the sources of the ingredients for its dietary supplements. And it says it’s going to “enhance certain other aspects of its operations,” although it won’t say exact how it’ll do that.

The agreement follows an investigation by Schneiderman's office. Schneiderman hired a lab to test the ingredients in dietary supplements sold at GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart. Schneiderman says, in some cases, the testing didn’t find any traces of DNA from the herbs listed on the supplements labels. 

GNC criticized the testing methods used in the Schneiderman investigation, and it says sometimes, processing can remove DNA from the herbs used in supplements. 

But supplements can be contaminated with things like metal.

“Mostly lead – that’s the most common contaminant," says Tod Cooperman, head of  ConsumerLab.com, a website for consumers that does its own testing. "Actually, we recently found arsenic, cadmium. So we do find heavy metals in products."

Cooperman isn’t saying you shouldn’t buy these products. He just recommends being judicious: making sure they’re actually helping you, and not interfering with other medicines you’re taking.

The Food and Drug Administration does require supplement makers to verify that their products are safe and properly labeled. But they’re not evaluated or approved by the FDA, so it’s pretty much an honor system, even though Americans spend $33 billion a year on these products.

 

 

 

PODCAST: It's on me

Mon, 2015-03-30 03:00

We had news this morning from the Commerce Department, reporting the latest economic data on income and spending for the month of February — both rose. More on that. Plus, Northeastern University announces Monday its plan to launch a series of educational hubs embedded directly in select companies across the Bay Area. The Boston college says the program takes a unique hybrid approach—part online, part face-to-face instruction—and aims to draw in more women and minorities to the STEM field. How does it plan to do that? And over the past 50 years, women have made great strides towards equality in the work place. But when it comes to dating, most men still pay for the majority of expenses at the beginning of a relationship. In a day and age where women make as much as or more than men, why are they still not picking up the dinner tab? 

Northeastern's Silicon Valley campus

Mon, 2015-03-30 02:00

Northeastern University announced on Monday its plan to launch a series of educational hubs embedded directly in select companies in Silicon Valley.

The announcement comes a few months after the Boston-based university opened a branch campus in tech-heavy Seattle.

There is a reason colleges rarely open branches on the opposite side of the country. They tend to be expensive and hard to pull off. But that is not stopping Northeastern.

“When you have people who are in the workforce already, then we don't expect them to come to Boston, we have to go to them,” says University President Joseph Aoun. "People who are in the workplace who want to retool or advance and their knowledge is becoming obsolete." 

Northeastern has partnered with the San Jose company, Integrated Device Technology (IDT), to offer a mixture of long-term internships and classroom instruction.

Scott Jaschik is the editor of Inside Higher Ed. He says it’s still too soon to tell how students will respond.

"We'll either be seeing a lot of people going into the program and coming out and getting good jobs and having their careers advance, or not," says Jaschik.

Jaschik says other schools might offer similar programs at a lower cost but might not have the same industry connections that Northeastern has.

In an age of equality, who should pay for dates?

Mon, 2015-03-30 02:00

Over the past 50 years, women have made great strides towards equality in the workplace. But when it comes to dating, most men still pay for the majority of expenses at the beginning of a relationship. In a day and age where women make as much as or more than men, why are they still not picking up the dinner tab?

Porscha Kazmierzak is one of the many women who still think that men should pay on a first date, even though she identifies as a hard core feminist.

“If somebody offers to pay for my meal, I’m thinking this person is considerate and they are maybe going to take care of me,” she says.  “If I insist on paying on a first date, it’s because I’m not interested.”

The tradition of paying for dates is a “short cut to figure out what the other person is thinking," says Rita Seabrook, a PhD student in women's studies and psychology at the University of Michigan.

Seabrook says when a men pays for dinner, it sends clues to the other person such as I like you or I want us to be more than friends. It makes things seem comfortable and certain when dating can feel so uncomfortable and uncertain. So the tradition has stuck around. But so has its other—more subtle—message.

“Men are expected to make a lot of money,” says Seabrook. “And women are expected to value men who make lots of money.”

Evan Major used to think these ideas never really affected him. Then he lost his job at the same time he was dating someone new. When they went out, sometimes he would pay as much as he could. Other times, his girlfriend would cover his half. This challenged his sense of self.

“There is such a tight link between financial security and the identity of a man” he says.

But after the beginning of a relationship, men and women usually start to do things differently.

“Couples start to split somewhere in the first six months” says Dr. David Frederick, a professor of psychology at Chapman University.  

But when it comes to changing gender norms, things move slowly.

“Causing those to change, I think, is a very long process that we’ve seen starting over the past 50 years," says Frederick. 

But Frederick says as long as we continue to see a shift towards more gender equality in the workplace, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t also see the same shift at the dinner table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                             

Northeastern's Silicon Valley campus

Mon, 2015-03-30 02:00

Northeastern University announced on Monday its plan to launch a series of educational hubs embedded directly in select companies in Silicon Valley.

The announcement comes a few months after the Boston-based university opened a branch campus in tech-heavy Seattle.

There is a reason colleges rarely open branches on the opposite side of the country. They tend to be expensive and hard to pull off. But that is not stopping Northeastern.

“When you have people who are in the workforce already, then we don't expect them to come to Boston, we have to go to them,” says University President Joseph Aoun. "People who are in the workplace who want to retool or advance and their knowledge is becoming obsolete." 

Northeastern has partnered with the San Jose company, Integrated Device Technology (IDT), to offer a mixture of long-term internships and classroom instruction.

Scott Jaschik is the editor of Inside Higher Ed. He says it’s still too soon to tell how students will respond.

"We'll either be seeing a lot of people going into the program and coming out and getting good jobs and having their careers advance, or not," says Jaschik.

Jaschik says other schools might offer similar programs at a lower cost but might not have the same industry connections that Northeastern has.

Atlanta puts roads and bridges on its to-do list

Mon, 2015-03-30 02:00

In next year’s budget, President Barack Obama is asking for nearly $500 billion to fix up the country’s transportation infrastructure. But some cities are starting to spend their own money on roads and bridges, after putting it off during the Great Recession.

Take Atlanta. With crumbling sidewalks and potholed streets, that city needs work. Now it’s actually going to get some. Voters recently approved a quarter of a billion dollar infrastructure bond package.

A couple weeks ago, before the vote, about 40 people who wanted to add their concerns to the list of the city’s infrastructure needs gathered in a community center.

“We never got our final paving,” says Jerry Hicks. He lives in a subdivision that the developer didn’t finish building. “All of the manholes are above the ground. As a matter of fact, people have ruined their cars, because they hit those man covers.”

The bond package will raise money to repave streets, fix up fire stations and deal with things like the Courtland Street Bridge, in downtown, which needs to be replaced.

“The original structure is approximately 105 years old,” says Richard Mendoza, Atlanta’s commissioner of public works. “About 50 years ago it was reinforced with steel beams.”

Now there are signs posted on those beams, warning that pieces of the bridge might fall on passersby.

Mendoza says the city put off repairs during the great recession. Now, it’s racked up an infrastructure backlog of about a billion dollars. “I think what we’re doing is trying to stop the bleeding, if you will,” he says.

“Atlanta’s not alone in having a large pot of issues to tackle,” says urban planner Heather Alhadeff. Decrepit infrastructure is a problem for cities all over the country, she says. Like many other urban centers, Atlanta’s population doubles on weekdays. But half of those people aren’t paying to keep the place up, she says.

You know if I came to your house and used your driveway and flushed your toilets and used your mail and your garbage, and everybody on the block did, you know your infrastructure would wear down faster,” Alhadeff says.

The bonds will only raise enough money to address a quarter of the city’s needs.

And exactly what will be fixed isn’t decided. Atlanta basically asked voters to support the idea of infrastructure repairs. The city council is supposed to finalize the project list soon.

U.S. allies rush to join World Bank alternative

Mon, 2015-03-30 02:00

One likely agenda item during U.S. Treasury Secretary's meetings with Chinese officials at the end of March: the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that China is launching to supplement existing global development funds like the World Bank. The United States tried to keep its allies from joining the project. 

The U.S. warned other countries that China’s new institution might not give enough attention to things like environmental concerns or fairness in awarding contracts. 

"I think there’s a lot of concern on the U.S. side that this institution would become an instrument of Chinese foreign policy," says Robert Kahn, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The U.S. didn’t prevail. Founding members of the Chinese-led bank include most Asian countries, and key European allies like France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The U.S. should join too, says C. Fred Bergsten, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He doubts the governance issues will be a problem.

"Because the Chinese have been suspect on these issues, they will lean over backwards to follow international best practices," he says. "My guess is, they’re going to be holier than the Pope."

A dingo ate my international leader's passport

Mon, 2015-03-30 01:59
6,500 stores

That's how many stores diet and herbal supplement juggernaut GNC owns nationwide, as reported by the NY Times. In response to recent accusations of  potentially hazardous inclusion of unlabelled ingredients, the company announced Monday that it would enact new testing procedures that go above and beyond what is required by federal law. 

105 years old

That's the approximate age of the Courtland Street Bridge's framework in Atlanta, GA. With repairing transportation infrastructure a national issue, some cities are starting to take charge of funding themselves.

8,000 square feet

That's how much space Inte­grated Device Tech­nology will provide for Northeastern University to open educational hubs embedded directly in select companies in Silicon Valley. The satellite locations will offer some long-term internships mixed with in class curriculum. 

31 international leaders

That's how many international leaders' personal info —including passport numbers, and visa grant numbers — was leaked by the Australian immigration department following the last G20 summit. As reported by the Guardian, the info was accidentally sent to the organisers of the Asian Cup football tournament.

$50

That's the cost of a small media player, known as a "notel," that is reportedly in up to half of all North Korean households. Able to play DVDs and content stored on USB sticks, the device is an outlet for contraband material to make its way into the country. As Reuters reports, notels were legalized by the North Korean government last year, but are still illegally smuggled in from China.

People aren't walking into banks anymore

Fri, 2015-03-27 15:40

If you see a vacant building for lease in the neighborhood, chances are there was a bank there at one point. We’re seeing it at financial institutions big and small — from Citigroup, now operating in fewer cities, to FirstMerit, which is closing 16 branches in four states. 

Between direct deposits and ATM’s, walking into a bank isn’t something a lot of people do anymore. Loans are now more by-the-numbers.

Charles Kahn, who teaches finance at the University of Illinois, says it makes sense that banks are closing branches to cut costs — specifically real estate and personnel. Also, Kahn says banks have a lot more competition, from credit card companies and brokerage firms, for instance.

What’s lost with a branch closing? A lot of hand-holding for people who find banking confusing, says Paul Noring, managing director in the Financial Risk Management practice at Navigant, a consulting firm. Noring says, a branch is like an ad. 

"Branches are the best way that banks can still reflect their brand with their customers," Noring says. 

Still, for most customers, says Ross Levine professor of banking and finance at the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley, it’ll just be an inconvenience. 

Women lag in well-paid blue-collar jobs

Fri, 2015-03-27 12:14

With the job market getting tighter, employers are starting to report shortages of skilled workers, especially in manufacturing and the construction trades—for jobs like welder, electrician, carpenter and machinist. The Manufacturing Institute, part of the National Association of Manufacturers, predicts there will be 2 million unfilled jobs at American companies by 2025 due to the so-called ‘skills gap.’  The American Welding Society estimates that the building and manufacturing industries will need 290,000 additional welders, welding instructors and the like by 2020.

Employer groups, labor unions, women’s advocacy groups and government policymakers all see women as part of a potential solution to the coming blue-collar labor shortage. But so far, progress to recruit more women to training programs and jobs in the construction trades has been slow.

“We’ve seen the desegregation of many occupations—bus driver, mail carrier, firefighter, police officer,” says Lauren Sugerman, director of the National Center for Women’s Employment Equity, a research and advocacy program of the Washington, D.C.-based group Wider Opportunities for Women. “But we have not seen the same movement of women into the construction trades.”

Sugerman says that is a significant failure because such occupational segregation leaves women out of lucrative jobs that require skill and training, but not necessarily an expensive four-year college degree. Construction jobs — often through unions — also frequently come with health coverage and a pension. She says the difference between traditionally male-dominated blue-collar jobs and traditionally female-dominated "pink-collar jobs" can lead to “between a $900,000 and $2 million gap in earnings over a lifetime.”

WOW has compared the top occupations (by participation) of men and women and found big gaps in pay (see chart). The top three occupations for women include secretary ($665 median weekly wages), registered nurse ($1,086) and cashier ($368). For men, they are truck driver ($736 median weekly wages), manager ($1,409) and first-line supervisor of retail workers ($792).

And, says Sugerman, women are poorly represented in jobs such as roofer, carpenter, electrician, ironworker. All of those jobs can pay $40/hour or more once a worker reaches journeyman status. “Women are now 2.6 percent of the construction workforce,” says Sugerman, “so there’s been very little progress.”

Making progress on that gender gap starts in a smattering of nonprofit pre-apprenticeship and skills-training programs around the country. They’re supported by unions, employers, and community colleges, and teach women basic tool-use, applied math, worksite job safety.

Holly Huntley owns environs, a small construction firm in Portland, Oregon, and regularly brings women onto the job site to train them through a pre-apprenticeship she teaches in that is run by the nonprofit group Oregon Tradeswomen. Huntley has hired two graduates from the program. Once they reach journeyman status they’ll make $26/hour.

Huntley says she’s glad to be able to offer a woman-run construction workplace.

“I know a lot of women in the trades that experience harassment on a daily basis,” she says. “I think it’s history, it’s a male-dominated culture with the catcalls and racial slurs and gender-based slurs and jokes. And I can’t have that, I have a really low tolerance for that.”

Journeyman carpenter Dan Ewing is the lone man on Huntley’s crew. “When I mention that everybody else in the company is a woman, people tend to raise their eyebrows,” says Ewing. “But it’s really nice. Men are fine, but we tend to be pretty crass. Everyone here is just more civilized.”

Where there are pre-apprenticeship programs, like in Oregon, the number of women making it to construction apprentice and journeyman is rising. Unions and employers often support the programs—to boost women’s participation and counter discrimination, and also to deal with a growing shortage of skilled workers.

That support has made a big difference for Heather Mayther. She’s 32. Last year she did a free training program with Oregon Tradeswomen, went on to another training program and is now an apprentice in the local carpenter’s union.

Mayther has three-year-old triplets and she has been earning $19.69 an hour, plus getting family health insurance. “Gender-wise, I didn’t really notice any discrimination or anything like that,” says Mayther of the construction sites she’s worked on so far. “The crew was great, they were more than willing to show me what I needed to know.”

She says she has been catcalled, and propositioned for dates. She says her supervisor has her back when she complains. “I’m not here for a husband, I’m here to work. I’m here to work my butt off, and to take home a paycheck that I can live on.”

American Apparel CEO Dov Charney on pushing boundaries and his biggest weakness

Fri, 2015-03-27 11:56

Updated March 27, 2015. This story originally aired Jan. 20, 2104.
  Clothing company American Apparel is known for making their products in the U.S. and for paying their employees more than minimum wage. It's also known for eccentric CEO Dov Charney:       On pushing boundaries  “It’s important that every generation, there are going to be certain people that push boundaries. And those are my people."   On using sex to sell clothes
“Sex is inextricably linked to fashion and apparel. And it has been and always will be. And our clothing is connected to our sexual expression so of course, advertising related to clothing, there’s going to be a sexual connection forever, whether it’s Calvin Klein, American Apparel, or brands we haven’t even contemplated."   Kai Ryssdal: Do you ever look at one of your billboards and go: Whoa, alright wait, we went too far?
Dov Charney: Absolutely.
KR: And then what do you do?
DC: We put up another one.   On the importance of Made-in-USA
“I don’t think it’s very important to the customer and I’m glad that it’s not.” He clarifies that the "made in LA" aspect of the brand “brings flavor and it should also call attention to the fact that we make the merchandise ourselves which is very important.”   On his biggest weakness
“My biggest weakness is me. I mean, lock me up already! It’s obvious! Put me in a cage, I’ll be fine. I’m my own worst enemy. But what can you do—I was born strange.”      

 

Inside American Apparel's factory         Charney opened his first retail store in 2004, in Los Angeles. The bulk of American Apparel manufacturing happens in an immense warehouse in the city's downtown district. Employees from all departments work together out of the bright pink building. "We have sellers,  marketers, photographers, computer programmers, IT experts, production, product design, scheduling, forecasting, retail development, everybody is connected to this building," Charney says.   The last few years have been financially difficult for the company. "Right now, we’re retrenching a little bit because it’s unclear what the future of bricks and mortar retail is," says Charney. He has plans to build up the company's presence online and to expand the business in the future.   Charney's no stranger to personal difficulties as well. He's faced several sexual harassment lawsuits from past employees, most of which have been dropped. He's also faced criticism for the sexual images American Apparel uses on billboards that promote the brand.

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