Marketplace - American Public Media

Syndicate content
Updated: 51 min 17 sec ago

What's Up Europe? Germany and Poland have mixed feelings on Russia

Thu, 2014-03-27 13:15

After spending the first half of the week on Ukraine and Crimea, President Obama was in Rome on Thursday visiting with the Pope and taking a tour of the Coliseum.  Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund has prepared an $18 billion aid package for Ukraine and Congress has voted to chip in another $1 billion.

Now that sanctions are in place, what is the climate like in Europe?

John Beauchamp is a reporter for Polskie Radio.  He said there’s not much cause for alarm in Poland, but tensions with Russia could have a long-term economic impact on the country.

 “In the first three months, from January to mid-March, we had a 7.3 percent year-on-year drop on exports to Russia,” said Beauchamp. “We’ve had, in the same period, a 6.3 percent year-on-year drop to Ukraine.”

Beauchamp said while these may sound like small numbers, they represent a one-fifth of Poland’s exports.

Economically, Germany wields the biggest stick in the situation in Crimea.  It is the European Union’s biggest exporter to Russia and has over $19 billion tied up in long term projects there.

 Thomas Marzahl is a freelance journalist stationed in Berlin. He said Germans are starting to worry about rising energy prices more than anything.

“Germans have seen their energy bills skyrocket over the last couple of years, even as worldwide energy prices have fallen,” said Marzahl. “Any sanctions that might be put on the Russian energy industry may hit the Germans and their pocketbooks.”

CSI High: Preparing students for the job market

Thu, 2014-03-27 13:14

In the latest installment of our ongoing series "American Futures," Atlanic national correspondent Jim Fallows recounts his trip to the southeastern tip of Georgia, where he explored a part of the education system that is oft overlooked - vocational school.

"Most discussion of education is either at the high end, where of course our universities are still dominant and we worry if that will continue, or the low end where we have understandable worries about basic literacy for a lot of students. But the part of education that prepares people for actual jobs, including those that are hardest to outsource and are not just low-wage entry level jobs, that's something we seem to act as if only the Germans or the Icelanders or the Japanese will pay attention to that." 

Camden County High School houses 2,800 kids, and while that size student body makes a heck of a good football team, it also produces a greater number of kids who won't go on to college. Fallows says the school has organized itself into a series of academies whose main purpose is to train those kids for good jobs.

"One of the academies is for government service and public service and things like that. There's a big law enforcement emphasis there. There's a man named Rich Gamble who worked for a long time as an NCIS investigator at a nearby naval base, and he trains the kids to do mock forensic and criminal work. His students wear these white lab coats and they go through the school and they stage some sort of mock crime. Then the rest of the students take plaster casts of the footprints and they take statements from witnesses and they prepare court documents, and the idea is to prepare people for this kind of skill in public or private work."

Of course, Fallows says, having 600 well-educated graduates presents Camden County with a unique problem, but it's not a bad one to have.

"In lots of places you will have jobs, but they don't seem to have enough well-trained people to fill them. In Camden County, Georgia, their pride is generating students who are prepared for lots of jobs in medical care or in public service or whatever with not enough jobs in the region. They feel as one teacher told me that they're supplying all of Florida and of course other parts of the country. The hope is that they're equipping their students to do things other than be caught in the low-end minimum wage trap. And in the longer run they're hoping this will equip them to develop some industry there to employ their own people."

Jim Fallows article about Camden County High School can be found here and in the latest issue of The Atlantic.

CSI High: Preparing students for

Thu, 2014-03-27 13:14

In the latest installment of our ongoing series "American Futures," Atlanic national correspondent Jim Fallows recounts his trip to the southeastern tip of Georgia, where he explored a part of the education system that is oft overlooked - vocational school.

"Most discussion of education is either at the high end, where of course our universities are still dominant and we worry if that will continue, or the low end where we have understandable worries about basic literacy for a lot of students. But the part of education that prepares people for actual jobs, including those that are hardest to outsource and are not just low-wage entry level jobs, that's something we seem to act as if only the Germans or the Icelanders or the Japanese will pay attention to that." 

Camden County High School houses 2,800 kids, and while that size student body makes a heck of a good football team, it also produces a greater number of kids who won't go on to college. Fallows says the school has organized itself into a series of academies whose main purpose is to train those kids for good jobs.

"One of the academies is for government service and public service and things like that. There's a big law enforcement emphasis there. There's a man named Rich Gamble who worked for a long time as an NCIS investigator at a nearby naval base, and he trains the kids to do mock forensic and criminal work. His students wear these white lab coats and they go through the school and they stage some sort of mock crime. Then the rest of the students take plaster casts of the footprints and they take statements from witnesses and they prepare court documents, and the idea is to prepare people for this kind of skill in public or private work."

Of course, Fallows says, having 600 well-educated graduates presents Camden County with a unique problem, but it's not a bad one to have.

"In lots of places you will have jobs, but they don't seem to have enough well-trained people to fill them. In Camden County, Georgia, their pride is generating students who are prepared for lots of jobs in medical care or in public service or whatever with not enough jobs in the region. They feel as one teacher told me that they're supplying all of Florida and of course other parts of the country. The hope is that they're equipping their students to do things other than be caught in the low-end minimum wage trap. And in the longer run they're hoping this will equip them to develop some industry there to employ their own people."

Jim Fallows article about Camden County High School can be found here and in the latest issue of The Atlantic.

Lady Gaga(s)

Thu, 2014-03-27 12:04

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up Friday:

  • The House Homeland Security subcommittee on Transportation Security holds a field hearing in Los Angeles. "Lessons from the LAX Shooting: Preparing for and Responding to Emergencies at Airports."
  • In Washington, the Commerce Department reports on personal income and spending for February.
  • Grab your popcorn and your Dramamine and both your dogs. "Noah" sails to the big screen.
  • Lady Gaga turns 28. Did you know that there is a Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of Lady Gaga Impersonators? That would be 121 impersonators at the 2011 Grammys.
  • And she has a long list of credits including "Footloose", "Bullets Over Broadway" and TV's "Law & Order." Actress Dianne Wiest turns 66.

Fighting food deserts takes more than fresh produce

Thu, 2014-03-27 11:48

Food deserts are communities where residents with little or no access to healthy foods, often because there is no full-service supermarket.  Food deserts are often found in low-income neighborhoods, and many cities in the U.S. have made efforts to bring fresh produce to these communities, which often have much higher rates of obesity, diabetes and other health problems. In California, public health officials are trying a new approach.

On a sunny morning in Boyle Heights, a predominantly Latino neighborhood in East Los Angeles, the sidewalk in front of the Euclid Market was packed with TV news cameras and city officials. The sign on the store read "Todo Lo Que Necesita," everything you need. Dr. Eric Walsh, the director of the Health Department in nearby Pasadena, stepped up to a podium and adjusted the microphone.  Next to him was a table covered with brightly colored packages of tobacco products and sweetened alcohol drinks.

"Well, I want to start by saying we ought to take pause and ask a very difficult and hard question," Walsh began. "Who do these products target? Why are they in the neighborhoods that they’re in? In fact, what we face today is a question about the new civil rights in America. That there are corporations and practices out there that are targeting the poorest, most vulnerable, least resourced people in our community. The blackest the brownest. So we have a responsibility in public heath to step up and address this."

The purpose of the news conference is to announce the results from a statewide survey, the first of its kind. Researchers visited more than 7,000 grocery stores in California, everything from small corner stores to big-box stores. The survey looked at how tobacco, alcohol and junk food are marketed.

The survey found that 71 percent of the stores carried alcohol, while 37 percent sold milk, and more than half did not carry fresh produce. The survey also found that unhealthy products were more prevalent and more heavily marketed in poor neighborhoods.

The news conference was held at the Euclid Market because it's participating in a Market Makeover project sponsored by UCLA and the University of Southern California. Store owners get a free remodel of their store if they agree to offer healthy products and take down ads for junk food, alcohol and tobacco.  Before the makeover, the first thing you saw when you walked into Euclid was a wall of potato chips. Now it’s a produce case. And the windows of the store are no longer covered with ads.

Maria Avila owns the Euclid Market. She says the store is beautiful now. Removing the ads from the windows brought more natural light in, and more life. Avila’s seen a slight uptick in sales.

But not everyone is convinced that these makeovers are good for business. The owner of a corner store a few blocks away had planned on participating in the makeover project, but said he changed his mind. He makes most of his money selling beer and junk food and he wasn’t convinced that people would buy produce even if he offered it.

And the owner is right. Stocking stores with produce is only part of the solution. People have to be motivated to buy it.

"Most of the people we are working with are either food stamp recipients or food stamp eligible," said Mary Otetra Garcia, who runs a nutrition and physical activity program in Pasadena. " People that are under the poverty level of 185 percent."

Garcia teaches classes on health and nutrition in a working class neighborhood with few places to buy healthy food.

"I always tell people, whatever your cultural food is it’s okay to have that, because the more American diet they adopt or their children adopt, the unhealthier they get," she said. "Studies have shown that people who come from other countries are healthier than the people that are here."

Maria Vargas participated in the program. She says it’s made a big difference in her families’ health. She buys potato chips and soda only for special occasions now, and doesn’t take the family to McDonald’s any more. Now she cooks most of her meals at home with her three children.

"They need to participate," Vargas said. "That’s the way they learn how we can cook different and healthy foods."

Asked what she made for dinner the night before, she replied, "Well,  you know when you do the Mexican rice, we do it steamed and I put tomato."

Joseph Garcia also took the class and has worked hard at changing his families’ eating habit, especially his eldest sons.

"I think with all of us at home, we weren’t crazy about the changes," Garcia said. "And I think a lot of of the family members don’t want to hear it. That you shouldn’t drink a lot of soda and eat a lot of fried things."

He said he worries a little bit about what his son eats when he's not at home. "I know that sometimes he will eat a hamburger around there. So I will find in the car a bag from Taco Bell or something. But he ends up doing alright for the most part."

Nearly all the restaurants in this part of Pasadena are fast food, mostly fried chicken and burger joints, a few small Mexican places. But fresh fruit was available from Alejandro Beltran, who sells mango, pineapple, cucumber and coconut, sliced and sprinkled with lime and chile, from a cart. He said business is pretty good.

"I sell to all social classes, different races, Latinos, Asians, Americans," he said.

Bletran pulled a chunk of pineapple from his cart and sliced it in half with his knife.  Everyone eats fruit, he said.

Waffle tacos, bacon milkshakes... it's a trend!

Thu, 2014-03-27 11:02

There's the Waffle Taco. Red Robin's got its bacon milkshake. KFC had the double down.

It's officially a trend. "We are seeing quite a bit of more indulgent, more interesting, and more innovative items coming out especially from fast food," says Darren Tristano with food industry research group Technomic.

But what are the ingredients behind these culinary chimeras?

1. "Whats driving it right now is that the quick service restaurant industry as a whole is not growing. The packaged food business is not growing. The need for innovation is critical right now" – Gary Stibel, The New England Consulting Group.

2. The need for buzz. Even if a flavor combo doesn't take off, it still creates hoopla. "If you shorten the product cycle and come out with new flavors that are only going to be a limited time thing, you effectively encourage more frequent trial by consumers" – R.J. Hottovy, restaurant analyst with Morning Star.

3. Millennials. Turns out they like to try new things, and they are helping fuel the trend. "It's a trend that has gained traction with younger consumers, and ultimately brands look to what's successful." “-- Darren Tristano with food industry research group Technomic

4. Laziness. Well maybe that's not fair. Busy-ness? Either way, Taco Bell's Waffle Taco is built to be portable and easy to deliver to the mouth. "What we have seen as a longer term trend is portability, the ability for the consumer in one hand have a sandwich and in the other hand steer their car or text." -- Darren Tristano with food industry research group Technomic.

Five food mashups to make your mouth water -- or your stomach turn

By Shea Huffman

Taco Bell's Waffle Taco is only the latest novelty food combination to hit the culinary market. There have been plenty of mashups from fast food chains, retail brands, and hipter chefs that have either provided the answer to our munchie-prayers, or unleashed abominations that nobody asked for.

1. The Cronut

 

(Via Wikimedia Commons)

Probably the most popular mashup in recent food history, the combination of croissant and doughnut took New York -- and subsequently your local doughnut shop -- by storm in the summer of 2013.

2. The Ramen Burger

The latest foodie trend out of New York is spreading as quickly as the cronut, and our taste buds couldn't be happier.

3. Doritos Locos Tacos

(Courtesy of Taco Bell)

Taco Bell actually has a fairly long history of . . . interesting food combinations. A taco shell covered in the popular tortilla chip's seasoning might not be appealing to those with more discerning palates, but for the fast food chain's target demographic, it was a no brainer.

4. Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwiches

(Courtesy of Carl's Jr.)

These fast food companies sure do know how to cater to their more . . . munchie-prone customers. The Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich never made it out of test markets, but that can't stop you from getting out that ice cream scoop.

5. Baconnaise

(Courtesy of J&D Foods)

There's a reason this stuff comes up whenever someone talks about the obesity epidemic:

         

The Daily Show Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Indecision Political Humor,The Daily Show on Facebook

PODCAST: College football to get unions?

Thu, 2014-03-27 07:37

The government revised upward its assessment of the economy; gross domestic product for October to December increased from a 2.4 percent annualized rate of growth to 2.6 percent. We consult Diane Swonk, chief finacial officer at Mesirow Financial in Chicago, for some perspective.

And, in his ruling, Peter Ohr, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board wrote that there is abundant evidence student athletes are treated as employees. He cited the long hours (over 40 per week) spent training, wrote that athletes are paid, in the form of scholarships, and noted that Northwestern rakes in big bucks and prestige when the football team wins.

Even with a large research university and seaside real estate, it's hard for Santa Cruz to compete with Silicon Valley's pull on engineers and entrepreneurs. Every morning, more than 20,000 people leave Santa Cruz county and commute to work in the Valley. Sick of the commute, Santa Cruz tries own tech hub.

Latinos still reluctant to sign up for Obamacare

Thu, 2014-03-27 06:54

Visits to healthcare.gov are surging in these last days before the Affordable Care Act enrollment deadline. But government officials are worried that they aren’t getting enough of the right people to sign up. Latinos in particular are sorely needed to balance insurance pools. They tend to be younger and healthier than the general population. But states with the largest concentration of Latinos - like California - have been struggling to win them over.

“The news gives a lot of information, [but] it confuses people. They don’t know what is the truth,” says Larissa Bobadilla, a health outreach worker in Los Angeles.

Many Latinos are afraid that if they sign up for health insurance, their undocumented family members will get discovered, and deported. Others aren't convinced it's worth the money. 

People like Bobadilla are out trying convince them that it's okay. 

“They trust me,” she says.

They trust her because she's been on the streets of LA for 16 years working as a promotora, a health educator. Now the kids of people she helped years ago are coming to her to find out what's really going on with Obamacare.

This is exactly what California officials want - trusted members of the Latino community explaining health plans to potential customers in Spanish. 

The trouble is, the state is short thousands of these insurance counselors. 

Political wrangling at the federal level is partly to blame. That delayed the roll out of programs for training counselors. And that left no time to approve a Spanish training curriculum or a Spanish certification test. Bobadilla was lucky. She had enough English to get by. 

“I don't know, I feeling so nervous, feeling so-- frustration,” she says

But other promotoras in her community didn't pass the test, and they can't help anybody until they do. 

This shortage of people power isn't just limited to the streets. 

The state insurance exchange, Covered California, underestimated how many counselors it would need to staff its call centers. Many people who asked to speak to someone in Spanish got transferred to English-speaking agents. When there are too many calls, the system hangs up. 

Similar problems have plagued the website. 

“I visited it, with my brother’s help, and we tried to enroll. But it didn’t work,” says Maria Aurelia, a teacher from San Pablo, east of San Francisco. “I would much rather sign up – face to face. There’s more communication.”

These disasters in customer service are one of the main reasons Latino enrollment has been so far below expectations. 

So far, just 8 percent of people who enrolled in a health plan through California’s exchange by the end of last year speak Spanish as their first language. The state had been aiming for something closer to the representation of Spanish speakers in the state population — nearly 30 percent. (The federal government has not released demographic data on enrollees.)

California officials are worried about this shortfall because the economics of the new health care system depend on Latinos. Because Latinos tend to be younger and healthier than the population as whole, their premiums subsidize care for older, sicker people, which helps keep costs down for everyone else. That’s why officials have been been scrambling in recent weeks to hire more Spanish speaking customer service agents and make improvements to the system. 

But even that will do nothing to overcome another serious obstacle: Cost. Many plans run two, three hundred dollars a month. Sometimes more.

“Good price? Hundred dollars a month,” says construction worker Jose Rodriguez.

Maria Aurelia also says she would prefer a monthly payment of one hundred dollars for her family.

Research shows that only a quarter of Latinos are willing to pay more than $100 a month for health insurance, according to Hispanic market research group Santiago Solutions. Carlos Santiago, the group’s founder, says many Latino families have never had insurance, making it difficult to see the value in it at such a high cost.

“You kind of go wait a minute, am I really going to use this right away?” he says. “How much do I need that security right now, this year when I have all these other realities in my life.” 

The deadline to sign up is March 31 - though people who encounter technical problems with the website can get an extra two weeks to finish their application.

NLRB rules Northwestern football players can unionize

Thu, 2014-03-27 06:44

In his ruling, Peter Ohr, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board wrote that there is abundant evidence student athletes are treated as employees. He cited the long hours (over 40 per week) spent training, wrote that athletes are paid, in the form of scholarships, and noted that Northwestern rakes in big bucks and prestige when the football team wins.

Ohr also highlighted the control that coaches have over athletes. Among the examples included in the ruling, are a number of restrictions placed on football players. 

  • Only upperclassmen are permitted to live off campus, and even then, they are required to submit a lease to their coach for his approval.
  • Athletes have to diclose detailed information to coaches about what they drive.
  • Travel policies restrict players from leaving campus in the 48 hours before finals.
  • Finally, they must abide by a social media policy that restricts what they can post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In fact, Ohr writes, "the players are prohibited from denying a coach's 'friend' request."

Filling in the gaps that Gross Domestic Product skips

Thu, 2014-03-27 02:09

The U.S. gets its latest reading on the economy today. Analysts are expecting growth in GDP to slow for the first three months of the year due -- in part -- to bad weather. Many people consider Gross Domestic Product the final word on how the economy is doing. But does the measure of money changing hands really tell us how well we are doing?

Kristen Lewis, co-director of Measure of America, joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to discuss her organization's alternative measure and how various localities and ethnic groups are faring.  Click on the audio player above to hear more. 

Filling in the gaps that Gross Domestic Product skips

Thu, 2014-03-27 02:09

The U.S. gets its latest reading on the economy today. Analysts are expecting growth in GDP to slow for the first three months of the year due -- in part -- to bad weather. Many people consider Gross Domestic Product the final word on how the economy is doing. But does the measure of money changing hands really tell us how well we are doing?

Kristen Lewis, co-director of Measure of America, joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to discuss her organization's alternative measure and how various localities and ethnic groups are faring.  Click on the audio player above to hear more. 

The online life of a teenager

Thu, 2014-03-27 01:00

When conversation turns to teenagers and how they use technology, the narrative is usually focused on how teens are disconnected from the real world because of their reliance on smartphones and social media. danah boyd begins her new book, "It's Complicated: the social lives of networked teens," with an observation she made at a high school football game in Nashville: It was the parents, not their children, who were locked into their smart phones.

According to boyd, the ability to socialize on one's own terms is what determines when one is keyed into technology, not age or tech savviness.

At an event like a football game, adults are generally there because of their children. At home, however, is when parents seek to be social and have family time, while teenagers turn to technology to find their friends online. 

"We see young people who are hurting, and they're making that just as visible as young people who are doing really well. We blame the technology for making all this visible, rather than saying 'Wow, I have a window into people's lives. Can I step back? Can I appreciate? Can I figure out how to intervene in a productive manner?'"

boyd says many social media networks are being used by teenagers in the same way that teens have used any platform to express themselves. The difference is the transparency of posting it online for everyone to see.

According to boyd, this is an opportunity to reach out in a way that wasn't available before.

Sick of the commute, Santa Cruz tries own tech hub

Thu, 2014-03-27 00:55

Even with a large research university and seaside real estate, it's hard for Santa Cruz to compete with Silicon Valley's pull on engineers and entrepreneurs. Every morning, more than 20,000 people leave Santa Cruz county and commute to work in the Valley.

It's a rare morning when Allison Holmlund is home to help her husband get their kids ready for school. Packing a lunch for her son, James Dean, she explains the ins and outs of her commute. "If I leave before six," she says, "I can make it in about an hour. If I leave after six, it's at least an hour and a half."

Holmlund commutes 48 miles to Redwood City to work for a software startup called Host Analytics. "Having those, call it, three hours of my day, back, would be huge," she says. "But I'm not at the point where I would sacrifice a phenomenal opportunity at a hot startup, which is where I'm at today."

By phenomenal opportunity, she means equity — the chance to own a piece of a company that might pay off like Instagram or WhatsApp. She says Santa Cruz's tech industry can't match Silicon Valley's $700 billion industry, its salaries, or its intense workplace culture. Over the years, companies like Netflix and Seagate started in Santa Cruz, then migrated to Silicon Valley.

But the local tech ecosystem is growing.

Close to 100 people showed up to a recent weeknight tech meet-up downtown, sponsored by the Santa Cruz Office of Economic Development. "Five years ago, we really had to beg to get people here," says Doug Erickson, a regular on the Santa Cruz tech scene.

Afterwards, commuters fill out a survey designed to find out what it would take to make them stay in Santa Cruz. "What percentage of your current compensation would a Santa cruz opportunity have to come up with to get you to forgo your commute?" one question asks.

The man behind the survey is venture capitalist Bud Colligan. He's lived in Santa Cruz for 18 years, but he didn't always invest here. In December, Colligan started a group called the Central Coast Angels with 20 Silicon Valley veterans who live in Santa Cruz.

"It's people from Google, Symantec, Apple, Palm," Colligan says. "At our first meeting, we had a discussion, of, well, 'Should we also do angel investments over the hill?' And my response was, 'You know, there's a thousand angels over the hill. That's not somewhere where we're gonna have a dramatic impact.' Here, we could have a dramatic impact."

You can be the President, I'd rather be the Pope

Thu, 2014-03-27 00:44

President Barack Obama met with Pope Francis on Thursday.

Clearly, there are issues the two men disagree on, like abortion rights and gay marriage. But there's one thing the Pope and the president both decry: the widening gap between rich and poor. According to the AP, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama will express his appreciation for the pope's leadership on issues such as inclusion and equality. 

Both view poverty and income inequality as a crisis, though in slightly different ways.

For the pope, "it's not poverty, it's the gap itself that raises the moral question," says Steve Schneck, who directs the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America. Schneck says on the other hand, President Obama is "concerned that this income gap in the United States is undermining America's ability to be competitive in the world."

Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images

President Barack Obama is welcomed as he disembarks from Air Force One at Fiumicino Airport on March 26, 2014. Obama is on a week-long trip during which he will meet with Pope Francis and and travel to Saudi Arabia. 

Does Office for iPad say something new about Microsoft?

Thu, 2014-03-27 00:29

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Thursday is scheduled to hold his first major press event where he is expected announce a version of Microsoft Office for the Apple iPad. That's something Microsoft has resisted for a long time.

"We think [not developing Office for iPad] was a mistake," says Forrester Research’s Frank Gillet. He says Microsoft’s stubbornness has cost the company more than a billion dollars in revenue because the iPad is the most popular tablet on the market.

According to David Cearley, an analyst with Gartner Research, Office for iPad could signify something important about Microsoft’s future, a willingness to look beyond the company's "insular" environment.

Microsoft had worried that making Microsoft Office products available on iPad would undermine the company's own Surface tablet device.

Spiking lime prices threaten salsa

Wed, 2014-03-26 23:10

Your margarita or mojito -- or any dish featuring limes -- is going to be more expensive. The price of limes has risen every month in 2014, more than doubling since 2013. 

That's because more than 90 percent of the  limes we enjoy in this country are grown and sold in Mexico, and regional violence in that country has slowed the supply of the citrus. Add to that a mild drought, a disease that some forecast will jump to fields in California and across the United States, and you have lime producers worried.

The San Antonio Express-News reports local buyers are buying cases of limes for $100 each; prices usually range from $4 - $25 per case depending on the season. Consumers, especially those enjoying limes in restaurants and bars, may end up seeing the prices passed on to their checks.

To put these prices into a bit of context, in 2014, Mexico’s minimum wage was raised, slightly, to near $5 a day. Meaning, at that rate, it would take 20 days for someone earning the minimum wage in Mexico to afford a case of limes in Texas.

Ford's China conundrum: Big profits, bribery allegations

Wed, 2014-03-26 21:09
Friday, April 4, 2014 - 12:04 Rob Schmitz/Marketplace

Ford assembly line manager Liu Chan stands in front of the final stage of assembly at Ford's sprawling assembly plant in the Southwestern city of Chongqing. Most of the nearly million vehicles Ford sold in China last year were made here. Workers interviewed by Marketplace say competition for jobs at the plant is so fierce that some aspiring workers pay bribes to Ford's local HR department to secure positions. Ford has launched an internal investigation as a result of the allegations.

At the end of Ford’s assembly line in Chongqing, Plant Manager Greg Brown is counting cars. “If we stand here an hour, we should count 63 cars going by here,” Brown says, peering at a digital sign above us displaying the number of cars that have come off the line already today. “We’re scheduled to build 1,281 vehicles today.”

Ford sold its first passenger car in China in 2003. Last year, it sold close to a million.

Most of them are assembled here in the Southwestern Chinese metropolis of Chongqing, Ford’s largest manufacturing hub outside Michigan. It’s a joint venture with Chinese automaker Chang’an. “In Chongqing, we’re in a fantastic spot, because the growing auto market is out here in the middle and in the West,” says Scott Chang, spokesman for Ford. “So being in Chongqing gives us a great advantage.”

Another advantage is a near endless supply of cheap labor. The Chongqing region is home to low wages, and tens of millions of farmers eager to make more money at a factory close to home. The twenty-first century autoworker is someone like Liu Chan. He's a short, thin assembly line manager wearing a navy blue work suit emblazoned with the joint venture’s official name Chang’an Ford. “I work at the final stage of the assembly line, making adjustments to vehicles coming off the line,” says Liu inside the plant’s break room.

Liu says he works eight hours a day, with few chances for overtime. He has two kids, he owns a Ford Focus, and his wife works here, too. Ford has handpicked Liu to speak with me, and managers won’t let him discuss salary, overtime rates, no numbers.

“But this is Marketplace,” I say to his managers, “we do the numbers.”

Nope, says Ford – those numbers are secret.

So after my day at Ford is through, I return to the factory gates without the looming presence of Ford management, where other workers help me do the numbers.

“My base salary is higher than average - a little over 1,800 yuan a month,” says a worker named Xu.

His salary is equal to $1.80 an hour. Xu works on the assembly line at the plant. He shows me his Ford ID badge, but he asks that his full name not be used. Xu says with overtime and bonuses, he makes around $10,000 (U.S.) a year – enough to buy a modest apartment nearby for his wife, child and his wife’s parents.

He says he feels lucky to have this job. “The workload is very demanding, hours are long, and it’s very tiring,” says Xu, “But my salary is very high compared to work at any other factory around here.”

Xu says getting a job at Ford is so competitive that some people resort to bribing employees in Ford’s HR department just to secure a position at the plant. “It’s pretty common for the most coveted jobs at the company like the quality control department,” says Xu. “They usually have to pay between 3,000 to 5,000 yuan," which works out to be $500-900. “If you’re a woman, it’ll cost you more than double that.”

Xu says that’s because women are generally looking for less labor-intensive but highly coveted administrative roles. Xu says paying for positions at Ford was common a few years ago, but lately it’s less so because of the increasing amount of overtime required to keep up with demand. “I know one person who paid 5,000 yuan to get a job here,” says Xu, “But then he was assigned to work in the welding workshop – a really tough job. He wanted to quit, but he had to stick around to earn back the bribe he had paid.”

Xu says Ford management has made it clear to employees that bribery is illegal and if they knew about this, they’d put a stop to it. But Xu says this would be challenging for the foreign automaker. “There’s a Chinese saying: There are rules that come from above and there are solutions down here on the ground,” Xu says with a laugh.

Ford may not be alone: Marketplace discovered online posts in China by middlemen and job seekers indicating coveted jobs were for sale inside other foreign automakers like Volkswagen and General Motors. Another Ford worker, named Wang – who also didn’t want to give his full name – says he too knows people at Ford who paid bribes for their jobs. He says the problem doesn’t emanate from Ford, but from China. “You might not do this sort of thing in the US, but here in China, bribing someone to get something you want is completely normal and inevitable,” says Wang with a shrug.

Not all the Ford workers Marketplace spoke to in Chongqing talked about others who had paid for positions at the plant. Several assembly line workers said they had never heard of such a thing.

In a written statement to Marketplace, Ford said: “We take these allegations very seriously and have initiated an investigation. Any behavior that violates our policies, such as the alleged behavior, would result in immediate dismissal.”

James McGregor, head of the China region for APCO Worldwide and author of “One Billion Customers: Lessons from the front lines of doing business in China,” says it usually takes foreign companies years to get used to the scale of corruption in China. “Everything you do, every transaction, every deal, every move, every permit, there’s just so many interfaces with the government,” says McGregor.

And at every step, he says, somebody’s taking money. “So when you get into the private companies, that culture that will infect it.”

McGregor’s advice for foreign companies who find this sort of corruption inside their China operation? Don’t be soft.

“You should fire people and you should do it very publicly, and you should turn them over to police authorities,” says McGregor. “Unfortunately what happens in foreign companies a lot is they’ll investigate corruption, and then they’ll quietly pay the people off to go away and inflict some other company because they don’t want the embarrassment.”

Another challenge for companies like Ford is they’re required by Chinese law to partner with a Chinese company. Ford’s Chongqing plant is a 50/50 joint venture with Chang’an, one of China’s big four automakers. Often, Chinese partners bring their own corporate culture to the mix – which can include practices like taking bribes.

Ford employee Xu says many of his colleagues at Chongqing’s Ford plant came from one of the plants owned by the Chinese partner – he says the benefits and pay at Ford are much better. And Xu says lucky for him, he didn’t have to pay to get a job he liked.

 

Marketplace for Friday April 4, 2014 Rob Schmitz/Marketplace

Ford passenger cars roll off the assembly line at the company's plant in Chongqing, Ford's largest plant outside Michigan. More than one car a minute is made at this plant.

Rob Schmitz/Marketplace

A poster created by a Ford employee to decorate the plant's breakroom compares a "negative tree" with a "positive tree." Under the positive tree, a list includes "being honest," and "not looking for excuses," as desirable attributes of Ford employees.

Rob Schmitz/Marketplace

A worker on Ford's assembly line at the company's Chongqing plant.

Rob Schmitz/Marketplace

Workers help line up the vehicle's chassis with the frame of hte car at Ford's Chongqing plant.

by Rob SchmitzPodcast Title: Ford's China conundrum: Big profits, bribery allegationsStory Type: FeatureSyndication: SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond: No

The new business of lobbying

Wed, 2014-03-26 14:48

What does the word “lobbying” connote? Maybe a smoke-filled room somewhere, or multi-course meals, charged to an expense account. Well, “government affairs professionals,” as they like to call themselves, say the job has changed.

 “I think there is less golf and there are fewer martinis than ever before,” says Dan Bryant, chair of the public policy and government affairs practice group at Covington & Burling.

Still, I persist, arranging to meet Rich Gold, a partner with the firm Holland & Knight, at the Round Robin & Scotch Bar in the Willard Hotel.

According to lore, the term “lobbying” was coined there. Back in the 1870s, Gold’s professional forebears plied President Ulysses S. Grant with cigars and booze. So, as a waiter approaches, I wonder if Gold is going to pick vodka or gin.

“I guess in some ways I am kind of the breakthrough generation,” he says. “I have never had a martini at lunch.”

And the day we met is no exception.

Gold has been lobbying for two decades, and he says the culture has changed.

“There is no walking into a back room anymore, and saying, ‘I need this,’ tapping the table, and getting it done,” Gold explains. The economic downturn also affected lobbying.

“The recession came late to Washington, and the end of 2010, 2011, 2012 were relatively lean years,” he says. “And we’re seeing that in D.C., with some brand-name firms really struggling now.”

Gerry Sikorski is one of Gold’s colleagues. He heads the government section at Holland & Knight. For a decade, he represented Minnesotans in the House of Representatives. We meet in a cafeteria on Capitol Hill – where martinis aren’t on the menu, by the way.

"Lawmaking specialists are less valuable than they once were,” he says.

Sikorski says the federal government is still operating. It is still buying things, regulating industries, and collecting taxes.

“What’s changed is the overarching law making,” Sikorski explains. “Policymaking pieces of it aren’t happening.”

Sikorski says a lobbyist can’t fundamentally reinvent himself, but he can adjust, and many lobbyists have had to. Increasingly, what firms want in a lobbyist is expertise in a particular subject matter.  

According to W. Michael House, the director of Hogan Lovells’ legislative group, there are fewer lobbyists than there used to be.

Lawmakers are spending more time away from Washington. Last year, there were just 159 legislative days, when the House of Representatives was in session. And Congress isn’t passing many bills. In 2013, just 87 became law.  So, a lobbyist like House adjusts.

“We always say Washington goes legislation, regulation, litigation, legislation,” he tells me, noting we are in the regulation stage right now.

Federal agencies are working on financial reform rule writing and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and even though the legislative process is moving slowly, it is moving. There are people interested in tax reform, for example. According to House, “that’ll be a two-to-four, maybe six-year process when it’s all said and done, but the smart people get in early.”

More firms are taking what they call a “multidisciplinary approach” to lobbying. Lobbyists work hand in hand with lawyers, and some firms hire strategic communications consultants.

Back on Capitol Hill, I meet Bryant in the Hart Senate Office Building. The relatively light legislative load doesn’t seem to faze him.  

“The need to be explaining your business more, more clearly, and in a more compelling way, has never been more important both in the U.S. and elsewhere,” Bryant says, noting public policy has become “more global.”

Covington & Burling has grown its business overseas. It expanded its office in Brussels, to lobby European governments, and because many companies based in foreign countries want to lobby the U.S.

“I think as long as governments and government officials are making decisions that affect the public and that affect the business community, there will be lobbying,” he says. Although what that involves will continue to change.

Is Facebook just a big venture capitalist?

Wed, 2014-03-26 14:00

Facebook is buying Oculus VR for $2 billion. A Virtual Reality company.  Really? 

Yes. Not because Facebook thinks people are thirsting to experience their status updates in a more ‘realistic way’, but because it thinks Virtual Reality is going to be the next big thing. 

 “They’re really trying to become a  holding company if you will,” explains David Rogers at Columbia’s School of Business. “They want to own a key stake in all the major platforms for social connection.”

That’s “all fine well and good,” says David Nelson, chief strategist at Belpointe Asset Management. Fine, if Facebook wants to treat its acquisitions like a venture capitalist. But Nelson – like the many investors who sold shares of Facebook on the news – wanted Facebook to give him hard numbers:  future earnings, monetization, anything with a $ sign at the end of it. 

“They’re not able to do that. They’re just saying trust us this is going to be amazing,” he says. “And we’re looking five six seven even ten years out for the return, I think that’s too far. At least for me. I sold my stock after the what’s app deal.

This not uncommon reaction may involve a difference in culture between Silicon Valley and Wall Street as far as innovation is concerned.  Victor Hwang, CEO of T2VentureCreations, a Silicon Valley Venture firm puts it this way:  “On Wall Street, the biggest fear is missing the numbers, not making earnings.  In Silicon Valley, in the startup world, the biggest fear is obsolescence.  Because obsolence is the equivalent of death.” 

He says looking only at a future earnings stream misses the fact that in an environment where industries are routinely disrupted and transformed, the foundations of earnings streams are vulnerable.  There are existential costs to not innovating – something that can happen to any company, no matter how dazzling it appears at the moment. 

“It wasn’t that long ago that Microsoft was the cool company, and now people think of it as a dinosaur,” says Hwang.  Even Google is losing its sheen, he says.  “I think Mark Zuckerberg asks himself every morning: how do we not become a dinosaur?” 

All of that said, an investment of two billion dollars is no small gamble.  Unfortunately, hindsight is the only way to see if it pays off.  As Hwang put it, Facebook’s gamble with Oculus is “either extremely visionary or extremely foolhardy, and that’s the thing about innovation – you won’t know until later.”

Facebook's VC shopping list 

by Tobin Low

With a host of high profile acquisitions in recent years, Facebook has become that friend who has to own the coolest, most expensive thing before anyone else. With multibillion dollar purchases of Instagram, WhatsApp, and now Oculus VR, the social media giant has been putting its money towards buying the newest "it" thing. That doesn't mean they purchase only sure-bets, though. Facebook has acquired a lot of companies over the years, some of which offer very similar services and use very similar technologies to the big name companies already in their shopping cart. Always a bridesmaid, sighed MySpace. 

Here are a few other companies that Facebook has purchased over the years.

Beluga - Group Messaging

Long before the purchase of WhatsApp made your jaw drop with its $19 billion price tag, Facebook acquired Beluga - another mobile messaging service - in May of 2011. Unlike previous acquisitions where they essentially bought the talent but not necessarily the technology, Facebook stated that they wanted to make use of Beluga's product in addition to adding its designers to their team. Later that year, Beluga was shut down after its design was integrated into Facebook Messenger.

Lightbox Photo Sharing App

Even after its $1 billion purchase of Instagram, Facebook purchased another mobile photo-sharing service called Lightbox. The app allowed android users to filter photographs and then share them to social media. Sound familiar? Though the Lightbox team and Facebook alike made it clear that the aquisition was more about working on engaging Facebook mobile users as opposed to maintaining Lightbox as a separate entity. The app was shut down shortly after the acquisition.

American Farm Bureau Federation FB.com

This one's a little strange. Back in February of 2011, Facebook purchased the "FB.com" domain name from the American Farm Bureau Federation so that internal emails could be anchored to Facebook.com. What wasn't made immediately clear was that the purchase price was $8.5 million dollars. That little fun fact was revealed by a not so subtle announcement at the Farm Bureau's annual meeting in Atlanta.

*CORRECTION: Victor Hwang's characterization of Microsoft was transcribed incorrectly. The text has been corrected to reflect his statements accurately. 

Let's give a hand to the X-ray

Wed, 2014-03-26 13:34
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 14:08 ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI/AFP/Getty Images

Professor Gheorghe Burnei, head of the orthopedic department at Marie Curie Children's Hospital, holds X-rays from a patient during a morning visit, in Bucharest, Romania.

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up Thursday:  

  • In Washington, the Labor Department releases its final fourth-quarter gross domestic product report.
  • President Obama continues his spring trip with a visit to Vatican City where he's scheduled to meet with His Holiness Pope Francis.
  • The National Association of Realtors releases its February pending home sales index.
  • And speaking of homes, Graceland, home to Elvis Presley, was declared a national historic landmark eight years ago.
  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee discusses "Strengthening the Federal Student Loan Program for Borrowers."
  • On March 27, 1998, the FDA approved Viagra.
  • Lastly, physicist and Nobel Laureate Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was born on March 27, 1845. While working with electromagnetic radiation he took a picture of his wife's hand revealing her bones. Fortunately, they weren't broken. Voila, the first X-ray!

Marketplace for Wednesday, March 26, 2014by Michelle PhilippePodcast Title: Datebook: Let's give a hand to the X-rayStory Type: BlogSyndication: SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond: No

KBBI is Powered by Active Listeners like You

As we celebrate 35 years of broadcasting, we look ahead to technology improvements and the changing landscape of public radio.

Support the voices, music, information, and ideas that add so much to your life. Renew here or visit KBBI by April 21 to enter to win one round-trip airfare with Era between Homer and Anchorage. Thank you for supporting your local public radio station.

ON THE AIR

FOLLOW US

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com ver.1.4