Marketplace - American Public Media

My money story: Writer Sarah Mirk

Fri, 2014-07-18 10:57

Sarah Mirk is the Editor of Bitch Media and Host of the podcast, Popaganda.

The biggest thing I own is my mattress. Some people have trucks or boats or houses or heirloom chests of drawers or ambitiously large desks or impressive, ill-conceived contemporary art pieces, but the most impressive thing I own just this big, squishy rectangle.

It might not seem like much, but getting this mattress was a major life step for me.  When I first moved to Portland, Oregon six years ago, I was determined to furnish my room through only things I could get for free. This sounds like a bohemian ideal, but factoring into my ethics was the fact I was dang near broke.  It was 2008 and I had just graduated from college. I was working an unpaid internship as a reporter at a newspaper and the headlines were full of lines about bankers fleeing their offices as the economy went into freefall. Personally, the anxiety about not really having a paying job was compounded by the slightly more pressing concern of not really having a bed. So when a roommate offered me his old futon frame and pad from the basement, claiming it was like “sleeping on a cloud,” I gladly took him up on the offer.  That futon turned out to be a cloud made of stabby wooden railroad slats. But it was my accursed futon now, and I was grateful.

I used to talk about this lack of major possessions as a romantic thing: I wouldn’t want to own anything that I couldn’t throw in the back of a van at any moment, because—who knows?—maybe in a month I’d decide to travel through Latin America and change the world. Honestly, though, the truth is that even when I got a job, soon after Obama was inaugurated, I was scared to buy anything remotely nice—like a car or a sofa that didn’t smell like cats.  I know I’m supposed to view large, expensive items as investments. I feel like I’m supposed to go into debt for things because they’ll wind up helping me in the long run. But I came of age in a time when the absurdity of the whole credit system became tragically clear—the people running the economy reminded me of Gene Wilder’s version of Willy Wonka, mysterious men running around, gleefully pulling levels that unleashed sweet rewards on some and chaos on others.

When I was a kid, I remember debt looming over my parents like a silent, gloomy cloud. The day they finally paid off their credit cards, they cut them up in front of me and we ordered pizza to celebrate—they paid with cash. Years later, I spent a week helping teach down sodden houses in Mobile, Alabama, after Hurricane Katrina tore through and flooded whole neighborhoods. I spent days shoveling peoples’ possessions into giant piles in the gutter—sofas, entire moldy bookshelves, water-logged TVs.  Then when I moved to Portland, I often reported from the county courthouse, where every morning there was an auction of foreclosed homes on the front steps of the building.

All signs seemed to point to the conclusion that big possessions—requiring a mortgage and a car payment and a cable bill—would become an anchor, dragging me underwater. I realized, slowly, that I’m not a bohemian free spirit…

I’m a frugal cynic.

Back on that horrible slab of a futon, I toughed out the nights for two years, until my very sweet new boyfriend finally cracked. He told me in no uncertain terms that I either needed an actual mattress or he was never sleeping at my house again.

“But!” I protested, “I can’t just buy a mattress.” Since I’d been getting regular paychecks, I had enough money to buy something better than the filthy heap that haunted my floor. But I was nervous to committing to owning a real, adult thing that I might someday see ruined.   

But he had a point. So I dutifully took the bus to IKEA and walked up the trail to the bedroom section to the gauntlet of modernist bed frames, eyeballing pricetags. Around me, cheerful couples were buying mattresses, joyfully betting on a stable future full of new furniture and reliable middle-class jobs. That’s the IKEA spirit. I felt so out of place that I turned heel and left in defeat.

After another night, gathering my resolve while lying on the wooden planks, I gave it another shot, heading to a family-run mattress store near my house. It was empty when I walked in.  Without the oppressively upbeat surroundings, I actually liked looking at the beds. I flopped on one after another. They were so comfy. It dawned on me that a bed was not a dangerous luxury item that would trap me. This was a bed. Come bull market or bailout, you need a bed. It’s okay to buy simple things that I’ll appreciate for years and years, even if I don’t know what those years will look like.  

I paid $300 for a springy queen size mattress. And I felt good.

 I’ve had that mattress for four years now. At the end of each chaotic day, it’s nice to come home to stable and cozy place.

And besides, worst case scenario, it can always double as a life raft. 

Thor becomes a lady, and other changes at Marvel

Fri, 2014-07-18 09:25

Marvel announced earlier this week some changes to two of their most prominent characters. A woman will pick up Thor’s hammer and Sam Wilson — a black hero currently known as Falcon — will pick up Captain America's shield.

The current Thor will soon become unworthy of Mjolnir. Only a select few can wield the legendary hammer, and whoever picks it up becomes the new Thor. That change and the new Cap both came naturally from their series' respective writers, says Wil Moss, an editor at Marvel. Moss works with Thor writer Jason Aaron.

"It just kind of sprung from where he was taking the character," Moss said. "Thor has a tradition of other people holding the hammer and being Thor for a while."

Marvel has taken other steps to make its pages more diverse in recent years. When Spider-Man died in the company's separate"Ultimate" line, he was replaced with a black Hispanic teenager. The publisher also introduced an all-female "X-Men" comic last year and relaunched the series "Ms. Marvel" in February with a Muslim, Pakistani-American heroine. These shifts have drawn acclaim, but changes to Thor and Captain America might be the most sweeping and visible yet.

Moss says besides the creative reasons for shaking up these characters, these changes make sense as a way to build a new audience for Marvel.  

"It’s just a way to broaden our audience, to make characters that more people would be interested, to reach different groups of people."

This new Thor might look different, but Moss says she'll quickly jump into the same adventures as her predecessor.

"Right off the bat she's going to be fighting Frost Giants," Moss says. "She's getting right into the thick of things."

Who should police FedEx packages?

Fri, 2014-07-18 07:00

The Justice Department is accusing FedEx of shipping packages from illegal online pharmacies in spite of repeated warnings from U.S. drug enforcement officials. 

A Justice Department indictment says FedEx knew it was delivering drugs to dealers and addicts, and continued the deliveries in spite of warnings from the government. 

In a statement, FedEx says it can't police the more than 10 million packages it delivers per day. So, what are FedEx's responsiblities here?

“What you ideally would go for in this case is whoever is buying or selling these illegal drugs, not who’s carrying them,” says David Ross, a global logistics analyst at Stifel Nicolaus who follows FedEx.

Ross says FedEx would lose money if it spent time going through its packages.  

Kent Smith of Ursa Major Associates agrees that FedEx can’t police shipments. Still, he says, FedEx should have a reasonable idea of what it’s transporting. 

“If they’re aware that these companies were in trouble with the law, I think they had an obligation to do something about it,” he says.

The indictment says that instead, after some online drug sites were shut down by the government, FedEx started requiring online pharmacy shippers to be approved by its credit department, but continued delivering packages for them.

PODCAST: Pop up ads that work

Fri, 2014-07-18 03:00

In light of the airline tragedy in Ukraine, a look why there isn't a simple list of no-fly zones over world hot spots. Plus, what cap and trade has to do with acid rain. And finally, most people tend to ignore pop up ads, but a new study looks at what kind of ads perform better than others

Rules of thumb for staying informed

Fri, 2014-07-18 03:00

I used to live with two packed suitcases: One at home, one at the office. Whatever I needed for a week on the road if a big story broke. When I left for the BP oil spill, I didn’t come home for four months.

Breaking news can exhibit a mysterious pull over those of us who do this for a living: the need to see things up close, ask questions, witness scraps of history.

In that life before Marketplace, one of the things I covered was aviation. And so I am sadly riveted to the story of Malaysia Airlines flight 17. Exchanging emails with old sources, looking at debris, and imagining the cruel depths 298 families now find themselves in.

Layered on top of the Israeli military invasion of Gaza, so much tragedy and death can be overwhelming. As a prolific social media consumer, I have to say that this post from the satirical @thetweetofgod felt achingly poignant:

I have lost control of the situation.

— God (@TheTweetOfGod) July 17, 2014

Sometimes, at moments like these, we turn away for our own self-preservation.

I’d like to advocate against that.

We live in a remarkable time for storytelling. News outlets are experimenting with all sorts of ways to do journalism. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so many other services let us experience what other people see, think and hear. There is vitriol out there, sure. But there are opportunities for human connection and empathy.

So here are my rules of thumb for a moment like this:

1)     Trust the pros. Breaking stories move fast, and even the best news coverage is never perfect. But professional journalists will do their best to verify, distill, and double check.

2)     Never forget the watching witness. Abraham Zapruder captured perhaps the very first iconic piece of “crowd-sourced” video. A bystander or someone with a cell phone may witness history (I trust services like storyful.com to verify social content).

3)     Remember to be human. Take a moment to learn about those passengers. Each one was loved by someone – probably many someones. Every person on board changed lives, and indeed, at least one altered history.

Silicon Tally: The coolest cooler

Fri, 2014-07-18 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? This week we're joined by Julia Turner, recently named editor-in-chief of Slate.com. var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "silicon-tally-coolest-cooler", placeholder: "pd_1405680647" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Keeping teachers in the classroom

Fri, 2014-07-18 02:00

Each year, nearly half a million teachers switch schools or leave the profession altogether. Eric Soule, who landed his first full-time job at a charter school in Riverside, California, in 2013, spent years as a substitute teacher in public schools.

"It really seemed like the school districts were stringing me along," Soule said. "[They said] 'Oh, at the end of the year we can hire you on.' And that happened year after year."

Ellen Moir, CEO of the New Teacher Center, says young teachers, in particular, frequently leave fast.

"Mostly they're getting placed in urban districts or rural America, in some of the toughest schools and some of the most under-served communities," Moir said. "And they are given a sink or swim method."

Many of them swim in the same direction.

"Typically the path is toward higher-wealth, whiter districts, where students can predicatably perform better," said Susan Moore Johnson a Research Professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

Moore says her research shows that a school's culture plays a huge role. It also indicates that teachers will stay in schools where they have good leadership and feel supported.

Pop up ads lack impact

Fri, 2014-07-18 02:00

Most of the mobile display ads that pop-up on our phones don’t mean a thing -- We ignore them and keep on tapping and swiping. But a study out of Columbia Business School sheds light on what consumers pay attention to in this booming mobile advertising industry.

Miklos Sarvary, the report's co-author, directs the Media Program at Columbia Business School. He says if advertisers want mobile users to think twice about their ads, they should offer up useful items.

“These would be products like cars, or refrigerators, or lawn mowers, so pretty high ticket items, generally,” says Sarvary.   

He says important purchases get more attention than pop ups for pleasure items like movie tickets and jewelry.  

“What happens is that when a little ad like that pops up, it kind of makes you think about the decision again,” he says. “So, it reminds you of the information you already store in your mind.”

Jim Davidson is Director of Research at Bronto Software, which connects retailers with customers on mobile devices.

“Mobile really encompasses a lot of different technologies in a lot of ways that folks shop, and it’s really up to marketers to find the best way to have that conversation,” Davidson says.

Sarvary’s report shows nearly $17 billion was spent on mobile advertising last year, a figure that is expected to quadruple by 2017.

 

Acid rain: What made Cap and Trade work

Thu, 2014-07-17 23:12

Our series "We Used to Be China," continues with stories about our country confronting the environmental challenges that now bedevil China. Problems like… acid rain. It was the environmental crisis of the '80s, but a new Clean Air Act in 1990 greatly reduced the pollutants causing acid rain. It did so with something we now call Cap and Trade…setting a maximum level of pollutants and then letting industry decide how to get there.

Listen above for more.

In gaming, a famous face can cost you

Thu, 2014-07-17 16:11

(Warning: some of the clips below contain strong violence and language.)

Panama's former military dictator Manuel Noriega filed suit against the makers of "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" Tuesday.

Noriega says the blockbuster game uses his likeness without permission and then portrays him as "a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state." In the game, Noriega at first helps, but then eventually betrays the player. In real life, Noriega was an American ally before he was ousted by the U.S. invasion of Panama and landed in prison.

This isn't the first time the Call of Duty series has given a fictionalized take on historical figures. An earlier title let players battle zombies as Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Robert McNamara.

Noriega is seeking damages and lost profits, but does he have a case? Game developers have been sued for using the likenesses of public figures before, here's a look back:

Lindsay Lohan and Grand Theft Auto

Another notable person who has seen better days sued a video game company this month. Lindsay Lohan is claiming a minor character in Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto V" is based on her. The character, Lacey Jonas, is a young, blonde starlet whom the player must help escape from paparazzi.

 The suit claims Rockstar used Lohan's likeness, even in regards to the clothes Jonas wears. The Grand Theft Auto series is known for its biting satire of real-life people, brands and locations (the entire game takes place in a fictionalized version of Los Angeles), and Jonas is certainly spoofing a certain kind of actress.

But it's not clear why Lohan would assume a character this vapid and self-absorbed was a represention of her. Forbes consulted an expert, who was split on the suit's chances.

Athletes and EA Sports

In a landmark settlement, EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company officially agreed in May to pay $40 million dollars to a consortium of former college athletes, leaving the NCAA alone in a class action lawsuit over their likenesses dating back to 2009.

EA's annual NCAA football and basketball video games are hugely profitable for the publisher and the NCAA, while individual players are strictly forbidden from making money from their student athletic pursuits. The in-game athletes aren't named, but the plaintiffs argued — and settlement documents showed — that EA modeled the player avatars after real athletes in virtually every way, including age, number, hometown, position, abilities, appearance and so on. The New York Times posted a detailed comparison when the suit was filed.

Everyone and Guitar Hero
“Guitar Hero,” with its miniature instrument controller and inflated price tag, was a surprisingly durable fad through the late 2000s. It spawned sequels, spin-offs and a rival series, “Rock Band” (which added a tiny plastic drum kit).

Both series were in an arms race for the rights to legendary bands’ catalogs and likenesses. Guitar Hero got Van Halen, Aerosmith, Metallica and Jimi Hendrix. Rock Band nabbed Green Day, AC/DC and — in a major coup — the Beatles.

But not every artist was happy with the way they ended up on screen. Courtney Love granted the rights to the late Kurt Cobain’s likeness, but as it turned out players could have the digital Kurt sing more than just Nirvana songs. The result is pretty uncomfortable to watch.

The surviving members of Nirvana expressed disappointment and a furious Love vowed to sue Guitar Hero publisher Activision. No Doubt and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine had a similar gripe over the way their likenesses were used in series spin-off “Band Hero,” and sued Activision for damages.

Axl Rose joined legal dogpile too, over “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.” Rose licensed Guns N' Roses' “Welcome to the Jungle,” but objected to the very prominent inclusion of his former bandmate/worst enemy Slash. Claiming breach of contract, Rose sued for $20 million

Guitar Hero was cash cow, pulling in billions for Activision, but it was outlived by these lawsuits. No Doubt settled for an undisclosed amount in 2012 and Rose’s case was dismissed last year.

Gate Five and Beyonce

This case flipped the script, with a video game developer suing a celebrity to try and use her likeness. Gate Five sued Beyoncé for $100 million, claiming she backed out of a deal to create a dance game called "Starpower: Beyoncé" when her demands for compensation weren't met, which they said cost 70 jobs and massive potential profits.

Beyoncé's people requested the case to be dismissed, but they were denied twice. Gate Five then alleged Bey was courting a better deal from a different developer, and requested more documents. The two parties eventually settled out of court.

In gaming, a famous face can cost you

Thu, 2014-07-17 16:11

(Warning: some of the clips below contain strong violence and language.)

Panama's former military dictator Manuel Noriega filed suit against the makers of "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" Tuesday.

Noriega says the blockbuster game uses his likeness without permission and then portrays him as "a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state." In the game, Noriega at first helps, but then eventually betrays the player. In real life, Noriega was an American ally before he was ousted by the U.S. invasion of Panama and landed in prison.

This isn't the first time the Call of Duty series has given a fictionalized take on historical figures. The first game let players battle zombies as Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Robert McNamara.

Noriega is seeking damages and lost profits, but does he have a case? Game developers have been sued for using the likenesses of public figures before, here's a look back:

Lindsay Lohan and Grand Theft Auto

Another notable person who has seen better days sued a video game company this month. Lindsay Lohan is claiming a minor character in Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto V" is based on her. The character, Lacey Jonas, is a young, blonde starlet whom the player must help escape from paparazzi.

 The suit claims Rockstar used Lohan's likeness, even in regards to the clothes Jonas wears. The Grand Theft Auto series is known for its biting satire of real-life people, brands and locations (the entire game takes place in a fictionalized version of Los Angeles), and Jonas is certainly spoofing a certain kind of actress.

But it's not clear why Lohan would assume a character this vapid and self-absorbed was a represention of her. Forbes consulted an expert, who was split on the suit's chances.

Athletes and EA Sports

In a landmark settlement, EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company officially agreed in May to pay $40 million dollars to a consortium of former college athletes, leaving the NCAA alone in a class action lawsuit over their likenesses dating back to 2009.

EA's annual NCAA football and basketball video games are hugely profitable for the publisher and the NCAA, while individual players are strictly forbidden from making money from their student athletic pursuits. The in-game athletes aren't named, but the plaintiffs argued — and settlement documents showed — that EA modeled the player avatars after real athletes in virtually every way, including age, number, hometown, position, abilities, appearance and so on. The New York Times posted a detailed comparison when the suit was filed.

Everyone and Guitar Hero
“Guitar Hero,” with its miniature instrument controller and inflated price tag, was a surprisingly durable fad through the late 2000s. It spawned sequels, spin-offs and a rival series, “Rock Band” (which added a tiny plastic drum kit).

Both series were in an arms race for the rights to legendary bands’ catalogs and likenesses. Guitar Hero got Van Halen, Aerosmith, Metallica and Jimi Hendrix. Rock Band nabbed Green Day, AC/DC and — in a major coup — the Beatles.

But not every artist was happy with the way they ended up on screen. Courtney Love granted the rights to the late Kurt Cobain’s likeness, but as it turned out players could have the digital Kurt sing more than just Nirvana songs. The result is pretty uncomfortable to watch.

The surviving members of Nirvana expressed disappointment and a furious Love vowed to sue Guitar Hero publisher Activision. No Doubt and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine had a similar gripe over the way their likenesses were used in series spin-off “Band Hero,” and sued Activision for damages.

Axl Rose joined legal dogpile too, over “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.” Rose licensed Guns N' Roses' “Welcome to the Jungle,” but objected to the very prominent inclusion of his former bandmate/worst enemy Slash. Claiming breach of contract, Rose sued for $20 million

Guitar Hero was cash cow, pulling in billions for Activision, but it was outlived by these lawsuits. No Doubt settled for an undisclosed amount in 2012 and Rose’s case was dismissed last year.

Gate Five and Beyonce

This case flipped the script, with a video game developer suing a celebrity to try and use her likeness. Gate Five sued Beyoncé for $100 million, claiming she backed out of a deal to create a dance game called "Starpower: Beyoncé" when her demands for compensation weren't met, which they said cost 70 jobs and massive potential profits.

Beyoncé's people requested the case to be dismissed, but they were denied twice. Gate Five then alleged Bey was courting a better deal from a different developer, and requested more documents. The two parties eventually settled out of court.

Yes, Facebook is sucking your soul

Thu, 2014-07-17 13:44

Once again, social science has done what it so often does: Proven that which we already knew deep in our souls.

In this case, it's that Facebook is bad for us.

In the June edition of the journal Computers in Human Behavior actual peer reviewed studies proved that thesis.

The first showed that the longer people are on Facebook, the worse the mood they were in afterward.

The second showed that that's in part because being on Facebook leaves people with a feeling - and this is a quote - "of not having done anything meaningful."

'Bad' housing numbers might reflect good news

Thu, 2014-07-17 13:44

The Census Bureau's new monthly report on housing starts shows they were down in June —  by more than 9 percent. Headlines asked, "where's that housing recovery?" But it's a big country, and housing trends vary a lot from place to place. That was especially true with these numbers: Housing starts actually rose in most of the country — except in the South, where they fell hard.

Experts weren’t sure why. “I think some of us are still scratching our heads over what this really means,” says Dave Ellis, executive vice president of the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association.

He offers one possible reason: Building lots are harder to come by than they were in the wake of the financial crisis. For a while, banks had a big supply of land that had been poised for development. “The lots were pretty much ready to go,” says Ellis. “Now, in most markets, those lots have gotten pretty much worked through, and they’re beginning to develop land again.”

That’s in line with observations from Brad Hunter, chief economist for the housing-market research company Metrostudy. He thinks North Carolina’s harsh winter got in the way of development: the work that needs to happen before home construction in a new subdivision. “You have to create the backbone of the subdivision, pave in the roads, put in the electric and water— all that infrastructure,” he says. “So that is what really got slowed down in the winter.”

David Crowe, chief economist for the National Association of Homebuilders, thinks the big issue is a shortage of labor, more than land. He talked with homebuilders in Texas and Oklahoma, where the energy industries— oil and gas— are taking every available worker. “They were just having an awful time getting labor,” says Crowe. “Texas is a big state anyway, and so movements for that state would affect totals for the whole South.”

So, bad news — fewer housing starts— sounds like good news from another perspective: lots of jobs.

Streaming books on Amazon?

Thu, 2014-07-17 11:44

Heads up e-book readers: if you were fast enough yesterday you may have seen that Amazon is preparing to launch an e-book subscription service. Maybe. A page on its website was put up, and then taken down again, very quickly. The service, called  “Kindle Unlimited,” would give subscribers access to 600,000 books for $10 a month. 

There’s nothing new about a book subscription service (remember Book of the Month club?), but Dan Cryan, Senior Director of Digital Media with IHS, points out that the subscription model has gotten popular again.

“There has a been a rush of subscription commerce items covering everything from dollar shave club, offering cheap razors, through to subscription underwear,” he says.

Scribd and Oyster, both e-book subscription services representing the interest in the digital book sector. Eric Stromberg, CEO and Co-Founder of Oyster, says since the company's launch last September, it has "continuously brought in more revenue from paying subscribers" than it's paid out each month.

But Cryan says it's unclear how well a subscription service can scale. "It's safe to say," he notes, "that neither Scribd nor Oyster, has set the world on fire." After all, while subscription services can work well, they're only practical for some products and some consumers.

“Certain products like diapers, there’s obviously a high quantity of demand needed on a very regular basis. For other goods it’s less clear that you need new items, quite so regularly,” says Cryan.

Scribd says its deals with publishers mostly make older titles available, but many readers want the newest ones. Jim Milliot, Editorial Director of Publishers Weekly, says that’s exactly why publishers are reluctant to give subscribers access to their newest releases.

“Instead of going out and buying the new John Grisham, maybe they would wait for it to come up as part of a subscription service," he says.

From the publisher's perspective, Milliot says, if customers are paying $9.99 "for the all-you-can-eat type of thing, instead of $15 for the new John Grisham, you’re losing out."

And there’s a plot twist.

"This doesn’t have anything to do with ebooks," says Michael Norris, an independent consultant to the media industry. “Everything a company like Amazon does has to do with making their close customers even closer.”

Norris notes that Amazon doesn’t have to sell books to stay alive. A subscription service just means another reason consumers would have to stick around its website – and hopefully spend more money.

A collection of items you told us you cannot live without (or at least have to have, once a month)

Of borders and businesses: moving forward in Murrieta

Thu, 2014-07-17 10:18

If you look online for "Murrieta, California" this is what you find: footage of demonstrators and counter-demonstrators chanting, waving American flags, and in at least one case, people spitting on each other. 

But if you go to Murrieta, you also see a supportive business community that turns out for events like the ribbon cutting at a new family-owned Mexican restaurant, Mariscos Las Palmas.

Ribbon cutting at Mariscos Las Palmas on July 11, 2014 in Murrieta, California.

Lindsay Foster Thomas

About 30 business owners from the Murrieta Chamber of Commerce feast on ceviche and tostadas in the restaurant's parking lot. Efrain Buenrostro Barrajas, the owner, won't talk about the demonstrations. That's because it's an emotional issue in Murrietta, explains his son, Norbert Buenrostro.

"He just doesn't want to send the wrong message to people, to customers, thinking he's for it or against it. He is an immigrant, but we choose not to talk about it because it's so sensitive," says Buenrostro.

That's the attitude of many business owners here: Stay out of the fray and promote a positive image of the city.

But economist John Husing, who studies the region where Murrieta is located, says he's hearing something else from area business owners behind closed doors.

"They are looking at this as an absolute embarrassment for Murrieta. The best statement I heard made is: 'You really don't want to be in a place where people are spitting on each other.' This was not good for business," Husing says.

Murrieta is a relatively affluent city of just over 100,000 people. The Chamber of Commerce is aggressively trying to attract new jobs. Chamber President Patrick Ellis says, "It's always a concern when something happens that paints a black eye on the city. And you have to do the best you can to get through it."

Eleven days after the protests started, only a handful of people are left sitting under tarps outside the Border Patrol Station.  They have signs that say "Congress, Secure The Border" and "Immigrate Legally."

Demonstrators in Murrieta on July 11, 2014 across from the Border Patrol station

Lindsay Foster Thomas

John Henry, who is so keen to prove he's from Murrieta that he displays his driver's licence, says he is there because he is worried about immigrants.

"I'm out here today to show support for the border patrol guys and to also let the federal government know that we're not going to let them use our small town as a refugee camp. And that they're treating these people incorrectly," says Henry.  "They need to be brought to a facility that can properly help them. The facility here only holds 25 people, and they're putting 140 people into that area."

Henry thinks the message of what he calls "the rallies," has been distorted. He says things turned ugly in early July, thanks to outsiders coming in town. He's sympathetic to business owners' concerns, but he has his own economic worries.

Demonstrator John Henry speaks with Marketplace reporter Noel King

Lindsay Foster Thomas

"The majority of the people in this area - if you look at the demographics - that are unemployed are white males, ages 18 to 32," Henry says, describing the demographic category he falls into.  "Finding work around here is very hard. Especially when we have thousands of people migrating through this area."

For now, the buses have stopped coming in to the city. But immigration protests have sprung up in places like Oracle, Arizona, another town that may have to start thinking about its reputation.

For more on Murrieta’s business climate, visit the Wealth & Poverty desk blog on Medium: http://ow.ly/zi9v5.

Acid rain: what it takes to stop pollution

Thu, 2014-07-17 09:55

Sue Capone was a young biologist in 1984 when, amid a growing environmental crisis, she started work at the Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation in upstate New York. The corporation had recently been formed to study how seriously acid rain was affecting sensitive lakes and ponds in the mountains. It was her job to measure just how bad things were.

Capone found many lakes were crystal clear. They were beautiful to look at, but a sign that things were very wrong: Acid rain had killed just about anything living in the water, including the fish.

For 30 years now, Capone has been driving, hiking, and flying to dozens of mountain lakes to collect vials of water to take back to the lab for analysis. And she's surprised at how fast things have turned around. "Some of the classic, clear waters from the acid days are starting to look more cloudy," she says. "That's a very good sign."

pH levels, a measure of acidity, are improving. Now, when the state stocks fish in many lakes, they survive, and even thrive, to the joy of fishermen who found the 1970s and '80s depressing. It's a remarkable turnaround in since acid rain's discovery in the U.S. by a young professor at Dartmouth College named Gene Likens, just a half century ago.

"It was a great surprise," Likens said. "It was one of those 'a ha!' moments."

At the time, Likens and his colleagues were beginning a project to measure the health of a New Hampshire forest. It was like taking the vital signs of a patient, trying to get a baseline of health. Then, it rained, and he was shocked to find the rainfall's acidity was closer to vinegar than pure water.

"We didn't know how acid rain should be," he says. "We certainly weren't thinking about acid rain."

This was about to become his life's work. It would be nearly another decade before he would help popularize the term "acid rain" in his first academic paper. There was a lot of work to be done first.

Foremost, he had to figure out rain's normal pH levels. This was no easy task. He and some colleagues traveled to some of the most remote places on Earth, like the southern tips of South America and Africa, to measure rain as unadulterated by human activity as possible.

Their hunch was right. The rain falling in New Hampshire was way too acidic, and was well on its way to killing forests and lakes. He had another hunch: coal-powered power plants in the Midwest were the culprit, but he would need solid proof. Utility owners were skeptical.

Electric companies would tell him, "No, it's not going up my smokestack! No! What went up my smokestack didn't come down on your forest in New Hampshire," he said.

His team's first attempt at proving a connection between power plant emissions and acid rain was simultaneously rudimentary and ambitious. They'd follow smokestack plumes in small planes to see where they ended up. Before long, they developed more sophisticated tracer chemicals that proved the hypothesis.

Coal-fired power plants in the Midwest were emitting millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere. The pollutants then blew east, falling as acid rain on the ecosystems of states like New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.

With the evidence in by 1972, Likens was ready to tell the world in his first academic paper on the subject.

"We thought long and hard about what the title should be," he says. In the end, they went with "Acid rain," which turned out to be a brilliant label. It clicked with the public.

"The idea that you could sing in the rain, walk in the rain, and then the rain was acid, really grabbed people," he said. "It had that impact. Branding, if you will."

A couple of years later, with another paper on the way, acid rain was now big news, featured on the front page of major newspapers. Likens became a celebrity among his peers.

"I had phone calls from literally all over the world. Scientists saying, 'What is going on? What is all this about?'"

Hundreds then joined the research effort, and by the 1980s, acid rain was a mainstream issue. Schoolchildren wrote papers about it. The PBS series NOVA devoted an hour to the crisis. It was the environmental crisis du jour, even ending up in "Captain Planet," the kids' cartoon.

Despite the public awareness, acid rain also felt intractable. Even with mounting evidence, politicians procrastinated by ordering more studies. And, even if there had been political will to solve acid rain, there was no guarantee that environmentalists and industry could get on the same page.

That was the state of affairs until the 1988 election, which placed in power politicians with serious interest in doing something about acid rain.

"It was like all the planets aligning," said Brian McLean, then with the Environmental Protection Agency. He was one player in a surprising group who worked together to get a new Clean Air Act proposed, written and enacted in mere months.

"The political, the interest groups, industry, environmentalists, and particularly political leadership coming together at an unusual time," McLean said.

The first big thing that happened: George H.W. Bush became president. Much more than his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, Bush wanted to prove a Republican leader could be serious about the environment. He ran on the issue.

At the same time, there was a big shift among Democrats. George Mitchell, a Democrat from Maine, replaced Robert Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, as majority leader. In that era, environmental politics was much more divided by geography than party. Maine was a victim of acid rain, caused in part by West Virginia coal.

So, with new politicians in charge, Boyden Gray on Bush's transition team called a meeting at the White House. Among those there was Dan Dudek of the Environmental Defense Fund. He was also an economist.

President Bush, Dudek said, "wanted to make good on his promise of being the environmental president. We said 'Hey! solve the acid rain problem! That will certainly quiet the critics.'"

Gray tells the story a little differently. "Well, we were already focused on acid rain, so I don't know if they tipped the balance on that," he said.

Either way, the environmental crisis was now a top priority.

Dudek had an idea he thought might just bring together Republicans and Democrats, environmentalists and industry. He pitched it to Gray at that meeting.

"You can do it in a novel way," Dudek said. "Set up a market."

Gray said it was that idea, a market approach, that "broke the logjam." Here, an environmental group was behind the kind of idea a Republican could get behind.

The idea was this: The government sets a limit on the amount of sulfur dioxide that can be released in a year. Power companies are told how much they can emit. It's up to them to decide how to get to those lower levels—maybe install scrubbers or switch to a a different kind of coal. If they cut more than their allowance, they could sell the excess to a power company struggling to meet its limit. It became known as: cap and trade.

It wasn't the kind of idea power companies were used to hearing from government. Gary Hart was with the big utility Southern Company at the time, and he first heard about it at a coal conference.

"And, I kind of casually walked over to the office after the conference and said, guys, you won't believe what I just heard," Hart recalled.

Southern Company, like many utilities, was initially fiercely opposed. It was fear of the unknown, he said.

But behind the scenes, Hart and his team watched the bills' drafts closely, calculating how much each would cost the company.

Meanwhile, Brian McLean at EPA was writing the White House's plan as fast as possible.

"That's all I did for five or six months, day and night, we worked on these things," McLean remembered. "We got it up there. I remember the first day we were outside and there was sun. I hadn't seen the sun in that many months."

It was July 1989. President Bush gathered members of Congress to the Rose Garden to unveil his proposed new Clean Air Act. By 1990, it was law.

And, it worked, better than even many supporters predicted. Some companies overcorrected so they could make money selling allowances. Emissions fell faster and more cheaply than planned.

The act called for emissions to be reduced by half. But today, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions are down more than 70 percent.

In the end, the program won over environmentalists who thought it was too lenient on industry, and an industry that expected it to be expensive.

And, Gary Hart said, it worked partly because all the sides more or less got along.

"People who you thought would be natural enemies like Southern Company and EPA, we were working together because we wanted it to work," he said.

That's not to say acid rain is completely solved. Forest ecosystems will take far longer to recover than lakes.

But with years of improvement, Karen Roy, the head of the Adirondack Long Term Monitoring Program, is thinking of scaling back the collection of lake samples. A basement conference room was nicknamed "the war room" in the 1980s. A map of the region still covers one wall, with pins in the lakes the team has analyzed the past three decades. Some of the pins have fallen out as the crisis abated.

"Would I have predicted we could have turned this around as a nation? No, I would not," Roy says. "Too many other things seemed to get in the way."

How companies like Microsoft should handle mass layoffs

Thu, 2014-07-17 09:43

Over the next year, Microsoft says it will be cutting up to 18,000 jobs, the biggest job cuts in the company’s history. The cuts are the result of the corporation re-aligning itself after it acquired Nokia in April.

Mass layoffs are very hard on workers, even the ones who are spared, but there are right ways and wrong ways to manage the process. We asked Sara Grant, adjunct associate professor at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU and Robert Sutton, professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and author of the book, "Scaling up Excellence," for some thoughts.

Here are their suggestions about what managers and companies should do:

Set clear boundaries.

Companies need to be clear about how many jobs are getting cut, when people will know and how they will know. Rumors run rampant in times of uncertainty and it's important for companies to get out in front of the panic as much as they can. It's essential that companies honor these timetables, if they don't, there can be a feeling that the layoffs are never-ending.

Answer the question, "Why?"

Companies need to explain why the layoffs are happening and try to help people make sense of the situation.

Give people some control over the process.

Employees need to have some kind of say in the process and feel like their voices are being heard. Voluntary buyouts are one way to achieve this.

Treat departing workers with respect.

This is crucial. People in management needs to be in the office physically when layoffs are happening. They should be compassionate and present Hiding in their office during this time is not a good idea.

Provide laid off workers with support.

Companies should provide résumé help, wih other advice and support to employees who are leaving. Most importantly, they need to give workers a fair severance package.

Listen to dissenters.

There's often a temptation for companies to punish people who speak out during times of turmoil, but those conversations should be encouraged. Employees need to feel like they're part of the process.

Let people mourn.

Workers are saying goodbye to friends, lunch buddies and supervisors. They're often taking on more work. Be sensitive that the workers who stay will have mixed emotions and need support and time to process a big layoff.

Provide a clear vision for the future.

Employees need to feel like the company has direction. Do this by providing a clear vision to workers about where they are headed and where the company itself is headed.

Would a Marketplace by any other name smell as sweet?

Thu, 2014-07-17 09:09

Retailers spend a lot of time thinking about what the shopping experience is like for customers, and how that reflects on the store’s brand. They think about the signature decor of the store, they think about lighting and they think about overhead music –and they think about the store’s scent. In fact, scent is something they’ve thought long and hard about.

“If [retailers] don’t connect and make it a comfortable, welcoming place to shop, and to spend their money, consumers will go somewhere else” says Andy Kindfuller, CEO of ScentAir. His company creates signature scents based on what he calls “brand attributes.”

Kindfuller is adamant that these aren’t perfumes. Their scents are dispersed through a space with the company’s equipment. They’ve worked with medical waiting rooms where the goal was to create a calming atmosphere, with a hotel whose lobby now subtly smells like cookies and tea, and a sport stadium that smells, as Kindfuller says, “like victory.”

ScentAir works closely with their client’s marketing team as they devise a scent. When it comes to actually creating the fragrance, Kindfuller says it really does boil down to a team of folks in a room with a whiteboard.

“The perfumers that we use, use up to 10,000 different ingredients... what’s amazing is they can identify those 10,000 just by smell and so we will often create a fragrance that can have several hundred different notes.”

Kindfuller and his team even made a scent for Marketplace. We've been having our staff try them out today.

 

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal:

 

Marketplace reporter Krissy Clark:

 

Marketplace reporter David Weinberg:

<a href="http://marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/what-does-business-smell-like">View Survey</a>

Would a Marketplace by any other name smell as sweet?

Thu, 2014-07-17 09:09

Retailers spend a lot of time thinking about what the shopping experience is like for customers, and how that reflects on the store’s brand. They think about the signature decor of the store, they think about lighting and they think about overhead music –and they think about the store’s scent. In fact, scent is something they’ve thought long and hard about.

“If [retailers] don’t connect and make it a comfortable, welcoming place to shop, and to spend their money, consumers will go somewhere else” says Andy Kindfuller, CEO of ScentAir. His company creates signature scents based on what he calls “brand attributes.”

Kindfuller is adamant that these aren’t perfumes. Their scents are dispersed through a space with the company’s equipment. They’ve worked with medical waiting rooms where the goal was to create a calming atmosphere, with a hotel whose lobby now subtly smells like cookies and tea, and a sport stadium that smells, as Kindfuller says, “like victory.”

ScentAir works closely with their client’s marketing team as they devise a scent. When it comes to actually creating the fragrance, Kindfuller says it really does boil down to a team of folks in a room with a whiteboard.

“The perfumers that we use, use up to 10,000 different ingredients... what’s amazing is they can identify those 10,000 just by smell and so we will often create a fragrance that can have several hundred different notes.”

Kindfuller and his team even made a scent for Marketplace. We're having our staff try them out today.

 

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