Marketplace - American Public Media

Obama seeks expanded overtime pay

Wed, 2014-03-12 06:44

The White House wants to make more Americans eligible for overtime pay. Currently, because of what is referred to as the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “white collar exemption,” many salaried professionals are not entitled to extra pay if they work more than 40 hours per week.

Later this week, the president intends to use his executive authority to change those rules. For 2014, which he is calling a “year of action,” he has promised to pursue policy changes that do not involve congress.

So whom would this change affect? “People who are defined as ‘supervisors,’” says Gary Burtless, an economist at The Brookings Institution. “They have responsibility over other people besides themselves, a certain amount of independence.”

The economic recovery, Burtless argues, “has been better for profits than wages.” “The government is trying to put its thumb on the scale, helping workers,” he says.

Economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow with the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has pushed for this change for more than a decade, since President George W. Bush expanded the exemption in 2004: 

“We’re talking about millions of workers who would be newly eligible for overtime pay,” he says.

Critics argue changing the exemption would make it harder for businesses to hire new employees, and it could motivate them to trim their payrolls. In the long run, employers could simply reduce a white-collar supervisor’s base pay, so there would be no difference to his overall salary.

Bill Kilberg, a partner with the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, says he “doesn’t know if it is a good idea.” Kilberg suspects the courts will be asked to decide whether or not a rule change would be constitutional. “They can give it deference or not give it deference.”

Obama seeks expanded overtime pay for 'millions'

Wed, 2014-03-12 06:44

The White House wants to make more Americans eligible for overtime pay. Currently, because of what is referred to as the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “white collar exemption,” many salaried professionals are not entitled to extra pay if they work more than 40 hours per week.

Later this week, the president intends to use his executive authority to change those rules. For 2014, which he is calling a “year of action,” he has promised to pursue policy changes that do not involve congress.

So whom would this change affect? “People who are defined as ‘supervisors,’” says Gary Burtless, an economist at The Brookings Institution. “They have responsibility over other people besides themselves, a certain amount of independence.”

The economic recovery, Burtless argues, “has been better for profits than wages.” “The government is trying to put its thumb on the scale, helping workers,” he says.

Economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow with the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has pushed for this change for more than a decade, since President George W. Bush expanded the exemption in 2004: 

“We’re talking about millions of workers who would be newly eligible for overtime pay,” he says.

Critics argue changing the exemption would make it harder for businesses to hire new employees, and it could motivate them to trim their payrolls. In the long run, employers could simply reduce a white-collar supervisor’s base pay, so there would be no difference to his overall salary.

Bill Kilberg, a partner with the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, says he “doesn’t know if it is a good idea.” Kilberg suspects the courts will be asked to decide whether or not a rule change would be constitutional. “They can give it deference or not give it deference.”

How El Niño will impact global food prices

Wed, 2014-03-12 00:58

Climatologists in the U.S. and elsewhere are starting to predict a likely El Niño weather pattern in the coming year. That’s when changes in the temperature on the ocean surface in one part of the world create all kinds of unusual weather in lots of other places: rains in Florida, droughts in Australia. What might that mean for global food prices?  

"Wait and see," says Scott Shellady, a commodities trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, an executive with Trean Group—and a farmer, growing corn and beans. At this point El Niño’s still a maybe. There’s other, for-sure stuff to factor for farmers to factor in right now, he says—like the prices of seed, fuel and fertilizer. "As much as El Niño gets talked about, if they put it in their business plan, they’ll probably be less profitable," Shellady notes. 

From Shellady’s commodities-trader chair, other events are more compelling. For instance, have you heard about this disease that gives piglets diarrhea? Awful.  And it’s raising the price of pork

El Niño effects are different everywhere—more rain in California, less in India—so the effects on crops vary a lot. Commodities markets smooth out some of the bumps—but not for everyone. Purdue University economist Nelson Villoria says in some places — for instance, parts of Africa — El Niño can mean prices double for staples like rice and corn. That’s because not all countries get their food on big global markets.

"Bangladesh gets rice from India," he says. "It doesn’t matter that rice in Uruguay or Argentina is growing strongly. Bangladesh really cares about what’s happening in India."

GIF: The sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.El Niño is characterized by warm temperatures, which you can see appearing in red regions:


NOAA

Here is NOAA's official description of an El Niño and La Niña: "Sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean (above). El Niño is characterized by unusually warm temperatures and La Niña by unusually cool temperatures in the equatorial Pacific." 

Pimps use technology, too

Wed, 2014-03-12 00:03

It’s hard enough measuring the mainstream economy. A new report from the Urban Institute has attempted to quantify the underground commercial sex economy. Researchers say in 2007 it was worth about $975 million, in just in seven U.S. cities.

Curious about the business expenses of pimps? Check out their online feature for further insight.

The Institute reports that pimps most often recruit sex workers from their own social circles. But the Internet is changing business. Bill Woolf is a detective with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia. He says most scouting and recruitment of victims by traffickers is now done online.

“Whether it’s through social media, other chat lines, through false advertisements for employment online, things of that nature,” Woolf says. “But the majority is now done online.”

The Web's 25th birthday suit is embeddable

Tue, 2014-03-11 21:42

On March 12, the World Wide Web turns 25. In 1989, Tim Berners Lee wrote a paper at the European physics lab called CERN, about a way to help linked computers share their sets of data with the public.

Twenty five years later, that idea has let an ever-expanding universe of all kinds of devices share information. But those devices are going far beyond just sets of computers. One modern example is wearable devices, which are delivering data to us and collecting it from us with help from the Web. Wearables are having their moment right now. The Fitbit fitness tracker, Nike's Fuelband--these wearables use the Web to collect and deliver all the information we need to become fitter, happier, and more productive.

Some attendees at SXSW Interactive have already moved beyond wearables though, and are on to embeddables. What are embeddables? "Nanoscale machinery inside our bodies," says Andy Goodman, "which can monitor us and modify us." Goodman spoke about embeddables at SXSW, saying in the near future we could have everything from sensors that tweaked our home brewed coffee to our personal taste, to LEDs in our hair that would display our status updates or even ads. 

But there's a problem with embeddables: they present yet another data risk. Nicole Ozer is manning a quiet booth at the conference in Austin, as the tech policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union. And she's not just worried about how wearables (and someday embeddables) are collecting our data. She's worried about how the companies making this technology manage that data. "A lot of companies take the mindset of 'let's collect as much data as we can, says Ozer. "Let's retain it as long as possible. And let's have as much discression about how we use it." If companies are keeping the data around, she says the government or another third party could demand it, steal it, or just snatch it up because it's there. 

Ozer says another wrinkle is that users aren't as aware of data collection without sitting in front of a screen, so wearables and embeddables present an extra challenge about awareness. Out of sight, out of mind. A good example of this is the issue Fitbit users had with the dropdown menu on their sexual activity--which got posted inadvertantly in some google results. Now imagine that bit of tech being actually IN your body. Could an overreaching goverment charge you for eating a donut? 

If some of this stuff sounds far out, it may be. It may be a while before a sensor in our mouth makes sure we get the perfect-tasting coffee. Maybe never. But the LED hairdo might not be as far off. Researchers at the University of Washington made a new kind of LED this week. It's small. How small? Just three atoms thick.

 

Our national menswear nightmare is over

Tue, 2014-03-11 16:48

Our long national menswear nightmare is over.

The back and forth between Mens Warehouse and Jos. A Bank has finally come to a close. After months of 'We're gonna buy you!" and "No we're gonna buy you!" the thing ends like this:

Men's Wearhouse is going to pay $1.8 billion for its smaller (but, if I may say, classier) competitor. 

Also: I'm still not Audie Cornish.

Big shot directors are making indie films for Prada

Tue, 2014-03-11 14:47

Lauren Wolkstein has her eyes glued to YouTube, watching the latest Wes Anderson movie. She gives a startled laugh as Jason Schwartzman's character's car crashes into a wall.

This seven minute film is not for theaters. It's for Prada, the fashion label.

“This is actually very entertaining,” Wolkstein says. She's an indie film director herself. She's had three films at Sundance. And like Wes Anderson, she's also made a short film for a fashion label, Gucci.

In fact, just about every major fashion house now has a short indie film. Prada commissioned Wes Anderson. Yves Saint Laurent used Darren Aronofsky. Dior got Sofia Coppola to make its movies.

Which begs the question: Why are these famous directors selling out? 

“To me,” Wolkstein says of her experience working for Gucci, “it was like, 'Oh, I don't have to worry about dressing the actors, I don't have to worry about the location, they gave me everything to play with, and I was able to tell a story, with these amazing clothes!''

Wolkstein says it can take years to raise enough money to finance a film, even for established indie directors. Commissions from big brands take that problem away.

"They're saying 'I love your work, here's some money, pretty much take this money and run with it and tell your stories.' And the only requirement, if any, is to put their name and the brand on the film."

She says having a fashion brand as your patron, giving you free rein, it actually raises a filmmaker's street cred.

But what's in it for the brand?

“I think fashion brands for a long time struggled to go online,” says Quynh Mai, founder of the agency Moving Image and Content, which helps fashion companies with digital marketing. “They sell exclusivity, aspiration. And for a long time the online space was the antithesis of that.”

Mai says having a web film with a fancy director gives fashion houses the exclusivity they're aiming for.

“When brands like Prada spend exorbitant amount of moneys on their films online,” Mai says, “they're trying to create a halo effect for their brand – that crosses not only their target consumer but maybe the consumer who buys their sunglasses, or buys their nail polish.”

Although, Mai says, when brands hire big name directors to make their films, it can take away attention from the brand.

“All people say is, 'Have you seen that Wes Anderson short?'” she says. “I’m not sure that that was a Prada piece.”

But director Lauren Wolkstein says hiring an indie director can actually save a brand money, because they're used to making films on a smaller budget than most commercial crews.

Rent vs. buy: How did you choose your home?

Tue, 2014-03-11 13:49
Do you rent or own your home?

On this week's Marketplace Money, we'll tackle the demographics of renting vs. buying. How did you choose the way you did?

According to Trulia, buying a home is 38% cheaper than renting. But that varies widely depending on location, "buying ranges from being just 5% cheaper than renting in Honolulu to being 66% cheaper than renting in Detroit."

Need help deciding? Trulia: Rent vs. Buy: Which is Cheaper

Tin: The modern world's glue

Tue, 2014-03-11 13:11

For the next installment in the BBC’s Justin Rowlatt's micro-scopic look at the economy: element number 50 Tin; or symbol "Sn" on the periodic table.

So perhaps tinfoil isn't the sandwich wrap of choice. What does it matter?

"Amazingly, tin is actually the glue that holds the modern world together," says Rowlatt. "Tin still has an absolutely crucial role in the world."

Tin is also used in the float glass making process. This has made sheet glass making less labor intensive, cleaner and safer.

Rowlatt says tin is used because it is relatively abundant and cheap.

A plan to wind down Fannie and Freddie

Tue, 2014-03-11 12:57

Leaders of the Senate Banking Committee unveiled a bipartisan plan on Tuesday that would wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and replace them with a hybrid public-private mortgage-finance system. The government-sponsored enterprises were bailed out by taxpayers in 2008, at a cost of $187 billion as the housing market crashed. Fannie and Freddie guarantee mortgages and issue mortgage-backed securities, and back well over half of new mortgages right now.

The new plan would shut Fannie and Freddie down—presumably over several years—and create a new government entity just to guarantee mortgages. Private sector firms would bundle those mortgages into securities and market them to investors.

“There’s no question it would be a boom for large financial institutions,” said Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance. “Mostly banks that would take over that activity and, to some extent, that risk.”

The first 10 percent of losses from guaranteed mortgages would be absorbed by private financiers, not the government. That’s to protect taxpayers from another bailout.

But Cecala is skeptical: “Just like we couldn’t afford to let Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fail, the question is, would we be able to allow large banks to fail, if they were propping up the mortgage market by issuing government-guaranteed mortgage securities?”

Star in a TV pilot? You should sign a pre-nup

Tue, 2014-03-11 12:47

This is the season of the television pilot. Networks are shelling out boatloads of cash to produce what they hope will be mega- hits. Of course, most of the pilots produced each season are not mega-hits, they're not even micro-hits. The vast majority don't even make it to air. But there is a way to tell which ones the studios are banking on. It's sort of like a pilot pre-nuptual agreement. It's properly called a put pilot.

Let's say you are a bright-eyed young TV writer. You've just pitched your first pilot to the networks and they love it. Actors are hired, sets built, the pilot is shot, and...it's terrible. The studio kills the project and tells you to get lost. Welcome to Hollywood. Now, if your pilot had what's called a put pilot commitment, things would have gone much differently.

"Put pilot means that the network or the studio behind the pilot has ordered it and committed to putting it on the air," says Ben Travers, a TV editor for Indiewire.

The put gets added because it means the show will be put into production. But here's the important guarantee: If the network doesn't air the show, it pays you a hefty penalty.

So how does a pilot get put?

"Well, if it's a sexy hot script by a very hot writer, then you are going to have competition all over town," says Jay Gendron, a former executive with Warner Brothers. He says studios can gain an edge over other networks by offering put pilot commitment for a show. While throwing money at a pilot can secure a hot series, it doesn't guarantee it will be a hit.

Here are all the ways a put pilot can go down in flames:

Didn't even get to pilot: "Murder She Wrote"
Despite a put pilot commitment, NBC changed their mind before the pilot of the "Murder She Wrote" reboot was even made. Rumor has it Angela Lansbury is investigating the mysterious death of the show.

Whacked after pilot: "Beverly Hills Cop"

Eddie Murphy signed on as an occasional guest star in a series based on the "Beverly Hills Cop" movie. But after the pilot was produced, CBS pulled the plug on it. Rumor has it the show was axed after Eddie Murphy refused to appear on screen unless he could play every character in the show.

 Killed after pilot, brought back to life: "The McCarthys"

Ordered as a put pilot, shot as a single-camera show last season, nixed by CBS, and then rejiggered as a multi-camera comedy for this season. Rumor has it Eddie Murphy will be operating all the cameras.

Wait, actually made it!: "Sleepy Hollow"

The series was put on air and became Fox's top rated series. Rumor has it Washington Irving's ghost is using supernatural powers to manipulate the Nielsen ratings.

Star in a pilot? You should sign a pre-nup

Tue, 2014-03-11 12:47

This is the season of the television pilot. Networks are shelling out boatloads of cash to produce what they hope will be mega- hits. Of course, most of the pilots produced each season are not mega-hits, they're not even micro-hits. The vast majority don't even make it to air. But there is a way to tell which ones the studios are banking on. It's sort of like a pilot pre-nuptual agreement. It's properly called a put pilot.

Let's say you are a bright-eyed young TV writer. You've just pitched your first pilot to the networks and they love it. Actors are hired, sets built, the pilot is shot, and...it's terrible. The studio kills the project and tells you to get lost. Welcome to Hollywood. Now, if your pilot had what's called a put pilot commitment, things would have gone much differently.

"Put pilot means that the network or the studio behind the pilot has ordered it and committed to putting it on the air," says Ben Travers, a TV editor for Indiewire.

The put gets added because it means the show will be put into production. But here's the important guarantee: If the network doesn't air the show, it pays you a hefty penalty.

So how does a pilot get put?

"Well, if it's a sexy hot script by a very hot writer, then you are going to have competition all over town," says Jay Gendron, a former executive with Warner Brothers. He says studios can gain an edge over other networks by offering put pilot commitment for a show. While throwing money at a pilot can secure a hot series, it doesn't guarantee it will be a hit.

Here are all the ways a put pilot can go down in flames:

Didn't even get to pilot: "Murder She Wrote"
Despite a put pilot commitment, NBC changed their mind before the pilot of the "Murder She Wrote" reboot was even made. Rumor has it Angela Lansbury is investigating the mysterious death of the show.

Whacked after pilot: "Beverly Hills Cop"

Eddie Murphy signed on as an occasional guest star in a series based on the "Beverly Hills Cop" movie. But after the pilot was produced, CBS pulled the plug on it. Rumor has it the show was axed after Eddie Murphy refused to appear on screen unless he could play every character in the show.

 Killed after pilot, brought back to life: "The McCarthys"

Ordered as a put pilot, shot as a single-camera show last season, nixed by CBS, and then rejiggered as a multi-camera comedy for this season. Rumor has it Eddie Murphy will be operating all the cameras.

Wait, actually made it!: "Sleepy Hollow"

The series was put on air and became Fox's top rated series. Rumor has it Washington Irving's ghost is using supernatural powers to manipulate the Nielsen ratings.

Being middle class in Pakistan

Tue, 2014-03-11 12:23

Middle class life in Pakistan isn’t that different from middle class life in the United States, says Haroon Ullah. Or at least, he hopes you’ll come away with that message after reading his new book, “The Bargain at the Bazaar: A family’s day of reckoning in Lahore.”

The book follows the Reza family and their three sons as they attempt to maintain normalcy in an increasingly tense environment.

Ullah says he met the family at a dinner party in Pakistan 10 years ago.

“They are very blue collar and yet they’re able to, as a family, find a way to move on amidst the sort of tragedy that they often times experience.”

The Rezas shared their story with Ullah over many evening meetings over mangos, what Ullah calls “the best ice breaker in the world.”

The oldest Reza son followed in his father’s footsteps to run the family shop at the local bazaar. The youngest son went to school to become a lawyer. But it was the middle son who would most worry his mother and father when he joined a militant Islamist group.

“The parents would tell me, 'Did we do something wrong? Did we fail as parents?'” says Ullah. “They want better for their kids than they had for themselves. They’re willing to sacrifice everything.”

Take note: 'The web' is not 'the Internet'.

Tue, 2014-03-11 11:33

Here's a note to self: If you’re in Silicon Valley, never mistake the web for the Internet. It’s sort of like being in France and asking, 'So what’s the difference between Champagne and bubbly?'

That’s what Don Nielson taught me. In the 1970s, Nielson was a computer scientist at the SRI, a tech research company, and he was on one of the teams that started the Internet. And when I met him, I said, "You were one of the guys who helped created the web!"

"Absolutely not, I had nothing to do with the web," he said. 

Nielson doesn’t have a problem with the word "web." He’s got a problem with the fact that I don’t know the difference between said "web" and "the Internet." He says back in the 1960s, when we relied on the telephone and the telegraph to communicate, the U.S. Military wanted another way to interact, and they wanted to do it through computers. So Nielson’s team basically wrote the protocols -- or rules -- that got computer networks around the world to talk to each other. And really, simply put, that’s what the Internet is -- a global connection of computer networks.

"Arcane as it may be, this was absolutely revolutionary. And the World Wide Web would not have functioned without the Internet," Nielson said.

Marc Weber is a curator at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. He says back then, computers were huge and mostly owned by universities, governments and large computing companies like IBM. And they saw the value of the Internet as a fast way to communicate and to gather and transfer large amounts of information.  

"In the late 80s, the Internet was growing really fast. It’d gone from 200 computers or so back in the beginning of the decade to over half a million," Weber said. 

But as the Internet grew, there was no "easy to use" system that let you find all the information online. Companies were trying to fill the gap  by basically creating toll roads. For a price, you could connect to their network and get all the information you needed.

"The easy to use interfaces were in the commercial systems, so like Compuserve, which had its own network, was easy for anybody to use," Weber said. "Minitel in France -- which by that time well over 10 million users -- was also easy to use, but that was owned by France telecom."

Their vision of the Internet was a patchwork of information superhighways owned by companies, said Brad Templeton, a professor at Singularity University. He says the Internet could have evolved that way if not for Sir Tim Berners Lee, who published a paper 25 years ago, proposing a different system for managing information -- one that came to be known as the World Wide Web.

"So Tim called it 'Information Management, a proposal,'" Templeton said.

And it was a manifesto of sorts.  Berners-Lee argued that information on the Internet shouldn’t be confined to a structure.

"One of the great realizations: You think want to do it structured, you think you have a vision of the order of how it should all work and be laid out," Templeton said. "[But] the idea is that you don’t  have an official hierarchy. Remember the dewey decimal system? You’d go in and say 'Let’s look up information on a science, and in science there’ll be anthropology, and so you’ll go down and find things. Instead, it’s just a big sea of documents," he said. 

These "documents" came to be known as "web pages" that could be found quickly, by punching in an address or a URL. Information would be linked to other websites, thereby creating a "web of information."

It took Berners-Lee a couple of years to actually create the first website and when he did, he made the technology free for anybody to use. Templeton says, it wasn’t until 1994, when the web browser Netscape was introduced, that the web became accessible to the general public. But Berners-Lee’s proposal established the ethos that allowed the web to flourish and become a commercial success.

"Look at Google, and Facebook, and all these other companies that didn't have any idea how they were going to make money when they began," Templeton said. "And they were able to become some of the world’s biggest companies because they got that zone and didn’t need to ask anybody’s permission to do it. That’s what gave us all this innovation." 

And Templeton said, it’s that idea that we’re celebrating today.

It's almost spring. Time to dig.

Tue, 2014-03-11 09:58

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up on March 12:  

  • In Washington, the House Small Business Committee holds a hearing on how 3D printing can create opportunities for entrepreneurs.
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt began a series of radio broadcasts during the Great Depression. The first Fireside Chat, delivered on March 12, 1933 dealt with banking.
  • And time to put your green thumb to practice. It’s Plant a Flower Day. Digging in the dirt is cathartic.

Neil deGrasse Tyson won't take a computer to the Bahamas

Tue, 2014-03-11 09:00

I said I would do it, and I did: In my conversation at SXSW with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, I asked about aliens.

We didn't talk about whether or not aliens would have an appetite for cats (Alf), or if they could make bicycles fly (E.T.). I didn't ask if he thought they would use their technology to rejuvenate the elderly. Cocoon, anyone? Instead, we talked about what aliens might find surprising about the human condition. According to Tyson, they would be appalled by our conflicts over antiquated fuel sources. 

"I’d be embarrassed to say that we still fight wars over lines in the sand to extract fossil fuels out of the ground so that we can power our automobiles. The alien would just laugh. They’d say ',What? What’s wrong with you? The universe is full of energy.' And then they’d leave, and they’d report back to their alien leaders that there’s no sign of intelligent life on earth."

Certainly, there's a lot of intelligent life working on Tyson's new television show, the re-booted Cosmos series of Carl Sagan fame. What is particularly stunning about the show is the visual effects; a product of having network television behind the venture. As Tyson points out, if the best visual effects are available, what better place to use them than when portraying the universe?

"If there’s any project that needs extraordinary visual effects, it’s one that involves the universe, because you can’t go there. And you can’t just put a picture of it. You want to experience phenomena in the universe. It has the power to influence you not only intellectually but emotionally, and occasionally, perhaps, even spiritually."

And in case you were wondering, Tyson would not bring a computer to the Bahamas. Clarification: I asked him about the idea of preserving one's psyche on a computer chip, and if he thought it was feasible. Tyson isn't so preoccupied with whether or not it's possible. He's more concerned with the fact that he doesn't think the technology would ever be able to actually preserve a person's experience.

"If in this instant, I upload my mind to a silicon-based chip, and then tomorrow I go to the Bahamas, the chip didnt go to the bahamas...it’s not going to have a new idea that, for me, is stimulated by an experience that happened after the upload date stamp. So I’m ok in my own body having my own life experience. And the computer is not going to the Bahamas. And if it wanted to go, I wouldn’t take it."

For the record, I would go to the Bahamas with a computer... but Tyson's point is well taken. 

 

SAC to Point72: A company by any other name

Tue, 2014-03-11 08:50

Would a company by any other name be more profitable? Billionaire investor Steven A. Cohen seems to think so. The name of his troubled hedge fund, SAC Capital, is changing to Point72 Asset Management. SAC Capital was forced to pay $1.2 billion to regulators last November, and it looks like the hedge fund is trying to distance itself from an association with securities fraud and mismanagement. This may be a smart move for the company, and the newly-christened Point72 can count themselves lucky, since they got to choose their new name. Many companies are forced to change their names and the names of their products, whether it’s through lawsuits, rulings, or legal shenanigans.

World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment

The World Wrestling Federation, famous to middle-schoolers the world over for its unique brand of testosterone-soaked mayhem, was forced to change its name to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2001. This stemmed from a dispute with the World Wildlife Fund, which was also using the initials WWF. Unfortunately, this dispute was settled via a lawsuit resulting in a court ruling, not, as it might be fun to imagine, in a wrestling match featuring The Rock and a giant panda squaring off.

Lawsuits are actually how most name changes are forced upon companies. If one company starts using a name that another organization has the trademark on, then the second company can bring the first to court in order to make them change it. This happened when BlackBerry makers RIM tried to use the name BBX for its software. And Microsoft had to change the name of its SkyDrive into OneDrive, after a British Satellite company brought a trademark suit against them.

Boston Urban Iditarod to Boston Urban Idiotorama

Sometimes just the threat of a lawsuit is enough to get a company to change their name. This often happens when large organizations learn that a smaller company is using a trademarked name. That was the case with the Boston Urban Iditarod, which was threatened with a lawsuit from the more well-known Alaskan Iditarod. Since legal fees could be potentially crippling to a tiny organization, most just change their names to make the issue go away. That’s what went down at Mission Burrito,  Cafe Roubaix Bicycle Studio, and Twisted Root Restaurant & Bar.  It’s actually not that surprising that so many corporations have threatened local businesses with lawsuits, large corporations have to go after trademark infringements, or they risk losing their copyright.

What’s really surprising is the fact that the band Twisted Sister (you might remember them from the 80s) has gone after not one, but two small businesses for copyright infringement: a coffee shop and a food truck.

Cornish Pasty to Beef and Vegetable Pasty

But as protective of their name as Twisted Sister might be, the European Union takes its names even more seriously. Right now, as part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the EU is trying to get the US to stop using ‘protected’ cheese names. So that soft cheese you’ve been spreading on your cracker? Unless it was from a specific region of France, it shouldn’t be called ‘brie’. And that would be true for around 180 other cheeses, if the U.S. goes along with the partnership. Why would Europeans cause such a fuss? Essentially, if a food is culturally significant enough, the EU gives it protected status, and can only be made in the region it’s historically from and by the methods historically associated with the foodstuff. Which meant U.K. supermarket Greggs was forced to change the name of their Cornish Pasty because they weren’t made in Cornwall and didn’t include the right mix of ingredients. And when Croatia was let into the EU in 2013, Croatian winemakers weren’t allowed to use the name ‘Prosek’ because it was too similar to the Italian prosecco wine. The EU also tries extremely hard to make sure anything labeled ‘Champagne’ comes from the Champagne, France. In short, the EU takes its names very seriously.

Philip Morris to Altria

But more often than not, name changes happen for the reasons SAC Capital changed its name to Point72 Asset Management. Companies aren’t forced to, they just want to rebrand. So when Philip Morris no longer wanted to be associated with poisoning untold numbers of people and causing agonizing, drawn-out deaths, they simply changed their name to Altria.

Netflix tried (unsuccessfully) to change part of its business to Qwikster, and after a particularly bad airplane crash, ValuJet transitioned to AirTran. So, the newly named Point72 is in good company.

Oh, and the rumor that Kentucky Fried Chicken was forced to change its name to KFC because they weren’t using real chicken? That’s completely false.

Quiz: Which countries pay women the most?

Tue, 2014-03-11 02:12

It's international quiz time on the Marketplace Morning Report. Stephan Richter, editor-in-chief of the online international affairs magazine, The Globalist, brings us a question that will test your knowledge of pay around the world. Across industrialized countries, women make, on average, 85 percent of what men make, so... 

QUESTION: In which (pick one) of the following do women make closest to the average pay across industrialized countries?

A. South Korea
B. Germany
C. United Kingdom
D. United States

Scroll down the page to see the answer -- and click play on the audio player above to hear our report about the gender pay gap. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER: C. United Kingdom. In South Korea, Germany, and the United States, women's pay falls below the 85% average. 

PODCAST: Nuclear economics, post-Fukushima

Tue, 2014-03-11 00:35

It’s been three years since the Fukushima disaster prompted Japan to try weaning itself from nuclear power, though that's a position it now seems poised to reverse. In the U.S., four new reactors are under construction after a long lull. Don’t call it a nuclear renaissance: The economics of nuclear power are a tough sell, especially in a time of cheaper natural gas. "The idea that public fearfulness or the resistance of environmental groups is what killed nuclear power in the U.S. has always been nonsense," says Peter Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

It's international quiz time on the Marketplace Morning Report. Stephan Richter, editor-in-chief of the online international affairs magazine, The Globalist, brings us a question that will test your knowledge of pay around the world. Across industrialized countries, women make, on average, 85 percent of what men make, but do you know in which country women make closest to the average pay across industrialized countries?

Health companies eye predictive software for patient care

Tue, 2014-03-11 00:05

Pharmacy giant Walgreens recently announced it has begun using predictive software to help guide patient treatment.  It’s just one of the latest efforts where healthcare hopes to standardize day-to-day operations.

With estimates that hundreds of billions of dollars is wasted every year on redundant or inefficient services, many industry leaders think healthcare needs to be more like Burger King, where a sandwich in Santa Fe tastes a lot like the sandwich in Seattle.

For some the path to slowing health costs may mean medical care has to look more like factory work.

As far as Walgreens executives are concerned, they think they may be on to something. The pharmacy chain is working with the IT firm Inovalon which, using data from more than 100 million patients, has developed algorithms to predict health problems.

Heather Helle who oversees Walgreen’s clinic business, says that data helps guide a nurse practitioner during a patient’s visit.

“You can think about it almost like a decision where if the answer to a particular question is ‘no,’ the system will guide the nurse practitioner down one particular path," she says. "If the answer to a particular question is ‘yes,’ the system will intelligently guide the nurse practitioner down the second path."

Let’s say a patient’s record shows he’s got multiple symptoms for diabetes but no official diagnosis. The computer flags that, and the Walgreens nurse practitioner zeros right in.

“We are able to streamline the visit, we’re able to reduce variation and we are able to deliver incredible value,” she says.

Whether it’s this predictive modeling, patient safety protocols at Johns Hopkins, or a Camden doctor’s office using new scheduling techniques, many in healthcare say the industry must industrialize. This may sound like some healthcare version of painting by numbers, and former Denver Health CEO Patricia Gabow says executives can over do it when it comes to standardizing care.

“It’s not just any routine, could be a routine that’s very wasteful. Or a routine that doesn’t yield high quality,” she says.

Another concern is if the rules are too rigid, patient care could suffer.  But right now, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen says a lack of doctor routines is threatening patient safety and driving up costs.

Routines – like Walgreen’s algorithms – may sound scary, says Christensen, but they are really just a way of sharing decade’s worth of doctor’s knowledge with people you don’t have to pay like doctors.

“Nurse practitioners can do even more consistently what doctors do today,” he says.

Christensen says healthcare costs will go down as lower-cost caregivers do more and more.

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