For today’s blog, here’s a little something different. My good friend Jim Tankersley is a talented economics correspondent for the Washington Post, and the editor of a new project there, Storyline, which tells economic stories the right way: about people.
We spoke together at a conference on inequality at Kenyon College this spring, and we stay in regular touch. We talk about the economy, our lives, his son, and baseball. This week, we decided to take a few questions from readers and people on twitter. Below are a few of our answers (plus one shot at a New York Times economics correspondent. All’s fair in love, war and journalism).
We hope you like it!
1. Can you ask (Lizzie) to weigh in on that Brookings report on student debt? Does she think it’s an overstated problem?
Lizzie O’Leary: Oh, good. You tossed me the hot potato of student loans. I guarantee that any way I answer this, someone is going to want to punch me in the face.
The Brookings report got a lot of attention because it basically said hey, there’s not a loan crisis and we’re paying the same amount of our incomes in loans as we used to be.
Plus, they say those loans help you get a better gig, and it comes out in the wash. In econo-speak, that’s an “increase in earnings received over the course of 2.4 years would pay for the increase in debt incurred.”
There are a couple places where I’m skeptical. The data only runs through 2010. Since then, tuitions have continued to rise and median wages haven’t kept up with them.
In addition, the Brookings report looks at income, not wealth. Sure, your income can go up, and that will help you pay your loans. But let’s say you came from a family with very little money. Those loans may have helped you get a better job after school, but there’s no cushion if something happens to your income (you get sick, you lose your job, etc). And that’s the intersection between democratized access to expensive education and student loans that worries me.
2. Should I ever go to grad school?
Jim Tankersley: Lizzie, I’m so glad you took the college / loans question. When I go out on reporting trips and tell people I write about the economy, someone always asks about student debt, why it’s going up so much and whether college is worth it. Usually I say yes, it’s almost always worth it if you make it all the way through, but I also talk about community college and technical school and finding the right fit for you, and I ramble, and people start getting that face-punching look, so I try to head them off by making a joke about USC. *Everyone* loves a good USC joke.
Hardly anyone asks about grad school, but they should. Grad school is a huge economic decision. Tuition is expensive. If you go full time, you’re not working – or working as much as you could. On the other hand, you are, very broadly speaking, setting yourself up for higher future earnings and better odds of getting a job. As these charts show. (I’ve made them USC colored; my mom has a degree from USC; sorry about the jokes earlier, Mom!)
Source: Bureau of Labor StatisticsThe Washington Post
Of course, as they say, your results may vary, especially depending on what grad school you’re thinking about. Which brings me to the other half of this answer, economically: The value of work isn’t just about money. There’s value in enjoying what you do, as the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur C. Brooks, argues. Will that grad degree help you land that job you love? Make that part of your utility-function calculation, too.
3. Should I buy a house?
O’Leary: Should you buy a house? Ask me that and I have 800 other questions for you.
I could talk to you about interest rates (they’re good right now). Down payments (how much can you afford?), and calculators (http://www.trulia.com/rent_vs_buy/). But to me, it’s about words, not numbers.
What is a house to you? If your answer is a place to live and build equity, then yes, by all means. If it’s a cash register, then nope. Houses are the single biggest asset most Americans will have. But they sure don’t appreciate like investment portfolios (yes, yes, I know the market is risky).
Since 1983, stocks and financial assets have returned 7%. Homes have returned 1.6%.
Bonus: you can listen to me interview Ray Boshara from the St. Louis Fed about this.
4. Any sectors where job growth or job decline surprises you?
Tankersley: This is not a surprise to smart folks who listen to Marketplace, but it is a fact that never fails to astonish me about the last few years: Manufacturing in America is absolutely crushing it right now, in terms of economic output. But it is not, how do you say, doing much hiring. There are reasons for this – automation being the main one; it just takes fewer people in an actual factory to produce the same amount of stuff these days – but those reasons have not stopped many people, including President Obama and his team, from predicting a much larger wave of manufacturing job creation than what we’re seeing. The surprise is that they keep predicting it.
5. Is our current economy the new “normal”? High inequality gap, shrinking middle class, etc?
Tankersley: Teaser alert: I have an entire multi-part series in store for this topic. Short preview: There’s plenty of evidence that the American economy isn’t working the way it used to – in the rising tide lifting boats sense – but also there’s nothing in American history that suggests we are stuck in our current economic situation.
O’Leary: I sort of hate this question because … I’m afraid it might be true … at least in the short term.
Do you remember that panel on inequality we were on together at Kenyon? I feel like no one there had a good answer about how we get out of this moment.
And to me, it’s not just about income inequality, but about wealth inequality.
Which means … it’s harder to buy houses, build assets, and pass things on to your kids.
This research on home ownership by African Americans is pretty telling, I think, about how much inequality eats away at our ability to build wealth for future generations.
And I don’t think we can actually get out of this until we, as a country, figure out how to pay people higher wages across the board.
Tankersley: That Kenyon panel was dispiriting. The room was full of hopeful young scholars and we – you and Ross Douthat and I – we crushed their spirits!
O’Leary: We totally did. But we swore. Which I think was maybe cool? We were the journalist panel and we were supposed to be saltier than the economists.
Tankersley: To your point on compensating people better: I think there’s a real sense in America, a correct one, among a wide swath of people, that people like me aren’t getting ahead.
O’Leary: Right. BUT — who is a part of that “like me”?
Tankersley: It’s psychologically powerful, that sense. Here is some research from USC on this topic.
But this is a storytelling question and answer column. So back to our New Normal question:
What’s the story of the American economy right now, would you say? WHO is the story of the economy?
O’Leary: Running in place is the answer to your first question. So that’s GDP, and productivity, and manufacturing all going up … but it still doesn’t mean we see the kinds of jobs that mean you can send your kids to school without debt.
And who? I think that’s an hourly wage earner. Someone who’s working in health care, maybe.
Or that lovely Navy chaplain I met, Jason DiPinto. Served in Afghanistan (before he was in the Navy), and still can’t afford to buy a house.
It just seems like maybe someone or some THING isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.
And I think on a gut level, beyond all the numbers, people feel that.
We’re depressing everyone.
Tankersley: We’re horrible people.
O’Leary: No! I’m an optimist!
Tankersley: Let’s just move on to the last question.
6. (Submitted by New York Times economics correspondent Neil Irwin) Which has higher marginal product of labor, 100 duck-sized horses, or 1 horse-sized duck?
O’Leary: They are both more productive than a New York Times economics correspondent.
Economists expect businesses and government agencies added about 230,000 jobs in July, and unemployment held steady at 6.1 percent.
“We’ve seen not only a sustained uptick in job growth, with more than 200,000 new jobs being added month in and month out, but the quality of jobs has improved," says Greg McBride is at Bankrate.com.
McBride says a lot of new jobs are in business services; blue-collar work has also picked up.
But take-home pay hasn’t — at least for most Americans, says John Canally at LPL Financial:
“Manufacturing — for the most part, wages there remain stagnant. [It’s the high-end,] high value-added jobs that require master’s degree or some advanced training [or even more], that’s where you’re seeing most of the wage gains [accrue to].”
And economists say spending on big things — like new cars and fancy summer vacations — won’t really take off until wages go up across the board.
David Gura talks wtih Fortune's Leigh Gallagher and FT Alphaville's Cardiff Garcia.
Listen to their conversation in the audio player above.
"Vulture funds" earned their nickname because they are, in a sense, scavengers.
They go after the debt of dying firms or crisis-addled countries, buying it on the cheap when nobody thinks it’ll get paid back and many other creditors have given up and agreed to accept pennies on the dollar. Then, they sue to get it paid back in full. This can result in a situation where a vast majority of original creditors have agreed to accept a fraction of their original debt, leaving the vulture minority to win big.
For example, in the current dispute between a group of investors and Argentina, a firm called Elliott Capital Management purchased Argentine debt for $48.7 million and is now seeking payment of $832 million.
“These firms profit from the backs of poor people,” says Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, a religious organization that lobbies for debt relief for poor countries and international financial reform. “One of the most tragic recent examples is money from debt relief was sent to Zambia, but that money for schools and hospitals was collected by vulture funds.”
Funds have been aggressive in using whatever legal means they can to ensure full repayment of sometimes decades old debt. In 2010, Elliott Capital Management convinced a court in Ghana to bar an Argentine navy ship from leaving that country as a way to extract the money it says it is owed.
Such examples are extreme and give a bad name to what is otherwise a simple case of enforcing commitments, argues Edward Altman, professor of finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“Asking for full payment is totally appropriate,” he says. The original owners of a country’s securities are ill-equipped to negotiate when those countries renege on their commitments, and the vultures have the appetite and ability to play hardball.
Like vultures in the wild, vulture funds may serve an important ecological purpose.
“They provide in the case of distressed assets a liquidity that simply wouldn’t be there,” he says. (In other words, it’s helpful to have somebody out there who will buy bad debt.)
There's a hole in international law
Whether morally bankrupt or legally secure, the reason why vulture funds can operate in the first place and why there is such controversy around them boils down to a hole in international law: There is no bankruptcy court for countries.
“When you, or I, or General Motors runs out of money, we can file for bankruptcy and there’s somebody to oversee that process,” explains Anna Gelpern, professor of law at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “When a government runs out of money there is no such process, all you have are a bunch of contracts and it’s every person and fund for themselves.”
Theoretically, it’s possible to write contracts when bonds are issued that lay out what happens in the case of a default. For example, to set out in the contract that if 90 percent of creditors agree to accepting 30 cents on the dollar, it applies to all creditors.
The problem, of course, is that nobody wants to talk about default when they issue a bond. Bankruptcy laws get around this problem by laying out rules in law. No such luck for countries.
Over the years, an informal system developed whereby countries would get a majority of creditors on board with restructured debt when defaults occur. But the Argentina case, the firms who sued “have thrown a big wrench in the process of coming up with a methodology for an orderly resolution of countries with debt problems,” says Barry Bosworth, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Gelpern points out that as firms and countries fight through international legal and financial systems, it’s banks and financial institutions that suffer jabs and bruises along the way.
“You can’t make Argentina do anything, but by golly, you can threaten anyone who has anything to do with Argentina,” she says. “Going forward, countries will find it harder to restructure their debts, creditors will have to think about risk more carefully when getting involved with countries that are in trouble.”
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, there have been relatively few individuals held responsible for the roles they played, or the bad mortgages they issued and bundled together to pass along to investors. However, a former employee of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial was fined Wednesday as part of a civil fraud case.
It was nicknamed "the Hustle" – a program in which Countrywide is alleged to have passed bad mortgage products onto investors. Since Bank of America acquired Countywide in 2008, the bank was fined nearly $1.3 billion for the fraud. Additionally, a former Countrywide employee, Rebecca Mairone, was fined $1 million, which the judge specified she should pay herself.
Unlike previous financial crises, pursuing individuals for their misdeeds has not been the norm in recent years, says Ken Thomas, an independent bank consultant and economist.
“We’re seeing companies paying fines, but little actions against the people involved,” he says. “After the savings and loan crisis, there were many savings and loan executives that went to jail. Here, we don’t see that.”
Countrywide’s former CEO and CFO were also fined coming out of the financial crisis.
However, most individuals who have been targeted are typically lower-level employees who worked directly on the bad deals, says Michael Santoro, a professor at Rutgers Business School.
“It’s a little more difficult to present evidence against people who have set policies in motion or who might turned the other way or who may have winked at something,” he says.
According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, 174 companies or entities have been charged arising from the financial crisis. About 40 percent of those charges have been against CEOs, CFOs or other senior executives.
Many of those actions were on a different scale than this case, says David Zaring, associate professor of legal studies and business ethics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
“Ms. Mairone, she’s in a unique place,” says Zaring. “There’s an actual jury verdict that came in against her and a fine that was duly awarded after that verdict. Almost everything the SEC has done has been a settlement.”
Zaring says earlier failed criminal cases against a pair of Bear Stearns employees might have been a deterrent, and that if the wrongdoing was such a widespread practice in the financial industry, it can be hard to single out individuals.
What other individuals have paid fines?
It's exceedingly rare for an individual to be singled out by the SEC and it's just as rare for those folks to pay any more than a couple hundred thousand dollars -- chump change. There are only a few other exceptions: here are the biggest penalties levied by the SEC in the wake of the Great Recession:
- Angelo Mozilo, former CEO of Countrywide, is the biggest exception to the rule by far. As part of a settlement with the SEC, Mozilo agreed to pay a record $22.5 million penalty, on top of another $45 million in "ill-gotten gains" to be returned to investors. Mozilo was also banned from running a public company for life. His CFO paid a relatively puny $130,000 penalty.
- Former Brookstreet CEO Stanley Brooks didn't settle with the SEC and a federal judge hit him with a $10 million fine. In addition to the penalty, the maximum allowed for his charges, Brooks had to pay another $110,000 to investors.
- From here, the penalties drop pretty quickly and leave the executive suite. Fabrice Tourre, a Goldman Sachs trader turned academic, was accused of defrauding investors and became a symbol of the economic crisis for many. The SEC sought nearly $1 million in fines from "Fabulous Fab," but he was eventually ordered to pay $825,000.
- Former Bear Stearns portfolio managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin were notably aquitted of securities fraud in 2009, but they settled in a later civil case, agreeing to pay about $1.05 million.
Pretty much everything bad that happens behind the wheel today is our fault.
“Today, 95 percent of accidents are actually driver error,” says Robert Hartwig, president and economist at the Insurance Information Institute, an industry association.
When cars drive themselves, he says, people hope to see a lot fewer accidents.
“The data seems to support that these cars will be better drivers than most people, because they don’t get distracted, they don't turn around and talk to their kids, they don’t play with their cellphone," says Chris Shultz, deputy commissioner of community programs and policy initiatives at the California Department of Insurance.
And while you might think this would mean cheaper insurance policies, Schultz says the future of auto insurance has actuaries getting anxious.
“We might see decreased frequency of collisions, but increased severity,” he says.
While policy holders might pay less, because your car is involved in fewer accidents, you might pay more because the cost of high tech repairs is higher.
Then, there's the liability question.
"What happens if I put my five-year-old in the back and press the button and say 'drive my five-year-old to kindergarten'? I don’t think any policy makers know what to do with that yet," says Schultz.
“The question really turns into 'who is in control of the driverless car?'” says Frank Douma, a research fellow and associate director of the State and Local Policy Program at the Univeristy of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs and a research scholar at its Center for Transportation Studies.
The answer, says Douma, could mean analyzing data from the car after an accident – looking at its black box.
But while the knowledge may prove a relief to no one but insurers, self driving cars still have classic problems, in which liability is clear. So although we can expect to see a significant number of autonomous cars on the road by 2020, Robert Hartwig says, don’t plan to cancel your insurance policy.
“Cars could still be stolen, trees could still fall on your car.”
Kellogg's, maker of Froot Loops, Apple Jacks and Corn Flakes, could be drying up.
Americans aren't buying cereal like they used to. And that's led to a sales slump: Profits were down 16 percent last quarter.
Another factor is that cereals like Special K used to be popular because they were low-calorie. Now, however, Kellogg's CEO says Americans have become more interested in foods that are "more nutritious."
The other day, an email came in from a big online contact lens store that said, starting Aug. 1, we can all forget about getting a deal on the most popular contact lenses.
What’s happening is something called unilateral pricing. Johnson & Johnson, which makes the top-selling Acuvue brand, is joining other manufacturers, like Alcon and Bausch & Lomb, in telling eye doctors, big box retailers and online stores that they can’t charge less than a certain amount.
“If the retailer sets the lenses for below that price, then the supply of that particular contact lens would be cut off,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, said as she opened a Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the new practices.
“If the point is to save consumers money, I don’t know why we have a minimum price we can’t go below,” R. Joe Zeidner, general counsel at the discounter 1-800-CONTACTS, told the panel.
— 1-800 Contacts (@1800CONTACTS) July 30, 2014
But pricing experts say unilateral pricing is not always bad for consumers.
“They can compete on other things,” said Barbara Sicalides, a partner and antitrust expert at the law firm, Pepper Hamilton. Companies like Bose use unilateral pricing to maintain cachet. Others, like Samsung, use minimum prices to help combat “showrooming,” helping stores staffed with knowledgeable salespeople compete with online sellers.
“One benefit is that you’re going to have more services provided to you when you buy some very complex products,” says John Zhang, a pricing expert and professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
But buying contacts is different. Your doctor has already told you what to buy, and gets paid separately for the exam.
Eliminating discounts may make you more willing to buy directly from the optometrist. That’s the accusation made by contact lens discounters like 1-800-CONTACTS.
At the hearing, Dr. Millicent Knight, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care's head of professional affairs, said the new pricing is simpler and cheaper for most. It eliminates cumbersome rebates, and has “a price that is actually lower than the current national average selling price to consumers," she said.
But that’s just the average. For the roughly 10 percent of shoppers who buy online, according to Euromonitor, prices will likely go up.
And, all of this is perfectly legal, as long as manufacturers aren’t actively coordinating prices among themselves or with retailers.
Policy change in effectDan Bobkoff/Marketplace
It was October 2, 1977. The Los Angeles Dodgers were up against the Houston Astros on the last game of the regular season. Dodgers’ outfielder Dusty Baker was at bat. He swung and knocked it out of the park, his 30th homerun of the season - making the Dodgers the first team in history to have four position players with 30-plus homeruns each.
But, this story isn’t about those hitters.
"As Baker was rounding the bases, a young rookie came out and just spontaneously threw his hand up in the air, and slapped Baker five," says Mike Jacobs, director of Grantland’s short documentary, "30 for 30: The High Five".
That young rookie was Glenn Burke, outfielder number 12 for the Dodgers. Jacobs says Burke was a young and enthusiastic baseball player, who was just excited to be playing in a major league. He enjoyed making his teammates laugh.
"The Dodgers rallied around the high five and they even trademarked it," says Jacobs. "They made these fliers that they handed out for spring training in the 1980 season."
The Dodgers and their fans eventually moved on.
"Burke soon found himself out of favor in the Dodgers organization, amidst rumors of his sexual orientation," says Jacobs. "He was traded to the Oakland A's."
However, Burke didn’t fit in quite as well during his time with the Oakland Athletics, and within a year was forced out of the game.
Glenn Burke passed away in 1995 from AIDS-related pneumonia. He was 42-years-old.
"Unfortunately, he died too early," says Jacobs. "But really, the high five gives us an opportunity to share his story and to celebrate his legacy in that way."
When Marvel hired writer Nicole Perlman, they offered her a list of superheroes she could delve into.
Perlman chose "Guardians of the Galaxy" because she loved the characters.
“Each one brought something very specific to the team.” Perlman says. Gamora, an alien assassin and adopted daughter to Marvel baddie Thanos, seemed like an exciting one to write.
“There’s a lot of [female characters] in comics but in terms of movies that are focused primarily on a female lead, I think it’s something that will become more common as we go. But it’s still considered a bit of a risk.”
The setting was also familiar: “I had a background in writing science and technology-related scripts. A lot of projects that were space-related."
She wanted the chance to write an action filmm but admits she wasn't well-versed in the Marvel universe before she started working for the company. That meant a lot of nights reading comic books. A research assistant helped her further explore Marvel lore.
“I could call him up and say, ‘Bring me anything you have that involves a character that’s a genius and that’s his super power.’ And he would bring me 16 different characters, going back to the 1950s."
Perlman’s background in science came in handy, even if the scientific accuracy of "Guardians" had to bend a little.
“After all,” she says, “we do have a talking raccoon.”
Families are taking fewer loans and using more of their own money to pay for college than at any point in the last five years. That’s according to a new study from Sallie Mae, the student-loan and financial-services company.
The study, which has been conducted annually for the last seven years, found that while families are still spending just as much on college as they were before, they paid 22 percent of costs through loans in 2014, compared to 27 percent both in 2013 and 2012.
The remaining costs were covered by out-of-pocket spending (42 percent), scholarships and grants (31 percent), and friends and relatives (4 percent).
The study also found:
- The average family spent $11,012 on two-year, public schools in 2014. For four-year public schools, the figure was $21,072. Spending on four-year private schools was $34,855.
- Low-income students are borrowing less than the general population.
- More students are turning to two-year schools to cut costs. Enrollment is at 34 percent this year, compared to 30 percent last year.
- Common cost-cutting strategies included attending in-state schools (69 percent), spending less on entertainment (66 percent), living closer to home (61 percent), and living at home (54 percent).
- Only 38 percent of respondents said they had a plan to pay for all college costs before enrolling in college.
- One-third of families said they were surprised by some expenses, especially textbooks.
Graphic courtesy of Sallie Mae
Federal judge Jed Rakoff has imposed a civil penalty of $1.3 billion on Bank of America.
This is the first time a jury has found a bank — or an individual banker — guilty of mortgage fraud in the financial crisis. A former mid-level Countrywide executive, Rebecca Mairone, was found liable and fined $1 million. Bank of America did not say whether it will assist her in paying the penalty.
The ruling comes after a jury in October 2013 found the bank liable for risky mortgages that were deliberately misrepresented as safe and sound, and sold to government mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The mortgages were marketed by Countrywide Financial, which Bank of America purchased for $2.5 billion in 2008.
The fraud took place in 2007-2008 (before Bank of America's acquisition of the troubled bank), during the run-up to the financial crisi - just as the housing market was crashing. The marketing plan for the risky mortgages had a name in Countrywide’s corner offices, says analyst Chris Whalen at Kroll Bond Rating Agency: It was called “the hustle.” That came from the acronym for “High Speed Swim Lane,” or HSSL.
“The hustle program was about selling as many loans as possible as fast as possible, regardless of the defects of those loans,” said Whalen.
In his ruling, Judge Rakoff said the program was “driven by a hunger for profits and oblivious to the harms thereby visited, not just on the immediate victims but also on the financial system as a whole.”
Bank of America has fought this case, asserting that it should not be held fully accountable, nor pay such a severe penalty, because it didn’t own Countrywide when the fraud and other shoddy mortgage practices occurred. Bank of America and several of the country's largest banks were at the time being pressured by federal banking regulators to acquire institutions like Countrywide that were teetering on collapse, to prevent them from causing a cascade of panic and failure throughout the financial system.
“I find it troubling that B of A is effectively being penalized for having done a public good, which was to acquire Countrywide so that it would not have otherwise failed,” said banking analyst Bert Ely. “We want to get rid of too-big-to-fail, but if you have large financial firms that are in trouble for whatever reason, who wants to buy them?”
Cleaning up Countrywide has cost BofA approximately $55 billion in legal settlements so far, more than 20 times what it paid for the bank.
Commentators have a habit of blaming whole generations for various economic troubles. Case in point: Millennials have been in the crosshairs a lot lately, accused of everything from shackling the housing market to setting the stage for the next global crisis with student loan debt.
These days, Baby Boomers are getting abuse, too. Some market watchers worry that as they sell their stocks to pay for retirement, the whole market will sag.
Click the media player above to hear Marketplace senior economics contributor Chris Farrell in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report guest host Mark Garrison.
As an added bonus for listening to the audio above, you'll hear the word "boomers" mentioned an impressive 18 times in two minutes.
First up, a look ahead to the Jobs number for July, which comes out on Friday. Plus, more on the announcement that Sony will offer certain classic Playstation games for streaming via a subscription service. Also, EMS workers have on-the-job fatality rates that are nearly three times the national average of other professions. That’s prompted many in the industry to call for better, safer ambulances.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits India on Thursday, just as India has thrown the world economy a curve ball by refusing to sign a World Trade Organization agreement at the last moment.
“They believe progress on discussing food security is not moving as quickly as it should, and so they want to use what they see as leverage,” says Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
That leverage is the Thursday deadline for the WTO deal to cut the red tape on international trade, specifically targeting the bureaucracy around customs.
Boosters say the deal would result in one trillion dollars worth of economic stimulus and create as many as 21 million new jobs worldwide.
“I don’t know how many jobs it’s going to create, and I think the numbers are exaggerated. But I think that it’s critical that this agreement happens so that we have this system of international rules under the WTO,” says Kimberly Elliott, a senior fellow with the Center for Global Development.
She says the WTO helps protect small, developing countries which – unlike India – would otherwise be at the mercy of their more powerful trading partners.
Sony is experimenting with streaming some of its classic PlayStation games over the internet. The company says it will open up the market and increase its audience.
The PlayStation Now streaming service will allow gamers access to classics like Saints Row 4, Metal Gear Solid, and Ratchet and Clank.
Janelle Bonanno is Editor-in-Chief of the online gaming magazine, GameFront.com.
“It kind of widens the field up for those who, let’s say, don’t have a $599 PlayStation 4,” she says.
But you’ll need a Sony Bravia television or a tablet.
Sony says the plan is to introduce PlayStation to more customers on devices they use every day.
“So the only thing you are going to see from Sony is really old stuff with really low value," says Pachter. "And they’re not paying much for it, and because it has low value, they’re not going to attract a lot of subscribers.”
Sony hasn’t released its full pricing list yet, but says most games will rent for between $2.99 and $19.99.
Earlier this week, Twitter surpassed investor expectations on both revenue and user growth.
However, for frequent users, one of its challenges is that depending on whom you follow, the conversation can feel repetitive. Katie Notopoulos, senior editor at Buzzfeed, decided to solve the problem by unfollowing men on Twitter.
Notopoulos drew much of her inspiration from a similar social experiment of only retweeting women for a year.
While she started the unfollowing six months ago as part of a stunt, she says she stuck with it because it markedly improved her Twitter experience.
"It turns out it's really nice," Katie says.
She says a major reason this has turned out so well is that being forced to follow a new set of people exposed her to a whole new set of voices and perspectives.
The professional lives of emergency medical services workers are often intense and dramatic. But dangerous?
It is dangerous — EMS workers have on-the-job fatality rates that are nearly three times the national average of other professions. That’s prompted many in the industry to call for better, safer ambulances.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s science and technology division has taken up that challenge, drafting new rules and recommendations for ambulance safety, including new standards for crash testing.
Ambulances are long overdue for a redesign, says Skip Kirkwood, a director and chief paramedic at Durham County Emergency Medical Services in North Carolina.
“Today’s ambulance design is essentially unchanged since about 1974,” he explains.
Prior to the mid '70s, Kirkwood says ambulances were often adapted from a Cadillac hearse design. They then moved to the truck or van chassis we often still see today.
“Essentially, those ambulances have been boxes built by ambulance manufacturers, many of whom had their original heritage as motor home or Winnebago or travel trailer builders,” he says.
The body style means that accidents can be dangerous for EMS workers and the patients they are transporting.
“Let’s say the ambulance rolls on its side, the stretcher is now hanging up in the air and will fall out of [its] mount,” says Kirkwood. “If the ambulance decelerates quickly, that mount comes loose from the floor and the patient may fly forward like a torpedo.”
The emergency medical technician or paramedic might not be properly restrained either, says Jim Grove, a senior advisor in DHS’s interagency office of science and technology and a former EMS worker.
“When I would ride in the back of an ambulance, it was not uncommon to stand up and be doing chest compressions on somebody and having someone be holding on to my bunker pants and going down the road at 35, 40, 50 miles per hour even,” he recalls.
Based on DHS research, Grove says future ambulances might feature pivoting chairs that slide along a track, so EMS workers can treat a patient and reach their gear while properly restrained. DHS is also working on crash-test standards for ambulances going 30 miles per hour.
“I can’t answer for why it’s taken this long to get to this point,” Grove says. “There has been crash testing done, but not to level [Homeland Security’s science and technology division] has been doing, and especially with crash testing dummies.”
One potential hurdle could be cost. Grove says early estimates say these new features could add $10,000 to $15,000 to the price of an ambulance.
It will eventually be up to individual states to adopt any new safety requirements and take on those costs.
As the Public Editor of the New York Times says, journalistic plagiarism is in the news.
(I didn't steal that idea, I attributed it, which is a key difference between plagiarizing and not plagiarizing.)
Some of the people in the news for committing journalistic plagiarism have the same name as me. Don't get confused: I am not Benny Johnson.
I did not work for a paragon of modern journalism called The Blaze before being hired to cover politics in inventive ways at Buzzfeed in 2012. I did not plagiarize parts of 41 stories I wrote at Buzzfeed, before being admirably fired by Buzzfeed.
By the way, I do like Buzzfeed. A lot. Even when Buzzfeed doesn't like me. I just talked to one of the site's senior editors about why she stopped following people like me (read: dudes) on Twitter.
But even though I go by Ben instead of Benny, I have been thinking a lot about plagiarism this week. It's one of the things journalists are most scared of, and for good reason. Even if it's a mistake, it's rarely an honest one. Unlike in the world of fiction, journalistic plagiarism is a scarlet letter -- a final judgement. Plagiarism is the thing you do that almost immediately undermines all of the other work you've ever done.
What's interesting is that media in the Internet age spins ever closer to regular idea theft. Rewriting or re-contextualizing the hard reporting work of others is its own kind of job, and hard-working people are doing it all the time. I was just talking with a Marketplace reporter yesterday who was excited about an idea -- an angle, really -- but was worried she was actually plagiarizing her own work from a few years back. She was Googling like mad to try and avoid it.
That's what's also strange about the Internet age. It is at once easier than ever to plagiarize and easier than ever to catch plagiarizers. The number of sources you could steal from has increased tenfold, but the nature of how those sources are organized online makes it easy to catch people. Yet another problem solved by big data.
That's how Benny Johnson got caught. Ironically, he was shaming another website for plagiarizing his work. And then some bloggers took a closer look at his work. It soon became clear, as Slate's David Weigel noted: "Anyone with a working Google machine can compare Johnson's text, which typically consists of captions below photos or gifs, to existing content on Wikipedia or Yahoo -- the sleuthing has turned up more short phrases and sentences that look cloned."
Maybe some day writers of all kinds will work in software that is constantly Googling each sentence we write to see if it's been written elsewhere. And maybe that's good news. Today I'm just glad that on the searchable Internet, I go by Ben, not Benny.