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When horses fly

Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

The next time you find yourself balking at the cost of air travel, think of this: horse owners have it worse. Every year, thousands of horses travel by air domestically and internationally. And the price tag for these flights can be extravagant.

Triple Crown contender American Pharoah was expected to touch down today at Long Island's MacArthur Airport before making the 40-mile trek over to Belmont Park.

When it came time for Mersad Metanovic to send his racehorse, Metaboss, from Los Angeles to Kentucky for a Derby prep race, he had a decision to make. Send him on a 72-hour road trip, or put him on a plane. For Metanovic, the choice was simple.

“We don’t want to put the horse on a van and go clear across country," he says. "Especially that caliber of a horse. No way.”

Instead, Metaboss flew the horse equivalent of business class — two slots in a stall that holds three horses. Lots of leg room. Well worth the $8,500 price tag, Metanovic says.

“Those are better seats than sitting in between two people going clear across country,” he said.

Metanovic used Equi Air Shipping, which ships 500 to 800 horses a year. Co-owner Rachel DeBerdt says they’ve sent horses to Singapore, Malaysia, all over Europe and Saudi Arabia. Most expensive these days is Australia, DeBerdt says, because there’s a lot of quarantine involved.

"So for that, you’re probably looking at about $20,000 a horse," she says.

Shipping to Europe from the U.S. bare bones is about $5,000. And what does a horse get for that kind of money? Alfalfa, on demand, according to Katie Schroeder, owner of Equiflight, another air transport company. “And then they get complimentary water,” she says. Horses get jet lag too, so just like with people, water is key.

KLM also transports horses, often with people.

“So it looks like it's the back of the plane,” Schroeder says, “but then when you open the door thinking you’re going to the restroom or something, there’s actually a whole row of horses back there.”

A literal underground music scene

Tue, 2015-06-02 13:00

The subways of New York echo with lots of different sounds — the footsteps of commuters, the rumble of trains, announcements about arrivals and departures — but occasionally, through the din of the daily commute, there breaks through the sound of a musician performing on the subway platform.

And for those musicians who make some or all of their living underground, it can be a hustle trying to eke out a living based on tips from commuters. There's another challenge, too. Choice times at some of the busiest subway stops in New York are available to performers only after they pass an audition.

Run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Music Under New York is a program that schedules performers for events throughout the city, including regular time slots at some of the prime subway stations like Times Square or Grand Central. Every year, hundreds of musicians submit CDs for the chance to score a live audition. Come audition day, 70 were given the opportunity to perform live, with just 20 to 25 spots available on the roster.

For those who make the cut, there are perks. MUNY groups receive an official banner and can reserve performance space at some of the most popular subway stations during high-traffic hours. And that means dollars.

A video posted by Marketplace (@marketplaceapm) on Jun 2, 2015 at 1:16pm PDT

Alex Steyermark, a film and music producer, has hired some of the performers out of the program. He has also seen first hand just how lucrative a couple hours in the subway can be. He remembers a particular recording session when two musicians used their break to perform in the subway. “They came back two hours later with $1,000. And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s like how to earn a living as a musician,’ ” Steyermark says. 

MUNY musicians also avoid any run-ins with the police. Legally, musicians can perform anywhere in the subway without a formal permit. But there are rules about amplification and volume that can get tricky, and sometimes that leads to performers being ejected from the subway or arrested (though law enforcement understands that groups performing under MUNY banners have been pre-approved to perform).

It’s why Daniel Duke’s jazz ensemble decided to audition this year, even though they’ve already been performing in the subway for years. “We don’t like to deal with cops that come and kick us out or give us tickets or stuff like that. It really messes up our day and our vibe,” Duke says.

But aside from the day-to-day perks, many of the musicians are thinking about the larger value of being part of the program: exposure. “We would love for this to lead to … just a passerby to be like ‘Wow, I’m really interested in that.’ And then allowing that to give us bigger and better shows,” says a singer who performs as Lachi in an all-female a capella group, Femme Rhythm. They're hoping that a spot on the MUNY roster will mean reaching a much larger audience.

And ultimately, that’s what a lot of the groups want out of passing the audition. The hope is that maybe the next big gig will come from one of those subway commuters.

The great trade debate: nine sticking points

Tue, 2015-06-02 12:48

On Wednesday, Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal will sit down with President Obama to discuss the future of international trade. Here's a look at what's on the table:

Among the top issues facing the House of Representatives this summer is whether to give President Obama enhanced power to negotiate trade deals. It's known as "trade promotion authority," and passing it means Congress agrees to give completed trade packages a straight yes-or-no vote without amendments or filibusters. 

The Senate passed TPA after vigorous debate in May.

If TPA passes, it would clear the way to move forward with a giant Pacific free-trade agreement among the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Together, the dozen nations make up 11 percent of the world’s population and 37 percent of the world’s GDP. Here’s a summary of U.S. objectives for the agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, from the U.S Trade Representative.

Some of the major sticking points in the current trade debates include:

1. Whether free trade is good for the U.S. – and who benefits

In part because we haven’t had a big new trade deal in quite a while, much of the debate about upcoming trade deals circles back to the pros and cons of past free trade deals, whether free trade is, in practice, good for the U.S. and who benefits most from new agreements. While many economists argue there is consensus on the benefits of free trade, others counter trade in the real world is complicated and only as good as the rules that govern it.   

2. Transparency

Drafts of the TPP are classified, which means members of Congress and their staff who meet a required security clearance are able to view the text. Members of trade-advisory committees – which include labor, environmental and business groups, among others – can view negotiating proposals, but not the full document. The agreement won’t be publicly available until the deal is finalized, at which point there is a mandatory review period before Congress votes on it. But some members of Congress and advocacy groups worry the process is not open enough and that by giving the president TPA, they’ll essentially be green lighting the Pacific trade deal without knowing what’s in it.

3. Currency Manipulation

If countries devalue their currencies, it makes their exports cheaper relative to other countries, which gives their exporters a competitive advantage. Therefore, the American Automotive Policy Council, among others, would like to see the TPP include rules against this type of behavior. However, the Obama administration is opposed to including rules about currency manipulation in the deal, arguing that it would limit U.S. monetary policy options and threatened to veto a bill that includes such controls.

Opponents of strong currency control measures also argue that trying to stimulate your domestic economy can devalue your currency even if that’s not the stated goal, and that it becomes a question of a government’s intent and that gets murky very fast. Others say currency manipulation can be narrowly and clearly defined in a way that doesn’t limit U.S. activities.

4. How to resolve disputes

The heart of this issue is whether an independent international tribunal should hear complaints by companies that believe they’ve been harmed by government actions. The argument for such a system is that domestic courts can be biased in favor of their home countries and having independent arbitration protects international investors. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative points out the U.S. has versions of this in 50 other agreements already, that cases are rarely brought against the U.S. and that the U.S. has never lost one. Opponents say this process could limit democracy by giving companies a vehicle to challenge U.S. regulations, often pointing to an example of how a tobacco company sued the governments of Uruguay and Australia for restrictions they’ve passed on the design of cigarette packaging.

5. Environment

Environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, and that Natural Resources Defense Council, worry that the TPP could lead to increased fracking and put stress on natural resources. After analyzing a draft chapter of the Pacific trade agreement released by Wikileaks, the environmental groups warned that environmental provisions aren’t as strong as previous agreements.

6. Intellectual Property

Intellectual property provisions of the TPP are especially controversial as they relate to pharmaceutical patents. But Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam are concerned the deal could lengthen the duration of pharmaceutical companies’ patents and therefore restrict access to more affordable generics.

7. China

The Pacific trade negotiations do not involve China, and the Senate failed when it tried to pass an amendment requiring Congressional approval for new countries to join the deal. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who sponsored the amendment, said China had already expressed interest in joining the TPP and that because of its size, “a deal of that scale demands that the American public weigh in.”

President Obama has frequently evoked China while calling for the passage of TPP, saying that if the U.S. doesn’t write the rules on global trade, China will.

8. Human Rights

The Senate passed a human rights measure seeking to bar countries complicit in human trafficking from receiving the benefits of a trade deal passed under TPA. The White House opposes such a provision, as it says it would exclude Malaysia from the TPP.

9. Trade Adjustment Assistance

Trade has winners and losers – that’s often repeated regarding these deals. The idea behind Trade Adjustment Assistance is to provide assistance to workers displaced by trade deals. It is favored by labor unions, like the AFL-CIO, but whether this assistance is renewed and how much funding it receives have been sticking points.

PODCAST: Homeless in Hollywood

Tue, 2015-06-02 03:00

The Supreme Court says bankrupt homeowners are still on the hook in many circumstances for their second mortgages—for many that's a home equity loan—even if their home is worth less than the money owed. More on that. Plus, as Los Angeles County experiences an increase in homelessness, we take a look at Hollywood, which has had a homeless problem since its first days as a film center.

Facebook introduces new encryption features

Tue, 2015-06-02 02:00

Facebook says it is rolling out an experimental new feature that increases access to encryption technology for its users.

A new setting on the social networking site allows users to encrypt emails between them and Facebook, such as messages for resetting passwords. Facebook will also allow users to share their public encryption keys right along with all their other contact info on their profiles.

Those keys can be used to send a scrambled message, which only a recipient can read. 

It's a highly secure form of communication. And one rarely used by the general public.

"Facebook's move means that there is a much broader audience of people who are thinking about end-to-end encryption," says Heather West of the Internet security firm CloudFlare. Putting encryption keys on Facebook profiles can bring them into the mainstream, she says.

The increased use of encryption by tech companies is fueling a debate, with tech companies on one side and law enforcement on another. Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Bitkower, speaking at a public forum in May, said encryption could shut out law enforcement even if agencies obtain a search warrant.

"That warrant, effectively, is no better than a piece of paper," Bitkower said, "because the information cannot be accessed without the permission of the ultimate end user or end possessor."

Many in Silicon Valley aren't swayed. Tim Lordan, who heads the non-partisan, non-profit Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, says the use of encryption is growing.

"A lot of engineers and companies in Silicon Valley feel like it is the only way that they can protect their customers from the NSA and from would-be hackers," Lordan says, adding that while Facebook's latest move is modest, it is symbolically important in the context of the broader encryption debate.

Strong auto sales without big cash rebates

Tue, 2015-06-02 02:00

Domestic and foreign automakers report their U.S. sales for May 2015 on Tuesday, and sales are expected to show an improving trend for the year. April’s annualized sales of cars and light trucks hit the 16.5 million level. The consensus among economists is for May’s sales to hit 17 million.

U.S. auto sales have been rising since bottoming out at 10.4 million in 2009. If the anticipated pace for 2015 continues, it will be the best year for vehicle sales since 2000.

Auto industry equity analyst Ephraim Levy at S&P Capital IQ says automakers are not driving sales by massive discounting. “We’re close to near record-levels in terms of average transaction prices for vehicles,” says Levy. “And recently, the incentive levels have been declining year-over-year. Higher prices and lower incentives is good.”

That scenario is good for automakers, because it supports higher profits and demonstrates consumers are being enticed to buy with quality and new features, not cash rebates and below-market financing.

Consumers can do well in this environment too, says Greg McBride at Bankrate.com. In addition to low interest rates for car loans, says McBride, “with more people working, and gas prices down from one year ago, we continue to see a robust car-sales environment. Those that had put off buying a car in recent years jump back in the market.”

SUVs and pickup trucks are hot right now—Jeeps, Ford F-150s, and Chevy Silverados. That reflects a strengthening construction industry—contractors need big vehicles—and consumers’ expectations that gas prices will remain low for a while.

In Hollywood, a history of homelessness

Tue, 2015-06-02 02:00

As the number of homeless people in Los Angeles County grows—12 percent in the last two years—some businesses are feel the consequences. That's true in Hollywood, where tourists come expecting to see a celebrity, but are more likely to find a panhandler.

The situation isn't new.

Red Line Tours offers historical walking tours of the old movie palaces lining Hollywood Boulevard. As the tour guide explains, actors in the 1920's had a bad reputation.

"It was so bad that landlords would not rent to them. These actors would show up to apartment buildings, looking for housing, and all they found were signs in windows that read, 'NO DOGS, NO ACTORS ALLOWED.' It was such a problem for the studios that many of them had to build housing facilities of their own because many of their actors were homeless on the street."

Today, homelessness in Hollywood is still a problem.

"In the last couple of years, I've seen a pretty dramatic increase in homelessness on the street," says Tony Hoover, who owns Red Line Tours. He says Hollywood has gotten a bad reputation, partly due to aggressive panhandlers. And it has hurt his business.

"Our walk-in business—the people just coming here, that we would get randomly—that's probably dropped off a huge percentage, probably close to 50 percent," he says.

Businesses have hired a former policewoman, Courtney Kanagi, to help deal with the people camped out on Hollywood Boulevard.

"People want to see the Walk of Stars," she says. "They don't want to be stepping over people who are panhandling, asking for money, sleeping on the sidewalk. People may not want to go inside their business to buy products if they are being hassled on the way in."

Standing beside his homeless buddy, a 24-year old who goes by the street name Solo says he understands the tension between the homeless and wealthy business owners.

"They're walking around with a $40,000 Rolex, you know, for an accessory," he says. "That amount of money would change both of our lives."

For many tourists, the sight of panhandlers and the mentally ill sitting on the sidewalk is not what they expected.

One tourist from Israel says, "I didn't know so many people could live in the streets like this. I was shocked."

A man from India also noticed the homeless. "There's like quite a few over there. It doesn't look good."

But a family from Memphis says that the situation didn't hurt their experience. Instead, they say it inspires them to spend more time volunteering at a homeless shelter when they get home.

Marketplace Investigates: Homeless in L.A.

Tue, 2015-06-02 01:59

The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County has grown 12 percent in the last two years. Why is this happening, and who are the people behind this statistic? Reporter Jeff Tyler investigates.

Produced by Preditorial | www.preditorial.tv Reporter: Jeff Tyler Director, Editor and Camera Operator: Rick Kent Cinematographer: Anton Seim Producer: Mimi Kent   PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) |  www.epath.org   Music Credits:   "Dirt Rhodes," "Intractable," "Backed Vibes," and "Mesmerize"  Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)  Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

 

Video: Marketplace Investigates: Homeless in L.A.

Tue, 2015-06-02 01:59

The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County has grown 12 percent in the last two years. Why is this happening, and who are the people behind this statistic? Reporter Jeff Tyler investigates.

Produced by Preditorial | www.preditorial.tv Reporter: Jeff Tyler Director, Editor and Camera Operator: Rick Kent Cinematographer: Anton Seim Producer: Mimi Kent   PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) |  www.epath.org   Music Credits:   "Dirt Rhodes," "Intractable," "Backed Vibes," and "Mesmerize"  Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)  Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

 

John Oliver is having a very interesting day

Tue, 2015-06-02 01:51
1998

That's when Sepp Blatter was first elected president of FIFA, and he announce Tuesday morning he would resign just a few days after being re-elected for fifth term. The world soccer organization has been rocked by more than a dozen arrests and corruption charges in the past week, with more reportedly on the way.

$45,984

That's how much Tyson Foods has given to Rep. Steve Womack's campaign since 2010. The chicken processor's headquarters are in Womack's Arkansas district, and the Republican was called out last month on John Oliver's HBO show "Last Week Tonight." Oliver reported on chicken farmers who are allegedly mistreated by several suppliers that make up 95 percent of the market. The story ruffled some feathers in the industry and on Capitol Hill, Politico reported, where longtime advocates say Oliver's report has given the issue more attention than it's had in years.

700,000

That's about how many individuals and couples filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last year. And according to yesterday's Supreme Court ruling, those filers will no longer be let off the hook from a second mortgage. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the ruling concerns consumer advocates who worry it will only further hamper struggling homeowners.

$25,249

That's how much "Bob’s Burgers" writer Wendy Molyneux raised in a GoFundMe campaign as of Tuesday morning. The cause? Get her to see the "Entourage" movie. What started as a joke — Molyneux said someone would have to pay her $10,000 to see the film — escalated into a successful fundraiser for CureSearch, an organization focused on finding cures for children’s cancers.

7.72 percent

The average fee for sending remittances as of the first quarter of this year is on the decline but still quite high according to the World Bank. It's a huge business, larger than some countries' GDP, and still largely controlled by two companies. As technology has made crossing boarders easier and easier, sending money is still quite complicated.

$25

That's how much a "Future Voter Onesie" costs on Hillary Clinton's online campaign store. Emblazoned with the campaign logo, it's not even one of the stranger items you can purchase as candidates gear up for the upcoming presidential election. What else can you buy from presidential wannabes? We looked into it for you.

Video: The weirdest stuff candidates are selling

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:11

Produced by Preditorial  www.preditorial.tv

"Waunobe March" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Now there really is a start-up for everything

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

I dare you, dare you, to tell me we're not in a tech bubble.

There's a new startup called TrashDay — and as far as I can tell, this is a real thing — in San Francisco that will take your trash cans out to the curb for you on trash day.

You fill out a form, tell them where your trash cans are ... and I guess you never have to worry about it again.

Ten bucks a week, four to six cans. 

I'm kind of hoping it's a joke, and I just missed it.

Startup to take care of all your garbage woes

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

I dare you, dare you, to tell me we're not in a tech bubble.

There's a new startup called TrashDay — and as far as I can tell, this is a real thing — in San Francisco that will take your trash cans out to the curb for you on trash day.

You fill out a form, tell them where your trash cans are ... and I guess you never have to worry about it again.

Ten bucks a week, four to six cans. 

I'm kind of hoping it's a joke, and I just missed it.

People paid $10,000 to get one woman to see 'Entourage'

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

"Bob’s Burgers" writer Wendy Molyneux likes to joke with her husband about how much money it would take for them to do silly things, like drive to Vegas at that very moment, turn around, and come back. While watching "Mad Max," the trailer for "Entourage" came on, and Molyneux joked that someone would have to pay her $10,000 to see it. Except instead of brushing it off, she actually did something about it. On May 26, Molyneux created a GoFundMe campaign that would force her to watch "Entourage" if she was able to raise $10,000 for CureSearch, which focuses on finding cures for children’s cancers.

Her late nephew Oliver Cross lost his life to leukemia at only 5years old, so CureSearch was a cause close to her heart. To Molyneux’s surprise, she had met her goal in the first day, and even Jerry Ferrara, Turtle himself, donated to the campaign. As of today, the campaign has raised $24,000, which means she will be seeing the movie twice.

On meeting her goal:

I have to see it twice because I got to $20,000. I have to wear a pair of Drama Mama pajamas as a tribute to the character Johnny Drama, and my sister, Lizzy, who’s my writing partner made me a sipping cup for my soda that has Turtle on the outside. We’re well into this now.

On CureSearch:

They aggressively look for cures for pediatric cancer exclusively, because sometimes treating children’s cancer is very different than treating adult cancer…. We want to encourage people to get involved, even if you have to do something silly to be like, “Look over here at this thing that you don’t know anything about.” Because those cancers do strike randomly, it’s just nice to have people be aware that that cause is out there and to give them a little boost in their work.

42 charged two years after Bangladesh factory collapse

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

More than 1,100 garment factory workers were killed and more than a thousand more were hurt in the 2013 collapse of the Bangladesh plaza that made international headlines. It was the worst industrial catastrophe in the history of the country. Now, 42 people are facing charges ranging from building code violations to homicide; 17 of the individuals face murder charges.

The Bangladeshi government alleges that the Rana Plaza factory’s owner Sohel Rana, as well as several government officials, ignored warnings about the building’s safety issued just one day before. The reason? They did not want to risk a lull in productivity.

“The reaction so far is very positive from different quarters,” BBC reporter Akbar Hossein tells Kai Ryssdal. He adds that expectations are tempered, however, because the trial process is expected to take a long time.

The factory disaster reignited a global conversation about the safety regulations in garment-producing countries. More than 3,000 safety inspections have been carried out by American and European clothing manufacturers in the wake of the collapse. Hossein notes that there have been no major disasters in the years after the accident, but he is concerned about what will happen once the buzz dies down. “How long it will continue? That’s a big question.”

The surprising complexity of moving money across borders

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

People sending messages from the United States to relatives in the Dominican Republic have an array of cheap, instantaneous options, from Skype to email to new forms of phone call. 

People sending money, though, are still likely to begin at a place like Daysi Travel: A storefront in the mostly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City selling cell phones at a counter in front and Western Union money transfers at a window in back. 

Edrizio de la Cruz used to come to a place like this between college classes and a night shift as a plane mechanic at JFK airport in order to send money to his Aunt Virginia in the Dominican Republic.

"That experience is relatively painful, because you have to take time out of your day, stand in line, fill out a form," he recalls. At the time, he would pay a fee of at least 10 percent, but what he calls the most painful part was on the other side, in Santo Domingo — waiting for a long-distance phone call with a numerical code, walking to the distant Western Union agent and waiting in an even lengthier line.

He recalls his reaction: "Oh my God. this is like... "The Flintstones.' " 

In the 15years since, this messaging part has become simpler. 

"The messaging part is now almost free," says Dilip Ratha, an economist at the World Bank who tracks remittances. "And yet, the average fee is still about 8 percent. Eight percent."

 Eight percent is significantly less than it was 15 years ago, but it still seems too high to Ratha.

"The true cost of sending money is definitely close to zero," he says. "Or below 1 percent."

"We hear so much about, you know, 'This is so important for certain countries, why can't it be for free?' " says Pam Patsley, CEO of MoneyGram, the second-largest money transfer company, after Western Union. 

Patsley says MoneyGram's fees average 5 percent, half of which goes to the 350,000 agents at cell phone stores, banks and travel agencies. MoneyGram's 2 1/2 percent has to cover not just the sending of messages, but the tens of millions of dollars it is spending each year complying with regulations to fight fraud and money laundering. It must also cover running the system that actually moves money across borders, collecting the cash from the New York travel agency that sent it and paying back the agent in Santo Domingo who received it. 

"Your receiver may have picked up their money within an hour. But we won't pay that receive agent or collect from that send agent until maybe eight hours later," says Patsley.

This is the part of the money transfer business that hasn't changed much. It still relies on a process that sends money from bank account to bank account, a chain of account-settling that involves more than 800 accounts in total for MoneyGram. 

It's this tangled web that Edrizio de la Cruz hoped to cut through when he started a company called Regalii right across the street from the Daysi Travel in Washington Heights. But instead of replacing the MoneyGrams and Western Unions, Regalii tries to partner with money transfer companies. 

"It's like: If you want to go to California, you can take a railroad and stop at like 20 different cities — or you can take a jet," explains de la Cruz. "We're not taking jets yet, money transfer, we're taking railroads."

Regalii rides the rails of the money transfer companies, but cuts out the last station — the Western Union agent in Santo Domingo — making it possible to pay his aunt's electricity bill directly, for a slightly lower fee.

Like many entrepreneurs in the remittances space, he's not trying to build a jet — a totally new way to send money across borders — but he is pushing for a slightly faster and cheaper train.

 Three facts about remittances:

1)  The amount of money sent in remittances each year exceeds the GDP of Sweden. (Remittances in 2015 are estimated at $586 billion, according to the World Bank; GDP of Sweden in 2014 was $559.1 billion.) 

2) Remittance fees have declined over the last decade, but the average total cost of sending remittances remains relatively high: 7.72 percent in the first quarter of 2015 according to the World Bank.  

3) Some countries are extremely reliant on remittances. Remittances made up 47.5 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP in 2012. (Haiti and Nepal are also high up on the list, with remittances adding up to more than 20 percent of GDP.)

The merch tells the mood

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00
Bumper stickers are so 2012. Today's campaign merchandise has moved way past the rear end of a car, or posters on a dorm room wall. Howard Belk, co-CEO and chief creative officer of global branding firm siegel+gale, says if you look carefully at the merchandise offered up by a campaign, you can tell how confident a candidate is feeling. Look no farther than Hillary Clinton.

“She’s got this great little onesie there," he says. "There’s kind of a wit and cleverness not only to the swag and the graphics on it, but even how they’ve named it." Clinton's merchandise, the "Future Voter" onesie, the "Think Tank" tank top or a "Hats Off to Hillary" baseball cap,  reflects a sense of confidence on the part of her campaign, Belk says.

“Hillary has essentially been coronated as the Democratic candidate – unless something really surprising happens,” he says. But on the Republican side, “it’s a dog fight,” he says.

Because the Republican field is so crowded, many candidates are afraid to be funny, Belk notes. After all, a poorly received joke could alienate potential voters. As a result, every coffee mug and lapel pin that could bare a candidate's name is being cautiously scrutinized, which can result in merchandise that can leave a little something to be desired.  But "I really like the stuff I’m seeing from Rand Paul," Belk adds.

"It’s unlikely that any of these folks will end up in retail or merchandising," says Scott Galloway, a clinical professor of marketing at NYU's Leonard N. Stern School of Business, of the candidates offerings, regardless of party affiliation. "These aren’t what I’d call an inspiring product mix."



It my @RandPaul swag in today!!! #standwithrand #RandPaul2016 pic.twitter.com/7NKtyFX36Q

— that liberty girl (@ladyliberty1215) April 21, 2015

For a campaign, lackluster products, or even merchandise that misses the mark, can mean more than the possibility of parody skits on late-night TV. Though millions are spent on ads, says Galloway, it's important that campaigns not overlook the power of the humble $30 T-shirt, which has the potential to prove that a consumer is authentically passionate about a candidate.

"Nothing says that more than wearing the name of someone on your person," he says.

Candidates are brands too, notes Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at Wharton and author of "Contagious, Why Things Catch On."  “Consumer psychology drives the decisions we make, whether it’s from the milk we buy at the store to the person we elect for president," he says.

We’re more likely to support a candidate, Berger says, if our friends and family do. When it comes to what products candidates sell, all the campaigns could do better, he says.  So what does he think all that merchandise says about the candidates?
 The answer sounds a bit like what a cynical voter might say about politics in general.

"That’s a little tough for me, because I’m not sure there’s much variation."

The Patriot Act's new name

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

On Sunday night Section 215 of the Patriot Act expired. The intelligence community, President Obama, and many members of Congress say this places the U.S. at greater risk of missing intelligence that could be used to thwart a terrorist attack.

But also on Sunday night, the USA Freedom Act advanced in the Senate. It's already passed the House of Representatives, so it's likely to be the successor to the expired provisions in the Patriot Act. The new bill would shift the responsibility of data storage from the NSA to telecom companies.

Tim Shorrock, author of "Spies for Hire," says the relationship between the NSA and telecommunication companies goes back to the 1950s.

"The NSA used to send a guy up to New York every morning to bring back the metal recordings that the telecoms had made of the telephone calls going to and fro, between the U.S. and foreign countries," Shorrock says. "And the NSA would go through those calls."

Schorrock says in times of crisis, U.S. telecom companies have been quick to comply with national security requests. "NSA leaders, directors just called the CEOs of these companies and said 'you've got to do this,' " Shorrock says. "And when there's an incident like 9/11, obviously you know, people react."

In fact, in 2008 Congress gave telecoms retroactive immunity for forking over customers’ data to the intelligence agencies. So, if the USA Freedom Act were to give telecoms more control, it might not change much in terms of citizens’ privacy. But one thing has changed — the country’s attitude toward NSA surveillance.

So what if one internet provider or phone company decides to take a stand and advertise its new role as the protector of privacy, keeping customer data safe?

That might not make much of a difference either, says Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"So if you’ve got a small ISP and it sits on top of AT&T or on top of Sprint, even if they couldn't get it from the little ISP or the little telecom carrier, they could go upstream and generally those records are available," Cohn says. 

And the award goes to ... Instagram!

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Fashion Awards is tonight, and it will be giving its Media Award to Instagram. CEO Kevin Systrom will accept the award from presenter Kim Kardashian, who has more Instagram followers than anyone except Instagram itself. She announced she would be presenting via a selfie.   

Fashion and Instagram have a special relationship borne out of their shared visual foundation. 

“It is an entirely visual medium,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, retail analyst at Forrester Research. “Instagram is all about beautiful pictures. That’s one of the biggest selling aspects of any piece of fashion is the visual story you can tell about it, and the aspiration that represents.”

There are other similarly visual networks, notes Mulpuru, such as Pinterest. But Instagram users tend to check their accounts more frequently.

For users like Rachel Fuentes, the social network is a way to follow, discover and shop for fashion. 

“Instagram has become my one way of shopping,” says Fuentes, who follows local boutiques right on up to large brands like Nordstrom. “If I catch their Insta sale – which is an Instagram sale – and if it’s cute and if I like it, I will automatically purchase it.”  It’s much easier than going to malls or decentralized stores, she says. 

Fuentes doesn’t consider the photos she sees coming through her feed as ads, but rather simply as nice photos of models or outfits. 

“Trying to sell, posting something that looks like an ad, it’s a turn off,” says Marlene Morris Towns, teaching professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.  “You can have unknown people who end up being the biggest social media celebrities because they’re relatable or represent a lifestyle, as opposed to someone paid to do an airbrushed photoshoot.”

The authenticity factor and the focus on the image allow brands to advertise without demeaning themselves by advertising. 

“It gives luxury brands who have struggled with social media a way to maintain the integrity of their brand but also reach a much larger audience,” Morris Towns says. Instagram users can see posts from exclusive fashion events, which mass markets brands even as it emphasizes their exclusivity.

At the same time, Instagram has become something of an equalizer, says Gretchen Harnick, professor of fashion marketing at the New School. “It’s really allowing startups to have a voice right alongside of bigger brands.”

Instagram followers are recipients of this kind of brand promotion by choice, which is advertising gold.

“There is definitely a gain in the fashion industry from Instagram,”  Morris Towns says. “I think it has done wonders for brand awareness and people actually engaging with the brand.”

And they do engage.  Gucci, for example, has 4 million followers on Instagram. Nike has 16 million.

 

And the award goes to ... Instagram!

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Fashion Awards is tonight, and it will be giving its Media Award to Instagram. CEO Kevin Systrom will accept the award from presenter Kim Kardashian, who has more Instagram followers than anyone except Instagram itself. She announced she would be presenting via a selfie.   

Fashion and Instagram have a special relationship borne out of their shared visual foundation. 

“It is an entirely visual medium,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, retail analyst at Forrester Research. “Instagram is all about beautiful pictures. That’s one of the biggest selling aspects of any piece of fashion is the visual story you can tell about it, and the aspiration that represents.”

There are other similarly visual networks, notes Mulpuru, such as Pinterest. But Instagram users tend to check their accounts more frequently.

For users like Rachel Fuentes, the social network is a way to follow, discover and shop for fashion. 

“Instagram has become my one way of shopping,” says Fuentes, who follows local boutiques right on up to large brands like Nordstrom. “If I catch their Insta sale – which is an Instagram sale – and if it’s cute and if I like it, I will automatically purchase it.”  It’s much easier than going to malls or decentralized stores, she says. 

Fuentes doesn’t consider the photos she sees coming through her feed as ads, but rather simply as nice photos of models or outfits. 

“Trying to sell, posting something that looks like an ad, it’s a turn off,” says Marlene Morris Towns, teaching professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.  “You can have unknown people who end up being the biggest social media celebrities because they’re relatable or represent a lifestyle, as opposed to someone paid to do an airbrushed photoshoot.”

The authenticity factor and the focus on the image allow brands to advertise without demeaning themselves by advertising. 

“It gives luxury brands who have struggled with social media a way to maintain the integrity of their brand but also reach a much larger audience,” Morris Towns says. Instagram users can see posts from exclusive fashion events, which mass markets brands even as it emphasizes their exclusivity.

At the same time, Instagram has become something of an equalizer, says Gretchen Harnick, professor of fashion marketing at the New School. “It’s really allowing startups to have a voice right alongside of bigger brands.”

Instagram followers are recipients of this kind of brand promotion by choice, which is advertising gold.

“There is definitely a gain in the fashion industry from Instagram,”  Morris Towns says. “I think it has done wonders for brand awareness and people actually engaging with the brand.”

And they do engage.  Gucci, for example, has 4 million followers on Instagram. Nike has 16 million.

 

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