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EU officials move to regulate US tech companies

Wed, 2015-05-06 13:00

EU officials announced they are moving to regulate U.S. tech companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook when they do business in Europe.

Marketplace’s Molly Wood has been looking at possible outcomes of increased scrutiny of U.S. tech companies in Europe.

“I would imagine that any regulation isn’t going to be so strong that it actually damages a U.S. company’s ability to do business in Europe,” Wood says. “I’d be surprised if they actually went that far because consumers already know what they can get and they’re gonna be mad if they can’t get it anymore.”

Hear the full conversation using the audio player above.

When should you rob a bank?

Wed, 2015-05-06 13:00

For the 10-year anniversary of their book, "Freakonomics," economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner have a new book called "When To Rob A Bank…and 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants."

The pair have published over 8,000 blog posts on the Freakonomics website, and the book compiles some of their favorites, covering topics as diverse as gas prices, terrorism, the benefits of a "sex tax," cheating, and of course, robbing banks.

"There are all the big things you study, big important questions. And then there are the little things that don’t add up to an academic paper, that don’t add up to a chapter of a book, but for 400 words, you really want to say something about them," Levitt says. "And that‘s what I love about the blog posts."

Listen to the full interview using the audio player above, and read an excerpt from the book below.


Chapter 4: 
Contested

Every time we write a book, our publisher prints up a bunch of swag — T-shirts, posters, etc. — to use as promotion. They send us a few boxes, which inevitably wind up in a closet. One day we were thinking: How can we give this stuff away to people who might actually want it? That’s when we decided to run our first blog contest, with the winner getting a piece of swag. These contests were so much fun — our blog readers are extraordinarily ingenious — that we held dozens of them. Here are a few of our favorites.

What Is the Most Addictive Thing in the World?

I was talking with my colleague and friend Gary Becker a while back about addiction. Among his many other accomplishments,  for which he has won a Nobel, Becker introduced the idea of rational addiction.

When he told me his opinion as to the most addictive good, I was initially  surprised  and skeptical.  On further reflection, I believe he is right.

So here is the quiz: What does Gary Becker think is the most addictive thing on earth?

The following day...

More than six hundred readers took a shot at guessing what Gary Becker thinks is the most addictive thing on earth.

Lots of folks said things like crack and caffeine, but do you really think I’m going to offer a blog quiz with an obvious answer?

While not the answer I was looking for, there was some- thing poetic about Deb’s guess:

"A yawn. A smile. Salt."

Before I give the answer, it is worth thinking about what it means for a good to be addictive. At least the way I think about it, an addictive thing has the following characteristics:

  1. Once you start consuming it, you want to consume more and more of it.
  2. Over time you build up a tolerance to it; i.e., you get less enjoyment out of consuming a fixed amount of it.
  3. Pursuit of that good leads you to sacrifice every- thing else in your life to get it, potentially leading you to do ridiculous things to try to get the good.
  4. There is a period of withdrawal when you stop consuming the good.

No doubt alcohol and crack cocaine fit that description well. In Becker’s  view, however, there is something even more addictive than substances: people.

When he first said this, it sounded kind of crazy to me. What does it mean to say that people are addictive?

Then I thought more about it, and I think he is right. Fall- ing in love is the ultimate addiction. There is no question that in the early stages of attraction, spending a little bit of time with someone makes you desperately want more. Infatua- tion can be all-encompassing, and people will do anything to make a relationship blossom. They will risk everything and often end up looking utterly foolish. Once someone is in a relationship, however, the utility he or she derives from time with the beloved diminishes. The heady excitement of courtship gives way to something much more mundane. Even if a relationship isn’t that good, for at least one of the parties there is a painful withdrawal period.

To get the exact answer I was looking for took until comment number 343, when Bobo responded ”Other People.” Many others were close. Jeff (comment 13) said “Society or human companionship.” Laura (comment 47) said “Love.”

I’ll declare all three of them winners.

European Union wants new rules for its digital economy

Wed, 2015-05-06 13:00

European leaders have unveiled a broad plan to reshape the digital economy on the continent.

The European Commission, the EU's governing executive body, is proposing a range of new rules to standardize everything from e-commerce to telecom among its 28 member states.

Officials say the EU's failure to create a single digital market is costing the continent about $470 billion. The proposed plan also calls for an investigation of the role of some big American online companies.

The plan is a radical rethink of how the EU does business digitally, says David Fidler, a visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"This is a big, bold, ambitious project," says Fidler, "The barriers, and the fragmentation, and the problems and the challenges, are very serious and numerous."

That's hurting Europe's small and medium-sized businesses, only seven percent of which are doing business outside their countries' borders, according to the EU.

And among the big companies, European firms have ceded to American tech firms.

"It is a natural instinct to go, 'Wow, need to look at this, we are concerned about this natural monopoly that has happened,'" says Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

American firms have faced several anti-trust investigations and inquiries into their business practices. The EU's new plan calls for that scrutiny to continue, while also eventually adding potential new regulations.

Those regulations are years away though, as the EU finalizes its plans, and convinces 28 members states to go along with the proposals.

The 'Deflategate' verdict is in

Wed, 2015-05-06 13:00

This comes directly from Marketplace's "Oh-man-I-totally-knew-it" desk. 

The NFL released its investigation into "Deflategate," the sad and sorry episode of the New England Patriots and deflated footballs in the AFC Championship last season.

Suffice it to say: they did it.

An investigator hired by the league says it was “more probable than not" the Pats did indeed deflate the footballs, making them easier to handle in that day’s rainy conditions. The investigation also found quarterback Tom Brady was “at least generally aware” of what was going on.

Sports fans around the Marketplace office have been guessing what punishment the league might hand down. I’ve heard everything from a $500,000 fine to Brady getting slapped with at least a six-game suspension.

You can quote me on this one, you guy, take it to the bank: there is no way Brady gets suspended for six.

What's Salesforce, and how could it be worth $49B?

Wed, 2015-05-06 13:00

Wall Street has been buzzing about the possibility of Microsoft offering to buy Salesforce.com Inc. Or maybe Oracle will bid. Or Google. Only very big outfits need apply, since the market considers Salesforce a $49 billion company.

Which raises a couple of questions: First, why would anyone pay that kind of money for a company that doesn’t make a profit? And second: What does Salesforce do, anyway? 

Salesforce offers what it calls "customer relationship management" tools. Basically, a master database with all of a worker's contacts. Or a whole team’s contacts. Or all the contacts across an entire business — and the progress of every sale and contract.

The people who like Salesforce, really like it.

"I tell people it’s like a cult or a religion," says Gabe Arnold, founder of marketing-tech consultancy tEkk3. He also runs a LinkedIn group called SalesForce Power Users, with more than 30,000 members. "Salesforce users are extremely loyal," he says.

A combination of a high price tag and a big learning curve are part of what makes people loyal, Arnold says. Once a user invests the money to license it and the time to implement it, they're hooked.

The company has grown quickly, largely by buying smaller companies and integrating itself into more functions. Revenues have more than doubled since 2012, even though the company hasn't seen a profit.

In the company's dream scenario, software like Salesforce ties together sales and marketing. 

Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research, describes the "big data" world that Salesforce hopes to serve.

"At some point in the near future," he says, "the Chief Marketing Officer will control more of the technology budget than the Chief Technology Officer or the Chief Information Officer."

Wieser says that’s a potential trillion-dollar market for a company like Salesforce. He mentions IBM, Adobe and Oracle as likely competitors.

That’s the dream. Andrew Bartels from Forrester Research, thinks expanding into marketing puts Salesforce up against established competitors. He lays out another possible scenario.

"At a certain point in time," he says, "Salesforce’s revenues will grow more slowly. It simply can’t sustain 38 percent revenue growth as it gets bigger and bigger."

At that point, he says, shareholders will start to want profits.

Drafting a CEO dream team

Wed, 2015-05-06 11:49

We touch on fantasy sport every now and then, but today something just a little bit different. Instead of drafting his favorite actual players, comedian Greg Proops has put together his ideal business team for us — a CEO dream team, if you will:

Spring is here and the smell of green is in the air. Is anything more exciting than the thrill of getting in a rundown by government regulators or stealing homes from people who paid for them? Yesiree, a CEO baseball team has to be motivated, ruthless and mostly white guys. Let's play ball.

Manager: John J Rockefeller (Standard Oil)

The gold standard for robber barons, Rocky can lead this feisty group to wins over strikers, whiners and nervous Nellies. Invented PR to cover for his goons killing innocent women and children in a miners strike in Ludlow, if the crowd boos him he will make a nice gesture like buy Yellowstone or start a foundation. John J will black gold.

1st Base: Steve Jobs (Apple)

Super innovative at reaching for other people's ideas. He can cover the first base with an eye to stealing second. Fearless umpire baiter, he will yell and scream to achieve his dream.

3rd Base: Eddie Lampert (Sears)

The man who had the singular vision to sell Rolex watches at Sears. The Lamprey will hustle like no one else and if they lose. It is definitely not his fault. Nothing ever is.

Short stop: Tony Hayward (BP)

Great at cleaning up big spills he will cover loads of ground. After the BP explosion he wanted his life back. He can go into the deep hole and feel good about himself.

Left field: Dick Costolo (Twitter)

Let anyone yell whatever they like Dick can take it. The Big Twitt as we know him recognizes there is no way to keep fans from raining sexist, racist abuse and he seems cool with that. Just so they keep it under 140 characters.

Center field: Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs)

Blanksy is definitely President Obama's favorite player. When a player gets paid this much he has to be good, right? He feels he is being punished for his success BY THE JEALOUS. Untouchable and arrogant or just well protected? BLANKSY WILL DOMINATE.

Right field: Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan)

Bring him in front of the commissioner and he just laughs. The man who told Senator Warren "So hit me with a fine. We can afford it." gets the call to hold down right. Right field requires the strongest arm. The Dimon dog has got bark and bite, baby.

Catcher: Mike Jeffries (Abecombie and Fitch)

Not your old fashioned catcher, this field general will micromanage the game. He knows where everyone should play, what underwear they should wear and where his dogs sit on the private plane to the next game.

Starting pitcher: Jeff Bezos (Amazon)

Brings the mad fastball via his drone like arm. Once named, "The World's Worst Boss," he will back you off the plate with high hard ones. Hell, he will buy all the scorecards and have his minions fill them in if necessary. Fans go Crezos for Bezos.

Concessions: Charles Johnson (Owner of SF Giants)

So you shouldn't think I am am playing favorites. The owner of the team I root for the San Francisco Giants. Our ball yard  features gourmet BBQ, garlic fries and cappuccino at the park. Mr. Johnson's personal worth is somewhere north of six and half billion but he makes sure the men and women who sell food and drink at the park get paid poverty wages. Keeps the costs down while providing awesome snacks. That is world class CEOing. way to hang swinging Johnson.

Equipment manager: Chip Wilson (Lululemon)

No ones gains weight on his watch. If you go up a size Chip will blame your thighs. Motivates the clubhouse with some sassy Ayn Rand quotes like To say 'I love you' one must first be able to say the 'I.' then puts you in some tight, sheer stirrup pants. Chipper puts the "I" in team.

Greg Proops new book is called: "The Smartest Book in the World: A Lexicon of Literacy, A Rancorous Reportage, A Concise Curriculum of Cool."

 

PODCAST: The battle of movie studios and theater owners

Wed, 2015-05-06 03:00

Airing on Wednesday, May 6, 2015: The rapid turn-around in oil prices has send the commodity from a 6-year low to a 6-month high. We check in the latest on rising demand of oil. Hollywood movie studios want to take a bigger cut out of movie theater earnings. Burial services are taking an environmental turn. Why more and more cemeteries are offering simpler and greener options for families? 

 

Disney vs movie theaters in the next box office fight

Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

Hollywood is buzzing about a reported battle between Walt Disney Studios and theater owners over "Avengers: Age of Ultron." The recently released film has already pulled in more than $400 million. Theater owners say Disney has been trying to boost its cut by taking a bigger share of the box office and restricting matinee hours. 

Barry Blaustein, Chapman University screenwriting professor, says theaters make money by getting people in the door to buy those overpriced, $5 boxes of Raisinets.

"Basically, movie theaters are in the candy selling business," he says.

Sam Craig teaches marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business. He says historically, theaters and studios typically split box office receipts 50/50. But Disney reportedly wants 60 percent of the box office for the Avengers sequel — and that could add up.

"Studios need theaters. Theaters need films to make money," he says.

If Disney keeps churning out big hits, the studio could have even more power over theaters, and other studios might follow Disney's lead. 

"It's likely to gross over $500 million, so now we're talking $50 million," Craig says.

Disney pricing power

Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

Hollywood is buzzing about a reported battle between Walt Disney Studios and theater owners over Avengers: Age of Ultron. It's barely been out for a couple weeks and has already pulled in more than $400 million dollars. Theater owners say Disney has been trying to boost its cut by taking a bigger share of the box office and restricting matinee hours. 

You might think movie theaters are in the movie business, but you'd be wrong.  Barry Blaustein teaches screenwriting at Chapman University. Blaustein says "basically movie theaters are in the candy selling business." What he means is that theaters make money by getting people in the door so they can buy those $5 boxes of Raisinets.

Sam Craig teaches marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business. Craig says historically, theaters and studios typically split box office receipts 50/50. But Disney reportedly wants 60 percent of the box office for the Avengers sequel. And that could add up. "Studios need theaters. Theaters need films to make money." 

If Disney keeps churning out big hits, the studio could have even more power over theaters. And other studios might follow Disneys lead. "Over its run it's likely to gross over $500 million. So now we're talking $50 million," Craig adds. 

The green movement heads underground

Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

The “green” movement is headed underground — to the grave, that is. More and more cemeteries around the country are offering burial options that use fewer materials and less energy; some are landscaped with native plants and trees. These simplified burials can also be cheaper, but there’s often a catch.

At a dedication ceremony for the St. Kateri Preserve at Calvary Cemetery in Dayton, Marge Devito and her husband Bill watch as a priest blesses the site. Bill has a terminal illness—and they love the idea of burying him in a nature preserve.

“This is exactly what Bill wanted,” says Marge. He had been planning to be cremated and have his ashes scattered, because he wanted something simple, but their kids insisted that he should have a grave site they would be able to visit. When they came to Calvary and learned about the planned nature preserve, Marge Devito says they jumped on it and bought two plots. “It’s just perfect."

Right now the preserve actually looks like some bulldozed dirt on a construction site, but Judy Pavy, who sells plots for the cemetery, says she can picture it. “It’s going to have the wildflowers and native Ohio grasses, and I just envision butterflies and birds visiting.”

The preserve won’t require expensive vaults or underground liners—in fact, those will be forbidden, along with formaldehyde embalming, so the cemetery can get a certification from the Green Burial Council as a green cemetery. For those who want headstones, there will be boulders, as well as a stone wall near the path where people can have their names engraved.

But just like the conventional side of the cemetery, a green plot comes at a price—or a range of prices, actually. A meadow spot is the cheapest, but it gets no marker, and you can’t visit the exact grave site. For a spot by the path or the lake, patrons of the St. Kateri Preserve will pay more. A boulder or a stone engraving is another charge.

Of course, price differentials and upselling are standard in the funeral industry. What’s new is branding the options as “green.”

“What we call green burial is what our ancestors about 130 years ago called burial,” says Josh Slocum, the head of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a national watchdog group. He’s concerned that green funerals will become an overpriced industry of their own—that people will be encouraged or even pressured to purchase natural embalming fluid and expensive biodegradable coffins as boutique items, showing a commitment to the environment. “Whereas really, it’s charging just as much money for fewer services and fewer products.”

Slocum’s not opposed to simplifying the burial process—if anything, he says pricing needs to be more transparent. Taboos around death sometimes make it hard to talk dollars and cents, especially in times of crisis. His advice to would-be funeral consumers? Do what feels right—and ask to see a price list. 

"The flash crash" five years later

Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

May 6, 2015, marks the five-year anniversary of the so-called ‘flash crash’ on the New York Stock Exchange. That day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted more than 1,000 points, before regaining much of its ground by the end of the day.

The causes of the ‘lash crash are still debated, but certainly included a combination of civil unrest and market volatility sparked by the European debt crisis, plus high-frequency trading. Another key factor is now thought to be market manipulation by a single rogue trader in London, who was allegedly ‘spoofing’ S&P futures (in particular, the S&P 500 E-mini contract). That trader, Navinder Sarao, 36, was charged last month in the U.K.

Similar cases have followed.  

On May 5, 2015, in Manhattan federal court, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, working with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, filed civil charges against two traders in the United Arab Emirates. They allegedly spoofed the gold and silver markets from February to April 2015.

University of Maryland law professor Michael Greenberger, a former director at the CFTC, says "embarrassment" over the 2010 flash-crash revelations seem to be galvanizing securities regulators to identify and track down alleged market manipulators. But he says the Obama Administration’s prosecutorial approach isn’t helping, as it has favored civil over criminal charges in most securities-fraud cases since the financial crisis.

“The cleanest and clearest way to stop people from doing these things is the real possibility of ending up in jail,” says Greenberger. When traders and their firms face only civil charges, Greenberger continues, “they pay penalties. Penalties are a cost of doing business. Spending time in prison is the most effective deterrent to the fraudsters.”

Greenberger also believes part of the blame for lax enforcement against spoofing and other attempts to manipulate market prices lies with the equity and futures exchanges themselves. He charges that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, for instance, has dueling incentives—to ensure market integrity, but also to generate profits from higher trading volume, which high-frequency trading provides. Greenberger also says members of Congress, acting to help financial firms that are also big campaign contributors, have not adequately funded federal securities regulators like the CFTC and SEC.

Karen Petrou, a banking analyst at Federal Financial Analytics in Washington, D.C., believes that since the flash crash in 2010, the problem of market manipulation by participants with sophisticated technology for super-fast online trading has only gotten worse—in U.S. markets and overseas. She cites recent examples in the past year, including flash crashes on the German and Swiss markets and in the U.S. bond market. Petrou attributes much of the problem to under-regulated high-frequency traders.

“In its algorithm, in a nanosecond, a liquidity or temporary market phenomenon will give the high-frequency trader a teeny-tiny advantage,” says Petrou. “And if you do that a lot, very, very fast, you can make a lot of money.”

All of that rapid-fire computer-driven and -executed trading increases volatility and systemic financial risk, she says—not just for investors, but also for big banks.

“We are seeing flash crashes in the equity, treasury, foreign exchange and bond markets,” says Petrou. “We should be very scared. I know regulators are. But they’re not acting.”

A multi-agency plan conceived after the 2010 flash crash to monitor and prevent attempts to manipulate the markets has so far been mired in technological complexity, corporate rivalry and regulatory delays. 

 

 

Green burials

Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

The “green” movement is headed underground—to the grave, that is. More and more cemeteries around the country are offering burial options that use fewer materials and less energy; some are landscaped with native plants and trees. These simplified burials can also be cheaper, but there’s often a catch.

At a dedication ceremony for the St. Kateri Preserve at Calvary Cemetery in Dayton, Marge Devito and her husband Bill watch as a priest blesses the site. Bill has a terminal illness—and they love the idea of burying him in a nature preserve.

“This is exactly what Bill wanted,” says Marge. He had been planning to be cremated and have his ashes scattered, because he wanted something simple, but their kids insisted that he should have a grave site they would be able to visit. When they came to Calvary and learned about the planned nature preserve, Marge Devito says they jumped on it and bought two plots. “It’s just perfect."

Right now the preserve actually looks like some bulldozed dirt on a construction site, but Judy Pavy, who sells plots for the cemetery, says she can picture it. “It’s going to have the wildflowers and native Ohio grasses, and I just envision butterflies and birds visiting.”

The preserve won’t require expensive vaults or underground liners—in fact, those will be forbidden, along with formaldehyde embalming, so the cemetery can get a certification from the Green Burial Council as a green cemetery. For those who want headstones, there will be boulders, as well as a stone wall near the path where people can have their names engraved.

But just like the conventional side of the cemetery, a green plot comes at a price—or a range of prices, actually. A meadow spot is the cheapest, but it gets no marker, and you can’t visit the exact grave site. For a spot by the path or the lake, patrons of the St. Kateri Preserve will pay more. A boulder or a stone engraving is another charge.

Of course, price differentials and upselling are standard in the funeral industry. What’s new is branding the options as “green.”

“What we call green burial is what our ancestors about 130 years ago called burial,” says Josh Slocum, the head of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a national watchdog group. He’s concerned that green funerals will become an overpriced industry of their own—that people will be encouraged or even pressured to purchase natural embalming fluid and expensive biodegradable coffins as boutique items, showing a commitment to the environment. “Whereas really, it’s charging just as much money for fewer services and fewer products.”

Slocum’s not opposed to simplifying the burial process—if anything, he says pricing needs to be more transparent. Taboos around death sometimes make it hard to talk dollars and cents, especially in times of crisis. His advice to would-be funeral consumers? Do what feels right—and ask to see a price list. 

PICS: 3120 The St. Kateri Preserve at Calvary Cemetery in Dayton is dedicated to the Catholic church's first Native American saint.

 

3117 A stone wall under construction at a green burial site in Dayton will become a place for engraved names and memorials, in place of the traditional headstone.

For-profit prison companies adjust to new era

Wed, 2015-05-06 02:00

The factors that drove double-digit growth for prison companies are largely in the past — like the ever-harsher sentencing laws that bloomed in the 1980s and 1990s. 

The prison population has actually declined slightly since 2009, according to data compiled by The Sentencing Project.

"With the recession, it became quite clear to governors of both political parties that prisons had become very expensive items in state budgets," the project's director, Marc Mauer, says.

The Corrections Corporation of America has adjusted. Kevin McVeigh, managing director with Macquarie Research, watches the company.  "While it’s still a very healthy industry," he says, "the rate of growth isn’t what it had been historically. And as a result of that, they started to generate meaningful amounts of free cash flow."

Meaning: The company made money operating existing prisons, but it didn’t have new projects to invest that money into.

So, in 2013, it re-organized into a different kind of entity: A Real Estate Investment Trust— or REIT for short.    

Carl Takei, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, sums up the reasons: "It comes with a lot of tax advantages," .

A REIT pays out most of its earnings in dividends, which can result in a better tax deal for both investors and the company.

Typically, REITs own rental properties— the income comes from occupants. In CCA’s case, it's essentially still collecting rent— just not from the occupants themselves.

Takei thinks the arrangement may not last.  "Because mass incarceration and sentencing reform are major topics of discussion, the private prison industry's future is uncertain," he says. Criminal justice reform has become a rallying cry among Republicans as well as Democrats.

Celebrating an infamous anniversary

Wed, 2015-05-06 01:00
5 years

 That's how long it's been since the infamous "Flash Crash" in the U.S. stock market. Regulators wanted to set up a monitoring system to prevent drastic market swings. Consolidated Audit Trail, or CAT, was conceived as a way to mitigate any crisis situation. However, organizations responsible for establishing CAT, including Nasdaq, have been slow to make real progress in building and funding the project, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

80 hours

Some high-powered lawyer, bankers, and consultants claim to clock this many hours each week, but it turns out that schedule doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. The Upshot reported on a study that found about 30 percent of men at one consulting firm set themselves up with a far less stressful schedule while letting others believe they were totally slammed. Turns out the "fakers" had about as much success as people who were actually putting in 80 or 90 hours a week. Women were more likely to ask for an easier schedule up front, the study found, and their performance reviews suffered.

999,000+

This is how many followers British Prime Minister David Cameron has on Twitter. Thursday is the British election, and according to the Guardian, this is the tightest race the country has experienced in years. The leader of the Conservative party faces off his Independent and Labour opponents in a final day of campaigning today. And all candidates have employed social media to reach out to their constituencies. 

$187.7 million

This is how much the Marvel film "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" took in over the weekend in North America. Riding the success of its superhero franchise, Walt Disney studio has been trying to boost its cut by taking a bigger share of the box office and restricting matinee hours. This move is only adding tension to the tug of war between studios and movie theaters. 

18 percent

The portion of Microsoft developers and engineers who are women, according to CEO Satya Nadella. Marketplace Tech's interview with Nadella, split up over two days, touched on the pay and representation gap facing women in tech, as well as Microsoft's cloud computing business and plans for expansion in Nadella's native India.

250

At least that many businesses were damaged or completely destroyed during riots in Baltimore last week. A few of them were CVS stores, which are now slated to reopen after, in some cases, being torched and looted. CVS and other drug stores fill an important role in low-income communities like West Baltimore, offering fresh produce and other healthy food in place of larger grocery stores, which have moved to the suburbs.

In Baltimore, CVS plans to reopen its damaged stores

Tue, 2015-05-05 13:00

Most afternoons, Shauntria Davis sits on this street corner in front of a CVS in West Baltimore, waiting for the bus so she can pick up her kids at daycare. Today is no different, though the drugstore behind her is still boarded up and covered with fresh graffiti. If it weren’t, she’d probably stop in and buy something.

“I use this CVS just about every day,” Davis says.

By the latest tally, more than 250 businesses were damaged during the riots in Baltimore last week, which broke out amid protests following the death of Freddie Gray. But this CVS drugstore, which was looted and then set on fire, became something of a symbol of the turmoil in the city — and now, maybe, of its renewal.

City officials have confirmed that the store on North and Pennsylvania avenues will reopen, along with four others damaged in the violence. The pharmacy chain says it has a “long history” of serving inner city neighborhoods.

The area surrounding Pennsylvania and North is known as a food desert, a poor neighborhood without easy access to a lot of fresh produce and healthy food. Davis says she and her neighbors not only fill prescriptions at CVS, but buy staples like food and diapers.

“The chain drugstore has almost become the general store these days,” says Jim Hertel, a food retail consultant with Willard Bishop.

Decades ago, many supermarkets moved out of the inner cities for the abundant real estate and parking of the suburbs. Hertel says pharmacy chains like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid saw an opportunity to fill the void. In recent years, many of the stores have expanded their grocery aisles and added fresh produce.

“They've got almost a free run, with little competition in those neighborhoods,” Hertel says.

Still, the city had to fight to bring in the CVS at Pennsylvania and North more than two decades ago. More recently, city developers scored a big victory when a Target moved in not far away. It was also damaged during the riots last week.

“It took us at least three, maybe five years, to convince Target that this was a good place,” says Jay Brodie, former president of the Baltimore Development Corporation, which promotes business investment in the city. It also took $15 million in tax breaks to help redevelop the area.

CVS didn't get any incentives to rebuild its damaged stores, says Bill Cole, the current president of the Baltimore Development Corporation.

“Absolutely not,” Cole says, “And CVS hasn’t asked for anything either.”

Texas Instruments: from calculators to cars

Tue, 2015-05-05 13:00

In the 1980s, Texas Instruments was excited about its microchips in a hot toy called the Speak & Spell.

TI’s Speak & Spell used the first single-chip voice synthesizer, a tiny device that just a few years later gave the beloved alien E.T. a voice. 

E.T. took advantage of the microchip, and later so did some Chrysler vehicles. 

Despite its reputation for calculators, Texas Instruments isn’t new to the car business. TI’s automotive business is growing faster than the rest of the company, thanks to selling microprocessors and car technology.

“Most of the major car brands have TI tech inside of them that you don’t even know about," says Automotive Processors general manager Curt Moore.

Microprocessors created by TI are in lots of cars, including Fords and BMWs, where they help control everything from car windows to power steering.

Still, it’s no surprise the average driver isn’t familiar with the company’s car accessories. The names don't exactly roll off the tip of your tongue: There's the DRA7XX and the integrated C66X digital signal processor—all part of the Jacinto family of processors.

But break through the technology jargon and you’ll find a multi-billion dollar industry shaping your driving experience.

Infotainment And Heads-Up Displays

Inside TI’s Dallas showroom, music blasts from a new car infotainment system.

"The way people now differentiate cars is via infotainment and active safety," Moore says. "So all the car companies are looking at how you create that unique experience using electronics that are going to be safer, greener and more fun to drive.”

Moore says car companies are turning to chipmakers like TI and demanding newer, faster microprocessors to build safer, more autonomous cars. One feature that's taken off is the heads-up display.

These displays are a sort of alert system for drivers. Cameras outfitted on the car monitor the surroundings and then project images in a corner of the windshield.

In one display car in the showroom, the windshield shows a traffic sign and two pedestrians up ahead. Both are outlined in neon green.

"So the system would recognize this is a caution sign, would recognize there’s two pedestrians in front of you, and then it could automatically help the car stop and prevent an accident,” Moore says.

In 2013, just two percent of cars used heads-up displays, most of them in luxury vehicles. Now, automakers are taking advantage of cheaper cameras and processors from chipmakers, and they’re outfitting more affordable cars with collision avoidance technology and fancy dashboards.

“So for the chip makers it’s an extraordinary opportunity,” says David Sedgewick, a senior writer for Automotive News. He says chipmakers are all fighting to get their silicon in your car first.

"It’s going to be a dog fight because it’s a tremendous growth industry. No one can do this right yet, but they feel they can’t wait,” Sedgwick says.

The largest chipmakers are drawing in billions of dollars from automotive sales. So for TI, investing in smart car technology was easy math—no calculator required.

Why the secrecy behind trade talks?

Tue, 2015-05-05 13:00

Negotiations are a lot like chess — you’ve probably heard that one before. But in trade negotiations, instead of two players, there are potentially a dozen, each thinking about their best move, each trying to minimize the threat other pieces on the board may pose to them.

 

“It’s a long, drawn-out process,” says Eswar Prasad, a trade policy professor at Cornell University, adding that working out these deals can take years.

 

“Typically, the final points of negotiation are not made public,” he says, though generally, “there is awareness of what the big issues are.”

 

The closed-door nature of the negotiation process has become one of the major stumbling blocks to advancing trade deals currently in the works, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal between the U.S., Japan and 10 other countries.

 

However, there’s a reason the details are private, says Gary Hufbauer, a former trade negotiator with the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

 

“To reach an agreement, one party or the other, has to be seen and reported to be giving up, making a concession,” Hufbauer says. “And since negotiations are all about compromise, that really makes compromise much harder.”

 

Hufbauer thinks pending legislation could open up parts of the process, but he says making negotiations public in real time would essentially kill these kind of agreements.

 

Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, thinks the public should know what’s in the deals, especially as they become closer to being finalized.

 

“I can read the deal and go in and see it, as long as there’s a U.S. trade representative sitting there,” Brown says. “I can’t take notes and take them out of the room. When I’m back in Ohio, my staff can’t go in there, even though she has all the clearance necessary to get access to CIA and Department of the Defense documents.”

 

He says controls like this make him question what there is to hide.

Microsoft put a new emoji in Windows 10

Tue, 2015-05-05 13:00

While this particular final note might not be suitable for younger audience members, it does kind of give you a whole other level of respect for Microsoft.

According to the emoji-tracking website Emojipedia — yes, that's a real thing — the software company that everybody loves to hate is going to introduce a new emoji when it rolls out Windows 10 later this year.

It's technically called: "Reversed hand with middle finger extended."

You can call it what you like.

Making a living off an Etsy business

Tue, 2015-05-05 13:00

ThreeBirdNest is an online retail business run by Alicia Shaffer in Livermore, California. Shaffer began her business by selling handmade accessories for women on Etsy.

"For me, Etsy was a great place to start because the marketplace was there. I didn’t have to invest a lot of money into getting people to come to the website organically," says Shaffer.

Shaffer is not a rookie in the small business industry — this is her third business. Her first business was a baby product line and the second was a brick-and-mortar store — both ended and she and her family found themselves in debt.

"In the beginning, this was out of necessity," says Shaffer. "I needed to make money to pay for financial loss that we had had, I didn’t want to lose our house, and I have three kids I needed to provide for."

Shaffer’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to Etsy and says she saw it as a chance to try again, and not make the same mistakes she made in her other businesses.

Shaffer now owns her own e-commerce site for ThreeBirdNest. It's Etsy’s second-most successful handmade goods shop.

What's at stake in the British election

Tue, 2015-05-05 13:00

Britons go to the polls this week in their most unpredictable general election in decades. No one party seems likely to emerge with an overall majority; a coalition government involving two, three or even four parties is a possibility.

The repercussions of the vote could be enormous, conceivably leading to: the exodus of thousands of wealthy foreigners, the beginning of the end of Britain’s role as a nuclear power, the exit of Britain from the European Union and even the break-up of the United Kingdom.
 
Here's a breakdown of the key issues:
 
Exodus

Dan Hill/Marketplace
More than 100,000 people living in Britain today enjoy a special tax status, known as ‘non-dom.’  They may have lived in the U.K. for decades, but they are not regarded as permanent residents — and therefore are not required to pay tax on their overseas income. The opposition Labour Party has promised, if it wins power, to abolish non-dom status. 

Labour’s critics say this could trigger the departure of thousands of 'non-doms,' depriving the government of the $12 billion tax they pay on their UK earnings and damaging London as an international financial centre.
 
Nuked

Dan Hill/Marketplace
Labour will likely form a government only if it has the support of the Scottish National Party. The SNP is vehemently opposed to Britain’s nuclear weapons  program, the Trident submarine system based in Scotland, and has indicated that the price of its support for Labour might be Trident’s removal from Scottish territory.

Labour insists it will not do political deals with national security, and at this stage Trident looks safe. But the country must decide next year whether or not to renew the $150 billion system, and pressure to scale down, or even scrap, this costly weapon could grow.
 
Brexit

Dan Hill/Marketplace
If the Conservatives win power again, they have promised to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union and hold an in-out referendum no later than 2017. British business is largely in favor of continued membership if the EU is reformed. Euro-skepticism  has declined amongst the general population, and opinion polls show that a majority of Brits would probably vote to stay in. But European referendums have a habit of blowing up in the politicians’ faces; this vote — if it takes place — could herald Britain’s departure with unpredictable consequences, for Britain and for the rest of Europe.

Mind you, one leading British economist, Roger Bootle, author of “The Trouble With Europe,” thinks Britain would be better off out than in.
 
Break-up

Dan Hill/Marketplace
If the Scottish National Party wins big, as opinion polls suggest they will, the SNP will not only be able to exert undue pressure on the national government in London, the party will also demand a re-run of last year’s referendum on independence for Scotland. And if the political outcome of this week’s election is as messy as forecast, the case for Scottish separation may grow stronger. 

Next time by a small majority, the Scots could vote to break up their 308-year-old union with the English.

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