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Sochi half-bathrooms: True or false?

Thu, 2014-02-06 12:07

We here at Marketplace are never ones to let a good corporate or government fail go by.

BUT.

Some of those viral pictures of half-toilets and Russian menus translated into words we can't say are amusing, but they're not from Sochi, where the Winter Olympics start today.

Sochi appears to be plagued with hotel problems and questions about the safety of some events, but sometimes viral humor just proves a little too good to be true.

Sochi half-bathrooms: True or false?

Thu, 2014-02-06 12:07

We here at Marketplace are never ones to let a good corporate or government fail go by.

BUT.

Some of those viral pictures of half-toilets and Russian menus translated into words we can't say are amusing, but they're not from Sochi, where the Winter Olympics start today.

Sochi appears to be plagued with hotel problems and questions about the safety of some events, but sometimes viral humor just proves a little too good to be true.

JFK 1964 and Beatle-mania

Thu, 2014-02-06 12:00

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up Friday:

  • How many folks started off 2014 with a new job? The Labor Department releases its employment report for January.
  • The Federal Reserve is scheduled to release its monthly Consumer Credit Report for December.  
  • And fifty years ago fans screamed their guts out at John F Kennedy International Airport when The Beatles landed on their first visit to the U.S.   

Free checking accounts weren't making banks money. Go figure.

Thu, 2014-02-06 11:54

Free checking used to be almost ubiquitous at American banks. But those days are over.

In 2009, more than 80 percent of banks offered free checking. Now, it’s down to around 60 percent, according to economist Michael Moebs, who runs a research firm called Moebs Services. He surveyed almost 2,900 banks about free checking.

"We’ve seen probably the steepest decline that I’ve ever seen, in any major financial service, ever," says Moebs.

Checking accounts are almost never profitable for big banks. And new regulations have driven up costs for the banks.

"The cost to operate a checking account is very expensive. On average, it’s about $380 a year," says Moebs.

The big banks did the math. Moebs says: "They decided to get out of free checking because they couldn’t make any money in it."

Well, it is called free checking.

"Free checking is a bit of a misnomer," says Bob Meara, an analyst with the research firm Celent. He says banks have used free checking as a kind of loss-leader to get customers in the door and sell them other services.

But since the Great Recession, customers haven’t been buying as many services. And new regulations have limited bank profits on things like credit cards and debit cards.

"Banks responded by increasing the per incident fees. So, overdraft fees grew to over $30 an incident," says Meara.

Free-checking still exists. But it helps to be a preferred customer.

"Banks will position lower costs – ostensibly ‘free-checking’ – for consumers who don’t consume the more expensive aspects of service delivery," says Meara. "And charge other consumers a bit more who represent a greater cost."

If you want to avoid some fees, you might try a community bank or a credit union. Their cost structure is lower than the big banks, so they are more likely to offer you free-checking.

Why would you want to brew your own Coke?

Thu, 2014-02-06 11:54

Green Mountain Coffee's Keurig machine allows users to make one cup of coffee at a time. A new product from Green Mountain, due out in the next year or so, will do the same for cold beverages — including Coca-Cola, thanks to a new partnership announced this week.

But how eager are we to make our own soda pop? What's in it for us?

Variety and personalization, says Bob Goldin, from the food-industry consulting groupTechnomic. He says that's one of the things that makes Starbucks so successful with coffee. Skim or whole milk? What roast? Half-caff?

"And double-shot, triple-shot, and then you probably have 10 to 15 different kinds of syrups," he says. "So this is higher math, but the number of options is almost mind-boggling."

Coke offers this now with "freestyle" vending machines in some fast-food restaurants. They allow you to dispense yourself a custom cocktail—so, if mixing Mr. Pibb and Mello Yello is your thing, you can knock yourself out. The company says that stores with those machines report higher sales. So, OK, variety.

Gary Hemphill, director of research for Beverage Marketing Corporation, adds convenience to the list. Maybe. Instead of lugging home cases of cans or two-liters from the store, consumers can stock up on pods.

"You get the ability to keep basically an endless supply," he says. "And then you don’t have to worry about recycling the containers."

These don’t sound like compelling reasons for people to buy a soda-making machine to Harry Balzer, who watches consumer behavior—like, the foods and drinks we consume—for NPD.

"This has the feel of 'Why would I want to make this, again? It better save me an awful lot of money,'" says Balzer.

He thinks the main reason people might buy this machine is what motivated people to buy bread machines 20 years ago.

"Which, to me, was: We just have no more gifts to give our parents," he says. "This kind of has the same feel to me. We have no more gifts to give anybody, so: Give 'em a soda maker!"

And in a few years, they can toss it in the attic.

Ignore the Unemployment Rate. There's a better jobs indicator.

Thu, 2014-02-06 11:54

The monthly jobs report comes out tomorrow.  So we’ll get a better view of who’s employed, and who’s not. 

But some prominent movers and shakers in the finance world, including outgoing PIMCO CEO Mohammed El Erian, are suggesting we ought to give less weight to that employment rate number

DETHRONING KING INDICATOR?

Why might the long reigning king of economic indicators need to be dethroned?

Well, many people in finance focus on the unemployment rate because of the Federal Reserve.  The Fed has said (...in so many words...), "the economy’s got issues, we’re not going to even think about pushing up interest rates in the economy until the unemployment rate gets down to 6.5 percent."   

Trouble is, we’re near that threshold.

"But we’re not there for the right reasons," says Kevin Logan, Chief U.S. Economist with HSBC. The unemployment rate is almost down to 6.5%, but the economy has still got problems.

For example, one reason the unemployment rate is going down is because a lot of people are giving up looking for work.  Another reason is that a lot of baby boomers are retiring.

"It’s very hard to make a rule that’s good for all time," says Neal Soss, Chief Economist with Credit Suisse. "Mothers can do that, but you can’t do it when you’re managing an economy of 350 million  Americans." 

As a result, Soss says, the Fed is giving the unemployment rate "much less weight, and I think that means it’s less consequential for financial markets."

He adds that the unemployment rate and other indicators like the labor force participation rate suffer from "statistical problems." The unemployment rate and labor force participation rate are calculated "as if all the people who are in the older, retiring age brackets were still effectively available for work," says Soss.  "We really ought to give them less weight as a gauge of economic performance," at least without the proper context. 

SO WHAT SHOULD WE BE LOOKING AT?

So what should we be looking at – not just for a glimpse into Fed policy, but for a look at how the economy’s doing? 

Well, really, the answer is.... everything else in the jobs report.  Because there is a LOT of stuff.

"The unemployment rate might give an unintentionally optimistic view for people who are not paying attention to all of the other statistics produced in these reports," says Gary Burtless, a labor economist with the Brookings Institution.    

How many people are involuntarily working short hours? What is the labor participation rate compared to what we would expect at full employment?  How much has the employment rate returned to the rate we would predict, given how old the population is? 

Total hours worked and data on wages are also included in the jobs report.

"Those are numbers that are very easy to tease out and they give us a complete indication of the health of the job market."

Credit Suisse’s Soss and HSBC’s Logan both agree that fully fleshed out numbers are still useful to the Fed, and to understanding the economy.

Both say the Fed, with the unemployment picture still recovering very slow, may focus on inflation as an important threshold for policy action.  However, inflation is a long-term, slow-moving indicator, and not as reflective of instantaneous conditions in the economy. 

YEAH, YEAH HOLISTIC VIEW, LOTS OF FACTORS, I GET IT. 

NOW WHAT’S THE ONE BEST NUMBER WE SHOULD LOOK FOR?

If you had to pick one number, it’d be the payroll numbers – that’s how many people are employed - full time, part time, all of it. 

"The reason for that," says HSBC’s Logan, "is that things are produced when more people work, the economy grows when more people work; payroll won’t grow if the economy is stagnant."

"The report in its entirety will continue to be very important," says Logan.  "The payroll data, hours data, wage data, will continue to drive market opinion," as well as Fed policy.

SO WHAT ARE THE JOBS NUMBERS – ALL OF THEM – SAYING?

Well we haven’t seen tomorrow’s jobs report, but right now: "We’re seeing a very weak recovery," says Michael Farr, president and chief investment officer at investment firm Farr Miller & Washington.  "We’ve seen a huge surge in part-time jobs versus full-time jobs," he says. 

Part time jobs are better than no jobs, but with part time employees, employers don’t have to pay out benefits or pay as much money. 

"It’s not as healthy for the economy because those folks don’t earn as much, they don’t have as much money in their hands, they don’t buy things, and so manufacturers don’t have to make as much."

Through November things were looking up, but December fell far below everyone’s expectations.  Payroll increased by 74,000 people – analysts were expecting an increase of 200,000. 

The big question is whether December’s numbers were just a weird quirk of weather, or statistical sampling, or if they reflect a trend. 

Tomorrow’s numbers will give us a clue. 

The 9 weirdest cities that have hosted the Olympics (and why!)

Thu, 2014-02-06 10:05

With the Winter Olympics starting, the world’s attention is drawn toward Sochi, a small and sunny resort city in the Southwestern corner of Russia. And with that attention, a question. Why Sochi?

It does seem strange to choose a city known for its beach and palm trees to host something called the Winter Olympics, but strange city choices aren’t new to the Games. So without further ado, here are the nine oddest choices to host the Olympics:

Melbourne & Stockholm. That's right, the 1956 Summer Games were held in two entirely different cities, in two entirely different countries, and on two entirely different continents. No, track athletes didn’t run the 100 meters in Melbourne and then take a flight to Stockholm to compete in the 200 meters.  Melbourne was picked as the host city and nearly all of the events happened there, but because of Australia’s strict quarantine laws, the equestrian events had to be held in Stolkholm. The Olympic organizers were not aware of these laws before they picked Melbourne, and by the time the International Olympic Committee learned of them, it was already too late to do anything about it.

Helsinki. As Sochi is one of the warmest cities to host a Winter Olympics, Helsinki was one of the coldest cities to host a Summer Olympics. During the summer months it averages 64 degrees, which isn't too cold, unless you compare it to other Summer Games. The Beijing Olympics had an average high of 87 degrees, and the Athens Olympics averaged 90 degrees. But that’s not the only reason Helsinki was a strange choice for the 1952 Olympics. It's actually the smallest and least economically powerful city the IOC has ever picked. According to Brookings, Helsinki has the lowest GDP of any city to host the Summer Olympics. And Finland is the smallest nation to have organized them. By all accounts, it did a fine job hosting, with 70,000 people crowding into the stadium stadium. At the time, Helsinki had a population of 380,000.

Squaw Valley, Calif. The Winter Olympics has been hosted in some fairly out-of-the-way places. Lake Placid, N.Y., Albertville, France, and Innsbruck, Austria, aren't really megacities. But the 1960 Winter Olympics have the distinction of being the only Games to go to a place with only one resident. When Alexander Cushing persuaded the IOC to have the games in his new resort of Squaw Valley, there was one chairlift, one lodge, and one person living there. That person was Alexander Cushing. Fortunately for Cushing’s legacy, a world-class winter sports complex was built in time for the games, and afterwards, Squaw Valley became a destination ski resort, frequently visited by Hollywood stars. In fact, the opening ceremonies were designed by Walt Disney himself, and included the release of 2,000 doves. 

 

St. Louis. The choice for the 1904 Summer Olympics wasn’t as out-of-the blue as you might think. St. Louis was the fourth-largest American city at the time, and the games were part of an immense World’s Fair that celebrated the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. Unfortunately, the World’s Fair completely overshadowed the Olympics. Even more unfortunate, it led to one of the most disgusting moments in Olympic history. A competition, concocted by one of the Fair's organizers, pitted Olympic athletes against "savages" from the human zoos at the World's Fair. Yes, "human zoos." The fair took people from "primitive" societies, recreated their villages in St. Louis, and then let tourists gawk at them. It was disgusting. And the contest between these displaced tribespeople and Olympic athletes was embarrassing.

Montreal. Montreal makes sense as an Olympic host city. It's the second-largest city in Canada and generates $142.8 billion in GDP. It wouldn't have been a strange choice for the IOC at all, if not for the corruption and cost overruns. Originally estimated to be around $360 million, costs for the 1976 Summer Games ballooned to $1.6 billion. Montreal's Olympic Stadium was eventually paid for. In 2006. Although the site of some of the greatest moments in Olympic history (Nadia Comanici’s perfect 10 being the best example), the Montreal games stand as a reminder for future host cities to not overspend on the Games.

Moscow & Los Angeles. Moscow and Los Angeles are two of the biggest and most culturally important cities in the world. Combined, they have a GDP of over $1 trillion. However, the IOC's choice to pick Moscow as the host of the 1980 Summer Games and Los Angeles as the host of the 1984 Games presented a few problems, as there happened to be a Cold War going on at the time. The U.S. organized a boycott of the Moscow Games as a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. More than 50 nations joined America in the boycott, lowering the number of participating nations to 80, the fewest since 1956. In response, the USSR boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics. Only thirteen other countries joined them, but this bloc of countries took home 58 percent of the gold medals in the 1976 Olympics. And though the Los Angeles Games are now remembered for actually managing to turn a $223 million profit (mostly because of corporate sponsorship and using existing structures), picking these two cities caused the level of athletic competition to dip significantly.

Sochi. This list had to include Sochi, one of the strangest host cities to be chosen. It's a subtropical resort town that boasts palm trees and beaches. Granted, the skiers and snowboarders will be skiing and snowboarding on the nearby mountains, but organizers are still hoarding snow in case it doesn't, well, snow. And because Sochi is a sunny vacation destination, organizers had to construct massive sports and transportation projects. Partly due to that, it's the most expensive Olympics in history, with a price tag of nearly $50 billion. Certainly one of the weirdest host cities ever to be picked.

Communities along rail lines worry about oil explosions

Thu, 2014-02-06 08:29

Ever lapsed into daydreaming while you sit at a railroad crossing, waiting for a long freight train to go by?

After a fatal oil train explosion in Quebec last summer killed 47 people and flattened a downtown, people aren't daydreaming anymore. That disaster served as a wake-up call to a lot of communities living close to railroad tracks, who suddenly realized that was crude oil rolling by in tanker. As oil trains have had more accidents, and governments are examining the safety of rail oil shipments, some local residents are applying the brakes on what they see as a dangerous rush to move oil by train.

There are, however, powerful economic reasons why more oil is being shipped by rail, rather than through pipelines.

 

Reporter Sarah Gardner talked with Graham Brisben, CEO and founder, PLG Consulting, about moving oil by train:

Q: How much crude oil are we moving on trains?

A: It's certainly growing. It's up to about 400,000 carloads per year today. Although crude by rail gets a lot of attention -- it's a big focus in the media partly because it's an area of growth for railroads, but also because there have been a number of high profile crude-by-rail accidents -- the reality is it's only 2 to 3 percent of total car loadings for the railroads.

Q: Why are they using trains to move oil to refineries?

A: Initially, when crude by rail got started, it occurred in the Bakken play in North Dakota. The initial idea was to use rail to get crude to market simply to bide the time until pipelines were built out with enough capacity. But once crude oil got going, the commodity traders and the exploration and production companies realized that rail gave them faster transit times, the ability to ramp up more quickly than pipelines, and the ability to take the crude oil to different destinations where a higher price could be received for those barrels.

Q: There's not just one price?

A: No. Because crude oil trades at different prices at different places according to oil benchmarks (like West Texas Intermediate, Light Louisiana Sweet and Brent).

Q: Won't crude by rail go away when more pipelines get built?

A: As the pipeline network gets built out in a north-south direction, the flow of crude from the Bakken in North Dakota will have more of a shift from rail back to pipeline. But going east-west, that business will persist. You're simply not going to see a buildout of pipelines going east-west. It's simply cost-prohibitive to go over the Rocky Mountains, for example.

Q: What about tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada?

A: That oil is coming to market both by pipeline and now, increasingly, by rail. First, it was the light, sweet crude out of the Bakken. Now, it's heavy sour Canadian crude going to U.S. refineries.

Q: Who's making money on all this?

A: Obviously this has been a bright spot for the railroads. And tank car builders and leasers have enjoyed some very flush returns. The other beneficiary has been commodity traders who take advantage of those price spreads. It's also a good time to be in the refining business because of abundant domestic supply. They're in a better position than they were five years ago.

Q: Federal regulators are moving to increase safety standards in light of recent accidents. Will those new regulations affect the economics of crude by rail?

A: Crude by rail is economically attractive enough to warrant the hard work it is going to take to improve safety. The measures that can be taken, in reality, aren't all that difficult. We expect regulations on retrofitting tank cars with crude oil. Also it wouldn't surprise me if there end up being routing guidelines away from population centers, along with the speed restrictions. And greater scrutiny of terminal operations.

Q: Railroads seem very old-fashioned somehow. Could we live without them?

A: Could we live? Yes. Could our economy survive without railroads? No.

More crude oil travels by train, and communities along rail lines grow concerned

Thu, 2014-02-06 08:29

Ever lapsed into daydreaming while you sit at a railroad crossing, waiting for a long freight train to go by?

When a fatal oil train explosion in Quebec last summer killed 47 people and flattened a downtown, people aren't daydreaming anymore. That disaster served as a wake-up call to a lot of people living close to railroad tracks, who suddenly realized that was crude oil rolling by in tanker. As oil trains have had more accidents, and governments are examining the safety of rail oil shipments, some local residents are applying the brakes on what they see as a dangerous rush to move oil by train.

There are, however, powerful economic reasons why more oil is being shipped by rail, rather than through pipelines.

 

Reporter Sarah Gardner talked with Graham Brisben, CEO and founder, PLG Consulting, about moving oil by train:

Q: How much crude oil are we moving on trains?

A: It's certainly growing. It's up to about 400,000 carloads per year today. Although crude by rail gets a lot of attention -- it's a big focus in the media partly because it's an area of growth for railroads, but also because there have been a number of high profile crude-by-rail accidents -- the reality is it's only 2 to 3 percent of total car loadings for the railroads.

Q: Why are they using trains to move oil to refineries?

A: Initially, when crude by rail got started, it occurred in the Bakken play in North Dakota. The initial idea was to use rail to get crude to market simply to bide the time until pipelines were built out with enough capacity. But once crude oil got going, the commodity traders and the exploration and production companies realized that rail gave them faster transit times, the ability to ramp up more quickly than pipelines, and the ability to take the crude oil to different destinations where a higher price could be received for those barrels.

Q: There's not just one price?

A: No. Because crude oil trades at different prices at different places according to oil benchmarks (like West Texas Intermediate, Light Louisiana Sweet and Brent).

Q: Won't crude by rail go away when more pipelines get built?

A: As the pipeline network gets built out in a north-south direction, the flow of crude from the Bakken in North Dakota will have more of a shift from rail back to pipeline. But going east-west, that business will persist. You're simply not going to see a buildout of pipelines going east-west. It's simply cost-prohibitive to go over the Rocky Mountains, for example.

Q: What about tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada?

A: That oil is coming to market both by pipeline and now, increasingly, by rail. First, it was the light, sweet crude out of the Bakken. Now, it's heavy sour Canadian crude going to U.S. refineries.

Q: Who's making money on all this?

A: Obviously this has been a bright spot for the railroads. And tank car builders and leasers have enjoyed some very flush returns. The other beneficiary has been commodity traders who take advantage of those price spreads. It's also a good time to be in the refining business because of abundant domestic supply. They're in a better position than they were five years ago.

Q: Federal regulators are moving to increase safety standards in light of recent accidents. Will those new regulations affect the economics of crude by rail?

A: Crude by rail is economically attractive enough to warrant the hard work it is going to take to improve safety. The measures that can be taken, in reality, aren't all that difficult. We expect regulations on retrofitting tank cars with crude oil. Also it wouldn't surprise me if there end up being routing guidelines away from population centers, along with the speed restrictions. And greater scrutiny of terminal operations.

Q: Railroads seem very old-fashioned somehow. Could we live without them?

A: Could we live? Yes. Could our economy survive without railroads? No.

PODCAST: Layoffs in tech and retail

Thu, 2014-02-06 08:27

There are job cuts and there are companies that announce plans to cut jobs. The outplacement firm Challenger Grey and Christmas keeps a monthly tally of the latter, and there's news just now these layoff announcements surged in January. A combined total of 45,100 jobs will eventually go, including many jobs from the supposedly screamingly-hot world of technology.

The governor of Tennessee wants to make community college or technical school free for all high school graduates in the state. Republican Governor Bill Haslam calls his proposal the Tennessee Promise. It's part of a broader workforce development strategy in a state that lags behind in higher education, but wants a technically savvy labor pool.

European foreign ministers this month are meeting with officials in Cuba to work out a new agreement on trade and investment. What might this mean for Cuba's still tenuous relationship with the U.S.?

Twitter's good earnings report just doesn't cut it for investors

Thu, 2014-02-06 08:16

Twitter released it's first quarterly earnings report yesterday. And the little bluebird did better than expected, earning two hundred and 42 million dollars in revenue last quarter. But investors aren't happy this morning, because growth in the number of Twitter monthly users was not sky high. Twitter's stock has dropped 20 percent so far this morning.

Brian Blau is a research director for consumer technologies at Gartner and joined us to help explain.

Click play on the audio player above to hear the interview.

How easy should it be to join a labor union?

Thu, 2014-02-06 08:00

The National Labor Relations Board proposed changes to the rules that govern how workers vote on whether or not to unionize. The new rules make it easier for workers to organize by allowing them to distribute information electronically and by shortening the election period.

Under the current system, if workers want to form a union they have to file a petition and then hold an NLRB-sanctioned election. Before the election is the appeals process. Labor organizers argue this system allow employers to delay elections.

“The idea is to eliminate those tactical maneuvers,” says Thomas Kochan, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

The new rules would move the appeals process to after the election, thereby shortening the period between the petition and the election. 

The U.S. Chamber of commerce and other business groups oppose the rule change.

“They feel like these rules are going to have the effect of silencing employers,” says Geoff Burr, Vice President of Government Affairs at The Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group that represents 22,000 predominantly non-union construction businesses. 

The 5 member board of the NLRB is divided with three democrats in favor of the rule change and two republicans opposed.  Both sides will have 75 days to weigh in on the rule change before a public hearing in April.

European officials to consider new trade with Cuba

Thu, 2014-02-06 07:24

European foreign ministers this month are meeting with officials in Cuba to work out a new agreement on trade and investment. What might this mean for Cuba's still tenuous relationship with the U.S.?

Enrique Acevedo, a Miami-based reporter and anchor for Univision joined us to help answer that question. Click play on the audio player above to hear the interview.

Opinions on Cuba, of course, vary widely.  Enrique's network is just finishing up its surveys for a nationwide poll on the attitudes of Americans toward Cuba, which Univision plans to release next week. 

When tech jobs don't last forever

Thu, 2014-02-06 07:08

There are job cuts and there are companies that announce plans to cut jobs. The outplacement firm Challenger Grey and Christmas keeps a monthly tally of the latter, and there's news just now these layoff announcements surged in January. A combined total of 45,100 jobs will eventually go, including many jobs from the supposedly screamingly-hot world of technology.

John Challenger is CEO is the company that commissions the survey and said that while the tech industry has seen a lot of growth, it's also subject to a lot of volatility. Companies like Intel and EMC are shifting their business strategies to account for the mobile market.

Many of the announced layoffs are part of a trend we've been tracking in recent weeks, with retailers like Target, Sear's, Macy's laying off after the holidays.

"The cuts that occured in retail came from two sources," Challenger says, "They looked at their store operations and cut unprofitable areas of their businesses post-holiday rush, but also tens of thousands of workers, year-in-year-out, leave their jobs -- they've been hired during the holiday season -- and then when the season's over, they go back to their full-time jobs or second jobs. Those jobs literally disappear when the season's over and come back in the following year."

The government's monthly tally of employed and unemployed comes tomorrow, a report that experts say could be distorted by the weather and people falling out of the labor force after their unemployment benefits were curtailed.

New York's Fashion Week spreads out from its uptown hub

Thu, 2014-02-06 06:14

In New York today amid the grey slushy snowbanks will be a crush of Lincoln town cars and Uber Limos, as Fashion Week officially begins. Fashion week is spreading out from its fancy, uptown hub and one of the people responsible for that is Jenné Lombardo, the co-founder of MADE Fashion Week which helps promote more up-start designers. She joined us to talk about how that is happening.

Click play above to hear more.

After the interview, Lombardo shared her thoughts on some of her favorite designers. Though hse is a fan of many New York designers, there are two that stand out: 

“Jeremy Scott and the Blonds are really a show. I mean, the audience is just as entertaining and interesting as are the clothes. So at the end of the week when you’re absolutely exhausted, to be able to go to their shows, it’s pretty thrilling.”

The Blonds:

 

Jeremy Scott:

 

Sony to sell off VAIO brand, expects $1bn loss

Thu, 2014-02-06 05:54

The once-mighty electronics giant Sony said today it's no longer expecting to make a profit this year. Instead the forecast is for a loss of more than $1 billion. And Sony said today it will sell off VAIO, it's personal computer-laptop business. The BBC's Rupert Wingfield Hayes joined us from Tokyo to help explain.

Click play on the audio player above to hear more.

Tennessee Promise to make state's community colleges free

Thu, 2014-02-06 05:30

The governor of Tennessee wants to make community college or technical school free for all high school graduates in the state. Republican Governor Bill Haslam calls his proposal the Tennessee Promise. It's part of a broader workforce development strategy in a state that lags behind in higher education, but wants a technically savvy labor pool.

If the Promise succeeds, Tennessee will be the only state to offer associate's degrees and technical certificates free. David Baime with the American Association of Community Colleges says many students are right on the brink, financially.

"So when a message is sent out loudly and clearly that for qualified students community college is free," says Baime, "We think that it could make a big difference in terms of people's willingness to enroll in our institutions."

The governor says he'll pay for the Tennessee Promise with lottery revenue. The proposal builds on a growing number of smaller place based scholarship programs. Michelle Miller-Adams studies the Kalamazoo Promise in Michigan and says the lure of college scholarships for Kalamazoo students prompted many families to move there.

"The Kalamazoo public school district has grown by 25 percent over the last seven years since the Promise was announced," Miller-Adams says.

She says that's a local economic bump that wouldn't be felt in a statewide program. But the focus on community colleges could do a lot to develop the local workforce.

Avoiding government surveillance at the Olympic games

Thu, 2014-02-06 05:03

The winter olympics start tomorrow in the Russian city of Sochi. Olympians, officials, and reporters have been arriving all week, with lots of devices in tow. And that means there's been a lot of talk about digital surveillance. Russia's government doesn't have the best record in, say, protecting freedom of the press. Ars Technica's senior business editor Cyrus Farivar has been looking at how to use technology while at the games and joined us to help explain.

Click play on the audio player above to hear more.

No benefits for the rich

Thu, 2014-02-06 03:36

Today the Senate will vote on a bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits for 1.7 Million Americans. The proposal would exclude one group – people making incomes over $1 Million.

After all, if you’re a millionaire, maybe you don’t need a safety net funded by tax payers.

“It is the kind of thing that I think government should be doing more of. Which is saying, who really needs that safety net and who doesn’t,” says economist Michael Strain with the American Enterprise Institute.

But would the exclusion save the government money?

“The millionaires exclusion is a solution in search of a problem,” says Judy Conti, a federal advocacy coordinator with the National Employment Law Project.

In 2009, millionaires collected $20 million in unemployment benefits. “That was only 18-one-hundredths of a percent of the total outlay of unemployment benefits for that entire year,” says Conti.

Also, excluding the rich wouldn’t be free. States would have to set-up new systems to measure income.

“There is an associated cost. And they wouldn’t get additional money to administer this test,” says Rich Hobbie, executive director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.

He says states would be forced to spend scarce resources in order to deny benefits to millionaires.

It's not that easy to be a YouTube superstar

Thu, 2014-02-06 02:15

YouTube used to be a place that was mostly about curiosities, bits of original, unedited video clips by amateurs. Then people started getting serious. The amateurs started getting famous because of what -- and how much -- video they were putting on the website. YouTube started selling ADS on all those videos, and giving some of that money to creators. Leslie Kaufman is a media reporter for the New York Times. She wrote a story this week on how hard it can still be to make the big bucks even when you're a super YouTuber.

Click play above to hear the whole interview.

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