Marketplace - American Public Media

Railroads' earnings -- and their freight -- show where the economy's heading

Fri, 2014-01-24 05:51

When you think of the 21st century American economy, your mind no doubt flips to things digital and mobile. But corporate earnings out this week were a good reminder that an industry that sounds more 19th century is key to the modern economy as well -- railroads.   

For years now, railroads have been smartly and quietly upgrading infrastructure and increasing market share. The days when trains carried grain and coal aren’t over, but they carry a lot more now, too. “They carry just about everything that’s in your house to the materials that built your house,” says Anthony Hatch, head of ABH Consulting in New York. 

For that reason, railroad freight can provide a window on the overall economy. Take Union Pacific’s latest quarterly report. It reported its coal carloads dropped 10 percent, a dip that reflects a broader trend in the economy -- the slow but steady shift to natural gas.   

But the railroad companies are carrying more cars, lumber and piping, which hints at recent growth in auto sales, home construction and fracking. Lee Klaskow, a Bloomberg Industries transportation and logistics analyst, says railroads are playing a key role in the shale boom, “whether they’re hauling crude out or hauling chemicals and sand and water and piping into the places where they’re doing hydraulic fracturing.”

Anthony Hatch says all that hydraulic fracturing will make for more products made from the natural gas they’re drilling in the fracking fields -- plastic wrap and anti-freeze, just to name a couple. Those products will ultimately fill rail cars, too.

 

Happy Birthday, Apple Macintosh, on your 30th

Fri, 2014-01-24 05:40

Apple celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the Macintosh computer on Saturday, Jan. 25, in Cupertino, California. The unveiling of the Mac to the world by Steve Jobs on Jan. 24, 1984 -- also in Cupertino -- was Apple’s most successful product launch to date, as Apple took on IBM’s domination of the fast-growing market for personal computers.

After the Mac was launched, Apple did well, then not so well in the ‘90s (Steve Jobs had been ousted from the company in 1985). Then he came back in 1996, when Apple bought his company, NeXT, and by the early 2000s Apple was doing well again, revolutionizing the personal computing world with the iTunes store, and iPods, and eventually iPhones and iPads.

Apple’s public pre-launch of the Mac came during SuperBowl XVIII on January 22, 1984 (the L.A. Raiders trounced the Washington Redskins, 38 to 9). A dramatic ad directed by Ridley Scott for the Macintosh ran during the game.

An army of grey robot-men march through prison-like corridors to an assembly area, as a Big Brother figure drones at them from a huge screen about conformity and power. Enter a female runner -- in color, representing Apple -- pursued by helmeted riot police. She runs before them, past the oblivious robot-men, turns once, twice, three times, and hurls a sledgehammer into the screen, smashing Big Brother, unleashing air and light, waking the robots from their authoritarian trance, and ushering in the Age of Macintosh.

“That day the earth’s axis shifted a little bit,” says Guy Kawasaki with a small laugh. At the time, Kawasaki was the Apple Macintosh division’s software evangelist. He was there two days after the Superbowl ad aired, when Steve Jobs unveiled the Macintosh.

“It represented an entirely new way of interacting with computers and accessing information,” says Kawasaki. “This was your computer, and you could do what you wanted with it.”

Technology writer John Battelle was an early adopter and covered Apple for MacWeek; he went on to cofound Wired and The Industry Standard (he’s now CEO of Federated Media). He says Mac’s graphical user interface -- clicking and dragging the mouse across screen displays -- made the personal computer something everyone could use.

“Simply put—you saw yourself mirrored in that machine,” says Battelle. “What you did was directly reflected in the interface of that machine. When you moved your hand, something moved on the machine. The WYSIWYG -- ‘what you see is what you get’ -- interface was magical, and it began a journey of our society into becoming digital and understanding what it means to be data.”

That first post-apocalyptic Mac ad ended with an announcer saying these words as they scrolled down the screen: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”

The beige Macintosh personal computer that Steve Jobs described as being ‘for the rest of us’ -- the one that he believed would unseat IBM’s dominance of the market, and change the world -- had arrived.

Listen to an extended interview with Guy Kawasaki here:

What other technology was "born" in 1984? According to this timeline:
  • The Olivetti PC
  • Flash memory
  • 3D printing
  • The first portable computer (weighing in at 30 lbs)
  • The first desktop laser printer
  • Tetris!

Great Wall of Wyoming? This week's Silicon Tally

Fri, 2014-01-24 05:22

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, Kara Swisher, formerly of All Things D, currently co-executive editor with Walt Mossberg of the new tech news and reviews website Re/Code, takes on the tech gauntlet in our weekly Silicon Tally quiz. Play along at home, below.

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Strutting in style at the Grammys doesn't come cheap

Fri, 2014-01-24 05:05

Singer, actress, and model Colette Falla moved to Los Angeles five years ago, and is used to the ups and downs that accompany life as an emerging artist in a city chock-full of emerging artists.  She’s also used to the expense that her career incurs. 

“When I was a kid I had singing lessons and piano lessons,” Falla said. “I did summer workshops for acting. Then, I went to university and and a course which was theater studies and English.” There was also private vocal coaching and music school in LA. These days, she shells out for studio time, PR, and U-Haul vans to get her to gigs.

So while being invited to an awards show is an honor, it’s not necessarily an excuse to splurge. Falla gets her hair styled at the popular but inexpensive Blow Dry Bar, opts for makeovers at the MAC store (free with a purchase) and even tries to save money on clothes.

“I can wear something simple like a little black dress,” Falla said. “Every girl has one in her closet.” Asked if she ever feels intimidated at events where A-list stars are wearing one-of-a-kind gowns, Falla, always good-natured, laughs.

“I think I get a secret boost out of being like, ‘my dress is from Forever 21,’” she said.

Colette’s wardrobe stylist Catherine Joubert is living her own kind of Hollywood dream. After years working for big movie studios, she struck out on her own, following her passion for fashion. Joubert says the competition in LA can be fierce, but she stays focused and has no trouble making a living. She admits that every stylist dreams of taking on a young client who becomes a superstar. That’s why she’s sometimes willing to reduce her hundred-dollar-per-hour fee.

“In LA, anything can happen,” Joubert said. “You can be working with a fresh, new, young face. And they might land a big role on a TV series and all of a sudden, they take you with them.”

Joubert’s philosophy is that no matter how broke the struggling artist, there is no excuse to look like anything other than a million bucks. For clients with more aspirations than cash, she’ll search department stores for something stunning and, hopefully, on sale.

“A singer’s going to take singing lessons,” Joubert said. “Actors will take workshops. It’s important to think about investing in your image as much as the other parts of your career.”

Days before the Grammys Colette Falla was still hoping to snag an invitation.

“’Im in a relationship with a really successful songwriter/producer,” she said. “He might get an invite and I could be his plus one, which would be great for me.”

She paused a second, apparently realizing how such a statement could be interpreted in a land of vaulting ambition. “I’m not in it for that,” she said with a laugh. “He’s my boyfriend. I love him.”

High stakes question: How many times will Peyton Manning say 'Omaha'?

Thu, 2014-01-23 15:43

You have heard, no doubt, of Peyton Manning's affinity for the word "Omaha." As he brings the Denver Broncos to the line of scrimmage.

It could be a decoy. It could be serious. He's not telling. But come Sunday next, at Super Bowl XLVIII, guessing how many times he's going to say it could win somebody some serious money.

The over/under on "Omaha" has been set at 27 and a half by the online betting firm Bovada.lv. It's just one in a series of what are called proprietary bets, that get set up around the game.

You choose "over" and he says it  28 or more times: You win. On the other side, if you choose "under" and he says it 27 times or less: You win.

 Kai says over. 32, to be specific. He also says: Broncos by a touchdown.

'Is it just me, or are we raising campaign money earlier?'

Thu, 2014-01-23 15:28

Hillary Clinton has not declared her candidacy for 2016. 

 That, of course, has not stopped Priorities USA Action – the largest liberal SuperPAC – from fundraising for her campaign.

 If you are shocked, don’t be.

 “We’ve had a permanent campaign for many, many years. Really, decades,” says Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia.

But even if fundraising isn’t happening any earlier, there is more pressure to get organized sooner. In part, that’s because outside groups or ambitious billionaires can throw money into a race at any time.

Bob Biersack, senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, says you basically have to have your guard up. “In a world where one or two people can decide they really want this [or that] person to be the next president, and they’re going to invest tens of millions behind that effort, and that can come at any time, you can’t afford to wait,” he says.

What about the amount of money that’ll be spent in 2016? Candidates in 2008 spent $1.7 billion, in 2012 they spent just over $2 billion. Sabato say there are a few things that may push 2016 to break a new record.  

“With every additional cycle you have new technologies that have to be funded,” Sabato says. For example, Obama pioneered voter data mining and tracking technology in ’08 and ’12, now every candidate will feel they need that.

But, Sabato says, "they don’t do away with the television advertising, they still have all of that and the radio advertising and the direct mail and the polling and everything else they do.”

 Still, there is a limit to how much campaign spending can grow, and Steve Ansolabehere, professor of government at Harvard, thinks we’re reaching it. “In general, over the long stretch of American history, the amount of money that goes into campaigns tracks with the amount of money in society, the real GDP.”

 So the $3 billion presidential race may be a ways off.

Ukrainian economy goes from bad to worse

Thu, 2014-01-23 15:10

Vice President Biden got on the phone today with Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich.

The vice president said there would be "consequences" for the U.S.-Ukraine relationship if the violence and protests in Kiev continued. Demonstrations have been going on for months now.

David Stern is the BBC correspondent in Ukraine.

He says no matter what shakes out politically in Kiev, the economic damage has been done:

"It's difficult to see how they can extract themselves out of this situation. What Mr. Yanukovich seems to have done with his deal with Russia where he got $15 billion in prospective loans and also cheaper gas is to have fended off an economic disaster. And I've been told it was possibly just weeks away. Now he's managed to buy himself a little bit of breathing room. But he's definitely not bought himself a successful economy. Ukraine is in recession right now. It doesn't look like it's going to get out. And the turbulence doesn't make it look like a very (economically) attractive place. But let's be honest, if the turbulance wasn't there it wouldn't be that attractive of a place."

 

Actually, not much has changed about American economic mobility

Thu, 2014-01-23 14:10

There has been rare bipartisanship in Washington lately over the need to regain economic mobility in the United States. But a new study out of Harvard suggests those politicians are wrong – mobility hasn’t really changed much in the past few decades.
 
The study is part of the Equality of Opportunity Project, which is based on tens of millions of anonymous tax records. 

“The level of mobility throughout the past thirty or forty years or so has not been very high compared to most other developed countries,” says Harvard economist Raj Chetty, one of the co-authors of the study.

“We should be quite concerned about mobility in a society with a lot of inequality, because kids who don’t get a chance to move up in the income distribution are really getting left behind in today’s economy.”

And while his study found that mobility hasn’t changed much in the U.S., the rise of inequality is very much a concern. “If you’re born to a high income parent verses a low income parent, that’s going to generate a wider difference in your income level as a child today than it did 30 years ago, when we had a more equal society.”

The study found that geography mattered when it came to the rate of mobility – certain cities had more than others.

But Chetty says there’s still more research to be done: "We don’t know exactly what that secret sauce is."

Flaunting their riches is not for the "stealthy wealthy"

Thu, 2014-01-23 12:30

I knew this wouldn’t be the easiest story. It’s not like you can just send out a mass email saying "I want to talk with rich people on national radio about the very thing that they don’t want to talk about with anyone."

But, that’s essentially what I did. I emailed my friends asking if they had ever had the experience of discovering that someone they knew was wealthy after already knowing them a good while. (For the purposes of this story, I defined wealthy as "never needing to work again if you don’t want to.") I explained that I'd had that experience and wondered, "How did I miss this? It seems like a pretty fundamental fact about that person."

I got a message back saying, “Sean, we used to know each other. I might be able to be of some service on your story. My contact info is below. Adam Blank.” Adam went to school with a close friend of mine. We’d crossed paths a few times almost twenty years ago. At first, I didn’t even know why he was writing to me. Turns out he’d inherited millions of dollars from his grandfather and his father. On the phone, he described himself as a “high net-worth individual.” He suggested we do the interview at his house. 

Adam lives in Brooklyn. I live in Brooklyn. I don’t know any other people who live in Brooklyn, the way Adam does. As soon as I walked through his front door I started laughing.

"Conspicuous, is it not?" he said.

 "It" is a three-story house with floor to ceiling windows looking out on a back deck and backyard. "It" has a garage. A garage. In Brooklyn. In most other respects, though, Adam is a lot like me. He had crappy jobs as a kid, worked in social services after college, and then in the film industry. In the league of the "stealthy wealthy," he’s about as stealthy as they come. 

"You didn’t know I was wealthy because you never came to my house," he told me, in his home office, which has a door. "I don’t dress wealthy. If I had wealthy friends, you probably wouldn’t know me. My peer set is more like you, right? Writers, designers. So I can’t go, ‘Oh! Sean! Whaddaya think about private equity investing? How does it make you feel to have the money that you have?' Because it mirrors exactly how I feel about the money that I have."  

As a result, he doesn’t tend to talk about his money overmuch. But it comes up. He told me about a casual conversation he had, with a casual acquaintance, years back. 

"We were talking about our kids," said Adam. "And I said what schools they went to and he goes, ‘I don’t mean to be indelicate…’ basically saying ‘I’m going to be indelicate.’ ‘How in the hell do you afford sending your kids to school like that? You’ve got three of them.’ Which indicates a lot of things: he didn’t know that I had money, just based on our casual relationship. And then I had to deal with identity issues for this guy, who was, like, wanting something out of that."     

In my adventures with the stealthy wealthy, I noticed a few commonalities among the folks I interviewed. For instance, none of them seemed to know the money was coming to them until it did, and all of them were thrown by it, to one degree or another. Probably the most unsettled among them was Burke Stansbury. He’s a political activist living in Seattle with his wife and son. He remembers the day his dad handed him a four-page printout of his investments, and trust fund, etc. 

"I laughed," Burke told me, "More than anything it struck me as totally ridiculous that I would have that kind of money. The absurdity of why I, of all people, should have a million dollars coming to me, it struck me. Like I had never done anything to deserve that money." 

Burke was 19 years old at the time. Not long after The Day of the Ledger, he went traveling in Mexico. Soon, he came to the belief that people are poor in the world because other people are rich. 

"And because I had just realized that I was a millionaire," he said, "I saw myself on the wrong of that divide. That was a moment where I started to enter into pretty deep depression… because of feelings of shame and guilt around who I was, and my background."

"There’s very little resources for people to go and talk," said Jamie Traeger-Muney with Wealth Legacy Group. She describes herself as a coach and consultant for the wealthy, who draws on her background as a psychologist. 

"You know if you say to someone, ‘Wow I just found out that I have a ten-million dollar trust fund and I’m really overwhelmed by it,'" she said, “That isn’t usually met with a lot of sympathy. People are usually like ‘Waaah-waah, I wish I was in your position." 

That’s what you were thinking right? Me too. 

"I know it’s a lot of fun sometimes to bash the wealthy," Traeger-Muney said. "But it’s sort of a lose-lose proposition. Because people go underground. They don’t use their resources in positive ways and… one of the most important things they want to do is be part of something larger than themselves, make a positive difference in the world. And when they’re caught up with the shame in the guilt and the hiding, it doesn’t allow them to move as freely and to use those resources to benefit the world in the ways they’d like to."

Burke Stansbury was lucky. He found a group called Resource Generation, which mainly helps young, wealthy people leverage their money toward the social causes they care about. He met other inheritors who were interested in issues of economic justice and wealth disparity. As a side benefit, Burke was able to take part in group-discussions about issues that his non-wealthy friends and co-workers would never be able to relate to. These days he’s a lot more comfortable talking openly about his financial situation. 

"I call it my rich kids unpack their [expletive] group," said Rachel Schragis, another member of Resource Generation. "And I say to people ‘You are so glad that I have rich kids unpack their [expletive] group. ‘Cause otherwise I might wanna unpack it on you. And that’s not appropriate.'" 

Rachel’s a graduate student, studying art and also teaching it in New York Public Schools. She also does "cross-class activist work" and designed a poster that became a totem of the Occupy movement. Artists who come from money aren’t rare birds. What sets Rachel apart is that she weighs her complicated feelings about her class privilege in the work itself. 

"It’s okay to have a creative life that takes up a lot of my time,” she told me in her studio,  "But if I’m going to do that, I have an obligation to be transparent about the economic realities that make that possible." 

Still, Rachael said there are still times when it’s not easy to join a basic conversation – especially when people are commiserating, as people do, about not having enough money. 

"At different points in my life," she said, "I would play along… and be like ‘oh I’m broke.’ And realized oh, that’s a game. When I mean I’m broke, I mean there’s no more in my checking account and I just have to transfer some more. That’s not what other people mean! They mean broke! And so sometimes you just have to like… not talk. Right? Like not say anything." 

Does the U.S. government live paycheck to paycheck?

Thu, 2014-01-23 12:30

That new era in Washington, heralded by the budget deal we got last week, where compromise is on the table?  It's about to be put to the test: Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says lawmakers will need to raise the debt limit come late February, or the U.S. won't be able to pay its bills.

After we hit the debt limit on Feb. 7, the Treasury Department can keep us solvent for a little while longer using what’re called “extraordinary measures.”

“The ‘X-date’ is when the extraordinary measures run out,” says Steve Bell, with the Bipartisan Policy Center. He pays close attention to that X-date, and how much cash the government has on hand.

If the government is robbing Peter to pay Paul, it would seem the government is living paycheck to paycheck.  A better analogy? Maybe it is like the government is living payday loan to payday loan. (Of course, the government gets a much better interest rate than you’d get at a payday lender.)

Now, it is hard to say precisely when the government will come up short. On any given day, it doesn’t know for sure how much money is coming in and how much money is going out. But Bell says if history is any guide, “This is the worst possible time you could have this happen.”

It turns out February is a tough month budget-wise.

“Treasury is going to have a lot of payments going out relative to receipts coming in,” says Alex Gelber, who teaches public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. That is because a lot of Americans file their taxes in February – namely, Americans who know they are going to get refunds.

According to Rudy Penner, a fellow with the Urban Institute, on top of those payments, the government will cut a lot of other checks.

“They make a gargantuan number of payments,” he says.

There are interest payments, Social Security payments. In all, we’re talking about three to five million payments each and every day.

Rural Americans have fewer - and costlier - healthcare options

Thu, 2014-01-23 11:54

When you think of the healthcare marketplace, you think of options and choices. 

But since the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, one thing's been clear: Options are not a given. Alabama is among a dozen or so states where every county has just one--or maybe two-- insurers. Experts are noticing a pattern: Folks in rural towns seem to have the fewest choices, and the costliest plans.

In Blount County, Ala., most people work at either the school board or at a chicken processing plant. On a recent Saturday morning, a handful of locals gather at a church to learn about their health insurance options.

Chris Mosley, a supervisor with Birmingham Health Care, tells them that here, as far as insurance companies go, it's slim pickings.

"In Blount County, if an individual is going to participate, they're going to have to buy either a bronze, silver, gold or platinum plan specifically from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama," he tells the audience. "Because as I say, the other competitor is not competing in your county, OK?"

In Alabama, Blue Cross and Blue Shield pretty much owns the health insurance market. In 64 of Alabama's 67 counties, it's the only insurer through the federal healthcare exchange. People in the other three counties also have Humana as an option. But, Mosley says, "Most people don't know about Humana. It's not a company that people are very familiar with."

Cynthia Cox, a policy analyst with the Kaiser Family Foundation, says most insurers under the Affordable Care Act are offering multiple plans to choose from. The issue is, it's usually just one company offering all the plans.  

"Enrollees in these areas will be able to choose between different levels of coverage, but the bigger issue is the lack of competition," she says.

Mike Doonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, says that can have a profound effect on consumers.

"So the less competition there is in the marketplace, the less incentive there is for health insurance companies to keep their premiums low," Doonan says.

And Cox adds that where one insurer dominates, you see higher premiums.

"For example, a 40 year-old in an area with just one insurer might pay $20 a month more than if they were living in an area with multiple insurers," Cox says.
 
Access is tougher in areas with just one carrier. In rural New Hampshire, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is the only carrier through the exchange, and it just cut the number of hospitals in its network.

So why are rural areas being hit so hard? Well, because there are fewer people there.

But Mike Doonan, of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, says even in states where there's virtually no competition, there's one huge incentive to keep premiums affordable.

"They do want to attract people and get them enrolled," he says. "And if they do put their premium rates too high, then people are going to opt to pay the penalty."

Especially healthy people, he says.

Michigan wants 50,000 skilled immigrants to save Detroit

Thu, 2014-01-23 11:21

Michigan’s Republican governor Rick Snyder announced a new plan today to shore up the bankrupt city of Detroit -- and it’s called "immigration."

Snyder wants the federal government to set aside 50 thousand employment-based visas -- known as EB-2s -- for skilled immigrants over the next five years, on the condition that they live and work in Detroit.

“Think about the power and the size of this program, what it could do to bring back Detroit even faster and better,” the governor said. “It’s outstanding.”

And it might be hard to get.

For starters, Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute notes, “Immigration law is extremely specific and most visas have explicit statutory requirements.”

Meissner should know. She’s former Commissioner of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service.

She says the US grants roughly 40,000 EB-2s a year, though the number can fluctuate, and they are not geographically based. So setting aside 10,000 a year for Detroit alone would be new, raising questions of fairness.

“You could imagine putting together a program that is available to financially strapped cities all around the country, so that this wouldn’t just be for Detroit,” Meissner says.

Still, she thinks it’s a creative idea, and an example of how the overall immigration system could benefit from more flexibility.

Richard Herman is an immigration lawyer in Cleveland. He’s said for years that economics should drive more of immigration policy, steering high skilled immigrants towards cities like, “Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown. We’re dying out here. I mean, Cleveland used to be 950,000 people and now we’re down to 390,000.”

Herman says attracting skilled immigrants is not just good for the tax base. He says immigrants can help the industrial Midwest reclaim its old entrepreneurial spirit.

PODCAST: Are black people treated differently on Airbnb?

Thu, 2014-01-23 09:10

The American economy in January could get frost bite. Economists often argue that the cold typically defers activity rather than destroys it, but not always.

A high-profile activist investor’s latest use of the megaphone is to call for an iconic tech firm to split up. Carl Icahn wants eBay to spin off PayPal, separating the online auction site from the digital payment service. eBay’s CEO wants to hang onto PayPal. He says keeping it provides that enduring corporate buzzword: synergy.

For many people, the rise and expansion of the “sharing economy” or “peer economy,” has made life cheaper and easier. The companies that facilitate this economy have allowed us to rent everything from apartments, to cars, to designer handbags. Proponents of the shared economy argue that it is both democratic and democratizing, but some companies may be replicating problems that exist in the traditional economy, according to research from two Harvard Business School professors who looked into Airbnb, a company that connects people looking to rent out a room, apartment or house, with those looking for a place to stay. 

Tech worker-SF resident class war comes to Google engineer's front doorstep

Thu, 2014-01-23 08:41

Along with the long pattern of tech industry growth in Silicon Valley, there have been slow burning tensions in the San Francisco Bay Area. They're related to class, public services, and the idea of good and bad disruption. Private busing for tech workers in San Francisco has raised hackles of local residents for using public bus stops. And this week a bunch of protesters showed up outside the house of a Google engineer responsible for the self-driving car program. Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica has been reporting on the story for Ars Technica, and tells Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson the latest. Click the audio player above to listen to the interview.

Hacking OKCupid to find true love

Thu, 2014-01-23 08:12

Online dating websites use all kinds of technology and calculations to help you find a mate. It could be as simple as giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to a photo, or as complicated as a long list of questions asked, points scored, and intense mathematical algorithms that play digital matchmaker. Mathematician Chris McKinlay was working on his doctorate and his love life at the same time, and found that he was unsatisfied with the calculations made. So he hacked an answer and in the process wrote "Optimal Cupid: Mastering the Hidden Logic of OkCupid." 

McKinlay says the problem with OKCupid is that it doesn’t tell you exactly what to do. “They just say hey, here’s a bunch of questions, and you don’t have any idea what questions necessarily the people you’re interested in might find important.” 

“One way to get the site to actually match you with people you are compatible with is to confine yourself to only answering divisive questions,” McKinlay said. “If say like, tattoo culture or motorcycles is important to you, answering a yes-no question about that and marking it mandatory is far more divisive -- guys who aren’t into that stuff aren’t going to score points with you.”

It took McKinlay 88 dates to finally meet the love of his life, and now he is engaged. He has his own operator’s manual to thank.

“All I did was write software that logged into the site as a profile, and then took all the data and came back to me.”

To hear more about how McKinlay used technology to maximize his chances of finding “the one,” click on the audio above. 

Icahn wants eBay to set PayPal free

Thu, 2014-01-23 07:44

A high-profile activist investor’s latest use of the megaphone is to call for an iconic tech firm to split up. Carl Icahn wants eBay to spin off PayPal, separating the online auction site from the digital payment service. eBay’s CEO wants to hang onto PayPal. He says keeping it provides that enduring corporate buzzword: synergy.

“It’s a seamless integration for the users of eBay,” says University of North Carolina business strategy professor Arvind Malhotra. “That’s always been a big advantage, to have such a dominant payment system be part of your company.”

Malhotra can also lay out the opposite argument about PayPal. Separating it from eBay would potentially make it a more attractive option for eBay’s competitors. That might enable a fast-growing service to grow even faster.

Carl Icahn believes setting PayPal free will boost the stock, pointing out that eBay has higher growth rates than other eBay lines of business.

He’s also calling for change at Apple. And many other tech firms have found themselves in the crosshairs of activists. Market watchers expect continued interest from activists in technology companies.

“They’re not young anymore,” says Northeastern University finance professor Don Margotta. “Now people are looking at them no longer as constant growth engines, but as maturing companies.”

Even an aging company can still make enough money to be fresh meat for activist investors.

Mark Garrison: eBay’s CEO wants to hang onto PayPal. He says keeping it provides that enduring corporate buzzword: synergy.

Arvind Malhotra: It’s a seamless integration for the users of eBay. So that’s always been a big advantage, to have such a dominant payment system be part of your company.

That’s University of North Carolina business professor Arvind Malhotra, who can also lay out the opposite argument about PayPal.

Malhotra: Since it’s part of eBay, it’s not seen as a neutral platform. But if it existed as a separate entity, its adoption rate could be even higher.

Carl Icahn believes setting PayPal free will boost the stock. He’s also calling for change at Apple. Northeastern University finance professor Don Margotta expects to see more folks like Icahn targeting tech firms.

Don Margotta: They’re not young anymore and now people are looking at them no longer as constant growth engines, but as maturing companies.

Aging, yes, but they’re still making enough money to be fresh meat for activist investors. In New York, I’m Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

Vigilante groups on the offensive in Michoacan

Thu, 2014-01-23 07:17

Over the last few days, people in the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacan took matters into their own hands and pushed out members of a powerful drug cartel from their community. The situation is still evolving, and it involves a kind of vigilante movement that is happening in the state.

"It's basically a micro-civil war in Michoacan," says Leon Krauze, Univision anchor and host of Open Source on Fusion TV. " The cartels have become sort of a parallel state within the state, and that's just intolerable for for any government."

To hear more about the situation in Michoacan, click the audio player above.

 

The promise and pitfalls of expanded Medicaid

Thu, 2014-01-23 07:08

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is meeting this week in Washington, and among the many things on the agenda is the rollout of Obamacare.

Under the Affordable Care Act, many states have made it easier to get Medicaid, a move that will affect cities, experts say.

“It kind of casts a wider net of eligibility,” says Tom Carroll, a healthcare services analyst with Stifel Nicolaus. And that has boosted enrollment. One in five Americans is enrolled in Medicaid.

“It’s gone up by a significant amount already, and it’s just going to keep going up with each month that goes by,” says Mark Duggan, a professor of health care management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 

According to Michael Sparer, chair of the health policy and management program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, this could have an effect on the economics of health care at the local level. Cities and local governments provide health care to the uninsured, “and they do this through public hospitals, public health clinics, and other safety net provider offices,” he says.

It will help cities and local governments, the more eligible Americans enroll in Medicaid.

“Either because they get additional reimbursement, as the uninsured become insured, or because their burden is reduced because perhaps formerly uninsured folks start to go to private sector providers,” Sparer explains.

But, it’s not all good news. There will still be Americans who aren’t insured, and because of other changes to Medicaid and Medicare, reimbursements are getting smaller.

In sickness and in wealth

Thu, 2014-01-23 06:31

Let's face it, dating is hard. Everyone has their own criteria for who would make a good partner.  

A sense of humor, razor-sharp wit, a great face and for some … an excellent credit score.  

That's right, for some folks you'd better have a spotless credit history if you want a chance at romance. At least, that's what a survey from FreeCreditScore.com suggests. According to the survey, 75 percent of women and 57 percent of men consider a person's credit rating when searching for a potential mate, and a small number even said they ask about credit scores on the very first date.

There are websites that cater to those who are looking for credit perfection. The site CreditScoreDating.com allows members to screen dates based on age, height, location and yes, credit score.  The numbers are self-reported and unverifiable — unless you're willing to ask for a hard copy of credit reports on the first date. 

Although she doesn’t advocate asking about credit history on a first date, relationship and dating expert Andrea Syrtash says we shouldn't be surprised that sites like this exist.

"[Money problems are] one of the top reasons, we know, that couples split up, so of course credit scores are really important to know when going into a long-term partnership," Syrtash says. According to Syrtash, you shouldn't necessarily go into your financial history on a first or second date, but once you are committed the subject of money should no longer be taboo.

"You have to know if you're aligned on all kinds of values, money is certainly one of those values," she says.

Yet, even when money is considered to be important, not everyone feels comfortable raising the issue. "When communications breaks down, relationships break up. And money talk is part of that," Syrtash says.  

Whether you think asking for a W-2, two recent paycheck stubs, and a credit report while meeting for cocktails is prudent or just plain tacky, Syrtash has some simple dating advice: "Date the person, not the potential. You have to look at what the person is offering you now."

Arrivederci, Milan! Fiat-Chrysler coming to the NYSE?

Thu, 2014-01-23 06:20

Right now, the place to buy stock in Fiat-Chrysler is in Milan, Italy. But Bloomberg is reporting that Fiat's boss is about to ask his board to move its primary stock business to the New York Stock Exchange. The BBC's Caroline Hepker covers Fiat-Chrysler, and tells Marketplace Morning Report about the potential move. Click the audio player above to learn more.

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