Marketplace - American Public Media

E! Network pins hopes on new Caitlyn Jenner series

Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

This Sunday at 8 p.m., E! Entertainment TV will premiere Caitlyn Jenner's show "I Am Cait."

The network is calling the show a "documentary series," in an attempt to differentiate it from the reality shows featuring the Kardashians that have helped sustain the network's ratings for years.

While those reality shows still perform relatively well, the network's overall ratings in recent years have been slipping. E! averaged 648,000 primetime viewers in the 2011-2012 TV season, but in the TV season that just ended, its prime time average was down to 540,000 viewers, according to figures provided by the ratings firm Nielsen.

The Kardashian franchise has begun to show its age, says Joe Adalian, West Coast editor for New York Magazine's Vulture.com.

"E's problem is what a lot of cable networks face," Adalian says, "which is splintered audiences and not a lot new coming on board" to capture audiences' attention. "And that's why 'I Am Cait' could potentially be a game changer for E!," he says.

A game changer, because the intense media and public interest in Caitlyn Jenner is likely to fuel huge audiences for the show, at least initially. Jenner's interview on ABC's news magazine "20/20" reached almost 17 million viewers. Those are numbers "20/20" hadn't seen in 15 years, Adalian says.

"I have no doubt that E!, especially after the Diane Sawyer interview came out and did so well, was able to go back to advertisers and say, 'I think you want to be here,'" he says.

Initial reviews of the series have been somewhat positive, which may give E! executives hope that "I Am Cait" might help improve the network's fortunes.

"The E! Network has had problems in the last couple of years, because they haven't been able to launch new original programming, and some of their go-tos lagged in recent years," says Michael O'Connell, TV writer for The Hollywood Reporter.

"It's sort of had to rely on these sort of celebrity-focused docu-series," says O'Connell, "But it really is the Kardashian brand that carries them in prime time, especially in between award season, when they do so well with their red carpet coverage."

Developers look to create disability apps

Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

It’s the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The federal law opened up services and opportunities for millions of Americans.  Today, developers in the tech world are testing new ideas with the disabled community in mind.

Take Chad Hebel. Sometimes he'll go to a restaurant with friends only to find himself physically cut off from his company.

“You’re looking under the table at everybody else,” Hebel says of his experience being in a wheelchair in those settings. 

Hebel is a businessman with an eye for innovation. Both of those factors make him a valuable resource for developers looking to design assistive technologies to bring to market. Hebel, who mentors startup companies for the Dallas accelerator Health Wildcatters, says where there’s a need, there’s a business opportunity.

An Opportunity For Developers

Just like buildings constructed decades ago weren’t designed for people with disabilities, many of the gadgets and apps created today leave out a segment of the population. For example, Google Maps doesn’t tell you whether the sidewalks are wheelchair accessible. Another example: you still need to use your hands to make a drawing on your tablet.

Which is exactly why student Mohammed Azmat Qureshi is spending his days in a lab at UT Arlington surrounded by loose cables and pieces of robotics.

Oluwatosin Oluwadare (L) and Mohammed Azmat Qureshi 

Lauren Silverman

“There’s a huge potential of using the technology that is out there in a different way for the differently-abled people,” Qureshi says.

Qureshi and his partner Oluwatosin Oluwadare comprise one of several dozen teams that have submitted a proposal to a tech challenge called Connect Ability. The competition, which is sponsored by AT&T and New York University and has a $100,000 prize, is meant to empower people with disabilities.  

Collaboration Is Key 

Oluwadare says the device he's created with Qureshi, called “EyeCYou,” will help the visually impaired “see” people in front of them.

To show how it works, Oluwadare puts on a pair of glasses with a camera attached and snaps my photo. The software analyzes the image and the tablet reads aloud a description: "Person one is wearing an orange dominate shirt, has a light-skinned complexion.  She is a female adult."

So far, the device analyzes age, gender skin and shirt color. Oluwadare admits that some of the features it’s programmed to report may be sensitive – like skin color or age. But guidance from people living with disabilities is helping shape the technology. Xian Horn likes that.

"Unless you talk to the people that you’re trying to help, you’re not going to know — even with your best intentions — how to help," says Horn. Horn is a writer from Manhattan who has cerebral palsy, which impacts her mobility. She’s also working with developers in the Connect Ability Challenge.

For Horn, the priority is hands free technology. She has poor balance and muscle control.

“So the fact that I walk around the world with shiny blue ski poles means that my hands are occupied," Horn says.

Xian Horn

Rick Guidotti of Positive Exposure

One device she likes is called Pallette. It transforms your tongue into a mouse that can control anything from a wheelchair to a light setting. That might help people who have conditions like multiple sclerosis. Another technology called DrumPants gives a voice to people with difficulty speaking. They just have to tap sensors on their pants or shirt. Horn says the control box might be too large to fit well on a cane, and she got to give that group feedback.

“We can collaborate and create things that not only work in theory but actually have an impact on the future of someone’s life," Horn says. "This kind of technology can be life changing.”

The winner will be announced on July 27, the day after the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Practice makes perfect for summer learning

Wed, 2015-07-22 12:34

Summer is time for kids to relax and enjoy a vacation from school and learning. But that vacation can lead to a lot of kids losing a lot of knowledge, especially if they are from low-income households, according to researchers.

Traditionally, summer learning loss has been addressed through summer school, but that's never been popular with students, according to a New York company called Practice Makes Perfect. It's trying to change that, using new methods to reach students and create a summer school model that kids will actually want to attend.

Karim Abouelnaga is the CEO and founder of Practice Makes Perfect. He says his upbringing made him acutely aware of the struggles of learning as a low-income student.

“I was raised by a single mother on government aid and went through some of New York City’s most struggling public schools,” he says.

Abouelnaga developed Practice Makes Perfect with a group of friends while he was in college. Today the company works to eliminate summer learning loss for students every year by training students to teach peers that are four years younger than them.

“When I first pitched the idea of having a sixth grader mentor a second grader, people thought we were crazy,” Abouelnaga says. “I can tell you in practice it works wonders. Education still is very much a relationship-based business. The number one reason kids show up to our programs every single summer is because of the relationships they build with their mentors.”

Given the negative perceptions that surround summer school, Abouelnaga says he hopes that Practice Makes Perfect can be an example of how to make summer teaching effective.

“We give our kids a pre-test and post-test, and every single year to date so far we’ve eliminated the summer learning loss for 100 percent of our participants,” he says.

Police cams center of story again in Sandra Bland case

Wed, 2015-07-22 10:00

Video from a Texas state trooper’s dashboard camera is being scrutinized after capturing the officer’s violent encounter with a citizen who later died in jail. 

That citizen was Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Chicago native who had just moved to Texas for a job at Prairie View A&M University. On July 10, she was pulled over by state trooper Brian T. Encinia for failing to signal a lane change. The exchange that followed soon escalated. Bland refused to put out a cigarette, after which the officer pulled her from her car.

As the New York Times reports, a dashcam video released Tuesday shows most of the ensuing violent encounter, including Encinia’s threat to use a stun gun on Bland, and audio from a portion of the video where the two are out of frame includes Bland saying, “You just slammed me, knocked my head into the ground.”

After three days in a jail cell, Bland was found dead, in what was originally deemed a suicide. Details continue to emerge, and authorities are now treating the case as a murder investigation.

With the release of the dashcam footage comes troubling revelations. As Buzzfeed writes, the Texas Department of Public Safety says the arrest violated several rules of conduct.  

The investigation into Sandra Bland’s death is the latest story fueling an ongoing national conversation about civilian deaths during arrests and while in police custody, racial violence and the flaws in our nation’s incarceration system.  

The Marketplace series,“Behind the Blue Line” explored some of the same issues that are surfacing in this case, namely questions about use of excessive police force and whether the filming of police can increase accountability and transparency.  

Police departments grapple with body camera costs  

Cases involving allegations of excessive police force have prompted proposals to equip police officers with body cameras to monitor their behavior. 

According to a survey by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), many police chiefs reported that the use of body cameras correlates with a decrease in complaints against officers.

However, there are monetary barriers to the cameras' implementation, which can cost up to millions of dollars annually for a city-wide program. Another survey from PERF reports that 39 percent of police executives have said that cost was one of the main reasons they don’t use body cameras within their departments.

Body cameras spread, changing how cops do their job

Aside from President Obama, who requested $263 million to fund body cameras and training for police officers across the country, others are trying to devote financial resources to increase accountability in policing. At the federal level, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced in May that that the Justice Department would spend $20 million on body cameras for select police departments throughout the nation. 

Some places have already invested in the use of body cams. Take the Seattle Police Department.  It announced plans to spend $2 million on 1,000 cameras, and currently uploads police body cam footage to its YouTube channel.

Since 2012, Rialto, California's police department has also been using body cams.  Officers must turn them on “before any significant encounter with a member of the public, a witness or a suspect.”  

A study by the Cambridge University Institute of Criminology  in the United Kingdom found that in the first year of the department’s use of body cameras, there was an 88 percent decline in civilian complaints against police and a 60 percent decline in use-of-force by police. As a result, Rialto police chief Tony Farrar has supplied the entire department with body cameras. 

However, despite bodycams’ advantages, some officers and criminal justice experts have contested their use.  They argue that filming may prevent police officers from acting as they normally would, or inhibit them from using “adequate force when they need to.”

Training is in short supply for police forces  

Questions about Bland's mental health have been raised amid the Wednesday release of booking documents. The documents reveal discrepancies, with two forms indicating that Bland had attempted suicide in 2014 and 2015, respectively. 

Texas State Sen. Royce West has criticized jail officials for their treatment of Bland, saying he thinks they should have put her on suicide watch, which would require 15-minute face-to-face checkups, instead of the standard hourly ones. Bland's family, however, refutes the claim that she committed suicide. 

Ongoing police training is expensive and in short supply. Of the country’s 18,000 local and state police departments, just 15 percent “do comprehensive mental health crisis training,” according to a program manager with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kevin Dillon, a retired police officer and owner of KFD Training and Consulting, says he thinks that police officers aren’t getting enough training in areas such as use of force.

Tight budgets can make spending on training difficult, he says. 

“[Training can cost] anywhere from $100 for a one-day course for one officer to over $10,000 for a whole department for a week,” Dillon told Marketplace's Sally Herships. 

Why a share's price and its value might not line up

Wed, 2015-07-22 07:30

Valuation is a sticky subject: what is a company worth? Apple was worth $766 billion at the start of the week. This morning it was worth $50 billion less. Yesterday, Facebook was worth less than General Electric: today it’s worth $2 billion more.

How can this be? How can a company’s value change so quickly in such a short time? The answer is, it depends on what you mean by “value.” There are a couple of ways of determining a company’s valuation, as this short video neatly explains. There’s the easy, shortcut way, which is to ask what everyone else thinks – it’s right there in the stock price. Multiply that number by the number of shares that the company has outstanding, and you get something called the market valuation, or the market capitalization.

But there are a couple of problems with this approach. First off, only asking people what they think something is worth is a flawed strategy … because people are often just plain wrong. Second, when people buy shares in a company, they’re making a bet, hoping that the share price will rise. Which means a lot of people in the market aren’t focused on the company’s worth, they’re really just interested in its price, which is an important distinction.

It’s that focus on worth that defines the second way of determining a company’s value. It’s called a fundamental valuation, and it requires a lot more than just looking at a stock price. Analysts doing a fundamental valuation do what’s called due diligence: they comb through the company’s books, see what it earns and how it earns it, how much debt it has and what the competition is like. It’s an exhaustive, time-consuming and expensive process, but investors fail to do it at their peril.

The fundamental valuation does indeed drive the market valuation to some extent: a lot of the people buying shares have done the hard work to assess a company’s worth. But a lot have not. A lot are lazy so-and-sos who buy when something’s rising and sell when it’s falling. That so-called momentum trading, can skew the price of a stock dramatically, pushing it way higher than it should be, and turning trading in the stock market into a much riskier business than it should be. Because it you buy at a point higher than the fundamentals of the company justify, and the market corrects, you could be left badly needing a drink.

PODCAST: Banking in Cuba

Wed, 2015-07-22 03:00

There is word today that a bank in Florida has set up a direct link with a bank in Havannah. It's called a correspondent deal, and we'll talk about how it will improve banking between Cuba and the U.S. And an advocacy group in Chicago is tackling a problem affecting transgender people: how to find businesses and service providers that are not just friendly, but understanding of their needs. 

Homejoy shuts its doors

Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

At the end of July, the on-demand cleaning start-up Homejoy will shut down in the wake of lawsuits challenging the company's classification of workers as contractors rather than employees. It's a familiar story that has affected companies like Uber, Lyft, and Handy.

Click the media player above to hear Marketplace's Molly Wood talk with Christopher Koopman, research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, about how this case signals to a change in the sharing economy. 

According to Koopman, the sharing economy's growth in recent years "has been driven by the fact that this isn’t a traditional business model and it isn't an employer and employee relationship." Yet, this is precisely the point of contention for the numerous lawsuits levied against Homejoy and others.

Companies in the sharing economy toe a dubious line between online platform, social network, and employer. Koopman maintains that "saying they're no longer a platform connecting people but in fact an employer could really spell doom for a lot of these companies like we're seeing with Homejoy."

In the wake of Google snatching up Homejoy's tech and product team, Koopman sees the future as especially bleak for small outfits if these organizations are deemed employers: "Only the largest and most deep pocketed firms are going to be the ones that are able to weather that storm. So you'll see firms like Uber, Lyft and the other really large players in the sharing economy likely survive. But this could be extremely difficult for the small startups."

Apple, Microsoft, and Yahoo make, lose, and lose money

Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

Apple (AAPL) reported its fiscal third-quarter earnings after the closing bell on Tuesday. Earnings were up 38 percent from the same period one year ago, to $10.7 billion. Revenues were up 33 percent to $49.6 billion. iPhone sales were up 35 percent, totaling 47.5 million in the quarter, and iPhone sales more than doubled in China, a key market for mobile technology.

Nonetheless, Apple stock fell 7 percent in immediate after-hours trading following the earnings release. Investment analysts were expecting stronger iPhone sales — in the 50-million-unit range. The stock selloff may reflect investors’ concerns that the iPhone juggernaut could be peaking and the company's iPhone franchise losing momentum.

iPhone sales account for 63 percent of Apple’s global sales, up from 53 percent of sales one year ago. By continuing to roll out major upgrades of the iPhone series, Apple has succeeded in pushing up iPhone prices by $100-per-phone to $662-per-phone on average, even as smartphone prices overall have been declining. Apple has continued to develop and release new versions of its popular iPad tablets, and it has introduced a new product category, the smart-watch (the company did not break out sales figures for its new Apple Watch separately in this earnings report).

Yahoo (YHOO) continued on its turnaround path in its fiscal second quarter, reporting higher revenues but a net loss due to higher expenses. The company increased sales by 15 percent year-over-year, more than analyst expectations. However, Yahoo’s cost of traffic acquisition — money it pays search partners — more than tripled, which cut into earnings and led to a net quarterly loss of $22 million.

CEO Marissa Mayer expressed satisfaction with Yahoo’s results, pointing to improvements in the company’s mobile, video, and social-media businesses, which are all key to Mayer's revival plans for Yahoo.

Microsoft (MSFT) reported a record net loss in its fiscal fourth quarter, of $3.2 billion. That loss was primarily due to a $7.5 billion accounting charge Microsoft took in the quarter for its ill-fated purchase of Nokia. Microsoft announced earlier in July that it plans to eliminate 7,800 jobs connected to its troubled mobile-phone business. Microsoft reported that quarterly revenue was down 5 percent compared to the same quarter last year. Its full-year revenue increased to $93.5 billion from $86.8 billion the previous year. Annual profit fell to $12.2 billion from $22 billion the previous year. In the fourth quarter, Microsoft experienced some weakness in its Office and Windows product lines, countered by strength in cloud services, Xbox, and Surface tablet computers. 

In home bidding wars, love letters can seal a deal

Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

In many real estate markets around the country, a shortage of homes for sale is creating stiff competition among buyers. In order to stand out in a possible bidding war, some buyers try to win favor by writing a personal appeal to the seller. 

“When the listing for your home came up online, we fell in love,” wrote Becca Schulman Havemeyer in a letter to the seller of a four bedroom home in the Boston area. “We love the charm and character of your home and can tell that your family cherished it as well.”

The Havemeyers had tried to boost their chances of getting the house by offering more than the list price. They also included an “escalation clause” in the offer, saying they’d be willing to bid yet higher, in case it came to that.

Schulman Havemeyer says the financial extras didn’t move the seller, who initially went with another bidder. But when that deal fell through, the seller turned to the Havemeyers because of their letter.  

“I've confirmed with her, because we've now been in touch, that she loved our letter and loved thinking about a family — a young family — coming into her home and having new memories there and honoring it in a different way,” Schulman Havemeyer says.

Potential homebuyers have used the love letter tactic for years in tight markets. But the letters may be more necessary today as way to get sellers' attentions. Demand for homes outstrips supply in many cities, properties are selling quickly, and sellers may enjoy multiple bid offers.

“I want the seller to feel the humanness of the bid,” says Kat Wies, a Durham, N.C.-based realtor who regularly includes a cover letter with her clients’ offers.

Wies's letters aren’t just a big wet kiss, though. She says she describes what the potential buyers like about the house.

“But you also want to describe the things the potential buyers would need to spend money on,” she says.

Some realtors say potential buyers need to be cautious not to spill their guts along with their ink, as the strategy can backfire. Even the Havemeyers, who penned love letters themselves, chafed at receiving them in return.

Will Havemeyer says it felt odd to read about how much someone else would enjoy the home he put a lot of work into. He still thought of it as his house.

“Hearing someone else talk about how they're going to live in it is hard to take,” he says.

In that case, where words failed, money still talked. The winning bidders whose letter didn’t sit right did ultimately prevail — but Havemeyer says it was largely because they were paying cash.

Looking for progress for treating Alzheimer's

Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

More than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, a disease that can't be prevented or slow, much less cured. The FDA hasn’t approved a new drug to treat it in more than 10 years. As a result, some big pharmaceutical companies are getting together in Washington this week to discuss experimental drugs that hope to fill that market gap. 

Eli Lilly is releasing results from a clinical trial of solanezumab. Dr. Bill Thies is senior scientist in residence at the Alzheimer’s Association. "One of the issues in Alzheimer's trials is that it's a relatively slowly progressing disease," he says. "So it's hard to see changes in the rate of progression."

But Thies says today’s data should give doctors a better sense of whether this drug is working. The key is a third trial that’s already underway. The results of that trial should be made available in 12 to 18 months. "The FDA has agreed to accept the first two trials as a pivotal proof of the effectiveness of the drug," Thies says.

"So, if this third trial is successful, that gives us the opportunity to see a drug that actually will be eligible for licensing. That data is in the future but it's relatively soon in the future."

Ashtyn Evans, a healthcare analyst with Edward Jones, says the market potential for drugs like solanezumab is huge. "This is an unmet need," she says. "There's currently nothing on the market right now that is disease modifying or actually slows the cognitive decline. So, the potential for a drug that actually helps slow the decline could be quite large."

Eli Lilly sees a market opportunity and has already invested close to a billion dollars in its Alzheimer’s program. After all, the disease is the sixth leading cause of death among Americans and is the only one in the top ten that currently can’t be prevented, cured or slowed. 

An online directory aims to help transgender people

Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

About half the time Ricky Hill of Chicago goes to the doctor, Hill has to educate the doctor about being transgender. Other times, clinic workers have called Hill by the wrong name. These are experiences with which many other transgender people can identify.

"We figure out who is a doctor that's not going to mis-gender me, or get my name wrong every single time I go in. Or, look at me like I'm a weirdo. Or, ask a bunch of inappropriate questions that have nothing to do with the sinus infection that I came in for," Hill says.

Ricky Hill

Nova Safo/Marketplace

Hill, 32, identifies between the male and female genders, and prefers the pronouns them and they, versus him or her. "I identify as a trans-masculine, gender-queer person," Hill says.

Hill is always on the lookout for doctors, hairstylists, gender-neutral bathrooms, and any other service or business where they can feel accepted.

"It is a constant explanation," Hill says, "I would love to have a day where my gender was not the topic of some sort of conversation."

This is why a non-profit advocacy group in Chicago has created an online database to help transgender people find businesses and service providers that are not just friendly, but understanding of their needs. Most of the online directory is comprised of healthcare services, and it includes a rate and review function, as well as the ability to search for businesses and providers by location.

The directory, called RAD Remedy — RAD stands for Referral Aggregator Database — is online, but still in development mode. It could potentially make a big impact, because of the sizable population of transgender Americans; up to 700,000 people, according to an estimate by UCLA's Williams Institute.

"Our, sort of, hope is to provide as much information to people as possible, for them to know what they're walking into," says Riley Johnson, RAD Remedy's co-founder.

It is not just an issue of convenience. More than a quarter of transgender people report harassment in a medical setting, says Daphna Stroumsa, a resident OBGYN at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Robert Garofalo 

Nova Safo/Marketplace

Stroumsa has researched transgender healthcare, finding that it can even be difficult to identify surgeons willing to work with patients who are transitioning.

"Trans people have suffered so much from the way the healthcare system has treated them," Stroumsa says. "The medical professions have not been taught and trained the cultural sensitivity issues and the medical issues."

Among the clinic's listed on RAD Remedy is Chicago-based Lurie Children's Hospital's outpatient clinic for transgender youth. It is one of few focused on that population.

"We've had ... patients come from as far as Kentucky, Michigan ... Iowa. All the surrounding states of the Midwest," says Robert Garofalo, a specialist in pediatrics and adolescent medicine, who runs the clinic.

Garofalo says there are only a couple of dozen other clinics like his.

American foodmakers see new market with TPP

Wed, 2015-07-22 02:00

Congress gave President Barack Obama authority to fast-track those trade talks, but there’s still not a done deal. Negotiations continue later this month to finalize the trade pact. But one agenda item is causing friction between the U.S. and another part of the world. Politico reports that the latest flash point is over food, setting up a battle between America and the European Union.

This is all part of an ongoing fight between the U.S. and EU, which is very good at protecting food names such as Champagne, Gorgonzola cheese or Parma ham. That's a big deal for producers of particular types of good. Take Gouda cheese — The EU awarded the Dutch a protected geographical indication for Gouda cheese.  

“They get very upset when firms elsewhere use that name to identify the product,” says Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “They don’t want others crowding into what they regard as their market and that’s what’s at stake.”

And that fight is now apparently playing out in America’s trade dealings with Asia. American food makers want to sell more there, and don’t want to be told what to label their products. That’s why high-paid lobbyists and politicians are talking about American cheeses and sausages. 

Rebranding the cockroach

Wed, 2015-07-22 01:58
47.5 million units

That's how many units of iPhones were sold in the last quarter, according to Apple's latest report out Tuesday. But as much as that seems like a huge number, it fell short of analysts' expectations, which were more like 50 million units. That led to a 7 percent drop in Apple stocks in immediate after-hours trading, in spite of the company's 38 percent increase in earnings.

40 percent

That's the percentage of Chipotle's some 1,800 restaurants that still don't have carnitas. Due to a pork shortage, the company had pulled the meat option from many of its franchises, saying that it expected to be able to offer the meat by the end of the year. But as the New York Times reports, because of new store openings, the percentage of stores not offering carnitas has actually risen since the start of the year.

700,000 people

That's how many Americans identify as transgender, according to the UCLA Williams Institute. That's a large population of people that has to navigate finding medical care and businesses where they feel accepted. To address the situation, one Chicago startup called RAD Remedy is creating a database to serve as a resource. Think of it like a Yelp for for transgender people.

4,000 species

That's how many species of cockroaches — pause to let that sink in — exist in the world. That's a pretty disturbing number for anyone who has shrieked the minute they turned on the kitchen light to see an antennaed little friend scurry away. But as Yahoo News reports, a zoo in Japan is opening an exhibit aimed at highlighting the important role cockroaches play in the natural world. 

Without tourists, Egyptian business owners adapt

Tue, 2015-07-21 13:08

In 2013, Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal had a chat with Cairo shopkeeper Emad Nour Hafez about how political instability since Egypt's 2011 revolution was affecting his tourist shop.  Since then, Egypt has had more ups and downs, but tourism has never really returned to the pre-Arab Spring heyday.

Hafez is still in his shop, selling jewelry boxes and backgammon boards inlaid with mother-of-pearl in ornate patterns. But fewer foreigners frequent the labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys of Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili bazaar, and Hafez has had to adapt.

"I changed my [life] completely," he says, "because four years now, no tourists. I have a family, I have kids, I have my parents also."

Even though he says he's working longer and harder days, Hafez says his monthly income dropped by half after the 2011 revolution, and is only just now starting to creep back up. And it’s not because of sales in his shop, even though Egypt’s tourism numbers have recovered a bit. The April tourism numbers, the most recent available, are getting close to the pre-revolution levels. But if you look at the winter "high season," there's still a big gap. For example, in December of 2010, Egypt welcomed 1.28 million visitors. In December of last year, there were only 781,602.

Hafez does still get some customers  — locals coming in to order custom arabesque-style furniture. But most of his tourist items get exported in bulk to Europe and to Gulf countries. Changing the way he does business hasn’t been easy, or cheap.

"I must pay for shipping," he says. "I must pay for taxes. There is cargo from my shop to [the] airport, you know. There is a lot of things."

Before the revolution, when he was only exporting 20 percent of his products, those taxes and shipping costs weren’t that bad, he says. But now he exports 80 percent of his merchandise. And Hafez isn’t the only one. Across the courtyard, fellow shopkeeper Mohamed El-Zoualy sells hand-cast and etched pots and lanterns, polished on machines just around the corner.

“Before, if you produced a thousand pieces, you’d sell 200-300 in your shop, and export the rest," El-Zoualy says. "Now if you produce the thousand pieces, you have to export them all.”

Shopkeeper Mohamed El-Zoualy (Amir Makar) 

El-Zoualy says he’s not too worried, since he still gets custom orders for lights and fixtures from local businesses, and has a stable of European customers who buy his goods in bulk.

“I am a producer, I know where to put my products," he says. "The man whose shop is closed now, he used to rely on souvenirs. Now, of course, in the times we are living, there are no customers, so things have stopped for him.”

Hafez says the only way for businesses like his to survive is to be flexible. As evidence of what happens when you’re not, he references hundreds of shuttered shops in the bazaar — businesses he says didn't adapt.

“They stopped in the same place. They are still waiting [for]  the tourists, and the tourists doesn’t come.”

Hafez thinks the new military-backed government will lure tourists back to pre-revolution levels, but he’s going to keep focusing on exports for now, just in case.

Poll: bank regulations more exciting than we thought

Tue, 2015-07-21 13:00

It was five years ago today that the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill was signed into law, bringing arguably the most fundamental changes to this country's banking system since the Great Depression.

AEI, the American Enterprise Institute, is out with a five-year retrospective of Dodd-Frank in which it reprises some old polling data from when the bill was being debated, including this question:

As you may know, Congress is working on major legislation dealing with the regulation of banks and financial institutions. Thinking about the issue, do you think legislation to regulate banks and financial institutions is ... 

  • interesting
  • boring

Sixty percent of people said banking regulations are interesting.

Who are those people?

Why gold is losing its luster for investors

Tue, 2015-07-21 13:00

The price dipped to a five-year low Monday. What caused the fall?

“Gold has totally fallen out of bed over the couple of days,” says Colin Cieszynski with CMC Markets. “There’s a number of factors that drive gold up and down over time and at the moment [for] all of them, the pendulum has swung to being a headwind for gold rather than a tailwind.”

People tend buy gold in times of uncertainty, as it’s supposed to be a safe haven and a hedge against inflation. But inflation fears are now down and – from Greece to Iran – uncertainty appears to be easing. Additionally, U.S. interest rates are expected to rise, which also puts pressure on gold.

“It’s like we’ve turned the corner, that there’s going to be continued growth in the future and the interest rates can go back to normal levels,” says Campbell Harvey, a finance professor at Duke University. “All of this implies that there’s less risk, there’s less fear, there’s less reason to hoard gold.”

Harvey views gold's movement over recent days as relatively minor, in line with normal volatility for the precious metal. He also points to recent news that China is buying less gold for its reserves than previously thought. That lower demand translates to lower prices.

Additionally, supply has increased as the amount of gold being mined continues to increase, says Erik Norland, senior economist at the CME Group, a derivatives exchange. Unlike other precious metals, he says, there isn’t much use for the yellow metal coming out of the ground.

“Platinum, palladium, silver — they have very extensive industrial uses,” Norland says, noting silver is used in electronics while lots of gold just sits in vaults as an investment. 

Long-shot candidates reap benefits after race

Tue, 2015-07-21 13:00

With Ohio Governor John Kasich today entering the race for the GOP presidential nomination, the total number of major contenders has risen to 16. There are also five major candidates on the Democratic side.

A lot of them are long shots, whether due to lack of name recognition, lack of financial support, or low numbers in the polls.

But long-shot candidates have a reason to be optimistic. For one, sometimes they win. "Our current president being an example of one, where somebody comes out of nowhere," says Lance Strate, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University.

The reason for so many long-shot candidates in this election cycle is that campaigns are getting better at organizing online and through social media, Strate says. "A political campaign can get started with a relatively small amount of resources to begin with, and then take off," he says.

Even if candidates don't win, or even get their party's nomination, they can still benefit by improving their name recognition, says Larry Sabato, who heads the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "You can increase speaking fees. You may very well be offered a TV or radio contract," he says.

A bridge in the desert is washed out, and I-10 closes

Tue, 2015-07-21 13:00

A key conduit for moving goods east from ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California was choked off when heavy rains Sunday washed out part of a bridge in the desert between Los Angeles and Phoenix. Some officials in Riverside, California say the standing portion of the bridge could reopen soon, but it turns out that even when a bridge falls in the middle of nowhere, the costs rack up quickly. 

The bridge that collapsed was on a remote stretch of Interstate 10, far from any town. But it's a key passageway for truckers hauling consumer goods from Asia out of California ports.

"I-10 is a major east-west corridor between California and certainly to Texas and other places in between," says Rob Field, who manages  the economic development agency for Riverside County. He says state transportation officials are pledging to re-open the part of the bridge that's still standing to two-way traffic, perhaps within a few days. But the longer the bridge is closed, the greater the economic pain.

"It's hard to put a dollar value on it without drilling down, but we're talking millions of dollars in impact, not hundreds of thousands," Field says.

Every day about 7,000 trucks pass over the span, which crosses a dry wash. The head of the Arizona Trucking Association, Tony Bradley, says it's no easy task to reroute them while the bridge is out of commission. He says the closest options might add as much as three hours to a trip, since there are essentially no local roads that trucks can use.

Since truckers get paid by the mile, that means higher fuel and labor costs: "You're looking at an added $1.3 million a day just for the added miles," Bradley says.

But even if the bridge reopens this week, John Benoit has concerns about bigger economic effects. He's the 4th District Supervisor in Riverside County.

"We are very concerned that other bridges maybe are even in more serious condition than this one,'' he says, "and that the entire infrastructure of our highway system is in arrears."

The governor's on the phone, he wants you to move back

Tue, 2015-07-21 13:00

Meet Max Salzburg. He’s 37, married and works in marketing. He lives with his wife Sonja in Fort Collins, Colorado, a bustling small city filled with breweries and bike aficionados. But Salzburg grew up about an hour away from here, in the much smaller town of Cheyenne, Wyoming. 

“I thought it was small,” Salzburg says. “And lame. And boring.”

Salzburg got his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wyoming, but as soon as he was finished he left for city life in Colorado, where he has been ever since. That move is fairly common: young people who grew up in rural areas move away from home at a rate three and half times higher than their city counterparts, according to federal statistics.

Max Salzburg holds Wyoming regalia in his Fort Collins, Colorado home. 

Miles Bryan

But Salzburg is a little older now. He and his wife are thinking about a baby, and maybe relocating. That’s an opportunity for Wyoming and rural states like it, which desperately need skilled workers. 

So how do you convince a young, educated couple like Max and Sonja Salzburg to give up farm-to-table meals and good concerts for small-town life?

Well, if you’re South Dakota, with a robocall.

“Are you looking for a better way of life? One where the skies are blue, the air is fresh and the opportunities are limitless?” That’s South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard’s opening line in a robocall you will get if someone enters your phone number at Dakota Roots, the state’s employment matchmaking program. It allows moms or high school buddies to sign up their lost loved ones to be contacted by a job recruiter, who tries to place them back in the Mt. Rushmore state.

Dakota Roots has been around since 2006 and has placed about 4,000 people back in the state. Recently, Dakota Roots has inspired similar job-matchmaking programs Choose Idaho and Wyoming Grown

Hayley McKee works for the state and helped set up Wyoming Grown. She  says the program  got started after the state ran the numbers, and realized 60 percent of young people left Wyoming within 10 years of finishing high school. She says a lot of those young people are not going to give up city life for the open prairie, “but for those people who want to come back, who are familiar with Wyoming, I feel pretty confident we are making some strides here.”

So how do you zero in on who actually wants to come back? Here’s a hint: look for diapers.

“A strategy of trying to attract back people who are in their 30s and have children probably has the best possible chance of success,” says Professor Ken Johnson, who studies rural demographic change at the University of New Hampshire.

Johnson says there is a minor trend (emphasis on the "minor") of 30-somethings going back to their rural homes. The ones who do are usually at the point in their lives when they care less about good bars and more about good schools. Johnson says those people can be swayed by the prospect of a decent job — even if it isn’t as good as what they could get in an urban area.   

“Maybe that’s enough to push somebody who is kind of sitting on the fence to think about coming back,” Johnson says. 

Salzburg’s parents are hoping he will jump off that fence.  They encouraged him to sign up for Wyoming Grown, but Salzburg insists they are leaving it up to him. He says he’s still undecided about moving, but a kid might make up his mind.

“If we had kids and there was a good job and we could go somewhere in Wyoming with decent schools I mean... yeah,” he says. “My childhood was boring, I want my child to have that.”

Whether his kid will stick around is another question. 

Greeks see 'same culture' in new financial measures

Tue, 2015-07-21 13:00

Greece’s financial crisis improved slightly today in the wake of the bailout news. However, people in the country can’t stop talking about the continued problem, says Tonia Korka, a Greek resident and part-time research associate at the Hellenic Institute of International and Foreign Law. 

“You can hear it all over the streets. People are walking and talking about what is going on with the banks,” Korka says.

Korka says that the people in Greece are optimistic, but are still waiting for improvements. “We are hoping that something is going to change because we cannot do anything else,” she says. “but unfortunately when I hear about the measures and what they promised, I see the same culture.”

For Korka, it's hard to see how these measures are going to help. “I can’t understand how they are thinking that the economy is going to grow again if they don’t give some motives to cover the sanction,” she says. “I don’t know. It’s crazy.”

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