Marketplace - American Public Media

Want to buy a Tesla in China? Take a number.

Mon, 2014-04-28 06:27
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 07:26 FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

A worker walks past a covered car at the booth of electric carmaker Tesla on March 3, 2014 on the eve of the press day of the Geneva Motor Show in Geneva. 

What is it about some products -- Furbies, iPhones, Nintendos -- that get us to wait in line to buy them? In China, the carmaker Tesla is inspiring a queue of its own, a months-long virtual waiting list to buy the Tesla S.

Cao Wenbo, a 36-year-old film producer in Shanghai, joins Morning Report host David Brancaccio to talk about what got him to sign up for the all-electric sportscar. Click on the audio player above to hear more. 

Marketplace Morning Report for Monday April 28, 2014Interview by David BrancaccioPodcast Title Want to buy a Tesla in China? Take a number.Story Type News StorySyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Breast-cancer survivors and long-term unemployment

Mon, 2014-04-28 06:03
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 08:57 Larry French/Getty Images

A recent study found that breast cancer survivors have a high rate of long-term unemployment. The image illustrates cancer survivors that were welcomed before a game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium in 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland.

A new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Care Center finds that breast cancer survivors have a high rate of long-term unemployment. The specific kind of treatment they get may lower their chances of keeping their job or finding a new job years later.

University of Michigan oncology professor Reshma Jagsi is lead author on the study, published in the journal “Cancer.” She says her team surveyed breast cancer survivors in Detroit and Los Angeles from 2005 to 2007, and narrowed their results to follow the women who were working at the time they were diagnosed.

Approximately 30 percent were unemployed four years later.

“I don’t think too many of us are surprised to hear patients are likely to miss work or even stop working altogether while getting chemotherapy treatment,” says Jagsi. What did surprise her? That women who received chemotherapy at the beginning of treatment had an even higher rate of unemployment four years on. Other studies have found lower levels of long-term unemployment among women who want to keep working after being treated for breast cancer.

Ragsi says knowing the possible long-term implications—on employment and personal finances—might help women and their doctors make decisions about whether to utilize chemotherapy early on in treatment.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) passed in 1993 protects women who need time off for medical treatment, says Cathy Ruckelshaus at the National Employment Law Project. However: “It basically covers mostly full-time workers,” says Ruckelshaus. “She has to have been there for a year, and she’s entitled to 12 weeks of job-protected leave.” Ruckelshaus says the leave is unpaid, and can be taken intermittently over an extended period (i.e., not in a consecutive twelve-week period) to deal with chemotherapy treatment, side effects or long-term consequences such as fatigue.

If a woman still can’t keep up with a full-time schedule, or needs additional time off for follow-up treatment after her twelve weeks of FMLA are up, she can attempt to qualify for disability. If she can still work, then the Americans with Disability Act might require the employer to accommodate her with a flexible or part-time schedule, or provide the possibility of telecommuting, says Ruckelshaus.

Marketplace Morning Report for Monday April 28, 2014by Mitchell HartmanPodcast Title Breast-cancer survivors face high rates of long-term unemploymentStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Breast-cancer survivors and long-term unemployment

Mon, 2014-04-28 05:57

A new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Care Center finds that breast cancer survivors have a high rate of long-term unemployment. The specific kind of treatment they get may lower their chances of keeping their job or finding a new job years later.

University of Michigan oncology professor Reshma Jagsi is lead author on the study, published in the journal “Cancer.” She says her team surveyed breast cancer survivors in Detroit and Los Angeles from 2005 to 2007, and narrowed their results to follow the women who were working at the time they were diagnosed.

Approximately 30 percent were unemployed four years later.

“I don’t think too many of us are surprised to hear patients are likely to miss work or even stop working altogether while getting chemotherapy treatment,” says Jagsi. What did surprise her? That women who received chemotherapy at the beginning of treatment had an even higher rate of unemployment four years on. Other studies have found lower levels of long-term unemployment among women who want to keep working after being treated for breast cancer.

Ragsi says knowing the possible long-term implications—on employment and personal finances—might help women and their doctors make decisions about whether to utilize chemotherapy early on in treatment.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) passed in 1993 protects women who need time off for medical treatment, says Cathy Ruckelshaus at the National Employment Law Project. However: “It basically covers mostly full-time workers,” says Ruckelshaus. “She has to have been there for a year, and she’s entitled to 12 weeks of job-protected leave.” Ruckelshaus says the leave is unpaid, and can be taken intermittently over an extended period (i.e., not in a consecutive twelve-week period) to deal with chemotherapy treatment, side effects or long-term consequences such as fatigue.

If a woman still can’t keep up with a full-time schedule, or needs additional time off for follow-up treatment after her twelve weeks of FMLA are up, she can attempt to qualify for disability. If she can still work, then the Americans with Disability Act might require the employer to accommodate her with a flexible or part-time schedule, or provide the possibility of telecommuting, says Ruckelshaus.

Want to buy a Tesla in China? Take a number.

Mon, 2014-04-28 04:26

What is it about some products -- Furbies, iPhones, Nintendos -- that get us to wait in line to buy them? In China, the carmaker Tesla is inspiring a queue of its own, a months-long virtual waiting list to buy the Tesla S.

Cao Wenbo, a 36-year-old film producer in Shanghai, joins Morning Report host David Brancaccio to talk about what got him to sign up for the all-electric sportscar. Click on the audio player above to hear more. 

The difference between coders, programmers and engineers

Mon, 2014-04-28 02:31

There's a line in the new HBO show "Silicon Valley" that's making people ask a really basic question: What's the difference between a coder, a programmer and an engineer?

In the show, our hero is Richard Hendricks, a college dropout who works at the software company "Hooli" (which may or may not parody Google) and who has written a valuable algorithm on the side.

In an early scene, Richard is approached by two male co-workers. And under his breath, Richard seems to say "programmers, oh no, no."

The scene puzzled a lot of viewers, including Sid Gidwany, head of engineering at August, a startup in San Francisco.

"I thought that scene was kind of weird because he, himself, is a programmer," Gidwany says.

Hendricks, after all has written his own algorithm, so isn't he a programmer, too? Or maybe he's a coder, or maybe an engineer. Or maybe, because he wrote the program on his off hours, does that make him a hacker?

If you're confused, you're not alone.

Most Americans don't work at software companies, which means most of us have no idea about the distinction between these terms. If there even is one.

"There's not too much of a distinction," says Gidwany. "He can call himself a coder or engineer or whatever."

It turns out that you can indeed self identify as pretty much anything you like if you work in the software business these days.

Coder? You're a shut-in who spends most of his (yes, statistically, you're probably a dude) hunched over a laptop and rarely see the light of day.

Hacker? You're a bit dangerous (or at least you imagine you are).

Programmer? You're proud to be a nerd.

Engineer? You're filling in your Match.com profile.

In other words, you can call yourself whatever you think is cool. But it wasn't always that way. In fact, the distinction is a bit of a throwback, which is why it would make sense if the creator of the TV show Silicon Valley referred to it.

"Mike Judge was a Silicon Valley guy maybe 20 years ago," says Nick Heyman. He calls himself an engineer. I met him and Goodwani at the Founder's Den, a co-working space in San Francisco.

"There was was a big distinction back then," Heyman says. "Now much less."

Godwani agrees. "Especially, late 70s, early 80s," he says. "Companies back then made a distinction between engineers and programmers."

He says, back then computer science degrees weren't offered by a lot of colleges so if you wanted to learn about computers, you would get a more traditional engineering degree.

"Programmers were generally self-taught," Gidwani says. "So a lot of times, there was a distinction of 'I am more formally trained, I am more highly educated.'"

While some big tech companies still reserve the title of "engineer" for people with degrees, college dropouts like Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple, helped disrupt that hierarchy.

And in recent years, new software tools have blurred the distinction even more by enabling people without formal training to build amazing tech products. So now anyone can call themselves a coder, programmer, hacker and even an engineer.

Oh and by the way, that scene in the show where Richard Hendricks recoils at the sight of his colleagues? A number of people told me what actually says is, "Bro-grammers, oh no, no!"

Yeah, who wouldn't be freaked out!

When ads start jumping to the second screen

Mon, 2014-04-28 02:21

It’s enough to give advertisers nightmares: more and more people picking up their phones and tablets during commercial breaks and tuning out the ads. (That’s if they’re still watching broadcast TV at all).

"As an advertiser, you're never really sure if the audience that the networks say they're delivering to you actually watch your ads," says analyst Paul Sweeney with Bloomberg Industries.

Now the company Xaxis has developed a product called Sync to reclaim those “lost” TV viewers. It sends complementary ads to the ones you’re ignoring on TV right to websites you’re likely to visit online.

"Oh, you're hearing a commercial for a food company and then, oh, I'm looking at my Facebook and there's a sponsored post there," says Xaxis' Larry Allen.

The big idea: There’s no escape during commercial break.

New York's median rent is $1,100. Seems low...

Mon, 2014-04-28 02:18

Rents in New York City are up 75 percent since the year 2000, according to a new report from the New York City Comptroller's office.

"The data from the report is chilling," says Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Since 2000, median incomes are down, but rents are up far more than elsewhere in the U.S. And, there are fewer apartments available to the middle class.

"We've actually lost 400,000 apartments renting for less than a $1000," Stringer says.

But the median rent -- the point at which half of rents are below and half above -- might not be what you think. In New York, it's now $1,100 a month, according to the report.

Anyone who notices New York real estate knows that rent averages are often reported to be much higher. Reis, one company that compiles such data, says it's now around $3,200 a month.

But that number only looks at apartments on the open market. In New York, more than 60 percent of rentals are public housing, or subsidized or rent regulated.

Ryan Severino, a senior economist at Reis, says that can limit supply and, "It can make apartments more expensive for anyone who has to compete in the more competitive market."

And, yet, people keep moving here, far faster than new units are built.

The difference between coders, programmers and engineers

Sun, 2014-04-27 15:32
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 05:31

HBO's "Silicon Valley" airs Sundays at 10 PM 

There's a line in the new HBO show "Silicon Valley" that's making people ask a really basic question: What's the difference between a coder, a programmer and an engineer?

In the show, our hero is Richard Hendricks, a college dropout who works at the software company "Hooli" (which may or may not parody Google) and who has written a valuable algorithm on the side.

In an early scene, Richard is approached by two male co-workers. And under his breath, Richard seems to say "programmers, oh no, no."

The scene puzzled a lot of viewers, including Sid Gidwany, head of engineering at August, a startup in San Francisco.

"I thought that scene was kind of weird because he, himself, is a programmer," Gidwany says.

Hendricks, after all has written his own algorithm, so isn't he a programmer, too? Or maybe he's a coder, or maybe an engineer. Or maybe, because he wrote the program on his off hours, does that make him a hacker?

If you're confused, you're not alone.

Most Americans don't work at software companies, which means most of us have no idea about the distinction between these terms. If there even is one.

"There's not too much of a distinction," says Gidwany. "He can call himself a coder or engineer or whatever."

It turns out that you can indeed self identify as pretty much anything you like if you work in the software business these days.

Coder? You're a shut-in who spends most of his (yes, statistically, you're probably a dude) hunched over a laptop and rarely see the light of day.

Hacker? You're a bit dangerous (or at least you imagine you are).

Programmer? You're proud to be a nerd.

Engineer? You're filling in your Match.com profile.

In other words, you can call yourself whatever you think is cool. But it wasn't always that way. In fact, the distinction is a bit of a throwback, which is why it would make sense if the creator of the TV show Silicon Valley referred to it.

"Mike Judge was a Silicon Valley guy maybe 20 years ago," says Nick Heyman. He calls himself an engineer. I met him and Goodwani at the Founder's Den, a co-working space in San Francisco.

"There was was a big distinction back then," Heyman says. "Now much less."

Godwani agrees. "Especially, late 70s, early 80s," he says. "Companies back then made a distinction between engineers and programmers."

He says, back then computer science degrees weren't offered by a lot of colleges so if you wanted to learn about computers, you would get a more traditional engineering degree.

"Programmers were generally self-taught," Gidwani says. "So a lot of times, there was a distinction of 'I am more formally trained, I am more highly educated.'"

While some big tech companies still reserve the title of "engineer" for people with degrees, college dropouts like Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple, helped disrupt that hierarchy.

And in recent years, new software tools have blurred the distinction even more by enabling people without formal training to build amazing tech products. So now anyone can call themselves a coder, programmer, hacker and even an engineer.

Oh and by the way, that scene in the show where Richard Hendricks recoils at the sight of his colleagues? A number of people told me what actually says is, "Bro-grammers, oh no, no!"

Yeah, who wouldn't be freaked out!

Marketplace Tech for Monday, April 28, 2014Marketplace Morning Report for Monday April 28, 2014by Queena KimPodcast Title The difference between coders, programmers and engineersStory Type FeatureSyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Coal ash = environmental win (when you recycle it)

Fri, 2014-04-25 14:12
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 16:21 Dan Weissmann

Steve Fleming, technical director for the Chicago-area concrete manufacturer Prairie Materials, stands in front of the concrete-mixing plant at the firm's home office. Prairie Materials uses about 100,000 tons of coal fly ash in its concrete every year.

Coal ash jumped into the headlines this year when a pond maintained by Duke Energy spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina. It fouled the water supply, and brought national scrutiny to what sounded like a huge, and largely unregulated source of toxic waste.

The same week, to much less fanfare, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it endorsed the practice of using coal ash to make concrete. As it turns out, environmentalists largely agree. 

Engineers tend to be advocates. Steve Fleming is technical director for Chicago-based Prairie Materials, a large concrete supplier. And he is a fan of coal ash.

"We add it to our concrete to help with its performance," he says. "Both in its plastic state"— that is, when it’s wet, since coal ash makes concrete easier to work with — "and most important from my point of view, it helps the long-term performance of the concrete as well. It actually increases the strength, and makes the concrete last longer."

As an engineer, Fleming has long appreciated coal ash’s benefits. It took customers longer.

"When I first started, 18-19 years ago, I had a lot of customers who thought that fly-ash was not good," he says. "They said, 'It’s a waste product, and why are you putting it in my concrete?' Now, we have contractors who are requesting fly ash. If we ship them a straight cement mix, they’ll complain."

There are environmental advantages, too. Coal ash has toxins in it: arsenic, lead, mercury. Locking that stuff up in concrete seems safer than letting it sit in landfills or ponds that can contaminate groundwater.

The EPA endorsed using coal ash in concrete after comparing it to the toxins in Portland cement. Turns out, Portland cement is more toxic.

Portland cement is also much worse for the environment. "Portland cement production is one of the major greenhouse-gas sources  worldwide," says Craig Benson, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin.

He explains: Making Portland cement involves applying heat to limestone — which is made of calcium, oxygen and carbon — to get lime: calcium and oxygen.

"That process liberates a lot of carbon dioxide," he says. "That goes right up in the atmosphere."

There are more benefits: Using coal ash means not using resources to dig up limestone. Or burning fuel to heat it up. And because fly ash makes concrete last longer, it also means not replacing the concrete as often.

All of which also means saving money. Benson did a study on that. "It was really remarkable," he says. "Just the economic impact is about $5 billion to our economy."

Lisa Evans, a lawyer for Earthjustice, is reluctant to declare herself a fan of using coal ash for concrete. She’d rather we stop burning coal. Failing that, however, she thinks concrete is a good idea.

"I think characterizing it as a 'win' would be accurate," she says. "If you’re going to make coal ash in the first place, locking it up in concrete is preferable to a lot of the other ways we use or dispose of coal ash."  

But the consensus isn’t perfect. The EPA is currently deciding between two alternatives for regulating coal ash. Evans favors one that would regulate coal ash as hazardous waste, except for designated "beneficial re-uses" like concrete.  

That proposal worries John Ward, a spokesman for the coal-ash recycling industry, who runs a group called Citizens for Recycling First. He thinks the exception would just cause confusion. "How can you call something hazardous on the property of the people who made it," he says, "and expect you to want to use it in your house?"

He thinks that potential confusion could make utilities reluctant to allow recyclers to take coal ash at all.  

Marketplace for Monday April 28, 2014by Dan WeissmannPodcast Title Coal ash = environmental win (when you recycle it)Story Type FeatureSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

In which Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign faces real backlash

Fri, 2014-04-25 13:38

In Dove's latest advertisement, "Patches," a scientist prescribes a "beauty patch" to women suffering from low self esteem. Over the course of four minutes, the patch-wearing "patients" move from lines like "If I were more confident, I'd have the confidence to approach a guy, maybe," to "I've defintiely opened up something inside of me to make me feel more... great."

Magic! Except spoiler: There's nothing in the beauty patch. Dove's not selling any patches -- they're selling the story of women finding inner beauty, a.k.a., the Dove brand's strategy since 2004. They've sold creams to slow the signs of aging with messages about being "pro age." They've launched self-esteem programs and campaigns critiquing the whole business of advertising. 

A Dove spokesman told Ad Age they created the "Patches" video "to intentionally provoke a debate about women's relationship with beauty." And what a debate they've started: The "Patches" ad has been called patronizing, garbage and at least one word we wouldn't print on our own site. In just one hour Friday morning, at least 500 people watched this parody video:

Dove grew from a $200 million soap brand in the early 1990s into a nearly $4 billion corporation by 2013, selling everything from deodorant to hairspray. They've sold products -- lots of products -- with the message "You are more beautiful than you think." 

Andrea Learned, a communications consultant and author of "Don't Think Pink," a book about marketing to women, says Dove’s original ‘Real Beauty’ campaign turned selling soap into an important cultural dialogue, helping women embrace their bodies—old or young, fat or thin. 

But she thinks the latest campaign has "lost its way. It kind of creeped me out right from the beginning," she says. She thinks the tactic in the video of misleading the female subjects about the treatment they're getting in order to show that really, you are beautiful if you feel beautiful, will alienate many female consumers. She found herself wondering if the real Dove ad might not just be the parody. “Get out of digging this hole for women—of being these incredibly insecure beings," she says. "That is old news.”

Former ad executive Cindy Gallop agrees that the new Dove campaign is "patronizing" and "not credible." She thinks it's a big misstep for Dove's ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather. But she also thinks any publicity can be good publicity—if the brand embraces the criticism and builds on it.

“The fact that they are stimulating dialogue, that we are talking about this, in whatever context, is terrific," Gallop says. "And it’s all tremendous fodder for them to take the campaign forward in an even stronger way next time out of the gate.”

Gallop has a pitch for Dove’s next campaign: real-life men saying what they like in their real-life women. Grey hair, freckles, curves—things most advertisers never portray in their impossible-to-acheive models of female beauty.

Is all this pushback a sign that Dove doesn't have its pulse on what women think any more? What do you think of the campaign? Tell us on Twitter or Facebook

Why it makes economic sense to send a letter for $0.49

Fri, 2014-04-25 13:30

Every other week we try to answer some of the questions that you've submitted for our series, I’ve Always Wondered. This week, we are going to answer a question from listener Mark Robbins: "How is it possible that for less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can send a letter halfway across the globe to a remote island in the South Pacific?" 

Marketplace reporter David Weinberg wanted to know, too. And thus his week-long experiment began: 

Monday: The Post Office's spectacular scale.

Tuesday: How postage gets divided among nations (spoiler: not evenly).

Wednesday: Until the 1960s, it didn't matter if the Postal Service made money.

Thursday: Why the USPS doesn't do email

Friday: How else could we get a message to the people of Tanna? (serious question)

Monday: The Post Office's spectacular scale.

Listener Mark Robbins sent us his question via email. He chose, for his example, the island of Tanna, about a thousand miles west of Australia. I found an address for a bar on the island, and before I sent the letter, I called Robbins to ask if he had anything he'd like to say to the people of Tanna.

“Hello from chilly northeastern Pennsylvania. Wish I were there.”

I dropped the letter in the mailbox with a $1.15 global forever stamp. From there, it was taken to the main Los Angeles sorting facility, a 1 million square foot building  where I met Ken Starks, the acting manager of plant support operations.

And herein lies the answer to Mark’s question: The reason you can send a letter across the ocean for less than the price of a cup of coffee is because of the staggering economy of scale of the USPS.

Take, for example this one machine:

This delivery bar code sorting machine processes 30,000-40,000 pieces of mail per hour. The minimum amount of postage required to send a letter is $0.49. So nearly every day, this one machine processes at least $20,000 in postage revenue per hour. And this is just one of several machines in a single sorting facility.

The USPS handles half of all the mail in the world. In 2013 the postal service generated $65.2 billion in revenue. It has more retail locations in the U.S. than McDonald's, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart combined. It's the second largest employer in the U.S. behind Wal-Mart, and the median salary of a U.S. postal worker is about $53,000.

So for every letter that travels across the globe, there are millions that travel much shorter distances. They subsidize the cost of international letters.

Tuesday: How postage gets divided among nations (spoiler: not evenly).

To send our letter to the island of Tanna, I purchased a global forever stamp for $1.15. By the time it arrives it will have traveled on multiple on-the-ground vehicles and airplanes in multiple countries.

This is what the inside of a postal truck looks like.

David Weinberg/Marketplace

So how does that $1.15 get divided among all nations? Here are the steps:

Step 1: Receive Payment for Postage

The origin country of the letter gets to keep 100 percent of the postage revenue. For now…

Step 2: Weight it

The island of Tanna is in the country of Vanuatu, which is one of the 192 member countries of the Universal Postal Union. At the end of the year, every member of the UPU adds up the weight of all the mail it delivered for other countries.

Step 3: Pay Your Dues

The UPU has established a complicated system of terminal dues that countries pay each other for mail delivered outside its borders. So if the USPS delivered 2,000 kilograms of mail from Vanautu in 2013, and Vanautu only delivered 1,000 kilograms U.S. mail from the U.S., then Vanautu will have to pay terminal dues to the U.S. How does that money get divided up among the multiple countries that handle the letter? 

Google Maps

Short answer: It doesn’t get divided for each individual piece of mail. Instead, countries pay terminal dues based on the overall weight of mail shipped between them.

These rates are decided by The Universal Postal Union.

Wednesday: Until the 1960s, it didn't matter if the Postal Service made money.

And now our letter to Vanuatu takes a moment to ask itself the question: "Why am I not an email?"

The Postal Service is, as they know all too well, losing money

Historian Richard John says, this isn't a new story -- it just didn't matter as much in the country's early days. When the Postal Service was established in 1775 -- with Ben Franklin as the country's first Postmaster -- it functioned as a government agency, with no real mandate to break even.

And as the country expanded, the Postal Service did too. They were often at the forefront of new transportation technologies -- think: stagecoaches, motorcycles, railroads, airplanes, and even missiles.

A city carrier in Washington, D.C., gathers mail from a post-mounted collection box using \"The Flying Merkel,\" a belt-driven, two-cylinder V-twin motorcycle, circa 1911. The use of motorcycles for mail collection and delivery in cities peaked in the 1920s. Four-wheeled automobiles and trucks, with their larger capacities, soon became the vehicles of choice. 

Courtesy of the United States Postal Service

"The Post Office was very quick to give contracts to flyers. Charles Lindbergh. And the airlines got an absolutely essential boost from that postal funding in 1920s and 30s," John says. "In more recent period, the 50s, 60s and 70s, optical scaning recognition are technologies the Post Office [supported]."

How'd they manage to pay for all this innovation?

"Congress used to foot the bill when the institution was running a deficit," John says. "Coroporate money doesn't become important til 1900."

And even then, John says, these external funds competed with "a thought experient about how our nineteenth century forbearers believed politics should be conducted with major federal subsidies to make it possible to spread the news, which remained a central mandate. Newspapers and magazines -- LIFE Magazine was a famously important magazine in 1960s -- was more or less destroyed by changes in postal rates. It got more expensive to mail, and it was no longer economical. So it's a remarkable odyssey for an institution a lot of peope cared about." 

Today's assumption that the postal service should break even took root in the early 1970s. Postal worker strikes prompted then-President Richard Nixon to pass the Postal Reorganization Act in 1971, which turned the agency into a semi-independent business -- and as a semi-independent business, money started to matter. The Postal Service hasn't used taxpayer money since 1982, with a few exceptions, such as sending absentee ballots to Americans overseas. Today, the USPS relies on the costs of postage and sales for almost all of their expenses.

Eddie Hubbard (left) and William E. Boeing stand in front of a Boeing C-700 seaplane near Seattle, Washington, after returning from a survey flight to Vancouver, British Columbia, on March 3, 1919. They brought with them a pouch with 60 letters, making this the first international mail flight.

Boeing Airplane Company/Collection of United States Postal Service

Some say the Postal Service stopped innovating because its business model changed, and the funds simply weren't there.

Tomorrow, we'll talk with someone who thinks the story isn't so simple. 

Thursday: Why the USPS doesn't do email

Why isn’t there an @usps.gov email address available to the public -- one that carries with it the same privacy laws that apply to postal mail?

Shiva Ayyadurai asked USPS management that same question in 1997, the year he calls "The Crossover," when email volume exceeded postal mail volume. At the time, Ayyadurai says the USPS did not see email as a threat to first-class mail. And in 1997, there really was no reason to be concerned -- during the three years leading up to 1997, the USPS posted cumulative earnings of $4.6 billion and, First-Class mail was up by 13 percentage points.

Ayyadurai calls himself the inventor of email, a claim that has been widely disputed, says he has a vested interest in the answer. It would take 15 years of criticism, but in 2012 Shiva Ayyadurai  produced a report, funded by the USPS, outlined several ways for the USPS could integrate email into its business model. Ayyadurai says the USPS did respond after he submitted his research.

 

Friday: How else could we get a message to the people of Tanna? (serious question)

 

In all probability, our letter is still on its way to Tanna. 

Which raises the question: How else could we convey Mark's message to this small island nation? What are your ideas, Internet?

Send them to us via Facebook or in the comments below. Or, you know, via snail mail. 

State exchanges going into year two, but slowly

Fri, 2014-04-25 13:19

At one point, Affordable Care Act architects thought every state would eventually run its own exchange. So far only about a quarter of states – and the District of Columbia – have actually done it. Or at least, they have tried their best to.

Oregon’s exchange voted to have Washington run the IT side of the operation on Friday. That’s after the state received some $300 million in federal funds to get its own of the ground.

There are lots of reasons why states may want to take over their exchanges from the feds sometime in the future. But here are six reasons why they may not be in such a hurry: “Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Vermont,” says Caroline Pearson who tracks state exchanges for consulting firm Avalere Health.

Pearson says technical disasters like Oregon – it’s still processing applications on paper – could scare off most anyone else for the next year or two. But, she says, as states and the federal government work out the bugs, running an exchange will get smoother.

“Once you have something that is working, it will be easier for other states to import that and customize it and tweak it for their own program,” she says.

Map by the National Conference of State Legislatures

Sonya Schwartz with the Georgetown Center for Children and Families thinks states that run their own exchanges may be better able to control healthcare costs, and that could make switching worthwhile.  

“Our health system is expensive. And if we had an ambitious plan to reign in costs, it’s worth it. But if we just create a rinky-dink enrollment system, it’s not worth it,” she says.

Moving forward, some states could take a hybrid approach. Much like Oregon is doing now: letting the feds run technical operations, but managing the types of insurance plans on the exchanges, and overseeing outreach and enrollment efforts.

New rules and systems could make things more complicated for insurers, says PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Ceci Connolly.

“It’s just like, 'How many different languages do you learn, and can you master?” she says.

Connolly says the silver lining in struggling state-run exchanges may be that it forces everyone to standardize -- a great way to keep costs down.

State Exchanges Going Into Year Two

Fri, 2014-04-25 13:19

At one point, Affordable Care Act architects thought every state would eventually run its own exchange. So far only about a quarter of states – and the District of Columbia – have actually done it. Or at least, they have tried their best to.

Oregon’s exchange voted to have Washington run the IT side of the operation on Friday. That’s after the state received some $300 million in federal funds to get its own of the ground.

There are lots of reasons why states may want to take over their exchanges from the feds sometime in the future. But here are six reasons why they may not be in such a hurry: “Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Vermont,” says Caroline Pearson who tracks state exchanges for consulting firm Avalere Health.

Pearson says technical disasters like Oregon – it’s still processing applications on paper – could scare off most anyone else for the next year or two. But, she says, as states and the federal government work out the bugs, running an exchange will get smoother.

“Once you have something that is working, it will be easier for other states to import that and customize it and tweak it for their own program,” she says.

Map by the National Conference of State Legislatures

Sonya Schwartz with the Georgetown Center for Children and Families thinks states that run their own exchanges may be better able to control healthcare costs, and that could make switching worthwhile.  

“Our health system is expensive. And if we had an ambitious plan to reign in costs, it’s worth it. But if we just create a rinky-dink enrollment system, it’s not worth it,” she says.

Moving forward, some states could take a hybrid approach. Much like Oregon is doing now: letting the feds run technical operations, but managing the types of insurance plans on the exchanges, and overseeing outreach and enrollment efforts.

New rules and systems could make things more complicated for insurers, says PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Ceci Connolly.

“It’s just like, 'How many different languages do you learn, and can you master?” she says.

Connolly says the silver lining in struggling state-run exchanges may be that it forces everyone to standardize -- a great way to keep costs down.

Weekly Wrap: Who's feeling those sanctions

Fri, 2014-04-25 13:18

Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew said American companies will be paying a little bit of a price for the sanctions  imposed on Russia.

“Visa has already said that the sanctions are likely having an effect on its performance. The other likely culprits are Boeing or Exxon [or] Morgan Stanley. There are a number of major U.S. companies that have complained about both sanctions that already exist and ones that appear to currently be on the table, because they could hurt their business as well,” said Catherine Rampell, columnist for the Washington Post.

Rating agencies have also laid out numerous warnings for the Russians, but to no avail, according to Sudeep Reddy from the Wall Street Journal:

“We’ve seen warnings for weeks and months and they haven’t really made that much of a difference. The sanctions so far have barely scratched the surface. There are a lot of things that could be placed on the Russian economy to force the hand on some of the leaders there at least to get them thinking a lot harder about what’s being done… But the question here is how much pain do you end up with on regular Russians, and regular Ukrainians, and regular Europeans, and ultimately regular Americans in all of this?”

Lew also mentioned that things are still rough out there for a lot of people in this economy, but the American economy is bouncing back. Furthermore, the consumer confidence number out today even revealed that consumers are feeling better than they’ve felt since the beginning of the Great Recession.

“If you breakdown those confidence numbers… you can sort of look at the different components of the survey and say, okay, [this is] where people are feeling a little bit better and [this] where are they still kind of pessimistic," Rampell said. "The places where people seemed to be a little bit more optimistic were places like job prospects. People say they’ve experienced income gains, they perceive inflation to be low. They basically think that their current financial status is... a little bit better than it had been,” says Rampell.

Although the economy is getting better, Reddy says it’s not moving fast enough: “…We’re improving, it’s just not filtering through across the spectrum as quickly as it needs to for us to feel like this is a real recovery.”

Alibaba: Yes, it's that big

Fri, 2014-04-25 13:14

Alibaba is getting ready to go public, and analysts have predicted the company could be worth upwards of $150 to $200 billion. Its high valuation is a factor of its scale, its dominance in the Chinese e-commerce market, and its highly successful monetization of its platform through ad revenue.

As a company, Alibaba is often described as a combination of eBay and Amazon, but you could throw in a little PayPal, Yahoo, and Citigroup too. Alibaba has a sizable role in mobile banking and online advertising technology.

So here is a comparison of Alibaba with those companies for some perspective on just how big it is.

Deciphering financial aid offers for college

Fri, 2014-04-25 13:07

Spring is the time of year when high school seniors prepare for college and their life after school. Though a typical undergraduate program lasts four years, paying off student loans can easily last decades if you don't properly plan.

If you're comparing the costs of tuition between schools, there are a few things you should look out for, says personal finance expert Liz Weston.

Financial aid offers often don't include the total cost of attendance, according to Weston. "That’s fairly common that they might just mention tuition and fees, and not mention books and supplies or living expenses," Weston says. In a city like Manhattan, living costs can dwarf the cost of tuition.

Financial aid packages also blur the lines between loans and actual savings like grants and scholarships. "They pretend, 'Hey, look at this great award we've just given you, and most of it is loans.' So, they’re not really reducing the cost for attending — they’re just shoving it out into the future and putting it on you."

Weston says that some, but not all, schools have adopted standardized "shopping lists" that make it easier to compare offers. She also suggests the College Board (bigfuture.collegeboard.org) or CollegeData (www.collegedata.com) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's financial aid comparison tool (www.consumerfinance.gov/paying-for-college/) to better compare costs.

But how much is too much for college?

That answer depends on the individual, but Weston says one rule of thumb is, "try to limit the amount that you borrow to the amount you expect to make your first year out of school. So, the total for your undergraduate education is no more than your first job is going to pay you. Now again that’s very general, it’s not going to apply to everyone, but it’s a good start."

But as Weston notes, "the problem that a lot of people have is that they’re not really sure what they want to do when they’re 17 or 18 [years old] ... an even better rule of thumb is to stick to federal student loans." Unlike private loans, federal student loans are capped at $5,500. That won't cover the cost of a four-year private university in a big city, "but it gives you an idea that you really need to limit this debt you really need to be on your guard. And if you’re a parent, I'dd be very very careful about taking on debt, particularly if you’re not already saving enough for your own retirement. You don’t want to be in a situation where you can’t retire because you’re still paying for your kids education."

When ads start jumping to the second screen

Fri, 2014-04-25 11:28
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 05:21 Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It’s enough to give advertisers nightmares: more and more people picking up their phones and tablets during commercial breaks and tuning out the ads. (That’s if they’re still watching broadcast TV at all).

"As an advertiser, you're never really sure if the audience that the networks say they're delivering to you actually watch your ads," says analyst Paul Sweeney with Bloomberg Industries.

Now the company Xaxis has developed a product called Sync to reclaim those “lost” TV viewers. It sends complementary ads to the ones you’re ignoring on TV right to websites you’re likely to visit online.

"Oh, you're hearing a commercial for a food company and then, oh, I'm looking at my Facebook and there's a sponsored post there," says Xaxis' Larry Allen.

The big idea: There’s no escape during commercial break.

Marketplace Morning Report for Monday April 28, 2014Marketplace Tech for Monday, April 28, 2014by Kate DavidsonPodcast Title When ads start jumping to the second screenStory Type News StorySyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

New York's median rent is $1,100. Seems low...

Fri, 2014-04-25 11:23
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 05:18 Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village apartment complexes are seen October 22, 2009 in New York City.

 

Rents in New York City are up 75 percent since the year 2000, according to a new report from the New York City Comptroller's office.

"The data from the report is chilling," says Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Since 2000, median incomes are down, but rents are up far more than elsewhere in the U.S. And, there are fewer apartments available to the middle class.

"We've actually lost 400,000 apartments renting for less than a $1000," Stringer says.

But the median rent -- the point at which half of rents are below and half above -- might not be what you think. In New York, it's now $1,100 a month, according to the report.

Anyone who notices New York real estate knows that rent averages are often reported to be much higher. Reis, one company that compiles such data, says it's now around $3,200 a month.

But that number only looks at apartments on the open market. In New York, more than 60 percent of rentals are public housing, or subsidized or rent regulated.

Ryan Severino, a senior economist at Reis, says that can limit supply and, "It can make apartments more expensive for anyone who has to compete in the more competitive market."

And, yet, people keep moving here, far faster than new units are built.

Marketplace Morning Report for Monday April 28, 2014by Dan BobkoffPodcast Title New York's median rent is $1,100. Seems low...Story Type News StorySyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Skype bans certain 'offensive' emoticons

Fri, 2014-04-25 10:57

We told you a couple weeks ago about how Yelp now lets you search with emoticons. A pair of scissors gets you salons nearby, the Korean flag finds you Korean restaurants, and so forth. 

 

On the other side of the happy face is Skype. According to the website Techcrunch, Skype has "removed certain...offensive emoticons from its emoticon dictionary."  

 

You can see the offending faces here. In Techcrunch's words:

 

"Oddly enough, you can still happily moon your chat buddies(), puke on them(), have a smoke with them () and pretend you are virtually drunk (). Skype is good with this guy, too ( ). Maybe because he is offset by this emoticon: ."

In which Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign faces real backlash

Fri, 2014-04-25 09:35
Friday, April 25, 2014 - 16:38 campaignforrealbeauty.co.uk

In Dove's latest advertisement, "Patches," a scientist prescribes a "beauty patch" to women suffering from low self esteem. Over the course of four minutes, the patch-wearing "patients" move from lines like "If I were more confident, I'd have the confidence to approach a guy, maybe," to "I've defintiely opened up something inside of me to make me feel more... great."

Magic! Except spoiler: There's nothing in the beauty patch. Dove's not selling any patches -- they're selling the story of women finding inner beauty, a.k.a., the Dove brand's strategy since 2004. They've sold creams to slow the signs of aging with messages about being "pro age." They've launched self-esteem programs and campaigns critiquing the whole business of advertising. 

A Dove spokesman told Ad Age they created the "Patches" video "to intentionally provoke a debate about women's relationship with beauty." And what a debate they've started: The "Patches" ad has been called patronizing, garbage and at least one word we wouldn't print on our own site. In just one hour Friday morning, at least 500 people watched this parody video:

Dove grew from a $200 million soap brand in the early 1990s into a nearly $4 billion corporation by 2013, selling everything from deodorant to hairspray. They've sold products -- lots of products -- with the message "You are more beautiful than you think." 

Andrea Learned, a communications consultant and author of "Don't Think Pink," a book about marketing to women, says Dove’s original ‘Real Beauty’ campaign turned selling soap into an important cultural dialogue, helping women embrace their bodies—old or young, fat or thin. 

But she thinks the latest campaign has "lost its way. It kind of creeped me out right from the beginning," she says. She thinks the tactic in the video of misleading the female subjects about the treatment they're getting in order to show that really, you are beautiful if you feel beautiful, will alienate many female consumers. She found herself wondering if the real Dove ad might not just be the parody. “Get out of digging this hole for women—of being these incredibly insecure beings," she says. "That is old news.”

Former ad executive Cindy Gallop agrees that the new Dove campaign is "patronizing" and "not credible." She thinks it's a big misstep for Dove's ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather. But she also thinks any publicity can be good publicity—if the brand embraces the criticism and builds on it.

“The fact that they are stimulating dialogue, that we are talking about this, in whatever context, is terrific," Gallop says. "And it’s all tremendous fodder for them to take the campaign forward in an even stronger way next time out of the gate.”

Gallop has a pitch for Dove’s next campaign: real-life men saying what they like in their real-life women. Grey hair, freckles, curves—things most advertisers never portray in their impossible-to-acheive models of female beauty.

Is all this pushback a sign that Dove doesn't have its pulse on what women think any more? What do you think of the campaign? Tell us on Twitter or Facebook

Marketplace for Monday April 28, 2014by Ariana Tobin and Mitchell HartmanPodcast Title In which Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign faces real backlashStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No
ON THE AIR
The Slough
Next Up: @ 11:00 pm
Beale St. Caravan

KBBI is Powered by Active Listeners like You

As we celebrate 35 years of broadcasting, we look ahead to technology improvements and the changing landscape of public radio.

Support the voices, music, information, and ideas that add so much to your life.Thank you for supporting your local public radio station.

FOLLOW US

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com ver.1.4